Find Comfort in the Dark Places

One of my Founders came to me this week looking to expand upon how he had supported an employee who was struggling with low morale. Primarily, I was so proud of my Founder.  He had done so many things right: (1) picking up on the fact that his colleague was feeling discouraged, (2) caring that his colleague was feeling discouraged, (3) doing his best to support his colleague, and (4) coming to me to see if his approach could be improved upon.

Nonetheless, despite his best efforts, he had gotten the whole support thing wrong. I don’t say this with judgment or superiority or anything other than real love and compassion. The mistake my Founder made is one I have made a million times, it is super common, odds are you do it too. We are just humans after all. We do our silly, sloppy, misguided human things.

By now, you are surely thinking “Get to it Alexa.” So, I will. What did my Founder do? Well, he tried to talk his colleague out of his funk. You know, help him shake off that bad mood. My Founder did what we all so often do when someone comes to us with a problem, he gave a pep talk, said look on the bright side, get some perspective, and appreciate what you have. On one hand, it is totally appropriate.  It isn’t mean, or uncaring, or unreasonable. But the problem is, as all of us who have ever felt what my cousin calls “growly” know, that stuff doesn’t work.

When we are having a rough go of it, we simply can’t be talked out of that. We feel what we feel, if we could feel differently, we would, but sometimes life just feels rotten. Feeling that way is not what we want, but it is what we get. Now this isn’t to say we just let those we care for suffer in their misery. There is still something we can do for others. Dark places suck, but they suck a lot less when you are not alone in them. No, we can’t talk people out of their feelings or convince them of something other than their lived truth. But what we can do is say, “you are not alone, I am here, talk to me, I won’t let you go.”

Someone did as much for me this week. I was blue for a million reasons and for none at all. And I lost it a little. It all bubbled up and spilled over. It was a real ugly cry. And my person just sat there, held on to me when it happened, and once it was over, I went on my way. She didn’t say much while I was unraveling and yet somehow when it was all over, I was okay again. And I am honored to say I did the same for someone very dear to me this week. He lost it. There was crying and pain. It went on for a while. I did a fair amount of saying his name and telling him I know. And eventually the soul-sucking hurt stopped. And lo and behold, all was okay. The earth hadn’t swallowed us up. We were still standing. His abyss turned out not to be permanent and my visit there left me unscathed.

But the thing is, we don’t like the dark places. We will do anything to avoid them. They feel lousy, we are scared. Heck, we don’t even like being with other people in their own dark places, dark places that have nothing to do with us, because even that, even seeing the sadness of others scares us half to death. So, we talk folks out of those moods because the sooner our people leave those places, the sooner we can get out of there too.

But none of that helps them. It doesn’t help us either. We must build our tolerance for the low times because they are a rich part of life too. We need to build that muscle for others and maybe mostly for ourselves. If you can’t stand the dark places, you aren’t really living. You are limited and closed off. We need a full spectrum of emotion to be fully human.

So, while nontraditional, here is my “see you later 2021” wish for you: Have courage. Sit with other people in their dark places. Know that in those moments your company is enough. Believe that waiting it out is the only real help you can give to those you care about. Trust that letting the darkness wash over you is what you need as well.