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Acclimating to the Light

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Imagine you've been living in a very dark room for a very long time.

There are no windows in your room, no openings to let the light in. Not even a crack for it to penetrate.

If there is a door, you can never seem to find it. In fact, you've given up searching. Who would want to visit you here anyway? Who would you let in?

The idea of leaving your room sounds ludicrous. Where would you go? Why? The dark, at least, is familiar. It reminds you of something ... of someone you never want to forget.

You are dimly aware that there is a world outside your room. Muffled sounds of life occasionally reach your ears, but they seem so distant. You can't imagine who or what is making them. You can't imagine ever making them yourself.

With no dawn or dusk, it is impossible to tell how many days and nights have passed inside your room. Time ceases to exist as anything more than a construct your mind once appointed value to. Like so many other things, it feels pointless here.

On occasion, you recognize a pang of loneliness arising within you. But you are keenly aware that you have nothing to offer in this place. And truly, what can anyone offer you that would make a difference here? It is right that you are here alone. It is as it should be.

The dark has many benefits that you have come to appreciate over time. No one can see your ugly cry. Or hear the echoes of your screams. You don't have to face yourself, witness how you have deteriorated. In the darkness there is quiet. A quiet so deep that sometimes you lose yourself in it, and that feels like relief. It needs nothing from you, which is good when you have nothing to give. It is limitless. You never have to worry about what awaits at its end. When the pain comes, the dark does not insist it shouldn't be there. It does not call you weak or scold you for what you cannot contain, control, contract. It holds no judgment. It holds nothing.

The dark, in a way, is your friend. Perhaps your only friend.

Now imagine a door blowing open on your room and a bright light shining. It illuminates all the corners of your room. You see borders ⁠— hard edges all around you. A flood of sound pours in beating holes through your sensitive eardrums. People spill through the door. Their eyes fall on your face, your hair, your clothes, your disarray. They take in the state of your room, quickly deducing it's size, it's usefulness, it's cost relative to the real estate market in the area, the last time it was cleaned. Each person carries the weight of their own history into your room, crowding it with their expectations, the questions they ask with their mouths or their faces, the needs they hope you will meet.

But the worst, most disturbing thing of all is the light itself. So instantaneously consuming that you question if you are on fire. Your eyes erupt in spasms of anguish. You can barely make out the shapes of those around you. They are pillars of color, a vibrant mish-mash of data you are not equipped to compute. Everything is confusing and overwhelming and disorienting and ALL AT ONCE. You can scarcely breathe for it all. You desire nothing more than to crawl inside your own skin and disappear.

And your friend ⁠— the dark, the one thing you knew in this place, that truly knew you as you are rather than as you were or as you are desired to be, is gone.

You know, as your heart implodes on itself and your adrenaline spikes, that if the people around you have their way, they will drag you from this room, and you will never return again.

This is a bit what it's like to be at the mercy of others when you have lost a child. Everyone in a rush to get you out of that room when all you really know anymore, all you can really handle is the dark.

And it's not because they know what's best for you, though they likely think they do. And it's not simply because they want to help you, though they likely tell themselves that's all it is. It's because they, themselves, are terrified of the dark. You are making friends with the enemy, and that is something they simply cannot allow, no matter the reason.

Here's what I want you to know if you are in that dark room: you can leave whenever you're ready. And whether you believe me or not, I promise you, you will. You will take slow, cautious steps back into the outside world. You will instinctively know your tolerance for the light. And you will retreat before disorientation sets in. Your room will always be there. To hold you. To hide you. To observe what is too personal for anyone else to see. The darkness doesn't disappear when you find your way back into the light. It remains inside of you, bearing eternal witness to your pain. Ready to give you shelter at a moment's notice.

If you find yourself responding to your need for this time with shame, ask yourself why you would trust someone with no experience of your suffering with your heart? Would you trust a newborn infant with a 1,500 pound steer? Or a rare, night-blooming orchid under a heat lamp? Some things, often the most precious things, require a delicate hand.

People don't like to admit it, but everyone needs to get out of the light from time to time.

And here's what I want the people around you to know: you cannot force-feed light without doing extra, unnecessary damage. If your aim is to singe their retinas beyond all hope of sight, then by all means, get in there and wrestle them from their chrysalis. But if your desire is to support them through the most difficult human experience imaginable, then understand that extended stays in the dark require a slow and steady acclimation to the light. Your job is not to evict your loved one from the nucleus of their pain. Your job is to stand by the door and offer your hand when they decide they need a short change of scenery. And if able, to brave your own fears long enough to sit at their side once in a while when they simply cannot emerge.

If you find yourself struggling to let them have their process, ask yourself what about their pain is so intolerable to you. Where is the dark room inside yourself that you haven't visited in a very long while? Why do you think you know what's best for someone else? Someone who is integrating an experience of loss you have no personal exposure to? Someone whose internal blueprint is completely unique and separate from your own? Someone whose needs, preferences, and desires are perhaps nothing like yours?

What are you so afraid of?

The light doesn't vanish from existence when someone retreats to their dark room. They carry it with them into their landscape of grief and despair. It is the tiny pulse inside that tells them when to go deeper and when to arise and how far. If you cannot trust their light to guide them, how can you trust your own?

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