Service

Desperation—Without it There’s No Change

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A calling is an inside force to be, create, or achieve a life experience that has not been realized. It is an exploit that cultivates bliss. Even once realized, there is a conscious enlightenment that you are doing what creates deep satisfaction within your soul. 

Callings are often missed in life for many reasons. Many people die with the music that resides within never expressed. There are a myriad of reasons why this is true. I would like to suggest only a few that I think matter most for you to consider. 

Henry David Thoreau wrote about people living quiet lives of desperation. Many never pursue their calling because they live their lives without marshaling their desperate lives. Rather than being dominated by quiet desperation, why not quietly move the energy of desperation in the direction of your favor? You don’t have to allow the days of your life to slip away into meaninglessness. If you grew up the way I did, you have every reason to feel desperate. In my recovery, I had to learn to take feelings like dread, depression, malaise, anger, shame, loneliness, and desperation and transform them into something helpful rather than hurtful. You will too. 

I have been reading Let the Record Show by Sara Schulman, a historical narrative for the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Schulman chronicles the influence and impact of those within the organization who in many cases sacrificed their very lives in pursuit of effective treatment for those suffering from HIV and AIDS. Even though there are tragically far too many deaths around the world from AIDS that are now treatable, the scientific advances that save lives today would not have been in existence had some members of ACT UP not paid the ultimate price of dying in the attempt to save others and their own lives. Schulman’s record is a narrative of desperation. Without it, the hope for healing from HIV + would have never been realized. Clearly, the annals attest to the value of desperation that existed within the calling of many thousands who mostly lived in gay and lesbian communities around our country in the 1980s and 1990s. One cannot read the accounts written of sacrifice and desperation without being inspired by their acts of service toward humanity. 

During the past three decades, I have treated many forms of addictive behavior. I have never been successful in helping an addict overcome their destructive behavior without that person being desperate. The 12-step community identifies the experience as “hitting bottom.” It’s the place where you decide down deep that you have had enough. It could be poverty, abuse, a bad marriage, addictive behavior, physical condition, etc., you name it. Only when you are desperate to change your life situation will you access the resources to transform your existence. You take the experience of desperation and move it from being victim to victor. You move the negative energy toward a positive result. You put pictures of past gloomy days of hopeless desperation in your mind that motivate you. You determine in the deep recesses of your soul that, no matter what, you will not repeat those days of hopeless desperation in your addiction or other plight of life. You become hungry and urgent with intervention. You decide to walk to hell and back to create the change you envision. You will put up with whatever discipline, behavioral change, and discomfort necessary to change the desperate environment that creates misery in your life. 

Schulmann chronicles this sense of desperation to have been most powerful in a collective community sense. Desperation is the average, common component in everyone’s life necessary to experience transformation toward discovering their own brilliance.  Without it, there would have been no ACT UP. Desperation is the component necessary to make peace from war, healthcare for all, and overcome poverty in our communities. Desperation fans the flame of personal and community will. 

Callings are stunted and fade from realization when individuals fail to redirect their desperate lives toward transformation. While you cannot do the individual work for another to redirect their desperation, collectively we can change the horizon and landscape that provides more possibility. I believe there is a calling within the community for individuals to answer. We cannot help everyone but we can take time to help others redirect desperation into transformation. The 12-step community identifies these actions as  “acts of service” that constitute living out the 12th step. 

Callings are muted by discouragement. We tell ourselves “If my situation just wasn’t so desperate!” The truth is that without your sense of desperation, nothing ever changes and callings are never answered. 

Are you feeling desperate about relationships that hurt, addictions that dominate, physical conditions that need to change, or feelings that overwhelm you? Move your experience of desperation into transformation. Become desperate to create something different. Decide you will do whatever it takes to end addictive behavior, compulsions with food, procrastination, and negative behavior that keeps you stuck and mutes your response to the calling that beckons within your soul.