No [person] left behind. USMC
“It takes a village.” “There’s strength in numbers.” These wise cliches notwithstanding, so many of us lead lives of isolation, a physical reality and harmful state of mind that are being exacerbated day after day as COVID cases increase. Today, I will talk about combating the depression and fear that loneliness often brings.
I know the feelings of isolation and deep sadness well, having battled through and come out the other side of a severe depressive episode in 2013. Throughout that year, and into early 2014, a number of healing levers pried me out of the vise-grip of depression and alcoholism. In addition to medical and talk therapies, one of the most important elements of my recovery was the wonderful group of people whose love and unwavering support kept me on the path to healing.
I began to call this group my “SEAL Team.” I was inspired by the military tradition that no member of their Teams is ever left behind. For me, the SEAL acronym stands for a crew that provides Support, Energy, Accountability, and Love, because that is what my Team gives me without condition. And vice versa.
I suppose I have always had a SEAL Team of sorts, but I wasn’t as intentional about recruiting specific people for it until I fell into the abyss of depression. Here are the folks who have honored me by coming aboard. Without presuming, I like to think that I am also on the Teams some of them have put together.
Mentors: I have three. A former law partner with whom I worked for decades, my AA sponsor, and my uncle. All but one is older than I am. They are all wise, and willing to give me tough love. Tough love is still love. There are no enablers on our Team.
A cycling coach: Speaking of tough! (I like to think there is some love floating around in our arrangement somewhere.) We have been working together off and on for twenty-four years. He sends me sets of weekly rides, I do my best to complete what he prescribes, and I stay accountable by sending back weekly ride summaries. But, all things in moderation.
Some family members: This is my Team, so I damn well get to choose who’s on it. Sometimes certain family members can be part of the problem, not the solution. While it’s a delicate subject, I have subtly hinted to high school students that they shouldn’t feel obligated to automatically put their parents on their Team. Since you don’t advertise who is on your Team, hurt feelings are kept to a minimum.
Trusted friends and colleagues: My best friend and former college room-mate is a great example. As my depression faded in late 2013, and my sobriety continued, he regularly dragged me out onto Stanford’s tennis courts and driving range. He made sure that I was staying with therapy, and going to AA meetings. He still does. He can be a pain in the posterior, but I will always be grateful to him and his huge heart.
My therapist: This wise cat is on lots of people’s Teams. I’m glad he’s on mine. He keeps me in the middle of the river even when I hit a set of rapids.
Members of the 12-step recovery program I attend: The theme song from the old show “Cheers” describes what we create for each other:
Sometimes you wanna go,
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came.
Pastors: My faith and spirituality have grown since my days growing up as a shaggy atheist in Berkeley, CA in the sixties and seventies. Ministers and pastors have guided me along the beam of faith which earned them a spot on the Team.
Pets: We have an orange cat named Cheddar, and a yellow lab named Mo. The dog doles out unconditional love, especially around her meal times. The cat tolerates me (and vice versa).
WHAT WE DO FOR EACH OTHER
Broadly speaking, I think that there are at least three life-giving benefits of a SEAL Team:
First, I am convinced that candidly sharing life’s challenges is the best onramp to the freeway to mental wellness, and the most effective antidote to the poison of stigma and shame that surround mental health conditions and addiction. As I tell my story of recovery and hope publicly, I am constantly struck by how many people (or someone they care about) are facing these challenges, and want to talk about their stuff. The trick is to find a safe, well-lighted place for sharing, far from the long shadows cast by social prejudice and denial. My Team is that place.
Second, therapies and ongoing wellness strategies are what brought me back to a full, vital life. Each person on the Team supports at least one aspect of my self-care: Exercise, faith, meditation, service, old school companionship and love, and of course, some hilarity.
Finally, as we work in the service of one another, the Team keeps evolving into an ever more resilient, inclusive network, sustained and nurtured by our unflagging support of each other. One of us who helps today, may need support the next, and no one ever gets left behind. In addition, when we work in the service of folks who are struggling, we enjoy significant mental health benefits, vitality, and longevity.
SEAL Teams are all the more important as the pandemic shoves us further into the shadows of isolation and loneliness. Thank goodness for Zoom, and other electronic means of communication. The adjective “remote” to describe these connections is inaccurate. I don’t feel remote from my friends, family, or collaborators when we get together on Zoom. I can’t hug them, but warmth and companionship shine through that screen. I can’t sit across from my mom in her sunny Berkeley living room these days, but I can picture her there clearly, as our love flows back and forth through the phone.
May you recruit and help nurture your own SEAL Team, whose members are never left behind.
Book: Out of my Shoes, by Meredith L. Stout (SEAL, First Class)
Netflix series: The Queen’s Gambit
QUOTE OF THE DAY
We build community when we share our wounds.Joel Drucker, Writer
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