Light in Darkness

Tomorrow is the first day of winter. It is also the shortest day of the year. This is a hard time of year for many people, for various reasons:

  • Holidays of all sorts can be challenging for trauma survivors or any who are socially isolated or disconnected from their families.
  • This time of year may cause anniversary reactions, as survivors are reminded of dysfunctional and/or traumatic experiences at this time in years past.
  • So much focus is placed on Christmas in this part of the world, those with different beliefs/religions may feel especially alienated and set apart.
  • Those with seasonally impacted mood issues may feel more depressed and fatigued during the winter.

Here in Chicago it is bitterly cold and the days seem impossibly short. It is hard to remember a time of warmth and light. It may even begin to feel like it will always be this cold, this dark. We can forget that even the darkest times end.

While acknowledging that this is indeed a difficult period of time for many, I find myself wanting to think about what comes next. I turn to nature for a reminder that change occurs; that change is in fact natural. I like the reminder that on this, our darkest day, there is the promise of more light. Light returns. Every year on the first day of winter I stop and remember that each day following gets progressively longer. Instead of focusing on how dark it is today, I can celebrate the returning of the light come tomorrow.

I think we can apply this principle to other things as well. In fact, I think trauma therapists must honor the pain of today and simultaneously hold onto the hope for tomorrow. When you are in deep emotional pain it truly seems like it will last forever. I often talk with clients who experience depression about this cognitive distortion: in the depths of depression there is a tendency to forget times they felt differently. Believing you will always feel just as bad as you do now is unbearable. We need a reminder that  our darkest moments are not permanent. Moods shift, healing occurs, change is possible.

If you are depressed, if you are grieving, if you are in the midst of unresolved past pain, please know this: it gets better. Darkness is followed by the return of the light.

This year nature is giving us an extra bonus, a remarkable and rare occurrence to mark the turning of dark back to light: a complete lunar eclipse on this first day of winter. If the snow cooperates, I’m getting up early to take a look!

Some think about this seasonal shift as a time of new beginnings, an opportunity to let go of whatever is holding you back.

What can you let go?

Will you view the lunar eclipse or focus on the idea of returning light as a symbol of this process?

Will you contemplate letting go of the old and embracing the next phase of your healing journey?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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