Holding the tension between toxic positivity and total darkness | by Sally F Hope | Oct, 2021

Sally F Hope

I used to be just as annoying as all the other trite life coaches out there who give really bad advice.

And it wasn’t because I was a bad person. It was because I was naive and privileged due to age and lack of life experience. I didn’t know that at the time though, as a thirty-something who had gone through some trauma, the death of a parent as a teen, traveled a bunch, forged my own path, lived my dreams, built a business, and had gotten through some toxic breakups.

I learned how to do some shit, so I felt super good about telling others how to. Which is the first, but definitely not last, issue with the coaching industry. Just because you did something, doesn’t qualify you to tell others how to, but I digress.

Part of being in the personal development/coaching industry is the inherent belief that YOU, and only you, are in control of your life. If you don’t like something, it’s up to you to change it. If you’re sick, it’s probably because of trapped emotions, or some limiting beliefs, and all you have to do is get rid of those to heal yourself.

I wasn’t just a believer in this, I hung all my hats, coats, and fringed cowboy boots on this. Because who wouldn’t want to be in a system where anything you want is within your grasp? Who wouldn’t want to believe that you can heal, change, and live your wildest dreams? Who wouldn’t want to believe that sick people are that way by some fault of their own and if that ever happens to you, you could get out of it?

This belief system was the ultimate safety net. If all my life is in my hands, then I can create, do, or heal anything, which means that I can ultimately rid my life of any suffering. Past, present, and future.

And it wasn’t just the belief, I saw some real-life evidence. I watched the Secret, made the vision boards, meditated on prosperity and abundance, and called in the “one,” and most of that stuff I got, which dug my flag even deeper into the personal development sand.

And not only did I believe this, I taught this, over and over and over again. Whatever your ailment was, “there’s a meditation for that!” I’d say. I always had a great quote for whatever you were going through, too.

Which is why the blow has been even harder now that I’m almost four years into a completely debilitating chronic illness, one year of a cancer diagnosis. 16 rounds of chemo, and a double mastectomy under my belt.

When I first got sick, I still believed in my old personal development system. I thought for sure there was a juicing protocol or meditation that would help me. A trauma coaching modality or a shamanic healing experience that would make it all go away. I read all the books that talked about mindset and how “Your Body Keeps the Score.” I read Louise Hay, and the Medical Medium. I went paleo, vegan, and did intermittent fasting. I took the supplements and CBD, bought an infrared sauna, looked at my trauma, was the healthiest person I knew, and THEN I got cancer.

The three years leading up to my cancer diagnosis were brutal. Not only because I was losing my ability to participate in life in the way that I wanted, but also because I was losing my religion. I lost the thing I leaned on for so many years as an antidote to my pain. I lost the hope that I could heal this myself, and that there was a way out. And without that faith or hope, it was really really dark.

So once I got my cancer diagnosis, and the worst nightmare of cancer treatment started, all my previous beliefs were out the window. I hear a lot of stories of people who have used their cancer diagnosis as a wake up call to change their lives. To start eating healthier, to quit their soul-sucking jobs, to end relationships that are toxic, and finally start going after their dreams. But I started out my cancer diagnosis being a poster-child for all those things.

I already ate the cancer diet. I already told shitty people to fuck off. I already crossed off almost all my items on my bucket list. I already had complete autonomy over my career and my life. I taught meditation and yoga, and I was totally in love. I couldn’t pinpoint the thing that made this my fault, which I guess is good, but is also bad because if it’s not my fault then I can’t fix it. And when I can’t fix it, that means that life is actually completely out of my hands, and I can’t use The Secret or meditation to get out of it. With that knowledge, I found myself resonating more with my high school self who loved Edgar Allen Poe and Sartre, than my life coach self that leaned on Louise Hay and Joe Dispenza.

If I were my old life coach self, at this point in this article I’d teach you something useful about how to rise from the ashes after realizing everything you thought you knew was wrong. But since I’ve seen too much to wrap anything up in a bow, a Phoenix Rising story, this will not be.

And I guess this new phase of my life is all about exploring the intersection of all of these things. I tend to be a black and white person. I’m most comfortable when I know what I can put my whole heart into and dive all the way into. That quality made me great at being a quote-sharing life coach. But jumping in fully to “fuck everything nothing really matters” belief isn’t good when a “positive mindset” is so important to living a long, healthy, cancer-free life. So that’s the journey I’m on now. How to keep the good parts of self-help, not get sucked into the complete darkness, but not live naively in a place where I think a smoothie will solve my problems (and certainly not teach this to others).

The questions it begs are “how do I find meaning and joy among the darkness? How do I still try to find solutions to my problems without giving up my problems (and dollars) unconsciously to the wellness industry gods? How do I stand in the middle of two opposites and not get swallowed up by either one?

This tightrope is the one I’m on now, and the one I’ll be exploring in my writing. I’m creating a new website called Heavy Mettle and the writing there will explore these opposites, and what, on earth, a middle ground might be. I hope you’ll join along.

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