Get Off the Ledge
By Steve Wright, LCPC, Director of Spiritual Services
When we experience difficulty in life and find ourselves unable to cope, it can feel overwhelming. When we are overwhelmed, we may feel compelled to do something… anything, to avoid that pain. However, in most cases, the avoidance of pain (and here I’m talking about mental and emotional distress) only tends to make matters worse, especially when those avoidance behaviors are unhealthy and destructive.
If I engage in an eating disorder to try and manage the fear I feel of gaining weight, I will, inevitably, damage my body. If I drink to stop my racing thoughts or try to manage my social anxiety, I can become addicted and eventually be unable to stop by myself (not to mention the adverse health consequences). Whatever the avoidant behavior, in the end, I still experience that internal pain.
I worked with a woman who was engaged in both of those behaviors desperate to avoid her thoughts and feelings. Her resistance to her internal pain led to deep suffering and, eventually, thoughts of suicide. She told me that, one day, she decided to drive to the top of a parking garage, get out of her car, walk to the ledge of the building and jump. As she stood on the ledge she experienced fear and doubt about ending her life in this way. Eventually she decided not to follow through with her plan and went to get help.
Her aborted attempt prompted a question for me — What do we do when we find ourselves on the ledge? I came up with an acronym for some advice that I have had to follow in my life using the word “LEDGE.”
L – Look at your pain
Instead of avoiding and turning away from the pain that you may be feeling, look at it. See it for what it is. Notice the history, the causes, the impact and the power this pain has over you. Name that pain. Put a label on it. Choose to stop turning away from what hurts. Realize that your pain is a human experience.
E – Embrace your pain
In your mind, imagine that, until this moment, you have been trying to push your pain away or run from it. Now, instead, imagine that you are putting your arms around your pain and choosing to feel it. Claim the pain as yours. Decide not to push it away or run from it any longer. Say out loud, “This is my pain and I will feel it.” Notice how it hurts and choose to endure it.
D – Describe your pain
Put words to your experience. Use language to create a deeper understanding of your pain and to take away the mystery of it. Being able to put into words the feelings and experience of having our pain decreases the power that pain has over us.
G – Get off the ledge
Make the choice to stop allowing your pain to control your behavior. That might mean seeking out help or starting a process of recovery or healing. Getting off the ledge means determining to let go of the impact your pain has had on you.
E – Engage in living
It is entirely true that we can hurt and live at the same time. Both can be true together. Once we get off the ledge we need to engage in the here and now, staying connected with life and people, and arranging our actions in purposeful ways. We should look for ways to be grateful and use that gratitude to see beyond ourselves and our pain.
In the end, as we engage in living again, we eventually move through our pain and come out the other side. The hurt and ache diminishes and we are left only with the memory, a memory that no longer overwhelms us but causes us to feel more empowered and whole.
This is what I had to do at a very dark time in my life. My pain threatened to swallow me up. Although I never considered suicide, there were many days that I wanted to just give up. But, with help, I looked at my pain, embraced it, described it to myself (quite a number of journal entries, actually). Then I got off the ledge and started engaging in what turned out to be a new life for me.
Do you want to know something? In the end, I realize now that through that and other difficult experiences, I grew. Now, as I look back, I truly am grateful for those trials.
*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™ Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*