From Hopeless to Hope

Photo by Tony L on Unsplash

A new year has begun, and I hear deep yearnings for hopefulness in the people I connect with in and out of the recovering communities. This has led me to reflect upon hope and what can help us both develop and maintain hope. Consider these three dimensions: Imaginative, cognitive, and supportive.

My reflections upon hope were kick-started when I read a book by Brene Brown, a favorite heroine of mine. The book was The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden Publishing, Center City, MN, 2010). In the book, Brene raises aspects of hope, largely the cognitive dimension. I have added the imaginative and the supportive dimensions.

Let me begin with a personal story that I hope illustrates how these three dimensions intermingle and work together to bring about hope. Many years ago, I had an idea of creating a group of consultants to work with church communities. I invited a number of people to come together and talk about this idea. Almost everyone who came was enthusiastic about the idea. I then asked who would be willing to come together and take this idea and make it a reality. Six people said “yes,” and we began to meet regularly to flesh out the idea. Eventually, two other men and I committed to being part of this group and project. There were moments when the dream of doing this seemed too big to pull off. Along the way, we made adjustments and tried some different things, and then in the fall of 1977, we initiated the project in Minneapolis. It took time as well as the people hanging in there as went through the planning process and took the steps to make it happen. With this story as a backdrop, let me take apart the three dimensions of hope.

It is very difficult to achieve and maintain sobriety – whatever be our addiction – ALONEThe first dimension relates to our imaginations, and our imaginations provide us with ideas, images, dreams, and visions of what might be possible for us and for others. These ideas and images at times appear like they came out of nowhere; at other times, they emerge out of conversations with others about what is important to us; and other times, from night dreams. For our imaginations to contribute to developing hope, it is necessary that we be attentive to these ideas and images that come to us. I paid attention to the idea that led to the formation of that group of consultants that I mentioned above. I am not sure that I knew where the idea came from. In retrospect, it was very important that I was attentive to this idea and began looking at ways to make the idea a reality. There is an interesting quote in the Hebrew Bible from the Book of Proverbs (29:18): “Without a vision, the people perish.” Our imaginations provide us with visions and images that are life-giving, and without them, we can languish, give up and lose hope. A Beatles’ song comes to mind that speaks to me of this imaginative dimension: Imagine.

Now, we can turn to the cognitive dimension without letting go of the imaginative dimension which we will need as we continue to work with how our ideas and visions could become reality. By this I mean we might run into obstacles and roadblocks that will need our imaginations to figure out ways to keep our hopes alive. We need the cognitive or cognitive dimension to get to the practicalities of what we might do. In my story, this meant doing things like sending the idea to others for feedback and suggestions, as well as calling people together to talk about the idea. This involves setting some goals and naming some of the things we might do to reach the goals we have set. Brene Brown is very insistent that hope is very much a product of our thinking and not so much an emotion. Brene also speaks of the importance of having the confidence that we can pull this off. Goal setting along with confidence breeds hope, especially seeing what we hope might happen, happen. I can’t think of a song for this cognitive dimension – can you?

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This, then, brings us to the third dimension – the supportive element. As John Donne once said (I have substituted a change in wording to be more inclusive)” “No one is an island.” We need the support and companionship of others to realize our dreams and visions as well as maintain our hopes when our plans seem to be going nowhere or when we decide to shift from Plan A to Plan B. In my story, I immediately sought the support and input from others to see what others thought, as well as involve and enroll them in this process.

I recently wrote a book on the importance of having Villages: The Village it Takes: The Power to Affirm (Gasscann Publishers, Minneapolis MN, 2021). We all need groups and communities where people know us and will support us in our ups and downs. It is like having our own Cheers – where people know our names! I have learned this again and again in my recovery experiences and being in the same 12 Step group for over twenty-six years. It is very difficult to achieve and maintain sobriety – whatever be our addiction – ALONE. Also, I have found in the different groups I belong to that the atmosphere of the group feeds my yearnings for hope whatever I am thinking about and working on. The other people feed my hopes and I hope I feed theirs. To paraphrase a Biblical quote: ”Where two of three are gathered together, there is the possibility that a Higher Power is present and active.” Or the group is able to accomplish more than I would ever be able to accomplish alone. It is the impact of synergy or 1 = 1 = 3. There are more than just the individuals who are apart of the group and this helps me to keep alive my hopes for whatever it is that I am hoping for. Another Beatles’ song comes to mind for this dimension: With a Little Help from My Friends.

So, to discover and keep alive our hopes – a very important element in today’s world filled with lots of reasons to give up and throw in the towel – we need these three dimensions: Our imagination, our ability to think, and finding people who will support us in our dreams and whom we can support. These three dimensions working together create hope – I am hopeful!

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Mark T. Scannell is a veteran 12 Stepper who believes that communities or Villages are essential in helping people recover from our addictions. His most recent book – The Village It Takes: The Power To Affirm – explores this theme.

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Last Updated on January 9, 2022

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