Survive, then thrive. It’s the order of things.
Most trials, besides tragedy and trauma, can be managed by the average person without too much suffering. As for positive, life-changing events, they tend to come in pleasant showers, one at a time, so that they can be welcomed and savoured. But mix an excessive amount of trials and positive, life-changing events into a short period and what you get is significantly more than what some might call a change in routine.
In 16 months I’ve welcomed a second little baby boy into my life, my gorgeous Noah, experienced stressful relationship challenges, planned a wedding (thankfully the relationship with my husband was golden), dealt with a health scare and, to top it off nicely, the house my husband and I were renting with our two boys was sold 4 weeks before our wedding – before we had bought our new home. There was also my redundancy and a new job to embrace.
It wasn’t all pleasant and, more than once, I felt overwhelmed. I felt scared, confused, isolated and, at times, though rarely, doomed. But not once, even in my darkest hour, did I quit.
That is what I get to say at the end of it all, and it’s not a bad lesson to learn about myself. In fact, it’s a life-changing lesson. We get to construct meaning out of the circumstances, experiences and events of our lives. That’s the basic freedom we enjoy in life. Victor Frankl, a remarkable person and eminent psychologist, survived the horrors of the holocaust in Nazi Germany. He didn’t just survive the sort of terrors the rest of us couldn’t even imagine, he thrived in his life and career after it. His seminal work “Man’s Search for Meaning,” is a lesson in what it means to be strong. It’s the most inspiring work I’ve read about maintaining hope and optimism in the face of darkness. We must, he says, assign meaning to the events of our lives and frame our stories in a way that serves our growth, not our descent.
I don’t give up when the odds are stacked against me; I believe in myself and I know that I have the courage of my convictions. These diamond beliefs have been mined from the dark caves of sadness, loss and stress.
I made some pretty impressive dents in my emotional cave this year. The process was messy and uncomfortable without the protection of a hard hat, but the result, I can finally say, is golden.
I am good enough. I do my best. I fail and I behave in ways that I later regret, but I get back up and I make amends where they’re due, and walk away when that’s what’s needed.
I share my experiences openly and honestly because I believe not enough people do. People need to see their emotions reflected in other people, even if it’s just so they don’t feel alone. And let me tell you, just because someone doesn’t talk about feeling weak or angry, it doesn’t mean they are not grappling with those emotions. It just means they’ve decided not to share, and that is perfectly fine, too. It’s difficult to deal with negative judgement. I’ve experienced negative judgement publicly and privately. And guess what? I survived both. And you can too. You have a voice and sharing your voice deepens your connection to everything. The truth can knock down a beautiful façade, but in so doing, reveals backbone and authenticity.
If you feel you can share your challenges, I say you should. Why not? The world needs more people putting they’re hands up to admit imperfection. More so than it needs yet another positively biased Instagram account from another perfect person. Life is good and bad. Accepting that is the way to balance.
And in all this openness, you need to maintain boundaries around your heart.
I have carefully constructed boundaries around myself, but that doesn’t mean I’m less open to love and joy and freedom. I have a wide-open heart behind my walls. I’ve learned the importance of knowing how to live with that paradox. An open heart is a naïve heart if it welcomes everyone equally, without regard to evidence that some people don’t have your best interests at heart. It’s naïve if you believe that just because your intentions are good that someone won’t assign malice to them. More than anything, it is so fucking important to understand that people see you as they are, not how you are. I mean, wow. Who knew?
We’ve all heard it before that what people say or think about us is none of our business, but understanding what that really means after a tough experience is potent knowledge. It means the lesson is bedded in. It means it’s integrated into your psyche. It means you’re bullet-proof and no longer hooked on approval, because you’ve lost it anyway.
Waking up is hard. It means accepting that you could have dealt with things better. There are incidents in life that threaten your emotional control. There are experiences that tug at the roots of your identity. And when your emotional control is compromised, you soon learn that some words can’t be unsaid – especially when they’re the unacceptable kind of true. Satisfaction is temporary, but the regret of letting yourself down by reacting to every trigger, will persist. I can vouch for that. When they go low, do not go low. Lock yourself into a vault for a while until you’ve calmed down. With a gag over your mouth, and no wi-fi or network coverage.
This year I’ve also learned that taking an unpopular stance is risky business. If you’re not careful, you can wind up feeling discarded because you won’t compromise on your convictions. You can feel like a broken jumble sale toy or a remote-control car past its glory, no longer moving to the whims of the people it most loved to impress.
And, yet, you are none of those things. You are you. You are what you know you are. The sun still rises, even if your self-image is temporarily clouded over by an onslaught of negative opinions people hold about you. People are entitled to think and feel as they do. Your truth remains your truth without people’s belief in it. How I wish I had known that one sooner!
But in pole position this year is the lesson that emotional explosions are usually preceded by very long periods of emotional passivity. Emotional passivity, which in relationships can manifest as quiet discontent in response to things like passive aggressive ‘humour’ from others, can and does build up over time. It festers and devolves into a trigger for conflict. As we ignore the animosity we feel from others, willing it away through fantasy, we deny ourselves authentic connection. We replace authentic connection with false transactions with people we deserve better from and to whom we owe more. Maybe some people just don’t gel. That’s OK. That can be true and be OK at the same time. No one needs to stop giving another person basic respect because they are an inherently different person with a different perspective on life.
Some people confuse loyalty with obedience, and that’s OK too. For me, they are two separate things.
Loyalty to yourself comes first and if sacrificing a core conviction is the cost of a relationship, it’s too high a price. If a person can’t flex a little to allow you to be who you are, graceful absence should be your response.
And that absence is OK. It’s all OK. Difference is good. Separation gives things space to air. We need it sometimes.
Whatever you’re going through now, please know that no matter how far you feel you’ve strayed from your path, even if the harbour light looks like it’s gone out and you’re lost at sea, it’s still on. It’s there. It’s coming back to guide you home. Don’t leave the raft you’re in, even if it’s a ramshackle piece of corrugated metal. You’re so close once you’ve hit bottom. So close.
You’re going to be so glad the events of your life happened as they did.
In fact, they’ll be the making of you.
Love, love, love.
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