There are a lot of books written on overcoming life challenges, 5 steps this way, 10 steps that way, all trying to produce the complete, ‘over it with these strategies’ result. Having been through a few big life challenges myself (cardiac arrest and marriage breakdown, to name but two), I can see the appeal of fast forwarding to fix mode, but as a curious woman I’m more interested in delving into the ‘why’, getting to the bottom of it, so that I don’t blindly walk through life engaging in some way of being that might lead me right back to the same life challenge, five years down the line.
That’s why I find myself recoiling a bit when I hear advice that tapping my head a certain way, or following the ‘key strategies’ of an author whose life is not perfect either, will somehow produce this ‘perfect’ result in my life. To me it’s all more saccharine than wholegrain, when it comes to figuring out the best way forward.
So when I came across Brené Browne, a professor, social scientist and author, renowned for having the biggest number of TED talk online views at one time, at first I was a bit ‘O here we go again, more ideal ways of behaving that’ll lead to the perfect life’ but when I heard her talking about her book ‘Rising Strong’ and the thoughts that we must dig into the pit of our most vulnerable selves in order to figure out what and why our lives are like they are, rather than applying a fresh coat of wallpaper, to our dodgy walls, I was into that.
Turns out my vulnerability and my acknowledging the fear, loss, confusion, grief, sadness and all out misery that some of those life changes have brought me (via this blog or in speeches I give as a Patient Advocate), is working out of the pit that Brené thinks is key to my healing. Yipee! But wait, I have to go further than that. I have to dig into my story further, what in me is triggered into those feelings by these events and why, and then seek out what in me and my thinking needs to shift in order to not feel that that way forever, but to feel good again, to heal.
It’s not pretty or easy work and it requires us to look at ourselves and discover things about ourselves that might be easier not to think about or accept. But it is doable!
If I take just one of my life crises, that being my experience of being medically misdiagnosed, and still baring the consequences of that today. I see it triggered in me (loneliness, anger, grief, anxiety, hurt), but to heal from that emotionally, yes, it was about seeing what in me needed to shift to move on with peace and hope in my heart once more.
In my own case forgiveness and acceptance were my ways forward, which I achieved through working with the spiritual faith I have, but that was achieved only after having to see myself as a sinner in life, as much as anyone else. That’s not saying I caused or condoned the misdiagnosis, but it was acknowledging that I too have made mistakes in life and need forgiveness too, so it is something I too must be prepared to give to others, even if they don’t ask for it (and they didn’t!). The upside is when I did forgive, it helped me to move on with hope in life again, because while I knew that I and others in my life would make new mistakes, causing new hurt and requiring new forgiveness, I also knew that wasn’t going to be the totality of the experience going forward. There would be joy and love and laughter too, but if I kept in the trenches of anger and sadness over what had happened, I might not get to experience the fullness of those wonderful things.
In a way I ask, is there any other way to live, other than dig deep, do the work and move forward positively? For it seems if we don’t work on getting past the negatives, we might end up living very negative, sad, angry, bitter lives. As another great lady, Edith Eger, who survived the Holocaust says, in her wonderful book ‘The Gift’, “I now recognize that the most damaging prison is in our mind, and the key is in our pocket. No matter how great our suffering or how strong the bars, it’s possible to break free from whatever’s holding us back. It’s not easy. But it is so worth it.”
It’s not the easy path digging deep after hurt. It can feel much easier and safer to stay in blame and anger mode when something awful happens. But blame and anger are heavy emotions to carry through life and like rose tinted glasses, they can provide a filter to how we view things too, only this time a negative, cynical one that robs us of future wondrous and uplifting experiences because the filter only allows us see the risk of future hurt in the options we face going forward.
Like the mountain climber, it might be time to stick on the boots and do the shlepp up that hardest stage of the mountain, in order to feel the exhilaration and splendour that comes from reaching the top and seeing the world in a whole new, wonderful way, before we have to make the next descent.
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