“It’ll be okay; it’s for the best.” “Time heals all wounds.” “Keep your chin up–just keep moving forward.” “Forgive and forget.” If you’ve ever gone through a rough time in your life, you’ve no doubt heard some of those statements before. Well-meaning, well intentioned people can give really good advice, but when you aren’t available to hear it–when you are in the midst of life’s latest challenge–how can you really process the message? You’ve got so many conflicting emotions going on–strong emotions–each vying for time and attention in your mind. Maybe you’re scared, angry, embarrassed, vengeful, jealous, or depressed. Hearing advice at that point doesn’t seem to mute the feelings as much as add to them.
My tremendous jump in life growth began when my younger brother died suddenly in a tragic accident back in 2005. I had already gone through a rough childhood, and his death became the catalyst for addressing old, unhealed wounds. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the unraveling of my marriage began. It had begun really, even before we were married; but like the ball of yarn, it always seems to unravel fastest in the end.
Grief-stricken due to my brother’s death, my ex seemed impervious and cold to my intense sadness. Seeking solace, I looked inward seeking answers from spirituality, psychology, and personal development as part of my path to healing my wounded soul. I also sought a therapist to guide me through the muck of my pain. I was ready to look headlong into all those things that had been causing me to act out in life. I didn’t want to hurt anymore.
It takes courage to look your painful past in the eye It is scary leaving your comfort zone, going through some intense memories and feelings, and even facing the fact that you may have to leave some people behind as they react to your newfound growth and inner peace. I found that the benefits far outweighed the costs involved with intense personal and soul growth–I plunged into it wholeheartedly, determined to be a better person.
There are many ways to move on from challenges. One is to begin to embrace and trust that all a challenge is, is a learning opportunity. If we grasp its lesson, we can focus on the positive side of what has happened. This doesn’t mean to numb yourself or negate the reality of the situation; it means feeling and processing all those intense emotions, then choosing to focus on the bright side. When you’re in the midst of chaos, sometimes it doesn’t feel like there could be a bright side. Sometimes you have to look for it. For example, when I coach people who are going through a divorce, I’ll ask them to write down all the positives about the break-up they can think of. Like, no more dealing with the toilet seat up, no more snoring, you may feel a lot less tension in the house, there may be more opportunities for connection with friends and family, more time for working on yourself, you may suddenly wish to lose all the extra weight that had been creeping up on you so that you are now healthier–the positive aspects of divorce are innumerable, but you must take the time to tease them out. Your mind can so easily focus on the negative aspects, but really, where does that get you? It can lead to a disempowering story–a victim saga that only serves to keep you stuck.
When my ex-husband and I first separated, I was scared out of my mind. I was also angry, frustrated, confused, and incredibly sad. I had been a stay-at-home mother for 14 years–I had no job, no college degree, no money, 3 kids (and navigating the family courts, custody hearings, and dealing with parental alienation were all part of my journey called divorce). I was living in a place we had recently moved to, so I had no family around. At my therapist's suggestion, I joined a divorce support group, only to find that I struggled going each week because of the negative atmosphere of the meetings. Support to me is not getting everyone to agree about how shmucky your ex is years after you’ve broken up, rehashing stuff that happened years ago (stuff like that’s fine for a little while, but when it becomes your story and the sole focus of your conversations, you’ve become stuck in your story)–some of these women had been divorced 5 or more years and were living their grief still. While the emotional pain is understandable, a support group should not perpetuate the pain week after week, but rather inspire and process the pain in a way that will create real and lasting positive growth. As a coach, I recognize a person’s need to be heard, to be listened to, to be acknowledged. However, when it becomes a person’s story (i.e. a victim), then it is time to create a new story–a story based on hope and inspiration. There are other aspects of tragedy–the issue with this particular group was that they were continually choosing to focus on their old stories of woe and misery. Instead of moving past their hurt and pain, they remained stuck in it. That doesn't enhance your life; it detracts from it.
How does one move on in spite of the inevitable pain of life’s challenges?
- Recognize that you aren’t alone. If you are feeling that way, reach out to someone who has been there, done that or find a competent therapist to talk to.
- Connect with others for positive support. Choose people who lift you up, not bring you down.
- Volunteer your time. Sometimes it’s helpful if you can “get out of yourself and your own problems” and help those who are less fortunate than you–because there is always someone less fortunate than you.
- Take a walk in nature. Nature is very calming, soothing, and beautiful. Notice the beauty around you; be mindful and present while walking.
- Listen to guided hypnosis downloads. I’ve created one about dissolving the cord with your ex. You may want to listen to one on creating inner peace, positive affirmations, happiness, or any others you feel might benefit you. Listen to it for at least 21 days and you’ll notice a difference in your life.
- Start a gratitude practice. This habit forces you to focus on the positive. What’s going right in your life? Why are you blessed?
- Find things to laugh about–listen to funny comedians, watch a funny movie, read a good joke book.
- Cry. Sometimes we need a good cry to clear our systems out.
- Create a new story for yourself. Be the hero/heroine of your story–not the victim. You are NOT a victim. You are a powerful and loved human being–don’t forget that.
- Do things that make your life meaningful. What gives you tremendous pleasure? What things do you do that make you lose track of time?
- Try EMDR, Reiki, or another alternative medical treatment for processing your emotions.
- Practice self-care. Be diligent in this.
- Exercise. Stress from challenging situations takes its toll on your emotional and physical health. Exercise is one way of dealing with it.
- Breathe. Become aware of your breathing and breathe deeply for at least three good deep breaths.
- Ask yourself : What can you learn from this situation? What is it there to teach you?
- Inspire yourself. Become a role model for others, a beacon of light for those who might someday go through what you’ve gone through.
- Seek out balance in your life–whatever that may be. Grieve for a little bit, and also invite the joy in. Work and play.
- Allow your mind to dwell on the situation at hand for a certain amount of time (say 7 to 7:30), then let go. Whenever your mind drifts back, remind yourself that you’ll have that time later.
Moving on from life’s challenges is hard. It’s unfortunate, but everyone at some point will face loss, disappointment, frustration, and anger over something that was out of their control. I’m reminded of Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. In it he states:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Another quote of his is:
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
This book, by the way, if you don’t already know it, was written by a man who survived being imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. He endured his family members--including his wife--dying and his life as he knew it was never the same. The life he made for himself afterward was inspiring and meaningful. He’s given others hope, including myself, of being like the Phoenix and rising from the ashes.
Like Frankl, you also have the ability to give meaning to your suffering. And speaking of suffering, one of the quotes I repeated often to myself during my divorce was “Suffering is not seeing things the way they are,” a quote I believe that was said by Stephen Cope (of Kripalu). And, if you can’t tell already, I like quotes. They encapsulate bits of wisdom to be inspired from and shared (catch me on Twitter @nicolenenninger for more inspiring quotes!).
Life gives us lessons that may be hard to bear, but when it comes down to it, innately you know that you will find the strength to carry on. Hold onto the thought that there is something better for you out there. Switch your attitude to one of hope instead of despair. Change is hard; resisting it is harder. Like a fist, let go of the tension and allow what is. Be present in the moment, to the sounds, the smells, the people around you. Get back in touch with what your soul needs–beauty, joy, peace, and harmony. Envelop these attributes in your life; incorporate them into your day. Consciously choose to find ways to allow them in. And in the meantime, I wish you well with all of your life’s endeavors. Life’s lessons can be challenging, but we gain our greatest wisdom going through them instead of becoming stuck and defined by them.
If you are interested in coaching through your life’s challenge, contact me. Together as a team we can work on finding a positive focus, gaining forward momentum, and creating the life of your dreams. Life is too short to be sitting on the sidelines. Get out there–get back into the game of life!