The last few months have been challenging as most people have noted- in the fall, I called off my engagement. In the spring, I dealt with the devastating impact pancreatic cancer took upon a dear friend and mentor, and had to say my goodbyes- dealing with grief in an entirely new way. Just two weeks ago, I was laid off from my job. Whoa, right? Yep.
Last weekend, I was catching up with a mutual friend of mine and my ex. We hadn’t seen each other since the beginning stages of the breakup- being busy with work and now, his gorgeous new little one meant everyone was busy. Except that, that wasn’t all- over homemade daiquiris, he admitted it was weird- he was transparent that he thought it was weird that my ex and I remained friends after we called off the engagement. To me, it echoed a realization I had had a few weeks prior that most people didn’t know how to handle our life transition, and each person was dealing with it in their own way, trying to make sense out of the death of a relationship, but also, adjusting to a breakup style that frankly- most people have never seen. Frankly, friends and coworkers had confided in me that they were sort of aghast that over the last few months I was relatively upbeat about the curveballs life had thrown at me. How had I handled everything so well?
Well, guys- with a little bit of sarcasm in the dark moments, a lot of tears in the darkest moments and mainly- a healthy dose of regular gratitude to rebound from those moments, has gotten me through it all.
That’s honestly what I can say about overcoming life’s obstacles and unanticipated setbacks, without gratitude, I would have crumbled. Have you read Man’s Search For Meaning? The author, Viktor Frankl, was kept in a concentration camp during WWII. That is a dark and horrific time of human history to be sure, but he talks about the importance of attitude. After reading it, I realized that if anyone in the world had the best justification for terror, pain and suffering- it would have been him and the millions of people who suffered during that time, yet he writes of gratitude and having a positive attitude. The final oppression, he notes- when someone is trying to destroy you, is to anhiliate your sense of hope, gratitude and an ability to see beyond the situation and escape with dreams and positivity.
Luckily for anyone reading this blog- I would say none of us are in a situation as dire as Frankl faced. But, that’s not to say that a troubled marriage, dead end job, health problem or debt cannot seem insurmountable. The death of a relationship or the death of a loved one can seem to be an oppression, an obstacle that weighs us down and makes life look bleak.
I started seeing every setback, every knock, as simply an expression of change. Change is often painful. It is not pain in and of itself. What you are feeling when you build a muscle is not pain with no purpose, pain in a vacuum. Pain doesn’t not exist without provocation- it does not exist in and of itself. Seeing pain as an opportunity, recognizes that discomfort is a biproduct of change. Change is good. When you are in a point of discomfort, grief, loss, fear or devastation, you are experiencing change. Change is opportunity, and yes, it can hurt.
This is how I’ve been able to work through the tears with a grateful heart. Viewing loss as an empty chasm in my heart, means that pain exists with no purpose. No, pain always has a purpose. Gratitude is magical- it transforms that emptiness into opportunity, a chance to be filled with someone new. Pain and loss can teach us something, it can grant perspective, clear off the cobwebs and help us find something amazing we never would have discovered before, and this time with appreciation since we know the hurts. Pain and loss can also cultivate gratitude in our hearts- I have learned to appreciate happy memories and special people much better after having had to bury them. Time is fleeting, every painful period must be a lesson. We cannot only learn or grow from the good times.
I’ve found that life is truly a living storybook. You can move along at your own pace, but just like a good story, something eventually has to happen to move the plot forward. This could be a job loss, a breakup, hitting the bottom of a pit of debt, getting diagnosed with an illness or simply waking up to realize you’re about to hit an age milestone and you’re panicked and unprepared. You’re moving the plot forward.
My mom had a lot of adversity in her life, but in her mind- everyone had wronged her in a permanent, victimizing way. Hurts from childhood lingered into adulthood. Marriages, long since over- like the one to my father, still enraged her 20 years after the fact. In some ways, she was waiting for a grand apology from the universe that would never come. Unfortunately for my mother, her pain did not move the plot forward, she could not move the cursor along to write her next page, and remained in a long forgotten chapter. This anger and hurt ate away at her- leading her to a shopping addiction, hoarding problem, poor food choices and alcoholism- which lead to adult onset diabetes and eventually took her life.
Truthfully, the pain in your heart and the story played in your mind can truly kill you, do not take the dialogue in your head lightly. You can never erase life’s pains and problems, but as the author of your own life, you can choose the dialogue you use to describe them.
Be grateful, it makes for a better read.