Any therapist will tell you…

…there are five traumatic events that will push you to and sometimes past your limits.

  1. Death of a loved one
  2. Divorce
  3. Moving
  4. Major illness or injury
  5. Job loss

There are variations of these, of course, and many more that arguably should exist on the “top five” but these are the stressful life events that I’ve heard most often. And I gotta tell ya, since the last time I blogged (around 2016), I’ve experienced all of them. I’d like to tell you that, at any given time as I suffered, I knew in my heart I would be ok. But that would be one helluva lie for my third blog entry on this site. So imma be straight with you. Since 2017, I have thought my life was over on more times than I can count on all my fingers and toes.

I wish it were as easy as telling stress and trauma to hit the road but it’s not. It’s especially difficult when you feel like you deserve the hurt. Look to God, they say. Turn to your friends and family. Ok. I hear ya. But many times, when we are at our lowest, we listen to the chorus of why we shouldn’t reach out. I don’t want to bother anyone with my problems. I am not ready to share what an awful person I am. I am strong enough to go through this alone. I am not ready to change. I don’t want to feel judged. I am scared of losing even more control. And the list goes on.

In a lot of ways, stress and trauma are like addiction. When you’re in the pit, sometimes instead of climbing out, you just pick up that shovel and dig deeper because you haven’t hit your rock bottom yet. My rock bottom was knowing I would die if I stayed in the same place for one more day. I also knew that, in order to find my way out of the pit, I had to step out of nearly everything in my life, both good and bad, that kept me from healing. Sadly, I came to that realization far too late and instead of dealing with my trauma in a healthy way, I simply took a grenade and dropped it on my entire life.

I left my dog who I loved as dearly as I’ve ever loved a human (to clarify, I really thought I’d get her back!). My job, that gave me the pride to wake up every day. My relationship that was crumbling but worthy of more respect than I gave it. I even disrespected the cancer that I was in remission from by treating my body like it was a trash can. But that’s a story for another day. I lit the match, got on a plane, and told absolutely no one what my plan was because, let’s be real honest here, I had no plan.

All I knew is I needed out and there were two ways out in my mind. To leave or to sink into a despair so low that I’d rather be dead.

But here’s the thing about resilience. It will surprise you. I didn’t die. And while I continued to stay in the pit, I was at least searching for a way out. I was pushed, whether by God or a will to survive, to seek the shelter of unconditional love. I wasn’t ready to reveal myself but I surrounded myself by people who would listen when that time came. So, who am I writing this for? The sufferer or the saviors? A little of both, I suspect.

What worked for me?

  1. Therapy
  2. Connection
  3. Setting goals and searching for purpose
  4. Nature
  5. Spirituality
  6. Forgiving myself
  7. Saying it all out loud
  8. Laughter

If you’re suffering and you want out, you have to aggressively pursue whatever might heal you and you have to do so in a selfish way. By selfish, I mean – feel free to fire your first therapist (or five). It’s ok to pick and choose who you will connect with – those that love you will understand that you need to focus on what will heal your heart and soul and will not be hurt by playing second fiddle right now. Find a goal, any goal, even if it’s just waking up the next day and then give yourself massive credit when you get there. Get out of the house, off the couch, and force yourself to explore the beauty of the world. Take a walk, listen to music, take a class, go for a drive – get into nature. Believe in something other than yourself – meditate, go to church, read about resilient people. When you’re ready, start to forgive yourself. This can be harder than forgiving others but it starts with giving yourself a pass. Learn from your mistakes, sure, but remember that you are worthy of love and a second chance. Laugh. Whatever it takes, find something that makes you giggle. For me, it was Imgur. I don’t know why but scrolling through a feed on Imgur was easier than watching a funny movie. It allowed me to distract my mind long enough that I could fall asleep, stop crying, and see that there was still joy and laughter out there.

And if you’re the one hurting because you can’t help the one hurting? Here’s a few things that I responded to but, we’re all different so you can take this (as with everything else I say) however you want:

  1. Listen to them.
  2. Love them.
  3. Respect their need for space.
  4. Ask what you can do then do it.
  5. Try to put yourself in their shoes.
  6. Acknowledge the difficulty of their struggle.
  7. Check up on them – often.
  8. Take care of yourself too.

And then a few suggestions about what NOT to do. Don’t:

  1. Judge
  2. Assume you know what they’re going through.
  3. Say, “why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
  4. Tell them to move on.
  5. Avoid them.
  6. Try to “fix” them or the situation.
  7. Say, “You don’t look that sick.”
  8. Offer unsolicited advice.
  9. Project the future (You’ll meet someone better. That job wasn’t good for you anyway. Time heals. They’re in a better place. etc.)

That’s a lot to take in, I know. And if you love someone who is struggling, it will feel like you’re walking on eggshells. All.the.damn.time. But, I’ll leave you with a quote that I think is apt. Before I do that, though, I want to say that the most important thing is checking in and being available. For someone who is hurting to just know that people love them – that is huge. At the very minimum, they might at least consider who would be hurt if they weren’t around anymore. So, anyway, the quote:

“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who tolerate not knowing….not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.” – Henri Nouwen

Good luck out there friends. It does get better. And if your life is whole and you are happy, as I am now, don’t forget to be that friend who checks in and gives their time when times are hard.

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