Alright, lovely. This is going to get real.
Sometimes life has its share of heavy things, as I’m sure you already know: relationships end. Friendships change. Job opportunities don’t transpire. Houses sell to other buyers. People disappoint. Loved ones pass. Things don’t unfold the way you’d envisioned. Shit happens. Hearts break.
But hearts will heal, too, if you let them. Life, as in nature, consistently repeats the pattern of up and down, inhale and exhale, ebb and flow, growth and decay. After life, death, and from death, life. This is a fact. Because although that can feel heavy or dark at the beginning, it doesn’t have to stay that way (told you this was going to get real).
This is more than having a positive attitude, and more than trying to will something uncomfortable or painful away. Being positive doesn’t mean that you’re going to avoid the shit that happens, it means that you’re going to deal with the shit in a particular way when it does; that’s where you find healing. Here’s how.
Get Hella Clear on Your Perspective: You are not a victim, babe. Oh yeah, you heard me. Life is 10% what happens in your life, and 90% how you react to it. Though you can’t always control what happens, you can always, always control how you react to it when it does. How you show up in each and every interaction, reaction, and relationship is entirely up to you. Does this mean you can’t feel sad or angry or disappointed? Hell no; quite the opposite. You can feel all of the things (see next point), and still choose how you’re going to carry yourself moving forward. Life isn’t happening to you, it’s happening for you; this isn’t some sanctimonious or trite one off – it’s absolutely true, and is a game changing way of living that will rock your world IF you allow yourself to change your perspective.
No matter what situation you just experienced, which words were just exchanged, what loss you just felt…if you can take a deep breath and stay focused on knowing that there is always a lesson for you to learn, you will always have something to gain. Yes, some lessons are easier to find and learn than others, but trust me, look hard enough and you will always find it. And when you find it, you grow from it. That’s how you make space for something good to come from something bad.
Feel It All: Loss is loss, no matter what form it shows up in. And oh baby, I know it hurts. Like really, really hurts. Loss, as I bet you know, does this weird and icky thing where it rears its ugly head across a thousand different moments in a thousand different ways. One moment you’re fine, sipping your coffee at the kitchen table, and suddenly, after an unsuspecting trigger – a thought, a song, a social media post – suddenly that moment finds you rage crying, in despair, clinging to a memory, pissed off, and sobbing on the floor.
That’s grief. We store it wayyyy deep down in our physical bodies, where our heads can’t even get to it to overthink our way through. Just when you think you’re over it, you’ve moved on, you’re doing great? Something comes out of nowhere and knocks you out. Sneaky bastard.
When those moments of grief strike, honey, you’ve got to lean into them. Let the feeling wash right over you and feel all of its awfulness shake you up at your core. Will you feel like a crazy person? Totally. 100% mental. That goes without saying. It will feel awful and uncomfortable and like you are a rag doll at the mercy of an unkind and unrelenting, possibly rabid playmate. It will feel like you are not in control of your own emotions, because with loss and grief, you aren’t really in control of your own emotions.
Nonetheless, the only way out is through, so let each feeling from anger to sadness to fear to resentment just wash over you. Honour it, acknowledge it, feeeeeel it, then peacefully and politely invite it to get the hell on its way. This might seem impossible at the time, but as with anything, practice makes perfect; eventually those gut wrenching moments will be far more fleeting when they arrive, and will gradually subside over time.
This deep and physical feeling work is crucial to your emotional and physical health. Some people are very, very good at suppressing and burying their feelings – temporarily. That repression does not work though, it just buries the feelings until they come back stronger and more debilitating the next time, over and over, until you actually deal with it. But when something is repressed over and over again, ignored, looked over, and stuffed way back down in the body without ever being attended to and dealt with, it starts to present as addiction and illness. So do the right thing; feel all the feels, deal with the discomfort, and know that this too shall pass. Not always easy in the short term, but is ultimately the path to get you to the other side.
Take Really, Really Good Care of Yourself: When you’re experiencing the grief over a loss, you might not be fully
present with what you need. Find the inner strength to override that and treat yourself as if you were a child. When you connect with that little kid inside of you, it’s a lot easier to attend to your needs. This too feels kind of nuts at first…and then it feels amaaaaaazing.
Hold your teddy or blanket when you’re on the couch. Ask yourself in the gentlest of ways what you’d really like to do today, or what special thing you’d love to eat. Buy the fun shapes of pasta, let yourself skip down the street, use a bendy straw to drink from your water glass and blow bubbles, take a nap when you feel tired, jump in a puddle, get the sparkly shoes, climb a tree, go for ice cream, whatever makes you feel cared for by you. Do really simple things that care for a deeper part of you, and that will prove to be oh so nourishing as you incorporate them into daily life. For real healing to occur we need to honour all the parts of us that were wounded along the way, and indulging that childlike spirit within you is a surefire way to heal yourself from the inside out.
Detach from Outcomes: This is a great life skill in general. It’s incredibly powerful to be able to not only learn from every moment, but to live in every moment. We have a nasty habit of attaching ourselves to what we think is going to happen, and what we think should happen, and it can be toxic. We get anxious with anticipation, then feel shattered if things don’t go “as planned.” Instead, get your head into the space of detaching from any expectation of what might happen, and enjoy every relationship, every situation, every interaction for exactly what it is, no more and no less. Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh will help you arrive at that Buddhist state of mind.
Make Something: Something. Anything. Do something creative. Write. Draw. Doodle. (just never, ever actually say the word doodle). Whittle (ibid). Sing in the car. Dance. Paint. Journal. Build random Inukshuks on logs. Cook. Bake. Macrame. Plant stuff. Make something with your hands that is an expression of your soul, and in doing so, embody Carrie Fisher’s notion to “take your broken heart, make it into art.”
Inside always wants out, so listen, and let whatever wants out to come out. Even if you never share it with another soul, just make it and let yourself go through that creative process. There is something widely cathartic about following the lead from within, and being lead not by your head, but by your body.
Prioritize Adventure: In the face of loss, you’ve got to bring back joy. Traveling, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, will get you there fast: explore a neighborhood different than your own. Act like a tourist in your own city. Pick a place a couple hours from you and road trip there for the day. Go to a restaurant or gallery you’ve never been to but have always been curious about. Hop on a plane, train, or automobile and get out of dodge for the weekend. It literally does not matter where you go, as long as you get there.
Don’t dwell on any past experiences, just embrace the moment of freedom that finds you able to have new experiences, go on new adventures, meet new people, discover new – and old – parts of you that make you you. This is how you heal the parts of you that are attached to memories that no longer serve you moving forward.
Baby, you’re not broken. A little dinged up, maybe; but that’s all part of the experience, and where all of the stories are. Real, true, and deep healing is absolutely possible, and although it isn’t easy, there is so much freedom on the other side. It’s worth it…and so are you.