Suddenly, or after months of agonizing foreshadowing: a loved one dies, financial ruin, environmental disaster, an unwanted sexual encounter, a bad judgment call or a major illness. A cherished and understood reality disappears. What now? Unfortunately, no one answer or strategy works for all people. Recovering from a painful or tragic experience presents one of life’s most difficult challenges, charging every individual to craft his or her own way forward. These five guidelines can help.
One: Hardship is a Part of Life.
Life is not easy. Not all dreams come true, but some can be realized within reason. Some people do have it easier. Some people have it harder. No rules govern the dispensation of bad experiences. Your encounter with anguish sits on the continuum of bad things that can happen to people. Life’s inherent unfairness, however, in no way restricts its possibilities.
Two: Don’t Run
No matter how bad your situation may be or the amount of pain you, keep our pants on, put down your drink and don’t employ ruthless drug dealers. Stop smoking. Turn off the television. Commercials and highly stimulating visuals will increase anxiety and depression. Use technology but don’t let it use you. While fleeting mood stabilizers may be of help short-term, they won’t help you create long-term regulation. Stay in place; don’t make any big changes, yet. Your body needs nutritious food, and gentle support. Get a massage. Read novels. Share a meal. Dance, sing, act, draw, and write your way through the pain.
Many spiritual and philosophical traditions can help your mind hang onto to hope. Hate and anger can fuel your survival. Shame can be converted to inner strength and wisdom. Envy can motivate you. Avoid feeling superior as a defense against vulnerability. Just hurt, and let it show, quietly so that other people can receive you without feeling overwhelmed. Don’t always present your true self. Present the self that makes you feel safe.
Surround yourself with people who like and support your authentic self. Make use of mentors, teachers, therapists, coaches, or clergy. They have seen it all before and can listen with wisdom. Involve yourself in communities that share your beliefs and interests. Invest in yourself. This moment provides all the reasons you could need to dig deeply into the parts of yourself you most like. Help those parts come to life with others. Be a good citizen. The pride in living ethically can buttress your emotional infrastructure. The strength gained from feeling whole, real and connected can pull your forward, one step at a time.
This moment shall pass. Things will improve and get better. The passage of time allows new experiences to bind with old ones, generating growth. Work even if you have to volunteer. It is your pathway through time. Love. Don’t give up on it even if it hurts. It is your pathway back to life.