falling apart

blasting a crater in the rut of life

My life is in the process of changing, as our lives constantly change, and at the same time I’m witnessing the major transitions of several close friends. I’ve started a new relationship for the first time in four years—an exciting, gratifying and slightly unsettling addition to my life, while a few of my friends are struggling through distressful challenges and facing some difficult decisions. We’re all supporting and encouraging each other through the good, bad, ugly, thrilling and impossible, and it’s reminding me how important times of upset and upheaval are.

I’m lucky that my transition is a positive one, but I’ve known the other side as well, and am convinced that those negative experiences were crucial to getting me where I am today. I believe the most disturbing and jarring events have a critical purpose for us, as we struggle our way through: to open up the very roots of our lives and reveal our true selves, who we really are, who we need to become.

Life transitions are never easy or particularly pretty—not even the ones we want to happen, much less the ones we don’t. And the ones we don’t want, the ones that we’ve been fearing and avoiding, are even more riddled with jagged parts, snags, pitfalls, shame and anxiety. We’ve been existing in the same paradigm for months or years, safe if not exactly happy in the known, barely daring to imagine what the unknown might sound, feel, smell and look like. We might long for another path, another kind of life—long to be truly aligned with ourselves and what’s most important to us, but we’re focused on surviving. We might want change, we just don’t necessarily know what change, or how to consciously make that choice.

And then something happens—something we were unconsciously calling in, or waiting for, or terrified of, something that knocks everything sideways. An explosion rocks our lives, whether one massive impact or a series of small yet life-altering earthquakes.

Because the hard truth is, there’s no climbing out of that rut without blowing a big gaping crater in it first. Otherwise we just keep trudging blindly along in our comfortable dissatisfaction, aware that there could and maybe should be more, but unable to see it for the high walls around us. Suddenly things blow up, and we’re thrown backwards and left flat and breathless. Once we can get back up, let the dust settle, dry our eyes—the world is all around us, strange, unfamiliar, full of possibilities. The light may be too bright, we might be more horrified than gratified at what we’re seeing, but it’s too late. There’s no going back into the rut.

I feel like that happened in both of my previous long-term relationships. I couldn’t see how unhappy and disconnected my ex-husband and I were or how unaligned I felt—I was secure, deep in my rut, even though it wasn’t the life I truly wanted, until a catastrophic eruption blew everything to hell. As for my last relationship… Who knows how long I would have stayed with a manipulative sociopath, convincing myself that I was OK, that it was worth it, had someone I loved not died and shaken my foundation to its core. Blasted a huge crater in my rut, allowing me to climb free.

Of course, what I’m experiencing now is a very different kind of life event, one that I consciously called in. But even this wanted, appreciated transition has shifted things, requiring me to work to keep my balance. As I and those I love experience the anxiety and disorientation caused by changing paradigms, it helps to remember that all transitions are complicated, all are challenging, all bring some measure of loss and fear along with the pain or pleasure. And all require us to bravely face the new life ahead of us, to step forward into the chance to live in greater alignment with who we truly want to be.

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the richest lessons can be found in the darkest moments

It’s awful. Falling apart is awful.

No two crises are the same, even for the same person, but there are common themes and feelings that arise when life as we know it falls apart. The sick, sad, anxious knotting of the stomach that can’t possibly consider food. The hot waves of shame that come and drench us with disabling embarrassment and regret and guilt and fear, leaving us chilled to the very marrow of our bones when they finally pass. The aching feeling of being separated from everyone around us, imprisoned within our misery, unable to be wholly comforted. The choking sensation of tears, never far away. The conviction that we did this, we deserve this, we don’t deserve help and nothing will ever be the same again. No matter who or what bears the blame, everything in a crisis is overwhelming and distorted into an oppressively negative perspective.

There’s no way around this, the only way to get through it is through it. Through all the anger and shame and fear. It took me two years to finally feel the rage I had built up from my first, and biggest, life crisis—for two years it lived in my stomach and heart and mind, poisoning me, hiding in shadows and affecting everything though I didn’t recognize it. Once I allowed myself to actually feel and express the pent-up rage against my ex-husband, it was only the start of my true healing—and unfortunately I was all caught up with another, and very toxic, relationship at that point, which slowed me down by another two years. Five years from my crisis, I started to feel fully healed and actualized from everything it took and gave and taught me, all the loss and anger and sadness.

I know the worst thing we can do is hide it away. Make things OK because we NEED them to be, by force of will and deliberately turning our backs on the hardest emotions and the most upsetting truths, because we know we’re to blame and it’s easier to take accountability than it is to feel anger, or because we’re too afraid of the emotions that might come out if we let them. I hid it away and turned my back for years. I don’t regret that time. I made some extremely bad decisions, but I also found peace and began to make friends with myself. The biggest benefit from running from my anger and not processing it was that I learned how important it is to never do so again. How vulnerable we are—without realizing it—when we’re wounded. How resilient and strong we are when we give ourselves a chance to repair. But the wounds have to be opened and cleaned, they have to have that stinging exposure to light and air before we can begin to cleanse them out and stitch them up. And it hurts. It hurts A LOT. A different kind of hurt than the aching festering soreness we’ve hidden from for so long. Much more immediate, impossible to ignore, impossible not to feel.

But that’s the start of healing. The sharpest pain, when felt fully, invited in, given space, even honored, will ease, and will leave behind a more wholesome wound that’s ready to start closing. Forgiveness is the final salve on those itching, healing wounds, helping seal them cleanly forever. They will leave behind scars, reminding us of the hard-fought wisdom we gained. We won’t make those same mistakes again.

I look back at myself five years ago, shaking and bruised and overwhelmed, and I see how far I’ve come. I also see the same person I always was, the person I will become through future troubles and grief. I gained so much insight about myself, yet there are whole continents left still to discover within me. So much more to learn, to heal, to release. And the crisis helped get me here—through all the terrible choices and pain and tears, through losing things I once thought I couldn’t live without. And I survived without them, I survived the loss of them. My husband, my best friend, my married identity and my marriage, my beloved pet, my self-respect and self-trust. The exterior things are gone for good. But I gained back my self-respect and self-trust. I gained a new identity, stronger and rooted in self, not in other. I learned what boundaries mean. I found my partnership with myself, found my faithful, wise inner guide, found a way to be alone without fear or lack.

I hate anyone has to go through such a sad and traumatic time. I hate that anyone has to bear a burden of shame and loneliness, and be afraid of what’s to come.

But in another sense, without in any way lessening my empathy for their pain, I’m excited for what could happen. I’m hopeful. If they can survive the pain and fire and grief and more bad decisions and upheaval and anxiety and overwhelm, they have a chance to rebuild on foundations stronger than they’ve ever imagined, out of the ruin of what was. It isn’t a quick process. Only recently am I finally feeling healed from my crises, five years from the first, a year from the second. I know I have more growing to do in just about every way—but I don’t think I have much more grieving to do. I feel at peace with what happened to me. Bubbles of anger or shame still rise occasionally, they did this week, but they’re much easier to let go of now. The deep contentment I feel at the truth of my life, the grace of having even a partial awareness of this truth, was worth every moment of heartbreak.

I wake up happy and hopeful, and I go to sleep the same. The superficial passing of emotions—boredom, dissatisfaction with work, frustration with others or myself, stress, irritation, resistance, greed, hurt, worry, embarrassment—these are nothing. They have no effect on the deeper satisfaction, gratitude and gladness I feel at my life. They come and go in ripples across a still, calm, silent lake. The depths of me is satisfied, is conscious of that satisfaction and grateful for it, is hopeful and yet detached. I used to feel as if I couldn’t possibly make sense of anything. I was caught up in an unhappy dream of myself, dissatisfied and lost, riddled with fear, beset by lack. Madly running from man to man and solution to solution, using anything to make the pain go away—except facing it.

I’m not afraid to face my pain. I’m not afraid of my darkest, most shameful secrets, my most reprehensible crimes against others, my most foolish choices, my most excruciating wounds. There will always be more rocks to turn over, more dark secrets to bring out, more behaviors to recognize and address. But for the first time, I feel whole. Wholesome and healthy, all the way through me, nourished and secure. I know I’m thriving—I can feel myself doing so, even as road rage or envy ruffles my surface. I would never have gotten here if it hadn’t been for the worst moments of my life.

So while I don’t wish that pain on anyone, I do wish on them what can happen after the pain. The freedom from dragging despair, from the cloud of dissatisfaction and negativity that never quite lifts, from autopilot and hiding from our own truths, fearing who we really are, unable to love ourselves with unconditional abandon like no one else ever can or will. The freedom to thrive.