Swinging out over the abyss can feel like freefall. But, there's a way to sustain momentum – by taking small, clear steps towards the "other side."
Sometimes in life you come to a junction – a point in time when decisions must be made that may require letting go, transitioning into uncharted territory. Did you know that the word "transition" actually comes from the Latin word “transire” which means “to go across?" When you are in a period of transitions in life, you are, literally "going across," going through the process of changing from one state or condition to another.
Letting go of the trapeze...?
Letting go can be hard because it means learning from your past. It also means facing your future – the unknown – perhaps without a net!
Typical life transitions include divorce, empty nest, illness or losing a loved one, but can include many other circumstances such as graduating from college, getting laid off from your job, changing your career path, or retirement. Whatever the reason – whether forced upon you, or the result of a series of choice or decisions – how you write the story, how you bridge that chasm, how you move to the "other side" to grab the other bar of the trapeze, is up to you.
Swinging out over the abyss
Death, divorce, drugs, unemployment, depression
In 2013, my dad died. In 2014, I was laid off from my six-figure job. That same year, I filed for divorce signaling the end of my 18-year marriage.
Following my divorce, my daughter, 18 at the time, moved out and on to a life as a heroin addict. I managed to cobble together a life, get and lose another job, and get my son through his undergraduate and graduate degrees. But not without experiencing significant loss, grieving one life hit after another.
I'm still standing
So, how am I coping, managing to continue moving forward, still uncertain about when or how I will "grab the other bar" while I am fairly certain I am still over the abyss without a net??
1. Give up attachment to how things "ought to be."
My professor friend who is my bicycling buddy likes to say that I have been "blessed in unconventional ways." This thought and the sentiment behind it, that it's okay not to have what most of my peers have in terms of a marriage, "normal" children, personal wealth, plans for a secure retirement and so on, gives me hope.
I do believe that I have been blessed in "unconventional" ways. When I look at the reality of my life, I have abundance: everything I need. I have learned through all my loss, depression, anxiety, and worry about things that I can't control in life that remaining fixated on how you think your life should be focuses your attention on lack rather than abundance, and on wishful thinking instead of reality.
If you need to be reminded of how blessed you are, especially those of us with primarily first-world problems, make a list of all the great things and people in your life. Another exercise I used recently was to create my own list of "simple rules for abundant living." I found this incredibly helpful in refocusing, and illuminating what is really important to me. A kind of personal Manifesto. My Jerry Maguire version of "just a mission statement" at this juncture, this transition time, in my life.
2. Do not "move on" without "doing the work."
Staying busy (read: distracted), getting a new relationship without healing the loss of the old, forgetting about a person you love, or diminishing a life-changing event or relationship by dismissing or "packing it away" are not helping you become a better you. Neither is hanging on to grief, anger, disappointment, bitterness, blaming, dwelling, ruminating, victimhood...you get the picture. By "not doing the work," you are simply delaying the inevitable. The same old hurts and hangups will continue to surface, and will plague you in the future. Grieving takes time, of course, and part of doing the work of grieving is giving yourself time...and, allowing yourself to feel. Every. Painful. Feeling.
The toolkit for doing the work is extensive, and there is no one right way to move on. Some conventional methods include talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (changing the way you think), hypnotherapy, support groups, regular exercise, Grief Share classes (check your local churches), learning to establish healthy boundaries, traveling to new places, spending time in nature, challenging limiting beliefs, facing your fears, learning to live without regret, experimenting with openness, and on and on. I am no therapist, pastor, relationship coach, nor a spiritual guru: but I know where to find many of these helpers and tools, have accessed many myself, and can help you find your way to do the work you need to do. In future blog posts, I will talk about the importance of #selfcare in finding your way forward.
3. Open yourself up to growth.
Time, help from professionals, and other kinds of "soulwork" are just the beginning of your journey to a happier, healthier you. Many of the small, clear steps that you will take on your journey involve simply remaining "open." It's important to learn how to stay in the flow. One favorite analogy is that each of us is either thrown in or we jump in to our own river, with the current pulling us downstream with force and intent. To try to divert from the natural flow can create danger or injury, when relaxing and going with that flow is a better (and safer) way to be. This doesn't mean that you don't direct your activities towards your new goals or new life. This simply means that you want to recognize when you are in the river, and that your life's direction is taking you somewhere. You may need to trust that the "somewhere" is a better place for you. And, that your active intention to stay in the flow of your new direction demands that you stay open, to growth, to change, to new vistas, to new possibilities. For those of us who "hang on" to the past, or to old hurts and hangups, or to the way things "should have been," staying open to life's pleasures and possibilities can be anathema. Opening up is not a curse, however, it falls squarely into the "blessing" category.
We must continue to honor our drive to create. To actively participate in the recreation, the reinvention of our own lives. Part of this journey, staying in the flow, is returning to you. I will have a lot to say about this topic in future posts. Stay tuned.