As human beings we thrive on predictability, and pride ourselves on being the fortune-tellers of our own futures. By predicting the future, and basing our safety and security on our ability to “know” what the future holds we bind our anxiety and deny the reality of life.
In truth, life is unpredictable, unknowable, and impossible to control. As a result we are sometimes blindsided and vehemently hit on the back of the head with the 2×4 of life’s randomness.
When I was 40 years old, I received a breast cancer diagnosis. Then, one year later, my husband announced he no longer wanted to be married. Since then I continue to find myself riding the waves of unexpected loss, and uninvited challenges that life organically brings.
When life throws its curveballs, and the world you thought you knew gets ripped out from under you, there are ways to cope and lessons to be learned. Confronting the realities of what it means to be a human being living on this earth is inevitable for all of us, but it is possible to get through unscathed. You can become a good soldier by having a protocol for dealing with what comes your way as you make the best of what feels like the worst.
First you’ll need to know that there are a few specific phases you’ll journey through as you recover from the experience of becoming untethered from what you thought was your life.
The initial blow is startling and puts you in a state of shock. You are learning very quickly that surprises are not always fun, and that when you experience an unexpected change in your life it triggers a powerful physiological response that organically comes with high levels of stress and fear. The shock usually passes within weeks creating more space for other thoughts and feelings to surface.
In this phase you’re struggling with the reality of what’s happening. You’re trying to reconcile what you expected with your current truth, and part of that process is letting go of the illusions that we all create to feel safe in the world. This is where you say things like, “I never thought this would happen” or “This feels surreal.”
Grappling with the how’s and why’s is an inevitable part of this process. Having your world go up in flames is disorienting particularly when you don’t know where you’re going to land. The uncertainty that comes with unexpected change leaves you with no solid ground so it’s normal to feel adrift and lost as you work toward understanding that you have stumbled into a life challenge you didn’t see coming.
Coping in the immediate aftermath of a life crisis is very specific. You’ll transition into other phases as you move through the process of recovery, but the initial blow and immediate traumatic response are often overlooked and bypassed because it all happens so quickly.
Slowing down and really laying a foundational system in the very beginning sets the tone for how things will unfold going forward.
An important aspect of this kind of treatment is to truly mark the beginning point of healing. There has to be a definitive moment of when the trauma ends, and the healing begins. Without this specific awareness, intentions aren’t clear and you stumble through as opposed to creating a conscious journey.
Believe it or not, it’s possible to begin when there’s no end it site. When you’re ready, and the time is right, you’ll begin putting these coping mechanisms into place:
1. Get Centered
It’s easy to get swept up in the chaos when your life is falling apart. Avoid losing all of your bearings by grounding yourself in healing routines and practices. Start by committing to a daily practice that plants you firmly on this earth so you start each day with a sense of connection to yourself or something greater. Journaling, art, meditation, dance and exercise are all wonderful centering practices.
2. Become a Pill Bug
I’m sure you’ve seen how pill bugs curl up and retreat into their shell the minute you touch them. Think of yourself in the same way because you’re vulnerable right now and need to protect yourself. This is a time to retreat as much as you can even though you’ll expect yourself to go on with life as normal. Practicing self-care and honoring your trauma are key components of coming out the other side stronger and more resilient later on.
3. Step Back
When your life is out of control your first impulse will be to “do something”. Of course there will be some issues that need immediate attention, but in general taking the time to step back and really take in the magnitude of your situation will help you gain clarity about next steps. This isn’t a time to make rash decisions or rush into solutions. Allowing the pieces and remnants of your life to land organically will give you a good sense of what you need to do next. Practice patience and trust that the process will unfold as it is intended to. This is a practice of letting go where it makes sense.
You have the capacity to learn and grow from any challenge in your life if you allow that to happen. Big challenges in life make you a deeper and more evolved person as you come to understand your own strength and resilience. Trust that you have what you need to survive, but never under-estimate the magnitude of what you’re facing.