Category:coping

Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason

By: Tim J. Lawrence, The Adversity Within

I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.

I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.

He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.

And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:

Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.

That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.

It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist—and that is why I share actionable tools and strategies to work with your pain in my free newsletter. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.

So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried. 

These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on an increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.

I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in some ways it’s hardened me.

While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.

Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.

In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.

I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”

There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.

Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.

Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.

This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.

In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.

No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.

The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amid loss is grieving.

So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.

If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.

If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.

Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.

You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.

I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.

I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.

The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.

In that nothingness, they did everything.

I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.

Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.

Are there ways to find “healing” amid devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.

The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.

Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.

Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.

What to Offer Instead

When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.

Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:

I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.

Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything but something is incredibly powerful.

There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.

Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.

Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.

Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.

You are more needed than you will ever know.

And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.

Everyone else can go.

Shameful that sexual assault survivors must wait for counselling

January 30, 2017 – Our hearts break for the family of Kassidi Coyle, who died by suicide four months after a man was charged with sexually assaulting her. Since her death, her mother Judi Coyle has been advocating for more resources to help sexual assault survivors, noting that Kassidi was put on a waiting list for counselling at her local rape crisis centre and took her life two weeks before her first appointment.

Waiting lists for counselling are a continuing problem for sexual assault support centres across Ontario, says Lenore Lukasik-Foss, the chair of the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres.

At the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape, counsellor and activist Deb Singh said they have one of the shorter waiting lists for free, continuing counselling at five months. “We need more counsellors and we need more funding to pay those counsellors who have a critical understanding of sexual violence, of intimate partner violence,” Singh said. “There are people out there who want to do these jobs . . . and we are not wanting for the amount survivors out there. We know the rates at which women in Canada are experiencing sexual violence.”

Kassidi was scheduled to have an appointment at Athena’s Sexual Assault Counselling and Advocacy Centre in Barrie, according to her mother.

Kathy Willis, the executive director of Huronia Transition Homes, which includes Athena’s, said waitlist times fluctuate between one and three months, although it is possible to get crisis appointments and for cases to be fast-tracked. Willis said she could not comment on what happened in Kassidi’s case due to privacy concerns, but says her death is a tragedy that shows the terrible impact sexual violence can have.

“We try a number of different strategies internally for waitlists, but we could absolutely use probably two more full-time counselling positions,” she said. But, she said, the organization is doing its best with the resources they have. “(It) doesn’t mean survivors shouldn’t be contacting sexual assault centres. We would never leave a woman who is struggling with the impacts of sexual assault by herself, without access to service,” she said.

Lukasik-Foss points to an increase of 50 per cent in crisis line calls last year to the Hamilton-based centre where she is the director. “We know the need for support but we are not able to keep up with demand in many of the centres. That is just the reality,” she said. “We are seeing more people reaching out as there is more public education . . . but we need to be able to support them as well.” In particular, she said, there is a need for more long-term therapy options.

Lukasik-Foss said sexual assault support centres provide a number of different resources beyond one-on-one counselling; most offer group sessions, drop-in groups, art-based therapy programs and one-off workshops. They can assist with criminal injury compensation claims and accompany sexual assault victims to hospitals to process a rape kit or to the police to make a report.

24-hour crisis lines remain crucial (with interpretation available), but work is being done to provide text or live chat, she said. She added that crisis lines are also open to parents, friends and partners of sexual assault survivors.

But there are still many barriers to sexual assault survivors accessing services, particularly if they live in a rural community, she said. More also needs to be done to support people going through the criminal court process, beyond the pilot program offering four hours of free legal advice, she says.

“We want to be able to meet the needs of all survivors, young and old, newcomers, indigenous, francophone, LGBT, sex workers,” Lukasik-Foss said

But it can’t just be sexual assault centres that do the heavy lifting when it comes to supporting victims of sexual violence, said Farrah Khan, the sexual violence education and support coordinator at Ryerson University. “How can we have trauma and sexual violence informed mental health services?” she said. “What emergency supports are available?” It’s important to connect people with supports and resources while they are waiting for specialized services, she added, whether it is through sexual assault centres, hospitals, community-based organizations or online. “This is such an epidemic that everyone needs to be trained on this.”

We agree. It is critical that survivors be able to access potentially life-saving supports such as counselling at the time when they need them. How, in a province where there is an Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment, are women are still forced to wait months and months for counselling? It is time for the province to step up and fund additional full time counselling positions at all of the sexual assault and rape crisis centres across Ontario to actually ensure more choices and better outcomes for survivors through the justice system.

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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