Category:triggers

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.

25 Ways to Find Joy and Balance During the Holidays

December 7, 2015 – Feeling down during the holidays is hard, especially when everyone else seems to be bursting with holiday spirit. So if the family gatherings, the endless parties, and the shopping get you down, remember that you are not alone. If you have lost someone you love to violence, the holiday season can be especially difficult to face. Instead of feeling enjoyment, you may be overwhelmed with sadness, loneliness, and anxiety during the holidays. The good news is you can cope with holiday stress — and maybe even find some holiday joy, too. Here are some useful tips as provided by WebMD.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Emotions
1. Keep your expectations modest. Don’t get hung up on what the holidays are supposed to be like and how you’re supposed to feel. If you’re comparing your holidays to some abstract greeting card ideal, they’ll always come up short. So don’t worry about holiday spirit and take the holidays as they come.
2. Do something different. This year, does the prospect of the usual routine fill you with holiday dread rather than holiday joy? If so, don’t surrender to it. Try something different. Have Thanksgiving at a restaurant. Spend Christmas day at the movie theater. Get your family to agree to skip gifts and instead donate the money to a charity.
3. Lean on your support system. If you’ve been depressed, you need a network of close friends and family to turn to when things get tough. So during the holidays, take time to get together with your support team regularly — or at least keep in touch by phone to keep yourself centered.
4. Don’t assume the worst. Don’t start the holiday season anticipating disaster. If you try to take the holidays as they come and limit your expectations — both good and bad — you may enjoy them more.
5. Forget the unimportant stuff. Don’t run yourself ragged just to live up to holiday tradition. So what if you don’t get the lights on the roof this year? So what if you don’t get the special Christmas mugs from the crawl space? Give yourself a break. Worrying about such trivial stuff will not add to your holiday spirit.
6. Volunteer. Sure, you may feel stressed out and booked up already. But consider taking time to help people who have less than you. Try volunteering at a soup kitchen or working for a toy drive.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Family
7. Head off problems. Think about what people or situations trigger your holiday stress and figure out ways to avoid them. If seeing your uncle stresses you out, skip his New Year’s party and just stop by for a quick hello on New Year’s Day. Instead of staying in your bleak, childhood bedroom at your stepfather’s house, check into a nearby hotel. You really have more control than you think.
8. Ask for help — but be specific. See if your spouse will lug out the decorations. Ask your sister to help you cook — or host the holiday dinner itself. Invite a friend along on shopping trips. People may be more willing to help out than you expect; they just need some guidance from you on what to do.
9. Don’t worry about things beyond your control. So your uncle and your dad get into a fight every holiday dinner and it makes you miserable. But remember your limits. You can’t control them. But you can control your own reaction to the situation.
10. Make new family traditions. People often feel compelled to keep family holiday traditions alive long past the point that anyone’s actually enjoying them. Don’t keep them going for their own sake. Consider starting a new holiday tradition instead that is meaningful to you personally.
11. Find positive ways to remember loved ones. Holidays may remind you of the loved ones who aren’t around anymore. But instead of just feeling glum, do something active to celebrate their memory. For instance, go out with your sisters to your mom’s favorite restaurant and give her a toast.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Parties
12. Don’t overbook. Pace yourself as the holiday season lasts a long time. Don’t say yes to every invitation willy-nilly. Think about which parties and you can fit in — and which ones you really want to attend.
13. Don’t stay longer than you want. Going to a party doesn’t obligate you to stay until the bitter end. Instead, just drop by for a few minutes, say hello, and explain you have other engagements. The hosts will understand that it’s a busy time of year and appreciate your effort. Knowing you have a plan to leave can really ease your anxiety.
14. Have a partner for the party. If the prospect of an office party is causing holiday stress, talk to a friend and arrange to arrive — and leave — together. You may feel much better knowing you have an ally and a plan of escape.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Shopping
15. Forget about the perfect gift. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, now is not the time to fret about finding the absolute best gift ever for your great aunt or your mailman. Remember: everybody likes a gift certificate.
16. Shop online. Save yourself the inconvenience, the crowds, and the horrors of the mall parking lot by doing the bulk of your shopping online.
17. Stick to a budget. The cost of holiday shopping mounts quickly and can make people feel out of control and anxious. So draw up a budget long before you actually start your shopping and stick to it.

Finding the Holiday Spirit: Self-Care
18. Stay on schedule. As much as you possibly can, try to stick with your normal routine during the holidays. Don’t stay too late at parties. Don’t pull an all-nighter wrapping presents. Disrupting your schedule and losing out on sleep can make your mood deteriorate.
19. Exercise. While you may not feel like you have the time to exercise during the holidays, the benefits are worth it. Exercise has a pretty strong anti-anxiety, anti-depression effect. You can work physical activity into your errands. When you’re shopping, take a few extra laps around the mall. Walk your Christmas cards to the post office instead of driving.
20. Eat sensibly. When you’re facing a dozen holiday parties and family gatherings between now and New Year’s, it’s hard to stay committed to a sensible diet. But try. Eating healthy may keep you feeling better — physically and emotionally. On the other hand, don’t beat yourself up if you go overboard on the cookie platter in the break room. It’s not a big deal. Just get back on track the next day.
21. Don’t rely on holiday spirits (or other substances). Remember that alcohol is itself a depressant and abusing it will leave you feeling worse. It also may not be safe for people taking antidepressant medication.
22. Try a sun lamp. As the daylight grows shorter, lots of people find their mood gets gloomier. While some have diagnosed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), even people who don’t may still have a seasonal aspect to their depression. Talk to your doctor about trying a sun lamp. It could improve your mood.
23. If you take medication, don’t miss doses. In the hustle of the holidays, it’s easy to slack off and miss medication, says Pope. Don’t let that happen. Make sure that you’re up-to-date on your refills, too.
24. If you see a therapist, have extra meetings. To stay grounded, plan ahead and schedule some extra sessions during the holiday season. Or you could ask about the possibility of doing quick phone check-ins.
25. Give yourself a break. Try to cut yourself some slack. Be gentle with yourself. It is the season of kindness and forgiveness, after all. Save some of it for yourself.

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

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