I got an email today asking me how to get through the worst thing that has ever happened in your life. I thought I’d share my thoughts on this here.
As some of you who read my stuff regularly know, I went through hell in 2013. I discovered my ex-wife had an affair, I lost my business due to some really horrible circumstances, I lost my house to foreclosure and had to sell literally everything I own except for my bed and my dog.
(If you want a taste of that hell, read this article that went viral about a silly Kitty Cat Lunch Bag I found while cleaning my house out after my divorce).
For a few years now, I’ve been working hard to get through. Very, very hard. And to a lot of people on the outside looking in, it looks like I’ve Got My Shit Together™ and am doing well.
Truth be told, maybe I do and maybe I am. Some days, it does feel that I’m happier now that I’m living a much simpler life. Other days, It doesn’t feel that way at all, and I lay in my bed for hours at a time staring at my celing fan wondering just how the hell it all went wrong.
The latter days are fewer and farther between. I’m very happy to report that. But they do still happen.
So what’s the secret to getting through? I don’t really know. I’ve read literally dozens of books, blogs and articles on the topic and I’m still figuring it all out. It doesn’t happen overnight, despite how badly I really wanted it to.
For instance, today was a bad day. I’ve had a few bad days lately. Before that, I had a span of 8 months where taking care of one of my best friends who lost her husband to a shocking rare illness was my only priority, so my mind was off just about anything that could bog me down. But before THAT, I was having some bad days. And some good. They came and they went, as they do.
I’m a human being. It happens. And as a human being living life through tragedy, the days can get bad here and there. As I wrote about in my daily newsletter today, when they do, even the cutest quotes-as-images don’t help.(If you’re interested in the newsletter, feel free to sign up here. I try not to make it suck. If it does, feel free to unsubscribe.)
All I can really tell you about how I got through (and how I am getting through) is that I defined a plan, and then tried to stick to it as much as I possibly could.
The plan was simple. They MUST be simple, or it gets crazy and falls apart.
I called it “The Three W’s”:
1. Work out.
In that order.
I did a lot of soul searching and also some analysis of my moods, and I found that working out helped me out more than anything else. More than booze, more than crying, more than talking. It was my personal catharsis. It might not be yours, but “working out” isn’t the point — identifying the primary thing that brings you relief is. And it’s not like it came easy — some days I literally had a friend come get me and drive me to the gym, because I didn’t want to leave the house. But I always felt better after I did.
Writing helped me put things in perspective on the good days, and helped me bleed the poison from my brain on the bad. I had to write. It was manditory. It was the “analysis after catharsis.”
I recommend highly that you begin keeping a journal. Write to yourself only and share with no one. If you’re not in the practice, it’ll feel weird at first. Let it feel weird. That’s part of it. Write about how weird it feels, even. That’s 100% valid. But if writing isn’t your gig, then talk to a friend you trust, or paint, or do SOMETHING that allows your brain to wind through the various things that are going on, and then release them.
Working was important for two reasons: I needed to eat (very important!) and I needed distraction that wasn’t destructive. Work helped a lot. It gave me purpose. It gave me a place to be every day, for 8–12 hours a day. It gave me something I could look at and know I contributed to.
Every so often, I would get it in my head to add a fourth “W”. Usually “Women” — big mistake. Dating was the wrong distraction. It became a drug. The validation plus euphoria of “good feelings” got in the way of real work that needed to be done focusing on what broke in my marriage, what happened after realizing there was an affair, the pain of betrayal… All things I am STILL dealing with, two and a half years later.
Sometimes, it was “Wine.” Don’t do this. I can say universally that every single time I’ve ever thought “I really need a drink” was exactly the moment I REALLY DID NOT. Drinking isn’t evil per se, but when you’re down, the last thing you need is depressants. Having one or two with friends? Sure. But drinking alone and drinking to numb the pain is a mistake.
Sometimes, it was “Weed.” Boy, did I love that. I never smoked before all this happened, and when I found it, I thought I discovered the secret to happiness and introspection and all kinds of wonderful things. And truth be told, I think it’s a great tool, when in the proper headspace, to really enjoy and focus on what’s in front of you. But when you’re hurting, all it does is personify and intensify that pain. Another big mistake. (It also created a munchie situation, which really hurt the most important thing on my list, working out).
Again, the things I personally did aren’t the point. The fact that I boiled down my life to three things is what matters:
1) What gives you release
2) What helps you analyze
3) Meaningful, purpose-driven distraction
That’s the core. That’s where you start. Make that list. Try the things on it, as a life mission, for a month. If you need to adjust or try new things, that’s fine. Find the three things that matter.
If you’re going through hell, this list will dramatically simplify the chaos you’re feeling. That, all by itself, will help. I promise you on everything I hold dear. Once you’ve cleared your life of everything that isn’t essential, you suddenly have room to work, move and think. And that’s when the real work can begin.
If you are going through a tough time, do this, and don’t hesitate to write me and let me know how you are. I may be a stranger to you on the internet, but I’m listening.
Huge hugs. Deep breaths. It does get better, I promise.