Some might say I’ve had to learn a lot of things “the hard way” in life.
I was molested as a child, I lost my dad unexpectedly at 25-years-old, and I found out that my fiancé was cheating on me 7 days before what was supposed to be my dream wedding, leaving me to deal with the rubble and mess that used to look a lot like my perfect life.
In learning these hard lessons I’ve also learned that the only way to really truly learn anything is often the hard way.
My hard has seemed unbearable at times, but when I look around at the hard cards that those around me are dealt, I often don’t know how they make it to the other side.
And such is life.
A series of hard lessons that often turn into great blessings if we stick around long enough to reap the blessings they will bring.
A series of hard lessons that seem so unfair or unbearable as we encounter them, but lessons we would probably take back if we all threw our lessons into a pile in the middle of the floor and had the choice to pick from the pile.
We are always given the right challenges, even when they seem unfair or misaligned from the life we’ve decided we are going to live.
The only way we can know for sure that we are being dealt the right hand of cards is because they are the cards we are holding when we look down at our hands. The only way to know we are in the place we are meant to be is because we look down at our feet and this is where we are standing.
I’ll admit that I’ve had my fair share of pity parties but I have also grown a tough skin that contains a softened heart, and a perspective that would never have been gained without having to navigate some pretty tricky waters first. I have learned that none of us are immune to suffering, no matter how wonderful we try to live our lives, but I have also learned that sometimes good things are taken away from us so we can make room for even better things in our hearts and lives.
When I first started having flashbacks about what happened when I was little, I was terrified, angry, and confused. I didn’t understand how these memories that felt like they didn’t belong to me could so effortlessly and shamelessly flood my mind and change the course of my life forever.
I fought the memories for a really long time.
I didn’t want to accept it. I thought my ability to be strong and stoic meant that I was beating the memories and coming out on top.
But I learned eventually that the things we hide from have to go somewhere.
Sometimes they are crammed into a cardboard box in our minds that will overflow in the middle of the swimsuit section of Target on a Tuesday. Sometimes they turn into ulcers that claw and beg and bleed us from the inside out. Other times they turn into rocks being thrown at our window in the middle of the night and the reason we hold our breath whenever we walk past mirrors and Costcos.
The things we decide that we are “too strong to deal with” will find a way to make us deal with them, and it isn’t typically clean cut or pretty. I have learned to get in the trenches, face my shit, and stare my demons in the face no matter how scary or hard it is. Dealing with my problems on my own terms always works out better than facing my problems on their terms.
When I decided I was ready to talk about what happened when I was little, I experienced a visceral reaction every single time I tried to talk about it. My teeth chattered, my body shook, and I would often experience extreme and debilitating migraines following the surfacing of my memories. It was absolutely terrible.
But I got to the point where I realized that I was either going to deal with this or it was going to ruin me.
I realized that I needed to take back the power or risk the chance of feeling utterly powerless for the rest of my life.
So I talked.
I shared my story, I confided in my friends, and I learned how to ask for help and lean on others when my legs were too shaky to stand on my own. I talked about it so much that the thing that used to haunt and define me transformed into something that “just happened to me.”
I would never make light of child abuse in any way, but being able to talk about it enough until it became “something that just happened” has allowed me to help others through the sharing of my story, and serve as a beacon of hope for anyone struggling with a secret or a deeply buried box of shame and trauma. Talking about it as something that happened doesn’t for a second release the blame from the people who did what they did, but it does release the blame, shame, and guilt that I carried around in a backpack for so many years.
I am proof that we are not defined by the things that happen to us, but everything that happens to us gives us a new perspective and opportunity to define our futures.
I’m amazed now at my ability to talk about what happened without even flinching. I am able to go through days, weeks, and even months without thinking about it. I am able to decide when I want to talk about it and when I don’t.
I sleep without nightmares,
I laugh without the sharp pain of an ulcer.
I have found a way to turn something so terrible into a cause that I absolutely love to support and talk about through Speak Your Silence.
I have watched flowers bloom in a giant pile of crap, and I have found confidence and worthiness in knowing I planted the seeds.
But some losses, traumas, and lessons don’t initially bring so much hope, peace, and clarity.
Some loss isn’t fair.
Some loss rips the ground out from underneath us and lights the entire foundation of everything we’ve ever known on fire.
It isn’t fair. It will never be fair.
I’ve learned that accepting the fact that it isn’t fair and won’t ever fully make sense is honestly one of the first steps in moving forward in spite of the loss we have encountered.
Loss is something we could never prepare ourselves for. It doesn’t care how you’ve chosen to live your life, if you volunteer at your local shelter, or if you just finished curling your hair. Loss happens at its own pace, on its own time, on its own terms. And that is something that we as humans will never be able to fully relate to or understand. It comes in so many forms, each coated in their own shade of blue.
Something I’ve learned after experiencing moments in my life where it felt like the whole world stopped spinning on its axis is that life is going to continue to bring us these moments. We don’t have to live life in fear of that day, but we can allow every loss we experience to help us learn to slow down and enjoy the moments in between. I’ve experienced a lot of resentment and bitterness throughout some of the loss and grief I’ve been handed, but I’ve also been able to uncover waves of gratitude that I didn’t know existed. When it comes to my dad, I’ve found so much grace and peace in knowing I had a relationship and love that is so damn hard to miss. I have memories that comfort me in the dark moments and lessons that help me keep a little piece of my dad with me wherever I go. With my recent relationship ending, I’ve gained gratitude for second chances, more time to get to know myself and my wants and needs, as well as a little reminder that man plans and God laughs, and we aren’t nearly as “in control” as it sometimes seems.
I swear that loss often hits in the moment we truly felt like we have it all figured out. Everything begins falling into place and then BAM, the ground is ripped from beneath us. It takes two valleys to make a peak, and I constantly remind myself that it’s actually a blessing to feel things so deeply. To feel sadness in the marrow of my bones, happiness pulsating through my blood, to taste joy like sugar on my lips and sorrow sting in the salt of my tears. We wouldn’t know one feeling if we didn’t also know the opposite. And some of us are dealt what seems to be more cards of one emotion than we are cards of the other. But every damn day I know there is something to be thankful for.
Even when I’m in the middle of the ocean without a lifeboat in sight and all I’m left to do is pray for the strength of my legs to kick my tired body to safety.
In understanding that we can’t often change or fix the things we’ve encountered in our past, I have also grown to deeply understand that there’s always room for healing. What we can’t fix, we can heal. I promise you that. The heart is a muscle, and it is miraculous. If you’re willing to put in the work, it will heal.
It will not be the same, but it will heal.
There’s so much grace in that.
I don’t know where you are while reading this.
Literally, you might be sitting in your car or your office or maybe a coffee shop down the street from me.
Figuratively, though, you could be so many places.
Happy, heartbroken, confused, scared, excited, worried, inspired, anxious, the list goes on and on.
Wherever you find yourself, I hope you find peace as well as inspiration in knowing that this place will not be final. This place will not last. There is a lesson, and blessing, and a chance to grow in the exact spot you find yourself right now. And your ability to allow that growth to occur will set the tone for the place you will find yourself a day, a year, or even just an hour from now.
Take a deep breath, sweet soul. We are in this together.
What you can’t fix, you can heal.
Let the healing come.