We get knocked off center, the rug is pulled out from under us, we get slammed by a curve ball out of left field – our life drastically changes, and now what. A sudden break-up, an expected divorce finally becomes official, an unexpected diagnosis, a baby born with life-long issues, an empty-nest home – these are some of the many life challenges that can be considered a loss and therefore necessitate a ‘rebuilding’. When critical life transitions occur, as they naturally do, we are called upon to reconfigure our life.
The status quo of before no longer exists. Adjustment, flexibility, adaptability all come into play when the one constant in life – change – sets in. And how much more so when the change is something awful, something that breaks us open and exposes our insides to the torrential downpour of grief.
What will our life now look like when our kids are no longer at home and the house is eerily quiet, when that feeling of being needed is replaced by a hole. We almost long to do their laundry and prepare their meals.
Who are we when we are no longer working, when we lose our professional job identification and description? What becomes the nucleus of our day when we are no longer waking up to the routine of a job?
These natural life transitions call for connecting to new goals, new priorities and finding new meaning and purpose in our daily new lives.
The more tragic life- changes call for groping through the darkness, tentatively stepping slowly as each foot lands on painful and uneven terrain. We stop often, continuing to see nothing but darkness. But something inherent in our humanness pushes on onward, instinctually knowing there will eventually be hints of light.
What are the steps to help us begin to straighten up as we crawl through the tunnel of gloom?
Here are 4 ways to start to rebuild our life after it’s been knocked down by natural and adverse change and the pain of loss and grief:
1. Letting ourselves feel: We check in and notice how we’re feeling. We acknowledge and welcome in all those painful and uncomfortable emotions, those that we’d rather avoid and push away. As Tony Robbins says, we dance with our fear. The more we push it away, the more it resists and stays stuck. It’s natural to feel sad, anxious, lonely when an upset has occurred. We normalize it. “Of course I’m so sad; I just don’t know what to do with it.” We sit with it, as hard as that seems.
- Self-Care: We naturally tend to a physical wound – we put ointment on it, a band-aide, a wrapping if needed. But we’re not too comfortable tending to an emotional injury. We don’t know what to do when our feelings are out-of-sorts. But we do need to take care of our hurting heart, our empty soul, the pit that sits lodged in our stomach. We can give ourselves time off from the regular routine of the day and do what helps soothe us. Sometimes that’s doing nothing. And that’s okay. It’s obviously different for everyone but it could look like listening to music, getting into bed early with a book and a lavender-lit candle, taking a walk, going through old letters and cards. What feels self-nourishing? What feels comforting to our broken spirit?
- Self-Talk: We usually do a pretty good job of talking to our friends when they’re upset and going through a tough time. We’re encouraging, benevolent and compassionate. But how are we when we talk to ourselves? And we do talk to ourselves through our thoughts, and dare I say, recriminations. We need to become better friends to ourselves especially when going through challenging situations, and talk to ourselves like we’d talk to a friend. “This is really hard now. I’m scared I’ll never get back to myself. Yes, it is. Let yourself just be now and you’ll get through it…..” Talk and answer yourself. Write it down, think it, talk to the mirror. Mirror-talking can feel strange but it is a way of really looking at ourselves in our pain and becoming more compassionate to our own self.
- What Matters: At the height of emotional pain it can feel like nothing matters anymore. We might be in a complete existential void. We oftentimes want to just withdraw, not do much and stay cocooned. But at some point, through the rubble of pain, we start to connect, even in the smallest of ways, to what’s important to us. It could be watering the plants so they don’t die; or reaching out to a friend who just became a grandma. Doing things that are meaningful begins to anchor us to our lives once again and to all that we value. It’s a step towards re-engagement with life.
We look to integrate and accept the loss and change and slowly rebuild a newly designed life, rich with renewed meaning, purpose and joy.
Harriet Cabelly is a clinical social worker and positive psychology coach. Regaining one’s footing after a critical life situation is a journey Harriet takes with her clients as they cope and grow through their grief and loss, guiding them towards rebuilding their lives with renewed purpose and joy. Visit her website, https://rebuildlifenow.com/ to learn more about her work and to receive some free chapters from her book, Living Well Despite Adversity.