“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” ~Nelson Mandela
Living through the past several years of my life has been a humbling experience. I guess I shouldn’t say I lived through those years. I existed.
Through those years, life threw me punch after punch. I suffered through public shaming and online bullying, was crippled for six months with devastating anxiety and depression, gained fifty pounds, lost a lucrative job, and saw my marriage crumble before my eyes.
I hit rock bottom, and I hit it hard.
The thing is, nobody ever tells you how to deal with extreme failure in life. I had no idea what to do, where to go, or who to talk to. My family knew I needed help, but I knew nobody could pull me out of this tailspin.
I had to do it myself.
Unfortunately, for four full years I did nothing. I let the punches hit me time and time again until I actually felt numb to them. I did the worst thing you could do; I came to expect the failures, and with that expectation I kept failing.
It wasn’t until recently that I started to wake up from the fog and realize that I had to take back my life. I did just that by going through the following five steps.
1. Feel the pain.
After the public shaming and online bullying, I took Xanax to cope. If you know anything about Xanax you know it numbs your feelings so you don’t have to feel them. At the time it was honestly a life saver, but I began to use it as a crutch even when the anxiety started to fade.
One day I finally quit the Xanax cold turkey just to see what would happen, and you know what? I lived. The drugged fog was gone and I started to feel life again.
Now, I’m not saying you should quit your medicine if it’s medically necessary. For me it was for a while, but once I could stand on my own I had to let it go in order to jump back into life. I immediately felt all the feelings I’d been hiding, from extreme vulnerability, to fear, to frustration and anger.
I was slammed with these feelings, and they swirled around me like bees ready to sting. But I knew they were honest and true and that somehow if I felt them and let them be heard, they’d go away in time.
And they did. For the most part. I still feel them every once in a while, but once I felt them fully, it’s as if they knew they had done their job and then left me alone.
Their job was to wake me up to something more, to a new path, and that’s just what they did.
2. Practice self-compassion.
After I gave myself permission to feel and face the pain, I now had to make peace with and accept what had happened to me. The one way I did this was by practicing self-compassion. This has nothing to do with increasing your self-esteem, by the way.
In her TED Talk titled “The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion,” Kristin Neff explains that self-esteem can be detrimental, because it’s a judgment of whether you are a good or bad person in comparison to others. It creates a narcissistic attitude.
Self-compassion is very different from self-esteem, as it creates a compassionate attitude through relating to ourselves kindly, embracing ourselves as we are, flaws and all.
But, how was I supposed to move in to a space of relating to myself kindly when I’d gone through years of doing the opposite? I started a daily practice of nonjudgmental reflection. And I did this just by starting to reframe my thoughts.
Reframing our thoughts involves identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive or helpful thoughts. If you have a negative thought like, “I’m not worthy of love,” you can do the following to reframe it:
- Ask yourself what activity or action led to that thought. For example, “I’m going through a nasty divorce.”
- Write down evidence that supports that thought. For example, “My husband said he didn’t love me anymore.”
- Write down evidence that doesn’t support that thought. For example, “I have many friends and family that love me.”
- Come up with a more positive thought. For example, “While I have struggled with this past relationship, that doesn’t mean I’m not worthy of love or will not find a loving, supportive relationship in the future.”
Reframing my thoughts is an amazing practice that not only allowed me to practice acceptance of what had happened to me, but allowed me to move forward with a more positive attitude.
3. Take responsibility for your life.
During these difficult years of my life I felt a lot of self-pity because I felt like life was happening to me rather than realizing I had given up control of my life. In fact, all the major decisions for my life were made by my husband at the time.
I gave up my power to someone else. Not a smart thing to do.
I had to take responsibility for my actions in life because only then was I able to change things for the better. If you take responsibility, you take control. You take control and your life can finally become what you want it to become.
One of the side effects of taking control was gaining freedom. I finally had the chance to make my own decisions and do what I wanted. It was scary at first having full responsibility of my life, but it opened my eyes to a whole new world I wanted to be a part of and it gave me options I didn’t know I had.
4. Find your home again.
When you fail, especially when you fail miserably, to return from that failure you must find your home again.
According to Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame, in her TED talk titled “Success, Failure, And The Drive To Keep Creating,” your home is anything that you love more than yourself. Your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.
For me that was writing. Even though I haven’t found mega success with writing, it’s something that I’m driven to do and results are now inconsequential to me.
If people love my work, then wonderful, I’ve connected with someone. If not, that’s still alright with me because I just love doing it. It makes me feel alive again.
5. Share yourself with the world.
I decided not to keep my “home” to myself, even though I easily could have. I created a blog to share my work with whoever felt drawn to read it. It’s made me feel quite vulnerable again, but it honestly feels very good to share and I feel like I’ve come out of hiding and am being seen again.
And that’s the one big point I want to make. It’s important to share your “home” with the world because it’s your gift. Share it whether people love you for it or hate you for it, share it whether you’re a novice or an expert.
It will bring you out of hiding, out of self-pity, and out of self-loathing, because you won’t be focused only on yourself anymore. You’ll be focused on something external.
And the magical thing about sharing your gift is it will connect you. It will connect you to the world again, to the people who come in contact with your gift, to the people who get your gift, and most importantly, it will connect you with you again.
Man with raised arms image via Shutterstock