How to Turn Pain into Strength and Wisdom

River Man

“The pain you feel today will be the strength you feel tomorrow.” ~Unknown

Some would say that when it rains, it pours—a fitting statement for the events that have recently taken place in my life.

In mid-September my life took an unexpected turn. My wife, to whom I had been married for only four months (having been together for six years prior), had been acting strangely toward me.

She was suffering from fits of depression that would range from her sobbing on the couch to sitting by the fireplace, drinking heavily while listening to songs that would make your heart break into pieces.

I did everything I could to try and get her through this depression—date nights, random events—but nothing seemed to work.

Meanwhile, life wasn’t through drizzling on me.

My grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 heart failure and her time was short. This was going to be the first time that I would experience death in my family, so I was distraught over facing such a strenuous reality.

To fear death is natural in human beings. It’s the only certainty that we face. “Challenging” would be an understatement to describe the hurricane that was bellowing in me.

When my grandmother passed in early October, it was strange. I was extremely sad and yet happy to see she was no longer suffering. Then I felt guilty for feeling happy at all for her death.

Having no control over my emotions was exhausting. I was at my weakest and I needed my wife to help me through it. Unfortunately, she was taking solitude in the comfort of another man.

I caught her late at night talking to a coworker about how she longed for him, how she couldn’t stop thinking about him. She was surrounded by a graveyard of empty beer bottles and even more cigarette butts. I waited up all night for her to wake up from blacking out to explain her actions.

When she woke and I confronted her, she yelled, “I’m bored with my marriage!” which floored me. Immediately, she begged and pleaded for me not to leave and promised that this would never happen again.

I gave her several chances to prove that she would change her actions. Finally, at Christmas, after I moved out and all her chances expired, she admitted to sleeping with the coworker. It was over. Two weeks later I filed for divorce.

With the final divorce hearing approaching, my grandfather (husband to my late grandmother) also passed away. For some reason, this news didn’t have the same impact on me as when my grandmother passed.

Was it because I’d loved her more? Was it because I’d become heartless? Was it because of my impending divorce? Or was it because I had become so numb from everything that I finally reached a breaking point and collapsed emotionally? The answer to them all was no.

It dawned on me as if waking from a dream. Learning to manage my emotions in the proper way, by allowing myself to embrace reality, gave me a strength that will define me for the future. I was becoming a new, empowered being.

The rain had been thoroughly pounding me on the head. But now, I have learned, the rain was treating me like a flower, preparing me to bloom.

I have become more adaptive to the painful emotions due to all of my experiences. That doesn’t mean I’m invulnerable to them—far from it, actually. It simply means that the knowledge I have now will allow me to face future challenges wisely.

When life keeps giving you its toughest blows, it will help to:

Fully experience your emotions.

The largest mistake people make is masking their emotions. This is counterproductive and will lead to health problems in the future.

When each emotion comes, feel it. Your body will tell you when it’s enough. Cry, scream, and cry again. Let it out and submit to the beginning of a process that will take time to complete. To feel is to be human, embrace it!

Challenge your perspective.

Life isn’t always going to be on a downward spiral. When it is, you can find ways to focus on the positive instead of the negative. Perspective plays a key role in acceptance. Here is what I used to help:

In regards to my grandfather’s death, I told myself: He was a WWII vet and lived a full life for over nine decades; he wasn’t able to take care of himself and quality of life was lacking; and he was finally together with my grandmother again.

In regards to my dissolving marriage, I told myself: I deserve better than how I was treated; there was nothing more I could do; and I was being dragged down to dangerous depths, and now I was free.

Surround yourself with the right influences.

During these times you’ll find out, like I did, that there are some people you can count on and some you can’t. Take this opportunity to weed out those in your life that may be holding you back.

For those who have family and friends to lean on, use them. If you don’t have anyone to lean on, reach out to a therapist. I have a great therapist and family. I cherish them. If that doesn’t work, focus on building new positive relationships. I’ve made several new friends lately that have been a breath of fresh air in my life.

Stay (or become) active and avoid negative coping mechanisms.

It’s useless to focus all your energy on events that you no longer have control over. Instead of wasting time in this way, get active in your everyday life. See how you feel after a week of jogging for ten minutes a day. Jogging not your thing? Find something else. Get interested in an activity that gives you a spark.

Meanwhile, if you are dealing with depression, sadness, or anger, stay away from alcohol and substances, which will only magnify your pain. You are not “drowning” your sorrows. Instead, you are providing them with fuel.

Accept and forgive.

Holding onto hatred and resentment only poisons you. It keeps you forever trapped in the past, focusing on an element that you’re letting define who you are today. Learn to let go.

This is easier said than done, of course, and it’s not something that will happen overnight, either. The only way to truly learn to let go is let time heal. You’ll know when you get there.

Accepting that life will eventually knock you hard on your rear is a stepping stone to growth. Constantly trying to avoid hardship and pain will only prove detrimental to you.

Despite all the pain I experienced in a six-month timeframe, I now see this beautiful world we live in through an exciting new lens.

Each experience, each moment that you have is precious and dear. I challenge you to make the best out of even the worst circumstances. Like me, you may be amazed at the power, wisdom, and strength you gain after maintaining a positive drive.

Photo by Hartwig HKD

About Tyler Howard

Born and raised in Ohio, Tyler has a passion for helping people. Staying positive has been something of a necessity in his life, and he wishes only to pass it on to all who are struggling. He’s in the Human Resources field but has a strong passion to write and express himself. He firmly believes that no matter what people may think, they are never alone. Someone can always relate!

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