Change can be difficult, especially when it is caused by a sudden trauma, loss, or even just an unexpected change in life's normal pace. As impermanent as everything in life is, humans do seem to have a natural instinct to seek out stability and order—and to blame ourselves when things become chaotic. Fear and even PTSD can rear its ugly head and take over—and we can find ourselves in a reactive state, violently treading water, just to stay afloat. However, as someone who has experienced periods of extreme uncertainty, as well as some significant, to-the-bone trauma, I can say with conviction that having the rug pulled out from beneath you is not all bad. In fact, trauma can be a harbinger of transformation—a stepping stone to a happier, more fulfilling life. However, this is only the case if the trauma is dealt with appropriately, and we neither react nor dissociate from life's slings and arrows. Thus, here are some suggestions to handling your life like a boss when the going gets tough.
1. Get Grounded
Sudden change alters the course of life as you knew it—and a pretty common automatic response is to try and fix things from a place of reactivity. But by doing so, we are paddling the canoe upstream, fighting the current—when events have already set us on a different course. Even when we don't try and put a patch on the situation and make things exactly as they were before, a reactionary mode is generally the type of thinking that does not offer long-term benefits.
Instead, do whatever it takes to get grounded. Exercise, meditation, creative practice and healthy eating are all fail-safe methods for coming back to the present moment, and getting out of our heads—which can be a maelstrom of negative thinking when disaster strikes. Find ways to have control over what you can—and abide by the serenity prayer if it helps: “Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
2. Forgive Yourself!
Of all of the types of forgiveness that are suggested, forgiving one's self is probably the most important to master. And many of us humans operate under the assumption that life is not “supposed” to be messy or full of uncertainty—and if it is, we therefore, however unconsciously, blame ourselves.
In the Buddhist tradition, the first Noble Truth is “Life is Suffering.” This does not mean that life is always going to be miserable or painful, but that, in a physical world of impermanence, suffering is part of the deal.
Taking this truth into account, that some pain and impermanence are inevitable, we can learn to forgive ourselves when things don't go as planned. Chaos, after all, is the natural order of things. We can recognize that, as humans, we will all deal with challenges. We don't need to judge ourselves for being human in the most basic of ways.
3. Use Fear as Fuel
When things fall apart and we experience dramatic changes, it feels as if the rug has been pulled out from beneath us. When this is happening, it can be extremely difficult to see the opportunities that lie in the experience when we are too busy just placing one foot in front of the other.
But one thing that trauma gifts us with is the blank slate that comes to us after we lose something. When we use this empty space to rewrite our destinies, it is then we can truly tap into the power of trauma. In dealing with trauma, we experience the difficult side of life. This can, and likely will, motivate us to help others, follow our dreams, and let go of other people's judgments and expectations. Trauma and loss has a way of making us painfully aware of what does matter in life—so we can slice off the moldy parts of what doesn't.
Many times, when we experience trauma or suffering, it requires of us a strength and resiliency that, often times, we did not realize we had. This strength can be used, not only to deal with adversity, but to jettison us into following our dreams with courage and conviction. This process even has a name: post-traumatic growth.
And from a spiritual perspective, change in our lives often happens for our own growth and for our soul's higher purpose. Loss can and does hurt, immensely. But when we look at what we encounter when dealing with loss as a strength and not a weakness, we can use our fears and our trauma as fuel to take us to the next part of our journey
4. Integrate the Experience
Life is certainly a process of gain and loss. Some losses will affect us more than others and we need to integrate and learn from those losses that do leave an impact.
It can be difficult to confront grief and other unseemly emotions that arise when loss comes into our lives, but the only way we can learn from our experiences is if we can find a way to integrate the loss into the larger story of our lives and who we are. Therapy, writing, art, support groups, and talking to friends can all help us integrate what we have experienced and move forward.
Our culture may want us to gloss over our pain, but this will only serve to cause dissociation from our emotions and prevent us from gaining valuable wisdom. And without integrating our experiences, we lack the ability to help others with what we have learned.
Dealing with loss, change, and the unexpected can challenge us in ways we never imagined. It can also help us realize our strength and resiliency—as well as motivate us to create the lives we have always wanted. Loss is inevitable and everyone will experience it—and although it is painful, it is not without reward.