I got an email the other day from a woman who was in pain. A lot of pain.
She had just lost her dog, the dog who had saved her, the dog who had taught her how to survive the PTSD and anxiety that tried to kill her. She wanted to know how to cope. How to keep breathing when it all felt like too much.
I’m not sure that I have the right answers, but I am familiar with this territory. I’ve been broken by love. Repeatedly.
When I lost Grace, I thought I’d never be okay again.
When I lost Christine, I thought I’d never be okay again.
When I lost my Gramma, I thought I’d never be okay again.
But somehow, I’m still here and I’m okay.
This is what it is to be human, to be truly alive. We show up for love and loss, joy and pain, happiness and suffering. The beautiful and the awful. We must surrender to the whole of it. We can’t decide to skip the less pleasant parts of the universal human experience because they suck.
So, we take it one moment at a time. We breathe. We try not to drown the pain in Margaritas — although, sometimes, I’ve totally tried to drown the pain in Margaritas. (Which didn’t actually do anything to lessen the pain, and then I had the additional pain of a headache.)
We accept that we feel broken. That we are not sure where we go from here and that every part of us aches. We treat ourselves with as much kindness and understanding as possible.
I won't tell you that the pain disappears. But it does change. The heartache turns to gratitude that we had such love. The pain transforms into warm memories of the life you shared. You never stop missing them. But the sweet times start to take up more space in your heart.
Pain is inevitable in this world. No one is immune. But when we choose to be awake and present for our own pain, not shove it down or push it away, we can transform our suffering into something else.
Compassion. Gratitude. And even more love.
And we learn how to make peace with the beautiful/awful.
Here are the things that saved me when I was in the darkest nights of the soul:
Crisis Text Line — www.crisistextline.org or text HOME to 741741
Anything by Brené Brown, specifically The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Anything by Sharon Salzberg, specifically Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation
Anything by Jon Kabat-Zinn, specifically Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life