I have had to deal with a lot of things in my life, some of them very troubling. But that doesn’t make me any better or worse off than anyone else. We all have had to deal with adversity. Some of us have had more, some less, but we all have had it. These life experiences have formed us into the person we are today. How mentally healthy we are today depends on how well we have dealt with those adversities.
There are clear distinctions between people who succeed and people who fail, and one of the greatest factors is their coping skills and ability to deal with adversity. Our ability to cope can launch us forward, while our inability to do so will certainly destroy us.
Bad things happen every single day to millions of people. We are plagued with adversity in various forms—job loss, death, violence, accidents, natural disasters, and manmade events like terrorism, just to name a few. We experience these events as children, adolescents, and adults. We experience these events when we are psychologically healthy and when we are not. When we are psychologically unhealthy, these events can have a compounding effect.
Unfortunately we have a tendency to become consumed with these adversities. Instead of adversity being an event in our lives, it becomes our entire life. It creates what I call a “victim mentality.” We stay focused on all the bad shit happening to us, and we can’t see our way out of the tunnel. We become so preoccupied with the negativity that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for us.
These events cause us to feel pain, anger, and resentment. We feel justified in these emotions because we have been wronged by someone or some event. At some point, we may turn into angry or hostile people. Compounding the problem, if we don’t get justice for these events, it only perpetuates the hostility within us. The anger and hostility become their own vicious cycle and take over our lives.
The first step to letting adversity go is to deal with it. Obviously that is easier said than done. But it is a must. Catastrophic events happen to good people. There is no more explanation than that. We get so consumed with asking, “Why did this happen to me?” Bottom line? Sometimes there is no why. People get abused. People die in accidents. People are murdered, even by those they love. There is no why.
The longer we remain at a point of searching for the answer, the longer we put off dealing with the adversity. The longer we put of dealing with the adversity, the longer it takes to let it go. Part of the healing process of any adversity is dealing with it and letting it go from our minds. The events may never leave us completely, but by dealing with them and letting them go, we can learn how to manage them. When we can manage them, we can move forward with our lives.
I recently received an e-mail from a woman, Pam. The e-mail reads, “I read your book [Decoding Your Past- A Guide to Happiness and Success Through Self-Understanding] last night and am reading it again today. You have a gift, my friend. I really needed to read your book. While I don’t think the word was mentioned once in the book what I got from it is HOPE.
In 2001 life was good for me. I was an Engineer/Paramedic with [name withheld] and engaged to the man of my dreams. We sold my house in the city and bought the house I live in now in the mountains. I loved my job. My fiancé and I had a lot of plans for the future. On April 6, 2002 my life changed forever. It was four months before our wedding. I had been at work for the 72 hours prior and only spoken to my fiancé by telephone. I arrived home loaded down with groceries for a birthday bar-b-que for my Mom we were hosting that day. I came in the house and called out to Jay and he didn’t answer. I walked past the downstairs bathroom and saw him lying on the floor. I thought he was working on something under the sink. When he didn’t answer me I went to see what he was doing.
The next 30 minutes of my life I have re-lived over and over and over again. Running to get the phone, calling 911, telling them I was a Paramedic and that I needed help and that I was doing CPR, knowing that it was too late to revive him, but not wanting to give up. Wanting him to come back to me. It took forever for the fire department to get there. When the ambulance arrived they were not able to intubate due to rigormortis. I saw the dependent lividity, but didn’t want to. The Paramedic on the ambulance took me by the shoulders and told me that there was nothing that they could do. I knew this, but was not ready to believe this. He shook me and said, ‘You know…..you know there is nothing we can do.’
I wilted into a chair but felt like the floor had just dropped out from under me. I visually began a free fall in a dark, stone lined well. I kept grasping at the sides, but there were no holds. I never found the bottom of that well. I packed away the wedding dress and took some time off from work. I painted the entire outside of my house with a brush. They needed me back to work so I went back to work. Didn’t want to. I didn’t really want to do much of anything. My new reality seemed to be existing instead of really living.
I have read a multitude of books, talked to counselors and chaplains and dear friends. I have searched my soul looking for the answer to ‘why?’ I would say out loud that, ‘Sometimes we don’t get to know why,’ but the stubborn, hard-headed part of me inside would still seek the answer. It pretty much consumed me. I resigned from [name withheld] because I no longer wanted to be a Paramedic and be placed in a situation like I myself had been in. I sometimes feel like I should have seen the signs beforehand and that I should have been able to revive him.
Fast forward to now. I read your book. I must have been ready to receive the gift you so freely share with the world. A spark of hope for the future. I thought of the song by Garth Brooks called ‘Dance.’ I played that song at Jay’s funeral. ‘Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I’d of had to miss the dance.’ Horrible, awful, rotten things happen to people, but it is how we choose to deal with them that makes us who we are. I took a time-out for a lot of years. I got really angry. But I realized while reading your book that I survived. And that I can do more than just survive…I can thrive.”
We must find a way to deal with the emotions created from adversity and let them go. This is the only way to begin the healing process. We cannot move forward with our lives into the future if we can’t heal from the past. Our past experiences are important because they make us who we are. But our past experiences are just that—past. If we cannot let the adversity go, those past experiences remain current experiences, and we will never learn or grow from them. We must let the past go in order to learn and grow and move into the future.
Pam’s story is heart wrenching to say the least. But it’s more than just a sad story. It’s a story of fighting back and resilience. Hearing her story empowers me. We can all overcome our adversities. No one said that was an easy task, but it is the right task. Pam will no doubt live with those horrific memories for the rest of her life. They will never leave her. But what Pam is doing is learning how to manage those memories in a way they don’t continue to destroy her. She is able to compartmentalize them so they don’t control her life and that’s the key; learning to manage our adversities. Pam has become a good friend and I have grown to know her a lot in a short period of time. She has amazing perseverance that we can all learn from. Repeating Pam’s last sentence in her e-mail, she said, “…I can do more than just survive…I can thrive.” I know she will.
“We are not defined by the adversities in our lives, we are defined by how we manage them.” – Rob Morris