My whole life has been a series of falling aparts. And honestly, this life is better than anything I had planned. I really hope that gives you peace and comfort if you are in a season that seems impossible or dark. I have come to realize that the things I love and value most have not been the things I have chosen. They have been the result of a falling apart.
Things that fall apart…Hopes we have for our life. Dreams we have for our careers. Expectations we have for our relationships. Friendships come and go. Loved ones pass away. Tragedy strikes and our whole world is turned upside down.
In these moments, because if we are lucky enough to live a long life, there will be many of them…we have two choices.
Allow them to shut us down.
Allow them to open us up.
The sad reality is that most of us choose the first path…and I totally understand why. It’s the easier path. Let’s walk through the reality of what happens when things fall apart:
We get overwhelmed by our emotions.
We lose our sense of control.
We lose a part of our identity.
We spin out about what other people are thinking.
And so we RESIST. And AVOID. And we GET STUCK.
We wish things back to the way they were. We hold onto what we wanted instead of accepting our new reality. We avoid the feelings that come up. We even talk ourselves into believing that if we don’t think about it, somehow it won’t be true or if we avoid all those negative emotions that we can escape from ever feeling them. In truth, we are leaving ourselves stuck in a cycle of difficulty that can drag on for years if we aren’t careful.
And then we SHUT DOWN.
We lose hope. We stop working to improve our relationships. We close ourselves off and keep people at a distance. Parts of ourselves literally die as people we love and our dreams do.
How do I know? Because this was me for the first 30 years of my life. I was shutting myself down and allowing parts of myself to die without even realizing it. So today I’d like to share my story, and then some practical ways I’ve discovered and helped others learn to work through the big and small moments when things fall apart. Because it’s never too late to reignite that flame after they do…even in the midst of the deepest darkness.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned about when things fall apart upon reflection:
- We can create a new reality rather than getting stuck in what we’d hoped for.
- We can choose to focus on what we had instead of what we lost, and allow it to change us.
- We can choose to build walls and guard our hearts or let it transform us and open us up in new ways.
- We can play the victim or we can take responsibility and ownership.
- We can let it dull our spirit or inspire us to dream a new dream.
When things fall apart, it can shake us to our core. Life events like this can crumble the foundation upon which we have built our identity. We need to give ourselves time and space to face the complexity of emotions we face in these moments. And if we do that, we need coping mechanisms to deal with them. I don’t know if most of us avoid these hard things because we are too scared to face them or because we aren’t equipped to deal with them. Maybe a bit of both.
There have been times when I felt like if I let myself feel the weight and gravity of the grief and despair that I might be swallowed alive. If I stepped off that cliff to fall into that darkness, I would never find the ground again. But I can tell you, that each time that I’ve done it, I have found my footing and the light. When I have faced my fear and my pain, instead of swallowing me up, it has actually dissipated. By facing it, we take away its power. Pain and darkness may be a way of purifying us.
Here are some skills I’ve acquired through my own journey to help us through these times when things fall apart and give some regular practices that can strengthen our ability to deal with these situations.
First, when things fall apart, we need space. Silence and solitude. We avoid this because this is the space where the feelings come up that we want to avoid. In our society we encourage people to avoid their feelings. Just keep moving forward. Keep yourself busy. But when we become aware of something uncomfortable, then we avoid it, all we end up with is anxiety. It is a fact that those feelings we are avoiding actually stay in our bodies when we bury them.
Get away to a quiet place. Become aware of your thoughts and feelings. Sit with them. Get curious about them. For some it can be even more helpful to write them out. For others, you may want to share your thoughts with another person…friend, family member or counselor.
We have thoughts and feelings, but in times of suffering especially, it’s important to remember that we are not our thoughts and feelings. We don’t have to allow them to become our identity. It’s OK to be sad, but that doesn’t mean we are ONLY sad. Especially right after a loss, people struggle to feel happy or laugh. This is normal, and it’s important to note that just because you are sad in moments, doesn’t mean that sadness is your identity. In the midst of your sadness, you can feel happy and you may be compelled to laugh. That doesn’t take away from the sadness or pain and you don’t need to feel guilty about it.
Real courage and the long road to dealing with life…because things will fall apart…is to become aware, to acknowledge those feelings and to move toward acceptance. When we look our fear and pain in the face, they transform into something different. We are set free of them. They no longer have power or hold over us. Blaming, resistance and struggle go away and we learn to surrender graciously so these situations can strengthen us. Instead of this pain shutting us down, we allow it to transform us and open our heart to others.
Once we become aware of our emotions and have the courage to be honest about them, it’s important we have practices in place to process them. We have to recognize that it will be imperative to slow down and simplify our life. When emotions are high, our thoughts and feelings reduce our capacity to do “normal” tasks. So we have to practice slowing down. Take things off your to do list, delegate and pare down for a period of time. Just like it takes time to physically heal, you need time to heal mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Your whole being is working to assimilate and regroup. You are trying to find a new sense of normal. Going through this transition takes effort. Slow down. Simplify where you can. Get curious and have compassion for yourself.
Next we have to work on surrendering. When sadness comes up, what are some practices that feel good to you to move through those emotions? Maybe it’s listening to sad music and having a good cry or writing. When anxious feelings come up, what feels good to you? Maybe it’s going for a walk, doing a mindless task with your hands or praying. When anger arrives, what practice feels good? I love to work out or punch a pillow to move through it. For me, getting physical helps my body process the anger.
Find a surrender practice that works for you when those emotions build up. When you find yourself avoiding or getting too busy, those practices can be an anchor to let a little of the pressure and steam off as those emotions build. For instance, when I was in my career transition and feeling uncertain and anxious, I built specific intervals into my day to be still and pray. It was easy to fill my time and mind with things to do which allowed those anxious feelings to build up. Having that practice forced me to face and release those feelings a little at a time so I didn’t become overwhelmed.
Other important practices for us to put in place anytime in our life, and especially when things fall apart are a self-care and a silliness practice. Something that purposefully infuses our life with small moments of joy and refueling to give us a break and help us remember that even in the deepest darkness, there is still light. These smiles, laughs and opportunities to be childlike rescue us from the heaviness and weight of things. They give us hope and keep us going. They fill us up and fuel us to endure the challenging and incredibly difficult moments.
Self-care is not selfish, although for all the people-pleasers in the room, it can feel selfish. Our needs shift dramatically when things fall apart and it’s important we become aware of that and do or ask for what we need. More breaks and more time alone. More rest. More space in our day to do what feels good…a long walk, a hot bath, reading a book, a day of binging Netflix if you need a complete unplug and break…just don’t make that a long-term habit of numbing 😉 One of my favorite teachers of all time, Parker Palmer, has this to say about self-care: “Self-care is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
For your silliness practice, find things that bring you joy and do things that bring play and a lightheartedness back into your life. One of my favorite things to do when life feels heavy is to go swing at the park. Swinging brings back a lightness to life and helps me remember what it feels like to play and wonder.
Sometimes we don’t need to bring about silliness in our life, we just need to embrace and receive the moments that happen organically. A joke, embarrassing moment, etc. We often resist allowing ourselves to laugh. Allow it when it feels right. As humans, we are complex beings. We have the ability to hold sadness and joy, tears and laughter, light and dark all at the same time. We can be honest about the fallen world in which we live and still hold onto hope. We need to hold them both. That’s what helps us heal. That’s what enables transformation and restoration.
The final and hardest practice that has helped me be more resilient when things fall apart is asking for support. Our individualistic culture tells us that we don’t need each other and we don’t need help. This is a lie. I believe we need others every minute of every day. They challenge us to be our best and they encourage us when we need to keep going. When things fall apart, we get caught up in wondering what other people will think. We get stuck in a shame spiral or feel guilty for “being a burden.”
As I have continued to let my guard down, quiet that voice of unworthiness and invited others in and asked for what I need, my relationships have deepend. People trust me more when I share what’s messed up in my own life. What freedom! I no longer have to pretend to have it all together or carry the burden alone. What a gift. If this is something you struggle with, start small. Ask for a favor. Ask for advice. Keep going deeper until you are able to get some reps asking for support and have a chance to realize that people don’t look at you differently, they actually love you more when you ask for help. Allowing someone to help is a gift to that person.
These practices are simple but they aren’t easy. They sustain us in big ways when deep and hard things fall apart. They also sustain us in small ways when the everyday things fall apart. They help us to live well. Pick one and start trying it. Because things will fall apart. Struggle is something that transforms us. If we were always comfortable and everything went according to plan, we would be pretty boring people leading pretty boring lives. Our life gets deeper and richer when things fall apart if we let it.
Life is a gift. Time is all we have. Although we will inevitably experience difficult and even terrible things that will leave us feeling sad and depressed, we do not have to stay sad and depressed forever. We have the capacity to be so much more than that. Be present in your life. Allow things to fall apart and come together. Face the challenges with courage. Let go when it’s necessary. Hold onto your big dreams. Keeping loving people fully. Live your life wholeheartedly in the midst of it all falling apart.