Self Awareness and the acceptance that bad things happen – and that’s OK.
Ever since I can remember, I have taken it upon myself to always be the happy one. Always happy, always cheerful, always bright and bubbly. This has been a role that, for whatever reason, I had taken upon myself and then lived up to. Everyone who knew me knew that they could count on me to bring the sunshine. This is what I did, it was who I was. And then my husband died…
When he died, life didn’t feel real. I didn’t feel real. I was 29 and raising a baby, and I was a widow. Can a 29 year old even be a widow? Nothing was normal, nothing was right, everything was wrong.
I took a quick leap from maintaining my image and being what (I believed) everyone else expected me to be, to not giving a f*ck. I didn’t care how they felt about my pain, my sorrow, my life in shambles; or how I should handle myself. I didn’t care about their thoughts or opinions. I didn’t care about their troubles because, relative to the mine (as I perceived it at the time), theirs were nothing and they were lucky to have their problems because mine were so much worse (at the beginning it is impossible not to feel this way). Every day I woke up dying. Every smile was accompanied by tears. It was seemingly unending suffering. My heart was broken and the pain was unlike anything I had ever known.
Before my husband, I had dated a guy named Tony. He was my first (and only) serious relationship prior to meeting my husband. Tony and I had a complex and increasingly unhealthy relationship as time went on, but I still held onto him as tightly as I could, even after we broke up. That breakup hit me hard. Harder than I thought it would, and harder than I want to admit. I loved him. For two years I held onto him, and for two years I hurt.
I thought I knew heartbreak. I thought I had felt what a broken heart feels like, but I was wrong.
Something happens to you when life takes something so powerfully significant and good without warning, without reason, without any care that taking it has done no good. When this happened to me, I broke. Life took from me something that can never be replaced. There is no silver lining to this loss, no flip side, no better thing this world has in store for me. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that my life has to remain worse off. In fact, right after he died I made the decision that, come hell or high water, my life would NOT be worse off for having lost him. Instead I would make sure that my life was better for having had him. Otherwise, what the hell is the point?
There is nothing easy about grief or pain or heartbreak. Nothing is easy about healing. I have learned many things during this journey through grief and healing, but none more important than this: It’s OK to not be OK. Grief comes in waves and when the waves hit, it can be unbearable. But just like the rip tide, struggling against it does not help. The more you fight, the faster you drown. But if you give in to it, let it take you, let the tide wash over you and beat against you, you will resurface. Sure, you will be bruised and broken, but you will breathe again.
You see, in all of my brokenness, it has been the acceptance of my brokenness that has allowed me to heal. We live in a world that teaches us that the answer to all of life’s problems is to stay positive and strive to achieve a life without problems. Forgive me for saying this, and you may not agree, but that is fucked up. Sometimes the problem is that we get stuck in the negativity of our problems instead of solving our problems, but that is not what I am talking about. In my brokenness, I found a lot of advice came my way. Opinions, whether it’s the blatant, “this is how to do it better” or the more subtle, “when you get stronger you will see the silver lining,” do not help because they come from a well meaning (yet vastly unhelpful) place that lacks insight into the depth of loss.
So here is my point: bad things happen and that’s OK. Sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is admit that this sucks; and let it suck. Let the pain in, let the heartache be real and relevant and important to you. You will feel positive feelings and you will feel negative ones, both are OK. You will hurt, you will cry and scream and beg, you will be broken and lost, you will feel blackness that washes over everything you do and everything you are… and you will be OK. Because it is OK to not be OK.
So hurt when it hurts. Be angry when you’re angry. Cry when you want to cry. Laugh when you feel like laughing. Smile when you’re happy. Love with all of your heart. Respect yourself and your values enough to give time and space to your pain, because you matter. Your life matters. What other people think about you or your life doesn’t matter, but what you think about it does. So if you’re broken, break. You have the rest of your life to put yourself back together, you don’t need to do it fast or on someone else’s schedule. You just need to be honest with who you are. You will find your place in this world again, but not knowing your place right now doesn’t mean that you don’t have a place or that there’s anything wrong with being out of place right now. You are broken. Accept your brokenness. Give appreciation and love to your brokenness.