How to Bounce Back When Life Gets Hard?
I make it a rule to never take advice from someone who hasn’t “been there”. So I’ll tell you what happened for me, and then I’ll tell you what I did to bounce back while navigating through my own tunnel of hell.
Have you ever gone through a complete life overhaul? How do you deal with it? If you know what I mean, you’d agree that such events are far and few in between—but yet, the most impactful ones seem to happen when your life has hit rock bottom.
I urge you to think about it: What if you lost everything you have today? What would keep you going on? Would you give up? Would you hold on to that tiny light at the end of the tunnel, which perhaps you can’t even see?
It sounds harsh but I don’t mean to be so. Often times, we take our lives and the little moments of happiness for granted. It is only when we are snatched of those things that we realize the value of everything while at the same time learning to live without them.
During a 30-day period, 4 years ago, I lost everything: money, love, health, a baby, pets, security and self-pride.
My boyfriend at the time broke up with me while I stood holding the still dripping, positive pregnancy pee stick. His response to having a baby with me was to end our relationship and to share with me that he hoped to tile his kitchen that summer and travel.
I lost the baby after 8.5 weeks and suffered from an extreme crash in hormones. Being in my early 40?s, I knew this was probably the last chance to have a child. My body was a mess and my head was scrambled with hormones.
To make matters worse, two days after losing the baby I understood that my bank accounts had been emptied.
I stood there blinking at the ATM screen on that early July morning: Balance: $0.
I was left with 40 cents in my pocket.
Someone with revenge in their heart sued me out-of-state and due to a loop-hole in the serving process, I never received notice and didn’t show up to defend myself.
When you don’t show up it’s as though you’re admitting guilt and a judgment is issued. Being lax in checking my mail because I had no real bills coming in, other than utilities; these notices of judgment mixed in with “We’re garnishing your accounts” sat unread in my lock box for four weeks.
In those four weeks, every dime I had from every account was emptied.
A week later, I was faced with putting my 16 year old pet down, only to be followed by the rapid decline of my other 15 year old pet 10 days later. If you’re like me, pets are family. This was a loss beyond words.
With no money, a huge judgment and $700 in credit card debt, I had to declare bankruptcy. An attorney said I could fight it; but I had no money to even try.
For the first time, I was face to face with shame and embarrassment. Now, I was one of “those” irresponsible people I had previously judged who declared bankruptcy.
My health was shot, my mind was a mess, my heart was broken and I had 40 cents to my name. My father died years ago and I had been the one helping my mother financially. I was, in my own words, “someone lost and without backup”.
In ancient cultures, The Dark Night of the Soul (book) was understood as a time of transformation. A time when your personal strength was tested and the knowledge you’ve gained over the first half of your life is called out and hopefully utilized.
In our culture, it’s considered a mid-life crisis. We get face-lifts and sports cars. Couples run away from other couples divorcing, neighbors turn their head as houses go into foreclosure, and fair-weather friends back away quickly. Rather than an opportunity to be the phoenix in rising, we’re viewed as contagious drama.
Instead of showing a support and wise elders lending their ears, people in this culture back away and we are left to suffer alone with shame.
In my case, only a small handful of people knew, while most thought I have suddenly gone nuts. In the past I had been the person whom others leaned on for advice and even financial help. Now I was left with nothing. I was an empty vessel without a financially secure family to lean on for support. I looked like hell and felt worse.
When I woke in the morning, I wasn’t sure what to mourn. The relationship or the baby? My pets or my financial security? My health or the fact I could be homeless in a week? FYI: My biggest fear in life had been ending up on the streets without support—irrational but at this time, a reality.
I can tell you that the grip of your biggest fear in the face of utter despair is a cold sharp knife that cuts deeply. But it is only then that you come to grips with . . . life. And eventually you bounce back to a place of happiness and peace, even in the face of adversity and setbacks.
My Bounce Back to Life: 7 Lessons
What I know for sure is that if you’ve always been the strong one, there is a lot of growth that comes from asking for help. I got to know who my real friends were and that I was loveable even when I wasn’t perfect. Had it gotten to the point of my moving in with family or friends, I know there would have been growth from that time too.
Perhaps healing with family happens when someone has to move home, as humbling as that may look in the moment.
Lesson 1: Materialistic Goals Aren’t All that Matter
The thought of selling everything and starting over was, in a tiny way, liberating. I hear of people that after losing their homes and selling most everything feel free in a way they had never known. My biggest fear was losing my remaining two pets if I had to couch surf for a while.
I was so embarrassed that I held my secrets and pain inside for the most part. I would meet friends for dinner and pretend that I wasn’t hungry, since I had no money to spend. When the hormonal imbalance would kick in and I would tear up, I would pretend that my contacts were bothering me and run to the bathroom.
Finally, I realized that nothing material mattered.
Lesson 2: Angels Exist in Human Form
While passing through the tunnel of hell during my recovery to bounce back, I figured which people truly cared and were in tune with my subtle changes. Luckily for me, a friend handed me some cash—unsolicited– to help me get by while I got my head on straight. The generosity of this person rocked my world in a way that left me forever changed.
I realized the phrase “While you may only be one person in this world, you may be the world to one person” personally. In other words, I revived my belief in humanity.
Lesson 3: Miracles Are All Around
On a business level, I’m required to be clear and strong as I coach high-leveled executives on the next step in their career and life—ironic eh?
You can’t be broken and effective at the same time; yet I did take the phrase “fake it till you make it” by heart. By faking my strength, even my smile, I slowly felt both again.
I witnessed the miracle of the universe all around me. Suddenly those cereal boxes that came free in my Sunday paper were valuable. Toothpaste samples at the grocery store were cherished and I learned to turn the shampoo bottle upside down to get every last drop. I would go to the pet food store just to “look around” and grab a few of the free samples for my dog.
Lesson 4: Learned Minimalism
With that cash in hand from my friend, I was able to cover my rent long enough to start billing in my business again; but extras weren’t available. Gone were the monthly hair salon trips, out with the extras like cable, Internet, and dog treats.
I slowly learned how wasteful I had been in my life with food, clothing, and coffee shop stops. There was no money for anything other than college-grade food.
I rode my bike a lot that summer not having the money for gas. I reasoned with the bank’s car loan and my insurance agent for reduced monthly payments.
I taught myself to negotiate payments for utilities and witnessed the kindness of customer service agents when you admit your defeat. Most of all, I gathered that if you’re willing to work with them in some way, people will help you get by on your payments and your life.
Lesson 5: Learned Positivity
Each morning I forced myself to think of three things I was grateful for before letting my feet hit the carpet next to my bed. If I didn’t do this, I would begin my day in the depressed way I had ended the day before.
Soon I started doing this before bed and found that my days got easier. When the magnitude of my situation would hit midday and I would start to crash; I would force myself to get outside, go for a walk and notice something beautiful. When life is bleak, even the smallest things like the song of a bird or the color of the sky can jar you up a notch.
Every morning before starting my work day, I would force myself to listen to or read something inspirational. I couldn’t control the world around me, but I could direct my emotions.
Yes I cried a lot, but I would balance those moments with what I was grateful for and kept moving towards what I wanted—to bounce back to some stability again.
Lesson 6: Clarity from Self-Observation
I learned to watch my emotional state like a hawk.
If I felt desperate and scared, I would imagine my worst-case scenario…worst case I would loan my dog and my cat to people I trusted and couch surf. Worst case I would go on meds. Worst case I would ask a friend if I could share dinner with them.
Once I knew my worst-case scenario, I was able to relax a tiny bit and then I would focus on what I was grateful for… When life blows up there is a crystal clarity that occurs.
All of the issues that you’ve been hiding behind with your job or your money or your relationship are out there in the open. I have clients who lose their jobs and realize that their marriage has been broken for years; knowledge that was just hidden behind frequent business trips.
Lesson 7: Focus on the Now
I also learned that once the blow-up occurs and you share it with those close to you, it’s important to not keep telling your sad story.
If you do, that’s what you end up focusing on and it’s easy to feel like a victim. Much better to focus on where you’re going and put your energy into moving forward. This is the biggest mistake I see clients make—telling the same sad story, over and over.
For me the hardest part was laying in bed, alone, during the middle of the night, drenched in fear. As I laid awake in terror, I learned to pray for help and learned to meditate so I could hear the answer. I tried to be as much in the now as possible.
Most of all, I learned that when we’re broken, we’re really just broken open. We are a seed that sits in the dark, damp earth waiting for spring. We alone decide in which direction to send our sprout once the season has turned.
* What do you think? What are some thoughts crossing your mind at this moment? What are some things you realized while reading this? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comment section.