I’m coming in with some mindset talk today.
We’ve all lived through some stuff, right? Stuff that was less than optimal. Or, flat out bad. The traumatic (big “T” or little “t”) experiences we’ve had. The treatment we’ve endured, the relationships that have threatened to break us, the life events that felt like we’d never survive.
The illnesses, the losses, the betrayals, the heartbreak. The things that kept us in bed for days, put us in therapy, nearly sent us over the edge.
(And yes, I know you’ve had good experiences too. But the bad ones stay with us SO much longer and hit us so much harder, yes?)
And that’s my point. We tend to look at the bad stuff, analyze it endlessly, blame it for what happened next that wasn’t great. Let it take us down over and over again. We replay situations, reenact them, rail against them. We wish they hadn’t happened, wish we’d made different (better) choices, somehow avoided the hurt or the pain.
But here’s the thing. They happened. Some of them, yeah – it would’ve been way better if they hadn’t. But we can’t change any of it. So we have to change how we look at these things.
Instead of cursing them or wishing them away, let’s get curious. Instead of focusing on the actual thing, let’s change the lens. Let’s look at how we survived, adapted, overcame. Thrived, hopefully. Let’s really look at what the thing brought out in us that we can use to empower ourselves and others who might be stuck in the same mind, who need our wisdom and our teachings.
In some cases, we can even get thankful. We can express our deepest gratitude for these experiences, because we can get selfish now and use them to make OUR lives better, richer, more meaningful. To fuel our creativity, to dig deep and understand ourselves and how these things have influenced our lives, shaped us, made us who we are. To examine these stories and retell them in a new light to the world. To share them in hopes that they can be healing for someone else.
And in doing so, we ultimately heal ourselves.
(Please note: I’m not saying we need to be thankful for situations like abuse, ever. But we can take the steps that we need to help us come to terms with it, and we can love ourselves and respect ourselves for surviving and coming out stronger on the other side. And we can use that strength as our catalyst to be of service. There are people out there who need us.)
I spent a lot of years being mad at so many things, so many people. At myself and my own poor choices. Then I did a thing. It was an exercise in one of Julia Cameron’s books called a narrative timeline, where you break down your life in five-year increments and recall everything you can. Not super detailed, but not bullet points either. It means getting in there and exploring some of this stuff and following the breadcrumbs to the major themes in your life.
And man, it was HARD. I started it last winter and only got to age 15 before I had to put it down.
I picked it up again last week. I’ve been writing like a madwoman. Getting all the memories out, all the experiences, all the feelings. All the “ahas.” All the detritus of the emotional storms. Making sense of things that never made sense, seeing the bigger picture out of the singular experiences I’ve now strung together.
I’ve also had the realization that, damn, I’ve had an interesting life. Usually when I think back on one or two experiences as standalone things, it just seems boring AF. But when I go back and read this, it’s a whole different look. And I’m still only up to age 30.
And my bad stuff? Now it’s obvious what it’s all done for me. I got to know, like really know, myself because of those things. It’s made me a better writer, teacher, coach. Person. Friend. Finally, maybe, a better partner—I hope. I didn’t want any of it, of course, but hey. Can’t change it, so may as well learn from it.
I can’t wait to relive some more. I haven’t even gotten to the really juicy stuff yet.
Next time you think of a bad experience, instead of feeling shame, anger, hopelessness, despair, try saying Thank you for being my teacher.
Thank you for making me who I am. Because I am unique. Special. Exquisite. Because of this.
Because of all of it.