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It’s a hard thing to go through periods of life that are confronting and uncertain.
Often, it’s in these moments that we retreat and isolate—we don’t have the energy to catch up with our loved ones or the desire to burden others with our suffering. We feel vulnerable, so we suffer alone, in silence.
Yet what we need the most is that deep connection with others that we are resisting. We need a safe space to speak our truth, to express ourselves and feel that we are heard.
Those moments in darkness behind closed doors can be frightening, overwhelming and utterly confusing, and it feels even worse when we think we’re the only ones experiencing such pain. This is rarely the case—just ask a few of your friends or family members, and there is a high chance that many of them are suffering through their own struggles too.
We may feel hurt, betrayed, damaged, humiliated, and frustrated by someone who wronged us, and for many, reaching out to speak about our experiences is hard—so much that we choose the “easier” option to stay silent and retain the painful experiences.
However, this storing of every hurtful, traumatic memory deep in the body causes serious trouble. The issues can bubble away under the surface for weeks, months, and even years—but eventually, they need to be accepted, resolved, and released from the body. Many of us know this; we know how stress can accumulate in the body causing inflammation, tension, anger, and sadness.
What is perhaps even harder than the event or issue itself is letting go and freeing ourselves from it.
“Letting go” is a term thrown around these days in the realm of self-help, and it’s something I have advocated many times in my yoga classes.
But it wasn’t until I went through my own emotionally debilitating experiences that I realized how unhelpful this term was.
Yet we hear it all the time—“Just let it go, move on, forget.”
The problem with traumatic memories is that our minds are often intruded on with unwanted thoughts that are triggered at any moment. The more we think about our trauma, the stronger the memory becomes, and the cycle continues. We know that thinking about it is unhelpful, but our need to self-protect comes into play, and then the need to analyse everything, to connect the dots, to find answers.
For those like myself who have a tendency to try and control our external environments to feel safe and comfortable, we desperately seek truth. We want the hard facts.
What I have come to accept is that things happen. Horrible things happen. And sometimes we will never really know why.
As much as I have tried “letting go,” it’s never provided me with a lasting sense of peace and understanding of my challenging life experiences. Rather, my upsetting memories feel like open-ended questions, ones that must be continuously pondered.
I believe there are two options: to continue allowing myself to be caught up in my story and my pain, distracting myself endlessly so I never have to truly confront it, and when it eventually does arise, I can implode. Or, I can choose to face my suffering with integrity—to feel the deep sorrow, and to acknowledge it with every cell in my body.
Then begins the work of re-framing the upsetting experiences and empowering myself to survive and grow stronger. Rather than asking “why did this happen to me?” and blaming the cosmos, I’ve taken to seeking some understanding of the surrounding factors, such as the feelings and perspectives of loved ones, even those that hurt me, and how I may have contributed to the circumstances I found myself in.
Most importantly, I’m asking what was gained through the experience, rather than what was lost or taken.
When we seek meaning in our life suffering, no matter what form it takes on, we develop empathy for others who too suffer. We realize how we are all just trying to overcome our pain and find the blessings in life. And by reaching out to someone we trust and respect, we enable ourselves to untangle our story, beginning the process of breaking free from our negative thought patterns and self-sabotaging actions.
Slowly, but eventually, we begin to develop a whole new appreciation for our obstacles, which I feel are our greatest teachers on this life journey. We change our story into one that is healthy and empowering, and we accept that the painful experiences we face in life can help us to learn, grow, connect, and truly be there when we see others in that dark place.