I know the term “Dark Night of the Soul” is overused and watered down, and yet it feels like the most descriptive and appropriate way to label the season I’ve been moving through over the last few months.
To say it’s been rough is the understatement of the millennia.
During the holidays last year, the relationship I was in prompted an unsettling and unearthing of some of the trauma I’ve been carrying with me, and it really shone a light on areas of myself that need(ed) more healing.
I was completely caught off guard by this experience, and not only did this unearthing bring me to my knees emotionally, it also became evident that I was not going to be able to move through this period without doing some serious healing work.
As I’ve come to learn over the years, the universe will keep serving you the lesson until you truly get it, and after years of sidestepping the lesson, the universe brought the sledgehammer out and made sure the message was clear.
I have been forced to reckon with myself and how I’ve oriented to my trauma in big and deeply painful ways, and I can say without question that the last few months have been some of the hardest of my life, rivaling only the unexpected passing of my dad in 2014 and the Herculean task of getting sober in 2016.
While this healing journey is unfolding in real time (aka I don’t have all my sh*t sorted out and I’m still in the thick of it), I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the biggest lessons that have come out of this profoundly transformative time because regardless of the specifics of my trauma and healing, pain and suffering are universal and an inevitable part of the human experience. And if I can share something here that will lessen your suffering, I am happy to do that.
The long road of healing can also feel lonely, and if you are there right now, please know that you’re not alone; I’m walking beside you in this:
1. You have the capacity to heal your life.
The healing journey is scary and confronting. Sometimes, it feels like the pain you’re being asked to revisit and live in will break you so completely that you’ll never recover or feel whole again. And I’m here to remind you that you can withstand it, face it, endure it, and that you have more strength and resiliency in you than you know. You already have what you need to do this work. You can show up for yourself and do this.
2. Stay present and accept reality.
While this one seems obvious, it’s worth repeating. If you are in the constant work of staying present, you know how much effort is required to truly be exactly where you are and stay there. Our brains operate at lightning speed, and before we even know it, we have taken the present moment or feeling and slipped into the past or jumped into the future, often compounding our suffering. Choosing to stay present, accepting your current reality exactly as it is—without trying to change it or make it different in any way—is hard and constant work and it will support your healing tremendously while reducing your suffering along the way.
3. Get into your body.
Despite a lot of intentional healing I’ve done over the years, it’s only been over the last several months that I’ve intentionally and strategically gotten into my body to address the stored trauma that lives there. In particular, I have incorporated several daily practices that are designed to repair and heal my central nervous system and, more specifically, work on toning my vagus nerve. I have learned that no amount of talk therapy or mindset work can offset a dysregulated nervous system and a truly holistic approach to healing requires somatic practices. Some of the practices I’ve been incorporating daily include: breathwork, meditation, EFT/tapping, cold exposure therapy, humming/singing and intentional movement. I wrote more about all of this here.
4. Feel your feelings but don’t let them consume you.
According to the experts, a physiological emotional response lasts approximately 90 seconds in our bodies. If that feels like a shockingly short period of time to you, you’re in good company. The reason this may feel really short is because most of us don’t experience the emotion and allow it to move through us. Most of us experience the feeling and then add assumptions, stories, and meaning to the emotion. We ruminate on the past or jump into the future, effectively prolonging our emotional experience (and suffering). This is a practice I’ve been doing lately to stay truly present to the pure emotion that I’m experiencing. It has been tremendously helpful in identifying, feeling, and releasing my feelings while simultaneously keeping it contained.
5. Train your brain/mind your mind.
Learning how to mindfully engage with your thoughts is not only vital but a practice that will support you for a lifetime. Our experiences of our lives are shaped by what we think about them, the meaning we attach, the stories and assumptions that get added along the way, and all of this colors how we experience the world and the various situations we encounter. Learning how to select our thoughts in the same way we select our clothes in the morning allows us to be more present, reduce our suffering, and engage in our life in a more grounded way.
Training our brain is especially important during hard times. Did you know that approximately 80% of our thoughts are negative? Our brains don’t exist to make us happy; they exist to keep us alive. So, if we are interested in having an experience that isn’t mostly negative, most of the time, we have to learn to recognize, challenge, and redirect our thoughts by doing things like learning to work with our Reticular Activating Systems (RAS). Between our brains defaulting to negative thoughts and confirmation bias, sometimes staying out of negativity is a lot of work and learning how to engage differently with your mind and thoughts can completely change your experience and reduce your suffering.
6. This is about your relationship with you.
While sometimes our healing journeys can be prompted by external factors, ultimately, the work you put into healing yourself will serve to strengthen and bolster your relationship with yourself. You will reap the rewards of this work and live in the benefits of your healing efforts for the rest of your life. Working on your relationship with yourself is literally a lifelong project, and I can’t think of anything more worthwhile than that. While this work is first and foremost about and for you, if that feels hard to swallow, you can also take comfort in knowing that others will benefit from the work you’re doing on and for yourself. Everyone wins.
7. You can be in the thick of it and still show up powerfully.
I work professionally as a sober coach. And I try to show up as transparently as possible for my clients and community. Sharing my struggles in real time can often feel vulnerable. I worry about being judged or perceived as “messy” or not capable of providing the care and support my clients need in their journeys while also being in my own healing work. My biggest takeaway from this experience is that I can do both, and by showing up authentically, I can use my own experiences of suffering and pain to connect more deeply to my clients and their experiences. Again, pain and suffering—regardless of details—are universal and part of the human experience. We find common ground in our struggles. When I think about the people I most admire and feel inspired by, it’s those who share their struggles vulnerably. It’s relatable and makes us feel less alone. And it’s possible to be struggling and still show up in strength.
8. Everything is temporary.
There will be days when you feel like you have been entirely broken by the work you’re doing. It will feel like you will never experience joy again and that the remainder of your existence will be in the dark hole in which you currently reside. When you’re in it, these feelings feel so real. And I want you to remind yourself that this, like everything else, is a temporary state. You are in a stormy season, and like all storms and all seasons, it will come to an end. The intensity of these feelings won’t last, and moments of joy will present themselves to you. Remind yourself—as many times as you need—that this is a season. Ride the wave; be present; stay the course. Trust me when I say I know how terrible it feels and please also trust that it won’t last forever.
9. This struggle is preparing you for something amazing.
While I am still very much in the throes of my healing work (aka the road is long and I still can’t see the end), I can also share that in addition to the lessons I’ve found, I am also experiencing some of the benefits of the work that I’m doing. Yes, I still cry multiple times a week (my current self laughs at my past self who only a few months ago smugly stated that “I’m not much of a crier”) and linger longer than I should in the dark corners of my heart and mind, and I can also see how my body is healing in response to the work that I’m doing. I can see differences in how I’m moving through this time in comparison to previous hard times, and I am choosing to show up differently.
What this hard season has afforded me is the opportunity to grow, gain confidence, strengthen my resilience, show up in love and, ultimately, move closer to a more healed, expansive, and peaceful version of myself who isn’t as constrained by my past or my pain. I also know from previous hard seasons that the greatest lessons come from the deepest pain—if you choose to see and learn them. Based on this premise, the lessons coming out of this season will be more profound than I can currently comprehend, and that alone makes enduring the pain feel just a little bit easier.
10. Take breaks from the work.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m bad at this. When I’m “in it,” I am laser-focused on the task at hand and will stay in it for as long as I can. I’ll also be the first to admit that we are not built for long-term, sustained mental and emotional anguish and that it’s vital to build in breaks (and possibly fun?) into the process. This work is so heavy, but you don’t need to carry the weight 24/7 in order to heal. You can press pause to give your mind and heart a slight reprieve and then come back to it. This will actually support you tremendously and is an act of self-love, kindness, and compassion.
In the brave words of Louise Hay, “You can heal your life.”
You can move through your pain and make your life better. I’m currently doing it and you can do it too.