How to Break Without Shattering

“How many times can I break till I shatter
Over the line can’t define what I’m after
I always turn the car around
Give me a break let me make my own pattern
All that it takes is some time, but I’m shattered”

This song from the late 90s recently resurfaced in my life and has done so coinciding with the anniversary of the single most difficult time in my life to-date. It was this week one year ago when time stood still for me for the first time in my life and I got the closest I think I have ever been to complete shatter.

And it has made me think: I have been broken a lot, especially this last year…and mostly by external forces…and have never shattered.

I don’t regret this last year of trial and ups and downs, mistakes and growth…I believe it has made (and is making) me a more well-rounded and empathetic person.

It is amazing how much a life can change in a single year, I feel as though I have lived a whole lifetime in this last year.

But just to level-set where I was at this time last year, it felt something like…your whole world halts completely while the lives of everyone else around you keep going on fairly uninterrupted. It is profound and dramatic, but mostly only to the person experiencing it. It felt sometimes like it was a nightmare, or maybe a joke, or sometimes even a conspiracy by the universe against my personal happiness. Everything…from the songs on the radio to the rain falling from the sky seemed sadly in tune with what I was experiencing…but the people around me (with the exceptional few) continued on, oblivious. And I felt alone. Because loss of any variety, in a lot of ways, is something that you experience alone. Other people’s worlds don’t stop like yours does. Their lefts and rights and ups and downs aren’t suddenly confused like yours are. They give you pause for a moment, respectfully, but then they move on and you are still reeling and dealing…alone. Your world doesn’t just go back to normal the way theirs does. Your world CHANGED.

And you start to accept your new life as it is: Without. Lacking. Different. Short of.

It has been a year and sometimes I still have this sense (or fear maybe) that I am broken from the experience. But when I think about it, I know I am not.

Here are a few things that I did that I think have contributed to me being able to break without shattering completely:

I allowed myself to sit in quiet, dark places and FEEL scary things.

It’s amazing how much we don’t allow ourselves to experience. We try to “get over it”, to normalize, to scramble back to a place where we feel happy…because the pain and discomfort is too much. We do this by telling ourselves it’s “all fine” and not focusing too much on the hurt. But there is therapy and healing in just ALLOWING yourself to be mad, and hurt, and sad and devastated… just allowing yourself to sit in a dark room on the floor and cry your heart out and search the reasons WHY it hurts. To say the scary phrases aloud to yourself and not fear them or what their existence might do to you. To speak your fears out into the void and release them from being something you hold inside. Fears (and lies) like: Why wasn’t I enough? I am going to be alone. I might never have children. It will never again be like what it was. 

As I felt sadness, I decided to search through it and understand why things hurt me. I believe that allowing myself to hurt and leaning into the mystery and burden of hurting, helped me heal more quickly.

We can’t ignore pain, we have to explore it, attempt to understand it as best we can and release it.

I had a few exercises of my own to work through this on paper. I was a shameless self-evaluator.

First, I wrote myself a love letter. I wrote down all of the things that I love about myself. It’s harder to do than you think. As you write things down, you immediately think…is that true? And you become hesitant to say positive things about yourself for fear that you have a completely false idea of yourself. But I did it anyways. I really thought through it and told myself all of the things I appreciated about myself. Stuff like: “I love you because you are vulnerable and transparent, despite how often you get hurt” and “I love you because you are open to learning from others”. I still have this letter. I think I will keep it as a reminder.

I also wrote a statement of intent…on the type of person I was intentionally choosing to be from that moment on. A values-based filter, if you will, through which I would try to run every important decision. Filters like “To take care of myself, but never at the expense of another human being…while still knowing when to walk away” and “To truly strive to treat others the way I would only hope to be treated in any given situation”.

I called an “expectation” hiatus.   

For the first time in my life, I allowed (nay, embraced) myself to be a hot mess, sans judgment. And I fiercely protected my right to be so…from myself and from others.

I took every decision, every day…just one thing at a time. I didn’t give myself a hard time for missing a workout, or a meal, or becoming a mild hermit and ignoring calls, etc. I reserved my right to heal on my own timeline. And I felt comfortable setting boundaries by saying “this is all I can handle right now,” unapologetically.

And interestingly enough…I don’t think I ever ended this hiatus. I think I am still living in it. It’s a good place to be…a place where you release your need for control and accept yourself as-is and set healthy boundaries with others.

I became incredibly discriminatory about the information I allowed into my heart. 

People come out of the woodworks with opinions and good intentions when someone is going through crisis. And the hard part is that many of these people are people of great significance in your life: Family, friends, religious leaders, etc.

The trick is to listen to everything and listen to nothing. (Easier said than done?) I kept as much of an open heart as possible to hear what people had to say because ultimately I believe that the collective minds and experiences all contribute to the right answer. There is wisdom in the collective mind. BUT, I rejected advice that did not sit well in even the slightest way. I paid close attention to and heeded the delicate physical and emotional sensors that we have in our body that tells us to accept or reject information. The sensors that make your stomach flip, or your heart skip, or your palms sweat. It’s called gut. It was given to us for a reason.

I marveled at and treasured my relationships.

One of the things that fascinates me the most about this last year, is the way in which people were there for me. Physically, mentally, emotionally…just there. They showed up. There are things people did for me during this time that I will never forget. Things people said that pulled me through. Having friendships with people that care deeply about you that go beyond them getting anything out of the relationship is one of the most priceless things that we can have in this life. People who allow you to be you…in good, in bad, in total hot mess situations. But having people that call you to be an even better version of yourself? That is just a blessing.

I allowed people to love me. I made the intentional decision to start actively loving them back. It takes shedding a layer of pride…shedding a layer of distrust to do so. In hard times, sometimes it’s nature to pull away from people and to resent them for not experiencing what you are experiencing, or resenting them for just not saying the right thing at the right time. Extending grace and showing gratitude to people when YOU are the one suffering is deeply therapeutic.

I stuck to my workout routine

It just so happened that I was one-third of the way through training for my first marathon. The structure and accountability that the training provided was critical to me staying engaged and focused and healthy. I also think that training for a marathon is profound in and of itself as it mentally pushes you through discomfort and negative thinking. You simply can’t carry negativity with you when you are pushing your mind and body to the brink in 16, 18, and 20 mile runs. The run itself brought a number of my training partners to tears. It was not uncommon to witness someone crying because they simply wanted to give up, or felt like a failure because they were exhausted. So to run these hard miles with the heavy weight of loss, failure, rejection…it’s profound. It changes the way you sort through things in your mind. It encourages push-through. It disciplines away the negativity.

Ultimately, above ALL else…I decided to trust God with the outcome of my life.

I think this is the real key to WHY I did not shatter completely: HOPE.

My life, as I knew it…as I thought I had designed it…fell apart. Getting to the point where I could acknowledge that maybe God had completely different plans for me was the first step.

Some days it looked more like “I don’t trust you, but I really want to” …but regardless of how WELL I was doing at the actual trusting part…I made the intentional decision to trust that He is active in my life, and that all things good and bad pass through His hands before they come to pass in my life.

I know that He is there, active in my life. His plan may not look anything like the plan I had for my life. And it is not easy to trust that He is going to take care of you when nothing is really working out that well for you. But there is nothing that promises that everything is going to go the way I imagined it. There isn’t a golden book somewhere that says that my life will play out like X,Y,Z and that I will have a husband and kids.

It is interesting to me how people blame God when things go terribly. In doing so, we are saying that we would be better gods of our own lives. That we had a plan for our life and since it is not playing out how we imagined it, that God is screwing it up. But our first problem is in the assumption of what our lives should look like.

I heard a song at church the other night that sums it up nicely:

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear

We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near

We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love

As if every promise from Your word is not enough

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea

And long that we’d have faith to believe

 

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

 

When friends betray us

When darkness seems to win

We know that pain reminds this heart

That this is not,

This is not our home

 

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life

Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy

What if trials of this life

The rain, the storms, the hardest nights

Are your mercies in disguise”

-“Blessings” by Laura Story

Ultimately, I know that I am just where I am supposed to be. I don’t regret this past year or the heartache that has come with it. I wouldn’t be exactly who I am if it weren’t for the experiences that I have had to go through…and I would argue that the more difficult experiences are the ones that have really built me.

And these experiences have shown me what I am capable of…in terms of forgiving other people and being gracious. I have learned that I can surprise myself… that I am not who I thought I was. I have learned that the type of person I am is dictated entirely by my own perspective and how I allow that to inform my decisions and actions.