“Life always waits for some crisis to occur before revealing itself at its most brilliant.”
– Paul Coelho
I carried all my worldly belongings, in disheveled cardboard boxes, out to the car in the chilly Tahoe weather.
Carting all your possessions out to the car when your relationship is on the rocks can be one of the most painful experiences because it is fraught with dreams, memories and reflections of happier times together.
I would only realize later that this fateful day was the beginning of a separation that ultimately led to our divorce.
Nearly a decade ago, I had married the woman I believed was my soul-mate. Living together with the many ups-and-downs of marriage was a challenge. Realizing that we weren’t good for each other and should move on was something I never wanted to come to terms with.
The following days and months were considerably colder and more frigid than the Sierra air on the day of my move. My world continued to spin out of control as I tried to hold on to regular daily activities, work, and simply surviving each day. I had to work through and get past the self-pity, loathing, uncontrollable tears, sadness, and pangs of suicidal thoughts.
My marriage was broken.
The person I had spent a good portion of my life with was no longer in it.
The life that began after the move was a new one. And it began where all great change and growth begins – at the absolute lowest point in my life.
In the following few months, I moved in with strangers, quit my job, left my rental and traveled around Central America for a period of soul-searching and self-reflection.
After the move and the travels, I found myself single, unemployed and without an official address. ‘Home’ was the couch at my brother’s place and friends’ homes around the state.
My illustrious triumph each day was simply waking up and doing something. Anything.
I didn’t take this separation or divorce lightly. It came as a life-crushing and soul-tearing experience. Somehow, I had to dig myself out of this very low place in my life. .
Of course, now, I realize this has been the greatest period of growth and development. Through the months of isolation, waterfalls of tears and periods self-loathing and doubt, I had survived it.
Here are at least seven ways I survived my life’s lowest point:
1. Every day counts.
I had to realize that to get out of this horrible place I was in, I had to take it one day at a time. If I thought about the situation as a whole or what my divorce meant to my life in general, it would weigh me down and paralyze me.
Do this: Start taking small actions daily. It could be as simple as doing the daily routine of brushing your teeth and having breakfast, followed by completing even the smallest of tasks. Do the very minimum. Don’t focus on the past or future or reflect on the gravity of your circumstances or situation.
One task at a time. One day at a time.
My minimum every day was doing a little bit of exercise. Making it through a work day without breaking down was a success.
2. Being down doesn’t mean you’re out.
“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.” – H.G.Wells
When I felt knocked down, I thought that I was ejected from the game of life. I thought I had lost three video game lives and it was ‘Game Over’.
Then I realized that the most painful thing in your life doesn’t mean the end of the world for you or anyone else. Others had survived even more traumatic, painful and unimaginable grief and loss.
People had lost their parents, their spouses, and even their children through tragedies and traumatic life events but still found the power to go on.
Cancer patients and others with terminal illnesses have found the strength to go on.
Those who have experienced floods, tornadoes and earthquakes have had to find the courage to rebuild their houses and their lives.
Being at your worst point is a temporary condition. I didn’t think it could get better, but it did. Sometimes, I felt like I fell back a few steps on a daily basis, but over time I was becoming stronger.
Do this: Look at past situations in your life when you failed or found yourself in a slump due to events out of your control. Did you move forward? Did you survive?
Most likely – yes!
Use your positive past experiences and ability to overcome setbacks to remind yourself that you can overcome again.
3. Accept life’s circumstances. You don’t have control over everything.
For me, this was one of the more agonizing lessons to learn. Once upon a time in my professional work as an attorney, I learned that you can take the unknowns out of many situations by putting the terms in the contract. You can minimize risk and ensure limited damages when the unexpected happens.
But in life, you don’t have that control. Realizing that, as someone who had workplace success and was able to create certainty in so many other areas of life, was a hard lesson.
Sometimes, you have to let go. You have to accept life events unfolding in front of you as they are. You can wish your circumstances were different, but learn to accept the circumstances you’re facing.
You can’t change some circumstances.
Accepting life circumstances is the first step to alleviating pain and improving conditions. But you can’t make progress when you don’t accept the circumstances, or situation, in the first place.
It took me awhile to realize that the separation was real and the divorce was pending.
Only once I could accepted that my personal life was out of my control could I take the steps to re-arrange the puzzle of my life. Only then could I stop blame. Only then could I heal.
4. The gift of unlimited spiritual growth and clarity.
I thought I had been a rather spiritual person before my world seemed like it collapsed on me. I prayed, meditated and spent time self-reflecting. I tried to connect myself more with the universe around me.
Then, divorce happened and I tried to use all my spiritual tools to help me through it.
That’s when I realized that my spiritual practices may have been helping me connect with the universe and God, but they were not allowing me to understand myself.
That’s when the walls of spirituality started to collapse.
I was focused on my soul but forgotten myself as a person.
I couldn’t just sit back and only pray or meditate. I had to come to terms with my personality, characteristics and habits so I could start to improve as a person.
Self-development became a spiritual practice as I confronted my anger, judgment, and ego. I learned that a practical spiritual practice was loving more each day, showing more compassion to people, always forgiving others and being thankful for everything I have
These discoveries and realizations occurred only when a devastating life-event caused me to seek more of the answers within myself.
5. You can start from scratch when you’ve lost it all.
Often times you dream, plan and want to create the life you want to live.
Sometimes– only when things crash and burn– you can truly start over.
A job loss, a death of a loved one, a bankruptcy and yes, even a divorce, will give you the opportunity to start again.
You can start again and design the life you want.
I’ve now had more time to reflect on my priorities and my values. I’ve changed locations to suit my lifestyle more. I’ve shifted careers to be more at peace.
When the life you know crumbles in front of you, you can more meaningfully and thoughtfully chose the life you want to live.
Ask yourself what type of lifestyle you want to have:
- What does your dream lifestyle look like?
- How do you want to make a difference in the world?
- What is important to you and how much time do you want to spend doing that?
- What will you focus your time and attention on? What truly matters to you in life.
6. Happiness isn’t the destination but the journey.
“Happiness is an inside job.” – William Arthur Ward
I used to think I was creating a life to be happy someday. Not today.
Upon hitting my low point, it was time to reflect and redirect.
When you feel sadness and pain, it happens in the moment. I was washed over by both when I was going through divorce but it got me thinking, “Can’t I also find happiness in the moment?”
I realized that it was possible and easier than suspected.
Do not say you want to be happy “one day.” You have that power this very moment.
The power of your happiness lies in your power to make choices.
Make these choices that will bring you happiness:
- Spend more time with people who bring you happiness and less time with people who don’t.
- Do work that makes a difference and brings you joy.
- Spend more time for hobbies and leisure in your life.
See, you don’t have to wait until you’re happy. Just start doing things that make you happy. Spend more time each day on activities and people who make you happy.
Enjoy happiness in that moment and before you know it, happiness will snowball into your life.
7. Vulnerability increases authenticity and compassion.
I used to be terrified of opening myself up to friends and family. I never wanted to seem less than my best self.
After going through something so traumatic and painful, my life completely opened up to everyone.
Once I came to terms with what I went through, I gladly share it with others. Sharing my pains and struggles allows me to live a more authentic life. There’s no more false pretense to uphold.
There is a liberation in being who you are – faults, flaws, failures and all.
It took me awhile on my journey to get there, but instead of getting negative or having self-pity, I found empathy, understanding and deeper connections with friends and family.
Being vulnerable and exploring my life this way has also allowed me to be a more compassionate person. Once you can appreciate your own struggles and pains, you can relate to the tears, sadness and pain.
When tragedy strikes, your life hasn’t ended.
It’s just begun.
Has one of your life’s most challenging circumstances resulted in your growth and development? Please share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.