I remember all too well what I call “the dark night of my soul.” Going through something that no one should ever have to experience. I’m guessing it’s probably happened to you, too.
The particular day I learned some excruciating news, I was in Walmart. I could not catch my breath. My body was trembling from head to toe. My knees suddenly became wobbly, and the only reason that I did not fall to the floor was that I was gripping tightly and leaning onto my shopping cart. Big tears were flowing from my eyes and splattering onto the floor. I was dizzy and somehow my brain was frozen and I could not think.
I took in as deep of a breath as I could. I knew I had to remove myself from a public display of disintegration. I somehow had enough thought to remember an area of the store that would most likely not be swarmed with shoppers on a Friday evening. I made my way to a back corner.
I called a friend. When she asked what was going on, I said through sobs (that I was trying to stuff), in whispered and broken words, “I am losing it in a back corner of Walmart and I don’t know how to get out of here ….”
I was certain that my heart had exploded, and would likely never be put back together. You’ve probably experienced it. You know what I’m talking about. I only hope it’s not happening to you at this moment, but either way, I want to help you.
If I had known then what I know now, my journey back to healing and wholeness would have gone more quickly, more peacefully, and in a much more humane way.
With prayers and love from the few friends I was able to share it with, the journey did begin. I could not have made it without those friends and I am forever grateful to them.
They had no idea what to do with me or for me (other than praying for me). But I know prayer is very powerful. I’ve seen it work miracles over and over. Prayer is probably the only reason I did not end up in some kind of facility.
Here I was, a therapist of over 10 years, and I could not find my way out of the darkness. Whether you are in the darkness at this moment, or you know someone who is and you would love to help… I want to share with you how one can dance out of the darkness!
Before I go further, let me clarify. You do not need to sign up for dance lessons! You do not even need to have rhythm! I use the metaphor of dancing for several reasons.
First, I love to dance. I loved our Friday night victory dances after our games in high school (And yes, we had them even when we lost … we called them victory dances no matter what! Who would want to go to a defeat dance?) I loved dancing on the dance team. I loved dancing in the living room with my sister, who would teach me the latest dance moves.
Secondly, research reveals tremendous health benefits from dancing. The list of benefits is impressive: improved heart health, better balance, increased strength, maintaining clarity of thought, stronger bones and less osteoporosis, improved coordination, improved self-confidence, better memory recall, and an improved immune system. Wow!
Thirdly, for many years I had a much-loved poster on my wall: “Sing like no one is listening, dance like no one is watching, and love like you’ve never been hurt.” Yes! Dance like no one is watching!
Often, when I’m on the beach in Galveston, I put on my headphones, and I zig zag with triple steps for miles as I listen to my favorite tunes. There was a time when I would not have done that. But now I just dance like no one is watching. Very often, people get up from tanning, or reading a book, or leave the sand volleyball game to come beside me and try to pick up the steps. I turn the music on speaker phone so they can hear it, and they will go a ways down the beach with me. We always part with laughter and smiles.
So, hang with me as I share how you can dance out of the darkness! Or help someone else to do it!
Make three critical decisions.
1. Decide that what has happened will not define you or change your destiny. No matter what happens to us, we do not have to allow that person or situation to define us. We need a renewed commitment to our destiny and purpose. And although we may be temporarily set back, our purpose and our destiny still need us. Don’t believe the lies that come to mind, telling you that you’re all washed up, or that everything has changed. Everything has only changed temporarily! Perhaps you made some poor choices that brought you to this dark place. However, you still have a destiny and purpose. No matter how dark things become, always hold onto to those cherished goals. Remind yourself of them daily.
2. Decide that you are not going to pitch a tent in this “valley of the shadow of death.” I know sometimes we get knocked down with such a vengeance that it feels as if we will be living in that dark place for the rest of our lives. Decide immediately that you will not let that happen. You will not pitch a tent and get comfortable there. Of course you will walk through the grief, but you will walk through! Not pitch a tent and lay down in surrender.
3. Decide that you will forgive this person, this group, or the situation that brought such distress into your life. Forgiveness is a process, and you may not quite be in the place to forgive yet. But make a decision that you will as soon as you can. And the sooner the better. Why? Well perhaps they don’t even deserve forgiveness, but forgiveness is not for their sake, it is for your sake. I’ve heard it said that not forgiving is like putting that person or that group or that situation into a 6-foot backpack and dragging it around the rest of your life. Why would you want to haul that heavy weight around? I’ve also heard it said that not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and hoping the person that hurt you will die! In research conducted at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, it was discovered that 61% of cancer patients have forgiveness issues. When forgiveness occurs, further research indicated that the effectiveness of treatment and the healing process increased dramatically. Make the decision to forgive. Get there as quickly as you can.
Read inspirational material.
Specifically, read books that can help you recover from the blow. I could list many, many books here, but I would like to start with two:
1. Some Days You Dance by Vikki Burke. (I have recommended her book previously with a link, but subsequently found the link was not working properly. Please try again! Click here to order it!) Vicki gives a heart rendering guide out of your past and out of the darkness. It is a powerful masterpiece! You will likely find yourself, like me, reading it over and over again because it is drenched in wisdom and guidance!
2. Knowing What I Know about Living after Loss by Gary Denson. Gary writes about his journey out of the darkness after losing his son. This book will help ease the pain of your loss. Order it by clicking here.
Avoid these 3 big “Thou Shalt Not’s”:
1. Thou shalt not isolate. I know, I know! You will not want to get out of bed. You will not want to get dressed. You will not want to show your face to the light of day. Do it anyway! Thankfully, in my case, I had no choice but to keep working. At the time, I was seeing a few clients while rebuilding my practice, and I had to immediately get a job waitressing in the evenings. I didn’t want to be there at that restaurant. I felt like a fake or an imposter seeing clients. But I felt their pain deeply, and as I pushed them to healing, it helped me as much as it helped them! If you do not have a job, volunteer. Just getting out and interacting with people for at least 20 to 30 minutes daily helps tremendously. In the first week or two, each day I forced myself to get up, shower, get dressed, put on my make up, and at least get out and go to the grocery store and buy one item. That’s all I could do at first, but it did help me keep things in perspective.
2. Thou shalt not overdose on carbs. I know, I know! I had not had sugar for years, and yet I craved chocolate. Why? Because chocolate, in its metabolism in our bodies, creates a very small dose of oxytocin. Oxytocin feels good and relieves the pain momentarily. But chocolate, and that bag of potato chips (where you quickly find yourself eating the crumbs out of the bottom of the bag!), all metabolize in a way that creates more depression. Eat clean proteins and green things (no green M&M’s!). This will help avoid some of the dreaded side effects on your body, like hair loss, weight gain, fatigue, and brain fog.
3. Thou shalt not use alcohol or drugs to ease your pain. After years of owning and operating addiction treatment centers, I will not get on my soapbox about the challenges of recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol. Instead I want you to understand this: drugs and alcohol may numb the pain for a few moments or even a few hours. BUT, they actually accelerate the depression and once their affect wears off, the depression will return. At an even deeper level. Be kind to yourself. Avoid this cycle. (Of course I’m not speaking of medications taken as prescribed by your physician!)
Do engage in these 6 big Thou Shalt’s:
1. Thou shalt seek help. Find an expert in grief, depression, or post-traumatic stress. Find a support group. There are many such groups. Go online to start with. But as soon as possible, find a grief recovery group, or a divorce recovery group, or a depression support group. Not only will it help with the isolation, but you will see that you are not alone. Seeing other people heal, and in turn bringing a moment of hope to someone else, is a great way to heal. I know, I know. You may feel like you need to be Superman or Superwoman. “I can do this myself!” Keep it all under wraps. But being vulnerable in a safe place is the best path to healing.
2. Thou shalt pray. I am aware that not everyone includes spirituality in their daily lives. However, research has shown that those who engage in prayer exit the darkness much sooner. There is a Bible verse that says, “God is near to the broken-hearted.” In my journey out of the darkness, I held onto that verse with great passion. You may ask, what on earth do I pray? During that time, my prayers were pretty succinct. Sometimes they were just three words: “God help me!” Sometimes they were desperate pleas: “If you are truly near to the broken-hearted, please show me that you are!”
3. Thou shalt start a gratitude journal. Many in my audience are familiar with my comments on heart/brain synchronicity. In case it’s new to you, there is amazing research showing that when we are anxious or distressed, our heart waves and brain waves are totally out of sync. However, when we bring them into sync, it is impossible to feel distressed or anxious. So how do we get them in sync? Research has shown that practicing 90 seconds to 3 minutes of gratitude brings that synchronicity. Set a time daily to spend 10 to 15 minutes writing in your gratitude journal. You may wonder, “Am I supposed to be grateful for what has happened?” No! Be grateful for what you have to be grateful for. Did you see a beautiful sunset? Did someone call and cheer you up? Did you see some beautiful flowers on a walk? Did you read something that inspired you? We all have things to be grateful for. Find yours daily.
4. Thou shalt write a proclamation and proclaim it daily. Your proclamation should be statements of faith about moving forward. Powerful statements that inspire you that there is a future with hope. In the beginning, my proclamations were something like this: “Today I will make it by putting one foot in front of the other. Somehow I will make it through this.” Then it became, “Because I can do all things. Even the hard things. I will rise again!” Then, “Although I may feel covered in darkness, I will rise from the ashes as a beautiful garland of roses.” Finally, “When I make it through this, I will help others do the same, and it will bring me great joy to do so.” These proclamations were the best I could do. But it took my focus off what had happened, and onto who I was choosing to become. Write your proclamation and proclaim it out loud daily at least three times. There were times when I did it 25 or 30 times a day to keep me afloat.
5. Thou shalt laugh! Find something that will make you laugh daily. It was a real stretch for me in the beginning, and I can’t say that I laughed out loud daily. But I would find a Johnny Carson episode, or a funny movie or something that would at least elicit half a smile. I did it day after day, until finally, I heard myself laughing again. That doesn’t mean that later in the day I didn’t feel crushed to my core. But I knew that there were moments of healing because of the laughter.
6. Most importantly, thou shalt never give up! Recently, I wrote a blog about determination (click here if you missed it) Be determined to never give up. Some days, the best I could do was decide that I was not going to give up on that day. At one point I could commit to not giving up for at least a week. I remember the day I decided that I was determined to make it for one full month! It turned out that I never had to make that decision again, because by then it had become a belief. Years ago, I was working with an amazing young man. One night he texted me around 2 AM. The text was one short but powerful question, “Can you tell me one reason I should live?” My response was: “How about 10?” I did the count down with a text for number 10, a text for number 9, and so on. I later learned that he had sent his original text question literally with a noose around his neck. He is currently thriving and has followed most of the steps I have listed above.
You have a destiny. You have a purpose. Someone needs you! Your best days are just ahead. You will make it! You will rise again!
Does that mean you’ll never have disappointing or devastating blows again? No! Over the past months, I have experienced great loss. I’ve had several gut punches. I have found myself in lonely, depressed moments. But they were moments. I moved through those moments. I didn’t stay there! How? I did not rehearse what happened in my mind or go over and over what happened with others. I did not nurse the horrible feelings. I chose to reverse all that!
How did I reverse all of the pain and
disappointment? I took my own advice! I practiced all of the “shalts and shalt
nots” I just shared with you.
You can do it too! Do not let dark moments hold you down, hold you back, or hold you hostage. You were meant for great things! Step up into the sunshine! Raise a new standard! Determine that this will make you better, not bitter! Determine that whatever “mess” you are in, that you will turn it into a “message” to help others!
I’m cheering you on!