I was lying flat on my back. The rug had been jerked out from under my entire life. Not only was the wind blown out of my sails figuratively, but literally it was crushed out of my chest.
I had given up my practice at his request, my parents were with us at his invitation (because my dad was spiraling downhill with Alzheimer’s). My mothers heart was crushed watching the love of her life slip way. I was struggling to twist myself into a pretzel emotionally, physically and mentally daily trying to do enough to keep my marriage together.
Now, with a few sentences about our demise just before he drove away: no place to live, nothing to start over with, no hope for our marriage … I was left flat on my back as he rode away into the sunset.
We’ve all found ourselves flat on our back at one time or another.
I often say we end up there in one of several ways:
1. Our life’s rug is jerked out from beneath us
2. We get pushed down
3. We step into a hole and fall
4. We lose our balance (whether from a failure in our moral compass, or as a result of addiction, or some other poor life choice).
However it is that we fall, it’s not the fall that has to define us, but rather we can be defined what we do after the fall. For that is what sets our destiny in motion.
There’s an old proverb that says: “Even if good people fall seven times, they will get back up. But when troubles strikes the wicked, that’s the end of them.”
Get back up! That’s the focus for today. Yes, no matter the reason for, nor how bad the fall … get back up!
I was having a conversation recently with a man that I deeply respect. He was talking about some of his “falls” in life. Again, we’ve all had them.
I’m not writing today to condemn those of us who have fallen, whether it was our fault or not. I am writing today to encourage you to get back up!
This man said something very interesting. I actually took out my notepad and asked him to repeat some of the things he had shared.
One thing he said that really struck me was: “Getting back up may not be about getting back into the fight. It’s an attitude that says or that believes you can no longer stay down, and you must choose gratitude.“
Then he said, “Sometimes when are knocked down, it is so easy to feel the power of the darkness, and feel justified in becoming a part of it. But if we surrender to it, we will never have the chance to love in a new way, to express our feelings, and to walk in hopes we’ve never known.”
He also said, “You know you have conquered the fall when you do not require anyone else involved to explain or justify. That we can all overcome that if our desire to move forward is great enough.”
Finally, he said, “We can’t let resentment or regret dictate our present.” WOW! What great truth!
I knew at that moment that this week’s blog needed to be about getting back up when we have fallen. I told my friend that he should create an entire course for people who have fallen, and I hope he will. But in the meantime, I want to share with you the five things you absolutely MUST avoid, and the five things you MUST DO to rise again after a fall.
When we fall, we are disoriented, disappointed, and often, devastated. Here are the things we MUST avoid:
1. DO NOT PITCH A TENT! I think that it is normal to need a bit of time to reorient ourselves. However, the greatest mistake people make during times like this is that they “pitch a tent” and “stay awhile.” I tell people that the great psalm says we WALK THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, we do not SET UP CAMP!
2. DO NOT SPEND TIME REHEARSING THE FALL! I’m certain we all go through moments of asking ourselves how on earth we ended up where we are. But the more time we spend rehearsing it, the deeper it becomes embedded in us. It is vitally important that we change our focus to getting up!
3. DO NOT SPEND TIME SPINNING A STORY ABOUT YOUR FALL! Research says that one of the first things we consider is “What am I going to tell people?” I tell people that the best thing to tell is the truth. Not details about the truth (except for those close to you). Not a diatribe on how you were wronged. Just tell the truth. People admire people who tell the truth, even if it’s about a mistake, poor decisions, or faulty judgment on our part.
4. DO NOT WASTE TIME ON CASTING BLAME. Although there may be times when others are to be held accountable, spending time on casting blame is wasted time. Not only that, it sets us up in the victim position. No matter what unfortunate or horrific things occur to us, we do not have to become victims.
5. DO NOT ALLOW YOUR FALL TO BECOME A PART OF YOU AND CHANGE YOUR IDENTITY. It is important that we note our part in our falls, and make note of needed changes. However, if we allow our fall to define us, we will spend the rest of our lives with internal battles.
One of the ways I know that someone has not recovered from a fall is how they speak of the event. Or when they change foundational belief systems. Although I strongly support reevaluating our belief systems, changing foundational beliefs speaks of victory being attributed to the fall, with the fall as the clear winner!
Here are the things you absolutely MUST do to recover:
1. REACH FOR THE HELP THAT YOU NEED. People tend to resist reaching for help, especially when they know they’ve made a mistake. There is a naturally tendency to want to cover up, deny there’s a problem, and think that they need to handle it on their own. It’s not just okay, but admirable, to ask for help when you have fallen, even if it was the result of a poor choice on your part. Again, people admire others who will admit their weaknesses and failures, particularly if they are asking for help.
2. BE WILLING TO BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR/ TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY OF YOUR PART IN THE FALL. When we take responsibility for our part (if there was any), we are setting ourselves up to heal more quickly. Healing when we are not accountable creates internal conflict, which makes recovery slow and painful at best.
3. MAKE AN IMMEDIATE MASSIVE IMMEDIATE ACTION PLAN. The quicker you can take action, the more likely your complete recovery becomes. Those who do not create a plan often end up “wandering” or making a string of poor choices that create a greater mess. I encourage my clients to have three definitive steps to take in the first 24 hours after a fall (to create momentum while they consider a longer term plan).
4. DETERMINE WHAT LESSONS YOU CAN TAKE FROM THE SITUATION. Whether you are at fault or not, there are always lessons we can take away from situations where falls are involved. Those lessons are valuable if we remain in alignment with our value system.
5. RETURN TO A PLACE OF GRATITUDE. We always become more resourceful in a place of gratitude. It’s difficult to be grateful when we are lying breathless on the ground. I’m not suggesting that we become grateful for the fall, but what do you have to be grateful for? There is always something!
When I found myself flat on my back, I knew all of these things. It still did not make following them easy for me to avoid the first five and execute the last five. However, I knew that my recovery and my ability to thrive depended on it.
I’ll share some of my journey with you, hoping my vulnerability and disclosure will help you. My clients often say things to me like: “all of this is easy for you.” Really? Because I know it and teach it, that makes it easier? Not really. But it was still important that I do them, just as I am encouraging you to.
I was able to avoid pitching a tent, but only because it was such a bad place, I certainly didn’t want to stay there! I spent as little time as possible rehearsing the fall, but I have admit it was difficult to shut it off, especially since it seemed to follow me in my dreams, actually in nightmares.
I particularly had to resist spending time spinning a story, because I didn’t want to make anyone look bad. But it was hard to know how to tell the truth without feeling like I was in a place of total embarrassment and humiliation. How do you say to your family … “We are homeless until I can figure out how to get us a place to live?”
How do you say to your clients, “I am re-opening my practice, but I am not available evenings because I have to go back to waitressing too!” I struggled!
Avoiding casting blame was not too hard since I had heard the old saying many times: “Betrayed me once, shame on you… Betray me twice, shame on me!” It was what it was and I had too many big decisions to make, and too many mountains to move to get stuck there!
Perhaps the most difficult part for me was not allowing it to become a part of me. To become a part of my identity. I didn’t want to be divorced. And although it was unstoppable at that point, I struggled with having the big “D” on my chest or forehead.
My mentor, Dr. Pat Love, helped me with this in her great wisdom. She helped me identify it as a situation where I was going into preparation for something greater. And preparation I did! For many years! But I was determined to get it right if I ever had another opportunity!
I knew I needed to reach for help. Perhaps it was pride, perhaps it was shame, or perhaps it was a combination… But to be in a leadership position, to be someone specializing in marriage and family therapy, and saying by asking for help: “I have failed!“ seemed at the time to be the beginning of the end. I cried at night. I laid on my floor and cried. I knew I needed help! I couldn’t make it on my own.
Finally, I reached for help. I reach for help from church leadership, from my mentor/therapist, Dr. Pat Love, and from a few close friends. I was amazed at how quickly they rallied, surrounded me, and committed to helping me get back up on my feet.
At first, I could see no personal responsibility in my fall. It was much easier to focus on how I had been wronged. But the truth is, I had been warned, and advised by many caring people about the foolishness of my choices. I had not listened and failed to take their counsel seriously. I allowed myself to believe that my faith was greater than the wisdom of counsel. Of course I’m not suggesting that we should lose faith, but certainly, I had some very caring and wise people speaking to me. I disregarded them and their counsel.
I took responsibility for that. Then I made new decisions about listening and strongly considering wise input into my life.
I understand and believe in massive immediate action, so despite feeling paralyzed, I forced myself to get online and begin investigating alternative housing choices. Even after I found some good choices, I felt paralyzed from making the phone calls. But I had made a commitment to do so and finally did.
We secured a great place to live, very near my dads care facility, that had just come on the market that day. All result of massive immediate action. I was then able to sit and make a longer-term plan, that resulted in being one of the greatest pivots of my life.
The lessons I took from that situation were massive. However, this is where you must exercise caution. People will suggest lessons that misaligned you from your value system.
For example here are some of the suggestions that I heard that felt good at the moment, but would have left me living at odds with what I truly believed and desired:
- Never trust a man
- Put your faith away because God won’t be there with you
- Life sucks alone, but at least nobody else will be able to take you under
There were moments when all that felt good and safe. But that’s not who I was, nor who I wanted to become. Every man on the planet did not deserve to carry the stigma. And God did not leave me, and He honored my faith. Being mad at Him was like cutting off my future. Finally, deciding to do life alone would have marked my deepest desire of my heart off the list… To have a “heaven on earth marriage with the man of my dreams, being the best thing that ever happened to him!”
(And all that inside a faithful, hot relationship!… Just saying!).
So I remained faithful to my values and beliefs, and still took some valuable lessons forward:
- To strongly consider the council of wise, godly people
- To address my own self-confidence and self-esteem issues that allowed so many red flags to go unnoted
- To make my primary filtering rule for future relationships to be someone who understands being “Healing Partners,” and is deeply committed to making that the theme of our relationship (if you missed my blog about “Healing Partners,” click here to read more)
Without those lessons and new decisions, I would not be in the place I am now. The final absolute MUST is being grateful. Through that process, I begin to have a deeper understanding of gratitude, and as a result, I am deeply devoted to practicing it, sharing it, and teaching it!
No matter why you have fallen, no matter the circumstances of your call, you can get back up again. I had a song I listened to often by Randy Hauser that said: “Every time I fall I get back up again; cinch my saddle up, find me another wind …” Get back up again!
Each of us has something unique in us to offer the world. Don’t keep it bottled up inside of you. Don’t take it to the graveyard with you. It has no meaning or value you there.
What you have in you is something someone desperately needs. It will be life altering for someone. It will be meaningful to many, and it could be transformative to the masses.
Come on! Get back up! We need you!