Part 1: Facing Your Biggest Life Challenges - 8 Steps to Recovery
“Given love and opportunity, every child and adult can recover.
All who know this and have the capacity to help others
should assist as they can.”
~ Dallin H. Oaks, Life's Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections
Life can be a peculiar mixture of many things. A trying history can bring stress and confusion to an already hectic existence. You’ve likely gone through some events in the past that still impact your emotions and bring you down from time to time. How can you recover from the hurts and psychological scars from the past? In this 2-part guide, I will offer eight steps to get you going down your personal path of recovery. Let’s get started.
Step 1: Identify Your Crucial Challenges
If there’s one thing you can be sure of about life, it’s that we’ve each experienced one or more major life challenges and lived to tell others about it. We are, in essence, all recovering from something. What are you recovering from?
- Lost love. Who among us hasn’t suffered the loss of a great love?
Perhaps the relationship you had with your high school sweetheart fell apart and you’ve never gotten over it. Maybe s/he became the one you compared every partner to since.
You may have had a relationship break up because the two of you simply couldn’t agree on a major aspect of your future, like you wanted to have kids but your partner didn’t, or you planned to move to a big city, but your love wanted to stay in your hometown.
Whatever the case, you’re left with emotional anguish that will stay with you until you resolve it. Lost love will, in essence, become a part of your emotional baggage until you act to recover from it.
Childhood trauma. Childhood trauma is cloaked in different ways. Did you experience these struggles when you were growing up?
Perhaps you felt that one of your parents was rejecting you.
Your parents might have gone through a tough divorce that was profoundly hurtful to you. This might cause you to avoid getting too close to someone, for fear you’ll be hurt. You may respond by being in multiple relationships or being clingy with a partner.
If kids made fun of you because of a physical attribute, your clothes, or where you lived, you might now struggle to feel whole and accepted by others.
Abuse or neglect is an unfortunate part of childhood for many, maybe even you. Living through this type of trauma is difficult and can affect your self-esteem and ability to love and emotionally relate to others.
Feeling vulnerable as an adult is a byproduct of childhood trauma. To heal, it helps to make efforts toward recovery.
Death of a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences you might have had. You experience a great loss and see the specter of your own mortality—and it can be quite scary. Your grief can be all-consuming and mark you emotionally until you figure out how to recover and make sense of the loss.
Abuse of a substance. Abusing alcohol, prescription medication, or illicit drugs can develop into the challenge of your life. At times, this can seem impossible to overcome.
Eating disorders. Whether you eat too much or too little, your lifestyle and health can be profoundly negatively affected if you struggle with this challenge.
If you want glowing skin, a nice shape, strong bones and muscles, and a body that works for you, at some point, you’ll find yourself wanting to recover.
If eating difficulties have defined you, perhaps you’re ready now to commit to a program of personal recovery.
Health issues. Even though you may not have been blessed with perfect health, you can recover from the emotional challenges of many health issues. You can learn to live healthfully and manage chronic health conditions like asthma, allergies, high cholesterol, and diabetes if you engage in strong recovery efforts.
Relationship distress. If you and your mate don’t agree on major points about your life together, it can bring plenty of distress. So can being faced with a partner’s infidelity, workaholic tendencies, or refusal to help you raise children.
The good news is that you can work to recover from these challenges and ultimately build the life together that the two of you want. Whatever your challenge, when you go through the 8-step recovery process here, you’ll be able to enjoy the happiness, peace, and love you seek.
“The test we must set for ourselves is not to march alone
but to march in such a way that others will wish to join us.”
~ Hubert Humphrey
Step 2: Make Sense of Your Personal Traumas
Part of your recovery journey is sorting out the Who, What, When, Where, and Why for each of your trouble spots along your life’s path. Though it might be painful to review your trauma, this process can help your recovery. Ask yourself these questions to bring light to your trouble spots and mentally process them to better understand what really happened:
Who was involved? If you skip thinking about this, you might continue to blame someone who wasn’t responsible for your pain.
For example, if you believe your parents neglected your needs, think about how each parent treated you. Did your mom show you affection? Was your father gruff and harsh? You might at least note that one or both of your parents did make some positive expressions toward you.
Identify the person(s) whom you believe inflicted the hurts.
What happened and how? Be specific. Using the example from #1, was it your dad’s voice that scared you, or something he did? Label in detail what has your emotions in an uproar.
When did it happen? The nature of an old wound is to generalize when and for how long the hurt was inflicted. You might tell yourself, “All my life my dad wasn’t very kind to me,” when the time frame might really span one or two impressionable years of your youth.
When matters, because (using the same example), your dad might have spoken harshly to you when he was under some type of stress.
Focus in on a span of time the troubling events happened. You might note that from the age of about 13 on, your dad often played ball with you and was kind and loving.
Did the hurtful behaviors occur over a small percentage of your life? If so, this can bring you confidence that you can successfully work through these events.
Where did it happen? Identifying where and in what situations the behavior occurred will help you make sense of your trauma. Maybe during the time your dad was laid off from work and your family lived with his parents, he was grouchy and short with you.
Why did it happen? Giving it your best guess, why did the other person(s) hurt you?
In our example, perhaps your father was so consumed with his own feelings of failure about his job loss that he lacked the patience to give emotional support to you.
Don’t get too hung up on this step, because you might not be able to discern why someone else did something—unless you ask them.
Using our example, if your father is still living and your relationship now would let you tell him how you feel about some of your growing-up years, doing so could help you learn the “why” of his behaviors toward you years ago.
Let it strengthen you. As you work to resolve your old hurts, you’ll start to absorb aspects of your life in ways that will strengthen you. You may have heard the phrase, “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Making sense of what happened does not mean that you minimize the hurt and pain you’ve felt about the event. It just means that you better understand why those things might have happened. There is never a good excuse for abuse, but if you gain some clarity, you’ve made some progress toward recovery.
Give yourself permission to let go. This burden has been with you long enough. Know that it’s okay to stop hurting. It’s time to move forward in your life without this pain.
Reviewing the who, what, when, where, and why of your trauma will clarify the source of your pain and help you to make sense of the events so you can let go of them. Only then can you move forward toward living a life free of emotional turmoil.
“I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them,
and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.”
~ Gail Caldwell, Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship
Step 3: Accept What Is
In striving to put your trauma behind you, it’s vital to accept the situation as it happened. Stop fighting it. The events are a part of your history. Rather than pushing them out of your mind, embrace them as your badges of battle, and episodes of your past. Acceptance is a powerful tool for your recovery. After you make sense of a trauma and accept it as it is, you are free to move forward toward the life you seek.
Know that you can build your old wounds into your life in ways that amplify your positive actions. In time, you’ll be able to share your experiences to shed light for others. Or maybe you will be a better parent because of what your past hurts have taught you.
Embracing your past wounds and turning them into strengths will compel you to progress in ways that will ignite your passions to meet your life goals and live a more vibrant existence.
“And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart:
Your seeds shall live in my body,
And the buds of your tomorrow shall blossom in my heart,
And your fragrance shall be my breath,
And together we shall rejoice through all the seasons.”
~ Kahlil Gibran
Step 4: Learn to Live Consciously
Rather than just going through the motions, when you seek personal recovery, you can truly connect with your own life and live consciously. This means you’ll put your mind, body, and soul into whatever you do. Focusing on and re-living past wounds is now over.
Try these tips to help yourself heal by living consciously:
Live in the moment. For example, if you wash your car, do it in a way that brings you pride and joy. When you read a novel, put your own thoughts into the story. When you play with your kids or grandkids, notice their expressions, the sound of their voices, and what brings them special joy.
Engage with your work. While you work, connect with what you’re doing. What is your purpose there? What do you want to accomplish today with this project? Ponder your work and focus on what you’re doing so you can produce a better result.
Set aside “me” time. There is beauty and necessity in having some “me” time. Do whatever you want—watch a movie, go for a walk. Me time reduces stress and rejuvenates you so you can be at your best.
Connect more in your relationships. Relationships are the heart and soul of life. To truly taste the sweetness of life, take every step to connect more closely with those you love, like a spouse, kids, and friends.
Share your emotions honestly with them.
Notice how they feel and act. Comment or ask about their feelings and actions.
Ensure that you are really “there” with a loved one, in terms of your attention, interest, emotions, and spirit.
Invest your time in what’s matters most to you. When you spend your time on whatever is highest on your priority list, you will feel more fulfilled in your daily life. Miss your cherished hobbies? Move them closer to the top of your list.
Clear away the chaff. Let go of the small stuff that doesn’t hold much meaning for you. Perhaps you’re on a board of a local charity, but find the time keeps you from taking part in the higher priorities of your life. Personal recovery is about cleaning out the unimportant stuff from your emotional closets and schedules.
Stay connected with your own self, life, loves, and work by choosing to live consciously. There is no better path to personal recovery than one that is lived with eyes wide open.
Next week: Learn steps 5-8 in Part 2