Living through tragedy is inevitably life-altering. No matter what the cause—whether we are sick or injured or we have lost someone or something we love, the pain of heartbreak tears apart the fabric of who we are. The person we used to be—the carefully constructed Self who shaped our belief system and guided our movements as we traveled through life—ceases to exist. Like fallen trees uprooted in a storm, we are suddenly insubstantial and frail. This does not happen because our minds are playing tricks on us or because the pain is overwhelming our sense of who we are. It happens because “Who we are” –who we were– simply is no longer there. The remnants of our old selves—like leaves scattered around fallen trees – surround us, and many times they still are well within our reach. But we can never, truly never, put them back together in the same way.
How we endure through great tragedy redefines us. That which does not kill us does not make us stronger: Nietzsche was wrong about that. Adversity and pain leave us vulnerable and frightened, weaker, less sure of ourselves and less willing to take risks. Victims are more likely, not less likely, to be victimized, and pain can make a coward of the bravest of men. Nonetheless, great misfortune offers us an opportunity that the charmed never have: the chance to consciously and with intention recreate ourselves—to sort carefully through the detritus of our old lives and decide what to keep and what to discard. And because those who have suffered greatly see in a very different way, we instinctively make better choices than we did the first time around.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” —Elizabeth Kubler Ross
No matter how much you are suffering right now, it is important to remember that your suffering does not define who you are. It is very difficult to look beyond the immediate when you are hurt and frightened, but your journal is a vehicle that can take you away from your pain and help you look beyond today. Use it now to describe what you hope for when this difficult time is over..even if you don’t see an end in sight. If you don’t feel like journaling, draw something or write a poem or a song. The lessons you are learning today will shape your future in ways you cannot see. But you can imagine them. And just that imagining can transform your pain into something vaguely resembling hope.