Embracing life’s painful lessons

They are said to be turning points, moments or experiences that looked back upon are remembered not for the incidents themselves but what was accomplished through them. For some people it’s just a single event, the understanding behind a failed relationship or the newfound insight into why we act a certain way. Yet aren’t always so precise or pointed for others, often it becomes a season of time yet the affect is no less dramatic or impactful.

My turning point wasn’t a late night epiphany or a counseling session break-through; instead it was nine months of mental anguish. After the hangover had wore off from my New Year’s celebration I woke up to ‘08 looking down the business end of a new job that paid 50% of the former I’d just been laid off from, mounting legal bills after being forced to take the Jap back to court from reneging on a verbal agreement, the panic upon receiving an audit notice from the IRS, and the hole left from a long term relationship freshly ended. I don’t care if you’re John Wayne; anyone facing that would be justified in taking a long walk off a short pier.

I can still remember lying in bed as cold sweats overtook me wondering what might happen in the morning? What was the next shoe to drop? My greatest fear was the apprehension around losing everything including my house, car, but ultimately my pride. How was I going to make it through all of this and how much more must I endure? It was a balancing act with ego in one hand and reality in the other and trying to keep it centered was about to take me over the edge.

I’ve heard it said and I have come to strongly believe that everyone you meet is struggling with something in his or her life. Maybe it’s the loss of a loved one, a job, a relationship or health issues. Maybe their financial life is in turmoil or there’s family chaos. Often we’ll let life’s challenges overtake our lives as it did for me. I lived every day with it all hanging over my head, I was constantly turning it over in my mind desperately trying to work out any solution that would make it all go away, but this time there was no quick antidote to the illness. So instead of facing my demons head on with fierce determination I distracted myself with frivolity, irresponsibility and behaviors outside of my natural character. I was willing to do whatever necessary to make it disappear even if that meant becoming someone else.

After the landslide of seemingly insurmountable obstacles hit I began acting differently. In an effort to silence the chaos and hide the fear that would hopefully distract me from reality I began drinking more and praying less, I started looking outwards for validation instead of inward and upward. I started seeking out relationships that would selfishly benefit me first but they only ended up adding injury to the insult. No matter which smoke or mirrors we may chose reality, it seems, is very determined.

Struggles are a part of this life; even if I make the wisest choices and take the fewest risks conflict will likely be just around the corner.  And while quite often we become our own worse enemy making careless choices where the outcome may not be felt for years there are many instances where we simply have no control. The economy that decides to go sideways, the ex spouse who thinks only of her interests, or the significant other who sees the grass as greener on the other side are all events where the only thing that we can directly control is our own selves and our reaction.

Some define emotional intelligence as the way in which we handle life’s obstacles while others may call it maturity or attitude. Regardless of the label, the way we react differs for everyone.  Some look at life’s trails with the steely resolve of a gunfighter while others cower and hide under the nearest rock. I know several people whose entire world might be falling down around them and they remain the definition of calm. You may know them; I am amazed and inspired by these people while harboring resentment because I’m not always the same.

The immediate comeback is that they are just born that way. While some may very well be, I believe most are so because of their own battles fought. There are countless books dedicated to helping us overcome obstacles, but in a world of quick tips and tricks the only legitimate way is to go through our own rings of fire. Yes it will usually burn going down and as Johnny Cash sang the flames do often get higher but I can be rest assured that no PhD could have enlightened me more than the nine months of 2008 that I endured.

In the end I stood strong and came out the other side a much different individual than when I went in. I learned that money and financial security is not the warm blanket everyone believes, that divorce is a business contract just like any other enterprise and should be treated as such, the IRS isn’t as scary as people seem to think, and that the end of one relationship helps to prepare for the next.

With the wounds of 2008 completely healed I look back on that emotional winter with the admiration of a well-respected mentor. Were I given the choice of doing it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. The lessons learned during that season have gone on to serve me well in obstacles since, and anytime I lift my eyes to find the devil at my door I always remind him, and myself, of past battles fought and won and in doing so seek to make sure that I’m the guy he really wants to mess with.

You may also enjoy this (remains one of my personal favoritesDreaming in Black and White

Photo credit by Bud Green

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15 responses to Embracing life’s painful lessons

  1. Great post.  My son died at six months three years ago, and what pulled me through the whole thing was that I kept thinking “This is the worst thing I will ever have to do.”  Really.  When you have had the absolute worst day of your life, and you get through it without offing yourself, it changes you in positive ways.  OK, it changed me, for a time, in negative ways, too – and I’m still feeling the influence of that even now, but all in all, it made me tougher.  For lack of a better word.  And since then we’ve had another kid, and then another now on the way.  People used to tell me that after having a kid die, they would never be able to have another.  Thank God my wife and I were on the same page on that one:  not having another kid would have only meant we’d given up.  You have to write more chapters to life, no matter what happens to your.

  2. Beautanner

    Parallel lives don’t always seem to have the same problems but the same feelings. Mine was delayed a bit from yours but we certainly walked the same path. I wonder how many of our collegues were walking the same tightrope. Great post.

  3. Random Girl

    True and True. For me it was the end of ’08 and most of ’09 that kicked me while I was down. Life looks completely different now but it is better overall and I agree, the lessons learned were paid for with a very high price but are serving me well going forward. Life is a series of peaks and troughs and when you are in one,it’s only a matter of time until you begin to move towards the other, but you have to keep moving right

  4. Hicknerd

    Your last two sentences need some work. “Were” not “Where”.

  5. Agreed AGREED.

    There’s something to be said for facing fire and surviving it. When we live through something we thought would do us in, we’re changed at such a depth that nothing could ever take us back to who we used to be.

    Great post, CP.

  6. Life is a great teacher, for those willing to be the student. One of the best lessons I learned from a self-made billionaire was that “the older I got the harder it is to just listen. You get to a point where you think you know all the answers. Try your hardest to listen and learn each day.” And this from a man who already made his mint. Advice I try to follow. Good post, Papa.

  7. You’re killing me man…..granted I made a ‘C’ in high-school English, but that’s all you got from my story of misery?  

    I digress however, thanks for the correction. 

  8. Lets pray that those other troughs are way down the road and our actions and choices always keep them at a distance. 

  9. If they didn’t learn any lessons along the way they are destined to repeat them in the future. 

  10. You don’t know how much respect I have for you and your wife. I often have flashes of panic that something will happen to one of my kids and for that brief moment when I a briefly embrace that terror the thoughts are just overwhelming. 

    I don’t know what my reaction would be and I pray that I never have to find out. 

  11. Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a totally different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design. Superb choice of colors!

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