As soon as my husband told me he wanted a divorce, I felt like my life was over. We were married for 20 years and lived in a beautiful house with two kids. I was truly living the dream. The moment I heard those words, my whole world came crashing down. The fantasy I had of forever was now a reality of never. For three years, I spent my time picking up the pieces of my shattered dream, doing my best to make sense of everything. I never thought this crazy, surreal ride would end.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before my marriage ended, which I beautifully navigated and survived. Just a few months after my diagnosis, my husband said, "I don't want to be married to you anymore." While it would have been easy for me to slip into a victimized state, I managed to draw on what my cancer journey had taught me. I decided the end of my marriage would become another opportunity for transformation.
I knew that looking anywhere but inward for what I needed would not only be futile, but draining and disappointing as well. Although I felt weary of trusting myself after being so blindsided by these life circumstances, I knew that it was my inner wisdom and gut instinct that would get me through to the other side. I wanted to siphon what I could out of the devastation and disillusionment I was experiencing and to spin it into gold for my own personal benefit. In order to do that, I had to see all of my experiences as lessons and to go forward with the intention of using this learning to become a better version of myself.
Here are the 5 most important lessons I learned from my two biggest life challenges:
I have learned that there are two kinds of trauma. There are "big T" traumas that shatter your world and make you question everything you thought was true, and then there are "small t" traumas that are more about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Both of these types of trauma can happen at any time, but we often don’t acknowledge the smaller ones in the same way we do the bigger. This is an important lesson because the smaller traumas serve as preparation, and they offer a kind of resilience that can help you through the greater challenges of life. Embracing the negative moments in life makes you stronger. That saying “life is a big dress rehearsal” isn’t far off. You’re building your internal immune system each and every time you face a difficult moment.
Spirituality came as a huge lesson for me when I was traversing my diagnosis and transitioning through divorce. My body broke down from the stress, and my mind betrayed me constantly with negative thoughts and irrational fears. My one place of solace came when I tapped into my beliefs around something greater. This can come in any form of faith, but the lesson for me was that no matter how out of control my world became, I could always come back to spirit as a place of grounding. This took the form of prayer, spending time in nature, nurturing sacred experiences with friends and family, and spending my personal time doing things that strengthened this part of myself.
I lay awake many nights before I figured this out. My lesson about fear was realized when the two things I was most afraid of happened to me. I spent so much of my life worrying about becoming ill or losing my husband only to have both manifest in my life. I came to understand that fear and worries are just defenses against reality, and the truth is that none of us are immune. Instead, I focus on accepting the harsh facts that we cannot control certain outcomes of life and that no matter how hard we try to prevent some things, we will often find our attempts to be futile. It’s better to spend time focusing on the things you love and enjoy, and putting your energy toward the aspects of your life that you have influence over.
This may seem like an obvious lesson, but we are conditioned to believe and want things to last forever. The focus in our culture is prolonging everything, leaving us feeling like a shorter outcome equates with failure. This lesson generates a more powerful attitude toward life because if we recognize that nothing lasts forever, we can live a more potent life. I also learned that while things don’t last forever, there is a regenerative experience that can happen. Some things in life come full circle if we’re patient enough to wait for a new outcome, and we also know that many situations offer a kind of rebirth that can bring beautiful change. Clinging to forever creates suffering, but remaining hopeful for something different can offer peace of mind at a difficult time.
One of my favorite quotes from Wayne Dyer is: “Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.” The mind creates perspective, and your perspective of the world completely influences how you feel. It’s not always easy to take a positive perspective, but it is fairly simple to have an honest one. What you don’t want to do is distort the way the world is seen with false beliefs and irrational thinking. I learned that having a solid and honest perspective, even if it was painful, created way less suffering than when I made things up in my head.