Right now, a close friend is going through a rough patch. Tsunami is more like it. Her world’s turned upside down and she doesn’t recognize her life. Confused and scared, she asks me, “What’s worth repairing? Is this who I am now? How could this happen?” It takes so much courage just to get up and face her life.
Trauma is like that. It blows your world apart. One minute life is normal, the next it will never be the same.
A tsunami’s speed makes it that much more painful. It causes instantaneous damage and requires instantaneous change. In order to survive, you can’t ignore the wreckage, you must pay attention to it. Your higher goals take a backseat while you muster enough energy just to live. Courage: How can you trust yourself when your thoughts have been hijacked? Strength: How can you endure immense pain? Identity: How can you shift your identity to accommodate this new you?
The questions are all-consuming. It takes faith to ask, let alone answer them.
I’ve been through tsunamis and know what a herculean effort it is to put the pieces back together. Not only did I not know where to start, I was shocked I had to fix it! Intellectually I knew I had to “figure it out” but wasn’t I the one in deep pain? How was I supposed to get myself OUT?!” How could I make my life whole again when I didn’t even know if I’d ever FEEL whole again.
It wasn’t easy.
My heartbreak required so much energy to survive that I’d crawl to the kitchen – walking was too painful. The panic I felt when my business was broke gave me many sleepless nights – my brain teemed with “How will I survive?!” In college, Depression wracked me – the internal turmoil was the darkest night of my soul. When I worked with Seth Godin, the initial fear was so large and sustained, that I lost 20 lbs and my body shut down.
Survival takes EVERYTHING you’ve got.
These were the hardest times of my life where I had to direct all my energy to surviving.
As I walk with my friend through her tsunami and remember my own, there were tools that helped me make it through. I’d like to share these with you in the next few posts, since July is our month for courage.
These tools helped me through my darkest hours. I hope you’re not going through a tsunami, but if you are, you may find them helpful to keep faith. This month we’ll explore what it means to survive, how to do it, and I hope you’ll take from these next few posts what feels right and discard the rest. Healing is personal and very subjective.
I’ll start with my most important lesson in survival.
Get the Right Support You Need
The biggest lesson in survival is to immediately get the right support. Support boils down to a team of people you can talk to about anything, anytime, with 100% honesty. It requires a TEAM, not just one individual. I learned the hard way that support cannot mean just one person – it’s not possible for one person – even Superman – to help you through life’s obstacles. In my past relationship I relied on my partner for all my mental and emotional support. It wore him out because NO ONE can be everything to someone. It’s just too hard. We’re complex people, so don’t judge yourself for needing complex support.
What happens when we rely only on one or two people is we feel like a burden, that we’ll annoy them or they’ll lose patience with us. We feel we’ll be “too much” or look weak or too dependent. But when you feel that way, you risk staying in survival mode much longer than you need to. There’s no right time frame to heal, but pain is amplified by not sharing it with others.
There’s a reason there’s 6 billion of us on the planet. We need to learn to ask for help and lift each other up when we need it and NOT BE ASHAMED ABOUT GETTING SUPPORT. This is true of emotional trauma, like heartbreak, and professional trauma, like struggling to make your business succeed. In thinking about your team, consider including the following people:
1. Close Friends or Family
This group consists ONLY of the people close to you who make you feel good or who reduce your panic and fear. This does NOT include everyone you’re close to; people who love you may NOT be ideal people who support you in the right way. This is normal so don’t feel guilty about this. It’s a fact. There are people who just don’t know how to interact with you when you’re in trauma.
You’re looking for people you’re close to who DO make you feel strong and good when you interact with them. I remember talking only to my best friend and sister during heartbreak, not my parents or extended family. I needed ONLY people who made me feel okay. You want people who’ll take your call in the middle of the night, listen to you talk about the same thing repeatedly, or who’ll simply love you through the madness. For three months, I lived with my sister like a zombie – barely spoke – just ate, slept, and wrote. But she never made me feel like I was out of the ordinary; She knew I needed to get it out of my system. I also called my best friend and said the same thing literally again and again “I don’t understand…” She listened every single time. These people love you, they know this isn’t your defining moment and that you’ll get to the other side.
2. People Going Through the Same Thing
These people know the pain you’re feeling because they’re in the trenches with you. They’re dealing with trauma too and know how intense and lonely it can be. When you’re in trauma, you feel like the only person in the world. You feel alone, isolated, and abandoned. Connecting with others feeling the same thing mean be the difference between getting through a day and not. This is where groups like AA or grief counseling come in. It helps to hear another person’s experience of pain.
Personally, I believe shared pain is manageable. But pain only on your shoulders is intense and stultifying. One helpful Buddhist practice my friend Susan shared with me (she’s a best-selling author on heartbreak) is the practice of Tonglen, where you breathe in your pain and breathe out how your pain is in service to other people in pain. It connects you to the world at large and anyone also going through the same pain. There are millions of people suffering the same pain at the same time, and Tonglen allows you to share the pain in service of the other. It reduces the sting and gives it a reason to exist. When I started Tonglen, it gave me so much relief and comfort.
3. People to Text or Call in a Moment of Panic
Most parts of your survival journey will lead into moments of fear and panic, in varying degrees of intensity. That means you need different people to help navigate the intense parts. When you’re in panic mode, you need people who don’t mind getting a text at 3am or in the middle of the workday – these people are on call to speak to you at a moment’s notice and won’t be annoyed by it. They’re there just to help you in an intense moment! You can call them, wail your eyes out, spew out some words, then wail more.
My sister was this (and most things!) for me. Another was my friend Susan Piver, author of “Wisdom of a Broken Heart” THE most wonderful book on healing. Talk about a moment of panic. I literally hopped on a Chinatown bus from NYC to Boston and showed up on Susan’s doorstep one day. I was feeling sad and scared and it was all I could do to survive. I showed up and she opened the door, stunned. Then she immediately took care of me in the most warm, empathetic way. She made me hot soup, listened to me cry, hugged me, and just listened. She gave me some advice but mostly just listened. It was a huge blessing to feel so welcomed because all I wanted to feel was loved.
4. People You Pay to Get the Support You Need
These are therapists, energy workers, grief counselors, experts who specialize in healing and trauma. You enter into a relationship with them specifically to heal. This is one of the MOST important parts of getting the right support because you’re dealing with people who specialize in pain management. Wisdom from my therapist and coach totally transformed what I went through. Because they’re trained in trauma, I found so much solace and relief in their advice.
I learned not to give in to people who thought I was “sensitive” or who got annoyed when I put myself first. Healing is survival. You do everything you can just to survive, and other people SHOULD take a backseat. The people who didn’t understand that, I stopped seeing. I saw that my reaction to trauma was normal. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t “throw myself back into work” or get back to business as usual. Acknowledging what happened in a very real way with these experts gave me the necessary time and tools I needed to heal. There’s no shame in getting what you need and paying for it. I KNOW now that leaders seek out help often and willingly and that’s what sets them apart.
5. Friends to Distract You and Do Activities With
These are friends you call when you want to distract yourself or do an activity. Simple. They’re people who are up for a spontaneous outing or are usually in the mood to do something. I have girlfriends who are active and always up for dancing or going out. When I used to go for long walks in the city, I’d sometimes call my friend who lived 20 blocks up the road and we’d walk together. Even though I cried the entire walk, I’d always feel better and less alone after.
Inevitably, you’ll call these people during the latter stages of healing, not initially when you’re going through raw pain. Initially you won’t be able to distract yourself from the trauma, but once you start to manage it, these will be the list of people who can help bring some activity and normalcy back into your life. Don’t rush it though – take the time you need to be raw if you need to.
6. Faith-based Practitioners
Pastors, priests, or friends who help you tap into something larger than yourself. Like my friend Susan teaching me Tonglen. My friend, Tom Kelly, was a monk in a monastery for 25 years (doubling as a celebrity surfer in Cali), and helped me work through my pain. During harder moments where I tried to make sense of it all, I spoke to him a few times a month, “But what does it mean?” “How can I survive this?”
His words of counsel gave me great relief and were sometimes the ONLY thread I held onto from one moment to the next. I recorded our calls and listened to them throughout the year (I was serious about healing!) He gave deeper meaning to my pain, different from when people misconstrue “All pain has a lesson.” I do know we’re learning even during the hard moments of life, but his counsel was more healing and visceral and powerful than that.
7. Books, Websites, Audios, Programs
These are your resources when you can’t speak to an actual human or when you want to be by yourself. I often spent time writing and reading – from morning till afternoon I’d fill journal upon journal. Mostly, it served to get all my emotions out because I had a deluge and couldn’t figure out how to process them. I also read books on heartbreak and healing like it was my job. It focused me when I felt out of control.
When I was ready (and not before) I also joined a program called Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts. It allowed me to connect to over 250 women and was the best decision I made for myself. But it was a year and a half into my healing.
During heartbreak, my team consisted of: my best friend, my sister, my therapist, my friend Susan, Rev. Kelly, 250+ women in Mama Gena’s, mountains of books, people I interviewed for Fear.less Magazine on heartbreak, my relationship coach (I was only ready for this after a year.) I literally threw myself into as many outlets of support as I could in order to be served properly by each mode. It was the smartest thing I did.
For you, start with these seven groups to build your team. All seven are important, but start with what feels right for you. Just know it has to be a team.
Remember the key to solid support is people you can talk to no matter how you feel, without feeling guilty or bad. You should be able to be 150% honest and sound like a confused, utterly hopeless fool WITHOUT feeling judged.
Many of us are not used to getting support for anything. We feel we have to go it alone and feel awkward or scared to talk about our pain. As a strong, independent woman, I’m telling you, YOU CANNOT DO IT ON YOUR OWN. You cannot. It will cause you more fear, and will falsely deceive you into thinking you’re stronger than you are, “You don’t need anyone.”
Trauma is THE TIME TO NEED OTHERS. Let them in.
The only way to not be scarred and scared from pain is to get support. To manage a new level of pain requires a new equivalent type of support.
If you’re an entrepreneur, this is exactly how you should think about the support you need in your business: Your employees, team, a business coach to give strategic advice, a business mentor, and fellow entrepreneurs/colleagues.
When stuff hits the fan, do you have a network of people around you to help lift you up when you can’t muster the energy to?
To getting what you need (and knowing you’re not alone.)