When we’re faced with tragedy, we’re called upon to dig deep in our reserves of strength. Tamara Star shares her story and guidance on how to bounce back.
Seven years ago my own life died and I survived.
I make it a rule to never take advice from someone who hasn’t been there, so I’ll share with you what happened, and then I’ll share how I got through my own personal tunnel of hell.
In a 30 day period, I lost it all—my money, love, health, a baby, beloved pets, security, and pride.
My boyfriend at the time broke up with me while I held the still dripping, positive pregnancy pee stick; his response to having a baby with me was to end our relationship and share that he hoped to tile his kitchen and travel that summer.
I lost the baby at nine weeks and suffered an extreme crash of hormones. Being in my 40s, I realized this was probably my last chance to have a child.
To make matters worse, 48 hours after losing the baby, I learned my bank accounts had been emptied. I had 40 cents in my pocket when I stood at that blinking ATM on an early July morning.
Someone had sued me out-of-state and due to a loop-hole in the serving process, I never received notice and didn’t show up to defend myself. When you don’t show up, it’s as though you’re admitting guilt and judgments were issued. Every account was emptied.
Seven days later, I was faced with putting my 16-year-old pet down, only to be followed by the rapid decline of my other 15-year old pet ten days later. If you’re like me, pets are family. This was a loss beyond words.
My health was shot and continuing to decline, my mind was a mess, my heart-broken and I had less than a dollar to my name. My father died years ago and I had been the one helping my mother financially. I was, in my own words, lost.
Ancient cultures understood the dark night of the soul as a time of transformation. A time when personal strength is tested and the knowledge you’ve gained over the first half of your life is drawn up from the depths of your being and utilized.
In this culture it’s considered a mid-life crisis.
We get face-lifts and sports cars. Couples run screaming from other couples divorcing, neighbors turn a blind eye as neighbors go into foreclosure, and fair weather friends back away quickly.
Instead of community support and wise elders to lean on, we’re left alone isolated by shame. What could be viewed as a phoenix rising is considered contagious drama.
For me, only a handful of people knew what was happening, while most thought I was suddenly nuts. In the past I’d been the person others leaned on for advice and financial help. Now I was an empty vessel without a financially secure family for support. I looked like hell and felt even worse.
When I woke in the morning I wasn’t sure what to mourn: the relationship or the baby? My two pets, or my financial security? My health or the fact I could be homeless in a week? (my biggest fear in life—at this time a reality)
The grip of your biggest fear in the face of utter despair is a cold, sharp knife that cuts deeply.
Have you ever experienced your life falling apart all at once? If you’ve been there—or find yourself there right now—you’ll know what I mean.
Sometimes, during our darkest hours, a great light awakens inside and heightens our awareness.
I learned many things during that time, most of all I learned what true happiness was and how to actually be happy—happy when there was nothing outwardly to be happy about.
What I learned:
- If you’ve always been the strong one other people lean on, there’s a lot of growth when you ask for help. I learned who my real friends were and I learned I was lovable, even when I wasn’t perfect. Had it gotten to the point of my moving in with family or friends, I know there would have been growth.
- The thought of selling everything and starting over was, in a tiny way, freeing. I realized nothing material mattered. My only fear was losing my remaining two pets if I had to couch surf.
- Because I tried to hide my pain by going to dinner with friends while pretending I wasn’t hungry (since I had no money to spend), I learned who truly cared and who was in tune with my subtle changes. Lucky for me, a friend handed me a small amount of money unsolicited to get by while I got my head on straight. Her generosity helped me truly understand the phrase: While you may only be one person in this world, you may be the world to one person.
- In business, I’m required to be clear and strong. You can’t be broken and effective at the same time, so I learned how to “fake it until you make it.” By faking my strength—even my smile—I slowly felt like myself again.
- I witnessed the miracles of the Universe as, suddenly, those cereal boxes and toothpaste samples coming free with the Sunday paper were valuable. With the help of my friend, I was able to cover my rent long enough to start billing in my business, even though extras weren’t an option. Gone were the monthly hair salon trips, extras like cable, Internet, and dog treats.
- I realized how wasteful I had been with food, clothing, and coffee shop stops. I rode my bike a lot that summer without gas money and reasoned with my car loan and insurance agents for reduced monthly payments—while witnessing the kindness that comes when we admit defeat.
How I did it:
- Each morning I forced myself to think of three things to be grateful for before letting my feet hit the carpet. If I didn’t do this, I would begin my day in the depressed way I had ended the night before. Soon I began doing this before bed and found that nights got easier.
- When the magnitude of my situation would hit mid day, I forced myself to get outside, go for a walk, and notice something beautiful. When life is bleak, even the smallest gifts like the song of a bird or color of the sky can jar you up a notch.
- I listened to or read something inspirational daily. I couldn’t control the world around me but I could control my inner emotions. Yes, I cried a lot, but I balanced those moments with what I was grateful for and kept moving toward what I wanted: returned stability.
- If I felt desperate and scared, I would imagine how to remedy my worst case scenario: I would loan my dog and cat to people I trusted and couch surf, I would go on antidepressants, I would ask a friend if I could share dinner with them. Once I knew my worst case scenario, I was able to relax a tiny bit and focus on what I was grateful for—oftentimes the worst case scenario back up plan or the fact my dog was laying next to me loving me no matter what.
When life blows up there is a crystal clarity that comes:
- All of the issues you’ve been hiding behind with your job or your money or your relationship are out there in the open.
- In the middle of the night, I learned to pray for help and finally learned to listen for the answer.
And in the end, the most significant lesson I learned was that when we’re broken, we’re really just broken open.
I became the seed that sits in the dark, damp earth waiting for spring, deciding in which direction to send up a sprout.
When life unravels, we’re all that seed—needing to trust that the darkness we’re residing in temporarily will, in the end, move us toward our next fertile direction.