Life can go on a downward slide when sudden, unexpected things happen to us, things like personal crisis, accidents or natural disasters. You may have lost loved one; been through a divorce; lost your family, friends, home or a job. You may have survived a major accident and have been left with severe injuries or have gone through a transition or a major personal crisis where your feel like your whole world had been shaken and you’ve lost things that are of great value to you, irreplaceable things that represent your past and your family heritage. After the crisis, your life would have changed dramatically and would never be the same.
When a crisis hits, time stops for us and we start questioning everything. It hits suddenly, without warning. It has unpredictable consequences, erodes our self-confidence and causes us to redefine our values.
Few years ago, when my family moved from Bulgaria to the United Kingdom, I experienced the biggest crisis of my life. For some people, moving countries might not be an issue, but for me and my family it has been the most traumatic experience ever. We’ve been separated from our family and friends, home and belonging, our comfort and security. We’ve lost our social status and we had to start our life from the scratch in a new environment with different dynamic, culture, values and language.
We suffered tremendous cultural shock and stress. Our entire identity was shaken. All these factor had a detrimental impact on our family relationships. Our teenage sons estranged from us and the relationship between me and my husband was on the verge of breaking. I felt like my whole world had collapsed and I had lost everything.
It took us about two years to overcome the crisis. It was a long and painful process with lots of ups and downs. We’ve been through many stages to come to the place of restoration and feeling stronger and happier. During the whole process, I asked myself a lot of questions and redefined my values. As a result I’ve learned invaluable life lessons. What I discovered in my research is that my experience was similar to the experience of those who suffered a great loss or the death of a loved one. I found that I have been through the grieving process myself and have gone through all of the stages of grief, before the restoration process occurs.
When you experience crisis or a great loss, it is perfectly normal to experience grief. Grieving is a natural process that you will go through after a great loss. You might feel overwhelmed by different emotions like numbness, confusion, anger, guilt, depression and move from one stage to another with no particular sequence or you may experience only a few reactions. Each person’s grief is unique and there is no exact formula for that. However, the psychologists suggest that there are few stages experienced by those faced by death of a loved one or a great loss. Understanding the process and the main stages of grief and giving into them is the key to getting past the crisis and finding new strength to start over.
The 5 stages of grief according Elisabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
Denial is the first stage of coping with the crisis or the loss.
You may feel numbness, denial, disbelief and shock at first. “No, not me, it can’t be true.” This is a typical reaction when a person faces a loss. This stage functions as a buffer after the unexpected happens. It allows you to collect yourself and in time to find a way to cope. You may feel that your life is meaningless and wonder how you can go on or why you should go on. You may find difficult to go through each day.
After you accept the loss and all the feelings that you were denying begin to surface, you may experience deep physical and emotional pain and become overwhelmed by anger, rage, envy, and resentment. God is often a target for anger, especially in an accident or a natural disaster, because you feel deserted and abandoned. You may also resent people around you who didn’t suffer as much loss as you did.
When choices are taken away from us and we feel like we have no control over our lives, anger can be an anchor, giving temporary feeling of control over the situation.
Once you have gotten the anger under control, you may enter the bargaining stage. “Yes, me, but….” You may promise God that you’ll do something in exchange for what you need. Bargaining can be a positive way to deal with stress. Whether you bargain with God, with yourself, or with your family, it provides comfort for things you cannot control. It allows you to “frame” the crisis so you can manage it. Bargaining may help you cope with feelings of sadness without experiencing deep depression. Good bargaining skills allow people to see a light at the end of the tunnel in even the most difficult situations.
Sadness is a natural feeling after a great loss, but if you immerse yourself into sorrow, it can cause a severe depression. You may come to the point of losing all hope and feeling that your life is over. You may experience for an extended period of time extreme sadness, anxiety, confusion, restlessness, crying, lack of energy, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. You may isolate yourself from the world and avoid human contact, in spite of your deep need of help, love and support.
The only thing that can pull you out of this dark tunnel of depression is your own choice and attitude. The famous psychiatrist Victor Frankl endured years of unspeakable horror in Nazi death camps. In his book “Man’s search for meaning” he gives a huge insight into the human’s freedom of choice. Here is what he writes: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedom – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
When you go through tough times or have experienced tragedy, it is perfectly normal to go through sadness, grief, anger, depression, but at some point you have to figure out whether you are going to stay in this condition for the rest of your life or you are going to rise above it and move on with your life. It is not easy, but it is possible and if you choose to have the right attitude you can rise above your circumstances. Choosing the right attitude will eventually lead you to the final phase.
After the crisis our lives have been changed dramatically. Finding acceptance doesn’t mean that we agree with what has happened, but it may be that we have finally accepted the new reality. It means that we are ready to adapt and readjust, to learn new way of living. We can never replace what has been lost, but we can make new connections, build new relationships, start a new job; learn to live in a new place. The pain and the suffering we’ve been through refine our hearts, sharpen our senses and minds and make us stronger and wiser. We may start reach out to others and become more involved in their lives. We may even find a new purpose born out of the crisis and the pain.
Bethany Hamilton is a great example of a person who suffered enormous loss and yet found a strength and courage to start over. She was born in a family of surfers and had been surfing and gaining trophies since the age of 8. In October 2003, she went surfing as normal at her favourite surf spot, when her life was changed forever. She was lying on her board sideways when a shark came up and grabbed a hold of her arm. The shark severed her left arm just below her shoulder and Bethany nearly died of blood loss.
Many doubted that Bethany Hamilton, who was only 13 then, would ever be able to surf again, but she proved them wrong, when she jumped right back into the water one month later. It didn’t happen all at once. She needed to re-learn how to surf again using only one arm. But she was determined and didn’t give up. She had to overcome not only her physical challenges, but the psychological fear of another attack.
“To me, it’s like never getting in a car because you are afraid of collision. Not surfing doesn’t work for me.” she said.
Today Bethany Hamilton is a role model for the young generation. Her positive attitude won her the 2004 ESPY award from ESPN for Best Comeback Athlete of the Year and special Teen Courage award. Bethany travels the world for surfing competitions and goes to places like Thailand with World Vision to help young children who were devastated by the tsunami disaster. With her unique experience, she is able to help young children overcome the fear of the ocean.
1. The first step on the way to your restoration is to find new hope, to be empowered by the tragic event into finding new meaning and purpose for your life. Bethany Hamilton did just that when she used her experience to help children who survived the tsunami.
2. Forget what lies behind. If you don’t forget and let go of the things you’ve lost, you won’t be able to move forward in your life. Let go of the past. Keep the precious memories, but focus on rebuilding your life with new purpose and meaning born out of your tragic experience.
“One arm might handicap me a little in competition, but I just work with what changes I know I have to make…” says B. Hamilton
With the same attitude, work with what you have and make the necessary changes to adapt to the new situation.
3. Prepare for a new season. Prepare both your mind and heart for the new season. Engage yourself with learning new skills and adopting new habits. Be open to meet new people, make new connections and go to new places. Try new things that you’ve never experienced before. Explore! Engage yourself!
A whole new world will open up for you and you will be able see it with different eyes.
Remember, if you give up, that might well be the end, but if you decide to get up and start again, you are on the way of restoration. Never be afraid to start over. It’s a chance to rebuild your life in a more beautiful way than ever.