Oh, life. Sometimes it is flowing and easy and effortless and fun. And others, you are a conversation or a phone call or a tidal wave away from an epic downward spiral. That is the thing about life, though. It is literally, and almost in every possible situation, totally out of our control. At least most of the time.
I work with so many clients who have survived and thrived beyond unspeakable traumas and tragedies. And I often look to them, their willingness and their success in our work together and ask myself questions. Why them? Why do they keep showing up – week after week, year after year – valiant and strong and willing to keep going? What about them makes them utterly available to remain open, in a world where everything that seemed reasonable would have encouraged them to close all the way down? What are the traits they carry, the habits they exhibit and the lessons that we can all learn from them that make them change agents and guides to healing success?
I’ve spent some time thinking about these questions this weekend, and I’ve honed in on three traits about these resilient souls that we can all look to for guidance, clarity, and a renewed sense of WHY it is so important to always, always, always keep an open heart.
This blog is dedicated to anyone and everyone who is fighting like mad to find a willingness or gusto or vulnerability or, even a tug on the sleeve, to keep moving forward; even when life is trying to “convince” them that they absolutely should not.
Three ways to remain open when all you want to do is close
When we think of fighting, we often think of a bar brawl or a screaming match between two people who simply cannot get along. But for these purposes, I’d like to define “fight” in an entirely different way. For the person who finds some kind of way to keep showing up for life, even after life (to no fault of their own) has beaten them down – sometimes again and again – there must be some energetic fight within them. In these situations, fighting can look like:
- Fighting to break away from archaic family patterns. These patterns can include being stuck in the role of scapegoat or victim or reverse parent (child as parent to the parent instead of parent as parent to the child) or entertainer or absorber of the family pain.
- Fighting to physically get away from untenable living situations. Even being willing to work extra jobs or live in less than optimal conditions for awhile to literally get away from the things that continue to hurt them.
- Fighting to heal from the pain wounds that follow them into adulthood, such as addiction, compounded trauma, old stories about self that drag them down, etc.
- Fighting to find some sense of identity outside of the original environment (and/or the environments that continue to trigger them).
- Fighting (and this is perhaps the most important one) to heal the spirit inside that is so tattered and wounded from things that were never their fault or their responsibility to have to deal with. This can include willingness to get and ask for help at any cost, willingness to take suggestions, willingness to be consistent in receiving that same help (even when they are terrified and all they want to do is run), and willingness to talk about their fears openly instead of acting on them.
When one grows up in a situation that is less than optimal, having a fighter spirit and one that can see beyond the current circumstance to options is paramount. The willingness to CREATE options where there are literally none is also hallmark to this type of recovery. In this sense of the word, fighting is truly life-saving, rather than life detracting. And in 17 years of working with clients dealing with trauma, I can attest that finding that inner warrior can and does make all the difference.
Creativity may not be one of the traits that we associate with keeping an open heart, but, in my opinion, it absolutely is. Children love to play. They love to explore. And they love to engage in life with a sense of vibrancy and trust. Until a child is fissured (through a much larger person who is inappropriate); they do not know lack of trust or lack of open-heartedness. It simply isn’t in their nature, until some outside force makes it so.
One of the key factors to healing from trauma as an adult is reconnecting to that inner-goodness. That inner-child. That inner-innocence that has and will always be there. This does not have to mean creativity in the traditional sense of the word (like painting or drawing or dancing, etc..) at all. It can mean finding a connection to self that abandons current fears and concerns and grounds you back into the moment of time and reality that you are currently in.
Some of the many examples of creativity I have seen in clients who are staying epically open-hearted, even amidst the pain, are:
- Listening to, exploring, enjoying and even spending hours lost in music.
- Painting, drawing – not as professionals, but as a connection to play and self-soothing.
- Gardening and allowing oneself to get lost in the colors and the ground and the process of creating something that is alive.
- Cooking or baking or some variation of having fun with food creation.
- Home projects – painting, refinishing furniture, redecorating, building, etc.
- Knitting, sewing, crocheting, weaving, etc.
- Play time with their pets – teaching their pets new tricks, engaging with them in ways that are life-giving.
- Spending time with kids.
- Spending time in nature.
- Traveling and exploring new places without a plan or an agenda, but just for the sake of seeing new things.
- Taking up any number of new hobbies, such as photography, sports, hiking, bird watching, star gazing, camping, etc.
This list is short and any number of creative endeavors, none of which need to be fancy or for any other reason than to connect to self, could be added to this list. Even you may have ideas about creative things that bring you joy that you could begin to practice more often. There are no wrong “projects” here. The key is being wiling to “go there” when your heart feels like it is shutting down and you want to throw away the lock and key.
Note: I want to make sure to indicate that creativity should not be confused with escapism or fantasy living. Creativity grounds, while escapism through endless hours of avoiding life, makes us further detached from self. You can tell the difference between the two by how you feel while you are doing it…the former enhances your joy and the latter numbs it.
The third thing I’ve witnessed in people who continue to show up, open-hearted, for life – even after the muck has most certainly done its best to drag them down – is accountability. So how does accountability fit into moving forward, even if most of the things that have happened to you early on were not even remotely close to your fault? It starts with action.
Taking action towards healing oneself can involve many thing; including, but not limited to:=
- Asking for help.
- Taking suggestions.
- Looking at personal, adult patterns that one continues to facilitate that no longer serve them (and in fact recreate the very trauma of the past you are trying like hell to get away from).
- Looking at negative, repetitive behaviors that either sabotage or hinder progress.
- Forgiving oneself for the past – even if some of those things are very hard to forgive.
- Being honest – both with oneself and others.
- Taking care of oneself physically, mentally, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally.
- Learning to self-soothe when it is much easier to pick up an addictive pattern or behavior to cover up the pain.
- Sitting in feelings rather than running from them.
- When patterns or triggers are awakened, going within to find out the source rather than blaming it on the people, things and situations around them.
People that take accountability for their lives are people who show up. And showing up, even when we really, really don’t want to, seems to be a serious “divider” between people who can remain open, even when sad, and those who may be in danger of shutting down all the way.
The good news about any of these three traits is that we can all build upon them. Even more good news is that even if you have not begun to hone these traits yet, there is still time. You can always start by practicing one at a time, even in tiny doses, to get started.
None of us is doing this perfectly. None of us is always open. And none of us arrives unaffected by life’s painful circumstances. But we do have choices. And if life is going to pass us by anyway, we may as well work on choosing openness, rather than painful patterns that keep us isolated, regretful and alone.
If you are struggling with past traumas that are making you feel stuck, I can help. Refer to this blog for a complimentary discovery call.