Everything I’ve Learned From the Worst Moments of My Life
The longer we live, the more we encounter heartache. Fear. Anger. Anxiety. The toughest things life hands us are almost never the things we ask for. The strongest people are those who can rely on what they’ve learned from the past to dictate the direction of their future.
Surviving hard things may be how we grow, but that advice isn’t always the most helpful to hear when you’re stuck in the middle of a rough patch.
Often it helps to look back on moments you may have been in a similar place before, even if only to remind yourself you survived that, and you can survive this.
Here’s what I’ve learned from the self-reflection that accompanies hardship.
People who hurt you don’t always need to know it.
Throughout your life, you will encounter people who will, in one way or another, betray you. They will break promises, lie, or make you feel as though you’re in the wrong even when you aren’t. (Sometimes you will most definitely be in the wrong, and if that’s the case, mean it when you apologize and move on remembering what you’ve learned.)
In many cases, the people who cause you harm don’t need to know how much they’ve hurt you. For some people, stepping on others to get ahead or pushing people down fuels their need to feel powerful, and being told they’ve caused someone else pain only stokes the fire. Some people like hurting people, and broadcasting your pain will only ensure they continue causing harm wherever they go.
When you’re hurt — especially when your wounds are fresh and you’re desperate for justice — don’t lash out. Retreat to your corner. Silently plot your path forward. Let your actions moving forward show you’re a better person.
This does not apply, of course, to situations where clear communication and constructive criticism can and hopefully will avoid similar harm in the future. If your partner says something that offends you, you have every right to talk to them about it — if they know that thing hurts you and don’t say it again in the future because you expressed your feelings about it, everyone wins.
Not everyone will be receptive to being told they hurt you. It’s the people who actively show you they’re working to do better that are worth holding onto.
(This also does not apply to circumstances in which someone’s harmful actions are illegal or equally warrant justice. There are times when standing up for what’s right requires publicly acknowledging your pain.)
Everyone has their own way of showing you support.
This isn’t like the movies, where your entire group of friends will show up at your door the instant your life falls apart with everything you need to get through it. Even if your friends are the kinds of people who would drop everything to give you their full attention, that doesn’t mean they always can.
Just because the people who care about you don’t automatically know exactly what you need in your lowest moments — or they don’t give you their shoulder to lean on even when they know you need it — does not mean they’re failing you.
This is real life. People have jobs, families, and other responsibilities that will take priority over you even when you need their help. But your best friend not calling in sick to be there for you on a bad day doesn’t mean she’s being a bad friend.
A good friend, a worthwhile partner, someone you deserve to keep around will do what they can even when it doesn’t feel enough for you in the moment. They will DoorDash you a meal so you don’t have to cook, even when they can’t be there to enjoy it with you. They will set a time where the two of you can talk or text free of distractions, even if it’s a few hours or even a few days from now and not right this second.
They will do the best they can with the energy and resources they have. It won’t always be a grand gesture. Everyone supports the most important people in their life however they can in the moment. Sometimes, caring is subtle. Sometimes that’s the best kind of love.
Grieving isn’t a process you emerge from; it changes how you live.
When we’re taught the “stages” of grief, the lessons end when discussions of acceptance run their course. But grief isn’t a process in the sense that it begins and concludes. It so drastically changes your life that it becomes part of who you are. It never leaves you. It embeds itself into your DNA and stays there forever.
As we’re working through the worst of our early grief, it’s normal to hide in the shadows. It’s normal to experience stretches of time during which you are simply feeling emotions and processing your loss.
You will not emerge from the lowest points of your grief the same person you were when it all began. “Getting over” loss implies it’s possible, even practical to somehow leave those low points behind. But you will always remember them. Especially the longer you live with your grief and begin to see how it has shaped who you’ve since become.
For some people, a loss that awakened the anger inside them eventually helps them transform that anger into action — ideally, though not always, in a positive way. Many activists started out angry and are still angry, but they use their anger to work for positive change.
It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to let go of the level of pain loss produces. You can let go of some of the negative emotions associated with grief, more so the behaviors that might emerge to cope with those emotions. But grief, though it may try to destroy us, will almost always — in time — yield the opposite result.
Success really is the grandest form of revenge.
Whether you’re raging against a parent, a stranger on the internet, or the universe at large, the best way to win is to succeed where all odds seem to be against you.
And the best way to close out a dreary chapter in your life is to start working your way toward the good things you truly deserve.
The only one in charge of your future is you.