Few things in life are as painful as losing a dream ...
I recently sat with a client who was devastated by the loss of his dreams. This door clearly closed in his life for good, and there was no chance left of him ever achieving it. His inability to move past this loss cost him his entire family. I wish he had come to me sooner. He was grieving so hard that he couldn't even see the amazing blessings he had in front of him ... until they were gone.
To say that life gets tough sometimes is an understatement.
I have never heard of a success story that doesn't include failures along the way. Relationship breakups, loss of friends and families, deaths of loved ones, failed businesses, failed dreams. I swear I am not trying to depress you, but if you have reached your third decade in life, you can certainly think of a time when your own life encountered an experience mentioned in that last sentence. You failed or you lost something or someone precious.
Was it time to curl up in a fetal position for the rest of your life? NOPE!!
Should you keep have kept banging on a clearly shut door? NOPE!!
These are times in which you need to re-direct yourself. What you can create from these experiences could be amazing!
After the birth of my daughter, she was diagnosed with a genetic disorder. I felt like my life was over and would forever be filled with fear, worry, and obsession over her condition.
This excerpt from the following poem helped me see that though my life would be different than I imagined, it could be even better than I ever dreamed!
"It's like planning a fabulous vacation trip — to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, 'Welcome to Holland.' 'Holland?!?' you say. 'What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy.'
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay. The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine, and disease. It's just a different place. So you must go out and buy new guidebooks. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around ... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills ... and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy ... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say,'Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned.'
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away ... because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.
But ... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland."
So, it's time for plan B. Here are X steps you can take to get out there and begin embracing Holland.
1. Take the appropriate time to grieve.
It is so much easier to drown your sorrows in distractions and try to get on with life. We expect to be relieved from the pain. Although we feel emotional and physical pain in the same area of the brain, sorry, there's no Vicodin or extra strength aspirin for heartbreak.
It's important to remember that loss compounds loss. This means that if you haven't fully grieved or walked through this loss, the next loss will be felt even stronger, sometimes exponentially so. And this is how people get emotionally crippled in life.
Have you ever felt like someone had an exaggerated response to the loss of something? It's probably because they never fully processed a previous loss. Some of us want to shortcut the grief and get it over with already, some of us want to wallow in it. Although everyone grieves differently, neither end of the spectrum works well. So, you have to spend some time grieving.
Listen to your sad songs, get angry, eat your ice cream (actually don't), drink some wine (not too much), yell, scream, cry, write, work out or veg in bed all day. Do your thing! But you must do it. Feel those hard feelings and move through it.
They are scary, but I promise they won't kill you.
2. Don't create secondary losses.
Force yourself to stay connected with those you love and who love you. Let everyone else go, that's fine, but keep connected to your loved ones.
I know you don't want to, but I am speaking tough love now. Sometimes you have to do things you don't want to do because they keep you alive — like eating and going to the bathroom. You can't allow your loss to create more loss in your life (remember my client above?).
Take care of your responsibilities or utilize your loved ones to help you do that. When you come out of this, you will need them. Get professional help if you are unable to do this on your own.
3. Talk about your grief.
This isn't so hard when we have experienced a trauma by no fault of our own, but when you directly created or played a large part in your loss it can be really hard to talk about it. In addition to grieving, you have to work on forgiving yourself as well. Keeping secrets is such a burden. Sometimes you don't even know how heavy that burden is until you finally let it go.
Talk to someone, yes, please talk to someone. If you are too ashamed to speak to your friends and family or you feel like you are a burden, find a professional. Just. Get. It. Out.
4. Get over it already.
For many losses, the pain doesn't ever totally go away, but the way you carry it makes all the difference in the world! The point of "getting over it" isn't to no longer feel the pain, but rather to be able to also fully experience life even though you carry some pain!
You will carry a part of your loss as a badge. Life hit you hard and you got through it. But it must be a badge — not a burden or your identity. For some people this new normal may be created in a matter of months, for others, this may take years. There is no timetable for grief to end.
5. Create new goals.
Life may feel like it came to a screeching halt, but it didn't. It took a super sharp painful turn, and then it is going to straighten out again. It's a wacky feeling when the rug has been yanked out from under you and you watch how the rest of the world continues to revolve without you. There is a feeling of disconnect — like you are in a totally different dimension than you were before.
There is still plenty of life out there for you to grab. You will get there too.
Start thinking of where you want this path to take you and write down your goals — maybe short-term for now, but the long-term ones must come as well. As you walk towards your goals, clarity will come and you will feel less lost once again.
6. Practice thankfulness.
Darn, this is hard when you may feel like God took away your dream or the future you saw for yourself. What's there to be thankful for, and why bother?
A simple Google search demonstrates the crazy number of benefits that can be derived from practicing gratitude. Just thinking of something to be thankful for in your life increases dopamine and increases activity in the hypothalamus, which results in decreased depression, decreased physical ailments, better sleep, decreased anxiety and more overall satisfaction in your life.
They could never make a pill that does all those things without side effects!
Loss happens. It's a part of life. It can make us stronger and more resilient for the future.
It all depends on how you respond to it.
So, roll with the punches — and punch back when the timing is right!
I'm Dr. Zoe Shaw, a psychotherapist, coach and relationship expert helping people just like you who are struggling with what life is throwing at them. Don't try to do this alone. You can join my newsletter list for free advice and resources or schedule a free 30-minute conversation with me at www.drzoeshaw.com.