when everything is broken

I remember the exact moment my worldview was altered.

It was during the first twelve months of working with victims of crime – surviving family members of homicide precisely – that I felt the ropes which firmly bound my world-view together weaken, threads individually fraying until finally they snapped altogether.

I was talking to a mum at the time, although now she didn’t know how to describe herself.  Her only child, a son, had been murdered. The boy who inspired her to rise up each day, the boy who gave her the identity of ‘mum’, the boy who carried a thousand hopes and dreams was gone, taken prematurely and violently.

We were sitting together, tears slipping as she recited memories, hoping to keep him alive for just another moment.

She turned and said, “tell me it will all get better.” And I couldn’t.

Snap. I was at saturation point with others’ pain and the unfairness of life didn’t seem to end.

I’d been bought up with the belief that if you’re a kind and gentle person, than good things will happen.  When my sister and father were murdered, that belief was challenged, but I endured.

Surprisingly it was others’ pain that broke me.  Repeated exposure to stories of good people experiencing horror beyond imagine, with no logical way to reconcile it led to a gradual unravelling of the unspoken belief I had that being a kind person would offer a form of protection from hardship.  The day I accepted this wasn’t universally true, hurt.

It took months to work through this. And its with this experience of sitting in the darkness and pulling back together the shattered pieces of my beliefs that I offer the following advice.

Remember who you are

In a world of instability, one of the few things we can control is the person we want to be.  Its not easy, particularly when you feel that you’re being tested, but reminding yourself of the qualities you possess, the qualities that make you you, those that you admire about yourself and others admire about you.  Establishing a firm footing on you will help stabilise a shaky time.

Its okay to grieve for what you’ve lost

Society doesn’t always do a great job of supporting those who’ve lost something, urging us to ‘move on’ and ‘look on the bright side’. There is a grief process which kicks in when something we value is lost, including our long-held beliefs.  Having our beliefs tested or broken is significant!  Taking a moment to acknowledge and nurture yourself through that will help you process the full impact of your loss before moving forward.

Notice what you’re feeling

Grief of course is an process containing a whole bundle of emotions that pour out when something we love is gone.  Being able to notice and name your emotions is a form of affect labelling, a therapy which helps us identify our feelings without feeling absolutely caught up in them.  Hurt, despair, regret, anger, vengefulness, hopelessness, fear, guilt…. there are a number of valid and acute feelings that fall within the grieving process, being able to name those may feel painful but its the door through which recovery can begin.

Look for positive learnings

We all like to look for the learnings in challenging times.  Being able to make meaning from an experience is critical to eventually moving forward, and its important also to focus on the positive learnings.  Many people Ive spoken to about this will describe things like ‘I’ve learnt never to trust anyone again’, or ‘Ive learnt to just simply not expect things to go right’.  When we’re clouded by sorrow its hard to see the bright side, it will take work on your part to actively reframe these into learnings that will help and support you moving forward.