The truth is that at some point, life will knock you down. Bulldoze you to the ground, kick you while you are there, and then it will rain or shine (depending on what seems least appropriate) for days on end until you can’t even bear to look out the window in the morning.
Sometimes this happens subtly, like with depression that creeps in over days or months. The kind of knockdown that slowly chips away at your happiness, mostly unnoticed by you, until one day you realize you are on the ground and don’t know how you got there.
But sometimes being knocked to the ground happens so swiftly that you can’t even remember your life when you were standing up. Breakups, job loss, death, and other traumas can change your life instantly.
So, can you restore yourself to the faded glory of the life you knew, even after it has been cracked from substance abuse, or death, or unemployment, or a breakup, or an illness? And if so, how do you make a comeback?
A lot of us see promise in fresh starts, clean slates, resolutions and willpower. But I’ve been learning over the years that to make real progress, there need not be a new beginning. Especially in the early months, when just existing in your new world feels like it must be some sort of accomplishment. In order to evolve from where you are now, you have to bring with you where you’ve been.
Really, it’s not that bad to bring the past with you. Who among us wouldn’t be just a bit lonely without memories of who they were in college, or their first relationship, or starting out at a new job — even though these events and incarnations of ourselves might be [gratefully] in the past?
I believe that closure, and leaving the past behind, is a myth that puts pressure on the comeback and deceives us and others. More about that another time. Let’s begin with some strategies that work if you are feeling ready for your own comeback.
- Little comforts might seem like no match for your recovery, but do them anyway. You cannot be too nice to yourself. A cookie, a movie, a handful of flowers — they will not resurrect your life. But over time, habits of self-soothing work.
- Process your feelings with safe people. Safe people are those who can handle your feelings, understand they are in the context of your life’s lowest moment, and simply be with you without impulse to change, argue, or take offense. If you haven’t found these gems of people in your personal life, find a therapist, or at the very least, a community [online?] who shares your experience.
- Take care of the core things. Eat well, exercise, sleep, etc.. If you come to my office for help with something, I want to be sure you’re addressing the basic checklist on your own. What is the point of making a comeback from a divorce if you end up with a dependency on alcohol? Try to be sure the bucket you are filling up isn’t being punched out with holes on the other side.
- Surround yourself with a support team who knows that just because you are occasionally back to work/tennis/laughing doesn’t mean that sadness is far away. It takes a support team with immense capacity to abide with you during your dark time. It takes even more capacity to be with you on the way back.
- Don’t be afraid of the sadness that remains. It is part of your comeback, another layer to who you are, and has given you humility and capacity. Let feelings be with you when they arrive. They will ebb and flow. Pushing away feelings like grief and anger will only result in them turning on you (in the form of depression, anxiety, sleep issues, etc.)
A true comeback exists — we do them throughout our lives — but they are never as clean as the before and after photos make them seem. Above all, have faith — things will appear insurmountable. The goal is to embrace life’s good and bad and envelop mistakes and losses as part of the new version of yourself. I wish you luck on this road to the next installment of who you are.