Mind & Body Wellness: Rebuilding Your Life After a Painful Loss

Rebuilding Your Life After a Painful Loss by Beth Hemmila
example of a lifeline chart

This post originally appeared on my blog the Breakup Care Package in the context of the loss of a love relationship; however, we experience many types of painful events that require us to rebuild our lives -- losing a job, aging, retirement, death of loved one, and recovery from addiction. You can apply this same thinking to any event that requires healing and self-care.

I had a dream the other night where some guy was teaching me about the stock market. (By the way I know nothing about the stock market, so this metaphor may be highly suspect!!)

He showed me a graph that charted a 50 year time period, and on the left side, the line rapidly declined -- imagine a drastic stock market crash. Then in the middle the line started to rise up slowly and make a steep incline off to the right.

He kept saying over and over, "People forget that with every decline comes expansion."

Then he zoomed in on the chart in the middle portion -- the lowest point of the graph. He showed me that even when it seemed like things were just moving sideways and not exhibiting any visible improvements when you looked at each plotted point on the graph, things were slowly moving upwards in small increments that were imperceptible when you viewed the big picture.

I think this is what it's like after a painful event or loss in your life. Things can feel pretty bad at first -- like your personal stock market crashed. You hit a kind of rock bottom in your life. A hole that you want to dig yourself out of as rapidly as possible, but honestly it's like having heart surgery -- it's a slow healing process that takes patience and emotional endurance.

After something painful like the loss of your job or relationship you might feel like things are not actually getting better -- as if you're moving sideways in a sort of equilibrium; however, small incremental upward movements are being made in your life, but they are so imperceptible that they appear invisible to you.

So when you are in that place of deep despair after a loss it's important to remember two things:
  1. When you hit bottom, the only place to go is up. So embrace this place as a sign you are about to grow in ways you've never imagined. Remember with "every decline comes expansion."
  2. When it feels like things aren't getting better and you're sliding sideways, realize that this is an illusion -- a trick of the mind. Things are slowly improving, but you just can't see them because you're not looking close enough. Hang tight!!

Chart Your Lifeline
One of the best exercises in the book Rebuilding When your Relationship Ends, is creating a chart of your lifeline. It allows you to visually look at your past, present, and future. It's one way you start to engage more purposefully in your life after a painful event and set healthy goals. Use the picture from the book above as an example.

  1. Get a big sheet of paper.
  2. Imagine how long you expect to live.
  3. Draw a horizontal line through the middle representing your basic state of happiness.
  4. Draw a vertical line down the page that symbolizes to the left how much of your life you have already lived and to the right what is to come.
  5. Remember your past, from your early childhood up until today and plot points on the paper that mark important events. Plot them according to the level of happiness you felt.
  6. Get in touch with the present, your painful event, and plot it on your chart.
  7. Think about the near future -- the next year -- and imagine what you might be doing in that time. Set some doable goals -- things that might help you heal and bring more happiness.
  8. Imagine yourself farther into the future -- 5, 10 or 20 years. What will your life look like? What do you want to be doing?
  9. Keep this chart and in a year take it back out and see what's happened in your life. What haven't you done yet? What changed? What happened differently than you imagined?

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