CrocusSometimes I get letters from people in the grip of something that feels impossible.  I can’t write back at length to every single person, but sometimes there’s a cry for help that feels so singular and yet so universal that it could have been any one of us.  So I’m sharing my correspondence with one such kindred spirit, below.

NB: I guard my people’s privacy fiercely.  I am not going to share her note with you, except to say that she has been pummeled by a string of events that have left her feeling shredded.  She wonders whether she will ever find love, or happiness, again.  I have changed significant details in my response to protect her privacy. 

Dearheart,

I’m so sorry that you’re in this tough place. Sometimes life hits us with such painful blows that all we can do is fall to the ground and rock back and forth with the pain of it. Sometimes there seems to be meaning and purpose in these hard things, and other times they are a mystery. Sometimes the meaning reveals itself in an astounding way, but not until years later. Sometimes we never know.

I think you say something very illuminating– you write, “I feel like I must die to get relief.” I don’t think you’re talking about ending your life– please, tell me immediately if that’s what you mean, and let’s get you some help– but I think what you’re saying is that your old way of being in the world doesn’t work any more. Your old identity is dying and you will need to be reborn as someone else in order to move forward.

No one, including me, wants to go through this.

And yet we all do. We all go through things that seem impossible. It’s been a couple of weeks since you wrote this, and my hope is that you have already found your way through this spot of stuckness where nothing good seems possible. I’m hoping that the grief and fury have served as galvanizing fuel to move you into a place where you are big enough to hold all the realities of your life inside yourself at once. There are so many different versions of you all living inside you: the loving mom, the betrayed and angry lover, the vital creative being, the child who grew up to be a strong survivor, the wise soul– all in this body that is so different than it used to be. They are yours.  You own them all.

I don’t have any platitudes for you. I do know that when I am going through the impossible transformations in my own life, what helps most is to read stories of other people who have also been in that place. Some of my favorites:

Martha Beck (her memoirs but also North Star and Starlight for navigating big life hard things)
Cheryl Strayed (especially Tiny Beautiful Things)
Elizabeth Gilbert
Glennon Doyle
Mary Oliver
Rumi

It’s not that their words can take away what you’re going through. And it’s good and right to be angry and livid at unfair things that happen. But maybe their stories can give you strength to step fully into this new reality and find something surprising in it.

I know you are afraid that you will always be alone. But is that the worst thing? I will tell you that I lived for years with absolutely zero expectation that I would ever find romantic love or sex in my life, and it turned out that life was mesmerizingly interesting and beautiful even without it.  I discovered that I was actually the source of the best love and sex I’d ever known, all on my own.  But life surprises us sometimes. It surely surprised me. You too might be surprised at what’s waiting for you.

My hope is that you can find a way to turn even this unwelcome reality of what life is right now into the raw material for something amazing, new, and helpful in the world.

And judging from some of the stories you’ve told me, it sounds like it won’t be anywhere NEAR the hardest, most magical thing you’ve ever done, dearheart.

Remember who you are, and what you’ve already made it through. You’re already an EFBA. So what would an EFBA do with this one?

much love,
Anna