Do things happen for a reason? Or is everything left to chance? Are there random occurrences? Does karma exist? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do things happen that just don’t seem fair? How am I supposed to see the silver lining when I suffer? How do I withstand what seems to be pointless pain?
I lost someone close to me last Fall. Not to death – he’s still here on earth. We just wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. I lost him from my everyday life. One morning after it occurred, I found myself overcome with grief as endless questions circled around my mind: “why should I have to endure this pain? Yes, there were so many good memories and I genuinely enjoyed all our time spent together. But were those memories – those good times – were they worth this pain? What was the point?”
Throughout my life, I’ve only allowed myself to become interested in partners with whom I could see a future. While I did see the possibility of some sort of prolonged exchange with him, what was the point of our interactions if we would end up very simply and sadly saying goodbye?
I continued to watch the thoughts swirl: “I should have never gotten involved. I should’ve turned back when I had doubts. I should’ve known.” The thoughts triggered embarrassment, which triggered more thoughts: “you were naïve again. You didn’t listen to your gut. You do this every time – when will you learn?!” The sadness and guilt deepened. I became awash in a sea of discontent, embarrassment, and frustration. All for what?! Why was I allowing these negative thoughts to consume and berate me? It was if they entered my psyche with baseball bats and crowbars and immediately went to work defacing my self-esteem.
Then, I remembered something helpful to me. It was almost as if a voice from beyond whispered into my ear, “find the purpose…” Ever since I began having intimate relationships it’s been difficult for me to let go of partners when the relationships end. It’s possibly one of the only areas in my life in which I experience a genuine repulsion to change. While I’m with someone, we develop a bond, a beautiful friendship. When the time comes for the relationship to end, I often hear myself protesting, “you mean I’m not only going to lose a partner but I’m going to lose one of my best friends too?!” So, a trick I learned along the way [of life], was to believe that everyone with whom I was in a relationship had come into my life to teach me something, to assist me in my personal growth, which would ultimately lead to a more wholesome life experience – a life experience I could then more efficiently share with a loved one down the road.
I ran through my list of past partners, noticing each of their unique purposes: to know the purest type of love, to trust more deeply, to be more adventurous, to appreciate the importance of maturity, to live a life free from substances, to be silly and laugh often, to take care of one’s mind and body. So what was his? I asked myself freely what was his purpose and the answer came almost immediately: to allow me the time and space to develop a comfort in being myself.
Marsha Linehan, creator of DBT, has developed several helpful skills for cultivating the ability to tolerate distressing situations, one of which includes finding/creating a purpose. She notes that research has shown that creating a purpose for a difficult situation, even if the situation seems to be so blatantly wrong, can assist anyone in better managing the emotions associated with the event and in effectively navigating through it. Some situations we’ll encounter in life will seem outlandishly unfair, unjust, or wrong; however, we still have the power to find a purpose in it, whether it be something so concise as: developing patience, making one stronger, or giving one to the ability to connect with another in a similar situation down the road.
After realizing what I perceived to be the purpose in losing my friend, that crisp Fall morning, I felt a calm come over me. When at first I felt deep sadness in losing him, upon finding the purpose I felt as if perhaps I was still on the right path. So, next time you find yourself in a situation that sparks painful thoughts and emotions, see if you can find a purpose, a tiny light softly shimmering in a black hole of grief. Breathe deeply, be kind to yourself, and grow.
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