The following post is written by me and brought to you by Abbott.
Because I publish so many personal stories here on Alex in Wanderland, I receive many of them back – in the comments, in my inbox, in person when I’m lucky enough to meet readers face to face. A lot of them are happy tales of love, travel, and adventure. But too, many are stories of struggle. (No surprise – sharing our stories is powerful and healing.) Stories of loss. Stories of betrayals and bad relationships. Stories of illness and frustrating injury and bodies letting us down. Stories of trying to claw out of bad day that turned into a bad week, a bad month, a bad year.
It’s easy to be happy when life is on the upswing. It’s easy to love when your heart has yet to be broken. It’s easy to be generous when blessings are abundant. It’s easy to feel like the risk was worth it when so far, it’s paying off.
But what about when it’s not?
Strolling through Los Angeles this fall, I stopped to take in a colorful mural. Emblazoned across it was a lesson life keeps insisting on teaching me: What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.
I smiled when I saw it. It’s the final line in a favorite poem from Charles Bukowski, “How is Your Heart?” Bukowski was an artist, a dreamer, a man who always struggled to live a full life. And thus he became the unlikely subject of my final post with Abbott Global, who I’ve teamed up with to talk about living your best life – in this case, even when it’s not easy.
My overall enchanted life has been peppered with a few acute heartaches. Some I’ve written about here. Some only a handful of people in the world know about. They humbled me. They shaped who I am. But first, they took life as I knew it and burned it to the ground.
When I was fourteen, my perfect-life bubble was burst by my parent’s incredibly traumatizing split. I never had that moment where mom and dad sit the kids down on the couch and tell them that they love them very much but no longer love each other. I used to be jealous of those kids. Instead, I had four years of brutal, heart-wrenching, raw chaos in which I was an active player in a game I never signed up for. It was a dark time, and when I recount some of the worst of my memories from it to close friends, they give me a look of surprise – a look that says, “…but you seem so well adjusted?”
The road to healing was a long one. Yet at twenty-six, I long ago stopped asking, “Why me? Why us? Why my family?” Why does any family grapple with addiction, heartbreak, and the eventual dissolution of what was once a happy home? Today, I see what happened as another layer in the fabric of my life. Today, I have fulfilling relationships with both my parents, who are perhaps the planet’s greatest examples of how to ask for and gracefully grant forgiveness. Today, any resentment I had towards those painful years was long ago replaced with gratitude. Gratitude for the fierce independence that I developed, gratitude for the forgiving heart I adopted, gratitude for the extended community of family friends that provided safe havens in our darkest hours, and mostly, gratitude for the motivation that burned inside me to get out and see the world.
nineteen and healing
Looking back, it’s hard not to correlate that time – my high school years – when my wanderlust grabbed fierce hold of me and my childhood home felt like a battleground. Suddenly, seeing the world seemed not like a lofty goal to pin on my dream board but an absolute, non-negotiable necessity to be obtained at any cost.
I wasn’t running away. I was looking for reassurance. Reassurance that the world is this infinite, grandiose masterpiece and I was nothing but a speck of a fiber of a brushstroke within it. I found that notion – that the world was endlessly huge and my life within it endlessly small – to be a great comfort. I believe my life has value and meaning. But what could be more liberating than the reminder and perspective that it is just one of seven billion lives that also have equal amounts of value and meaning?
In “How is Your Heart?,” Bukowski muses:
to awaken in a cheap room
in a strange city and
pull up the shade-
this was the craziest kind of
Like Bukowski, I found solace in travel, in getting lost, and in being anonymous. Yet there are few dead zones to which you cannot receive a frantic middle-of-the-night phone call. There is no corner of the world to which heartache cannot follow you. Had I traveled hoping to escape my pain and problems, I would have been sorely disappointed. Instead, I traveled to find the space – mentally and physically – that I needed to dive headfirst into them.
We can’t control the things that happen to us. But we can control the way we react to them. In fact, these are the periods that define us. How well do you live your life? How well do you live your life on the worst day of it?
Fire can destroy us. It can also give us heat and passion, and can power us forward and show us the path through darkness. We as a species are more resilient than we ever give ourselves credit for. In fact, psychologists have labeled a phenomenon they call Post Traumatic Growth, a term for the evolution of people who report feeling stronger and more fulfilled after traumas and tragedies. Richard Tedeschi, a professor of psychology and a leading expert on what he coins these “super survivors,” labels trauma as “a shock that ruptures the central story that you thought was your life.”
If you are walking through a fire of your own, however big or small, this is your time to rewrite your story. According to Tedeschi, the key to unlocking this hyper-resilience is a simple one. “The big factor that nurtures resilience, is unconditional love,” he reports.
Treat people around you with dignity and love, regardless of if they extend you the same respect. Nourish your body with good food and frequent movement. Find small, fleeting moments of joy even in the darkest hours – eventually they’ll grow into a larger light. Find forgiveness for the people who need it most – including yourself. Get lost in a remote corner of the world, and take time to explore both your destination and yourself. Push yourself to list the things you are grateful for, even when small graces are few and far between. Walk through the fire with your head held high, and arms outstretched to others who might be dusting off embers of their own. Your new story may surprise you.
“We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.” –Bukowski
I’ve partnered with Abbott to talk about the different ways I live fully. Missed my first post on what that means to me? Read it here. Missed my second post on all the gifts travel has given me? Read that one here, too.
Abbott knows that people all over the world have their own unique ideas on what living fully looks and feels like, and they even have a quiz to help you figure it out. Take the quiz—and then tell me what YOU live for using #fullosophy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.