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How to Stay Grounded When Your Life is Falling Apart

Making change predictable.

Your life is a journey with lots of stops along the way and if you could have some idea what to expect, at least some of the time, you might feel a lot better about the whole thing. The image of life as a journey is so much a part of our language that we don’t even stop to think about it.

There are crossroads, back roads, peak experiences, mountains to climb, valleys of despair, deserts and oases, wildernesses and wastelands, rivers to cross, forks in the road, detours, dead ends, and the open road. They’re all descriptive of places we’ve been. Wouldn’t it be nice to know beforehand what lies ahead in order to avoid an unpleasant, or difficult, or seemingly insurmountable, obstacle on our path?

Here are some basic ways to help you think about your journey and to help keep you grounded, especially when the unexpected happens.

Change, the constant rhythmic ebb and flow of events, is the rule and not the exception. Whether you like change or not (and many people don’t), you at least know to expect something, and that makes the unpredictable more predictable.

Transition is what you do with the changes that happen. Essentially, transition tells you that it’s time to move on, that you need to let go of someone or something. Transition implies taking action—externally or internally, or both—as opposed to just letting things happen on their own.

What you’re leaving behind may be an old behavior or pattern, a part of your identity or status in which you were once very invested, or a relationship that no longer fits or honors you. An anticipated ending, and certainly one you’ve initiated, may be dealt with more smoothly and with less angst than an ending that surprises or shocks by its sudden appearance and dramatic presentation.

There are six recognizable stages that accompany transition: loss, uncertainty, discomfort, insight, understanding, and integration. The accompanying emotions for these stages can run the gamut, depending on the individual and how they perceive and negotiate transitions. Essentially, the energy that has powered an outdated role, status, or persona needs to be released in order for it to be available for what you are to become.

This sense of loss may leave you wondering, “If I am not who I once thought I was, then who am I?” It may be necessary to take time to grieve for what once was first, before you move through the rest of the stages.

Not knowing is part of the process. Before you can find and anchor yourself to something new, you must go through a period of not knowing. You may know you are moving forward but you don’t know yet where you’re going. Making change implies a taking apart of the old and a putting together of the pieces of the new, changed self.

The place of not knowing, where you don’t know where or how to belong because you are between identities, is also the place of your greatest potential. When all is stripped away from the identity that is “you,” the realization may hit that what you refer to as my life is just simply the core of who you are, your “real” self, wrapped in the “stuff of life,” all of the external things that make up life as you think about it. When this stuff is peeled away layer by layer, what’s left—who you are—is all that really matters.

Question what you mean by reality. Many of us are invested in believing that what we experience as reality is fixed and absolute, probably because we feel reassured and safe when life continues in the same way it always has. But in fact, reality is illusory.

As you let go of the people and events to which you’ve been attached, you also let go of a thinking that has imbued these specific people and events with special significance and meaning. This is the process of stripping away the veil of idealism surrounding the world you’ve created for your own purposes, in order to reveal things as they truly are. So in the process of shifting your focus, shifting your consciousness begins.

Surround yourself with positive people who support and encourage you. Ditch the naysayers: those who remind you about what went wrong, those who don’t support your choices and decisions, those who advise through fear. True friends are those available when you need them, those who will stick around for the long haul, no matter what.

Weigh your options. Before you take action, spend as much time as you need sorting out the problem and focusing on the possible solutions. If you’re not ready to make a decision, don’t do anything. Wait until the dust settles and you’re absolutely clear about what the necessary next step should be.

Here’s a good visual: If you’re walking down a road and the path is no longer clearly marked and it’s very possible that you might get lost—stop. Turn around and retrace your steps to where you began. If you don’t know where to go or what to do once you’re back on familiar territory, set up camp at the side of the road and wait. Don’t just take any old road. Wait until you have determined what the best course of action is and what’s the best path to take.

Draw upon your past experiences of transition. When you can view what once was with a perspective altered by time and distance you can see all that was for what it really is, rather than for what you wished it had been. Each re-view broadens your perspective on your life; the cumulative effect of this is learned wisdom.

Seek professional help if you need it. When you’ve done everything you possibly can on your own and you remain confused, mired in indecision, overwhelmed, anxious and/or depressed, it’s time to consult with a qualified professional to help you sort out the problem and help you take the first steps toward moving forward.

You will get through this. No matter how bleak things seem to be, change—that constant rhythmic flow of life—promises new twists and turns in the road, new frontiers, and new horizons. And possibly, what you had once thought absolutely necessary for your life is just a thing of the past.

More from Abigail Brenner M.D.
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