We all have been there. Hell. That place in your life that you did not think you could survive without losing something very important to you, like your self-respect and future happiness. Life often throws us unavoidable surprises that we are not ready to catch. It would have been nice if someone had yelled “incoming!” I just learned of the tragic death of young father in an automobile accident. He was young, and left a wife and two young children behind. Loss is just one level of hell. Other levels include poverty, public ridicule, illness, abuse by a loved one, the criminal justice system, and breakup of romantic relationships. Each person has their version of hell but hopefully won’t have to experience it. Many times one person’s hell is another person’s heaven. It is all a matter of perspective.

I have found some guidelines on how to survive a trip to hell and return a new and improved version of you. Each one can be used by itself or in conjunction with the others. I have great compassion for those who are going through such traumatic times that they can’t breathe or sleep. Been there and done that. But if you try these practices, your return from Hell will be easier and quicker.

1. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. When we go through trying times, we are exercising parts of our psyche that may be weak or needs strength. Life has brutal ways sometimes of making us stronger. Sometimes even a superficial wound like a broken love affair can make us want to lay down and die. We feel like the future is not worth living. However, as we will see below, many times better and more exciting times are ahead and we have to be strong enough to get there. Winston Churchill once said during the German bombing of London, “when you find yourself in hell, keep walking.” So keep breathing.

2. This too shall pass. Sometimes we have to resolve ourselves to outlive our challenges and problems. No matter how bad things get, remember that the current challenges and difficulties will pass. Everything changes. Use this knowledge to your advantage. The good times pass, the bad times pass, and the really painful and difficult times will also pass.

                      3. You are a survivor.  The present may feel like the worst ever, but chances are you have seen worse, or know of someone who has survived worse. If you live in the US, you are better off than most of the world and your survival skill can be pretty good. You’ve survived tough times and challenges, over and over. Remind yourself that you’re an experienced problem solver. And while you’re at it, remind yourself you’re fighter. You overcome, you don’t give up.

                      4. The worst won’t happen. A familiar saying is “90% of what we worry about doesn’t happen”.  While you may feel overwhelmed by life’s twists and turns and the intensity of the current situation, try to take each moment one at a time. When we experience trauma, we immediately go into the future and stress about what we are going to do tomorrow, 6 months from now or years from now. Cancel clear any thoughts about the future while you are stressed. Only make plans or consider the future when you are calm and grounded. If you make decisions about anything while you are stressed and overwhelmed, you will only make your situation worse. Calm down, breathe, and remember that you are stronger than you know and braver than you think.

                     5. Release expectations and control. Often, we deal with so much stress and anxiety not because of what’s happening, but because it is not happening as we please. We grow up having certain expectations about our life. These expectations were programed by our parents, advertisers, authority figures and society. We demand certain consequences and results. We provide the timelines on when we want these things. Life doesn’t care about our every wish and command, or our timeline. The more you can learn to let go of your expectations about circumstances, the more free and less stressed you’ll feel. Trust that the situation will work out for the best and be OK with it not turning out exactly as you had wanted. For once, relax and let the God/Universe take care of you. Take a few days off from running the universe and see what happens.

                       6. Learn the lesson. You may not be able to do anything with your current circumstances right now, but you will be able to reflect and learn from what’s happening in your life later on. When you get the point of the lesson, you will be able to use that wisdom to improve your life and the life of your loved ones. It is when you are in denial and resist the lesson that things get worse. Sometimes life takes loved ones or things away to give us something or someone better. Life is a classroom … imagine that it’s preparing you for a doctorate in living.

                        7. It always gets better. Life is a pendulum swinging between pleasure and pain. That is why it is always darkest before the dawn.  When things get bad, or terrible, rest assured that it can’t continue this way. Remember things always change. Rest assured the worst is behind you. It can only get better from this point onward. Stay hopeful and optimistic that your situation is about to change for the better. It will.

                        8. It is a gift.  When we are going through Hell, it is hard to be grateful for the experience. That is the only way we can learn and grow from the experience, to recognize that God never gives us more than we can handle and growth many times is painful. When we are grieving the loss of a loved one, embrace the gift of grief and understand that your heart will open and love will fill it if you let it in. The more we fail and stumble, the more growth and insight we have about life. The truth is success will follow tragedy if we accept the gift and learn the lesson. Get ready for better things in your future. If the fall was hard and painful, your bounce back should take you to whole new heights. Setbacks aren’t always what they seem. You may feel like you’re taking several steps back when in reality, you’re getting ready to make great leaps in your life.

And soon enough you’ll realize that life is setting you up for something much greater.


Reprinted from The Elephant Journal