If you live long enough, you're destined to experience pain of some sort. It could be a shattered relationship, a tragic illness, the loss of a loved one, or the death of a dream. No one gets out of this life unscathed. Pain is an inevitable part of the human condition, but suffering need not be.
When life throws you an awful curve
I worked with a young fashion designer earlier this year who was in a horrific car accident. She had been on the fast track to success. Driving home late one night, a split second lapse of attention forever altered her life. The impact of the crash catapulted her from the vehicle. She suffered a broken back and the eventual loss of one eye, a significant injury for anyone, but even more catastrophic for an artist reliant on her sight.
When we met, it had only been a few months since the crash. She was wearing an eye patch and was excited about getting fitted for a prosthetic. I was humbled by her positive attitude. If faced with the same situation, I know I would be devastated and would have a hard time adjusting.
Why trauma causes some to wither and others to thrive
She admitted she had felt grief over the loss of her vision, the disfigurement of her face, and the injuries to her back. She was in terrible pain, but had decided almost immediately after the accident that she wasn't going to allow it to define the rest of her life.
Deep down, she knew she had a choice. On one hand, she could allow herself to wallow over everything she had lost. On the other hand, she could choose to get on with her life. She had transitioned very quickly into acceptance…
And that is the key to the moving on.
The reality of suffering
We suffer when we fight against reality and desire for things to be other than what they are. You've worked so hard at your job and someone else gets the promotion. The person you love falls for your best friend. You watch your parent deteriorate from the onset of Alzheimer's. These are all very real and painful situations. In order to move forward, you need to allow yourself the necessary time to grieve your loss.
After that, you must look life square in the eye and face your new reality. You cannot always make other people see your value, but that doesn't mean you're not valuable. Nor can you force someone to love you, but that doesn't mean you're unlovable. You cannot reverse your parent's diagnosis, but that doesn't mean you can't honor the relationship you had and appreciate the time that remains.
These are all situations beyond your control, but you can decide how you will respond. We can't go through life shielding ourselves from pain, but we can absolutely choose how we allow that pain to define us – either through suffering or moving on. Pain is an inevitable part of the human condition, but suffering need not be.