Sometimes Life Just Sucks
How to bounce back when the going has been tough
Years ago my boyfriend at the time was contracted to sail a boat back from Panama to the East Coast of Australia. They were near Fiji, sitting on the deck on a balmy night, enjoying the peace and quiet of the sea, imagining themselves walking on the beach in a day or so when they decided to go downstairs to make a cuppa, with the rudder safely on autopilot.
Then, out of nowhere, all hell broke loose.
The boat was being smashed by waves against a reef at a 90 degrees angle every 30 sec or so. Everything inside the boat was coming loose. The fridge came unhinged and almost crushed their heads. Knives started flying from drawers. Glass broke. They fell down and almost broke their necks.
Somehow they grabbed the life raft, that was stowed in the most stupid of places …(after all the boat was made for the Caribbean: you don't need a life raft cruising from island to island), and even managed to find their passports. After some precarious figuring out how to jump from the boat into the raft while it's moving like the equivalent of a wild rodeo saddle on the dark waters in front of them, they took the leap of faith, made it, cut the rope, and within minutes floated again in the peace and quiet of a balmy evening in the midst of the pacific ocean. Their boat had already disappeared behind the horizon.
All of it probably took 10 min.
This story kept coming back to me in the last weeks, as I went through my own experience of unexpected, abrupt, uncontrollable…well, yes, trauma.
Circumstances beyond my control that made me feel exactly as I imagine it must have felt going through the above. As if I was sucked from one moment to the other into a vortex of suffering and hardship, not knowing where up or down was, unable to hold onto anything, and then just like that spat out the other side as if nothing had happened.
Except for that everything happened. I felt battered inside.
My particular vortex of hell, I guess, lasted about three weeks not ten minutes and that does make a difference as the more shit that piles up, the more that we get to the limit of our capacity.
To give a little bit of context: my grandmother broke her hip, my parents have a toxic, abusive relationship, the hospital rules did not allow people to visit, then my grandmother came back from the hospital only to go back because of an epileptic seizure two days later. The day after that, the war breaks out and I end up in hospital myself with severe abdominal pain, and then after that my grandmother dies in hospital, without any of the family being allowed to visit her. Ah, yeah, did I mention that the house in which it's all been playing out is in full-on renovation (think mess and dust everywhere)?
Of course, I'm brushing over it. I don't want to go all deep here right now, maybe another article. But I do want to give you a sense of how things can pile up.
The first week I was doing ok, it was stressful and emotional, yes, but I did my practice and I was keeping it together. And then when I heard my grandma went to hospital the second time, just as I was starting to feel safe again, something snapped. But I only noticed that when I was in severe pain and in hospital myself. There is a limit to what we can bear.
Why I am sharing this story with you
One reason why is because I have been so deeply humbled by what happened. The nature of suffering touched a part of me that I still find hard to name but it would be something like…spiritual arrogance, a sense of entitlement maybe?
The part of me that believes that no bad luck will ever come my way. The part of me that (next to the experience of it all) was also incredulous that it was happening to ME (why me?). Shit like this doesn't happen to me!
Others suffer, yes, I don't.
Not like that at least. I'm exempt from the shithole of human experiences by some golden light of my spiritual merit…
It's not that I consciously believed that, of course, but there it was: the part that felt sorry for myself.
And in the midst of it, the arrogance and entitlement of it hit me. I realized, that millions of others are suffering at the very same moment. And many of them a million times more than me. Every single day.
It cracked my heart wide open with compassion.
The first noble truth of the Buddha: life is suffering, penetrated me deeply. Yes, it's part of our human experience. We all go through a version of hell at some stage.
It also made me so acutely aware of how stupid it is to judge anyone for what they go through. Sometimes it's just fucking hard. And there is nothing you can do.
And it's not going to be necessarily easier if you are a 'light' being or harder if you are unconscious. Pain is pain and suffering is suffering. Or like my mum says: there are no heroes for pain.
Don't get me wrong, I have had my share of suffering in the past, but most of it was from my own doing. I had never met head-on the power of the forces that are beyond my influence and to feel in their wake so utterly powerless. In that sense, I was and still am very privileged.
This time, hard as I tried, there was nothing I could do to change the situation, to make it better externally nor internally.
I was just simply suffering.
My meditations, my practices, my prayers…maybe it helped, I wouldn't know though, because with or without it the whole ordeal just epically sucked. Every single part of it. It was too much and too intense and all of it too abrupt. I felt unable to catch my breath.
This is what brings me to another reason why I am sharing this story
Because going through it all, having the understanding of trauma and how it all works as I have, I kept observing my Nervous System going out of capacity and into freeze. In the midst of it, even though my knowledge didn't make me immune to it, I knew what was happening to me. I was aware of all the layers that were disconnecting or going numb and how I was disassociating.
And maybe that was my saving grace. Because there is one thing that I know I did, that helped me enormously to not drown completely and to bounce back eventually.
I asked for help.
Actually, it felt more like being on my knees begging for it, that's how little and vulnerable and powerless I felt, but what I mean is that I made the effort to let my friends know what I was going through and to receive their support.
It would have been really easy to not do that.
At some point, when we received the call at 11 pm that my beautiful, sweet babcia passed on, after a day of fighting with the hospital (even the police was involved) to get her back home, I was lying in bed so entirely wiped out, utterly empty and in shock that I couldn't even start imagining how to share what just happened to me …with anyone.
In other words, I was in freeze.
To speak was to touch a raw wound inside that was too painful and too overwhelming in its complexity to go even near it. This is the moment I could have made a choice to stay there, indefinitely.
Instead, after some little sleep disrupted by 10 toilet runs (my gut was still recovering from all the antibiotics they had pumped me full with at the hospital), I knew that my only way out of this was sharing.
Keep moving the energy even if it's only little, despite your brain telling you, you can't.
It was painful to do that because when your brain is shut down like that, you don't even know how to share. Just the idea of it is overwhelming.
But, I guess, my prior experience with trauma work helped me to know that it would have been even more painful to stay completely alone in this.
So without pushing too hard, with feeling really awkward, retarded, and uncomfortable because of how vulnerable I felt and acutely aware of the rift between where my nervous system was at and what my inner world felt like, and where other people were…I made an effort to speak, to let others in. Even if it meant to only say:
I don't know how I feel right now. I feel frozen, empty.
This is really what made the difference.
It's been four weeks since it all happened. And after returning home it took some time to just lie in the sun (thank god for the sun!) and share the story over and over again, checking in on how raw it felt each time…crying those tears over and over again, releasing any kind of shame that I might have about feeling this way, allowing myself to be felt and held in it by my beautiful partner and dearest friends.
Each time feeling my spirit coming back more and more. I felt literally being brought back to life through the life-giving love and care of others.
It's like when your car's battery is flat and you need another car to jumpstart yours. That's how it felt.
So yes, I'm sharing this story because my heart is reaching out to yours if you are going through hardship right now. Or have been in the past.
I know it sucks. I know that's an understatement because no words can capture what it feels like inside.
I am not trying to make it better for you, either. Except to let you know that you are not alone. You really aren't. That moment you are on your knees, where you don't even know how to keep going, there will always be someone whose heart will feel yours. I'm sure of that.
(Even if you don't believe that you can always entertain the idea that it's true and see what happens.)
And no matter how tough it feels right now, your beautiful body and being will eventually come back to balance. I'm sure of that too. But it will need time.
In the humbling of our egos, the heart has an opportunity to crack wide open. And then we remember that all hearts, all nervous systems suffer…at one point or another…and that is a beautiful gift to feel.
It takes away the illusion of our separation. And it liberates us from at least one kind of suffering: feeling alone.
And I really do pray, that if you are suffering, you remember that there are others that can help you. We don't have to do it all alone. In fact, that makes it just so much harder…for everyone. So keep, gently pushing against any kind of resistance to reach out for support.
Pain is what digs out ignorance, and it's Love's joy and duty to fill the hole. (B.White)
That's why we need each other.
If you like what you read, you can buy me a coffee! Thank you!
Kasia Patzelt is an Artist and Embodiment Coach. She helps people to release trauma and learn to art of self-compassion through embodiment practices and creativity.