Read this when your heart is aching and your spirit is broken, when you’re on your knees, depleted and defeated. Read this when you want to give up but there’s a tiny part of you that still whispers hold on for dear life; read this when your faith has been shaken and your life has been split into fragments you can’t seem to put back together. Read this when each day feels like a black hole, distorting and destroying every sliver of light you once had.
Read this and take a deep breath, because yes, this is so painful and yes it seems hopeless, but no, it rarely is. Sometimes, panic is a reminder that we still want to hope for the things we’ve lost hope for, and tragedy is a reminder that we can still feel in a world that doesn’t want us to. Sometimes, when we feel like we’re sleeping our way through life, we’re really reawakening to the truth. It’s never easy taking the red pill or casting light on the shadows of the cave you once mistook reality for, but sometimes, it’s a necessary evil we swallow, because each trapdoor could be the portal to the path that leads us anywhere but here.
The truth is, grieving is never a straight line, it comes full circle and we might be forced to live through it again and again. Healing is never linear, it’s a maze of distortions, confusion, smoke and mirrors, pain that was never spoken and invisible scars, battle wounds that never made it to the surface. The worst wars may be fought alone and in your own head.
Healing has no timeline, no deadline, and no concrete measure like pills in a cup – in fact, forcing yourself to heal or comparing your healing to others is a prescription for poison rather than a cure. Sometimes healing comes in a quiet silence or a less shaky breath when you speak. Sometimes it’s the courage to walk outdoors and confront the demons that don’t exist. Sometimes healing comes in the tiny moments that no one ever thinks to say “thank you” for. And sometimes, the best way to heal is to know that there are some things that cannot be healed, won’t be healed or aren’t meant to be healed in the ways we think they are – they’re meant to be channeled and transformed.
The truth is, what feels like your crucifixion doesn’t have any quick fixes, only slow movements in a never ending dance. Time or words alone can’t always soothe the wounds that can’t be put into language. Trauma can speak in a foreign tongue and weave its code into every cell – this is the type of pain where the body and the mind both keep the score. Sometimes the only band-aids you have are platitudes mixed with raw truth – the days where you feel like you won’t survive and the days where you learn you can, and all the beautifully horrific moments in between.
The shock of the pain may never fully go away, it’s just numbed and buried beneath tombs, beneath new memories, waiting to erupt through the cracks and crevices left open in your thoughts. Thoughts that wrap around your body like a choke-hold, never seeming to let go. But in these thoughts, there are gaps, opportunities to interrupt the old tapes playing in the background, frozen in time.
That’s because experiencing overwhelming pain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to sketch new thoughts, or paint new memories, because pain can be as transformative as the art on a torn canvas. It can make you appreciate all the small joys you’d never think to relish. You are forced to remember the things you took for granted, the ones that appeared minuscule, and realize their larger-than-life roles in the grand scheme of things. In truth, pain is the excuse you needed to embrace all you have to be grateful for and all the things you fear losing so much you’ll now work even harder to keep.
Because when you feel like you’re dying, a life of pain reminds you to savor the things that matter, the things that are left worth fighting for.
The worst moments in your life can be both enlightening and severely unfair. They can be a melting pot of breakthroughs and breakdowns, the epicenter of your epiphanies and the core cause of your hopelessness; they can drown you, consume you in their quakes or they can be the push you really need, so long as you remember to come up for air.
And it’s always somewhat morbid to remember that the worst moments of your life now won’t be the same ones in the future – but then again, neither will the best moments of your life – those are still yet to come too. What you define as the worst and the best will change and ironically, the knowledge that there is an even worse hell ahead can provide some heavenly relief. Because if there’s still worse pain than the one you feel now, you know you can survive this to experience the best version of joy.
When you breathe through what you’ve been through and remember all the days that you survived and all the days you didn’t want to, you’ll remember the brief moments that were so important, the quick snapshots of your life that delayed you burying your head in the sand, never to come out again. The ones that made you use the voice you silenced – the voice trapped within for years. The strange happenings that made you smile for the first time in weeks, the rare kindness of strangers who lent a hand, or the surprising reminders that God still laughs even when you’ve forgotten how.
Don’t worry if you’re no longer running towards your destination or if you’re on your way to a free fall into the unknown. Don’t worry if you aren’t where you need to be, or if there are circumstances beyond your control that make you feel out of control. Don’t worry even if you are at the height of everything you’ve ever wanted and you’re afraid to look down to see how far you’d fall if you lost your footing.
Don’t lose hope if your worst nightmares came true in the past or if someone tried to crush your dreams into a pulp – because big dreams can never be destroyed by the small-minded people that were never brave enough to live out their own.
Don’t worry if one day, the pain seems to be at a standstill and you forget the old narratives running through your head, or if you rewrite your story even before you’ve lived another tale. Don’t be afraid of your own powerlessness, and don’t be afraid of your own power.
In the worst moments of your life, it’s helpful to remember that when a chrysalis appears to shake violently, it’s actually not breaking, it’s warding off predators – and that sometimes when it turns black, it’s actually unfolding into something new. Destruction can be the incentive for creation and self-protection. Crucifixion, the pathway for resurrection.
The pause in between, a much-needed hibernation that happens before rising once more.
Yet change isn’t always so immediate, or easy or even gratifying or desirable. Sometimes, change comes on a slow spin of the world on its axis and gravity is the only thing keeping you grounded. Even the most glorious changes are excessively painful during the time we go through them. We don’t look back at those deaths the same way we do when we’re in the midst of dying – we don’t see them as rebirths, we see them as cruel fates we are undeserving of.
But rest assured that one day in the future there will be the privilege of more awakenings and of more happiness than you can capture in photographs; new growing pains and new first drafts. Rest assured that if you do not give up now, you’ll get to change the course of everything that’s still unwritten.
By the same token, we learn the hard way that tiny miracles can begin in shaky missteps, the first time we learn how to walk instead of crawl.
Shahida Arabi is a poet and the author of the book She Who Destroys the Light: Fairy Tales Gone Wrong.
She Who Destroys the Light is available here.