A few years ago I was having a conversation with my daughter, Madison, about being a spy. In her six-year-old mind she is picturing a very smart, athletic, beautiful woman who chases down bad people for a living – perhaps from the many Spy Kids movies. At any rate, she finds this line of work quite intriguing. As we were talking, she explained to me that a lot of the work a spy does has to be done in the dark. While it might be scary to work in the dark, Madison informed me that “dark times are also a time for discovery”. I am quite sure that Madison had no idea of the profundity of her statement, yet it affected me quite intensely.
When I think of “dark times”, I rarely think of physical darkness. Usually, I think of my own painful circumstances or those of one of my family members or friends. Reality is we all have, are, or will experience a dark time – some traumatic event or series of events in our lives. It’s just part of life. We can’t keep it from happening, yet most of us do whatever it takes to keep as far away as we can from those dark times. Then when the inevitable comes, we wonder where we went wrong. At least that’s what happens to me.
What if we were to take the time to “discover” during our “dark time”? What would we learn? How would we grow? In my life, every personal grief or traumatic experience that I have successfully dealt with and processed whether immediately or later in life, has caused me to discover something about myself. This usually brings about a change and a growth process making me a stronger, better person. I have talked with many people who have experienced some of the worst possible events in their lives from human trafficking to unimaginable family betrayal to the loss of a child. In each situation, those who processed their experience found themselves to have grown stronger and become better people. I have even heard some say they wouldn’t change their life experience for anything. To hear someone who has literally experienced the worst of the worst say they wouldn’t change their life experience for anything was monumental for me and caused me to realize that though dark times are most of the time downright terrifying, discovery and growth can come from it. Those who learn to discover in their dark times, learn to survive the inevitable.
It’s not about learning how to avoid the darkness, it’s about learning how to respond to the darkness. Our response to a situation can make or break us. So the big question is…..How do we respond?
Here a few things I’ve learned about responding to one of those dark times:
- Acknowledge that it’s happening – Denying reality has never helped anyone. In fact, denial typically makes things a whole lot worse. Imagine denying that fact that you have a flat tire. You might get a little further, but ultimately it will cause some pretty bad structural damage to your vehicle.
- Allow yourself to grieve the loss – Whatever is happening or has happened has hurt you. You have lost something – perhaps a death in the family, a relationship with a friend, a spouse, a child, a safe place to be yourself, your childhood, your innocence….You’ve lost a little piece of yourself. Allow yourself time to grieve it!
- Process it! – Don’t pretend you’re not hurting! Pain hurts! If it doesn’t, you’re in denial. Acknowledge your thoughts, your feelings, and the actions or behaviors involved.
- Ask “What” not “Why” – Remember that dark times are also a time of discovery – you can learn a lot about yourself and other people by allowing yourself to experience what you are going through. You can’t change what you are going through, but you can grow from it. You can become stronger, better, more confident, more ____ (you fill in the blank). So instead of getting stuck on the question of why, ask what. What can I learn from this? What can do to help someone else through this? What can I do to help other’s become more aware? There are a lot of “what” questions that can be asked. So choose one.
What are some things that have helped you to respond to one of those dark times?