My story makes even the hardened among us cringe … but I am not here to tell you that story. My real story begins after.
In order to stand up for my values, I recently walked away from a booming practice. What I had built felt sacred to me, almost miraculous. As a pediatrician, I realize it is no small matter that parents entrust me with the care of their children. But, as an employed physician, everything I had built was in someone else’s name and remaining would have meant being at odds with myself.
So, I left, and it is such a blessed peacefulness to align myself with my values once again. In doing so, I had to walk away from everything I had worked so hard to create. How do you regroup from that? How does something positive come from hardship?
Determined to remain true to myself and ignore the siren’s song of Bitter and Vengeful, I embarked on a journey more enlightening than I ever could have predicted. Little by little, I began to accept that maybe I had actually done something worth noting. I realized that people are hungry for change and courage in their own lives. Maybe I had some of the answers people seemed to be craving.
Here is my Breaking Open process and some of what I’ve learned along the way:
Grace and gentleness. For a while after my painful chapter ended, I felt even worse. Everything I had built was gone. I had taken a stand, and the good guys didn’t win the day. I felt shaken, depleted, and sad. I needed a few weeks to grieve. As you work through this, be gentle with yourself. Many times, when we fight against our emotions, they last longer than if we allow them to pass through. Let them come so you can let them go.
Allow yourself to feel numb. One of my mentors asked me what I felt after it was all over. I was a little panicky to admit that I felt … nothing. This absence of feeling after the flurry of fear and anxiety that had consumed me for so long was disconcerting. My mentor nodded calmly and said, “That emptiness you’re feeling is the absence of negativity. And what fills up that space will be creativity.” Allow yourself to sit quietly in that “nothing” and see what begins to pop in.
Counseling and coaching. Reaching out to a professional is immensely helpful when you’re trying to re-frame a difficult experience into something enlightening. I always encourage counseling when I am approached by someone in transition. Why take your same thought patterns into your new life?
Get grateful. I dealt with fear and trust issues while I was trying to move forward. My way out of victim mentality was to find gratitude. Grateful thinking soon found its way into every part of my life before I even realized it was happening.
Simplify. Walking away from employment on moral grounds brings a lot of financial worry. The answer was to simplify our lives. We cut out subscriptions, postponed vacations, cooked at home, and checked out library books. I began to appreciate decluttering our physical and emotional distractions. Once I tasted a little “less is more,” I began to want more of less.
Write it down. Journaling can be extremely helpful to heal from the original trauma and can also help you envision where you’re heading. Use the reminder function of your smartphone to set inspirational “reminders” that will pop up at intervals throughout the day. I use these as quick “gut checks” to remind me of how I want to feel or who I want to be moving forward.
Make a list of happy. I started a list of all the silly, quirky things that make me laugh or lift my spirit. It’s a go-to on the days I feel a little sad, and it never fails to give me a boost. Adding to that list also required that I be present enough to notice what makes me happy.
Go outside. Fresh air always seems to be the answer for me, no matter the weather or season. There’s something about wide open spaces and infinite sky that never fails to reset me. How insurmountable can my problems truly be when I am such a small part of this big, beautiful world?
Get inspired. As I was healing, I developed a technique: for every tired, old negative thought, I replaced it with a thought of someone inspirational in my life. These positive thoughts opened lines of communication, and soon I was spending joy-filled hours in coffee shops with mentors and old friends. It’s amazing how little space I had left for negativity once I began spending my days with those I admired.
Surprise yourself. You are so much more than your traumas. While you’re regrouping, try something that scares you a little bit, cracks you up, or both. Get brave in a safe way so you can remember that feeling the next time you’re challenged. When a friend of mine mentioned taking an adult tap class, I felt a familiar wistful tug inside. This time, rather than thinking of reasons I couldn’t sign up, I hurriedly picked up my own size nine tap shoes.
I can’t tell you what’s right for your own lives. I can’t tell you to burn it all to the ground and start over as I did. But I can tell you that through this process, I found the beauty in the struggle. I began to piece my life back together to create something so much better than I had before. I’ve come to understand that a fulfilling life is cyclical — building up, burning down, breaking open, over and over on repeat, each time coming out of the process a little more enlightened. Allow yourself to explore the endless possibilities brought about by Breaking Open. I promise you, this is a journey worth taking.
Quinn Bensi is a pediatrician who blogs at Opening Up with Quinn Bensi.
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