At least once a day a friend, colleague, or stranger asks, “How are you?” My normal response is “fine,” or “good,” or any other terse platitude that fills conversation. Today, because I’m feeling raw and brutally honest, I would say “I’m recovering.”
Recovering from my last chapter in life and recovering the next one. The verb recover is incredibly flexible in this way. It has three separate meanings, and each one surprisingly appropriate when it comes to undertaking the hard, thrilling, and daunting work of rebuilding your life once the doo-doo hits the fan. The first definition of “recover,” is returning to a state of strength and wellbeing. The second means regaining something lost. The third, extracting something useful. Braided together they form a powerful safety line to lead us from the dark with treasures in hand.
Let’s be clear that recovering is a journey unto itself. It’s the hero’s journey. And it’s not going to happen quickly, or easily, but it will happen. The search for happiness is built into our fabric of resilience. A friend a while back snail-mailed me a picture she drew in crayon that now hangs on my office wall. It says. “As the amount of sh*t increases, so must the level of nurturing you need.” What I saw in those brightly colored letters was permission to nourish my tired body and world-weary soul. Self-care is a beautiful thing once we open to its tender embrace. We return to strength and wellbeing through self-care.
Even harder is finding the thing we lost amidst the darkness. For me that was hope. Hope says there’s a rainbow after the storm. Hope says there’s a future worth striving forward towards. Hope says, “it’s going to be okay,” even when the signs beg to differ. “If we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster,” says the Dalai Lama. Finding hope has been its own leap of faith. Growing hope is like a muscle that requires strength training until it flexes easily. I began by looking for tiny moments of proof that the universe was not malevolent. The proof looked like flowers, the surprising visit from a friend, my boys laughing about nothing, chocolate. I sucked nectar from these tiny moments relishing their sweetness.
The last definition of recover means to extract something from the experience that can be put to use. I’m still working on this one so, bear with me here. However, I think we can experience really hard things and not get hardened. I think grief, sorrow, trauma and shock are part of the human experience that can lead us to tenderness, compassion, kindness and empathy. Our very fragility may be the thread that reminds us that we’re in this together and not alone. This is probably my own pep-talk as much as for you as we recover together.