What to Do When You Feel Really Vulnerable

standthereAh, vulnerability. Sometimes it stuns you and brings you into a state of gratitude for being able to love so deeply, and sometimes it makes you want to run screaming from the room. I am often stunned into gratitude by my children, and the way that I love them, and the way that I am humbled in the face of that love. If you’ve been on this planet for any length of time, then you know that you do not call the shots, you do not get to decide what life is going to put in your path, or the paths of those you cherish. You know that the parameters are outside of your domain, you get no insight into the number of days or years you have here, and the same holds true for everyone you hold dear, and my god, if that does not make you acknowledge your own fragility, I don’t know what will. I’m usually inspired by that. I really try to leave nothing in the tank on any given day, and by that I mean I try to make sure the people in my life know how I feel about them without any doubt by the time I put my head on the pillow. That’s a day well spent.

I share anything I’ve learned along the way that might be useful (and was often learned as the result of a poor choice that led to a painful lesson), and even the stuff that is messy or not quite figured out yet, because I think we all feel better when we realize we are not alone in this thing. I am not drawn toward people who try to wrap things up in a neat little package because life is not neat, humans are not neat, and many of the things we feel cannot be tied up with a ribbon and deposited in the “isn’t this grand?” file. I want to know what your mess is, what your fears are, what keeps you up at night, or stuck in a job or relationship that’s crushing the soul out of you, because we have all been there, and when we talk about this stuff, it’s a relief; we realize everyone is human. Otherwise everyone walks around feeling alienated, like they’re the only loser who can’t seem to get this life thing “right.” When you lay your stuff on the table, you see it’s the same stuff everyone else unpacks, it’s just got your own fingerprints on it, your own particular spin. Think you aren’t worthy of love, that there’s something essentially broken about you? Yeah, I’ve been there. Think there are things that you’ve done that are so shameful you have to keep them hidden, even from your closest friends? I’ve also been there. Know what happens when you edit yourself because you’re afraid of what people might think? You feel like a fraud. I’ve been there, too.

Maybe you’re enraged and you feel like your pain is someone else’s fault, but that’s going to keep you stuck. You’re better off making friends with your pain, and dwelling less on how you accrued it. Regardless of whose fault it is, your pain can teach you a lot about who you are and what you need to be at peace. Nothing brings your pain and fear to the surface like an intimate relationship. When you start to get close to another person, when you start to share in a real way, in a deep way, in an unguarded way, you give that person the roadmap to hurt you if they wish. So you want to be careful about the people you draw close because your heart is precious and you don’t want to be reckless with it, any more than you’d want someone you love to be reckless with theirs. You cannot get close to people if you won’t drop your guard. This applies to friendships, familial relationships, and romantic ones, which tend to be the most triggering.

Self-study is part of the yoga practice, and it’s at the heart of any spiritual practice. If you don’t know yourself, you can’t be accountable for the things you do and say; you won’t know what’s driving you. Even if you do that work, it doesn’t mean your stuff won’t come up, it just means you’ll have the insight to recognize when it’s happening, and the tools to deal with it and sit with it, instead of acting out and having to clean up the messes behind you, if and when you can. You save yourself a lot of heartache when you can lean into your discomfort instead of trying to deny it, run from it, or numb it out.

I’m having one of those days today. Feeling weird about a situation in my life and like I want to jump out of my body for a little while, because I am just so uncomfortable. But since I can’t jump out of my body, I’ve just been trying to be kind to myself all day, and stay focused on everything that is beautiful and wonderful in my life, which is a lot, while also giving myself permission to feel confused and unsettled. Part of me can laugh a little because for f&ck’s sake, I’m not eighteen, and I’ve been through this so many times it’s not new territory. Getting close to someone new, or even thinking about doing that takes guts and a willingness to wait and see, and sometimes that is really hard, walking that line. Letting your guard down, but not too much. Feeling things out, and keeping your eyes open. Trying not to control the outcome, but just letting it unfold, and then watching as all your “friends” come out to wreak a little havoc. Fear of Abandonment wants to play hopscotch! Fear of Rejection just sat down on the couch and wants to have tea! Fear of Commitment wants to take a spin on the dance floor! Defensive Debbie thinks coffee with someone else is a fine idea, because screw this vulnerability thing! I just have to laugh and shake my head and feel thankful that I have a yoga practice and a meditation practice, and the ability to distance myself from my thoughts so I can look at them without necessarily believing them. Time solves most mysteries. People show you who they are, you just have to be willing to see them. When you feel vulnerable, the best thing to do is sit with that feeling. If you struggle with that, try this. It works for me!

Sending you lots of love, and a little chuckle. We humans are funny, aren’t we?

Ally Hamilton

being-present

Make the Right List

Find-a-place-insideSo much of our ability to be at peace and to live life in a way that feels good, has to do with what we feed, and what we release. I have these two relatives, and I’ll call them uncles, although they aren’t uncles. One of them is the kindest, sweetest, most loving, joyful, affectionate, fun, generous person you’d ever want to meet. If you sit down next to him at a family function, he will share with you a list of all the amazing things you’ve ever done in your life from the time you were four, to the present. He will talk to you about the joy you’ve brought to his life, and how he knew you were special from the moment he laid eyes on you. You will tell him how much you love him, what an important person he is in your life, and how grateful you are that he is your uncle. You will want to make sure that he knows this. The family function will fly by, and you will leave feeling grateful and full and happy and inspired.

The other uncle, though, he’s a different tune altogether. If you sit down next to him, he will present you with a list of all the ways you, and every member of the family, have disappointed him over the years. If he adds alcohol to the mix, which he almost always does, he will even go back generations, and share a list of ancestral wrongs that predate you, him, and everyone you know. He will do this because he makes a hobby out of should. He’s something of an expert on what people should and should not do. If you let him, he will involve you in his should, and try to get you to should on yourself and everyone else. By the end of the family function you will feel drained and angry at the relative who did the seating arrangement.

These are two actual but disguised relatives in my family, but I’ll bet they mirror people in your own life. I’ve been watching this for years, and the kind uncle is living a life that is happy and fulfilled and full of family, while the other uncle is isolated and often feuding with family members, or writing them off altogether. He’s missed decades of time with certain cousins because he wasn’t speaking to their parents, but for him, this just adds fuel to the fire. Now he can be angry that these children were not brought to him as they grew up, and therefore do not know him, or have any real bond with him today.

The thing is, it’s really a choice. We all have heartaches and disappointments, ways we were let down, or in some cases neglected, abandoned, or abused. You know how the lotus flower grows in mud and muck, but emerges out of that as this gorgeous, white, stunning bloom? The same is true for people. We all have our mud and our muck, and it’s up to us to grow beauty out of the pain, or to wallow in it. Of course we can hold up our muck and show everyone how awful it is. We can excuse our poor choices or crappy behavior on the mess we’re coming out of, or we can get busy strengthening ourselves, and reaching toward the sunlight.

As a society and a culture, we are constantly encouraged to focus on what we don’t have, what isn’t going right, and all the ways we don’t measure up. Internally, we’re wired to worry, thanks to negativity bias, and the days when we had to avoid being eaten for lunch by saber tooth tigers. Externally and internally, we’re trained on lack, but that leaves us stuck in the mud of envy and despair, and that’s no way to live. You can point fingers like my angry uncle, or you can dig your way out of the mud like my happy uncle.

What are you focused on? Upon what do you place importance? Is it your looks? Your bank account? Your house, car, size of your boobs or biceps? Is it the latest, greatest vacation your friend took that you didn’t? Is it whether you have a partner, or whether you should get rid of the one you’ve got because s/he isn’t making you happy? Do you keep lists? If so, what’s on them? Do you have a list of ways you’ve been wronged, betrayed and let down, or a list of ways you’ve been amazed by the beauty in this world?

Whatever you feed will grow and strengthen. Is it important to acknowledge that your past has shaped you? Of course. You cannot be at peace if you don’t know yourself, and part of that work has to do with recognizing your wounds and figuring out what you need in order to heal. That doesn’t mean you dwell on your past and drag it into your present and future, it means you glean the meaning from the pain, and you allow it to open your heart and your mind so you have empathy for other people. Being human is a tough, but wonderful gig. You have to embrace your vulnerability if you want to be free, so that fear and rage don’t rule your life. Be the happy uncle. Sending you love, Ally Hamilton

Work That Doesn’t Belong to Us

There-are-things-that-we (1)Much of our pain in life comes from our inability to let go and trust. Often, we’re so attached to that picture in our heads of “how things should be”, we contract against things as they are. You may have noticed, life doesn’t feel great when we’re hunched in a little ball with our eyes squeezed shut, and our hands over our ears.

Sometimes we’re trying to do work that doesn’t belong to us. Maybe we’re attempting to save people, which is different than loving them. We might think we know what’s best for the people closest to us, and we might even be right, but everyone has to do his or her own journey. You cannot keep someone else’s side of the street clean. I mean, you can cross the street and sweep all you want, but if a person is committed to making a mess, the minute you walk away the debris will start flying again. You have to open your mind to the idea that sometimes a person has to make a mess in order to learn something essential. We’ve all experienced that.

Also, the truth is we never know what is right for other people. What seems obvious to us might not be obvious to someone else. There isn’t one path to happiness, there are about seven billion. People are complicated and messy and we all have our histories, stories we tell ourselves, ideas about things that we’ve learned from our experiences, and tendencies that help or hinder us. Most people reach a point when they have to reckon with their pain, anguish, heartache and disappointment; this is part of knowing ourselves. Some people are terrified of that work, or committed to finding ways around it, like numbing out, denying or repressing. Those are not solutions that lead to happiness, but you can’t force a person to come out of hiding. People do that if and when they’re ready, and not a moment sooner.

You might create a lot of fear, anxiety and suffering for yourself by thinking it is your job to manage the path of your children. When they’re little, of course you want to create stability, a nurturing and loving home, a solid base from which they can grow and flourish. If you start to “future-trip”, however, and think that your current choices can somehow protect them from future heartbreak, I think you’re fooling yourself. I don’t know too many people who get through life without some heartbreak along the way. Of course we want the path for our children to be full of sunshine and flowers, joy and love, and a profound sense of belonging in the world, and hopefully we give them the tools to set them up for their adventures in the best ways possible. It’s not always in your control to make everything perfect, though. Some people stay in abusive marriages thinking it’s best for the kids, but is it? Is it good for our sons and daughters to model their relationships after the one they’re seeing day in and day out, if it’s full of pain and violence?

The more you can release your grip on the story, the more life flows. It’s not just your story, you are not the only writer. You don’t get to edit out the parts you don’t like, or force the other characters to do, say, or feel what you want. This isn’t a piece of fiction, this is life, and the other characters get to forge their own stories and do things that might surprise, infuriate, delight, scare, enrage or depress you. You don’t have to allow other people’s desires to affect you at all, but if you’re close to people and you’re human, they probably will. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful and mysterious and interesting to be human, and who’s to say what the right way is to go about this thing? Obviously, we don’t want to move through life intentionally hurting other people, that would be a really crappy way to go. Short of that, following your heart seems the clear choice. We’re here for such a burst of time. There’s never been another you, or me, there’s never been another any of us, nor will there ever be. The more space we can give each other to be who we are, the more the artwork of life shines through. We all have a particular color to splash all over the canvas. Trust in yours, and celebrate the splashing of those around you. We can figure out who was “right” after we die 😉 Sending you a ton of love, Ally Hamilton

The Perils of the Poker Face

brenebrownWhen we don’t speak up about what we’re feeling, it comes out in other ways. This is particularly true in any intimate relationship, whether familial or romantic. Things we hide from ourselves will also swim to the surface to bite us in the a$$ and demand our attention, but you can multiply that bite by at least two when we’re talking about the way we relate to others. It’s not surprising that clear communication is so difficult for the majority of us, because we’re taught to edit our feelings from an early age. “Don’t cry”, “Don’t be sad”, “Don’t be scared, “Don’t be angry”–these are like cultural mantras we hear as early as we hit the playground, and often sooner, in our very own homes. Loving parents say these things, so I’m not throwing anyone under the bus, I’m just saying we need to understand when we love people, we have to teach them that it is okay to be sad, scared or angry, it’s what we do about the feelings that matters.

It’s never easy to watch someone we love as he or she grapples with difficult feelings. We know the pain of it from having grappled ourselves. Of course we want to spare those we care for, pain, anguish and discomfort, but these feelings are part of life, and they’re an essential part of knowing ourselves. If we learn to push down the feelings that make those around us feel uncomfortable or inadequate, you can safely bet we will also have no clue about how we feel as we reach adulthood. When we cut ourselves off from what is true and real for us, we also cut ourselves off from our intuition, and that is the surest way to get lost on the path. And when I say “the path”, I don’t mean there’s one path for everyone, I mean the path that will lead any of us to our deepest joy.

Recently, I was talking with good friends of mine who were laughing about a heated game of poker they’d played. Apparently, my friend’s wife and his mother went head-to-head, and his wife wondered if she should go easier on her fairly new mother-in-law, but my friend assured her this made her an official part of his family. Friends of theirs chimed in, and said things also got crazy and competitive in their house when the cards or board games came out. The woman turned to me and said, “You should try playing with THIS heartless prick”, and pointed her thumb at her boyfriend, whom I’d only just met. I knew from our mutual friends that she adores her boyfriend and thinks the world of him. I knew she was just trying to join in on the “heated family games joke”, but the words “heartless” and “prick” came out with a lot of force, and I watched his face change from the happy, social mask we wear when we’re meeting people for the first time, to a closed one that was obviously covering hurt and surprise. She turned to him with her eyes dancing, and saw that her words had landed in a way she didn’t intend, and she immediately apologized. He recovered but they walked away shortly after, and my heart went with them. I knew they were probably in for a difficult conversation at best, and a rough night at worst.

There’s always a little truth in a joke. I don’t think this woman believes her boyfriend is either heartless, or a prick, I think she’s in love with him. But I’d also guess there’s some anger swimming underneath the surface of whatever is happening between them, and it reared its head for an instant. If there’s anger there, it’s coming from some kind of pain. Either she perceives that he’s hurt her or disappointed her in some way, or he actually has. Either way, her pain has not been acknowledged and dealt with in a way that’s satisfying for her (maybe she hasn’t brought it up, doesn’t know it’s there, etc), and so it’s popping up at parties over card games. Isn’t it amazing how these tiny little things can turn into land-mines? Something as innocent as poker can bring up a well of pain neither party sees coming. And now he’s hurt, and probably angry.

Why do we hurt each other? We have pain, and things arise as they always do when two people are close, and we either deal with these things in the moment, or we don’t. When we don’t, it’s because we’re afraid. Maybe we’re afraid of confrontation, rejection, or heartache, but it’s fear of some kind. Our fear causes us to hurt each other. If only we could give one another the benefit of the doubt, if only we could breathe and consider whether someone we love is intentionally hurting us, or whether there’s a chance we’ve misunderstood, taken something to heart that wasn’t intended that way, are dealing with their pain that’s coming to the surface in a way that’s hard to understand, or are bringing some of our history into the present, we’d save ourselves and those who love us a lot of feelings of alienation, frustration, sadness and anger. And we’d save ourselves, as well.

It feels terrible when someone we care for deeply won’t forgive us, or is so ready to doubt our love. That alone feels like a betrayal. I saw it between those two people I barely know—he felt betrayed she’d said something hurtful to strangers in a social situation with zero provocation from him, and she felt betrayed that he would doubt her love over something that was supposed to be funny, but ended up coming out badly. Again, maybe there’s some unresolved pain on both sides there. I have no idea what’s happening inside their relationship. But I’ve seen that moment they had a million times. I’ve been in that moment myself, and I’ve watched it happen between other people more times than I can count, and it’s always the same moment with different words. It’s never about poker, that’s for sure.

The more we learn to acknowledge and deal with our own uncomfortable feelings as they arise, peak and subside, the more we can do that for the people we love. Not every feeling in life is like unicorns or leprechauns or stardust. Some feelings hurt us to the very core. Rage, grief, shame, guilt, fear, loneliness—none of these are easy, but they’re all normal human emotions we are going to deal with at some time or another. Denying that is futile. If you don’t learn to embrace and examine your painful feelings they are not going to magically disappear, they’ll just keep trying to get your attention, because that’s all we want when we’re struggling or suffering. We want someone to say, “I see you, I feel you, I understand why you feel the way you do, I’m so sorry you’re hurting. Hang in there, it won’t always be this way. “ We just want understanding. We want to be seen and held without anyone telling us that what we feel isn’t true. And the sad thing is, we can do this for ourselves, but so many people run from their feelings, or numb them, or deny them, and so pain rules their lives. It doesn’t have to be that way.

One of the main reasons I teach yoga is that it changed my entire life for the better. I was one of those numb-ers and deniers myself. I tried to manage my pain that way for years and I was anxious and depressed a large majority of the time. I kept trying to fix things from the outside. Maybe if I met the right person, or got thinner, or had a perfect job, then I’d be happy. None of these things ever worked. Until I sat down and faced my pain head on, it owned me, and at a certain point I decided I did not want to be owned by pain, I wanted to be owned by love. And then I found out love doesn’t own you, it liberates you. And so I teach, because I think if it worked for me, it could work for anyone. It’s not a magic bullet. Change is hard. It’s a practice, and it has eight limbs, and you have to work every one of them. But it’s doable and beautiful and eventually it’s inspiring and you want to see how much you can open, and what it means to really love and release your grip on the story. Sending love to all of you, Ally Hamilton

Don’t Date Steve

josephcampbellPart of our misery comes from our constant striving to be happy. Culturally, we seem to have this expectation that once we get all the pieces of the puzzle to fit, we’ll solve the happiness equation. Those puzzle pieces might vary from person to person, but they usually include someone to love, something to do that feels meaningful, and something to look forward to (which might include anything from a 2-week vacation to this idea we have of a utopia that will occur “when things calm down” and we can reap the rewards of our efforts).

The thing is, life is full of everything, and we are inherently vulnerable. It might be interesting, exciting, unpredictable, heartbreaking, exhilarating, and often full of joy, but no one would argue that it’s easy to be human. Expecting to reach some mecca where everyone is happy all the time is like following a mirage in the desert. I know I used to buy into this delusion that if only I could “get things right”, I’d be happy. Those things included graduating from a good school, dieting until I was “thin enough”, finding the right person, having children, and finding something to do that was going to bring me joy.

In retrospect, I can tell you that three out of five of those pursuits set me down the wrong path. I mean graduating from a good school is wonderful, but it’s not going to miraculously set you on a meaningful path without your own experimentation and soul-searching. Searching for the “right person” is funny, because all you need to do is look in the mirror. Once you get right with yourself, you’ll have a much easier time finding someone you might like to share your life with. Dieting and obsessing about the way you look is an utter waste of your time, energy and resources. The way you look is the result of a genetic lottery, and it’s the most fleeting thing about you. If you love yourself, you’ll feed yourself well, and you’ll take your body for a spin on a regular basis because sweating and getting your heart pumping and stretching and embodying your beautiful body will take care of everything. Throw out your scale, and anything in your refrigerator with more that two syllables, anything that contains aspartame and/or high fructose corn syrup, find a way to move your body that feels good to you, and you’ll be off to a good start.

For me, finding something to do that brought me joy turned out to be the essential thing. I’m not saying it’s like that for everyone, because there’s no formula to this, it’s personal. But for me, that created an environment for everything else to fall into place. When you feel like you’re getting up and contributing something that might uplift someone else, you are bound to have a great day. Giving to other people is a shortcut to your own happiness. Also, when you make it your business to try to help other people, you realize you’d better know yourself well, and deeply, so that anything blocking you from giving everything you’ve got is not unknown to you. Basically, the motivation to heal yourself increases greatly when you recognize that you can never nurture other people to the best of your ability until you nurture yourself. If you have tendencies that cause you to doubt your worth, seek approval, or place more importance on other people’s opinions and desires than your own, you start to understand all that mess is going to get in your way and prevent you from offering up what’s in your heart, so you get busy cleaning it up. At a certain point, your history is just that. There’s no need to drag ancient pain into your present possibilities.

Before I realized I wanted to spend my days teaching and writing, I was pretty lost. I was also depressed and anxious a lot of the time, and convinced most of my feelings about myself and life in general had to do with other people. When I had relationships, they became the center of my world, and when you don’t have any other passion in your life, and your sole focus is on what this other person needs, wants, feels, thinks, or doesn’t think, when you have nothing to fill your time except obsession over whether things are heading in the direction you want them to, or not so much, it’s a drain on both parties. You aren’t showing up as your best, most inspired and fulfilled self.

Lastly, on my list of things I thought would bring me joy, it turns out having children brought and brings me more joy, fulfillment, meaning, purpose, gratitude, excitement and motivation than I ever could have imagined. Again, there’s no formula to this, I’m just sharing my own experience. Loving people is the best stuff in life, whether those people are your best friends, your family, your partner, or a total stranger on the street. Shared connection, the feeling that we are all in this together, all part of this mystery, all experiencing the same sense of wonder, confusion, fear, anxiety, loss, joy, excitement, empathy, laughter and hugs—I just don’t know of anything better.

If I could go back and talk to my twenty year old self, I’d say, “Get off your a$$ and stop blaming other people for your unhappiness. Stop devoting all your time and energy to romantic relationships and people who don’t know how to do anything but hurt you. Figure out why you’re attracted to those people, and heal that. Find something to do where you can give something essential of yourself. Direct your attention to using whatever you’ve got to try to uplift the people around you. Trust that things will happen in their own time, and that trying to force or rush life won’t get you anywhere. If you want to be happy, that’s an inside job, and it’s a feeling that can overtake any day, if you focus on all the abundance instead of all the lack. And don’t date Steve.”

Anyway, maybe some of that will help you. Sending you love, and wishing you peace! Ally Hamilton

Don’t Die on the Inside

A-coward-is-incapable-ofIf you want people to know you, you have to be willing to show yourself. You can’t lie, deflect, manipulate or play games, and also expect to feel close to anyone. But for so many people, fear seems to get in the way. Most of us long for connection, for shared experiences, for genuine intimacy, but then we sabotage any hope for those things by hiding our true selves, our real needs and desires. People do it in relationships all the time. They fall in love with someone, or they get hooked on an unhealthy dynamic and think it’s love. And they accept far less than what they truly want, and pretend to themselves and to their partners that it’s okay. That less is enough. That all is well.

A lot of people struggle with self-doubt. I’d say that’s a normal part of being human, and if you never doubt yourself, you’re probably in some trouble. Uninterrupted confidence that you’ve got everything figured out is not a great sign. But if doubt is an overriding issue, if you aren’t sure you’re lovable, if you fear you might not be worthy of respect or consideration, or you ask yourself questions like, “Who am I to do anything extraordinary?”, then you’re going to have a very hard time being close to people. Because in order to be close, you also have to be brave enough to expose the parts of yourself that aren’t pretty. If you fear you aren’t good enough, that you don’t measure up in some important ways, you’re going to be motivated to hide those deficiencies, not highlight them. Fear doesn’t make you brave. Of course, what you really need to do is puncture a hole in the idea that you’re less than. Because that is not real. Sometimes we learn things because they’re taught to us, and sometimes we learn things because those around us don’t have the tools to love us well. We internalize the lack as our own. Those are all lies you’ll need to unlearn if you want to free yourself from ideas that imprison you. How can anyone get in if you’ve blocked them with walls?

We all have our stuff. Our histories, our pain, our tendencies, and the way that we deal with them. If you’re constantly trying to put up a good front, or be the way you think people want you to be, then you’re going to feel alone, and rightly so. Before you can feel comfortable sharing who you really are, you have to feel comfortable with yourself. People avoid that work for years sometimes, and some people avoid it for their whole lives. You can’t solve it from the outside. No relationship will fix it if you think you might be broken. No job will ease your fears, no amount of money, no house or car or dress size. If your main house is not in order, you will take that mess with you wherever you go.

I know people who spend an inordinate amount of time promoting themselves, but underneath it, right underneath the surface, you can feel the need. “Love me, see me, tell me I’m here and I’m wonderful.” If you need that affirmation every second of every day, you are in pain. And no amount of external reassurance will solve that, because that’s what you call an inside job. No one can crash your internal hard drive but you, and that’s what you’ll need to do if you want to rewire your system. Of course that sounds scary. Most people try to keep the system running, even if they have to shore it up with denial, or numb out or keep themselves so distracted they don’t realize the system is failing. Better off to let it fail, and start doing things a different way. Some of the best stuff in life includes connection. Feeling comfortable in your own skin. Being able to love and live with your heart wide open. There are so many tools available if you need to create a new way of being, and start living your life in a way that feels good. Doing this work won’t kill you, but avoiding it makes you die on the inside, and life is too short for that. Sending you love and a hug, Ally Hamilton

Choose the Lesson

shannonlalderRecently, a close friend of mine was left suddenly and without explanation by her husband of less than a year. They were having the normal struggles of any newly married couple, exacerbated by the fact that neither of them had lived with romantic partners before. Just the normal communication issues, and the push-pull we all go through when we’re shifting our perspective from “I” to “we”. They’d talked about going to counseling, and about making some other changes, too. He’d expressed a desire to move to another part of the country, and she’d been open to that. Throughout the relationship, right up until the day he took off, their text messages were loving, flirtatious and affectionate, their time together was mostly fun, and she had no reason to imagine he’d bail. One morning he got up, kissed her goodbye as they left the house to go to their respective jobs, and that was the last time she saw him.

When he didn’t show up for dinner, she texted, and he said he was out with friends and that he’d probably crash with one of his buddies. She asked him where he was, but he just said he was out having fun, and he’d see her in the morning. And then he didn’t show up in the morning, and she called and got his voicemail. When she texted, he said he’d be home later in the day, and that he was running errands. It turned out he’d gotten on a plane and flown across the country. She found out from his friend’s wife, when she called to see if he knew what was going on.

She flew across the country to see him and sit down face-to-face, but he refused, and his family told her to go away. He wouldn’t even respond to her texts, his mother texted to let her know he did not want to see her. She’d spent three years with him, she’d spent plenty of time with his parents and siblings, and not one of them would meet her for a tea, or even get on the phone. Her family and all her close friends, myself included, told her to come home. When there’s no communication, there’s also no hope. And when his family also shunned her, we all understood this was their modus operandi.

Two weeks later, he served her with divorce papers, citing irreconcilable differences. Then he proceeded to make demands about all the wedding gifts and furniture he wanted. She told me when she saw the list he sent with the movers, the nine-page list of things he wanted them to collect, it finally sank in. He cared about kitchen knives, but not her heart. He wanted the garbage can, but he didn’t want to know if she was okay, or how she was coping. He just didn’t care.

And so she was left in the dark, trying to figure out what had happened. Was the whole thing a sham? Had he ever loved her? Was the huge wedding he’d wanted just for show? Had he meant anything he’d said on their wedding day, or any day? She told me she felt like she was in the “Twilight Zone”, and that at any moment, Rod Serling would step out from behind a closet door, or from around a corner, and tell her she’d entered another dimension.

Life is like this sometimes. We’re going along, and BAM! A bomb goes off in the middle of our lives, and everything we thought we knew is just blown to pieces. Sometimes it happens because we’re abandoned, like my friend, and sometimes we lose people because they’re ripped from us too soon. Sometimes circumstances create the boom. Maybe we’re fired, or our house burns down, or we’re facing some other huge turn of events we could never have seen coming.

We’d never wish that on ourselves or anyone else, but it happens. And once you feel all the feelings around the experience—the shock, the grief, the confusion, the rage—you have a chance to begin again. Some things are so brutal, you have to accept you’re never going to be the same. Some things will never make sense, some things will never be explained, some things will rip your heart out of your chest and eat it with a fine chianti. So be it.

The question is, what are you going to grow out of those ashes? People and circumstances can hurt you, but they can’t defeat you unless you let them. You can’t rush through your feelings when you’re in turmoil; in fact, I’d say that’s the moment to use every bit of the support system you have in place, or to get busy creating one. That’s when you figure out who in your life is really going to be there for you. And that’s really good information to have, because then you know where to invest your time and energy, and with whom.

All you can ever do, is start where you are. We learn and grow from every experience, but we have to choose the lesson. My friend doesn’t want anyone to speak badly of her ex, and she isn’t fighting him for stuff or money. As she said to me, “The more he takes, the less he has.” How’s that for choosing the lesson?

There are confounding things that people do to each other sometimes. I get emails from people going through divorce with children, and one partner is using the kids as pawns against the other. Who do you think pays in that scenario? But again, those kids will grow up one day, and they’ll choose the lesson. There’s a lot of power in that, so if you’re in a situation that’s making you feel weak, try looking at it from that perspective. No one can take that away from you. Pick the lessons that strengthen you and open you. We have enough hard, closed people in the world. And when things happen that you don’t understand, do your very best to have compassion and recognize there’s probably more going on than you know. We can only know another person’s interior world to the extent that they allow us access. Many, many people have pain and they don’t know how to work with it so they lash out or they take off. Some people suffer from personality disorders that render them incapable of empathy. Some people have been taught that their feelings are the only ones that matter. Imagine how life must be for them. The more they take, the less they have. Sending you love, and wishing you peace and strength,

Ally Hamilton