People often believe there is something wrong with them when they can’t entirely “get over” an extremely painful situation or loss. While I steadfastly believe that we have the capacity to emerge from these experiences stronger and healthier, the concept that we can somehow “undo” what has happened or arrive at a point in time when the pain permanently dissipates is often a fallacy. We may be able to vastly improve upon how we carry the burden, and reach a place where it no longer negatively dominates our lives, but an integral part of healing is accepting that we are in some way forever altered by what has happened to us.
An analogy that I frequently use in counseling is that of carrying a backpack. The backpack represents our painful experience. At first, the backpack is so heavy that we can’t even stand up while carrying it on our shoulders. However, as we effectively work through our difficulties, we develop the strength and skills that allow us to rise and stand tall. As more time and effort passes we learn that we can not only walk with the backpack but ultimately manage to sprint up a steep hill. There may even be times when we forget that we’re wearing it. But no matter how much we wish we could remove it, it remains on our back, a part of our truth and who we have become.
There simply is no restitution for every loss. What we need to remember is that these experiences create the fabric of who we are, and sometimes the best parts of ourselves emerge from their impact. Many people possess an astonishing level of empathy, wisdom, and thoughtfulness because of what they experienced. Qualities that perhaps they would not possess had they not experienced that adversity.
When managed productively, adversity becomes the catalyst for immense growth and resiliency. We aren’t destined to remain damaged by what we have experienced, but we do need to accept that it happened regardless of our desire for the contrary. In one way or another, we are all carrying our own backpack, and with hard work and perseverance I wholeheartedly believe that we can develop the ability to run marathons in spite of its weight.