“When you feel yourself breaking down, may you break open instead”
– Elizbaeth Lesser
I was 28 when my life took a turn so bad I couldn’t believe I had let it come that far. It was Sunday, early March 2017, and I was just on my way to the office when it hit me that this time would be different. This time I wouldn’t be able to fix this on my own. The mere thought of telling someone sent shivers down my spine. “How am I supposed to explain all this to anyone?”, I thought. “After all, I don’t even understand it”.
Buried in what seemed like insurmountable debt at the time I was devastated. Things had been bleak before, but so far, I had always found some way to keep going. Not this time, though. Years of trying to turn losses into wins had finally caught up with me, leaving behind a trail of dishonesty and exhaustion, not to mention financial hardship. Of course, deep down, I knew this day would come.
Three months earlier, I had already met with an addiction therapist. During my visit, I casually explained that “I just need some tips and tricks on how to gamble less”. Nothing more, nothing less. Just a little fixing and I’ll be on my way. Looking back, I give my counsellor a lot of credit for not just bursting into laughter. After all, I was making therapy sound like ordering an item from a drive-through menu. My therapist did smile, but, with an expression of compassion and concern, simply replied: “Above all, this is about feelings, and you getting in touch with yours”.
I nodded as if to indicate that I knew what he meant. But I didn’t. I was secretly hoping that he would care to explain, but instead, he just looked at me. No words, just awkward silence.
After what felt like an eternity, he went on to say that, if I was serious about this, I would have to choose a trusted person – someone that could attend these sessions with me every once in a while and make sure I was not gambling while being in therapy. I listened and nodded politely, but on the inside, I was fuming. “What kind of stupid idea is this?”, I thought. “I don’t even want to be here. Now you are asking me to tell someone and bring that person with me? HELL NO!”.
Since I didn’t want to get into an argument 15 minutes into my first session, I decided to go for a more diplomatic response. “I rather do this on my own”, I just said with a friendly smile. To which my therapist gently but firmly replied: “I’m sorry, this isn’t optional”. I went silent for a second. Sensing that it would be pointless to argue over this, I just said: “I see. I’ll think about it”.
Three months and several more gambling losses later, I finally realised that “doing it on my own” was indeed not an option. So, I did what I was dreading with every fibre of my being – tell someone and ask for help.
That said Sunday, in March 2017, I called my dad. He came over immediately and, with tears running down my face, I broke down right in front of him. I started opening up to him about everything and, although he later confessed to me that he was quite shocked by it all, he didn’t let his emotions get the best of him. Instead, he held space for me with such grace and compassion that my despair slowly gave way to hope and clarity. I went on to begin therapy shortly after, a process which would last for roughly two years and change both me and the trajectory of my life forever.
“How Can There Be So Much Peace Amidst So Many Broken Pieces”?
A few weeks after starting therapy, I decided to quit my job. It was a decision that felt right but also scary. On the one hand, I knew deep down that I got stuck in the wrong job and that it was causing my soul to ache badly. But on the other hand, I was facing a mountain of debt. Nevertheless, I went ahead with it.
One day I was sitting in the car with my dad. He asked me how I was doing, concerned that the new circumstances were perhaps too much to handle. “You know, it’s strange”, I said. “For so long, it was the idea of my life falling apart that had me resist and not face reality. But now that everything has crumbled I just feel peace. It is as if surrendering liberated me from my fears and allowed space for peace and trust to enter. So many good things are happening right now, I can feel it. I’ve never felt more peaceful in my life. Isn’t that strange?”
How can there be so much peace amidst so many broken pieces? I kept asking this question. Looking back, I now realise that the only thing that truly fell apart back then was a false mental image I had of myself. An image created to meet external expectations but at the expense of becoming oblivious to my own inner truth and needs. Once I stopped feeding this image and shifted my focus inwards, I was able to tap into something more real, more true, and more authentic. Doing so felt freeing.
In fact, it was a familiar feeling that I knew from 10 years earlier. Back then, I was going through my coming out process which allowed me to see very clearly that it is never our circumstances, but the mental concepts we hold of ourselves that keep us imprisoned. Freedom is indeed an inside job. This time, though, I felt this truth more than I understood it intellectually. As a result, I felt reassured that, despite my circumstances, everything was going to be okay. No, that everything is okay, and always will be. With it came peace. I also realised then that nothing would ever have the power to define me unless I let it. While the choices and experiences I make on my journey may always be part of my history, it would always be up to me to make meaning of them.
For the first time in a very long time, I felt hope and a deep sense of gratitude. It seemed as if years of painful struggle, culminating in me breaking down in front of my dad, were beginning to break me wide open. Open to new perspectives, experiences, and aspirations.
Being & Doing
Today, I look back on this time with deep reverence, marvelling at the ways it changed me and the course of my life. Pressing the pause button and devoting quality time to myself was probably the best decision I could have made. It allowed me to (re-)connect with myself and gain clarity on my values and dreams, and ultimately my purpose. It was then that I fell in love with meditation and decided to do a meditation-teacher-training. It was also then that I rediscovered my interest in human psychology, prompting me to become a certified Life- and Business coach, so I could support people in connecting with their purpose and growing into their unique gifts.
As I learned to tune inward, I also connected more with the people around me and deepen my relationships with them. My “crash” and recovery brought my family together in ways I didn’t imagine possible, leading to many heartfelt conversations and a greater appreciation for each other’s journeys. I also reconnected with old friends during this time and sharing my experience with them marked the beginning of a much deeper friendship.
If you are reading this, I hope that you can take some inspiration from my journey. The experiences of my life have taught me that inside each and every one of us resides a treasure box full of gems that long to be explored and extracted. Rooted firmly deep within us, nothing can ever taint or corrupt these beautiful gems. But they can give our doing a whole new quality. When we tap into this inner treasure of our being, our doing becomes truly transformative – both for us and the people around us. Balancing these two dimensions is the work of a lifetime if you ask me. Along the way, we’re bound to stumble and fall. When this happens, it is okay that we allow ourselves to break down. But we must also remember to let the experience break us open. Wide-open – so once we are back on our feet, we can see more clearly, feel more deeply, and live more fully.