During my years post loss, I discovered that there are three phases to healthy recovery after a loss. First, we exit our old life. Our loss forces us to leave behind the life we’ve been living. The normal routines of everyday life are disrupted. Some people believe that where we end up after that push-out of the old life is the next phase of life. But unfortunately, that’s not true. In this confused and lonely state, we only end up in the space between two lives.
Second, we begin living in a gap between lives—the life we’ve left behind and the life we have yet to enter. I like to call this space the Waiting Room. When we’re in the Waiting Room, we’re still attached to the past—which is already gone forever—even as we’re trying to figure out what the future looks like. In this place, we struggle with our new reality, thinking that it is our new life. We are unable to see ourselves clearly and make decisions as we used to.
The brain’s ability to plan and reason is temporarily gone.
Third, we begin to experiment with our new life. This is perhaps the scariest aspect of life after loss, because so much is unknown and has to be taken on faith. Little by little, we begin stepping out of the Waiting Room and entering a new reality. We start to do this early on, even though we haven’t fully landed in the new life yet.
While these three phases address life after loss, the important thing to look at for recovery is what happens to the mind. The trauma of any event that slams the door shut on an aspect of the past—a divorce or a death—leaves its mark on the brain. We are left with uncertainty. We don’t yet know what life will be like. We are afraid to take action and start over. Ultimately, it is not the grief that stops us from starting life over, but fear of losing it all again.
If you’re having a conversation with your grief even before you brush your teeth in the morning, it’s a sure sign that you’re still prioritizing grief over life. You’re welcoming the new day with grief in mind. When grief is the first experience of your day, fear will join in. Grief is capable of providing enough reasons to persuade you that what you fear is real. It’s important to take certain steps to prepare your brain for life instead of grief so you can find your way out of the Waiting Room and into the new life you so want and deserve.
7 Steps to Starting Your Life Over
Step 1. Get your brain ready to build a new life
Imagine that it was possible to build a brand new life from the inside out. The secret I want to share with you is that your brain is so adaptive and so powerful that your own thoughts during a painful period can lead you to experience a remarkable, bright future. Even though you are confused and scared, there is a way out of this temporary cloud and onto a powerful bridge. But you must say new words, have new thoughts, make new friends and add new experiences if you want to discover your new identity. Staying in the past and just going over the events of your loss will not help you rebuild your new life and discover your new identity. This won’t be easy but it will be worth it.
Step 2: Risk is vital in second chapters
In order to start over, you have to be willing to risk experiencing loss again. I wish I could take this risk away, but it is part of living life, a part of starting over. If you want to create a new life, you have to risk experiencing some tears, some fears, and some mistakes. Above all, you have to be adventurous despite your grief, if you want to find out who you truly are and what you are made of. Risk is the key to laughter and passion.
Step 3: You must learn how to crawl before you can learn how to fly
You can do the impossible because you have been through the unimaginable. But before you try to take on the world you have to learn how to crawl again. After you crawl you have to learn how to walk until you can run again. And above all before you can fly again. Every day take a very small step towards your new life, the smaller the better. Before you know it, the steps will get bigger and you will find yourself in a brand new life. The life of your dreams.
Step 4: Grieving and living go hand in hand
It is human to survive by adapting and evolving. Grieving is a natural part of how we evolve as individuals to respond to the challenges we face. It’s amazing, the way we can be catapulted toward life even in the midst of loss. You see, loss creates an unbelievable amount of space for life to enter in. What you feel as emptiness is life’s new home, and what you feel as loneliness is the urge to hold life’s hand again. Don’t wait for time to heal you. Time does not heal all wounds, only action can do that so make sure that you cry and laugh all in one day.
Step 5: Look for Mr. Right Now versus Mr. Right
There is one more thing you need to know. The right person for you right now is someone who may like you more than you like him or her. This individual really has to think the world of you, because every time he or she looks at you, it is like holding a mirror up for you to gaze into. What your date sees, you see. It’s important at the beginning of your journey that you build your confidence by getting your feet wet, not by trying to find a partner for the rest of your life. Yes, you read that right. The purpose of dating after a divorce, death, or breakup is not to find someone to fall in love with immediately. The purpose is to feel loved, liked, and simply adored.
Step 6: Break the habit of grief
You have the power to change your life in a spectacular way simply by changing your thought patterns… The best way to control your thoughts is to control your words. Words create a pattern of belief within the brain that each of us goes over, again and again, every single day. For instance, how often do you use words such as angry, overwhelmed, sad, unlucky, or failure to describe yourself? And when you do, how does it make you feel? Grief creates habits and beliefs in our minds that don’t serve us. Grief’s habits are egocentric and aimed at continuing the behavior we use to alleviate the pain of our loss. Pain often leads us to develop unhealthy attachments to things like food, alcohol, or watching TV. These quick fixes numb the mind and distract us, but they don’t lead to authentic happiness and success in life.
Step 7: Its all on you!
The truth about starting over is that it doesn’t just happen on its own. Your next chapter in life, your second firsts, won’t just show up at your door with a big smile. The truth is: It’s all on you. Happiness lives inside of us. It is not dictated by circumstances. I want you to hold this truth in your heart: when it’s your time to go, you won’t wish you had spent more time grieving; you’ll wish you had spent more time living. The further away we move from being the person we were when a loss occurred, the less pain we experience. This type of shift of identity can only happen when the brain is experiencing new habits and routines.
In my book Second Firsts, I take the readers on a journey out of the old life and into a new one. Teaching everyone how to use their brain to create the life they so deserve. We have all the tools we need right within us. And no I am not talking just talking about our heart and soul, but about our brain maps, our thoughts and the words we use to create our world every single day.