What Makes You Stronger Will Kill You

Well, hello! It’s been waaaay too long. How are you? How are the kids?  We’re ok over here. A quick summary of the last 3.75 years:

  • We have a whole other person in our family (Leo! A boy! Who knew we could make those?!)
  • We own a minivan 😱😱
  • I now feel naked if I don’t use the Oxford comma (WHO EVEN AM I?!?)
  • Oh and I am a different person. Dramatically. Profoundly. Changed. 

I believe this is true of everyone, by the way. I heard a quote a couple years ago. I don’t remember who said it or the exact wording, but the concept stuck.

Every time you reconnect with someone after a time away, remember: They are a different person. This is true whether it’s been an hour, a day, a year, or a decade. Every single experience changes and reshapes our brain, our bodies, us.

One sunshiny morning not long ago, I found myself staring into the mirror, unrecognizable. Disillusioned, cynical, broken, and depressed. I was totally disoriented. 

Over the past couple of years, I realized that alongside my other weird personality traits, I am an Enneagram type 7.* This means that I protect myself with optimism. I am so terrified of being stuck in the negative, that I refuse to let myself actually experience the feelings of pain.

Several years ago, I finally conceded that pain is an unavoidable part of life. I vowed to confront and alleviate pain. Yay me! Growth! But, stepping into pain does not mean acknowledging that it hurts. Confronting pain is not the same as healing from it. 

Instead of mourning and processing pain, I defensively give it a positive spin. Our microwave died? Extra cabinet space! Can’t make it to the birthing bed before the baby’s head pops out? What a great quad workout! When pain and heartache comes hurtling at me in a shower of spears, I automatically rip out that spear lodged in my shoulder, karate chop it into firewood, and turn it into a warm little campfire in the woods. Voila! Instant protection from the dark and cold. 

Bringing positive out of pain is one of my gifts. But doing so without addressing the wound leaves me vulnerable to infection.

Over the last decade, the spears flew furiously and unrelentingly. Many were direct personal wounds. Many more were from willingly stepping into the pain of others. In typical Kristin form, I just kept ripping ’em out, chopping that pain, and dumping the firewood onto my campfire. 

THIS IS STRENGTH! IGNORE THE WOUNDS! THEY’LL HEAL ON THEIR OWN! JUST KEEP GOING! THE WORLD NEEDS ME! I AM LESLIE KNOPE! WHAT I HEAR WHEN I’M BEING YELLED AT IS PEOPLE CARING REALLY LOUDLY AT ME!

One can only trudge along wounded for so long before collapsing. Eventually, my cozy flame became a destructive forest fire that blazed until it burned itself out. When the flames died down, I sat singed in the smoking darkness. I had no idea what to do with this new reality. I found myself profoundly changed and had no idea who I was.

So I prayed. Cried. Served the kids a lot of frozen pizza and mac and cheese. Yelled unnecessarily at Nick. Showered once a week. Stared blankly at snowflakes, water dripping from the faucet, and sunsets. Hid under my covers and railed into Voxer. Escaped to the magical lands of Leslie Knope, Michael Scott, and Moira Rose. And did a lot of screaming “WHY?!?!” while shaking my fists at the clouds. 

And then, finally, I mourned. And processed. And went to counseling. And admitted that I was hurt and things were different. And I hated it.

Then one morning, as Leo body slammed me awake, I realized that the world had a hopeful shimmer that wasn’t there the day before. A tiny little green sprig of life. 

I can now make out the pattern of my new landscape–unique and colorful, sprinkled with scars. Most of all, everything looks and feels so much stronger. 

I used to believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I tried to strengthen by shielding myself from death. But you know what? Hard stuff is hard because it attacks and destroys something I love – an idea, a worldview, an expectation, a relationship, a physical part of me or my world, my hope

Hard stuff is hard because something always dies

I am a different person. The old me is gone, even if I don’t own it. My world is different, even if I don’t acknowledge it. Hard stuff kills. Period.

I can’t build overtop open wounds. Accepting and dealing with the fallout is the foundation of strength. Assess what was destroyed, determine what needs fortifying, and heal what was broken. This world needs healers who willingly enter into the pain of others. I’ve needed them. I want to be one. It’s how we help each other to grow stronger and strengthen ourselves in the process. I learned the hard way that I can’t get stronger by simply stepping into pain. Pain, even others’ pain, destroys a part of me. By neglecting my own healing, I fueled a destructive fire. 

It’s hard to let myself feel and examine and mourn. Really hard. I’d rather just keep ignoring death, clinging to who I had been before. But the person I am today is stronger. More compassionate. With a greater capacity to stand in the pain of others and walk with them into healing.

I had to die first to get there. And the stuff that killed me made me stronger. 

* For those of you who haven’t been sucked into the mind-blowing Enneagram world, you need to check out this book and podcast. 

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