After a traumatic event in 2020, I started searching for anything to help me heal. And, then I found the quotes and story of Viktor Frankl.
By the end of 2020, I was manically depressed, broken, unemployed and dependent on alcohol. After a series of painful events within a short timeframe, I found myself at a standstill in life, uncertain of my path and frightened.
In September 2020, I had lost the job I loved. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in stay-at-home orders, a nationwide quarantine, and eventually millions of job losses — including mine as a substance abuse counselor. I was officially unemployed. Although I loved my job serving women recovering from substance use, I welcomed the break. At least, until my naturally optimistic mindset started to deteriorate and the first twinges of depression loomed about. My reason for getting up in the morning had now been revoked and it left me feeling foggy about my future.
In that same month, my still blossoming relationship suffered quite a few rough bumps. With more free time, I recognized my boyfriend was a workaholic and a functioning alcoholic. I would later discover he was also a talented storyteller and a master manipulator. He unveiled a myriad of bad habits and poor choices into a relationship I was considering ending — and one he was desperate to save. He promised to change and I promised to stay.
A struggling alcoholic paired with a recovered addict? What was the worst that could happen?
Needless to say, I started to crumble under the stress and worry that comes with the struggles of addictions in relationships. Because unlike my position as a counselor, he was my partner and not my client. There were no firm boundaries and there weren’t many things I could do to help, by staying in the relationship. Newly unemployed, my happiness and purpose were inadvertently placed upon my partner, creating a codependent relationship. Hopelessness was imminent.
In November 2020 I discovered I was pregnant with his child. Pregnancy was new to me. Neither of us had children and neither of us had any pregnancy scares or mishaps before. We went back and forth in our discussions, to keep or not to keep. But, fate ultimately chose for us.
In December 2020, three days before Christmas, I miscarried at 10 weeks. A mixture of emotions from guilt to shame washed over me. My perception of the situation and my high stress levels had been emotionally weighing on me the entire time.
For weeks, I’d been doubting my ability to financially provide for the baby and my rocky relationship with my boyfriend increased the chances — and my extreme anxiety — of the baby being raised in a broken home, like myself. My boyfriend and I argued and debated on whether to keep the child and move in together. It was the stress that caused it. It was the relationship that caused it. I caused it. The uncertainty I felt about the pregnancy and miscarriage, the pain of the gruesome incident, and the sorrow that comes with loss were too much to bear.
A few days after the miscarriage, I discovered my partner had been actively pursuing other women online. Despite his excuse, which was that he “had not yet met up with any of them,” it was more than enough to constitute infidelity in my world.
When both the baby and my partner were gone, like a house of cards atop a wobbling table, I internally toppled and collapsed. It was as if I had lost two family members at once and the grief was insurmountable. Then, began the episodes of severe depression tinged with emotional outbursts, outbursts that were increasing on a daily basis.
Many questions circulated and recycled alongside toxic thoughts and self-hatred.
If only I’d been stronger.
If only I’d been working.
If only I’d been smarter about my dating choices.
I’m stupid, unemployed, irresponsible, selfish, worthless, undeserving.
All of this is my fault.
Then came the questions everyone struggles with: Why did this happen to me? Why am I in so much pain? Will I ever feel happy again? How can I get it back? What can I do?
Every day, I woke up with a sickening pang in my stomach and an icy shard in my heart. My eyes would snap open and I would squeeze them close, forcing myself back to sleep where dreams were much more comforting than reality.
It was January 2021 and I was starting the new year unemployed, heartbroken and single, and battling the physical and emotional effects of a graphically bloody and grisly miscarriage. It was the loneliest feeling in the world. And, most of America was still shut down. There was nowhere to run — nobody to talk to.
Foregoing my common sense and wanting to fill the void in my heart, I agreed to take my partner back if he agreed to enter couple’s counseling. Once he was back, we took our time searching for a counselor, while drinking vicariously. I’d never been much of a drinker but within days, I graduated from a glass of wine to a few bottles, topped with mixed drinks at the local bars, and sometimes even a few to take home. In California, we are legally allowed to take drinks to-go now, a privilege I took special liberties with.
Wallowing in pain and self-pity at the dingy depths of rock bottom, I forced myself to start researching online articles and various self-help books on relationships, miscarriages, and clinical depression. I was desperate for anything that would help me heal.
And then, one evening, I discovered Viktor Frankl. Surprisingly, I found his quotes — particularly his life story — inspired me more than any self-help book had ever done before. So much so, it persuaded me into purchasing his book, A Man’s Search for Meaning, where I would discover the following quote.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” — Viktor Frankl
Viktor Frankl was a psychologist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor. Around 1940, Viktor Frankl was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, a camp that brutally tortured Jewish people. Despite the brutality at the concentration camp, he came to the epiphany that he could not change his circumstance but he could choose how he perceived and dealt with it. Interestingly, this enlightenment and newfound inner strength not only helped him survive but even attracted the attention and respect of some of the guards who had been having trouble with their wives.
A prisoner of war survived a torture camp merely by changing his perspective on his life. It was not by chasing bliss or by remaining bitter. It was by not allowing a tragedy to break his spirit and keep him down. Frankl had taken advantage of his pain and shined a positive attitude over it. Frankl had absolutely no choice but to survive and overcome the pain.
Otherwise, how would he ever live to tell his story? How would he further his family name and lineage? Frankl had to endure what he did, in order to undergo a metamorphosis of his perception and come out shining.
Of course, I am in no way comparing my own pain or tragedy to his. It was merely his positive perspective on what was a cruel and harrowing tragedy that garnered my attention and infused me with hope and perspective. Something I had not acquired in a long time.
And, so, I was challenged to change my life and myself, by changing my habits.
First, and foremost, I entered therapy again for the first time in eight years. It was strange the way it happened. While looking for a couple’s counselor for me and my boyfriend, I found a non-profit organization that offered affordable couple’s counseling and randomly selected Lisa. We both absolutely loved her but the more she educated us on dysfunctional dynamics, the more I accepted we were in an extremely dysfunctional, toxic relationship.
Once she explained The Drama Triangle and Trauma Bonding, I realized the reason I was so glued to a partner that consistently hurt and disrespected me was not because I was head over heels in love. It was because I’d bonded to him through the shared trauma of the miscarriage. I’d never truly grieved the loss because I was so focused on him, his needs, and saving the relationship. And I’d merely been using him and alcohol as numbing agents.
In order to truly heal, I stopped drinking and left my relationship. It was taking up all of my time and energy and morphing me into an unhappy, bitter, shell of myself. I realized I needed to stop settling for people who consistently violated my boundaries and disrespected me. I needed to stop dating people for who they could be, rather than who they are.
Weeks after leaving, I was able to suture the open, festering wounds created by the relationship and the miscarriage. I was able to feel what happened and properly grieve my loss.
From there, it was a domino effect of positive behavior changes and outcomes.
Feeling better and somewhat more confident about myself, I started to focus on my physical health. I completely stopped my drinking and I joined a local full-body boot camp. Having damaged knees, carpal tunnel, and issues with fibromyalgia for years, this was the last thing I wanted to do. In fact, I told the trainer I probably would not last more than a month.
Two months later, I have lost eight pounds, toned my arms, and can easily do pushups off of my knees without whining. Remarkably, strengthening my body actually alleviated most of my pain. Gone are the days of yelling, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”
The endorphins from exercising combatted the depression felt as a consequence of the breakup and months of heavy drinking. Not only was I gaining confidence and strength in my body, but I was also feeling very happy for the first time in six months.
Helping Others and Employment Planning
Then, came my employment status. I was financially comfortable on unemployment but I was miserable. It dawned on me that I was at my happiest when I worked in a field that specifically helped underprivileged people.
And, in the words of Viktor Frankl:
“For success like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself.”
I refreshed my resume and cover letters and started looking again. This was a difficult and mostly disappointing process as employers were offering much less than my last job but I continued applying and interviewing and even turning down a few low-paying job offers.
After three months of searching, I obtained a job as a case manager for the homeless community. I make much more than I did at my last job. For two months, I have worked with a group of wonderful, caring people.
At the same time as my job search, I applied and interviewed to be a volunteer for The Boys and Girls Club of America. Two weeks ago, I had been accepted as a mentor, otherwise known as a big sister, and I am currently awaiting to be matched to a mentee.
Reflecting on What Happened
One of the last positive outcomes had been my altered perspective on the miscarriage. It was by far the toughest incident I’d endured in the last few years but it was easy to heal once I acknowledged and accepted that it happened and I could not go back in time to prevent it. Additionally, my life was — and still is — a chaotic mess. No career, no housing of my own, a barely functioning car, and an unstable, erratic relationship may not have been the best environment for a child. I needed to focus on creating a stronger, more stable environment for future children and stop focusing on what could have been.
I endured pain and heavy desolation of what happened and survived it. Now it was time to heal, move on, and shine a positive light upon the darkness I once felt. Just as Frankl had.
“What is to give light must endure burning” — Viktor Frankl
Tragedy can easily break down and mutilate the spirit. It can poison us and turn us into depressed, purposeless entities, if we allow it.
And, I was no longer going to allow tragedy any power. We need to view our misfortunes in a constructive way in order for our spirit to survive and overcome.
Overall, because of Viktor Frankl’s life story, I made the decision to pull away from the darkness found in the toxic loop of grief and trauma and alter my perspective as he had. He inspired me to heal and push through the emotional turmoil. To focus inward, and start improving my mental state through therapy, a myriad of self-help books, exercise, and writing. He introduced me to a better, healthier world, one I would not have entered if I had not fallen so far off of my own plane of existence.
We don’t have the ability to choose our circumstances, however unfortunate. But, we maintain an ability to choose our attitudes and perceptions towards it. We maintain an ability to change what we can.
We can transform our tragedy into a positive revelation, a source of inspiration, and choose to start healing, whenever we are ready.
We can become our own light in the darkness.