I just returned to London after an eye-opening, sun-filled trip through Eastern Europe.
You know, if I had a fairy godmother, when I was a kid, while living under the roof of two raging, abusive alcoholics, and she told me that someday I’d be traveling the world and meeting people of all different races, cultures and religions, I would’ve laughed in her face.
With so much chaos and dysfunction around me growing up, I had to reserve all of my focus and energy for survival. Dreaming about a beautiful someday just wasn’t an option.
But here I am visiting places that only a few short years ago I wouldn’t have been able to locate on a map. This just goes to show you that your past, no matter how jacked up it may have been, doesn’t have to dictate the future.
With the right tools, support and education you can break out of the cycle of dysfunction and live life on your own terms.
Not only have I seen this work in my own life but I also witnessed it while on this trip.
You see, while I was in Sarajevo, I met a Bosnian general who fought during The Siege Of Sarajevo.
In case you don’t remember, from 1992 through 1995, the city of Sarajevo was under siege by the Serbs. Basically, the Serbs wanted to take Sarajevo away from the Bosnians. But the Bosnians stood their ground and after four years the Serbs were forced to retreat.
As a result of the war, the general’s body is full of shrapnel. He has metal pins holding his right femur together because a sniper shot him in the leg. He lost close friends, lived without gas, electricity, food and running water and like thousands of other Bosnians, he lived in constant terror and fear.
But I’ll tell you right now that this general knew a whole hell of lot about surviving some of the worst conditions imaginable. Today he’s often in physical pain, thanks to the shrapnel and the pins in his leg, but mentally he is stronger for it.
His life is the perfect example of how we can all thrive and rise above what beats us down.
If you’re wondering how he did it and how you can too, today’s post is for you.
I’m sharing six lessons I learned from this battle tested general about surviving and rising above whatever you’ve been through.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an ACOA, a drug addict in recovery, an abuse survivor/victim or coping with the pain of mental illness, we’re all dealing with something. But as this brave Bosnian general taught me, we can get through it.
Once you’ve had a chance to read through, I’d love to know…
Which of the six lessons do you plan to take on and experiment with in your own life? Any other strategies you’d like to share?
Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Remember, your voice, experiences and insight are vital to this community. And what you have to share is not only unique but it may be exactly what someone else needs to read. And that someone could be you.
Until next Tuesday,
P.S. If you read today’s post and thought of someone you know that could benefit then please share it with them. I’d be forever grateful if you did:)
#1 Make Education Part Of Your Recovery Equation
As Jim Rohn once said, If someone is going down the wrong road, he doesn’t need motivation to speed him up. What he needs is education to turn him around.
If you’re an addict in recovery learn everything you can about addiction. If you’re an ACOA learn everything you can about being an ACOA. Learn about the roles and the rules and the most common characteristics of the alcoholic family. If you live with depression, learn the science behind it and get insatiably curious about your symptoms. Challenged by PTSD? Then get online and research the hell out of it. Get the bigger picture and then connect it to what you’re experiencing in your life.
Education can not only help you make sense of the world around you but it can also help you better understand yourself.
Once you see that there are reasons behind why you do what you do then you can relieve yourself of the painful beliefs that there is something wrong with you or that life can never get better.
Education offers you perspective and choice. And the more you understand and the more you know, the easier it will be to make changes. Your education will create a new foundation for you to stand on.
And remember, once you learn something no one can ever take that away from you.
#2 Create Unity With Community
The general told me that when The Siege fell upon Sarajevo the people of the city banded together to hold off the Serbs. They created a community united by a singular goal.
But even after the war they kept that community going. They mourned together, rebuilt their city and shared stories. Most importantly, they heard each other and validated one another’s experiences.
With community, you find the strength to keep going. You meet people that know exactly where you’re coming from and what you’ve been through. You discover that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy and you’re not some loser that will never get it right.
Community and connecting with people that know your road is a vital piece of your recovery.
We are still building ours but my goal has always been to build the biggest, fiercest and most supportive community here at GUC. If you’re reading this right now you are part of this community and we are here for you.
#3 Take Your Story Out Of Storage
It’s probably one of the hardest steps to take but it’s absolutely necessary if you want to work towards a serene and joyful life.
And that step is telling your story.
While I was with the general, I asked him loads of questions. I even asked him how he went to the bathroom if there was no running water!
Without hesitation he answered every one and as a result I got to witness his experiences and he got to benefit from me wanting to hear all that he had to say.
It was a win-win situation.
When you take your story out of storage and share it with someone you trust, you relieve yourself of the shame connected to those experiences.
It doesn’t happen right away but with time and the more sharing you do, the pain becomes less overwhelming and more tolerable. And as the fog of shame slowly lifts, you discover that you’re not alone and that your life and experiences matter.
And I bet you’ll even find people that are inspired by what you have to share.
#4 Act As If
Check this out,
- The Siege of Sarajevo last for 1, 425 days
- 3, 777 shells fell on the city
- 350,000 people were trapped in the city
- 70,000 people were injured. Including 12,000 kids
- 35,000 buildings were partially or fully destroyed
*Stats from, The Siege of Sarajevo*
But despite all that destruction the people of Sarajevo were determined to maintain a normal life.
They celebrated holidays, held funerals, produced plays and ballets, went to school, produced newspapers and even magazines.
They were doing a little something called, Acting As If. And sometimes when the sh*t hits the fan this tool can help keep you from falling apart.
So, I want you to take a look at your life right now. Think about one thing that’s stressing you out and try to act as if things are normal. Get up and go to work. Brush your teeth. Grab your favorite Starbucks coffee or sign up for that spin class at the gym.
Continue with your day to day life and trust that whatever is tripping you up will sort out. Hasn’t it so far?
Just a heads up here. I realize that Acting As If will not apply to every situation in life. For example, if you or a loved one are dealing with death or an overdose, you can’t just act as if that’s not happening. But it can offer you peace of mind when dealing with less life-altering situations.
#5 If You Can’t Get Over It – Go Under It
Once The Siege kicked off, the people living in the city were not allowed to leave. Those that tried were either captured and taken back to the city or they were killed by snipers.
So what did the people do? They built a tunnel under the city to not only escape but to bring much needed food and supplies back to the city.
The lesson here is simple, when you can’t get over something, go under it. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, try something new. Even if it’s just the smallest change in the way you think or even start your day – just try something new. What new idea or thought could you just try on for size right now?
If it doesn’t work you can always figure out a new way or go back to the beginning.
#6 Never Forget
There were three words that the general said to sum up his experiences in the war that stunned me. And they were,
“Life goes on”
How could he say that? I mean, after all he’d been through I expected him to be a little bit bitter or angry about the situation.
But then he followed that up with this,
“But we never forget”
Just as the people of Sarajevo, during The Siege, did everything they could to maintain a “normal” life, they continue to do that years after the war.
They never forget what they’ve been through.
And you can take the same approach. Moving on from your past and living a serene and peaceful life doesn’t mean you have to forget what you’ve been through. Those situations and experiences will always be a part of you. They just don’t have to dictate your level of happiness or the quality of life you choose to live today.
Look. I will be the last person to tell you that you just have to get over whatever it is that you’ve been through. You grieve and process your life in your own way according to your own time line.
But I do think it’s important to know that you can, eventually, move beyond your current situation. You can move to a healthier place where the pain of your childhood, abuse, addiction or even a mental illness isn’t all consuming or overwhelming.
Take it from the general and me!