The Crappiness to Happiness Handbook isn’t available to the public yet, but I want to share exclusive excerpts from the book with you for free.
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Copyright 2014 by Therese Schwenkler of TheUnlost.com. All rights reserved.
Feelings. I’ve spent most of my life running from them — distracting myself with food and mindless television, with guys and with shopping and with booze. I’ve spent at least 22 years of my life trying to get rid of them, escape them and outrun them before I discovered the secret that turned everything I’ve ever learned about dealing with difficulty on its head — and I mean everything.
What I’ve learned over the past several years hasn’t just given me a somewhat different view about what to do when my life hits rock bottom or when I have the day from hell; it’s led me to believe the exact opposite of what I’ve believed my entire life. It’s entirely changed the way I deal with difficult feelings and circumstances.
And it all began in the most peculiar of places for learning a lesson that’s actually applicable to the real world: inside a college classroom.
. . .
“I’m going to start this class with an exercise,” said Dr. Hoffman, handing each student a 3×5 card.
I didn’t know it yet, but this man – this clinical psychologist with his white beard, kind voice, and bright blue eyes – would become one of my biggest influences and teachers over the years to come.
What I was about to learn in this classroom would change the course of my life forever.
“You don’t have to participate if you don’t want to,” he said. “You can simply write ‘pass’ on your card if you choose not to. Although your responses will be anonymous, understand that I will be reading each response aloud to the class.”
He looked around the classroom to make sure everyone understood before proceeding.
“Here’s what I want you to do. On this card I want you to write the voice in your head that you consistently hear throughout the day — an internal voice that perhaps you’ve never shared with anyone else. What is it that you’re hearing and thinking on a regular basis, and what is this voice telling you about yourself or about the world?”
I looked down toward my notecard and began to scrawl in big, thick letters:
“No one can ever understand what it’s like to live with the pain of the autoimmune disease I have — to not be able to run or walk or even get out of bed on some days. I am all alone in this pain.”
I folded it up and set it in the “basket of secrets” at the front of the classroom.
When everyone had finished, Dr. Hoffman stood in front of the class and, one by one, read each card aloud.
“I feel as if no one could ever truly love me.”
“I can’t do anything right. Nothing that I do is ever good enough.”
“I am a no-good, worthless joke of a human being.”
“I must keep smiling — I must keep performing — I must keep putting on a show for the world. But the truth is, I feel dead inside.”
“My dad died last year. Sometimes I wonder if my parents ever really loved me. I wish I could tell them that I love them.”
“I don’t feel as if anyone can ever truly understand me.”
“I must find my way through life on my own. I am completely, utterly alone in this world.”
And on. And on. And on…
On every single one of the cards were written silent stories of pain and heartache and struggle — stories that I’d never once seen written across the faces of the bright, smiling students surrounding me that I’d been partying with for nearly four years.
I looked around the classroom in disbelief and — was it sadness I was feeling?
A sense of shared struggle pervaded the room, hanging thick in the air like a cloud of dense fog. We were all in this together, and yet somehow we all felt so alone.
How could this be?
And yet inside this small classroom on a crisp fall evening in 2006, each of us suddenly felt a little less alone. The pain of our individual struggles had not gone away by any means, and yet somehow the intensity of the pain had lessened in this place of shared struggle and unspoken connection with one another. “You have struggles? Me too,” seemed to be the unsaid consensus.
After a period of silence, Dr. Hoffman began to speak once again.
“What is pain?” he asked.
“The reality is that pain by itself is just pain. In the grand scheme of things, it’s simply an emotional energy that comes and goes and ebbs and flows, constantly changing in intensity and form. Fear. Hurt. Anger. Sadness. Despair. Pain is pain is pain.”
He paused once again.
“When you don’t feel all alone in your pain, pain is bearable. Not pleasant, perhaps, but bearable.”
“But pain experienced all alone — this is what becomes unbearable. Pain experienced all alone becomes suffering. Because you see, it is not the pain itself that’s necessarily the problem, but rather the burden of holding this pain on our own — this pain that is too big for us and that is beyond our current capacity to make sense of and to bear.”
He continued: “When we are faced with something we can’t change, regardless of our vain attempts to make it different, and we do it all alone, then we hit a wall and fall apart. The need for someone to be with us in our pain is more than just a ‘nice to have’ or an optional comfort. Researchers have determined that it is in fact a core psychological, physiological need built into us from birth.”
He pushed a button on the remote control in his hand. “Watch closely,” said Dr. Hoffman…
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