Three Ideas to Shape the Recovery Journey after a Loss

Recovery after a traumatic event, loss, heartbreak, setback, train wreck — isn’t as easy as you think it might be. Or as you imagine it might be before you actually go through it.

If you’ve experienced a life altering loss, you know what I’m talking about.

Suleika Jaouad knows first hand how difficult recovery can be and tells her story in the book, Between Two Kingdoms. She became ill with a very aggressive form of cancer in her 20’s that required radical treatment. It changed her forever. Here is what she said about recovery that rings true regardless of the type of trauma you’ve experienced.

There is no restitution for people like us, no return to days when our bodies were unscathed, our innocence intact. Recovery isn’t a gentle self-care spree that restores you to a pre-illness state. Though the word may suggest otherwise, recovery is not about salvaging the old at all. It’s about expecting that you must forsake a familiar self forever, in favor of one that is being newly born. It is an act of brute, terrifying discovery.

— Suleika Jaouad, Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted p. 234

Three Ideas to Help Shape the Recovery Journey

1. Recovery is not about salvaging the old at all

When you’ve gone through a difficult loss (eg. loss of a person, loss of your identity, loss of mobility, loss of your health) you usually can’t go back to the way things were.

When I had my motorcycle accident, initially, I was planning to go back to the way things were. But 10 surgeries later, I was met with the harsh reality that my body was different, I was different, and I wasn’t going back. That was a bitter pill to swallow!

2. You must forsake a familiar self forever, one that is being newly born

After Vicky died, I looked for handles of familiarity I could grab on to. Before Vicky died, I was very comfortable going for walks with Max and Vicky as a couple.

Then, after she was gone, I walked alone (with Max) and felt this awkwardness that I didn’t like. Slowly, however, I stopped wishing I was couple and got comfortable in my new identify as someone who is single.

3. Recovery is an act of brute, terrifying discovery

Recovery involves pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to make new discoveries. It took me hours of self-reflection, thorough processing, and painful physical and emotional work.

From the outside looking in, recovery may look unimpressive but it hurts to recovery well. It hurts to walk through the valley of loneliness, heart ache, and the process of reinventing who you wish to become.

Final thought

Where’s the hope in all of this? The hope is that recovery done well does lead to a renewed life and purpose. Not all at once or in a straight line. It’s a steep climb through wind and rain but much better than the alternative of giving up.

What has been your experience with recovery after a loss or traumatic event?