If you have ever separated from a spouse, or gone bankrupt, or lost your home, you will know just how stressful and demoralising any one of those experiences is. And the pain of the death of a loved one is a very particular kind of loss to manage. Last year I lost my home and business, separated from my partner. I then moved from one side of the world to the other, and suffered 3 family deaths – the worst year of my life. But here’s how I am working on making this year the best.
It can be so hard to find the strength to start over after losing everything, to get up again when you feel really downtrodden by life’s events. And there were days that I DID just sit in a corner crying, with a bottle of malbec, wishing it would all go away. But once I dried my tears, I reminded myself that the only person who was ultimately going to make it better, WAS ME.
Many, many things happened last year, too many for just one article. So I’m going to focus here on some of the lessons I learned from losing my home and business – the very things that are enabling me to forge ahead now. Because of these events, my life changed fundamentally and I now have a clearer vision of who I want to be and how to make 2019 my best year ever.
I’ve already talked a little about how I lost everything in this article ‘Why you shouldn’t sweep your failures under the rug‘, and the resulting feelings that failure creates. We are surrounded by the need to succeed, in society, by our families and by ourselves too. And it is this need to be seen as successful that makes it so hard to admit defeat to those around us. Major failures can cause us to see ourselves as worthless, of no value.
When I did finally face up to the fact that there was no way I could hang on to my old life, I did need to ask for help. And yes, I felt terribly ashamed. I have always been very independent, never needed anyone to bail me out, never had anyone pay my way. I wasn’t accustomed to asking for help of any kind.
It was very humbling to ask for and accept financial support to get me out of the situation I was in. It hurt my pride to have friends and family so generously offer me money, and even space in their homes where I could lick my wounds, recover and start over after losing everything.
Start over after losing everything
I found myself questioning my values about money, and what money meant to me. I had spent the past decade not needing to worry about finances at all. My time had been spent doing things for me, for sure, but I did things for others too.
I regularly used to rescue abandoned dogs. I was living in Argentina and there are stray dogs everywhere there. There isn’t much by way of dog rescue and protection, such as the RSPCA, hence why there are so many street dogs. I was always picking up some poor pup and giving it a temporary home until I could find it a permanent one. At one point, when things were already at rock bottom, this abandoned dog appeared at our house.
I couldn’t even help a poor abandoned dog
Our entire plot was chain-mail fenced, and this dog kept digging a hole under the fencing to get in. Every hole she dug was a risk that my own 2 fur-babies would escape through the same hole and end up dead on the road under a truck. I seriously had no money left to be able to support my own family, never mind anyone else, and there was this poor animal desperately looking for someone to take her on. I just couldn’t help her, though it pained me to admit even this simple act was beyond my means.
Every time she broke in, I led her out again and fixed up the hole she had created. This went on for days and days. She was determined to stay, it was like SHE had adopted ME. Her shiny coat and good weight showed she wasn’t a street dog: she had clearly been abandoned by her owners. SHE needed to start over after losing everything and I felt worse and worse every time I threw her out, denying her that possibility. I was already so stressed with my own situation. I couldn’t help her OR myself, and I certainly couldn’t add to my troubles with any more responsibility.
Then my neighbours on the next door farm told me that the dog was stealing the eggs from their chicken coop. They said that when their nephew was coming to visit the following weekend, he was going to bring his gun to kill the dog. I was horrified. I knew I couldn’t take her on and I hadn’t had any luck finding a home for her. Her choices in life were stay where she was and end up shot to death for stealing eggs, or…
Never say never
One of the things I’ve learned over the past few years is to be less judgemental. I am quite judgemental by nature, but I have found myself doing so many things I previously swore I would never do, that I realise I should never say never. So what did I do with this poor dog? Something I’ve never done in my life, and was certain I would never do. I abandoned her. I put her in my pick up, drove her to the nearest town 30 km away, found a nice street with nice family houses all around, and left her on the verge. This went so against my nature it would be like saying that the earth is in fact flat.
Given that she wasn’t my dog, I wasn’t really abandoning her, but it felt SO wrong. I don’t know if there might have existed an alternative option that didn’t involve me breaking my principles but I was at the end of my tether. In my mind fog, I saw no other way to save her. We find ourselves doing things in a moment of crisis that we wouldn’t think ourselves capable of. I’d like to think that although I didn’t have the financial or emotional means to care for her, I did the next best thing: I took her to a place where she was likely to find someone who could.
So having money IS important, of course it is. We need a certain amount of it to survive. And to continue helping abandoned dogs, amongst other things. But once you reach rock-bottom and you have none left, you learn to manage with less. You have to, obviously, but at this point you are forced to revise your values, to understand what really matters to you in life. Yes, I miss my beautiful pick-up, but I can survive without it. And I loved having a gorgeous, 5 bedroom house, but having a big house is not a necessity for feeling good about yourself. I needed to work out how to start over after losing everything, but with a new awareness about the things that really matter.
How you see yourself
I had to reconsider how I define myself: we make assumptions of others according to what kind of vehicle they drive, what kind of a house they live in, where they go on holiday. But we judge ourselves by the same metric. When I was stripped away of all that ‘stuff’, what was left? Me, my values, my abilities, my attitude.
And to pick up the pieces and start again, I absolutely have to rely on those attributes and on myself. I started to see value in myself again. Each little step I take reaffirms “I can do this”! I became more aware of my strengths (and my weaknesses). Instead of taking things for granted, I am keenly aware of the things that REALLY matter to me.
Things that make life lovelier
Since I came back to the UK I have found a renewed passion for listening to music. Many years ago I used to listen to music all the time when I was in my studio working, but I had become quite lazy in my super-comfortable Argentinean life. I was more likely to sit down with a glass of wine and watch TV of an evening. Now I am really enjoying working away and listening to music (still sometimes with a glass of wine in my hand) – so much so that I don’t even realise how time has flown and suddenly it’s 2am.
And I walk the dogs every day. We’re so lucky to have open countryside just along the road. Nature is the most incredible healer, it takes my breath away. Back in Argentina I hardly ever walked them as we had so much space on the farm. Even though we live in a tiny space now, I think they are happier too. We play games together every day, their quality of life is far improved and in that respect, so is mine. I spend MORE time with them now that I ever did before.
I have so much less, financially, than before, and yet I am more alive, more thoughtful, more focused. The determination to prove to myself and to everyone else that I can turn this around and also become a better person as a result of it, is a massive source of energy.
What’s really important to me
And I realised that I had left Argentina with nothing more than my 2 fur-babies, and 2 suitcases of clothes and personal possessions. What mattered to me was in fact nothing more than the pooches. My clothes, things that had previously been so important to me, weren’t at all on my essentials list, but hey, we all have to wear something, right? Especially in the UK in the wintertime…
When you lose everything, it is hard NOT to see yourself as a failure, of no value. Life is a rollercoaster, and whilst the ups are great, coping with the downs can be very tough. It requires courage to get up and start again, to ask for help AND be able to receive it. And no, I haven’t been able to buy myself another house and pay off all my debts yet. But I am much closer to that goal than when I was sitting in the corner with a bottle of malbec, crying.
Here is a wonderful video by the inspiring Jay Shetty, which illuminates many of these ideas:
If YOU feel that you really don’t know how to cope with what you are going through in life, reach out to someone, please. Be it a friend, family member or your doctor… If you don’t feel that you can turn to someone you know, there are organisations that are there to assist you. Here in the UK the Samaritans have helplines and offices where you will be very welcomely received. This is their website. Don’t suffer in silence.