When You Feel More Dead Then Alive

Woman in white trapped outside a frosted window as if trapped outside of her life.

I recently republished a post I wrote last year on what makes us come alive. Knowing what makes us come alive is important to helping us come to understand our core values – which in turn helps us to sift and sort through the competing messages we have in our heads.

But then someone messaged me and said, “I think a lot of people cannot even answer the question. Between jobs and kids and life…what make people come alive often gets buried and can be hard to figure out. And what if what makes you come alive is at odds with real life?”

Which were fantastic questions, so I thought I would try to answer them today.

Buried Alive

The first question focuses around how hard it can be to find the things that come alive when we feel like we’re essentially buried alive.

What happens when the weight and pressures of work and family and expectations and trauma and brokenness and relationships have piled up so thoroughly around us that some of us find ourselves unable to see our hand in front of our face, much less remember the feel of sunshine, the feel of a grassy meadow under our feet, the smell of gentle rain in a forest or the sound of water lapping gently at a shoreline or gurgling softly down a stream?

Perhaps those things existed – once upon a time – but the longer we stay buried alive, the more they begin to feel like a dream, a fantasy, or even a cruel hoax designed to make us feel more dejected by our present situation and surroundings than we already do.

And in my own personal and coaching experiences, that we can’t save ourselves when we’re buried this deep. It seems (fortunately or unfortunately) that the only solution to being buried alive is for someone to come and find you and help you plan a rescue mission for how to get you out safely. When we get this far underground, we’re not likely to be able to do this kind of work on our own.

Before we can remember what once made us come alive – before we can see the trees and feel the sunshine and hear the laughter of children – we are going to first have to be found and rescued out of the deep cave we found ourselves in. But I want to be clear about what kind of a rescue mission this is.

This is not the ‘damsel-in-distress’ rescue mission of Disney movies.

This is not a helpless, agency-devoid individual completely dependent on someone else to save them.

To be clear if you are currently surviving even though you feel like you’re buried underground I know that you are an incredibly hard worker – that you have practiced your teeth-gritting, getting-on-and-doing-things-in-spite-of-how-hard-it-is stance for weeks, months or even years or decades. You are strong and capable and caring and all sorts of other wonderful things.

But you may also feel very alone.

So the kind of rescue mission I’m envisioning is far more the kind where community – friends, family or therapeutic relationships – show up with the emotional equivalents of warm food, a blanket, a flashlight, some clean water and a line to guide everyone out of the cave together.

It’s the kind of rescue mission where you get to lead and maintain your own agency, knowing that you have all the support that you need for the process, but also knowing that no one will rush you or force you to go any faster or farther than you are ready for.

It’s the experience of being seen, known and deemed to be important enough by someone else that they will wait with you, cry with you, scream angry epitaphs with you, fall asleep with you and try the whole thing again in the morning with you because you matter.

In other words, it’s about attachment and although we are intended to get this experience first through our primary caregivers, if it didn’t happen then – or that attachment has been interrupted by trauma or just the weight of too much ‘life’ on top of us – it doesn’t mean we’ve missed out permanently. Instead, there is ample evidence to suggest that whether it is a group of good friends, a bestie or partner or a therapeutic relationship rooted in attachment theory, that attachment is always how we find our way back to the surface.

And attachment – interestingly enough – is a collaborative, agency-driven process. Both parties have to show up. Both parties have to engage. Both parties have to choose to trust and to connect and to lean in to the vulnerability of being fully present in the relationship. Which can be difficult and painful and scary, but which nevertheless is the path towards being able to uncover and rediscover the things that make us come alive.

At Odds

But why would we even bother with all of that if when we found ourselves back at the surface it was only to discover that all of those things that bring us delight were still outside of our reach. Now instead of simply dreaming that they might be possible we can see them – smell the sweet aromas – but never reach out and touch them or taste them? Would there even be a point to being rescued in the first place if it left us with the tantalizing aroma of fresh baked bread to hungry bellies denied even the smallest of crumbs?

I think this may be what the second question is asking. Really, in such a scenario, what would the point even be???

And I think my best answer may rely on Dr. Seuss. There’s a story he writes about two creatures called Zax. One is a south-going Zax and one a north-going Zax. They live by the rule (that they learned in Zax-school) that they can never budge to the west or the east, but must always go in a direct line forward at all times. So when the two of them meet, they face an impasse. Neither can move, so they stand there, facing each other while the world goes on around them and grows and develops and they simply stand still.

Zax Makes Tracks Illustration, by Dr. Seuss

Like these Zax, I think we sometimes forget that just because there is an immovable object in front of us doesn’t mean that we are obligated to stay standing in front of it. We might find that there is a way forward if we go around a corner, consider it from a different angle, or indeed turn and start walking in a different direction.

In my experience, in fact, the values that we uncover when we do the work to look at the things that make us come alive are often incredibly creative at thinking outside of the boxes our messages have made for us and locked us into.

And while I don’t deny for a moment that this process of allowing ourselves to reconnect with the longings of our hearts isn’t difficult, painful and even scary sometimes, it is a price I think is well worth the freedom – the ease – the lightness of life lived out as the people we were always meant to be!

Are you feeling trapped underground? Do you need some sandwiches, a warm blanket, a flashlight and rope? Or maybe just a companion for the long walk back to the surface? I would love to come alongside you! Please send me a message and we can go from there.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash


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