I’ve been in recovery for years now, but the pain of not wanting to stay alive is a memory that still lives in my body: the ache of each breath, the difficulty of every movement, the heaviness of a single decision.
I was hospitalized three times for “being done.” Each time, I fought being there because it meant I was still here. And each time, my family came to bail me out. Against the doctor’s recommendation, my mom took me home, and my family cared for me.
In the storm of my pain, they stood with me, ripped apart by proximity. While some friends distanced themselves, others made special trips to make sure I was still here. They begged me to stay. And for all their love and my exhaustion, I did.
At first, I couldn’t make the direct decision to keep living, so I’d distract myself. I’d look forward to a movie coming out or a show I wanted to see.
And so I kept living not by standing back up and deciding to turn my life around but just by taking this breath and then the next one while still lying broken on the ground.
I went to my therapy sessions, took my meds, and went back to the job I hated. A haze of apathy descended, clouding every thought and action. My actions weren’t really actions in that I didn’t “decide” to take them. They were just what my body did to keep going.
Not caring felt better than caring too much. My family and friends seemed happy because I was still around, so for them, I kept going.
As I continued to get support and learned new coping tools for stress and anger, the fog started to lift, and I started to feel again. With that came the familiar pain, but it wasn’t so paralyzing anymore. I found I could start making decisions without totally exhausting myself, and those decisions helped me to feel better.
A part of me had always felt like I was beyond repair, like any action I’d take wouldn’t help. When I experienced firsthand that my choices could improve my situation, I felt empowered—a sensation I’d never had before.
I started taking one deliberate action after another to enhance my wellbeing. One at a time until each was done, then onto the next. Singular, minute steps in the direction of a life lived on purpose. And so I started living, the first seeds of mindfulness guiding my way.
Slowly, my life shifted from these conscious choices I’d made. New opportunities presented themselves and—if they felt right—I took them. Fear was the loudest voice in my head, but I worked the tools I’d been given and marched through it to the light.
I discovered movement as a way to connect to my inner and outer strength. I started feeling stronger inside and out of the gym.
“This wouldn’t be such a terrible job, helping people get healthy,” I thought. I became a certified personal trainer and dedicated myself to helping others. And so I started helping other people live and found that it opened me up to a depth of fulfillment I’d never encountered.
To see people thrive from my guidance, to witness their transformation, opened me up to what was possible. As I motivated them, their growth inspired me to keep choosing life. The love and gratitude they had for my work fueled me like nothing before.
Over the next few years, I started my own training business, closed it to start my online coaching business so I could help more people at a time, and opened up about my struggles to inspire others to stay. When I started talking openly about what I’d been through, the shame and heaviness that had surrounded my past slowly peeled away. As I brought my story to the light, the shame lost its power over me.
I found that, as I got healthier in mind, body, and spirit, I became more aware of the things that activated that paralyzing fear within me. My unresolved triggers became glaringly clear. I thought I’d healed it all, but here it was again: the pain of wanting to escape discomfort. Not to the point of leaving, but to the point of using my addictions as a means of avoidance.
Leaving was no longer an option. I was here to stay, no matter how uncomfortable I got.
I realized that my discomfort lasted longer the longer I refused to deal with whatever was hiding in the dark. So I determined to deal. I determined to learn from what this pain was here to teach me.
I was sure I wouldn’t survive it, that I’d go back to where I was at the beginning. I was terrified, but I committed to trying. I couldn’t keep preaching that people deal with the pain if I didn’t do it myself.
Living in fear like this was keeping me from fully living. And so I stood up for my life by deciding not to run anymore.
I started sitting with the unease, living through it with every ounce of courage I had.
“Teach me,” I whispered to the darkness, shaking with fear. “Tell me why you’re here.”
When I faced what I was so scared of, listened to it, and fed the need that spawned it in the first place, I passed through the darkness faster. I started practicing this process consistently and realized that I didn’t have to run anymore, that I was strong enough to turn around and look my darkness in the face and talk to it with love. That’s when I learned that strength isn’t “sucking it up;” rather, it manifests by walking through darkness and coming out the other side no matter how shaken and weary we emerge.
And so I came alive. Pain or no pain, I roll with what comes, I feel deeply about things both dark and light, and I no longer crumble. I fall, yes, but standing back up isn’t such a struggle.
We can’t perceive the purpose to the pain while we’re in it. Fear blocks our senses so it can rule us longer. Trust that you’re being led even now to why you were brought to us in the first place.
You don’t have to worry about how it will all work out. It will present itself to you without any effort on your part. You will know love. You will know freedom and strength. Trust that it’s coming. Trust that you’re here for a reason. And if that’s too much, just breathe.
Life doesn’t always come down to big, overwhelming choices and actions. Joy and peace don’t arrive over night. It starts right here with this breath.
When you breathe, you say “yes” to another day. Expanding your lungs opens up your heart and allows you the possibility of learning from this pain so that you can move forward from it stronger, wiser, and changed for the better.
All you need to do is breathe.
All you need to do is breathe.
Amy Clover is a motivational speaker, fitness personality, mental health advocate and the force behind Strong Inside Out, a site that helps people “become stronger than their struggle” through mindful movement and positive action.