“A comeback is not a go back.” Tim Storey is right. The biggest mistake you can make when you suffer a massive setback is to try to go back to how things were.
It’s so tempting because I want to experience the happiness or momentum or emotional energy that I remember so fondly. But what I have to accept is that after a severe catastrophe, the person that used to experience those things is dead. I cannot go back to being that person. It is time to become a new person, wiser and more grateful.
Recently, as many of you know, I experienced one hell of a setback involving some of my closest friends, my dance crew, and also my church, Fear No Evil. It left me in a state of severe depression that (thankfully) only lasted a couple of months. But while the depression was short, in the depths of it, I was still an emotional mess.
I decided to write, not about the catastrophe itself, but what I did to pull myself out of it. It is unlikely to the most extreme degree that any of you will experience the particular kind of setback that I did. The details are so strange that if I had seen them in a movie I would have said, “That’s not realistic. No one would ever actually do that.” But the way I pulled myself out of it is not unusual at all.
Also, in talking recently with other people who have suffered group trauma, I have noticed that many of them are experiencing exactly the same symptoms I was. This leads me to believe that others will benefit from hearing my story.
So here is what I did.
Step 1: I am totally responsible for my own actions and not responsible at all for the actions of others, even if they are my closest friends.
Some of my friends did things that were truly reprehensible. What did I “do about it”?
I went to Las Vegas and had some fun.
I did things that were far less reprehensible but that still do not live up to my own standards of ethical behavior. What did I do about my own actions? I talked directly to the people I harmed, told them why I thought what I did was wrong, and explained exactly how I would ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.
Step 2: I found a mentor (actually, a couple of them.)
In my case, it was fairly easy to know who I should talk to. I went and tracked down more experienced pastors. While none of them had ever dealt with quite what I had dealt with, they all had experience dealing with complex, multi-person trauma. They had insight into what had gone so terribly wrong in the past and how things could go right in the future.
It’s not enough to get “advice”. Advice is honestly usually useless because if you’re asking for advice, you’re still reliant on the advisor. I had to find people that I respected, and who had a combination of life experience and intellectual knowledge, who could point me in the right general direction and lead by example. Then I could learn for myself.
Step 3: I remembered what my original purpose was.
The original purpose of Fear No Evil is to end isolation, depression, paranoia, anxiety, and resentment. Instead of trying to go back to the same people who had caused such trauma and hoping they changed (or worse, hoping I could change them), I emphasized Fear No Evil’s principles. Then I looked around and asked who would want to embody those principles without having to be convinced or otherwise manipulated.
Well, it’s a small group. But a small, focused, creative group is infinitely better than a large, confused group with a lot of infighting.
Step 4: I just took some time off.
Often when you get injured you need to rest in order to heal.
Step 5: I admitted that I needed other people’s love.
I’m not going to name any names; they know who they are. But several people made a clear effort to tell me that they cared about me or that they loved me. And none of them were interested in an explanation of what happened or why it happened. They just told me they cared about me.
Step 6: I started something totally new with an old friend.
Writing comic books, as it turns out. But the actual new activity is not important. What is important is that I reconnected with an old friend that I was not in touch with often enough, and we started working on something concrete together that matters to both of us.
Step 7: We had a really fun Fear No Evil event.
I don’t know how this will transfer to other people’s experience. But having a fun event with my church, in a new setting with a new team, jump-started the healing process. Look, you need victories, big or small.
Step 8: Gratitude.
No matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. What happened could have been much worse. I am thankful for what I have.
Step 9: I stopped gossiping and told people only what factually happened.
And every person I have told the story to has a completely different reaction. Every person thinks of different people as heroes, victims or villains. Some people don’t categorize anyone. Others categorize everyone. And not a single person has put the same categories on everyone.
Why? Because when I simply tell people the facts, they interpret those facts according to their own experiences. That’s none of my business either. And this changed me. When I tell the story with no emotion attached, no attempt to influence anyone’s reaction, the story just becomes a set of facts. And mere facts don’t have power.
Look, this was the next to last step for me. And I don’t suggest for a second that anyone try to start with it. But for me, I needed to change the story itself into a mere set of facts. Once it was all just a bunch of facts, then the final step became obvious.
Final Step: I will not make progress by trying to fix the past.
The past can’t be fixed, just like other people can’t be fixed.
A comeback is not a go back, and there is always nowhere to go except forward.