Surviving an Impossible Sacrifice

Enduring Life’s Gauntlets of Choice — Advice for My Dear Friend

Photo Credit: Christopher Martin @kananaskisphoto

A very close friend of mine is facing what may very well be the hardest decision of her life. I’ve watched her bright, happy spirit slowly be eaten away as she inches closer to having to choose between two paths, both equally tragic and sure to leave her wounded and empty inside. I want to take at least part of the burden onto my own shoulders — but I can’t.

Instead I offered her what I have learned in my own experiences with sacrifice. I am blessed to not be very experienced in having to surrender what I love in life in order to protect what I (also) love in life. Nonetheless, I wanted to share how I felt during this time and hoped it helped her understand that she would get through it. She would find light at the end of the tunnel. Things would be okay.

There Is No Right or Wrong Answer

It is so easy to fall into the trap of trying to convince yourself that one conclusion is better than the other. What helped me was to focus more on the positive (what I would get) versus the negative (what I would give). Framing the decision this way meant I was deciding between two great things that would improve my life versus the dread of having to pick the better of two evils.

Expect to Second Guess Yourself

I was so afraid that I would learn later in my life that I had made the wrong decision. I asked myself whether when I was dying in my bed, many years from now, would I be wishing for a chance to do things differently?

I would like to say that thinking in those extremes helped me understand what was truly important in my life. But they were both important to me! I was so afraid of learning later in life that I had made the wrong decision that it made me feel awful about myself.

I made my decision and found that I second guessed myself often. After a long time I learned to accept that I would always want what I had left behind — and that let me see how happy I was with what I got in return.

You Will Feel Judged by People Who Love You

I am happy when the people I love are happy. But this also means I feel their pain as well. I feel compelled to do whatever I can, whether it’s right or wrong, what they want or not, to end their shared suffering (and in turn my own).

When someone loves you knows you have sacrificed something deeply important to you they will be on the lookout for your well-being. They will want to protect you. And you need that. They may make the mistake of interpreting your sadness as an indicator that you made the wrong choice.

It was a long, grueling fight for me to reach the decision that I did — but in the end I did feel relief that I made the right decision. The people closest to me disagreed with my decision and even connected it to other decisions they disagreed with.

They didn’t do this because they didn’t love me- it was just the opposite. They did it because they saw the pain I was in because of what I gave up. They didn’t know how hard it was for me to come to the conclusion I did. They didn’t know how many factors I took into account. All they knew is that I made a decision, lost something, and I’m deeply upset as of that. Who wouldn’t think the answer is to simply reverse the decision?

There are three things that you must always keep in mind when people you love are trying to help you get through this:

  1. Do not let them jeopardize the confidence you have in the decision that you made. It is your decision and you did the best that you could to make it.
  2. They are not attacking you. They love you and feel helpless in knowing that you are suffering.
  3. Some won’t fully understand your decision or all of the nuances that went into what you decided. Think of how long it took to reach the decision yourself and how many deep, soul-searching questions you had to ask to determine what was right? They would never be able to get inside your head like that.

Very Few Decisions Are Forever

I know that it feels like forever and because of that we put so much weight on our shoulders to get it right. I have learned through good things and bad things that sometimes the things you count on the most for remaining the same are the ones that change the most. Or at least when they do they have the greatest impact on you.

It was hard for me to make the decision I made in the context of forever. And I will admit, that even after I was to the point of acceptance, there was always a part of me that latched onto the fact that something could change. Something could change and somehow I would’ve cheated life and gotten both things I wanted instead of leaving something I would’ve cherished behind.

I think the right thing to do is to keep trying to accept your decision as final as long as the information used to make the decision remains the same. This includes your own personal priorities in life — because they were the lens through which your choice was made.

Do Not Let the Fear of Guilt Dominate Your Decision Making

I have experienced a great deal of guilt and shame throughout my life. I stoked it like a fire to punish myself for the pain I have caused throughout my life. It didn’t help the people I hurt. It didn’t make me a better person. But it offered me relief. Why? Because it proved to myself what those close to me would never question —that I cared. That I was sorry and would change things if I could.

Often times we are faced with having to make a sacrifice involving someone we love. A job opportunity far from home. A brother out of work and needing a place to stay. A soulmate who doesn’t fit within the rest of your life. These people love you and will stand by you — even when it stings. They’ve been helpless knowing the agony you have endured. What would they say if they knew you were punishing yourself with guilt?

Coping with the Aftermath

It took awhile for me to realize that it’s okay to acknowledge the pain I felt in losing something I loved. I wanted to believe in the rightenousnes of my decision — that while my conclusion came at a cost, forward was the only direction possible. I was wrong.

Take time to mourn what was sacrificed. Don’t stash away your feelings of loss — they will only come back with greater intensity. Be mindful of what you are feeling and accept that you will have good days and bad days. Always be looking for light at the end of the tunnel — I bet it’s just beyond the next bend.

Longboat Key, Florida, United States of America