Riding the Rails: How to Avoid an Emotional Train Wreck

I knew it would happen. I knew I'd get derailed, that the force that keeps propelling me to keep marching forward towards my goals every day would give out at some point. That I'd get off balance emotionally and fall off the tracks.

And it did.

I'd been pushing myself too hard. Working is easier than thinking about things I'd rather not. Working is easier than grieving.

Working is also necessary. Not being required to think about loss at all times is essential. If we dwelt on our losses at every moment, we'd forget all the reasons we still have to keep living. All we would see is a black, sticky hole that would grab hold and suck us in until we forgot the sun even exists.

But "working" wasn't working.

So I retreated. I was deliberately avoiding pain by going from one distraction--my work--to another. I read a really, really long book. Then I dove head-first into a volunteer project that I knew would require hours of my time, which I told them wouldn't be done for four months, and after this week of driven effort is more than half complete. All I did was shift from one form of avoidance to another... and while I was at it, avoided working on my own daily "to-dos", too.

Procrastination is like that, isn't it? Don't you find you are at your most productive when you are trying to avoid doing something you would really rather not be doing? You do something else instead, to make yourself look busy and to feel like you've accomplished something, but all the while there is still that pressure on your chest to just finish the one thing you are avoiding in the first place?

Yup, that's what I've been doing. First, I was avoiding grieving by working. Then, I met with a work task that just looks boring, so I avoided grieving and working by reading/escaping. And when that was done, I avoided grieving and working by working on something completely non-essential.

I'm sure I'm the only one who's ever done that, though, right?

If I had let this situation continue, I wouldn't just delay my healing process, I would sabotage it. While I was at it, I would also sabotage my chances of business success. The only way to achieve our dreams is to be intentional about achieving them. The only way to allow a wound to heal properly is to be mindful of it and keep it clean. Ignoring what needs to happen for too long would have led to a train wreck, potentially (and probably) in more than one area of my life.

Today, I've decided it's time to stop being an emotional hobo. Instead of hopping onto whatever train happens by as I run from the things I need to deal with most, I am getting back onto the train that will take me to where I actually want to go--a life that is healthy, and remembers, and loves, and gives. Not one that hides.

It's hard. Right now, it's still hard. But being intentional is so much better than blowing about like Forrest's feather on the wind. It may have worked out for him, but most times, if you don't know where you're going, you're not going anywhere.

There are two tracks on a railroad, but they need to be exactly parallel in order for the train to get to it's destination. That is the kind of balance I am trying to find--how to work, and grieve, and live all at once, in a way that allows me to keep moving forward.

I think the answer lies not in hiding, but in looking--straight ahead to the goal, which is completeness. And completeness is where Christ is taking me on this long journey to becoming more like him.

By keeping my eyes focused on what is central in my life, the train will remain on track. And when I get derailed? It's also the way to get back there.

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.
— Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

There is a way to move forward through grief, to dream while sad, to hope while holding the past close to our hearts. I see all of these pieces as part of the story of my life, the cargo on the journey towards my destination. I haven't yet figured out where they each should sit, and sometimes one thing tends to take over for a while. That's when I need to take a look at the map, and remember where I'm going. That's when I need to look out the window and see the others who are on their journeys beside me.

Are you trapped in the tarry black hole of dwelling on loss? Are you jumping trains trying to hide from it? Or are you figuring out how to keep moving forward with loss as your travelling companion?

Wherever you are, friend, I encourage you to look up. Look towards the goal. Stop running away, and start being intentional towards healing, and dreaming, and living. Be aware of habits that can derail you. When you're derailed, remind yourself of where you want to go, and that you don't need to stay there forever. Pray. Be aware of other travellers who may help you, or to whom you may give help.

We all have a journey to make, and none of us are there, yet. Let's keep moving forward... together.