Friday, April 4, 2014


"Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation."
~Elizabeth Gilbert, author of The Signature of All Things and Eat, Pray, Love

We frequently reject what's behind Gilbert's quote above. And many readers did. Here's the response she posted on her Facebook page.

Dear Ones -

OK, so I don't usually quote myself on this page, but a reader asked me today if I would take a moment to further explain this idea that ruin can sometimes be a gift in our lives.

*takes a deep breath*

Let me begin by saying that the ruin I'm talking about here is not something I would encourage anyone to ever deliberately seek. I've seen people who chase darkness and destruction on purpose (sometimes for the glamour of it, sometimes for the romance of it, sometimes for the sheer self-hatred of it) and this is not a path that I am capable of endorsing for anybody.

No, I'm talking about the ruin that happens to you, without you ever seeing it coming. The chaos that sneaks up on you.

Because sometimes the bottom falls out of our lives. People leave us. Precious certainties are yanked away. We lose our health, our money, our gifts, our faith, our familiar surroundings, our trust. All the truths that we thought we could believe in forever suddenly depart us with no warning. The ground that we always knew was solid under our feet turns out to have been nothing but a trap door all along. (And then there's another trap door under that one.) We disappoint ourselves. We are disappointed by others. We get dead lost. We are no longer longer recognizable to ourselves when we look in the mirror. It all falls to ruin.

And that, my friends, is when things start to get really interesting.

This is the chapter of life that Joseph Campbell called "The Dark Night of the Soul" — and it's a necessary step in every hero's journey. It's also the hardest thing in the world. Nobody ever chooses to stand in this place; it just happens to you. And you will often see later that it needed to happen to you, if you were to ever become more than a mere passenger on Earth. Because this dark place is where you must decide whether to die or live. You cannot go back to what you knew, because what you knew is a pile of smoking rubble. You cannot stay where you are, because where you are is a bleak shroud of despair. You can only move forward into the absolute unknown. And the only way to move forward is to change.

Change, to put it simply, is the suck.

Nobody wants to do it — not real change, not soul change, not the painful molecular change required to truly become who you need to be. Nobody ever does real transformation for fun. Nobody ever does it on a dare. You do it only when your back is so far against the wall that you have no choice anymore.

Or, rather, you do have a choice — you can always die. As Sartre said: "Exits are everywhere." But you don't want to die, so you discover that you have no choice except to find a new way to live. Which seems next to impossible, but somehow, if you fight hard enough, isn't. Because you know what else is everywhere? ENTRANCES. The task then becomes to find your entrance — to fight your way through the tunnel, into the dim hope of your own light.

The other day, I asked my dear friend Rayya Elias (who wrote the memoir "Harley Loco" about her years of heroin addiction) if — looking back on the pain and suffering of her life — she could imagine any scenario under which she could have gotten clean and sober earlier. I was imagining that maybe if she'd been sent to the right rehab, or had found a more kindly therapist, or had been told just the right words of encouragement by a wise former junkie, or had been rescued by the right family member...maybe she could have spared herself years of addiction and pain. Rayya's answer initially shocked me, and then made perfect sense. She said: "The only way I could've quit drugs sooner would have been if everyone had abandoned me sooner."

She explained that, as long as she was protected from total ruin by everyone's love and care and support and enabling, she never had to completely face her own darkest place. So she lingered in the murk, hovering just above rock bottom ruin for years, barely getting by on scraps and crumbs. It was only when she had destroyed every relationship, only when everyone had left, only when she had been banished from everyone's homes and lives, only when there was nobody left who would pick up the phone anymore when she called, only when she was dead alone with no money and no good will and no second chances left…it was only then, at the loneliest bottom of her existence, that she could finally hear the question that echoes at us constantly through the universe: "Is this really how you want to live?"

Her answer, to her own surprise, was "No." And when that answer, loud and clear, becomes NO…that's where our transformation always begins.

The changes in your life from that point forward will not be immediate and crisp. They never will be. Transformation isn't easy. It isn't pretty. (Ever watch a bird hatch? It's fucking exhausting.) You don't ascend from that lowest place of your life in a tidy straight line, moving a few inches upward every day. No, it's a messy and jerky and unpredictable trajectory. But it is a trajectory. And the general direction — from the moment of your decision forward — is always going to be UP. Up and out. You will shed whatever (and whomever) you need to shed. You will find whatever (and whomever) you need to find. You will crawl and bawl. Until eventually you are standing, finally, on your own two feet in your own shower of light. Until you are the person you never would have been, had you never met your own worst darkness face-to-face.

And that is the gift that ruin offers us.



  1. Perfect complement to your post just before this one. The last one defined our spouses role in our healing. This one defines ours. I can't think of any other way.

    (So Elle, when are you writing a book? Or is there one out there under another name?)


  2. This kind of stuff really empowers me, I've been there at the darkest bottom pit ever and I've crawled my way up by the skin of my teeth, but I'm proud to say I am in the up and will continue to move forward, no looking back but straight ahead. I wouldn't be the person I am today without being ruined along the way. I'm now stronger,capable and happier than I've ever been in my 12 year marriage. That has to stand for something. Keep moving forward ladies, you will get to that glimmer of light I promise. Lots of love. Sam

    1. Thank you for this post and these comments.I too find myself STUCK in the pits of total despair at times. Even wonder if I can ever find my way out let alone up! It is almost 17 months since I found my husbands phone and saw the " I love you too" in an email...not to me! The crawl back has been a journey I never thought I'd be on. Thank you to all the faceless ladies who have shared their journeys. It makes it easier to know I am not alone.

  3. I love these words. Thank you for sharing, Elle…I am going to write them down and revisit them often. If only to remind myself how far I've, we've, come in the last 3 years. I am a better, more empathetic, wiser and more loving partner in spite of and because of my husband's infidelity. And he is more loving, grateful and demonstrative than ever…no surprise considering we both nearly lost each other because he was flattered by and succumbed to the charms of a very unstable human being.

    Love and blessings to all that find themselves here…


  4. I used to come on here quite alot a while back, venting my hurt and frustration and opinions on the unfortunate situation (and so unnecessarily damaging due to cowardly dishonesty from him and ego driven half truths from her) that my long term partner got himself involved in. For so long after my d-day, and I mean my very last D-Day, because I had a few smaller ones leading up to the big finale, I did keep combing over the details of why this happened to me, I wallowed in my self-pity, but I had to remind myself that it didn't happen to me, it happened to him, it took him over a year to finally admit,...and say, that it was a choice that HE made, HE enabled it all to happen, because he made the mistake of thinking it would fix something in him, and the other woman obviously assumed that she, not me, was the solution to his problems. I had to seriously analyse everything from scratch, not what happened, but our relationship, and how I saw him, and I had to figure out that in order to overcome some of the serious wounds I suffered after the discovery of his fling, was to cut out the dellusional idea of what person I had perceived my partner to be (and from such a young, naive age up til then) and try to accept that he is just as much a flawed human being as everyone else. I've come to realise that he is a damaged person, so much so as the woman he got involved with, who had also recently suffered betrayal from her ex not long before she got entangled with my partner. Ever since the last d-day, I have watched not only my partner, but also myself, evolve into two very different people, he gave his life an overhaul after what happened, he got rid of the 'enablers' in his life at the time, and the environments that fed the behaviour, not just the cheating, but other elements that encouraged the 'bachelor' kind of life, which back when it happened, he most certainly was not. It's funny when you think about it, because over the hundreds of days where you feel like nothing changes, you look back only to see that everything is completely different, and I am glad to say that it is positive, and not as it had been before the affair, this alone, has been the validation and reassurance I hold onto, to know that I made a good decision to stay in my relationship and work to move forward WITH him. The other woman may never understand, or may never WANT to understand this type of positive recovery and transformation in a relationship, especially when the partner in that relationship is the one she knowingly messed around with.
    I came to understand that the girl in my situation, was too busy nursing her own wounds and hurt ego after realizing her attempts with my partner were not going anywhere, to try and empathize with how it all affected me, and my kids, and I made the mistake of thinking that she would humble herself down enough to admit to me what really happened. It wasn't to be, and I feel naive and stupid for even allowing myself to think otherwise. I can only hope, that for the sake of hitting rock bottom, (and I can confidently say that being exposed as someone elses bit on the side and the shame that comes with it from indulging in such destructive behaviour would be hitting rock bottom) was enough for her to make some serious changes in her own life, and reasses how she chooses to conduct herself and how she is treated by others, but in short, it is not my business to know anymore. I can only thank you Elle for once again providing me with words that help me make better perspective on the many facets that this particular life event has forced me to face. x



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