If I had a mantra in the early days post D-Day when my world imploded, it was this: I have three healthy children.
No matter how bad things seemed – as lie piled upon lie, as each new bit of info shredded my heart into ever smaller bits – I would remind myself that, no matter how awful this was, my children were alive and well.
Turns out, I was on to something.
As Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg reported in an episode of On Being, considering how things could be worse is a key survival strategy. It's akin, said Sandberg, to the stereotypical hand wringer always considering new potential disasters but there's wisdom in it. Look on the bright side can feel impossible when you're going through hell. Most of the time, it seems as if there is no bright side. The trick, as psychologist Adam Grant explained, is that because it can be hard to replace bad with good, we fool ourselves by replacing existing awful with potentially worse, which actually helps us in that moment find gratitude. So, while my marriage felt as though it was an utter sham and my best friend had betrayed me in the worst possible way, I had three healthy children.
My existing awful was discovering my husband's infidelity. My potential worse would be losing any one of my children. Consequently, the fact that my three kids were alive and well became something to be celebrated because I could imagine that not being the case.
I also reminded myself that my husband's partners had been consenting adults. He hadn't engaged in anything illegal. Things could have been worse. Relatively speaking, infidelity seemed...survivable.
Your potential awful might be: I could be dealing with cancer (which was the case for a woman I know.
It might be: What if my parents were dead? What if we lost our home? What if I contracted AIDS? And on and on. You can always ALWAYS, as long as you're still breathing, find a worse-case scenario.
And that worse-case scenario can keep you rooted in perspective.
This is not to diminish your current pain. In Sandberg's situation, her beloved husband was still dead. No amount of worse-case scenarios was going to change her brutal and painful reality. And, at first, she resisted. Grant's recommendation that she try to imagine a worse scenario – What could be worse? she asked – was met with her scorn. Grant's response? Your husband could have been driving your children when he had his heart attack.
As much as some of is wish we were dead after D-Day, we don't really want our life to end. We want the pain to end. And as long as we're alive, there's the possibility – indeed the probability – that things will get better.
Those of us further down the path of healing are proof of that.
My kids are still alive and well. We have our challenges, of course. But they are manageable.
My marriage is good. I consider my husband my closest friend and our relationship is stronger for the storms it has weathered.
There has and will be more pain. I lost my mother a decade ago in the midst of this maelstrom, and my father celebrates his 88th birthday today. Like everyone else, I grow older daily.
But things can (almost) always be worse.