Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? Well, maybe not always: some things can leave you permanently weaker. But most times, I’m sure, going to hell and back may well make you stronger (and happier) than you originally were. You get renewal, if nothing else: another season starts, like spring after winter, the daylight gets brighter and lasts longer, the days get warmer. The flowers are fresher. They smell new again.
In the first episode of Chef’s Table, Season 2, Grant Achatz, of Alinea, in Chicago, describes his return from a cancer of the tongue that threatened his life and for a good while, took his sense of taste away. After experimental treatment killed the tumour that could have done him in, his doctor told him: “You’re clean.”
But his taste was still gone.
Then, one day, he explains, he had dumped tons of sugar in his coffee, as he’d been doing since his taste had become so dulled, and realized suddenly he could sense just how sweet it was. A first part of his sense of taste had returned. “A month later, he explains, I’m grabbing three finger pinches of salt, and just throwing them on my tongue. And then I can taste salt. It’s starting to come back in waves.”
“But the interesting thing was when everything started colliding together,” he then adds. Recovering every element, one by one, allowed him to be more conscious of everyone of them, of understanding how everything played together. He felt more energized, better able to work as a chef. “To me, it was like my whole world had changed.”
It seems to me, from recent experience, that emotional recovery, after powerful grief and emotional injury, can work in the same way, too. After a time when all the pieces seem to have fallen off, and be laying on the ground, useless, one thing falls back into place, and suddenly, what seemed dull feels sweeter, what stopped you in your tracks doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. Further waves of recovery take place, sometimes by surprise, and what you expect to hurt doesn’t, all of a sudden. It’s non-linear. There are setbacks and jumps forward. It feels like climbing up big steps. not a bell curve.
The fog clears. Sunlight returns. The daylight gets brighter, shedding more light on all those pieces that have reassembled, and how they all connect and work together. You feel more energized. You understand things better. And whatever had broken you down has no more power over you.
Is it necessary to go through that to really feel so much better? Hopefully, you can feel that good without having been hurt and suffered injury. But whatever the case may be, if that is what life deals you, then it’s good to know that you can come back from it, and indeed, come back stronger, and better equipped for moving forward.