When you’re stuck in survival mode

Survival mode is NOT fun. We’ve all been there.

My most recent experience with survival mode was after leaving religious life. I was only there nine months as a postulant, but all my hopes and plans for my life collapsed.

I’d say I was in survival mode for a good 18 months after that, until I went on a silent retreat, a spiritual director encouraged me to to be honest with God about what I felt, and I received the grace, in doing that, to let go of the sense of discontinuity and disorientation that had been plaguing me.

If you are in survival mode right now, this is how I got through it, for what it’s worth.

  • I PRAYED. It was hard some days, because my wound was very much God-shaped, but I kept to a prayer routine daily, carving out time for God. It helped me take the focus off ME and my emotions, encouraged me to trust that there was purpose and meaning in this time of trial, and kept me moving forward.
  • I FOCUSED ON ONE DAY, OR EVEN ONE TASK, AT A TIME. I started working towards becoming a certified medical coder, and then toward finding a job. I tried not to look beyond the coming evening, and each night, I acknowledged that I had gotten through another day in survival mode and acknowledged that as an accomplishment. When the grief and disorientation were heaviest, I would very explicitly put the goal before me of getting through the day.
  • I KEPT A SCHEDULE. This was critical for me. I KNEW I was somewhat depressed, and I took action to prevent my depression from spiraling by keeping a strict schedule. I didn’t want to get to a point where I wasn’t functioning or spending all day in bed, so I went to bed within the same hour window every night. I went to bed early. I did this so that I could rise early, which I like doing and which the monastery fostered as well, to pray before tackling my daily tasks. That prayer time gave me strength to face another day in survival mode.
  • I STARTED WRITING AGAIN. Not only did I revise my original trilogy, which I’d taken down before entering the monastery, but I wrote a prequel. I made it a story of redemption.

I found myself relating to my characters in new ways. New analogies between them and what I had experienced jumped out at me. It deepened my connection to my characters and made my fiction a bit of a lifeline for me.

I find it amazing that the subtitle for book 1 in that trilogy, releasing June 15, is “The Fight for Hope.” That’s what I was doing, along with my characters . . . fighting for hope.

I found it in God, who used my fiction to reach me.

You can check out my recent posts below. And mark your calendars for June 15!


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