Finding Inner Peace During Hard Times
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
During my US Naval deployment in 2017, I would encounter the heaviest mental load I have ever lived through. A difficult time where I was cut off society and would be forced to decide how strong I really am.
In the months leading up to this deployment, I suffered a number of personal tragedies.
The grief of dealing with the tragic deaths of two childhood cousins due to gun violence that would hang over me like a dark cloud.
The abrupt, and painful, end of a once-thriving relationship with an ex.
While dealing with the increasingly heavy mantle of carrying the responsibility of defending my country and those around me.
As a US Navy mechanic, I wasn’t on the front lines — my battles came from keeping the war effort going. My job was to keep metal beast alive and well as airstrikes flew against our enemies. It was more than just fixing the machines of war — it was also about fixing the people fighting the war. As a leader figure, and young man coming into his own, I had to figure out how to best keep going from one day to another while helping those around me.
If one of us got too tired to keep up, it could result in damaged equipment. On a US Naval vessel, that could have extremely fatal consequences for human life. Steam leaks that could melt the human body within seconds, stray electricity, and any number of injuries can result if we became negligent — that’s not even counting the macro effect it could have on our mission.
Oh, and it was hot. Like really, really hot. With temperatures that were easily hovering over 100 degrees on a daily basis, heat stress was a constant concern. With the exception of our living spaces, there was always a constant thirst of water.
Add on top of it, an overly demanding schedule that often required crunch hours, and you could add sleep deprivation to the list.
How does one even focus in such an adverse environment?
Like, this is insanity made real.
The truth is there is absolutely no way to make any of it easier. Liked it or not, that is what we signed up for.
My external environment was unflinching, however, my thoughts were the escape button. Internally, I discovered a peace I never thought possible. I would create a single, daily mantra for myself that could see me to the end of this journey.
“There is a light at the end of this tunnel.”
I would repeat this to myself. Every. Single. Day. Every single moment of exhaustion, every single time I felt like giving up, and every time I needed to force myself out of bed, this mantra would repeat itself.
It sucked. It was hard. One of the hardest things I have ever done. It wasn’t even the physical environment. No…that was easy actually. It was the mental fight within.
The physical exhaustion paired with the lack of sleep also induced mental mind games. The traumas of the past would hit even harder, my determination would waver, and the temptation to break was always calling my name.
However, that same mantra, kept repeating itself — and it is there I found power within.
My coworkers and I would learn to smile and laugh in the harshest of situations. Gallows humour was our escape from a tough reality. And when situations became difficult for us, our mutual camaraderie would see us through to the other side.
Somehow, someway, we all found our way to the end of the tunnel with a smile on our faces.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Marcus Aurelius
Resilience is a special characteristic that humans are born without.
As a people, we innately crave happiness and reject anything one can be considered “painful”.
From the time we are kids, we are constantly reminded that pain is bad and thus we should get away from the source of hurt. Whether it’s physical or emotional, if it has the potential to cause discomfort, we remove it.
However, there are moments in life, where simply running from a harmful environment is simply not an option. Whether it’s being stuck at a toxic workplace, a tumultuous home life, or it’s simply somewhere causing you extreme emotional discomfort, there comes a point where we have to “get through to the end”. When going around is no longer an option, and you have to finish the job by going through the obstacle.
“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill
In today’s difficult times, we are surrounded with painful experiences. The future is shakier than ever due to financial and health difficulties. Layoffs are becoming the norm and the vast majority of us feel crushed in an ever-challenging environment.
While we cannot change our external situations, we can still retain control of the thoughts within us. It is inside of us that happiness can still be obtained. External circumstances can steal the materials and people around you, but whether it can take your happiness is up to you.
Inside of us all is the power to smile in the face of adversity and reach that glorious light at the end of the tunnel.
Thanks for reading!
Dayon Cotton is Active Duty US Navy and Freelance Writer. I write about social issues, life lessons, and advice on how to live a better life.