I read an article the other day by a woman who had been through a lot during her life. She had a lot of pent up anger and confusion and lingering mourning. She wrote about her pain in a way that nobody could fake or embellish – it was raw and it was real. 
If you leave those emotions unattended, it can be toxic. They fester, swell and corrode until all that remains is bitterness that is frail at the edges and could crumble apart between your fingers. It is like iron eaten away by rust.
When a shiny piece of metal rusts, it does not happen overnight. It is gradual and it happens on an atomic level, beginning when iron greets oxygen with a hug. Oxygen is happy to have a place to stay as it moves in.  Add some time and some water, and oxygen and iron will combine. Finally the metal’s bonds loosen, forming rust. 
It starts out small and nobody sees it. We water the plants, drive to the grocery, take classes at school, write essays, go to work, sleep a little, and waste some time. And as we are doing this, we don’t notice that the rust has bloomed and spread outwards. It’s visible now; it has been sitting unnoticed long enough. When you weren’t paying attention it crept out of its shell and consumed its surroundings. Now what do you do with it? Rust can’t be erased and the metal can’t be restored. It has been altered on its most basic level and that’s the end of the story.
The woman who wrote the article had a cousin who died young. He was her best friend. His funeral landed on her birthday. Consequently, she didn’t celebrate her birthday for ten years. She ignored it, like it didn’t exist. She ignored all her questions and her sadness and they acted like rust in her body, combining and growing like oxygen with iron. As she was preoccupied, her emotions grew until they couldn’t be ignored anymore. They were visible and knocking on the big wooden doors of her mind with determination and resolve. 
The difference here is that she had options. She could continue ignoring everything, hopeful that she could be restored. She could open the door and let her pain flood her, overtake her, and pin her to the ground. Or, she could open the door and use what comes flooding in for good.
She chose to do the latter.
She was almost empowered by her pain as she decided to let it be constructive. She quit ignoring her birthday, but instead accepted it for the bittersweet day that it had become. Dance became her means of expression and her own way of greeting the sadness that kept trying to settle down and rust.
Just because she dealt with it in this way doesn’t mean that she wasn’t changed by her experiences. She was. But, in her case, she decided to let it change her for the better.