“If we are to survive beyond our own experience of survival, we must all become artists in some sense, the artist of our own lives, in possession of the keys that allow us to enter the transcendent state what will remake us.” Laurence Gonzales in Surviving Survival
Tis’ the season to be merry, or so the carol says, but in the midst of all the jingle bells and jolly elves is also a strong reminder to many friends and families of the empty seats at the table. Not all Tiny Tims are saved by reformed Scrooges and even reformed Scrooges eventually advance to the graveyard, to then be missed and mourned. So it is in my home and heart this holiday season. In my large family of origin there are now only three of us still sending cards and presents to each other. My progeny is grown, and of those I cared for as my own, one is also beyond the reaches of any phone service or the US mail.
I am far from alone though, I have friends who love me and even a young romance in my life, but new people carve new places at the feast that is my life, no one can ever fill another’s empty chair.
Also, my life has had a fair share of trauma and drama, some self inflicted by my own bad choices, but also some that falls in the category of beyond my control, and the most devastating some that were the direct result of me trying to do the right thing for the right reasons (my military service for example).
I am a survivor.
There are few, if any who would disagree with that label.
This post is for others, who like me are survivors. You know who you are, even if no one else does. Others see your smile, your acts of generosity, your lights and decorations. But underneath we are a Charlie Brown tree, and in the quiet and alone time we balance between celebration and grief. We find it hard to do all we expect of ourselves, things we used to do easily; we cry at certain ornaments, certain songs or smells, or sometimes at nothing at all. We eat food we shouldn’t and normally don’t, sleep past alarms we once didn’t need, forget things, are late to things, find living just a little overwhelming. It’s as if someone else, some emotional beasty, has taken over our lives at times.
In the movies the stories always end with upbeat music just as we realize the surgery worked, the person lived, the job was finally gotten, etc; happy faces all around, and “Cut.”
Real life isn’t like that, it just keeps on going and going, and the impact of loved ones absence finally hits just as others grow weary of all the grief; or the surgery wounds get infected pushing your absence of work far past your FMLA and right into when all the bills arrive; or maybe everything goes right, and the doctor casually mentions the pain is normal and part of still being alive. Whatever the sequel looks like, life never goes back to how it was before the crisis, the loss, the disease; the event horizon of stress and grief.
I do not believe in coincidence, when I saw Laurence Gonzales book “Surviving Survival” facing out on the library shelf, I knew it was there for me to pick up and to read. Not that he is saying anything my counselor hasn’t already told me, but a second witness makes anything more believable.
Apparently, there are two parts of our brain the emotional and the logical, actually like most of us, I knew this. Then there is a third part where the two overlap, the wise mind, the place where we are truly present in the moment. If we go too far into the rational mind, we loose our compassion; too far into the emotional mind and we loose our functionality, especially when the emotional mind is processing pain, loss, betrayal and all the other little minions of the Big Boss, Fear.
I like video games, especially the quest games; after all my life is a quest for true happiness. The Big Boss at the end of each chapter is Fear; Fear of Pain, Fear of Humiliation, Fear of being Abandoned, Fear of Powerlessness; the minions battling beside this boss in my life game are Broad Generalizations especially ones starting with “everyone,” “always,” “nobody,” and “never;” they are Mind Reading and Assumption and False Conclusions. They carry weapons of helplessness, hopelessness, distraction, avoidance, excuses and isolation.
My plucky hero(ine)s are Love, Meaning, Gratitude and Creation. They live in the “Wise Mind”, they must conquer the demons overrunning the emotion portion of my brain. Apparently a way for them to accumulate life points and stronger weapons is through goal oriented tasks that force me to re-center in the logical part of the brain where the demons can’t reach. Yup, this is pretty much what I get from Gonzales book.
Apparently I have been doing that my whole life, even more so the last few years as the battle has reached a more epic story line. Various chapters have extolled the benefits of physical training like swimming and running, repetitive and self rewarding behaviors like cooking and knitting, creative outlets like gardening and of course today’s chapter (because I have been avoiding my blog and journal like the plague) is all about how therapeutic it is to write.
So I am.
This blog I guess is really for me, but I hope if someone else needs it, it will help them too. Surviving survival is harder than the initial crisis because it goes on for the rest of our lives, but it is worth it. In moments of intense pain it is hard to remember how wonderful joy feels, but I promise that if we can shift to our rational mind long enough to properly arm our heroes, Love and her team will win.
Learn it, do it, teach it. Whatever “it” is. Running, swimming, cooking and knitting have been working for me, writing a little less these days because how close to the emotional mind it takes me, but it still can work (if I work it.) However, use whatever tools work for you. There will be moments when you wonder if it is all worth it, if you are worth it. Please, in those moments, knit or write or color in a coloring book, learn to play the kazoo or the tuba, walk a 5k or just around your block, bake cookies or fudge, start a blog, cut and paste a collage; do something that engages your mind in learning, practicing, and then find someone with whom to share the skill.
Among other things I am a more than once survivor of someone choosing a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Whatever is generating the monsters, we can get through this, and in the end, beat the game! The only true loss is to quit playing.