The Journey of Transformation in Difficult Times:
Relationship, Resilience, Respite, Renewal (The 4 Rs)
In the span of a year, every major part of my life changed.
I left a long-term job, a marriage ended. I returned to Minnesota and moved in with my parents to become a caregiver to my mother, who was dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). A couple of months into that I was diagnosed with breast cancer and began nine months of treatment. Two months later my mom died. I finished treatment, looked after my father in his new life, and began to rebuild my own.
I found myself learning to live more fully and consciously, as my mother was learning to die gracefully, and finding the way to my future, though it was painful, frightening and humbling. Sharing this story and the lessons learned through it is the purpose of this blog.
As a psychotherapist, recovering alcoholic and evolving human I have always believed that a vital task in this life is to grow and learn. The challenges we face can break us or provide the opportunity to become more than we were.
Like a Tree
I visualize this process as similar to the life of a tree–emerging from an acorn, seed or pinecone, dropped from a full-grown tree, sending out roots, forming a trunk, branches, leaves and twigs. The tree is defined by its type, the soil it is in, and the climate impacting it. Damage may occur, through no fault of its own, but by weather conditions, environmental impact or disease. The tree bends as needed, adjusts its course reaching for sunlight, heals the damage as best it can. It is often living close to other trees growing in their own ways. Eventually it, too, will return seeds to the soil, creating new life. Every tree is unique, because of its individual journey of life. Every day of that tree’s life impacts it, and it adapts and adjusts as required to keep reaching upwards.
Humans can also be savaged by life; branches break, drought occurs, blight appears, the environment changes. Finding nourishment, space, and adapting to the new conditions is difficult. To survive and not be felled is the key. For us, self-awareness is essential. Through my personal challenges I continued to observe what was happening inside me/to me. I was aware that a momentous transition was occurring but I was not entirely sure if it was a transformative one or not. I thought it might crush me, rather than enrich and enlarge me. I was going on instinct, feeling powerless like I never had before, feeling afraid, overwhelmed, angry and sad.
Along the way, though, it did become a journey of transformation. My roots went deeper, I found more sunlight, I was nourished by my native soil. The pruning I had undergone allowed me to branch upward and outward with renewed strength and vigor.
I found that there were important resources and strengths available to me. These are illustrated in four principles, which are:
I discovered the power of relationship that sees us through our darkest days. I witnessed kindness, celebration and love. My connection with my parents deepened. I witnessed the remarkable relationship between them, and with those who loved them, especially our large extended family. I was, in turn, supported by those relationships while going through my own painful transition.
I strengthened my resilience, learned new things, utilized previous teachings, leaned on my faith, found more clarity and understanding. I mastered skills and acquired wisdom. I witnessed incredible beauty, synchronicity, and the blessings to be found in the most difficult journeys.
I learned to let others be there to help me, and take the opportunity for respite. Having personal time and the freedom to let go of the responsibilities and demands at times is essential to continuing. My family turned to and was greatly helped by professionals and these resources became part of our system of support as well. I leaned heavily on my friends and they fully supported me.
I experienced renewal, with my life starting on a different path. It became easier to keep things in perspective and to live in the present moment. I found richness in laughter and tears and became more authentic. I returned to my profession and rebuilt my career, in a new way, in a new place. I began to more fully enjoy my life, with friends and family in my day-to-day life, “blooming where I was planted.” I had a chance at a fresh start.
When I returned to my profession as a counselor, I found that my personal experiences had enriched my ability to help others. I had more understanding of traumatic change, loss and grief, deep emotional and physical pain. I understood, more than ever, how vital it is to use the resources available in all ways possible. A great lesson I learned was, “If someone offers help, take it!” There are many other lessons I learned and will share, as well.
I hope that readers will learn to apply these four principles to their own lives to transform grief, tragedy, setbacks and discouragement into positive change and greater wisdom.