I’ve been thinking a lot about “survival” and being a “survivor”.
What does it mean to “survive”?
To a certain extent, we are all survivors. Bad shit happens, and then, whether we want it to or not, the sun comes up the next day and life goes on. The other alternative is choosing death, which seems extreme. So, in a way, we really don’t have much of a choice – if we are technically alive, we have survived.
But is being technically alive really “surviving”? I guess it is if you walk away from a terrible accident, made it out of the twin towers, or amputated your own arm then hiked out of the desert. So, survival itself is a good thing, but, even people who are lucky just to be technically alive have to decide how they are going to live after the bad shit. Are they satisfied with being technically alive or do they grab hold of life and survive!
Just technically living is not surviving.
My Dad’s sudden death in 1996 (at age 52) sent me into a tailspin that I am only now recovering from. I survived, but didn’t truly believe I was allowed to be happy ever again. I felt victimized and powerless, that some foreign thing had interrupted the life I was supposed to be having. I believed that without him to validate me, believe in me and/or save me, I would fail. So I did. I failed in career, marriage, and parenting (and probably a few other things…). I don’t know if I ever believed that I was in control of my life before his death, but I do know that, after his death, I was positive that I was not in control. Things happened and I reacted. I was consumed with guilt, anger, self-loathing and fear. I was surviving, but just barely. I certainly wasn’t living.
I know that all of that mess led me to where I am now, and in that sense it is good. But I can’t help but wonder how things would have played out if I had decided to accept that his death was an important part of my life (not an outside force) and to do more than just keep living, i.e., survive! I’m guessing life would have looked a lot different.
I used to be all “I guess I will survive this bad shit” and now I’m all, “What bad shit? I’m going to survive!”
This doesn’t mean I don’t get sad and scared about things changing, I totally do. It’s just that now I can manage it better, I can see change as a part of my life, not something that is alien and just happening to my life and therefore “bad”.
I’m not at all sure how this came about. Is it because I’m 46 (which is practically fucking 50) and I’ve been around long enough to see that some things that seemed like the end of the entire world at the time, were actually things that opened new doors and created new possibilities? Maybe.
Is it because of my experience in child welfare law? Probably. You can’t spend years trying to convince parents that whatever bad shit has happened — drug addiction, domestic violence, severe depression, child abuse — they still have the power to choose to get their lives back under control, without believing it to be true.
The change also came about as a result of finding amazing teachers, including Mike Dooley and Havi Brooks, who have taught me that (1) from a macro perspective, it really is all good, (2) fractal flowers – everything is related to everything else, nothing is wasted – not time, not energy, and (3) it doesn’t matter what happened Then, start from where you are Now and move forward.
So, how can I survive (survive!) this ickiness with Mom’s brain?
Part of me, a big part, is thinking “Well, this is it. Nothing but horribleness in the future. Followed by life-without-Mom-horribleness. I guess I will survive.”
And the still- new-but-growing-stronger part of me who believes it is all good and that everything is part of everything else, is thinking, “This fucking sucks! I hate this! I don’t want this to be happening!” and “Everything will be ok. One day at a time… Mom’s cancer hasn’t been all bad. It has taught us both to live life with more gusto. That doesn’t have to change just because of the brain tumors, it might look different, but it can still be great. I don’t have to like any of this, but I can handle it. This is part of my life, and it will no doubt give me a new perspective and, most likely, help me with my thing.”
Do I even have a point here?
Ummm, yes, I think I do. How I survive the events of my life is a choice. I can choose to just keep living or I can choose to survive! I’ve tried the “just keep living” approach. It sucked for me and those around me. Now I’m going to choose to survive! It won’t be easy, and there will be sad. But in the sadness there is also gratefulness and hope. Everything is part of everything else.
p.s. Mom is in the rehab unit at University Hospital and is making amazing progress. She couldn’t move her leg 3 days ago, today she walked up and down 16 steps! She is still struggling a bit with language/reading, but is making steady improvement. The Dr. says she will probably be able to come home next week. Which, of course, freaks me out and makes me happy 😉