Saturday, August 31, 2013

Moving Through Life's Transitions

Life's transitions, two neutral-sounding words.  Not at all descriptive of the difficulties, the joy and the pain that are often felt during such times. I heard recently that a gifted minister in town said this about grief (I am paraphrasing): "I hate grief!" And, I can understand that. Can't you?

Whether it is the loss of a loved one, a new baby born, a divorce, a job change or geographical move, each of these are common transitions. Physical illnesses, menopause, and empty nest are some other "normal" transitions during which people struggle with both negative and sometimes positive internal experiences as well. Even good stress is still stress and can be hard on us.When we are elated, in love and about to be married, the transition from one state of being to another is often complex and complicated.

Stress during transitions are handled or managed, and one part of the equation is that we first need to acknowledge that this change is happening, and accept that reality. Once we become aware, we are on the road to better health.  

Some would say that the next step is to let ourselves really feel what we feel, so as not to avoid or distract ourselves from the impact of the situation. We are told not to just stuff down those feelings by our regular soothing behaviors, but, we may do just that and sometimes this can be a healthy maneuver initially.

Many people survive crises without feeling much because of a natural process that protects us. During and after a medical crisis or car wreck, our whole bodies move into shock helping us through the trauma. Only after the funeral or divorce, when things quieten down and life settles, do some people feel the raw and heavy weight of the crisis. As if nerve endings had been cauterized and numbed, and now the nerve is growing back highly sensitized, hurting horrifically. Perhaps it is at these times that we need the most support as we live our lives with fresh new eyes, noticing how the transition has changed us, how it has transformed us.

During life's transitions I recommend that we all be gentle with ourselves and not push ourselves too hard. We also need to listen to the cacophony of inner voices, graffiti on our internal walls, informing us in coded ways about how to interpret the past, present and future. Therapists know that reframing a struggle as an opportunity for growth is cliche but can be true. Like Dante's Divine Comedy, perhaps we must go down before traveling up to a higher place, a healthier place than before. Sometimes, we transverse this new crevasse easily and sometimes awkwardly, clumsily.

This we know: Life is not for the faint of heart. A good friend Noel says that aging isn't for sissies. Most transitions aren't either. We hope that we can move through them with grace and wisdom, but some changes just bring us to our knees. To move forward we may need others' help.  I wish you the best in your life's challenges, your transitions. For some reason, right now, I feel like singing and dancing to the song, Amazing Grace.

Monday, August 26, 2013

What happens when we lose trust in our government?

The most recent episode of the Newsroom (HBO, 8/25/2013, created by Aaron Sorkin) is about trust. At this episode’s end, Charlie, played by Sam Waterston, offers his boss resignations from his top staff and himself because of a horrible “institutional” mistake. Jane Fonda, playing the owner Leona, refuses to sacrifice her brilliant news team so Charlie yells at her, “They don’t trust us anymore!” Leona yells back, “Then, GET IT BACK!”

If we cannot trust our nation’s government, our leaders, then who can we trust? Can they “get it back?”

In families, good-enough parents act with consistency and reliability so that babies learn to trust early on, so that they can feel secure enough to grow up and have healthy, satisfying lives. When parents fail to offer even an illusion of security and safety to the child, the child grows up being anxious, worried, insecure, and sometimes fearful. Growing up in a family where trust is absent is like growing up in our nation these days.

Perhaps earlier American leaders offered the illusion of safety and security because they hid secrets better. Maybe if we didn’t have 24 hour news coverage and our current media industrial complex, we wouldn’t hear about so many lies and deceit not just about leaders who sext and sexually harass, but about many atrocities like our government’s secretly collecting information about all of us. Even after the whistle got blown, our leaders tried to spin the facts, telling us more untruths.

Normally, we condemn the messenger of the truth, sending him and others like him to prison or death. Since we do not want to hear the bad news that our privacy has been violated, we create stories about our world, our nation and ourselves. We fight to keep the delusion of safety and security in any ways possible and if not able, we need much soothing by using avoidant behaviors like spending more money, using more alcohol, drugs, sex and other means to distract us from the truth of this nation, which is that appearances are not reality. Or, rather, what seems to be true in our experiences may be factually wrong but we don’t want to look too closely to find out any differently. Too scary to view with clear, open eyes.

Our nation is in trouble. It is easy to say that someone needs to resign, to be sent to prison, to be impeached. But, there is a more dire problem. Without excellent journalism, how to we even find the truth? We must not accept the lies we are told. We must not put our heads in the sand so that life feels a tiny bit better. We must work together to confront these truths about our government, our leaders and ourselves in order to make a more perfect union. Our leaders must win back our trust and we need to help them learn how to do that.