There are many ways I could speak of the occurrences which have happened throughout my life, and the people who I have encountered along the way. I could be bitter and full of thoughts of revenge at those who harmed me and the things I have missed out on because of that maltreatment and I could feel sorry for myself settling on the notion that the world owes me. My therapist Paula challenged these mental traps causing me instead to think hard on what I have learned from my experiences, both good and bad.
The following piece may seem like I’m bragging, or being self-serving, but that is not my intent. I wish to convey a different way of reasoning and teach it to as many as will listen. Please allow me to list just a few of the circumstances and some of the important life lessons that have come from them.
Let me begin by recounting the traumatic events that occurred in my early childhood. Due to this maltreatment, Although my abusers lowered my value and worth by using me for their pleasure and denying me the support both physical and emotional that all children deserve, I came away from this trauma able to love. I know that sounds like an impossibility, but allow me to explain. Due to their maltreatment of me as a child, I grew up understanding very well what it is like to feel despair and loneliness. These extremes in emotions have made me more able to experience the love that I am given from others today with exceptional joy. I do not take for granted when others show me kindness and compassion, thus I am able to accept others without regard to their personal preferences, color or any other trait. To me all humans are equally valuable and beautiful. Once you’ve looked into the eyes of evil and felt the hopelessness of not being able to escape from its grasp, you understand deep down that all humanity is both complex and valuable. Also, to judge the rest of humanity by the actions of a few is to become trapped into an endless cycle of self-pity. Would I choose to relive the abuse over again? Hell no, but accepting what happened is to acknowledge that the horrendous abuse and neglect I suffered at my abuser’s hands has made me who I am today, a strong, able, compassionate and loving woman.
Next, I wish to move beyond childhood into my young adult years. I was a nursing assistant in a local nursing home for over eight years. To describe the many life lessons I learned while working there would be worthy of a book, but I shall hit the highlights here. Before I began caring for the elderly, I had gone out of my way to avoid any kind of physical contact. I shied away from hugs, kisses and even handshakes. If you know anything about nursing, you understand that avoiding physical touch is impossible. My job required me to not only help people walk and be clean, but to give emotional support, which included inevitably, hugging. At first, I found the very idea of hugging or being hugged as akin to throwing boiling water on my skin. It almost caused me pain to even think of such a thing. However, after several months of dealing with my elderly clients, I found myself enjoying the warmth I encountered with these ancient residents. What a wonderful lesson and valuable lesson to learn from these old souls, that not all touch is harmful or be avoided. I learned many other things from them too, such as all people deserve dignity and respect. These folks had been tucked away from society because they were sick, old and sometimes had bizarre behaviors. They had their independence stripped from them and faced the knowledge that they were not going to leave the home alive. Many had no family left and had outlived all their friends. In their ancient faces were etched lines of loss that only people who have lived in a long-term facility can understand. My heart, which had been so hardened by many years of mistreatment, melted and reached out to them. I found myself going out of my way to find ways to help them get back some of the freedom they had lost, and in return I received their unconditional love. The encounters with these beautiful people will continue to shape my life throughout the rest of my life.
In 1990, I became extremely ill due to the abuse issues that had always plagued my life. I had become extremely depressed and suicidal, a fact that I related to my youngest brother Michael. He insisted that I seek help, and I found a psychologist named Paula. I am going to post at length the myriad number of lessons this woman helped me to learn in a later blog article. Heedless to say, Paula was a very important force in my life for change which has propelled me to where I am today.
The marriage I had during my thirties was also a great reservoir of learning. Although our marriage only lasted a little over eight years, I learned much. My ex-husband gave me a lesson early on in our marriage, that has helped me enormously in my other relationships. Having come from a dysfunctional family, and having grown up listening to and buying into what Hollywood says about relationships, I was of the mindset that people who get married live happily ever after. One evening my ex and I had an argument and I was devastated. After listening to me sob for a while, this man taught me something extremely valuable. He told me that anytime two people live in close proximity, like in a marriage, there are going to be disagreements and fights. It is inevitable and to be expected. He then reassured me that just because we fight, that does not mean our marriage is over. Rather, arguing clears the air, and making up well that’s the best part. I have remembered that lesson and taught it to others many times.
In the winter of 1999 I had a stroke, and as a result, I had to enter a rehabilitation center. The stroke left me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life and could have left me trapped in a prison of self-pity. I did feel that way for a few months, and I treated the staff unkindly, venting my anger and frustration on them. However, I learned so much from this illness. Because I was so ill, I was forced to slow down in my life and take a hard look at what I had been doing with it. I had become extremely unhappy in my marriage, and instead of facing those feelings had begun to abuse my prescription medications and to drink alcohol. While I was in the facility I was able to look at this behavior and make some important life-changing decisions. I decided not only to stop using substances, but also to pursue a divorce as well.
A few years later, life again cast me into turmoil. I had recovered very well from the stroke, save my ability to walk, but my emotional state had deteriorated to the point where I wasn’t taking my medications properly nor eating. I was so ill that my brothers fear for my life, and because of this I entered a long-term inpatient psychiatric facility where I remained for over seven years. The main thing I think I learned from those seven years was patience. I lived on a wing with thirty other people who all had needs such as help with bathing, being served their meals and having their medications managed. All of this was work was accomplished by one nurse and nurses assistants on days with even less help during the evening and at night. On average, the other residents of this wing stood in line for services nine times a day with each occurrence lasting upwards of an hour. This count went up even higher during special events such as parties and activities. It wasn’t only dealing with waiting that I learned patience, I also learned this important life skill from dealing with the other people who lived on the wing. The folks I encountered there all had moderate to severe mental health issues, and I had to learn to moderate my behavior in order to get along with them without conflict. That wasn’t always possible, of course, but having a patient respect for them kept the arguments and other uncomfortable circumstances to a minimum.
I left that facility in 2012, and in 2014 was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not since my childhood had I come face to face with death like I did after that diagnosis. The following two surgeries left me feeling beaten and broken. Not only had this occurred but in the same year my nephew Jimmy had died just a few weeks before he was scheduled to be born. I felt bitter and angry with god and the world. During this tumultuous time, my therapist Paula taught me something that I will always remember as being one of the most important lessons of my life. “People are born and people die. Good things happen and so do bad ones. This is called life. One can choose to feel bitter and angry or one can choose to accept that life isn’t fair nor is it easy.” She also added one day, “enjoy life, none of us are getting out of it alive.” That may sound like oversimplified trash, but it is verytrue. All of us, regardless of where we live, how rich we are, or any other trait you can think of, are going to face trauma in our lives. We can either learn from those events or give up. I chose the former.
We all have lessons we can learn from the people and circumstances we encounter in our lives. I’ve only made a small list of the things I have absorbed down through the years. I am fully aware that there will be many more tragedies and triumphs in my days ahead. It is a conscious choice on my part, to not dread these lessons, but to use them to propel myself forward in my understanding of myself and my fellow human beings.
My advice to my readers is to make a list of the people and circumstances that have affected your life, both good and bad, then think thoughtfully on what they have taught you. If you are like myself, you will find that you are grateful even for the traumatic events because they have made you who you are today. This self-awareness can be a jumping off point for accepting yourself with all your flaws, as the wonderful creature is you. It will also help you to avoid the trap of self-pity that so often accompanies and encapsulates people because it will be replaced with gratitude.
“Life is only traveled once, today’s moments become tomorrow’s memories. Enjoy every moment, good or bad, because the gift of life is life itself.” Author Unknown