The Fairy Tale of Life: To Die With Unrealized Dreams

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People die every day who haven’t fulfilled their life’s ambitions, found their passion, or discovered a joy filled authentic self. Every Day. I struggle with this in my life quite often as I have lost people I love, whom have died, just as depressed, lost, and alone, as they spent their lives. My Dad was one of these people.

If there was a theme that resonated in my father’s life it was to search. He spent his time forever seeking his ideal partner, most profitable career move, or physical challenge. If there was someone in life who could be forever seeking while being utterly lost it would be my Dad. Not coincidentally, he died as he lived – sad, alone, and never having found what it was he was looking for.

Watching him as a young girl growing up try one thing after another, or one women after another, or one invention after another….was tiring. Just as it feels redundant to read the preceding line, it was often a challenge to be his daughter. I was blessed/cursed with being born with an innate drive to help people. I am passionately compelled to care about others in their well being, personal life satisfaction, and sanity. I have built a business, career, and lifestyle, around this very premise. I live the life I promote to my clients, family, and friends, as everyday I do my best to be my most authentic self. These are some of the reasons that it broke my heart to realize that in spite of all of my love, care, and time that I directed towards my father – he still died as he did. How is this possible? It’s viable because many times there is no happy ending in this life. Sometimes no happily ever after exists.

In our lives we find motivation and hope in the “what ifs”. The possibilities that await us allow us to strive to be calmer, happier, more content. I believe that my job as a therapist is to support others in their dreams for themselves while helping to ground them in their lives as they exist today. My work becomes coaching the balance between finding acceptance of oneself in the moment while also allowing for the possibilities that exist when tuning into our genuine authentic self. This becomes an awareness in my therapy office. But what happens if someone doesn’t find a therapist to work with that can promote this balance? Or someone never seeks individual work on themselves? How life shattering it becomes to realize that this understanding, for whatever reason, does not always work for everyone and many times there is no respite from the pain and suffering that some will cling to until their very last breath.

A life question of mine has become: How do I sit with the knowledge that many times the people I love are people I cannot reach? This life that is so challenging for all of us, that is so out of our control in spite of our best efforts; sometimes this life never improves or gets better and then it’s done. I have been spending time thinking of my father, and other’s in my life growing up who I have loved, who did not choose the healthiest path of which to live out their very limited time on this earth. I feel helpless and ineffective as I cannot help people who are not able to receive it, or don’t want help, or…… It is unbearable to see human beings suffer, especially those we love. We can love them in whatever way the verb resonates with us. If that means daily visits, phone calls, motivational posters, letting them move in, or letting them go. It is possible that sometimes the best way to love someone is to let them go. How can that even be?

Maybe the legacy that my father has left me with is the desire to live my life fully everyday. The realization that life is precious and short came from him. It is a priceless gift to behold. He died at 56 years of age as a marathon running fit man. His cancer fed on his depression and stress levels. It took an already compromised will, that had decided life was unfair many years ago, and gnawed on it until it simply had nothing left to destroy. In the end, his deteriorated body became symbolic of his tormented soul.

I in no way had a fairy tale upbringing, and in fact wouldn’t even play with princesses, dolls, or spend my time reading books that included princes, white horses, or castles. And yet, I somehow internalized the idea that life works out, good things happen to good people, and things are fair. I wanted to believe in this. I still want to believe. The reality seems to be that sometimes good things happen to good people and sometimes bad things too. Life doesn’t always work out, and challenges present themselves to us every single day as we become forced to make wise choices that hopefully include kindness, forgiveness, and acceptance of our perfectly imperfect human selves. Things are not fair. Bad things happen to good folk all of the time.

What inspires me in my work and in my life is the potential. The potential of what we all have inside of us. The unlimited possibility. I see this in my clients as they sit across from me. I hold this idea in our space together as it sprouts roots and is nurtured in the therapeutic relationship. There is nothing more beautiful to me than being allowed to witness growth in a unique human being who is brave enough to face themselves in a therapy room. I choose to believe that everyone has the potential to reach their own best life, their own happily ever after, before their story ends. This is my version of a fairy tale worth hanging on to.

Stacey Neil, LMFT is a Psychotherapist and Personal Trainer in Private Practice in Los Gatos, California. She can be reached at (408) 827-5139.

And Yet Another Reason We Shouldn’t Assume

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Want to make an ass out of you and me? One of the easiest ways to do it is to assume. Making assumptions is risky, full of ego, and typically inaccurate by its very nature, and yet most of us do it all of the time. I had a funny thing happen yesterday that reminded me of why it is not just with each other that we make this mistake, but also in the everyday things we do in our daily lives all by ourselves. We make assumptions based on many learned things including our underlying belief systems. Belief systems that include how truly amazing we believe we are as humans, while also thinking we hold the righteous power of being all knowing (when in actuality we don’t really know much about most stuff at all).

I just found myself making an assumption yesterday afternoon while I was trying to do a good deed by rescuing a stranded red ear slider turtle who was sitting in the middle of the road down the street from my house. He seemed to be either deciding this spot on the road was a great place to tan or that life was no longer worth living and he was choosing to end this go around via his last game of chicken. Either way, I quickly jumped out of my car, threw on my cape (and tank top with an “S” across the front) and rushed to the rescue of this obviously stranded, about to be killed, beloved pet.

I grabbed this beast, who I had inaccurately decided at the time was a tortoise, and called my daughter to come and take care of it while I went to go and see clients. She was game and took it upon herself to create a habitat for this large creature. Please note, this was no ordinary small turtle that one sees in a home aquarium. Oh no. This thing was impressive in its size coming in at hefty girth and being larger than a serving platter. I know because this made him unable to be placed in a large tupperware serving bowl which was the first thing that was thought of for a temporary home. He went in a box.

Something fun to note about this tortoise, who turned out to be a turtle (you can tell by checking their feet), is that he made this noise by expressing air in a very “balloon deflating” like manner when picked up. It was almost like all of the life was squeezed out of him in his surrender to being handled by myself and my daughter. Or like he was hissing in distress because he wasn’t used to being picked up and had never had human contact. “As if he had never had human contact” became the key statement to focus on as we realized after the fact that he was hissing like this because he NEVER had dealt with human contact and was not anyones pet. He was a totally wild, very large, turtle who I had wrongly assumed needed to be rescued. However, I get ahead of myself.

As I continued to fly my cape around my ever broadening shoulders due to my good deed kharma pouring in as I saved this creature, my incorrect assumption ended up causing me to do the most distressing thing that could have occurred to it. I came home and realized he needed to be in water as he was a turtle and not a tortoise. I put him in a ceramic bathtub filled with water, floating organic lettuce leaves (50/50 organic spring mix), and towels to help him get purchase on the slippery tub and be able to hold on to something. I created this ceramic jail to house this beautiful creature as I did what every good neighbor does when they have found a pet, I: posted on our neighborhood site, hit up facebook, went door to door, and looked for turtle rescues (yes, they exist).

All the while the turtle was miserable. It did not eat, drink or poo. Instead, it tried for hours to climb out of the tub and escape it’s artificial prison. It did this because it was a wild animal used to roaming free in nature and not something that has ever even been inside a house – or picked up into the air in a terrifying embrace (while hissing). I suggest to my clients all of the time that making assumptions when other people act a certain way, or do things that are hurtful to them, to not assume; however, I had never really realized that we make assumptions about things all of the time based on mis-information and poor judgement that have nothing to do with other people at all. I also realized we don’t necessarily do this out of ill intention or spite, sometimes we try to do the right thing and act out of kindness and make an assumption that causes more distress than good.

As I started to hear from my neighbors around my turtle inquires, I realized that there are a lot of wild turtles coming through my neighborhood in the search for water as our creek is running dry in this drought. These turtles are seeking a habitat that will support them. This made me incredibly sad as I realized that many of these creatures will more than likely die, or get hit by cars as their environment goes into crisis. Not this turtle, I decided. I took my wild beast, who by this time I had named Toodles (as everything becomes friendlier when given a cheesy pet name) to the closest body of natural water I could find. I hiked down this steep hill after trespassing behind this gated fence (feeling justified and still flying my cape of course) and put it on the shore of this lake. Half of the lake was already dried up and I fear for the animals who this water supports, but for now, this was the most viable option. The minute Toodles sensed the water it stretched out its neck and dove in. I was hoping this assumption was the better choice, but it was still an assumption nonetheless.

It was absolutely beautiful to watch him take off and dive for the depth of the bottom. As I continued to watch him, I noticed a few more heads popped up around the water and knew he was among others of his kind. He popped up a minute of so later and then dove again. It was a good moment. I am so thankful that I was able to realize my mistake and not trap this turtle into a life of “being saved” by me, otherwise known as “being put into captivity”, because I had made a poor assumption.

When clients talk to me about making assumptions with the relationships they have, or the people in their environments, I always encourage them to ask. Don’t assume you know what someone is thinking/feeling/doing, if you don’t know for sure – ask them. But what do you do when the assumption you are making is with someone or something who has no voice? Or what if you are making assumptions around a young child who can not express themselves with words at all? This poses a whole new challenge in the way we attempt to navigate the things that come across our paths. It really takes making assumptions to a whole new level, and one in which the consequences can really be tragic. For all I know, Toodles was trying to flee the very lake I took him back to. If we can’t ask, how do we ever really know?

Me, Myself, and I: Best Friends Forever

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Click the link below to read my latest Topic Expert Contribution freshly published. Enjoy!

http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/me-myself-and-i-best-friends-forever-0602144