Saturday, December 10, 2011

Choose Happiness

“If you wait for someone to make you happy, you may not have to wait long. But if you’re waiting for someone to sustain your happiness, you will be waiting a life time.”
                                                   Cindy Charlton
       “Happiness runs in a circular motion…you can be happy if you let yourself be.” These are lyrics to a song I used to sing when I was a child. The tune was simple and easy to harmonize with, which was why I liked it.  But as I think about this song, I begin to realize that although the tune is simple, the lyrics are profound.

     I was working out at the YMCA a few years back. In my shorts and t-shirt, every limb that I have replaced with plastic and metal was hanging out for anyone to see. I was working hard, sweat dripping down my face.  I cannot even suggest that I was a vision of loveliness.  With my ear buds firmly in place, my head was buzzing with the tunes of Gloria Estefan, Tina Turner, and other Diva’s of the 90’s.  Humming along, and pumping iron, I felt incredible!

     “Excuse me…excuse me.”

      I looked up at a man who was obviously trying to get my attention. I thought he was after the machine I was working on, so I replied “I only have one more rep., and then it’s all yours.” He shook his head and gave me a wan smile. Obviously he was not after the Shoulder Press.  I was listening to a song which I had heard at least a hundred times over the past 6 months. I was intimately acquainted with it, and I knew the note coming up was one I didn’t want to miss. I pushed the pause on my ipod, and took one bud from my ear.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he began, “but I just have to ask…” 

     I knew his question before it had the chance to escape his lips…, “What happened to you?” So when he asked a question I didn't expect, I was a bit taken aback.

“I’ve been watching you for awhile, and I just want to know, why are you so happy?”

     “Why am I so happy?” I reiterated, on the verge of incredulity.  I have been asked many questions in my life, but no one has ever questioned my happiness.

   I sort of stammered my reply, “Well…why shouldn’t I be?”

“It’s pretty obvious that you’ve been through some…some really difficult times.”

     He had no idea. I had lost my husband to cancer the previous year.  And I had lived through my own “death sentence,” sacrificing three limbs and half of my chest in exchange for my life.  My story could have taken up the remaining songs on my ipod. 

   I sat there, for a moment, collecting my thoughts before I answered. “I’m happy because I’m here on this planet sucking in air, listening to some amazing music, and working my butt off. I know without a doubt how lucky I am to be alive.” 
“I wish I had your attitude,” he sighed. 

     We spent the next several minutes talking about life, all it has to offer, all it takes away. He shared some things that were happening in his life, which were difficult at best.  At the end of our conversation I told him that even though my path was filled with obstacles, I considered them challenges, not pitfalls. “I’m the person who always finds the silver lining, not the storm cloud that goes along with it.”  “I believe,” I said, “it’s all in the choice…how you perceive the obstacles.”

     His wan smile turned more into a warm smile. He said “thank you” and walked away. I stuck in my ear bud, un-paused Tina, and together we pumped out the last rep.  

       Happiness has been an emotion which comes quite easily to me…like making up harmonies to songs. It’s second nature. Over the years, however, I have found that happiness is not an easy emotion for many people to feel.  I am one of those fortunate souls who came into this world with my “cup half full.” My mom often said that I was born with a glass of champagne in my hand. A celebration always was, and still is, just bubbling beneath the surface, waiting to emerge for any reason. 
     I’m not saying that I’m happy 24/7, especially when circumstances have caused me to lose my balance and fall. Believe me; I have “fallen” many times in my life, and at those times I’ve had to find the one thing to get me back on my feet, giving me something to hold onto—to  regain my balance. I have found that it’s my own happiness which not only helps me get up, and re-establish my balance, but it sustains me as I continue to  climb over the obstacle to move forward in my life. 

     Happiness is a necessary tool in the Survivor’s tool kit.  When despair and difficulty find their way into your life, reaching for your happiness, finding it within yourself, even when times are tough, will allow you freedom from the storm. It allows you clearer brighter vision, so that you’ll be able to see the silver lining, and stay on your feet as you continue to move forward on your path.  Happiness really does run in a circular motion, allow it, feel it, allow it, feel it…  “you can be happy if you let yourself be.”  

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Gratitude is the antidote to bitterness and resentment. 
The more light you allow within you,
 the brighter the world you live in will be.  
                                                           Shakti Gawain

     I’ve been asked numerous times if I feel angry and bitter about my circumstances. Have I railed at God, or wished that I had not lived? Some people have even suggested that had they been the ones who had contracted my illness, they would not have wanted to live.

     Honestly, there have been moments when I’ve been angry about my circumstances. If I welcomed everything that has happened to me with open arms, I would either be living in the land of denial, or out and out lying to myself… and everyone else.  I am, after all, human.  I have felt tremendous loss and devastating sadness over these past fourteen years.  But I recognize that if I stay in the darkness of despair, I would never be able to live a full and complete life...a life filled with gratitude.

     I am well centered in my everyday reality. I know what I’m facing when I put my prosthetic legs on before I get out of bed each morning. And there are some days when soreness of my residual limbs or fatigue greets me, even before the prostheses go on. But the knowledge of having another day, being able to get up and face whatever the day holds, trumps the feelings of soreness and fatigue. Recognizing how close I came to not having a life feeds my feelings of gratitude, and enables me to live without bitterness and resentment.

     When my husband, Michael, was diagnosed with cancer—less than two years after my recovery and rehab—I honestly believed that he would live. Even though the oncologist was not optimistic about Michel’s chances, I felt that I had paid the karmic dues for my family. I was convinced that nothing bad would ever touch my family again. I was certain that Michael would have a positive outcome.  But as convinced as I was about his survival, the enormity of my dues paid was still not enough.

     After Michael died, I wrote a letter to everyone who had supported my family during the last stages of his life and subsequent death. It was undoubtedly the most devastating time of my life, and I was tremendously grateful for the support from family and friends. In my letter, I expressed my gratitude for their love, their presence in my life, and in the lives of my children.  I asked my mom to read my letter before I sent it out, wanting her feedback.  After reading it she gazed at me, almost in disbelief.

      “After all you’ve lost,” she began, her voice quivering with emotion, “how can you remain so positive?” 

     I shrugged my shoulders, and said “I guess I view it like this Mom. If I only looked at what I’ve lost, I’d never be able to see what I have.” 

     I’ll admit it.  I am one of “those (annoying) people” who wakes up every morning, grateful for another day. I figure that not only am I lucky to be alive to face my day, but I am lucky to have the choice of how I live each day.  If I chose to live surrounded by my losses, how could the light of hope ever come into my being—my soul? I readily choose that antidote to resentment and despair. I choose to see what I have, and feel darned grateful for it.

     Gratitude is a necessary tool in the Survivor’s tool kit. If you aren’t recognizing at least one thing every day, no matter how big or small, to be grateful for, then you’re not allowing the light of gratitude to brighten up your day. Believe me darkness is pervasive and can be devastating. But allowing even the tiniest ray of light into your life can lessen and often times eliminate the feelings of desperation and despair, especially if that “ray” comes in the form of gratitude.

     So if you find yourself feeling like your life is not a great place to be right now, try to find something in which you feel truly grateful.   When you begin to realize all that you have to be grateful for, the better your life will become. 


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Flying without Wings

      Faith is as simple or complex as you want to make it. It can simply be the belief that you will be here on this planet tomorrow, or it can be a complex belief system involving religion, philosophy, or a mixture of both.  Faith is confidence or trust in a person or thing without having cold hard facts to support that confidence or trust.  Regardless of how you define “Faith”, it is necessary to have it, no matter what you’re facing. I have found that faith keeps my feet moving—one in front of the other, always forward, no matter what lies ahead.

     I have often felt that the fear of the unknown is the most powerful form of fear. We have all heard the old adage, “better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”  In other words, don’t move from the situation you’re in because you don’t know what may lay ahead, and it could be worse than what you have going on now. There is certainly comfort in the familiar, but there’s also complacency, boredom, and often times anxiety. 

     Fear can keep you paralyzed even in the worst of situations, but faith, the belief that things could be better can be your antidote.  It allows you the freedom to move, one foot in front of the other. It allows you to accept that no “devil” regardless of your familiarity, is worth knowing. 

      After being in the hospital for three plus months, the time had come for this baby bird to fly.  I had recovered, been put back together, and had no illness left to cure. I was ready to begin the new chapter of my life. “Getting out and getting on with it” became my battle cry. But as eager as I was to get into physical rehab, I was scared to death to leave the safety and familiarity of the hospital. I knew all of my nurses, and therapists. I knew what to expect every day and every evening. I even began to look forward to certain “menu” items provided by the hospital cafeteria. Being in the hospital long enough to know that Wednesday was “Lasagna day” was a pretty sad reality. Nonetheless, I still found security in my knowledge of what my everyday looked like.

      I began to express my fears about leaving the hospital to one of my nurses one evening. The words cascaded out of my quivering mouth. Everything, every fear that I was feeling did not go unannounced. After listening for several minutes…or more, he said that he had something that might help allay my fears. He would go to his car and get it for me during his break.

     He returned to my room a few hours later, and handed me a paper.  I began to read:
When we get to the edge of all the light we have,
 and take that step into the darkness of the unknown,
we must believe that one of two things will happen…
there will be something solid for us to stand on,
or we will be taught how to fly.    Anonymous

     That night I began to believe that even though my life had dramatically changed, and that the body I had come into this world owning had been dramatically altered, I actually would be alright.  That night I chose to welcome rehab wholeheartedly no matter what it entailed.  I decided that I didn’t want to know this “devil” anymore. I needed to leave the hospital. I also started to recognize that the devil which lay ahead was shrouded in my own self-doubt. And as it turned out, I did know the devil ahead of me. It was simply my own fear. I chose, that night, to embrace my faith, and not allow that “devil” to rule my life, and impede my forward motion.

     My nurse gave me something which I had needed for a long time…longer even than my hospital stay. He helped me believe in myself…to regain the faith that I so desperately needed.  He helped me sprout my wings. He helped me believe that I would be taught how to fly.

     Faith is an amazing tool to have in your Survivor’s toolbox. If you believe in yourself, the “devil you know,” will no longer be someone or something that you are willing to accept. Faith in yourself provides motion…always forward, especially when you’re unsure of what may be lying ahead of you. Your faith becomes your belief that no matter the circumstances, you will stand on solid ground, or like me, you will be taught how to fly.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Excavate, Evaluate, Evolve

“To expose, to view by or as if by digging away a covering” 
 “To find the value or worth” 
“An unfolding process of development or change”
                                                                                 Provided by Webster’s Dictionary

      How many times in your life have you questioned why you’ve done something, made the choices you’ve made, or ended up in the situation you’re in?  How many times have you considered options along your path? Or have you felt like you had no choices, and that’s why you’ve ended up where you are? How many times have you continued doing the same things the same way even though you keep getting the same results; ones you don’t particularly want or desire?

     If this sounds like you, believe me you are not alone.  It isn’t easy to be constantly vigilant to every behavior, thought or action you engage in on a daily basis. But if you find that you aren’t getting what you want out of your life, in every aspect, it may be time to excavate, evaluate, and evolve.

    When I came out of my drug induced coma, fourteen years ago, I found myself in a newly altered body. I was alive and obviously victorious over the microscopic battle which had taken place on a physiological battle ground. The bacterial infection lost, but the collateral damage was high. I left my world as I had known it—whole, with no missing parts. I emerged in my new world, un-whole, missing three limbs and the left half of my chest. To say that I was in despair, frightened, and confused would be an understatement. Even though I knew I was going to live, I just didn’t know what that life was going to look like—how I was going to accomplish anything with the ravaged body which was now...mine.

     I began the excavation process very early on in my recovery, and started to dig deep within myself to uncover what I needed just to get through each day. What I found first and foremost was gratefulness for having a life, and the willingness to live it despite how it looked. Two enormously helpful tools were uncovered, “gratitude” and “courage”, and they paved the way for my complete recovery—my completeness in an incomplete body.

     With gratitude and courage under my belt, I began to evaluate my life—what was I worth and who was going to want me.  If I told you that the phrase “damaged merchandise” didn’t enter my mind, I’d be lying to you.  But as I began to really take charge of what I had left to manage, and how I was going to manage it, I found strength, and flexibility. I came to understand that the more I tried to force my new situation into my old life I was constantly reminded that I didn’t fit.

     I made the choice to quit pining away for a life I no longer fit into, and began to change; to evolve into a new way of living. I had to be strong, both physically and emotionally to embrace my physical changes, and I had to be flexible enough to twist and turn into my new body—to accept my in-completeness as completeness. 

     If I told you that all of this was accomplished within the first 6 months after my recovery, or even the first year, I’d be lying to you. Digging deep inside, considering what I’m made of, and changing my life has been a process. Just as evolution doesn’t happen instantly, self-evolution takes a life time.  

     I constantly dig deep, and excavate those things, those “treasures” that I need to get me through each and every day. And as I evaluate what I have found, more and more choices of where I want to be in my life and how I’m going to get there emerge.  Once I set my course, I begin the process of unfolding my life, developing my skills, and living my life as a survivor.

     When you are on the Survivor’s path, you must be willing to excavate—unearth the treasure inside you. You must be willing to evaluate how you are going to use your treasure to get you where you want to go.  And you must be willing to evolve—be ready to change… to unfold and not allow fear to get in the way of your forward motion. Finding the truth of who you are can be a painful process, but living in that truth is amazingly freeing, and gives you strength as well as flexibility. It gives you courage and a feeling of completeness—and that is what being a Survivor is all about.