Monday, July 18, 2011

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,
I count my blessings instead of sheep,
and I fall asleep counting my blessings…
(lyrics by Irving Berlin from the musical “White Christmas”)

Who knew Irving Berlin was such a wise man?

      I don’t know about you, but it always seems that whatever I’m worried about wages a sneak attack, delivers a low blow when I’m nestled down, comfy, warm, and secure, in my bed, ready to go to sleep.  It’s at these times when those nagging worries and concerns in my life worm their way into my mind, and demand me to join them in the night time dance of insomnia. 

     There’s nothing worse than being on the verge of falling to sleep, only to have your eyes pop open with the “what’s” (am I doing with my life?), the “how’s” (am I going to make things work?), and the “when’s” (will things get better?).

     When I was recovering from the bacterial infection which left me hanging onto my life with the one remaining limb it didn’t destroy, my anxiety level was so high it was off the charts.  I was literally riddled with the “What’s”,” How’s” and “When’s.”  It was overwhelming for me to think about what I was going to do with this newly altered body; when was I ever going to get out (of the hospital) and get on with my life; how was I going to regain my life as wife and mother as a newly disabled person…a triple amputee.

     To put my mind at ease, I would gaze out of my west facing hospital room window. I had an amazing view of the majestic Rocky Mountains, and every evening I witnessed the sun lowering itself in an orange and red cascade of color into the purple and blue sky.  The beauty of the sunset calmed my soul, and the constancy of that magnificent event; the knowledge that I was once again fortunate enough to witness it, yet another evening, made me realize how truly blessed I was to be alive. Regardless of what was left of me, I could still take in my glorious view…

     After my husband, Michael, died, I wrote a letter of gratitude to all my friends, family, and the benevolent strangers who had offered their support to me and my children through Michael’s battle with cancer, and his loss of that battle...our loss of his life. I showed my mother the letter, asking her for feedback.  After reading my words of appreciation, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and asked, “How can you remain so positive, and feel so blessed after everything you’ve lost?” I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “If I only looked at what I’ve lost, I’d never be able to see all that I have.”

      As a Survivor, I keep my blessings in clear sight. They improve my attitude, help diminish my grief.  I see them with  20/20 clarity. And when my night time worries begin to sneak up, trying to engage me in a slumberless dance, I think about my life —what it means to be a survivor. I acknowledge the fact that I am fortunate to be alive, to have made it through another day. At the close of the day, I get to witness one of nature’s finest no longer from a hospital bed, but standing on my front porch.  And I relish in the beauty-- the beauty of the blessing.

     I tuck in for another night’s sleep, letting go of the “what’s, the “how’s” and the “when’s”. And then I simply take Mr. Berlin’s advice…I count my blessings instead of sheep, and I end up sleeping like a baby.

Friday, July 1, 2011

     I battle every day.  Most of the time, I battle with a worthy and formidable opponent. She can debate like a politician, she’s very clever, and can at times outsmart me.  The issues we battle over are stress, self-confidence and motivation-- or lack thereof. We even battle over desert—that is whether to eat it or not!  I often win these battles, but there are days when my opponent (did I mention that she’s me?) gets the upper hand. Those are the days when the self-doubt begins to creep up on me, or I feel like I’m not quite up to snuff.  The little voice in the back of my mind begins to second guess my actions, undermining my confidence in the decisions I’ve made.    
     As a survivor, I recognize that fighting the good fight, battling the negative is not only necessary, but it demands constant vigilance; especially when I’m battle worn or just plain tired. Those are the times when I’m more vulnerable and end up losing or giving into those negative thoughts. Those are the times when I end up in the land of “stinky thinking.” Whereas quick recognition of that landscape can give me the upper hand, often times I get there even before realizing where I’m headed.  I’ve been caught there without a road map and can’t seem to navigate my way out.
     When I find myself traveling through this odiferous place, I know that I cannot stay there and walk the survivor’s path at the same time. So, I’ve found my own personal GPS--the person who can help guide me out of the negativity.  And believe me, getting out is necessary to my survival as well as being a survivor.
     I was talking on the phone with my sister one evening. She had asked me how my speaking career was going.  I was not feeling particularly positive that evening, and began a litany of “W’s”—where was I going with this career? What was I thinking? Who was going to want to hear me speak? Before I knew it self-doubt was oozing out of every pore. “I don’t know why I decided to do this,” I intoned.
      Every time my sister tried to insert a positive comment in my self-destructive soliloquy, I countered with two negative ones.  Finally in her best big sister coupled with twenty-five years as an elementary school teacher voice, she said “you need to practice what you preach.”
    “Huh?” She stopped me dead in my whiny tracks.  “You’re right!” She had interrupted my continual loop of self-doubt, fear, and feelings of not being good enough. How could I have let that negativity sneak into my being?  How could I talk about being a survivor when I was surrounding myself in negative thoughts?  But, instead of berating myself (another form of stinky thinking) I cut myself a break. I’m human and no one is immune to negative thinking; we all get stuck in the land of stinky thinking periodically.  
     The good news for me was that I was complaining to the absolute right person. She helped me get back on track—to get back on the horse called “survivor.”  I have said it before,” no one survives alone.”  Having someone who will not, under any circumstances, get lost in the land of stinky thinking with you is imperative to your staying true to yourself, to that survivor within you.
     So if you’re feeling those tendrils of self-doubt, stress, or lack of motivation trying to wrap around your resolve, or you find yourself in a downward cycle of negativity, call out your inner-warrior. And if you need help in the battle call the person who won’t let you get stuck in the muck of negativity.
     Being a survivor means going to battle, utilizing your resources to win that battle, and continuing on the path free from the stench of stinky thinking. 
     As far as desert goes…can’t help you there. Chocolate almost always wins out at my house!