It sounded like the plot of a bad movie. Through a series of bizarre and seemingly unrelated circumstances, Charles lost his career, his home, his sense of self-respect, and then his wife left him. At first, he was just numb, but as the numbness began to subside he became vaguely aware that he wasn’t living any more, he was just existing. Most days he spent sleeping or watching mindless TV. Not only didn’t he have a clue about what he wanted to have happen next; he was frankly afraid of whatever that might be.
A mutual friend suggested he talk to me. “People are so worried about me. But I can’t get up the strength to worry about myself. They want me to decide what to do next with my life. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around any specific answer, and frankly since all the life choices I’ve made so far turned out so badly, I’m not sure I even care what happens next.”
What Charles didn’t understand was that he was suffering from a severe trauma – a three-or-four-pronged one as a matter of fact – which affected his most basic sense of security and self-respect. He was very surprised when I suggested he tell all his well-meaning friends to chill for a while, and for him to do absolutely nothing until he really felt he was ready to make new choices.
When a patient is admitted to the emergency room of a hospital after a severe physical accident, unless they have immediate life-threatening injuries, the care team does what they need to do to stabilize their patient. Then they back off and allow the patient’s own body to regain its primary balance. After that their doctors can consider treatment for certain areas of the body to ensure a more complete recovery.
We have no trouble understanding the need for that when the traumas we face are physical, but when they are emotional or psychological, we’re far less tolerant with each other and with ourselves when it comes to allowing a self-healing process to work. Phrases like “it’s time you got over it, time to move on, time to take responsibility for the future”, flow from the mouths of our friends and family members and then those admonitions circle and circle in our minds and become our own inner dialogue as well.
Think about it for a minute and you’ll understand why attempting to move ahead before you are ready could be very damaging. When your automobile has been traveling rapidly in reverse, and you decide you want to go forward again, you don’t shove the gear shift from reverse to drive in one mad stroke. Of course not – because if you did the gears would jam and the engine would blow up. Instead you slow your vehicle to a safe stop, rest in a neutral position, and then shift gears and begin your forward climb when you have assessed all the conditions necessary to move forward safely.
You are a far more delicate and complex machine then your automobile, so you can’t rush the process from stop to go either. Achieving a neutral mindset is a vital step. It is the safe space you will need before you prepare for take-off in any new direction.
Part of your work in the neutral state, of course, is deciding to really let go of the parts of your life that aren’t working for you and considering what you actually do want to have happen next.
In Charles’ case, some of those old parts of his life experience had been literally “wrenched” away from him; and not because of his conscious choice. If he would allow his mind and heart to rest a bit in neutral however, he will undoubtedly (not necessarily painlessly because self-responsibility is seldom painless) come to understand that no part of that experience was an accident. Perhaps he will realize that although his job was providing for his basic needs (food, clothing and shelter), it was a long way from his dream job. Maybe his house was really more house than he wanted to be responsible for maintaining in the long haul. And possibly, although he was committed to his marriage, it wasn’t working out quite the way he had originally hoped. If even one of those things turns out to be true for Charles; and if he can awaken and then trust his own truth, then “What’s next for me?” will become a more intriguing question.
Whatever your trauma, whatever your loss, whatever you are grieving, whatever or whoever you are releasing– take the time you need to treat yourself kindly. When you recover your mental and emotional equilibrium –your next and more perfect purpose will find you.
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