From time to time throughout life, things happen that get you by the throat and threaten to squeeze the life out of you. If you don’t find a way to break the stranglehold, you’ll stop breathing and die. The stranglehold can be the care of a disabled child, or that you long for a child and have been trying to get pregnant but can’t, or a protracted and costly legal problem, a disease or aftermath of an accident or the result of someone else’s negligence. What throttles you may come from an ex-spouse, a former friend, a child who turned out badly, an alcoholic parent, someone else’s addiction or your own, a layoff or lost job or a terrible economy that drains your profits and renders your business impotent.
Everyone has these terrible events and circumstances that come through their lives, but not everyone has them regularly or often, and some people seem to live much of their lives without suffering, only to have it suddenly come upon them when they’re in late middle age and have no coping skills. I know some people like that. Still, everyone experiences real suffering at some point (as opposed to neurotic or self-created suffering). What then? What does one do when disasater strikes and the suffering begins?
Breaking the Stranglehold
When disaster first strikes, you go reeling. Eventually, worries, anxiety, and despair can get a person in a stranglehold that can claim your soul. The fact is that what we fear the most is death, and your death and mine are inevitabilities. Being in romantic denial about the limited time we have in this lifetime is the gift of youth. As a commenter to one of my previous blogs wrote, opportunity and wide open horizons are the fantasies of youth. Though the American dream is one of unlimited opportunities and vast horizons, the truth is that this type of Jupiterian expansiveness decimated entire peoples, produced slaves, and has led to the highest depression, anxiety, and addiction rates in the western world. This type of expansiveness isn’t advisable, for we are ever only as large as the health of our bodies and the amount of money available to us. We all tend to forget this every day, which explains why Home Shopping Network and eBay are so wildly popular, for when we can buy stuff we feel powerful and are reminded that the possibilities are endless. This is the power of an addiction: it numbs us and deludes us into thinking that we have control when, in fact, it has us by the throat.
As Jo Coudert writes, “of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never lose.” You will never lose yourself, that is, as long as you hang onto yourself.
Hanging onto Oneself
When facing hardship, loss, or tragedy, we all tend to focus on what has happened to us–what’s in the past, in other words. We can’t change it, but we ruminate on it anyway. What of the things I can change? These things would include my own psychological state, the philosophy I live by, my values, my actions, where I put my body, what I put into my body, the thoughts I cling to and entertain, and the ones I dismiss.
Given the responsibility I have for my own life, I ask myself questions when I’m in crisis, questions such as: What are my psychological survival tools? What will help me maintain my sense of self? What will I need to believe, think, or do that will help me keep hope and joy alive? What will help me live with the sadness I feel all the time, the grief over my lost dreams, my lost life? How must I live if I want to be alive today? These are the questions to grapple with when crisis hits.