Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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More Purpose

Last week I wrote about purpose. This week on Facebook I posted a quote from my psychology magazine. Today I noticed that the headline of the article reads “Fulfillment of Purpose.” Hmmm…

I am going to repost that quote and add another from the same article by Mark Hubble, Francoise Mathieu, and Scott Miller. The article is talking about the purpose of therapists. “In the end, we don’t fulfill our purpose by providing caring, empathy, and compassion, no matter how lovingly extended. We do fulfill our purpose, however, when we consistently engage in the kinds of therapeutic practices that objectively promote the client’s improvement. Further, genuinely and demonstrably helping people improve is the entire point of therapy and, in the end, the best of all ways to show that we really, deeply care.”

I had mixed feelings when I read this. Often times I am amazed by the way my personal life dovetails with what is going on in my professional life. This is one of those times that as I read those words, I can’t separate how I feel as a therapist, with how I feel as a client myself, or how I feel as a human being in general.

The ultimate goal is progress, change, growth. When I run groups, I stress that. We are here to support each other, but if we aren’t working toward change, then you are paying for a bitch session. Come and spill your guts, get validated, but then let’s talk about how to move forward.

When that happens (i.e. we have an “aha” moment and actually move forward) in therapy or in life, it is very gratifying and satisfying. Knowing that things actually “work” is a great experience. But what about when we are stuck? And what if that statement is even wrong? Being “stuck” implies that you should be moving forward. What if we are just meant to be where we are? What if right now is as good as it gets? There also seems to be wisdom in that Eastern thought of contentment exactly where you are.

I recently had a talk with one of my clients about this before I read the article. I’ve been seeing her over ten years. I’ve been seeing her husband less than that, but still for several years. They were having one of those repetitive arguments where they both had good points. He said, “We’ve been talking about this for years.” She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “I got nothing.”

I was listening to them, thinking the exact same thoughts. They both have good points. I don’t know that they can/will change. I have no idea how to help them past this one. (Wasn’t a life-changing argument, just one of those annoying living with each other things.) I looked at them, shrugged my shoulders, and said, “I got nothing either.”

And they pay me!

Later, she and I were talking in her individual session. It was one of those conversations about angst and the circular problems of life. You do everything you can, but fundamentally things don’t change. I could totally identify with her. I said that sometimes I feel like I would do her a better service if I referred her to someone new who had more wise things to say other than validate her frustrations. She emphatically told me that she would end up walking away from a therapist like that. One of the reasons she has continued all these years, is because I am genuine and real, and she feels like I really get it.

I’ve been seeing my therapist for 15 years. People ask me sometimes if I should change it up. I guess what I’ve concluded is that even if my life doesn’t radically change, I feel good for that 50 minutes I am there. He knows me inside and out. He challenges me and tells me things that are hard to hear sometimes. But overall, it just feels better to have a compassionate ear.

All that flies in the face of what that article says. I guess I don’t fully agree or disagree. I think ONE of the purposes of therapy IS to deliver compassionate care. But another very important purpose is to help people change and grow. I guess that is the bigger purpose. Perhaps the steps to get there require the caring.

In my own life, and my professional life, my purpose is to grow and change, by providing compassion and love. And when the change is slow or non-existent, and I am left with people who care, I prefer not to think of that is failure. Sometimes that is as good as it gets. And if you truly have that love and understanding, that is pretty damn good.

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Purpose

For the first time ever, I had a request. Last week someone posted on Facebook and asked if I could write about feeling like you have no purpose. I was actually very honored that someone was interested in my thoughts. So I hope I don’t disappoint her 🙂

I thought I would start by looking up Webster’s definition of purpose, but I decided that was too cliché. I just started thinking of ways we commonly use the word. The first that comes to mind is, “You did that on purpose.” Or when we apologize, we say the opposite. “I didn’t do it on purpose.” In that context, purpose implies intention. Action. Plan. Deliberation. Forethought. The opposite of accidental.

The second thing that comes to mind is, “And what was the purpose of that?” I guess its really a nuance of the first use, but it is slightly different. More emphasis on accomplishment. Goals. Achievement.

As I thought about this, purpose is a lot less sexy of a concept than I thought it was. What do I have to do today? Who is counting on me to do what? What do I expect of myself? If you’re a woman, there is probably a list of people who depend on you for several different things. Sorry, guys. Not trying to be insulting, but it’s biologically built into us to take care of others.

My purpose is easy. The list is endless. I have to pay the bills to keep a roof over everyone’s heads. I have to see clients to help them. People read my book and tell me how immensely it’s helped them. I weed the yard so it doesn’t get backed up. I buy groceries so there is food in the house. I put that stupid bag over my foot so it doesn’t get wet when I shower. I shower so I don’t smell so bad or look so bad. The purpose of what I do isn’t so hard to figure out.

The much trickier part- and my guess is, it’s the part my friend is struggling with- is who the hell cares? Why bother?

I think sometimes in our lives, knowing the purpose is enough. Knowing how you impact others motivates you. Knowing what you’ve accomplished keeps you going. But what if you don’t think what you are doing makes a difference to anyone? What if you struggle with depression and knowing how you’ve helped someone else doesn’t really do anything for you internally?

I’ve been there. More often than I would care to admit. And I’m not actually sure that I have a good response for that. I just have this vague kind of response/answer that can’t be pinned down. It’s like being so depressed that ending your life makes much more sense than continuing with yet. And yet you don’t do it. Because you just know that it’s not an option. You just know in your soul- somehow- that you must affirm life. You must keep going.

I think the same thing about finding meaning and satisfaction. Sometimes it just isn’t there. But you get up every day anyhow. Somehow you just know you have to. Somehow you just know there is Something bigger and greater than you are. I think of it as some kind of God-spark. It’s a sense. It’s knowing with a capital K.

So my dear, dear friend. Dig deep. You have that God-spark in your soul too. I know you do. Even though it defies reason, even though it is lacking emotion. You have purpose. And more importantly, you have meaning. You matter. Whatever makes you get up every day and keep surviving- it’s Divine. And it’s 100% you.


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Fence Posts

If you read my first book Bitter and Sweet, you might remember reading about the day a small army of men came and put up a large section of privacy fence for us. Tim’s bucket list was small and simple. He wanted to finish our pool remodeling and that included the required fence. Tim had put fencing up all over our property throughout the years. He just didn’t have the strength or stamina to finish it that summer.

It was a great story. It was a 90 degree blazing hot day, and those men put in over eight hours. We’ve included some of the footage in the second book trailer too. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHoO_y2ZZGA It’s a great human interest story.

Fast forward to our crummy, never-ending winter, four years later. Our house took a hit, like many, many others in the area. One of the items? That fence.

Turns out, those well-meaning men didn’t put the fence in correctly. You have to dig the posts a foot below frost line. They were not deep enough. To add to things, this winter the frost line was a foot lower than normal. Double whammy. Third strike? Last summer I purchased white marble rocks to put between the concrete and the fence because the weeds were so out of control. The weight of the rocks was making the fence panels bow in the middle. Without the first two conditions, it probably wouldn’t have been an issue. All three together? Well, let’s just say I had to pay a pretty penny to get 21 posts redone.

Doesn’t change the hearts of those guys who helped us while Tim was sick. They were awesome. But I have to admit, it does put a little damper on the amazing story. Makes me chuckle a little, though. Bitter and sweet.

I did discover one good thing that came from it. I was in session with a couple the other day and it made for an awesome analogy. This guy is approaching his first year of sobriety. Unfortunately, being clean has been less than pleasant for him. He’s been really struggling with finding a reason to keep going. We were discussing the whole alcoholism is a disease debate, and is there a genetic link? Well, he decided that he wasn’t fond of the concept. Makes him feel like he’s a hopeless case then. Why try?

The fence story hit me and I shared it with them. I have no idea if there is a genetic link to alcoholism. I’m not an addictions counselor and it’s not my area of expertise. There are compelling arguments for both sides. But I decided that if there is a “gene,” or at the least a “genetic history,” it is kind of liking having fence posts that aren’t dug deep enough. It’s not “right,” but does that matter? Those fence posts might have never come up. But start with the faulty foundation, add a bad winter, then pile on the rocks. Boom. Now the fence structure is no longer stable and a couple grand later, it needs to be repaired.

Hopeless? Absolutely not. But if you have a family history of alcoholism, then you add some life trauma, sprinkled with years of coping with it by drinking, wa-la! Addiction.

As I’m writing this, it is hard to capture the nuance. But when it was coming to me in session, it felt very powerful. Like I really got it. I think (and certainly hope!) it had an impact on the clients. At least they said it made sense to them.

A lot of times I’m ticked at the “universe” for some of the crap. But this time, the timing of it was perfect. The analogy became something good that came from a costly construction error. I can genuinely say, “thanks”!


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Decisions

I’ve had trouble with plantar fasciitis over the years, but last September it got worse than its ever been. I did everything my podiatrist told me to do. I bought expensive hiking sneakers for walking in the woods with Taffy. I bought croc flip-flops to wear all the time so I can’t be the barefoot girl anymore. I went to physical therapy three times a week. I bought the night splint to wear during sleep. I have a frozen water bottle I use when needed, and I bought the heel inserts he recommended.

That worked for a few months, but I had another flare up about two months ago. It gets pretty bad- like I can’t walk at all bad. Like the pain takes my breath away bad. I went back to the doc and asked if I am going to have to live with this the rest of my life. He said no, I could have a minor surgery where they snip the tendon. It’s 90% effective and people love it. Okay.

Enter Summer. Summer is one of those people who is almost always right. She knows stuff about stuff, no matter what the stuff is that you are talking about. There have been many, many times that I have sought to prove her wrong, only to have to come back and sheepishly tell her that she was right again. Sometimes I make it my mission to be able to come back and tell her Ha! I got ya! But it never works.

Anyhow, Summer tells me that she knows dozens of people with this condition and no one has ever had surgery. If it’s that effective, why wouldn’t more people have had it? She suggested (and with Summer that means STRONGLY suggested) that I get a second opinion. She knows my doc Grace and loves her as much as I do.

This started a big pain in the butt journey. I adore Grace and trust her with my life- literally. She only refers me to the best of the best. Always. She had recommended my doc years ago, but gave me the name of a highly respected orthopedic surgeon to get a second opinion from. Just what I wanted. Another appointment.

She is great. But after a two and a half hour appointment, she explains to me that orthopedics and podiatrists are sometimes at odds, and this particular condition is one they polarize on. Great. She NEVER recommends the surgery. She gets the people who end up with permanent nerve damage in their feet for the rest of their lives. Never get the surgery. Instead, there is a treatment with shock waves that is highly recommended. And let’s get an MRI just to make sure there is nothing else going on with your foot.

Now I am stumped. Two excellent doctors. Both adamant in their positions. What the heck am I supposed to do?

I do my own research on-line and end up in the same predicament. Both protocols are highly successful. The problem with the shock treatment, is there is only one option in all of Buffalo. And my insurance won’t cover it. It’s $500 and three weeks of treatment and I can’t get in for another three weeks. That’s the brilliance of our current insurance mentality. They won’t pay $500 for a treatment, but will pay $7,000 for a surgery. Only in America.

MRI comes back without any surprises so yesterday I meet with Grace. I tell her I plan to wring her neck. She tells me she loves me because she knows I’m going to come in completely armed with information. I’ve done all my research, done all the tests, but am completely stumped with what to do. In the mean time, I have been going out of my mind with the foot pain.

Grace tells me there are two docs in our area that have hit nerves and caused damages, just like doc #2 said. However, my doc is NOT one of them. In fact, he has NEVER botched up the surgery. Ever. She reminds me that she would never send me to anyone that wasn’t top-notch, and says I can whole heartedly proceed with the surgery. She just wanted me to have all the facts.

I was actually relieved. I’m not a huge surgery fan, but I am sick of the pain, and don’t have a spare $500 bucks lying around. So tomorrow morning, I am going in for the surgery.

Grace and I laughed. We decided if I’m the one in a million exception and my doc wrecks my foot for life, that GRACE will be the one to answer to Summer. No way in hell I’m going to tell her. LOL! We agreed Summer is a force to be reckoned with and I’m lucky to have her in my corner.

Say some prayers tomorrow morning, and if you aren’t doing anything Friday afternoon or evening, come keep me company. I’m not laid up for long, but you know I don’t well with sitting still. It makes me even battier than I already am.