BEing Blog 9 – Surviving Life
Some weeks life throws up a curve ball that shakes the very ground that you stand on. It comes unbidden, unannounced and, very definitely, unwanted. You are cruising along nicely, ducks pretty much all in a row, your goals on track (more or less), the path clear, and the destination in sight.
Then; POW!! WHAM!!….left field, curve ball strikes, completely out of your control, there was nothing you could do to prevent or avoid it. It wasn’t as if you simply didn’t see it coming and didn’t think to prepare or prevent. It was NOT on the radar; an anomaly.
We have all had this happen at one time or another I’m sure. I can think of several examples in my own life where a serious, critical, life and death event has left me reeling with shock and disbelief, followed quickly by the tirade of emotions that come as part of the process, as life tries to make sense of what has happened, reconciles the ‘new normal’ and eventually the boat starts to settle back on an even keel.
All going well we come back from the brink of trauma, tragedy, loss and upset stronger, more resilient, with more tools in the toolbox to deal with the next time the rug is pulled from beneath our feet.
My most recent experience of the totally unexpected arrived on a sunny Wednesday, a few weeks ago, just after midday when our Tonkinese cat, Lego arrived at the back door in agony, dragging his clearly broken hind leg. Skype meeting aborted, called the emergency vet, and then came the onslaught of inevitable questions while we try to make sense of what could have happened; ‘we don’t live near a road so unlikely to be a car’, ‘fallen out of a tree?’, ‘stood on by a horse?’, ‘But he is so athletic, too fast’ etc etc….
It is amazing how committed our brain is to creating a story based on the evidence of a limping cat. I had him tumbling out of a tree and somehow his leg collecting a branch on the way down. Our builders thought they must have run over him in the driveway on their way out to lunch. How wrong we all were. X-rays uncovered the mystery; Lego had been shot! Yes, shot! And new emotions surfaced; disbelief, anger, sadness, and the new reality, all hit like a punch in the guts.
How does one reconcile when living in a residential area, with a rural backdrop, in a peaceful village, in New Zealand, that a trespasser with a gun had chosen to shoot our three-year-old, clicker trained, companion animal? It is so far outside the ‘reality’ that we were used to.
As a skilled Upholder (Gretchen Rubin, The Four Tendencies) there was so much wrong with this picture, so much to be said about the behaviour in play that lead to this tragedy. Who would do such a thing? Private property is ‘out of bounds’! Gun use in a residential area, at lunch time, on a weekday! Gun rules state that you must identify your target! Did they know they had shot a family pet? How would they feel if someone seriously injured their pet? Heck, it could have been me, or a child!
The inner dialogue goes on, and the outer conversations go around and around: disbelief and anger, overwhelm and lack of energy, shock and struggle to find meaning. And, finally acceptance, return to life and eventual empowerment.
Six weeks on Lego is doing well following five hours of reconstructive surgery to save his leg and his life and I have a heightened awareness that human behaviour, morals and principles, like most everything else, are on a spectrum, even in my own backyard. Not everyone upholds the right decision, even when the choice of behaviour is illegal and risky.
Trauma and grief are a part of life, whether it is the death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, job loss, pain and loss of function from injury, accident or emotional trauma. All take a toll. Surviving, and even thriving following trauma is possible. It is not easy, it’s hard, deep, and often, dark work. It is also good work, essential work. Post traumatic growth is well documented by Tedeschi and Calhoun who hold that “people who endure psychological struggle following adversity can often see positive growth afterward.”
People “develop new principles for living that involve altruistic behaviour, having a mission in life and purpose that goes beyond oneself, so that trauma is transformed into something that’s useful not only for oneself but for others.”
This has certainly been my experience!