“Always do, what you are afraid to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, poet
“… she thought, by now, the memories would have faded.”
Marlene was a 32 year old, fit veteran who had done two, 3-month tours overseas with the Canadian military five years ago. But now, she was a federal civil servant, punching a computer. When she contacted me she was experiencing some typical PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) symptoms including flashbacks, insomnia and edginess. Marlene was also married, with a set of twin preschoolers at home, and a husband, Brad, who worked in construction.
Marlene was a soft spoken, quiet, pleasant woman. She told me at our initial consult she was looking for a stable and successful life now that she was out of the army. She said she had a few memories from her tours which were holding her back from getting on with her life. She then added, she had no regrets about her decision to serve, but she thought, by now, the memories would have faded.
When I suggested to her memories only fade when we have honoured them, she seemed confused by this and asked me, “What do you mean by honouring them, Ken?”
I replied, “Honouring something means to see the truth of it, the two sides to it, the pleasure and the pain of it…to balance it within our own perceptions of the world.”
“Are you suggesting I do not have them balanced in my own mind yet and that’s why they keep recurring?” she asked.
“Yes, I am, Marlene! Can you tell me what you learned from each of those memories which has contributed to you being alive today…sitting here, talking about them with me?”
“Do you mean if I find the benefits of having experienced them, I will be able to let them go, more easily?”
“I did nothing…I just sat there…waiting to die!”
“Once we let go of an infatuation or resentment about anything in our past, it frees us to appreciate it, and move on. Let me give you an example, Marlene. As a mother of young twins, there must have been times in the past when you were exhausted caring for them or tired washing their clothes, but you persisted.”
“Isn’t that what parenting is all about…persistence!” she said smiling like moms do when talking about their offspring.
“I suspect you persisted because you also realized they loved you, hugged you, and make you laugh, regularly. This creates the appreciation you have for your kids. You don’t, like any wise parent, infatuate or resent them, you love them. Well, you can also learn to appreciate, or love, your military memories. Do you want to do that?
“I need to…right away!” she replied emphatically.
“OK, let’s start with the worst memory you have! Describe for me what happened to you.”
“Ken, the one that haunts me most was the day my crew were being flown into a new location and our plane was trying to dodge some anti-aircraft fire. I was terrified and thought I was going to die in the next few moments…”
“Marlene, how did you cope with that situation at that second…what did you actually do…right then?”
“I did nothing…I just sat there…waiting to die!” she replied with a grim look all over her face.
“Do you remember our earlier discussion of the seven perspectives of our life, which we can use to take readings or do self evaluations…remember, spiritual, mental, vocational, financial, social, familial and physical…do you recall those?”
“Yes, Ken I do!”
“True success is overcoming the fear of being unsuccessful.” – Paul Sweeney, author
“It was like I was honouring who I am by how I handled that situation…”
“Marlene, given how you dealt with that life threatening situation, it will be hard to let go of that memory until you can find a counterbalancing benefit or advantage in each of those areas at that moment. When you find the seven benefits you will be able to let that memory go because you will appreciate its’ role in your life.”
“Sounds simple enough…but I don’t see any benefits, except maybe, I survived it.”
“Well, that’s the physical one…by sitting there, waiting it out, which is not doing nothing actually, it is doing something very specific…waiting, and you survived!”
“So you’re saying, keeping my mouth shut and my head down, helped me survive…it that it, Ken?”
“Yes, that’s the idea! But we can go further, into other areas where it also served you to do what you did…how about socially, in terms of your relationships to your comrades, what was the benefit to you?” I asked.
“Well, being one of only two women in the squad, there were a couple of guys who had teased us about wimping out in combat. Looking back now, I can see I gained more respect from them for holding my own in that situation…is that what you mean, Ken?”
“Yes, Marlene, that’s it exactly. Now, where else are there benefits you weren’t noticing before? How about mentally, for instance?”
“Well, I guess I managed the stress of the situation so I gained some confidence in my ability to handle tough situations…probably why I decided to become a parent, eh?” she said, smiling for the second time.
“Nice going, yes! So, you can see how that would raise your self-esteem, as well, eh? What about in your spirit…how was it enhanced by that same memory, Marlene?”
“That’s an interesting question. My spirituality is not in any religion, but looking back now, I realize I protected my spirit and my specialness by responding as I did that day. It was like I was honouring who I am by how I handled that situation…does that make sense?”
“It sure does! You’re on a roll, let’s keep going! How about vocationally…what was the benefit for you in doing your job in that aircraft that day?” I asked her.
“This is getting clearer to me now…I can see where I behaved in a professional manner, doing what I was trained to do…and so I honoured those values that motivated me to go, and serve, over there. It was right for me to be there because I was respecting my own values.”
“So, are you starting to see more fully the benefits which came to you while your were in that situation, risking your life?”
“I just realized that in the familial area, I was also staying close to my parents by showing respect for their values by joining the military. They were so proud of me for being there…Ken, they still talk about it.”
“Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught, as often as, the bold.” – Helen Keller, author
“…because I can see it both ways, I feel much more OK about it.”
“There is only one area left we haven’t discussed…an often misunderstood area…financial. What were the benefits there?” I asked.
“Well, you know how some people say your most important wealth is your self. Well, I can say, with certainly, I learned to value me more that day. I also, looking back now, realize, it was a turning point. I think it was at that moment I realized, if I got out of this situation, I wanted to have my own children some day.”
“Wow! That sound momentous! Then, I guess it changed the direction of you life in several important ways, eh?”
“It did, Ken! I just never noticed! It is common for people not to notice where and when they learn important things?” Marlene asked me.
“I think it happens to us all! Maybe that’s why we tag certain memories with intense emotions to remind us to go back, and find their significance, and then honour them by letting them go.”
“Interesting thought!” she replied.
“So, Marlene, let’s check on that memory now that you have uncovered how it served you. Do you think about it the same way, and, do you feel about it the same way?”
“No and No! When I look back now, I can see both the costs and benefits, pain and the pleasure. And, I think, because I can see it both ways, I feel much more OK about it…it is like I needed to have that experience to grow me, and my sense of myself…it is like, I needed it. to learn what I needed to learn, to have the future, I have today. Does that make sense, Ken?”
“It sure does Marlene! And, since you and I are here talking about it, then, it must have been kind of perfect for you, because it enabled you, to get wiser and stronger in ways which enabled you to be who you are today, doing what you do, and having what you have,eh?”
“Do you want to see if the same thing applies to your other haunting memories, Marlene?” I asked.
“I sure do, and I think I already know it does, but lets check it out for sure, OK?”
“OK!” I said.
“My life has been perfect for me!”
And, so we did check them out. And, Marlene found the same pattern of costs and benefits applied. It took a couple more weekly sessions before she reported her PTSD symptoms were dissipating dramatically.
At our last consult, I asked her how she viewed her military experiences, in light of the work she had done. This is how she responded.
“Ken, so many times I thought I had wasted my time…that it didn’t make any difference in the end…but now, I realize I had needed to go, to grow me…there was no mistake in me being there at that time. So, now, I can look back and be OK with my time there, and appreciate more how far I have come in my life…and it is partly due to those very experiences, which I was trying so hard to forget! My life has been perfect for me!”
“Only when we are no longer afraid, do we begin to live.” – Dorothy Thompson, journalist
Until Next time…
So, check out your memories which still haunt you. Find out how they hold vital gems of learning which enable you to be who you are, doing what you do and having what you have, today. Since, there are no mistakes in your life either, those hidden, priceless learnings are waiting for you to discover them, so you can get on with your life, too!
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)