In different sessions a few weeks before Halloween:
He said “I wonder if she knows that I think of her everyday, and especially on Halloween?”
She said “I wonder if he knows that he made me feel wanted like no one ever had. Just like Halloween, I felt possessed in the best possible way.”
Each of these clients came to therapy for help with coping with various stresses and disappointments, including work issues, health concerns and learning to cope with a troublesome sibling. And then they brought up the issue that so often comes forth: the loss of a special someone. And so it is for many people. Some time has gone by, life’s joys and troubles have intervened to transform the original sadness from a sleep- piercing pain, turning it into something soft and sacred. We begin with the things that are happening now, and that seem more “accessible.” Then eventually, there is a moment of quiet reflection and searching consideration before the words of wondering and longing well up in the clients throat, sometimes with a misty moisture in their faraway eyes.
These conversations then take weeks to unfurl, and much longer to bring out in fullness and tenderness the ocean of thoughts and feelings that have been kept gently nestled near their hearts. The memories thrive like beings from another world, fed but seldom satiated by our deep emotional connections. We get glimpses of each other sometimes, if our imaginations look askance, like looking for dim stars by looking slightly away. And we can see each other more clearly when the memory is dressed in a gaudy costume and surprises us by hiding in plain sight.
As I drove home after these sessions, seeing Halloween decorations on the houses and in apartment windows, I thought: So many people miss someone. It’s no surprise that the notion of ghosts, and even goblins, persists.
And now it’s my turn to wonder - if my clients will whisper to their memories:
“Happy Halloween my love. I still see you - I still feel you nestled in my heart every day and night, and especially tonight when it’s OK to see those who are no longer in our daily lives.”
I hope so.
How do our dreams die? Gently, with soft sighs and averted eyes? Or fighting for life, gasping for inner air and tearing at our hearts as they fall?
So often the central issue in therapy is the loss of an enduring dream for ones life. I have sat with many clients as they mourned the loss of a dream for their future, an intent or an aspiration that may have helped to define their life for years, or even decades. And when the dream is lost then a piece of the spirit is lost, even as we go on living.
The particulars are, of course, different for each of us. What is shared is that we feel we may never be the same again. It seems as though we may never so casually, or with such enthusiastic abandon feed our inner self and nourish a dream of things to come. We pause, perhaps stop in our movements, and feel the change in temperature that happens when something shifts deep inside.
It’s important to understand this is this indeed a time of mourning, for someone has been lost to us. That person is Ourselves! – the self that we believed for so long would one day step into the light with soaring satisfaction, heart-thumping joy, or even triumph. That dream of and for ourselves is gone, and we then are left, perhaps somber and perhaps stunned, with a previously unthinkable awakening to a previously unimagined reality. Yes, such losses of a “life-dream” may be worthy of mourning, not just a passing notice of sad “if onlys” — but true mourning. There are normal and expected stages of mourning, and it often takes longer than we would like. The loss of a dream, unlike many other of life’s losses, is invisible to others so we can appear to be strangely disconnected if people who care and notice have no context for our changed behavior.
If you’ve lost a dream, the dream you had for your life’s path, take heart. New dreams may emerge as you lift your eyes to new possibilities. We can be more resilient than we can believe during these difficult moments, and our imagination cannot be suppressed forever. When it’s taking too long, and before you lose hope for a future filled with satisfaction and contentment, contact a qualified therapist and get support in re-discovering dreams worth dreaming.
To see another of my posts on grief issues, see “Griefs by Emily Dickinson” posted on this site on November 16, 2008.
Nearly everyone has little regrets that they hold quietly inside. They often sound like this:
- If only I hadn’t let that girl go.
- If only I’d treated him better.
- If only I’d known.
- If only I could do it again…
These feeling are normal, and typical of most people. Regrets are a part of Life. But if you feel not only small regrets, but deeper feelings of unshakable remorse or persistent self-blaming, then make today the last day you hold these disturbing thoughts and feeling inside. Seek professional assistance in learning from the past, and moving beyond it to create a different future. You cannot of course change the past, but you can bring it into perspective. You can learn to understand how to make the personal changes that will alter your path and open possibilities to forgive yourself as well as others for the small, and even not so small lapses that are an unavoidable part of living.
By focusing on creating your future rather than re-living the past, you can have a future that contains more of what you want and less of what you don’t want…. but “ONLY IF” you begin to reveal and revise your “if onlys”.
“I blame her for nothing. I forgive her for everything.”
My client heard this statement somewhere and he felt that it expressed his loving resignation at the uncommon love and awful treatment he had received from his wife. He called her his dark wife because very few people knew of their private marriage. They walked around as close friends, and went separate ways before joining in private for intense talks and unbounded love-making. As a part of their anonymous relationship he even had to watch other men flirt with and proposition her – and sadly, watch her flirt back… and a few times accept the propositions as his heart broke quietly inside. In the end, along with moments of true joy and sensual abandon, she had hurt him terribly.
“The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long” was one of his favorite sayings when describing their passionate yet truncated romance. And now it had burned out. He was left with the deepest loneliness and despair he had ever endured. He was having difficulty re-defining himself without her, and could not find sufficient joy in anyone or anything to make him laugh again.
Therapy for him was simply a way of learning to once again lifting his eyes to the possibility of fun and romance in his life. He already knew it was what he wanted, but also knew he had lost his way, lost himself inside her and he wasn’t sure he would ever find his way out again.
He had bravely decided that he needed help, and he found it in therapy. We talked each session about love: his love, her love and the divergence of their paths. We talked about why he was attracted to volatile relationships, and how his childhood and upbringing may have contributed to his affinity for the passionate polarity she had brought into his life. He finally did laugh again, though he longed for her right through the very last session, and he told me,with a misty-eyed smile, that he would always love her.
Sometimes paths converge when we least expect it. Other times paths may quietly, or tumultuously lead in opposite directions. We cannot know what may come. If you are dealing with changes in your life and relationships, and finding yourself wondering how to adjust yet be yourself, call a qualified therapist and begin to explore how to resolve your conflicts and increase your contentment. And find forgiveness for yourself and others.
I’m often asked how one can find the motivation to get up and get going when it feels like just too much effort. When you are experiencing depressive feelings, it can be very difficult to expose yourself to the hustle and flow of public life. Thinking about going to the store or getting some exercise brings with it the challenge of having to “rub shoulders” with others. This then can trigger feeling of fear, self-criticism and embarrassment, a feeling that others can see the pain, sadness or humiliation that coils, or perhaps roils inside.
When someone decides to start psychotherapy, they may be deciding that it is time to use their thinking to change their behavior. Indeed, some forms of therapy begin with the illumination, examination and alteration of patterns of thinking as a way of creating the possibility for personal change. As a therapist I frequently use cognitive techniques to help clients find a new pathway to intentional living and increased contentment.
Sometimes though it is more effective for a client to “act” first and let the actions inspire them to think and feel in new ways. We cannot always depend on a change of feeling to open the door for us “feeling like getting out” of the house… or out of the rut. Sometimes we simply have to get up and go. And yes, I know that it is so much easier to write those words than it is to act in this way when one feels submerged in sadness or despair.
Other times therapy is more helpful when it helps us to explore the past, its connection to our present, and the possible pathways to our future made possible – or perhaps made impossible – by our chance and our choices.
If you can, on your own, break though the wall your depressive thoughts and get up and out to do something enjoyable, affirming and potentially enhancing, then that’s great! Still, seeking therapy with a qualified professional can help you to find effective ways to overcome your challenges. Just remember, sometimes it won’t work to wait until the feeling strikes.
If you cannot break through on your own, perhaps you will consider seeking support and assistance from qualified professional to move beyond your immobilization even though you don’t “feel” like doing it. In the end, you and those who love you will be glad that you did.