Intellectually we know that our lives will come to an end, the one thing that happens to everyone is that at some point we die. Yet for most of us, our daily lives seem capable of just going on forever, time can feel infinite in this way. Our routines create a level of predictability of what life is going to be, day in and day out. We might not always feel satisfied, but there is a certain comfort in it.
When you’ve been told you have a life threatening condition, all of the sudden we are faced with the reality that our time is finite. In fact, you may be given a piece of paper that tells you your recurrence and mortality rate based upon your condition. To say the least, that is a sobering moment in a human’s life. This was given to help educate me about how the various treatment recommendations made by my oncologist would improve my prognosis. My oncologist was surprised that I had not asked about my chances of dying, and I was surprised that, with just a few details of what was happening physically with my body, the computer had enough info to spit out all of these unsavory statistics. Of all the paperwork that I kept from my doctor’s, this page seems to have disappeared, which is fine with me.
When you are told that you might die, the natural result is that you feel vulnerable and life’s fragility becomes much more observable. This takes a toll on our ability to trust and have faith. Fear, anger, sadness, shock, disbelief are common feelings in this state. You think about all the things you took for granted. You might question God’s wisdom, if you are a believer, or find yourself mulling over the unfairness of it all and the way things were “supposed to be”. Relationships change, some will become closer and others will become more distant or disappear. The list of how our trust or faith can be broken can go on and on.
However, trust and faith are two important building blocks of our spiritual selves, and our spirit is the foundation for being resilient. Resiliency helps us to embrace and accept life for all of it’s highs and lows, so we want to protect that ability as much as possible. So here are some tips for rebuilding trust and faith:
Revising our expectations– part of rebuilding our trust and faith has to do becoming more realistic about our expectations of self and others. When we let go of high expectations, we can be more accepting of limitations and find possibilities that we didn’t see before.
Finding the gifts that come with suffering– when you think about the moments of your life that have shaped you the most, those which have hopefully created the aspects of your persona that you are most proud of, a good majority comes from facing adversity. That vacation in Hawaii may have been lovely, but I’m willing to bet it did not build character. Facing a life threatening condition asks you to live more boldly than you ever thought possible, so take time to observe how this experience has made your stronger, deepened your gratitude, given you a sense of camaraderie and community, allowed you to let go of the less significant concerns, provided clarity on what you value, and so forth.
Allowing yourself to grieve– this is one of the areas in which I believe art can be so powerful. Find a quiet place to sit and reflect upon where your physical, emotional or spiritual pain lives. Using craypas, pastels, colored pencils, or whatever art material you have in hand, try to express what you are feeling on paper. Think of the color, the shape, the texture that might capture your interior landscape. As you allow yourself to be drawn into the expression of this pain on paper, let you intuition be the guide for what needs to happen. Following this practice with writing or journaling can help you translate it in order to better understand yourself, and at some point when you are ready, it will allow you to let it go.
Being kind to yourself and others– after you’ve had a chance to revise expectations, you will be more able to feel compassion towards yourself and others. Often when we are in pain, we just want it to stop, and our instinct might be to fight or flee. Developing a practice of being gentle, loving, and kind towards yourself and others allows us to be more accepting of vulnerability and the fragility in life, and gives us more capacity to accept life’s challenges while maintaining connection to our trust and faith.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting: www.creative-transformations.com.