Sustaining hope while in transition and finding fulfillment
For nearly 30 years, prior to December 2010, I enjoyed a successful professional career as an active trial lawyer. It was a rewarding and, in retrospect, an all-consuming life adventure. Then, in an accident of which I have absolutely no memory, it suddenly ended when I experienced a severe traumatic brain injury. Spending six weeks in three different hospitals, followed by three months in a foster care home, I was informed that returning to my career would likely place my clients at risk, given that I experience a fairly significant memory impairment, primarily for “new” information similar to short term memory loss.
To say the least, I was stunned. Virtually my entire adult life had been consumed with a trial practice. My two children were young adults and moving on with their lives, and my wife, at the time, owned a retail business which had been relocated to Bend, Oregon. For several years I was lost, and candidly consumed with self-pity and apathy. Stated differently, I perceived that I had lost my identity of who I was, and the significance my efforts had made for others.
With the passage of time, I seemingly learned to sustain hope, which for me, is not easily defined. Given my situation, I learned that hope is born while facing the unknown and discovering that I was not alone. I’ve also thought a lot about change and transition, which for me are not equivalent. While I think of the experience of the TBI as a single event that changed my adult life, I think of coping with that change and moving through the impairments associated with the memory loss, in many ways, as a transition. Peer support groups like BIC-NW, exercise, and keeping up with friends or acquaintances have helped me along with this transition.
I have drawn great solace from a book entitled “The Way of Transition,” by William Bridges. In it he describes three phases of transition. First, there is the ending of my 30-year career. In that phase, I needed to recognize the loss, let go of my old reality, and most importantly, let go of my self-image. Addressing (or not) those issues led to feelings of sadness, isolation, fear, apathy and anger.
Next is a period called the neutral zone — not being my old self as a trial lawyer, and yet not being someone with a new identity and purpose. To say the least, it was, and at times continues to be, a confusing time. Nothing seems real; yet, at the same time, everything seems potentially possible, just different. Consequently, for quite a long period of time, I found myself in this neutral zone. In understanding this process of transition, I have come to terms with the “change” and am now seeking to find fulfillment.
In this effort to seek fulfillment, maintaining balance in my life, as well as finding a sense of
contentment has allowed me to progress. I like this quote about contentment that a therapist once shared:
Contentment is an awareness of sufficiency, a sense that we have enough, and we are enough. It is appreciating the simple gifts of life – friendship, books, a good laugh, a moment of beauty, a cool drink on a hot day. Being contented, we are free from the pull of greed and longing. We trust that life provides what we need when we need it. Contentment allows us to experience satisfaction with what is. We are fully present in this moment. Being contented does not obstruct our dreams or thwart our purpose. It is a place to stand and view the future with a peaceful heart and gratitude for all that is and all that is to come.
Over the past several years, my life has become very different — physically, emotionally,
and psychologically. In thinking about the transitions which I have made, I embrace
Rabbi Harold Kushner’s forward in “Man’s Search for Meaning.” As he explained:
The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frank saw three possible sources for meaning: In work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it… Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.
Consequently, after many years, in a life dramatically different, I believe that I have a semblance of control over how I feel and how I react, without creating expectations which may be unfulfilled. Knowing I possess this control allows me to maintain a deep sense of serenity.