Life rarely works out exactly as we plan. The death of a loved one, rejection by a cherished friend, the onset of an unexpected illness, unemployment status after a successful career, struggle with body image and self-perception – these experiences challenge us. During times of struggle, I have found comfort in the wisdom, insight, and empathy I gain when I reach out to others for help. I’ve relied on a healthy network of friends to support me in my endeavors especially when the going gets tough. As John Donne once noted, “No man is an island.”
Melody Beattie, the best-selling author of numerous books including Codependent No More and The Grief Club believes that “There’s a secret to get through loss, pain and grief. If we’re alone we can’t see who we are. When we join the club, other people become the mirror. Through them, we see ourselves and gain an understanding of what we’re going through.” I asked Melody to elaborate on what it personally means to her to “buddy up.”
AM: What kinds of qualities attract you to someone when you meet them for the first time?
MB: What attracts me to people varies, depending on the lesson I’m learning. It is my personal opinion that I am sent the people I need at different times in my life. They are my teachers—and I am their teacher. I often don’t know what it is I’m learning until the lesson is over. Sometimes a person mirrors a positive quality I didn’t realize I had; I learn to integrate that. Sometimes, the person comes to teach me through opposition. That’s always a good way to learn.
AM: What person has had the greatest impact on the shaping your career?
MB: The person who impacted my career the most is my son (now deceased), Shane Anthony Beattie. He believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I began writing when I was pregnant with him. It was so damn hard to write after he died. We all need someone who believes in us. Yes, we need to learn to believe in ourselves too, but when we don’t, or when we flail, we need someone who beyond a shadow of a doubt knows we can do it. When we see that in that person’s eyes and hear it in his or her voice, we absorb it. And we can cross the finish line (or leave the starting gate.)
AM: How has a “buddy system” helped you to stay the course when you might otherwise have felt like quitting?
MB: I am a writer. I work in solitude, but I need other people too. Life brings me who I need, when I need him or her. Trying to pick myself up after Shane’s death, I decided to “give what I wanted to get,” so I began mentoring a few people. This was and is something I do for free, although I need to protect myself. A lot of people I meet fantasize that I’ll “co-author a book with them” and make them rich and famous. Ha! I’m still fighting to get my own contracts, start that next book, begin that screenplay. But life definitely sends me who I need, when I need him or her. Someone else that has helped me after the death of my son has been my friend, Michael Bodine. Everyone thinks his sister is my best friend, but Michael is the one who called me almost daily when I was so sick I almost died for the year after I had two artificial discs put in my back. Michael motivated me—or helped motivate me—to get back up again after Shane’s death. Then we have Hunter Thompson who is my idol. I am a journalist at heart, and the deal now is, I’ve extended that to include books and teleplays. But it’s writing true stories that I love. Again, when it comes to people, one plus one equals three. I’m more with another person than I am without when I’m with the “right buddies.” When I’m with the wrong ones, I’m drained, tired, angry, and feeling victimized.
AM: Which communities do you enjoy getting involved with?
MB: Skydiving. Skydiving. Skydiving. Because it attracts people from all walks of life, all over the world, and they do it for one reason: passion. Contrary to popular belief, most skydivers are not just thrill seekers or people with a death wish. They are people with an incredible amount of passion: architects, law enforcement agents, writers — and it doesn’t matter what your name is or how much money you make or what you do. At the end of the day, sitting around the campfire before you go sleep in your car or your tent, what matters is that you’re alive and loving it. I enjoy the right recovery communities. The truth is, I shy from organized anything. Revolutions become institutions, and I dislike institutions. However, I credit the 12 Steps and my Higher Power with saving my life.
AM: What advice would you give to someone who is feeling isolated?
MB: I would say “Feel the feeling.”
AM: Please elaborate…
MB: After my son Shane died (at age 12 in a ski accident), I went into the worst “pit” of pain I’ve ever stumbled into. I had the opportunity of interviewing Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the “death and dying” lady who came up with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance. Many of us look to that as the grieving process. It looks so nice and tidy, doesn’t it? But she left out three stages: obsession, guilt, and fear.
Obsession is not just a defect. Obsessing helps us get through the loss. We tell our story, or go over the story in our minds, over and over and over again until we integrate the unthinkable. Guilt (it was my fault, if only I would have, I should have and so on) isn’t only a defect. Although guilt is uncomfortable, it gives us a sense of control over events that make no sense at all. If such and such just happened randomly, then I live in a world with no predictability, no safety, and no sensible cause and effect. However, if Icaused this, if I did something wrong, if I’m bad and being punished—then the unthinkable makes sense. There is order in this world. Now just because I’m saying these behaviors aren’t all bad, I don’t recommend using them for a lifetime. They’re band-aids until we can find something better.
After Shane died, I was in so much unending pain, and everybody expected me to work through it more quickly, “be on top of it,” handle it faster and better than anyone else because, as one friend said, “You’re Melody Beattie.” Well, I was furious with her. She didn’t get it. (She has the illusion that money and success make everything better. If she ever gets either, she’s in for a real jolt.) Money buys freedom. And I’d rather be rich and unhappy then poor and miserable, but if we have true happiness – which is another word for “peace” – then it doesn’t really matter how much money we have or don’t have.
I was surrounded by people who didn’t want me to grieve longer than six weeks, and who had little or not tolerance or understanding for what I was experiencing. And that’s the deal with grief—unless you belong to that “club”, we don’t understand how someone feels. How can we know the heart of another? I was so stuck. And in grief, frequently the second year is much more painful than the first. So, I went to a therapist. We had our session. “I don’t feel anything,” I told her. “I am, and I have been for months and months, numb. Just numb. Going through the motions.” I looked at her, waiting for an answer.
“Then feel numb,” she said.
I walked out thinking, “I paid $95 for that?”
It was the best $95 I’ve spent. It’s the key to life and to peace and to getting through whatever it is we’re going through. Stay in the moment. Now. Feel what you feel. Now. Let go of the resistance, or feel it, then feel the feeling you’re resisting. I have never particularly liked feelings, especially the hurting ones. When my son died, I couldn’t escape them. Even the numbness was a painful numbness. But feelings – pain, hatred, anger, fear, joy, expectation, enthusiasm – those are the box of color crayons we’re given. Without them, we live in a black and white (or worse gray) world. I used to spend more time resisting whatever I was feeling than I did feeling it. We don’t need to make a huge production or ordeal out of every feeling. We just need to feel it, then let the energy go. When we do, we come into balance.
When we’re in balance, we know what to do next. We’re living in a time where therapeutic correctness reigns. People know the right words. But millions and millions and millions of people are on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs. While some people need this medication—possibly for a lifetime—I don’t believe that everybody taking these drugs belongs on them. The ideal is using them while you’re doing therapy, to get through until you can handle things. But that’s not what’s happening. People are staying on them for months, then years, and now, going on decades. For many, it’s now impossible to get off them. And they’re not working on themselves. They want to feel “happy, happy, happy” all the time, as one person put it. Yuck!
That isn’t true happiness. True happiness is being at peace with who we are and how we feel this moment. Surrendering to what is. It’s also the key that unlocks the mystery of life. Yes, life does throw us more than we can handle sometimes. My grief was overwhelming. I couldn’t handle it; it handled me. We can live our entire lives a day at a time waiting for tomorrow. That’s not what the saying “One day at a time means.” It means “live each moment fully and let it be what it is.”
Then do the same thing when you get to the next moment. Feel each feeling. In the end, you’ll look back and say, “What a rich, fabulous, fantastic journey this has been and is.”
Melody Beattie, http://www.MelodyBeattie.com, is the author of Codependent No More, which when published in 1987 by the publishing division of the Hazelden Foundation became a phenomenon of the self-help movement. The book went on to sell over eight million copies, and it introduced the word codependent to the world. Melody Beattie is the author of over a dozen other books, such asBeyond Codependency, The Language of Letting Go, The Lessons of Love and her 2006 release from Hazelden entitled “The Grief Club. Melody’s two upcoming sites can be found at http://www.MelodyBeattie.net and http://www.MelodyBeattie.org.