Embracing Option B: A Fresh Perspective on Loss, Adversity & Change


Something clicked for me last month. It was a combination of conversations, experiences and ultimately, coming across a book in the airport. It’s all given me a fresh perspective on how I’m living life today – and facing the future. That fresh perspective is bringing about greater confidence, hope and inspiration.

A year ago, I made a decision and commitment to pursue my passion for photography as a business, with the goal of being profitable in 2-3 years. As I’ve shared before, that is a big step for me – and a big departure from the first half of my life, where I spent my working time in corporate America. But even with that decision, I’ve struggled to see this step as anything other than a step down – something less than – not as good as – my “first option” – the career path my education and early choices led me into.

It’s also been hard to fully embrace this path because it comes on the heals of a significant loss and setback in my life in 2010, when I lost everything I had been building, because of my addiction. Even though the loss came because I got into recovery and started dealing with the underlying issues that led to my addictive behavior, it has been hard at times to fully accept the loss and change as healthy and in a better direction overall for me. I know it sounds crazy. But in addition to losing a well-paying job, house, and friends – I lost much of my identity, because it was largely wrapped up in my career – and the material things and money!

This journey I’ve been on since 2010 has been about rediscovering who I am, what I believe and how and where I find my identity and purpose in life. And although it came from a dark time of great loss, I can already see that I’m not just getting by, or surviving in this new way of living – but I’m actually growing as a result. This became even more clear as I read Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

In her book, Sheryl Sandberg shares how she deals with the unexpected and sudden death of her husband. She “combines her personal insights…on finding strength in the face of adversity.” She shares the moment of truth she faced just weeks after losing Dave:

“Option A is not available. So let’s kick the shit out of Option B.” Live is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the shout of of it.

She shares a lot of amazing research and studies, along with her personal insight. Some of the highlights for me are (with credit going to Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant):

  • How people deal with setbacks:  personalization (the belief that we are at fault), pervasivenss (the belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives) and permanence (the belief that the after shocks of the event will last forever.)  from research by Martin Seligman
  • As psychologists have studied people who have endured all kinds of trauma, they most focused on two possible outcomes of trauma: those who struggle, developing PTSD, depression and anxiety or had difficulty functioning or those who are resilient, bouncing back to their state before the trauma. More recently, research has revealed a third possibility: those who are resilient, bouncing forward, finding post-traumatic growth. This manifests itself in five ways:
    • finding personal strength
    • gaining appreciation
    • forming deeper relationships
    • discovering more meaning in life
    • seeing new possibilities
  • Parents can build resilience in their children through opportunities and relationships – with a focus on four core beliefs:
    • we have some control over our lives
    • we can learn from failure
    • we matter as human beings
    • we have real strengths to rely on and share

As I reflect on my journey and how this concept of an “Option B” plays out, I can more confidently each of these elements at play.

I have been guilty of the “three P’s” as Sheryl calls them. Her insights and tips have helped me already reframe thoughts that come to mind about my situation.

I can also see where I’ve been stuck in PTSD mode – perhaps hoping to “get back to where I was.” But, I now see that where I was was still unhealthy, steeped in addiction, lack of connection or community, and unresolved loss back to my childhood. Now I see a third possibility – and know more clearly that this last year of so has been about taking steps towards “post-traumatic growth,” seeing possibilities in all the areas Sheryl mentioned.

I’ve also added these new “core beliefs” to my earlier post, where I’m collecting beliefs as I work through this journey of rediscovery.

So, this book not only gave me tools and insights I was missing before, it underscored the work I’m already doing! and helped me frame where I am in a new, fresh light. So, thank you universe – and thank you Sheryl Sandberg! To learn more, I encourage you to read her book, and check out her Facebook Groups related to Option B (which is also the name of a non-profit she started, with all of the proceeds from her book being used to support this broader effort of finding post-traumatic growth.)

An explanation and apology…as best I can via the web.


I’m grateful to be “on the other side” of a valley — but as is sometimes the case with my loud mouth and unfiltered comments, I have some damage control to do – “taking ownership for my sh**” as they say.

Or as one Christmas sign says, “Santa, I have some ‘splaining to do…”


 

It’s clear you’re upset about some things Todd, and I’m so sorry..however, you just managed to insult a whole lot of people in one fell swoop


I’ll lead off by saying that none of these words “justify” my actions or behavior over the last month, and in particular the last week.  There is damage that has been done to some relationships, which will possibly linger “under the surface” for quite some time.

For those who know me, and know my battle with addiction and mental illness (depression, mood swings, etc), some of this will be easier to understand. For some who don’t know me or my journey to “get here,” it may not even come close to explaining my actions and behavior. I understand that – I simply ask for as much compassion and tolerance as you’re able to offer.  And I’ll live with the consequences…because that’s part of taking responsibility and owning “my sh**.”


This year, life continues to happen – even with some of the grounding and framing I set out for 2015 in my “brand” and personal intentions for 2.015.

While I don’t want to go through all of what has been going on “behind the scenes” per se, suffice to say that continuing to look for part-time employment and considering a move to North Carolina in 2015 have brought me face-to-face with some of my demons and some of my past (many of which I’ve written about on my blog here before…)

Personal events in 2009 and 2010 have fundamentally changed my path in life, and either closed some doors permanently or is keeping them closed for several more years…  And while none of the information is new, facing the topics and roadblocks again is hard…and sparks off some grieving and a range of feelings from anger, to sadness, to resentment…  And, I sometimes let those flow over into comments and actions that have hurt others (as the quote above says!)

Of course, having our timelines for the move to NC change again (probably not until 2016!) set off another set of reactions and feelings – and grieving…

And, then last week, a friend that I used to run around with in my using days passed away from heart failure at the age of 23.  A couple people in my life knew about this, but not many…so that was working in the background, bringing about its own feelings, grieving, regrets, self-loathing and fear.  So young…

Lastly, an individual who robbed me last year and has been “AWOL” / missing for a year suddenly contacted me because he was “embarrassed” that I had posted about the burglary / house invasion.  That resurfaced some of the pain of that trauma…


 

As I’ve shared before, like most people, I’m trying my best, with good intentions – but am imperfect and will fall short sometimes.  So, if I’ve said or done something recently that hurt you – I’m truly sorry.  I’ve tried to “clean up” some of the damage that was posted to Facebook or the web – and as importantly, focused on personal apologies and conversations where the pain / damage was perhaps greatest.  And, I need to “regroup” and get back to better managing my issues and shit, such that they don’t “come out” in such ugly ways.  It’s a life-long process for me…so I’m doing my best, and try to patient and compassionate with myself (and others!) along the journey.

With some exceptions, I rarely intentionally hurt others – but when I do (intentionally or unintentionally!), where I’m aware, I do endeavor to go back and make amends.  So, if I’ve hurt you and we still need to clear the air, even after this post, please let me know.  Of course, as I aspire to as much as I can (and will still fail!), please express your unmet needs and valid feelings in an objective manner that allows me to hear and receive your feedback. Silence is by far the worst of all choices. Passive-aggressive behavior I can work through; silence robs us both of a growth experience and an ability to connect.

Perfectly imperfect,

Todd

 

 

 

Yes, Virginia … There is a Santa Claus (and other traditions)


The letter to the editor of the New York Sun in 1897 is one of my favorite Christmas “stories.”  Several years ago, my then partner Jerry saw the letter/response from the editor reprinted for a Macy’s Christmas ad, and had it framed for me in a satin red mat/black frame.  It’s one of my many traditions for Christmas — taking down a piece of artwork that’s up for the rest of the year, replacing it with this frame.  The full text is available below (and the movie can be seen on Netflix!)

Yes, Virginia…there is a Santa Claus!.

Yes Virginia Memorabilia

“Yes Virginia…” Memorabilia I’ve Collected

I’ve been through a lot of change and loss since 2010, so it has taken a couple of years until I have really got back into the Christmas spirit.  Last year, I lost my mom to alcoholism/heart attack in January, and my grandmother (her mom) died later in October, one month shy of her 101st birthday.  But, I’m happy to report that this year is probably the best year so far: decorating the house, putting up lights inside and our along with a tree, etc.

There are three special items in my collection (in addition to the Yes, Virginia stuff) that remind me of my family.

  • One is a collection of homemade Christmas cards that my mom’s parents had printed each year from ~40’s to the ~60’s, which I had specially mounted several years ago, proudly displaying them as they should be.  They remind me of my mom and grandmother.  I love the different clothing styles, and fonts/expressions that mirror the changing times…
Vintage Christmas Cards - The Schneider Family (1940's to 1960's)
Vintage Christmas Cards
The Schneider Family (1940’s to 1960’s)

 

  • One is an original decanter and glass set for Creme de Menth that my grandmother Blanche gave me.  Very “kitsch” – something that nobody else in the family wanted, so she was ecstatic when her “gay grandson” was thrilled to give it a good home.

IMG_6244

Original Decanter/Glasses (Creme de Menthe)

 

  • Several collections of crèche’s (mangers) from my mom, which the three siblings carefully divided up between ourselves and her grandchildren last year.  They remind me of mom…

Creche (Manger Scene) from the Estate of C.S. Wyman Creche (Manger Scene) from the Estate of C.S. Wyman Creche (Manger Scene) from the Estate of C.S. Wyman

Creche (Manger Scene) from the Estate of C.S. Wyman

Crèche (Manger Scene) from the Estate of C.S. Wyman

Another proud “tradition” I’m a part of are the carillons at my “community center” / church, Broadway United Methodist Church.  We had a capital project last year to put them back in service, having rung in the past decades…but the old tape technology had fallen into disuse and failed to work.  A resident of Mapleton-Fall Creek, living two blocks from the church, it seemed fitting to give to our ambiance in memory of my grandmother with some of the money she left me in her will.

Whenever I hear the chimes, I think fondly of her and her matriarchal role in our family. To know the carillons are bringing others joy warms my heart. I love this neighborhood community and the traditions and memories it brings forward.

Some comments from neighbors (via nextdoor.com)

“We live right across the street from Broadway UMC and we LOVE hearing the bells! Thank you for all of your work to bring this small joy back to the neighborhood!”

” I enjoy hearing the beautiful bells. It’s nice to have them return to Broadway.  Whenever I hear the bells ring from the Broadway tower, I will always think of you and your Grandmother. Thank for ringing our bells!”

“I love the bells. I remember the first time I heard them play a song which was two christmas’s ago. I completely stopped what I was doing and listened. Not only did the bells tell me to slow down and just listen for once, they got me in the holiday spirit which is a feeling you can’t buy. We also brag to our guests, that visit our house, that we don’t need a wall clock because the bell tower keeps us up on the time!”

“I live on Broadway and I absolutely love hearing them chime. Thank you!”

“My family and I love hearing the bells. Thank you to you and your committee for making this a lovely part of our community!”

“I no longer live in MFC, however, my family lived in the community for 50 years. I am employed at Broadway UMC and I absolutely love hearing the chimes…so glad that they have been restored!”


One final tradition we grew up with: homemade pumpkin bread.  We couldn’t open our presents on Christmas morning until we had our slices of bread, which my mom had made from the pumpkins at Halloween.  So, I carry that tradition forward and always try to have pumpkin bread in and around the season, especially on Christmas morning.

Another tradition I reconnected with is our annual Christmas Store for the neighborhood…but I’ll save another blog post for that.  I’ll also write about “Christopher The Christmas Tree,” the creator of which (George Bowers) just passed away this month.  Finally, I’ll write about “Three King’s Day,” a tradition I learned about while living in Puerto Rico.


 

In closing, for many of us, the holidays can still bring up losses and changes we’re grieving. Just when we think we’ve moved past things, something comes up to remind us of the hole in our hearts…
I came across this poem that I thought I’d share:

“A Blessing for the Empty Place”

You sit in the empty place that is left, After the death, the arrangements, the service, The cards and calls and emails,
The departure of family,
The thank you’s and acknowledgements.
Left with the emptiness,
The space that can never be filled In quite the same way.
You see a shadow, hear a sound,
Taste a food she used to love,
Start to tell him something about your day, Smell a blanket or pillowcase,
And your eyes and heart are filled with tears.
The first week, the first month, the first birthday, The first holiday, the first anniversary, These bring you to the place of remembering, The place of exquisite, lonely sorrow.
Bless you and your memories.
Bless the tender heart that beats within you. Bless the empty space that can never be filled.
The shadows, the smells, the tastes, the thoughts, Transform their pain into blessings,
Signs that though you live in that desperately empty place, She walks beside you,
He laughs in the shelter of your heart.
That empty place That can never be filled In quite the same way Is filled
With love.

TheUnclutteredHeartbeth@bethrichardson.com


What are some of your favorite traditions or Christmas memories?
Please use comments to share with us…