Sunday, September 2, 2012

When Long Term Caregiving Ends V: New Beginnings ...

What the caterpillar thinks
is the end of the world ...
the butterfly knows
is only the beginning.


Welcome to our last post in the series on life after long term caregiving.

You will remember from previous posts that every transition, including that from the caregiving to the post-caregiving life, proceeds in three overlapping phases - the endings phase where we let go of and grieve the old life; the neutral zone where we sit in limbo while reorientation, redefinition and creativity work away beneath the surface to provide possibilities for the future; and, finally, the new beginnings phase where we start to build psychological attachment and commitment to our new lives. Today, we look at the new beginnings.

The start (as opposed to the beginning) of a new period of life is generally concrete and clear - a particular point in time - but a new beginning is a different matter. Beginnings are "internal" and "messy"; they can't be pinpointed by a date on the calendar. Beginnings are gradual and follow the timing of the mind and heart. They will not happen until we have spent sufficient time in the endings and neutral zone phases.

Human beings are ambivalent about beginnings. As Bill Bridges puts it (paraphrased):

Beginnings are strange things. People want them to happen but fear them at the same time. After the long and seemingly pointless wanderings of the neutral zone, most people are greatly relieved to arrive at whatever Promised Land they've been seeking. Yet beginnings are also scary, for they are the time to make a new commitment and actually be the new person that the new situation demands. 
Beginnings feel frightening because they:
1.  reactivate some of the old anxieties that were originally triggered by the endings phase,
2.  represent a risk, (What if it doesn't work out? What if I can't make a new life?)
3. resonate with risky times in the past, (They may trigger old memories of failures.)
4.  may destroy what was for some, a pleasant waiting experience in the neutral zone without any accountability or pressure, or they
5. may re-ignite the grief  of the endings phase. (New beginnings remind us that the old, familiar life really is gone.)

No matter which aspect of the new post-caregiving life you're considering - leisure activity, therapy for healing caregiving-related trauma, new employment, education, creating a healthier lifestyle, volunteering, or developing a new relationship or support system - you will find it easier if you provide yourself with The Six P's of New Beginnings:

1.  Pay attention: New beginnings often emerge as quiet quickenings of interest. Something catches your eye or claims your attention. Pay attention to these nudges and the directions in which they may point you. Reflect on them. Journal. Talk them over with trusted loved ones or with a coach or counsellor. Think about how they might fit together to begin to form the beginning of a new life.   
2.  Purpose:  Allow yourself to reflect upon why you want to create this new life. What is your purpose in engaging it, or this aspect of it? Why does the shape of your new life matter - because your health is failing, because you've given up so much while caregiving, because it's time to focus on yourself, because there other things you want to contribute to the world, because you have a family to care for, because your creativity is reawakening, because you want to make meaning of your caregiving experiences and share them with others ...? Successful beginnings are based on a clear and personally congruent purpose.
3.  Picture:  Purposes are important but they can be rather abstract. Most people need a picture in their minds of what they want their new life look like. (One of the losses of the endings phase of transition is that the old picture of life falls apart and much of the pain of the neutral zone comes from the lack of a picture of how a future life might look.) Allow yourself to dream a picture of how you want the new life to be.
4.  Plan: In order for your picture to morph into reality, you'll need to make a plan. Make it a plan of small, concrete, easily achievable baby steps. If any step feels overwhelming, chunk it down into smaller steps until it feels manageable. Address one aspect of your new life at a time and don't attempt to plan changes in areas where you have no control.
5.  Play your part: Take ownership of and responsibility for your purpose, picture and plan and then take action. Commit to taking each step as it comes, to revising your plan when necessary, and to hanging in until you reach the desired outcome - a healthy, fulfilling, new post-caregiving life.
6. Patience: Be patient with yourself and trust the process. Beginnings take time. There will be stumbling blocks and setbacks and unexpected changes in direction. Know that you will revisit the ending phase's grief and the neutral zone's disorientation and anxiety from time to time as you begin again. This is natural because the three phases overlap. Use these experiences as opportunities to refine new coping skills. Allow yourself to be human and to ask for help when you need it. Healthy new lives are interdependent lives.

As your transition to the post-caregiving life unfolds, be sure to find ways to celebrate each step into the new beginning and the conclusion of this time of transition. Acknowledge your hard work and find a way to symbolize your new stage in life  (buy a special book or a piece of jewellery or pottery or a painting, take a trip or a pilgrimage, train for a run or a climb to symbolize your new strength, plan a ritual to share with loved ones, make a scrapbook or a photo essay or a series of paintings of your transition).

And remember:  

When old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new territory is revealed with its wonders.

Rabindranath Tagore
Indian philosopher

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