Friday, June 18, 2010

The Turtle on the Fence Post

On my fridge I have a favorite magnet. It has a drawing of a turtle perched on a wooden post. Underneath it are the words “Whenever you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know he had some help.” Absurd as that might be - especially since turtles live in water - it's a reminder to me that we all need help to get where we’re going in life. Nobody really makes it on their own. From the day we’re born, support is what nurtures us and encourages us to thrive throughout our lives.

Support is emotional nutrition that energizes and fortifies us. We all need it in our daily lives to help us live well. It's not just for bad times, or when we need help to get to the top of the post.

Support is a cushion. It’s there to sink into when you’re tired. It’s there to ease the hard times. It gives you comfort.

But there's a limitation to what support can do. It can’t put your life back together. It can only help you do that job.

When I was in low spirits I was surrounded by support, and yet I often felt alone. My life had collapsed, and looking ahead I had no idea how I was going to live. All I knew was that I was the one who was going to have to make a life for myself again. Nobody else could do it for me.

Others can put the details in place to make it easy for you to take a step, but you are the one who has to step.

For a number of reasons, you might find it hard to ask for and accept help. You may not have had very much support in your life so you don’t know how to ask for it, and accepting it feels awkward. You may believe that if you're not 100% self-reliant you're weak. You may think that if you depend on others, you'll lose control, and that might frighten you.

If you have trouble asking for and accepting support, it helps to remember a simple truth: we can’t get by in this world without each other.

Thousands of people make it possible for us to function in our daily lives. Think of all the people who grow our food, make our clothes, pump our gas, supply our water, heat our homes, and manufacture our medicines. And that only covers a handful of our basic necessities!

It's not just physical and material things we depend on each other for. We need each other for emotional nurturing too. Admitting this makes some people feel vulnerable and weak. We put such a high value on independence that we sometimes forget the reality of the human experience. We are relational beings, and from the moment we’re born, we’re driven to form emotional connections.

As difficult as it may be, it is good to ask for help when you need support. Reaching out does not mean you are weak. It means you have a natural human need.

Look to the people you trust for support and, even though you might feel uncomfortable, try your best to accept it. Support is useless unless you are receptive to it. All you have to do is graciously accept it and know that in time, life will give you abundant opportunities to reciprocate.

Trying to find the support you need during a difficult time can be a challenge in itself. It's often a process of trying different things until you find what works for you. The important thing is to keep looking even though you might feel frustrated and discouraged.

Listening to people you trust and respect can give you direction. Consider their suggestions about what you might find supportive. Try them out if you think they might help.

Of all the things that helped me get through adversity, support was the most important. Almost all the people I've talked to who have faced a life-changing crisis say support played a huge role in helping them get their life back together again.

Support comes from all kinds of people, places and things, but I have found it generally takes one of three forms.

Doing! This is the form of support we're really good at. Human beings are multitasking masters! We love to DO things! In some ways this special skill has become too much of a good thing. There are more stress-related problems than ever these days! But when a crisis stops you in your tracks or hardship slows you down to a crawl, having someone there who will do the things that need to be done provides tremendous relief.

Being! One afternoon a friend came and sat by my bed when I was in the hospital. She read the paper. She asked me at one point if I was mad. I said I was. Other than that we didn't talk. I remember her visit as if it had happened yesterday. It was wonderfully calming and comforting. "Just being there" is the form of support many people find most difficult to give - not because they don't want to give it, but because they don't know how to. People who are "doers" (most of us), think they aren't doing anything when they're just sitting with someone.

They are.

They think they are not being helpful.

They are.

They feel inadequate and ineffective.

They are not.

Many people who have faced a devastating adversity will tell you their most profound experience of support was when someone simply spent time with them not doing anything. When people sit quietly, or walk with someone in silence, or just listen attentively, they are sending an unforgettable message. They are saying "you are not alone."

The healing power of that message is beyond measure.

Motivating/encouraging: All support is intended to encourage, but some kinds of support are particularly motivating. This is support that can only come from those who are close to you - because they know you, and from those who have also experienced adversity - because they know what you're going through.

When friends and family encourage you, they are telling you "We know you and we believe you can do this!" In times when it's difficult to see your capabilities, having someone who knows you point them out helps bolster your belief in yourself.

When you are struggling with adversity, being around someone who has overcome it and is living well gives you hope. In them you can see that things can get better. When they encourage you they are telling you "I am a person just like you and I got through it. You can do it too!"

Support is everywhere. It comes from other people - strangers, best friends, communities and organizations. It comes from your environment, from your Higher Power, and from cherished things. It comes from you as a gift to yourself - learning how to take care of yourself is an important part of healing for many people!

Support is anything that freely nurtures and sustains you. The possibilities are endless. A singing bird on a quiet afternoon can do it. A day at an amusement park can do it too. Solitary meditation does it for some people. Attending a support group does it for others. A smile can be just as supportive as a community-wide relief effort. It just depends on you and what you need at any given time.