Special Treasures

Because treasures are personal, they come in many forms: loved ones, jobs, careers, dreams, faith, ideals, roles, youth, health, money, freedom, self-esteem, opportunities, trusted helpers, precious objects, personal security, body parts, mental functions, self-esteem, and life itself.

Moreover, many kinds of crises uncover potential blessings: new chances, choices, prospects, opportunities, and alternatives. Finding these blessings is a healthy reward of healing. Yet, to realize these advantages, we must be mentally prepared to change our attitudes, our habits, and our beliefs.

Unfortunately, we resist changing. However, crises can help us change by jolting us out of our ruts. This, in turn, motivates us to adjust to our new world and find our new treasures. Thus, crises help us change our mental habits to meet future demands on our mental skills. In fact, our natural way of developing our defense mechanisms and coping skills is through learning to adapt to crises. As a rule, the stronger our challenges, the stronger we become.

On the other hand, nature doesn't force us to heal. Even though healing is natural, it isn't easy for everyone. Anger and guilt, for example, are two troublesome symptoms of grieving that cause most people to stagnate in the past, thereby inviting more losses. That's why learning to heal after losses is essential for mental fitness.

In short, losing any kind of treasure requires healing, but healing from each kind requires its own special considerations. A few of these are discussed here, and they are illustrated elsewhere in the stories of Katie, Calvin, Frank, and Melody.

Loved Ones
For most of us, losing a loved one--a spouse, child, pet, friend, or lover--is our greatest kind of loss. We usually think of losing our loved ones to death, but we can lose them in many ways. We may lose a spouse through divorce, or a lover through a breakup. A relative may move to a distant country, or his or her selfish spouse may keep us apart. We may lose a close friend when we graduate from school, or when that person marries. A pet may be stolen, or it may run or fly away.

Immediately after the crisis of losing a loved one, it is difficult to imagine that we will ever again enjoy life. Yet, as we heal, our attention shifts away from the loss and back to our lives. Then we can start to discover our new blessings.

Our loved one may have left us money, life insurance, mementos, or other tangible gifts. However, our most enduring and most cherished blessings are precious memories that unfold for us like flowering blossoms. The memories themselves, of course, are not new. What is new is the joy they bring; the same memories may have brought sadness or anger only a few months before. Indeed, the rebirth of memories may seem miraculous.

Memories of our loved ones are treasures because they are part of us. It is important to cherish these memories, not only as memorials to our loved ones, but as their immortality: Our memories of them continue to live within us.

The healing process for the death of a loved one is often termed mourning, as though it were a unique process. In fact, the healing process is not reserved exclusively for the deaths of loved ones. Our goals for healing are the same after we lose any treasure, and we use the same mental skills to heal regardless of the kind of loss. Mainly, we must reorganize our view of the world so we can rebuild our lives.

We live for our dreams. They are our hopes, plans, wishes, and ambitions for the future. That's why losing a dream can feel like we are dying. It is essential to remember that, not only can we survive these losses, we can revive our dreams.

Our dreams are our own creations. Our parents, teachers, or other people may inspire us to dream, but our most important dreams spring from our own thoughts, feelings, talents, and passions. For most of us, as long as we are alive, we can dream. And as long as we can create our dreams, we can re-create them to find new, exciting reasons to live.

Dreams can lie dormant for many years, waiting to be uncovered by a crisis that disguises them as misfortune. Dormant dreams can also be awakened by happy occasions such as forming new relationships. And sometimes, by making hard decisions, we create our own crises to realize their new opportunities.

Realizing our dreams is a blend of fantasy and fact. That's why it is essential to know which of our dreams are realistic and which are not. For example, if a young woman loses her uterus, she can't realistically plan to bear children. If she doesn't modify her dream to correspond to real world, she may grow old frustrated, feeling unfulfilled. Yet, she can revive her dream for parenting children in other ways, for example, by marrying a man who already has children, or by considering adoption. In this way, she can transform her unrealistic dreams into realistic ones. In Chapter 7, "Reviving Lost Dreams," you will read about Rachel, who rewrote her dreams for marriage to realize her dreams for having children.

Some dreams appear to be unrealistic on the surface because they are disguised. For example, as Don Quixote did, some people are happiest dreaming "impossible" dreams. Even if they don't achieve their stated aspirations, they can find satisfaction in their work and in their relationships with other dreamers.

If you have lost a dream, remember this: To discover the new opportunities your crisis provides, you must always keep your eyes open for signs of new dreams. New dreams are often born of tragedy, but if you focus on the tragedy, you won't see the dreams. That's why healing is the first step toward enriching your life.

Extensive healing is necessary for people who have lost their faith. Faith is a companion of dreams. Our dreams establish our goals, and our faith sustains us in reaching for them. That's why losing our faith is tantamount to losing our dreams.

To reach our dreams, we place our faith in others, in ourselves, and in ideas. We can lose our faith in others when we are betrayed by our leaders or by our friends. We can lose faith in ourselves when our physical skills or mental abilities deteriorate, and we can lose faith in our ideas when our religions or political ideologies disillusion us. These losses devastate us by suggesting that our dreams are lost.

Just as it is necessary to look at our dreams realistically, it is essential to examine our faith carefully. Reality is indifferent to our wishes, and it isn't sympathetic or forgiving. If you bet all of your money on a dead horse, you'll inevitably discover that you've placed your faith unwisely.

Fortunately, however, our faith can be revived as well as our dreams. In fact, faith and dreams usually renew themselves together just as they were lost together.

Unlike treasures that we already possess, opportunities are treasures that we hope for. Correspondingly, lost opportunities are "what might have been." Healing from these losses becomes "what might yet be."

Many opportunities are lost by the passage of time. Each day brings the loss of yesterday's opportunities, some of which never occur again. Business opportunities may be lost because of transient market conditions, and job openings may close before we are able to act on them.

Some people lose opportunities by losing their freedom, whether by confinement in prison, in a wheelchair, or in an oppressive relationship. The new prospects in such situations aren't obvious, but they are there. For example, imprisonment may bring the time and resources to learn new skills or to meet new people through correspondence. Being restrained by a wheelchair may open new career opportunities. And oppressive relationships offer the chance to grow and to find new ways of relating to others.

To recover from a lost opportunity, cultivate watchfulness and creativity. That is, prepare yourself to find or create new opportunities. Turn two potential obstacles to healing--guilt and anger--into resources. Don't find fault with yourself. Guilt can paralyze you if you blame yourself for your loss. Besides, rather than solving problems, self-reproach creates new ones. Instead of clinging to the anchor of guilt, let go of your loss, and seize the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. And be sure to use the energy your anger provides to correct your mistakes, to learn new skills, to create new openings, and to increase your alertness to new opportunities.

These treasures may include cars, homes, gifts, photographs, souvenirs, and collections of coins or stamps. Some objects are precious because they are intrinsically valuable, whereas others may be valuable because they represent the work of a lifetime, as they did for the kindergarten teacher mentioned above. And you may cherish certain gifts, photographs, or souvenirs because they are the sole tangible reminders of a precious relationship. Besides, they are probably irreplaceable.

Regardless of the reasons that make specific objects treasures to you, they are your personal reasons. That's why losing treasured objects hurts so deeply. That's also why no one else can determine how much you hurt, or tell you whether or not you must heal. So, if you have lost a special object, pay close attention to your feelings, and let them guide you. If you can recover your treasure, put your anger to work for you. If you can't replace it, acknowledge your anger, anyway, and use it for something else. And to relieve your sadness, cry.

Jobs or careers
This type of loss can be devastating. Not only is it painful to lose a livelihood, lost jobs often bring serious associated losses. Many people who lose their income also lose their savings, friends, families, and social status. They may even lose their dreams. Beyond this, some people identify themselves by their professional titles, and they may lose their identity.

Because losing an occupation can be associated with many other losses, healing can be complicated. However, this drawback is balanced by a vital advantage: Losing a job means gaining many opportunities by getting out of a rut. Taking advantage of this disguised blessing isn't always easy. It requires resolute faith, unwavering dedication, adaptable creativity, and diligent effort. In other words, healing is work, and it requires the same qualities as any worthwhile job.

If you have lost your job or career, make healing your next job. Healing won't pay your bills, but it can reward you in countless other ways. Katie, whose story is told in the next chapter, found that the long-term advantages of losing her job far outweighed her short-term distress.

Trusted helpers
We hurt when we lose persons we depend on, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, ministers, or business partners. Because we depend on them, they are among our treasures. Unlike our loved ones, however, our helpers can be replaced. Still, replacing a helper isn't always easy because we may have developed emotional attachments to them. For example, losing a family doctor, a minister, a business partner, or a house-keeper may be like losing a good friend. Because they know us well, care for us, and help us through our most difficult crises, we invest in them emotionally. In losing them, we lose our emotional investment, and it is this loss that determines the size and significance of our crisis.

Regardless of any emotional attachment, losing a helper almost always entails associated losses. For example, a friend of mine was thrown into a crisis on April 10 last year when his accountant died before she had finished preparing his income tax return. Worse, the accountant had recently hired a new secretary, and she didn't know where to find my friend's records. My friend lost time, but he didn't lose any money. His anger gave him the energy he needed to file for an extension, to recover his records, and to find another accountant.

When you lose a special helper, expect other losses, too. Your main job in surviving these losses is to sort out your associated losses according to their importance. Then you can budget your time and energy to recover smoothly.

Personal Security
We may lose our property in a theft, or we may lose control over our bodies in a assault. In themselves, these are major losses, yet the associated lost sense of security may be even more devastating.

Loss of personal security is most evident in people who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This major psychological injury occurs in victims of wars, crimes, and violent accidents, but it also occurs in the workplace or in homes. It can even occur in those who witness horrible events.

People who develop PTSD have learned that they can't take their personal safety for granted. This makes them undergo extreme changes in their personalities. For example, whereas they once trusted others, they now trust no one. Many of them start abusing alcohol or other drugs in ineffective attempts to quell their constant anxiety or to minimize the terror of their nightmares. These changes, in turn, create havoc in their personal relationships.

It's unfortunate that personal relationships are so vulnerable to the signs and symptoms of PTSD because healing from this disorder requires strong social support. If victims are supported by their loved ones and friends soon after the trauma, and if their agony is sympathetically understood, their chance for healing is high. However, if their loved ones badger them to change their habits, and if their friends abandon them because they aren't much fun any more, they are at high risk for developing chronic PTSD. Yet, even if their injury progresses to this point, they can once again find pleasure in living. However, they will most likely need to find professional help.

Each day we lose a day of youth, with its vigor, enthusiasm, and optimism. Of course, we aren't mindful of this loss daily. Instead, the lost days accumulate into lost years without our notice. We may eventually become aware of our loss during a crisis, midlife or otherwise. At these times, we may feel confused, terrified, and disoriented.

In coping with lost youth, it is essential to be realistic about one fact: Our youth doesn't return. If we try to resurrect it, we waste even more time in our vain efforts. Yet, if we accept our new position in our life, we can enjoy the many blessings of maturity. In this search, we can renew our youthful enthusiasm.

Immortality is one of the main rewards of getting older. Our bodies aren't immortal, of course, but we possess other expressions of ourselves, some material and some spiritual, that will survive us. We can bequeath our wisdom and understanding to the next generation to hold, to use, and to build on. That generation, in turn, passes our revitalized ideas to the next generation, and so on. In this way, our spiritual treasures can live on as our immortal estates.

Most people automatically build estates for future generations, but not everyone. Some people, mired in their own childhoods, are stingy, self-centered, and anti-social. Because they are always looking inwardly and backwards, they are indifferent to others and to the future. Eben, whose story is told in Chapter 8, "Delayed Healing," was one such person. Eben felt bewildered, frightened, and disoriented when he encountered losing his youth. Yet he proceeded from there to revive his dreams.

People like Eben must work hard to realize the benefits of getting older and to give worth to their immortal estates. They must learn the mental habits and other skills that characterize maturity. Although these journeys of growth can be difficult at times, they are exciting and rewarding adventures. Indeed, the luckiest people enjoy these adventures for their entire lifetimes. They begin developing when they are born, and don't stop growing until they die.

In short, virtually everyone can revive his or her dreams after losing youth. The only exceptions to this rule are the very ill and the very old. If your mental faculties have abandoned you, or if you are over two centuries old, don't plan on dreaming. On the other hand, if your mind is sound enough to understand these words, and if you are younger than 200, you can still dream.