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Finding Yourself Dancing into Joy:
a Workbook

Dancing Into Joy


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Transcending Sexual Abuse - Summer 2007
"What's Your Life's Challenge?"

What’s your life challenge? Mine is making sense of the things that have happened and are happening to me. I’ll guess that that is yours, too. Whether it is making something positive out of childhood sexual abuse or learning enough Italian to sing in the chorus for Aida at the Cincinnati Opera this summer, my life is all about challenges to every part of me---emotional, intellectual, social, and mental events are occurring daily, demanding something from me. I have to adapt,
modify, strategize, step up, step back, find out, adjust, ask for help, give advice, re-group, go out on a limb, determine the budget, break down, suck it up or create an entirely new action in response
to the next thing. What I’m doing is simply living. All of us are required to do all those things I listed and more on a daily basis.

One of my cousins is coping with ovarian cancer. Another one is currently out of work. A third one lost her husband late last year. No one escapes, so what comprises success in living and dealing with all these challenges? I would say, if I had to limit myself to one word, attitude.

My cousin with the cancer has a very positive attitude. As long as she doesn’t walk in front of a truck, cancer will kill her. It is likely to kill her in the relatively near future. She is well aware
of this fact, but she considers herself to be in a very good place. She has a strong Christian faith, and says that she is in a win-win situation. Cancer cannot defeat her. She is currently receiving no treatment because she feels well and is able to do what she wants to do. The treatment available to her would make her feel bad and has no likelihood of curing her cancer and little likelihood of improving her chances of living longer. She chooses to enjoy her life now, however long or short it is.

The out of work cousin has a less optimistic attitude. It is true that she is in difficulty, but, she worries a lot about why she has trouble keeping jobs. She, too, has a faith, but her attitude is
“something is terribly wrong with me that I am unable to fix.” This is not going to work for her. There are, no doubt, some things about her that could use improvement in this arena, but her focus is less on “what can I do next” than on “woe is me.” Perhaps you can identify with her. As long as you see yourself as a victim, you will be depressed and have difficulty getting even simple things done. If you can focus on what you can do, you can take charge of your situation
and therefore, change it.

The third cousin is doing all right. She learned, gradually, over her husband’s long illness to extract such joy as could be squeezed from her situation. She was loyal in caring for him as he grew less and less the person she married. When he finally had to be moved into a nursing home, she brought cookies for everyone there and held his hand and spoke of the little happinesses that came their way even in this place. She was able to make a gradual adjustment to the inevitable. You may or may not get that opportunity.

Mastering the challenges of life can be done. Much of that mastery depends upon your attitude or outlook or however you define that sense of being on top of it. It's a matter of how you perceive your situation. Start by appreciating what you have: I appreciate that my health is pretty good even though I'm diabetic; I appreciate that I have enough money to live on even though I don't have everything I want; I appreciate that I have friends and family who love me and whom I love; I appreciate being single because that means I seldom have to consider another person's needs and wants on a daily basis even though that means I have occasional moments of loneliness. You see how that works. Next, consider what you can do to improve what's already good: I can choose to eat properly and exercise to keep my diabetes under control; I can look for ways to stretch my money and increase my income; I can keep lines of communication open between myself and the ones I love; I can find things to do to reduce the moments of loneliness. I can keep my eyes on new ways to solve old problems. If I focus on others and take the focus off my self for even a few minutes a day, I become a better, happier person (I've actually done this and it works).

People do things and say things every day that I don't like for one reason or another. This is a fact. If I let those things prey on my mind, dwell on them, take them to heart, believe that people are doing this on purpose, I am in trouble. I tend to forget all the positives. Most people act in self-interest only. They really aren't thinking much about me one way or another. I annoy them if I happen to be in the way of their goal. I make them happy if I do something to promote their agenda. I try to remember that it isn't about me for about 99% of the people I encounter. Service people, for example, are apt to be nice to me because I represent business; but if they are rude or incompetent, I still need to get my needs met, though I do not need to blame them or believe they are being this way on purpose. It's not really about me for them.

Once, in a restaurant, friends and I encountered a waitress in a very bad mood. She was angry, tired, and kind of smart aleck. Now we could have handled that, but we were expecting another friend who had recently lost her daughter and was still very fragile. This friend had a very low tolerance for other people's problems at this time. So, we explained to the manager of the restaurant what our concern was. He switched the tables the waitresses were serving and assigned a happier person to us. No problem. Since then, we have been back to that restaurant and have been served by the original waitress with no problems. If I can think ahead and try to deal with potential problems in a positive way, all of us are happy.

Attitude, anticipation of possible problems, and taking time to create a positive response rather than a mere reaction will make you a happier, more in control person. Your life is probably no better and no worse than anyone else's. To others, it is not about you. You are only the center of your own universe. That is important and you are important, but in this way, you are just like everyone else! If we can respect others and ourselves, we are well on the way to positive relationships with whomever we encounter. We who have been so wounded by others need to lead by example in respecting ourselves and respecting others. We simply need to treat others as we would like to be treated. I know you've heard that before! I don't believe that my having been abused gives me permission to abuse anyone else. I means I must treat myself much more carefully and lovingly and remember that everyone has challenges which call for my compassion,
care, and love.

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