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SENIOR SCENE: Getting your life back

OPINION by David Smith - Levi Transitions Counseling Services | April 25, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.
David Smith - Submitted photo

Counselors use a variety of techniques to help patients reach their therapy goals. One technique that I use from time to time to help a patient understand what lies ahead is called the "swamp metaphor." Here's a distilled version of that metaphor: Imagine you are looking off to the horizon. The horizon represents your life as you hope it will be. But between you and that horizon is a swamp. You can't go around it; you can't go over it. If you're going to experience what's on the horizon, you must go through the swamp.

The swamp represents whatever sacrifices we must make to get to where we want to be. It represents the way forward to the other side.

There are life situations that require going through the swamp. One of those is bereavement. I've often told patients that the only way forward after losing a loved one is to go through the grieving process. It's a painful process, but there is no shortcut -- there is no "getting over it."

Another life situation that requires going through the swamp is moving forward after trauma. I've had patients who presented for therapy with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a serious car wreck, rape, shootings, or even finding murdered family members. The most widely used therapies for PTSD involve some form of trauma processing that requires the patient to come face-to-face with that experience. It's an unpleasant process, but if therapy is successful, the result is worth the journey. One of the most gratifying experiences of being a counselor is to hear a patient tell me, "I have my life back."

We've been trudging through a worldwide swamp this past year with the pandemic. This has required lifestyle changes and sacrifices that none of us wanted to make. I believe that the worst is behind us -- if we remain calm and compliant with what is recommended -- but there are a few more muddy steps to travel before we reach the horizon. The only way to get to the other side is to go through; but one of these days we'll be able to say, "I have my life back."

Granted, that life will likely be different. Many have lost loved ones to the virus. Many who contracted the virus are experiencing lasting symptoms. So, "I have my life back" may not mean "I have my old life back." Going through the swamp never leaves a person unscathed, but it can leave a person stronger and better able to face future swamps.

If this past year has left you depressed or anxious, give us a call at 622-3580. Perhaps we can help you find the strength to finish the journey.

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