July 31, 2011
The Underserving Disease
Is it possible that we have the power to heal ourselves? A few months ago a dear friend named Sara had been diagnosed with a molar pregnancy that had turned into a persistent gestational trophoblastic disease. Most GTDs are benign (non cancerous) and they don’t invade deeply into body tissues or spread to other parts of the body. But some tumors are potentially cancerous and if left untreated, can turn malignant. The only way to treat this disease is to undergo a regimented chemo therapy course. Aside from dealing with the loss of her potential pregnancy, she now found herself facing months of chemo. What made Sara’s experience most triumphant was her willingness to share her experience in an ongoing diary she posted for her friends to participate in. We learned about her battle with chemo and her ongoing health updates kept us all informed of her physical and emotional journey. During Sara’s chemo therapy as her numbers were declining, and she had almost made it to the point where the molar cells had become eradicated, her numbers shifted and instead of decreasing they began to rise yet again. The exact words she wrote in her journal upon receiving the disheartening news that she would need to continue treatment for longer than expected were, “....I still struggle to ask for what I need and to feel deserving of the things that I want.”
I have also been on the end of the disease of feeling “undeserving”. A small voice inside my head screaming at my psyche that I have yet to deserve happiness, wholesomeness, or contentment. It is inside all of us as we navigate the tumultuous waters of life; except for those who are the most narcissistic amongst us. But as the Lubavitcher Rebbe always said, “We can learn something from every person; even (narcissists)- we can learn from them how not to be.” Where does this lack of faith in ourselves and our well being come from and how can we finally look at it in the face, slap it, confront it, and tell it to leave for good; once and for all?
The first step in healing, whether it be emotionally, physically or spiritually is to become aware of the problems that started the dysfunction. We cannot correct ourselves or see healing in areas of our lives if we do not acknowledge where this pain stems from.
I moved about seven years ago to the West Coast with my family from the East Coast. We rented our first home for two years and subsequently moved into a second rental right afterwards never really unpacking our belongings fully. Our second rental turned out to be the perfect storm that came from the financial decline into which our country has descended. Our landlords lost their jobs and stopped paying the mortgage, the house fell into foreclosure and on the eve of my last day of sitting shiva for my father, we received a letter from the bank stating that we had sixty days to be out of our home. I climbed out of my grief and pulled myself back into yet another suffocating reality that I was forced to face and began to pack the rest of my entire house into MORE boxes. We searched for a rental, but to no avail, there were very few homes on the market in our price range large enough to host all of my brothers and sisters who regularly moved in for weekend visits. I vacillated back and forth as to whether to move out of my neighborhood all together. I was despondent and frustrated by the many ’NO’s’ life was providing me. My father had died suddenly, my home was being taken away, and I began to feel as though my life had slipped into a quiet torment. For months and months we tried to negotiate with the bank and find ways to buy our home, but to no avail a big FAT NO sat on our doorstep. Finally a friend said to me- “Chava, you know you have the power to turn this around, don’t you?” I looked at my friend like she was absolutely crazy as I gazed at her, surrounded by all of my belongings packed away with my computer opened to Westside Rentals, a regular site that stared back at me at all hours of the night.
I had to change this thought process. The thought of directly changing this momentum can very often engender the tide to shift. But when you are riding the tide, you rarely imagine there is any other direction than the one you are riding on. I had to stop being a tragic magnet and make myself aware that I was just as entitled to a positive outcome. I had to desire and want to receive the blessing if I was going to be given the blessing. That night I slept with a stir in my soul as I thought about why I deserved the blessing of having a stable home. I deserved this, and yet even as I said it in my own head, I struggled to believe it. I knew my children deserved it, my husband deserved it, my family members who come to celebrate holidays and Shabbat deserved it. But did I deserve it? Obviously this is not as serious as cancer or having one’s health threatened. Probably another reason why I felt so undeserving. In my mind I was staring at G-d’s flow chart and imagining my own needs on the bottom of the totem pole in comparison to others who suffer greater challenges. I just couldn’t muster any merit in why I earned this blessing when so many others live with less. Of course it is like comparing apples and oranges. One event had nothing to do with the other events I was equating my own outcome with. To put my own needs on the same flow chart, on any flow chart, and compare them like life was some sort of tournament was completely ridiculous! Obviously I have my own script of life and everyone else has their own journey, and to compare for the sake of making sure mine is less so someone else’s can be more is really absurd.
I woke up the next morning, looked in the mirror and said to my husband out loud- “I DESERVE THIS HOUSE.” I cringed while I said it, but after I said it a couple more times, I started to like the sound of it. “I want this house.” My husband responded- “Are you sure you want this house?” “Yes,” I said. “I am sure.”
I know this sounds crazy, but within five hours a phone call came from the bank and the lender told us to be at their office that afternoon to sign the papers. This was the same bank that had refused to heed any of our offers for eighteen months. The same bank that when we finally got them to allow us to put in an offer for this house, turned us down nine times! The same bank that turned down our loan six times. It took eighteen months, 9 offers, 6 loan agreements and lots of paper work, probably enough paper work to kill fourteen forests, and yet it was that exact morning when I stared in the mirror with a positive attitude towards my destiny, rather than with doom and gloom, when we got the good news that we were now homeowners. I can’t explain it other than I changed my own fate because I made the decision to do so. After seven long years, I had finally unpacked my last box. I did call Goodwill and managed to unload a lot of things I learned to live without over the course of those seven years. Man was it nice to finally come home. (And this is another lesson I have learned. As long as you have one pot a few paper plates and a good knife, you can really survive without all the stuff.)
Indeed my dear friend Sara, inflicted with potential cancer cells growing in her womb, who had been struggling to see her own positive outcome needed to come to the same place of feeling deserving of triumph over her health. As she wrote in her post:
As of yesterday, Sara had finally been given a clean bill of health. Her numbers had improved and she is finally in remission. If she had never kept a journal or faced those rising numbers, she probably would have never even been aware of her other disease – the disease of feeling “undeserving.” Only when she was forced to look at her life through new glasses- the ones that stared at those rising numbers, did she become aware of how she was affecting her outcome.
Maybe that is the reason we struggle at all. Maybe we struggle for the purpose of getting over the struggle. That in itself is the most Divine expression we have. To be tormented by life, that’s the easy part. But when we can stare at the torment, change the direction of the tide and regroup, that is the real miracle of life. We really have more power than we give ourselves credit for. As in the words of Saturday Night Live’s Stuart Smalley, let us all say “I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!” (Unless you’re a narcissist, then you should really avoid this exercise at all costs.)