Self-Actualization…reaching our full potential
/ˈsɛlfˌæktʃuələˈzeɪʃən, ˌsɛlfæk-/ Show Spelled[self-ak-choo-uh-luh-zey-shuhn, self-ak-] Show IPA
noun Psychology .
the achievement of one’s full potential through creativity, independence, spontaneity, and a grasp of the real world.
After struggling to survive in the burn unit and all of the subsequent surgeries I endured after, I struggled for over another decade with narcotics addiction. It wasn’t until I entered the recovery process in 1996 that I was finally able to address the underlying emotional pain that I carried with me from the past.
The most significant event that had occurred in my life was being critically burned, but there were less obvious issues that existed before my burn injuries; issues which were further complicated by addiction, denial and shutting down emotionally. This was a defensive maneuver created by a subconscious mind that I wasn’t even aware of. It was successful in one regard and damaging in another. On the one hand it probably stopped me from killing myself or going completely insane. And on the other hand it caused more pain and more consequences, not just for myself but for everyone that cared about me. I had literally and figuratively fallen asleep to my conscious and unconscious self. That didn’t mean that they weren’t still operating on some level. It just meant that I wasn’t aware of them.
The first few years after my accident were extremely lonely and painful for me. I had no one to lead me out of the darkness, which threatened to consume me entirely. I did however have a few people who helped me find distractions and other things to do to help me feel human, my dad being the most significant person at that time. Others encouraged me and gave me tiny little glimmers of hope that never lasted very long, but were enough to sustain me between doses. My surgeon and friend Dr. R. Michael McClellan was a big contributor in that regard. He never gave up on me. These people gave me a reason to go on.
This was perhaps the lowest point of my life in terms of literally feeling like I wanted to die. I felt so alone and so hopeless that most days all I could do was get out of bed, shower and maybe eat something. It was what I would describe as my “burn bottom”; the point where I just completely bottomed out physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. In 1996 I hit a very different bottom. This bottom was the result of having everything I used to hide behind stripped away. My family, my children, my homes, my businesses, my money and my dignity were all gone. This was another one of those opportunities for me to dig inside myself and find resources that I didn’t know existed. It was very similar to my burn injury in that it turned out to be a very positive thing. But at the time it hurt like hell and it was no fun being in that state. As a dear friend of mine says, “Sometimes lessons must be cruel to be effective.”
This has been the case more than once in my life. As a matter of fact everything I’ve ever learned that’s worth knowing I learned from my own pain or someone else’s. It’s a tough reality of life and I don’t go around looking for pain. You don’t have to. Life presents challenges for all of us every day. I realized at some point that if I didn’t learn how to meet these challenges I would be stuck in an endless downward spiral of being a perpetual victim. These challenges are uniquely tailored for each of us. That same friend of mine also says, “The victory is in the struggle because that is where we learn how to surrender.” Surrender is not something I do naturally. It’s actually counter intuitive. But surrender is what saved my life when I began to allow other people to help me while asking for help when I needed it. And believe me I still need a lot of help from other people.
I’ve done a lot of “work” in these past 15 years, most of it having to do with getting current with my self and my feelings. I continue to find out who I am and what I want from life and am not insulted by life’s challenges. Instead, I’ve learned how to see them as potential for growth and as a possibility to learn more about me and what makes me who I am. There is great joy, happiness and fulfillment in life, not just pain and struggles. But it’s the pain and struggles that make that joy and happiness all the more fulfilling. The grief, sadness, loss and pain that I’ve gone through have become a touchstone for future growth. It becomes the opening that allows me to enter the darkness and come out into the light with new information, unafraid to face life and all of its daily challenges with gratitude.
In learning to be spontaneous and trying new things, one of the most important factors is risk. Love takes risk, creativity takes risk, being who you really are takes risk. I can’t tell anyone else the way. I can just tell them that there is a way to achieve our full potential as wholly integrated men and women. It’s scary as hell because it means letting go of everything that makes you feel safe. It means experimenting with new ideas and trying on new things. It might even mean leaving people behind and pissing others off. It means leaving the safety of what we know to explore the most feared of all things; the unknown. There was a saying that a friend of mine from Maine sent me in an email about 10 years ago. I held onto it for a long time and I read it often. It went like this, “The will of God will never take you to where the grace of God will not protect you. In order to have what is truly worth having in life it may be necessary to let go of everything else.” You can’t surrender with one hand. You have to throw both hands up and open them up. The good news is you don’t have to do it all at once. You get to do it in pieces….for the rest of your life.