Wednesday, April 23, 2003

The possibility of suffering harm or loss; danger.

If you take a closer look at that definition then cut and paste it into everyday life, the whole context takes on a different tone. You cannot get through life without the possibility of suffering harm or loss, or facing danger; the very definition of risk.

Now take a look back through your life. Try and remember the various times you actually suffered harm, loss or were exposed to danger.

I can think of many. But my life was anything other than conventional.

I grew up in an alcoholic home, was beaten by my parents for the smallest transgression, lived in a violent and hostile neighborhood, found solace in my own intake of drugs and alcohol, watched both my parents slowly destroy themselves, became involved over time in the chaotic lifestyle that comes with doing and selling drugs and drinking oneself into oblivion every night to escape the fear of what the next day held in store for me.

Risk, back then, was just a part of life. Then suddenly, relationships came along and brought with them a different type of risk. I got hurt. Things didn't work out. I felt pain. Fear became a comfortable friend. I found out that sometimes emotional pain far exceeds the pain brought on by physical harm. Then somebody said, “Nobody makes you feel guilty, sad, depressed, mad or hurt. You make the choice to feel that way.”

You mean I can turn these feelings on and off? You mean that harm, loss or danger is a matter of my own perception?

Could it be?

Risk, in and of itself, is an individual experience. What is risky to one is a walk in the park to another, but one things for sure….if you don’t take the risk, you will never know.

Now imagine what your life would be like right now, if you could totally erase all the harms, losses and danger from your past life. In some cases, I’m sure, it would be an improvement, right? But never in all cases, unless you have chosen to live a life of total destruction.

We learn best from our mistakes, or at least I must say that I have. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I had never gone through all the crap that presented itself to me over the years. Some of it I asked for, some I didn’t, but it still came to be born out of my choices in life and some of it just happened out of chance....perhaps, or the odds at the time.

I would not be able to experience the love I now experience had I not lost in love before. I could not have the perspective I have now on the world, had I never traveled to places beyond. I would still be in the same job I hated, had I not taken the risk, with no place else to go, of quitting and freeing myself of a burden that was slowly killing me.

Recently, in my college night class, I was given an assignment to predict where I would be in ten years and what the world and our society would be like in ten years. A simple assignment I initially thought, but on closer examination, it wasn’t so simple at all. It was totally impossible.

Oh, I could have fudged the assignment easily, but I really put some thought into it. I approached the task by taking a peek back in time to ten years before today. Once I was there mentally, I gave myself the same assignment, “Where will you be ten years from now?” My answer was not a pleasant one.

You see, ten years ago I did not have much hope. I was in a lot of trouble and was facing a prison sentence. I did not want to live anymore and I was tired of all the pain I had endured. My outlook was shortsighted and I would have looked upon my professor’s recent assignment disparagingly.

But you know what? Things worked out pretty good. If you had told me ten years ago what I would be doing now, ten years in the future, I would have laughed my head off at you. I had no clue where life would take me, where my own risks would take me, but had I not taken those risks back then, I wouldn't be where I am now.

I took many risks in the last ten years. Most of them led me in the right direction, some brought harm, loss and danger. But, all of them taught me a lesson. I finally learned that even in the face of the worse circumstances and the greatest pain, there is a greater lesson to be learned. I learned that avoiding risk lessens the possibility of harm, loss or danger but the greater lesson is that with harm, loss and danger often comes the greatest payoff in life experience.

Without risk no lessons are learned and life cannot be fully lived. Many people have been hurt in relationships or have had their trust severely damaged, only to make the decision to never trust again and to stay away from relationships entirely. Either that or they place so many “rules” or “conditions” upon their relationships, that you can’t call it a relationship as much as a dictatorship.

Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes risks are disguised. They aren't always as clear as we might think. Sometimes you just have to follow your gut instinct and hold your head up high, forging ahead, even when everybody else is telling you to do otherwise. Some of the greatest gifts I've gotten in life came directly from risks that I took despite the advice others were giving me.

I loved powerfully once. Or should I say “differently,” than I was used to at the time. That love lasted eight glorious months and then it was over in the blink of an eye. I was devastated and paralyzed. Once the initial devastation and paralysis lifted a bit, a deep, dark depression set in and then came the anger.

I went to a counselor because I knew I was a ticking time bomb with the potential for self-destruction via substances and alcohol. Sometime around the forth or fifth session, my counselor asked me to leave the anger, the projection, the sheer hatred I was feeling aside and to just focus on the positive things I had learned in the relationship.

I didn’t want to do that. I wanted death, destruction, revenge, blood and gore. It took me a while but I got through it. I’m able now, to call upon that process, which helped me see that I often focus on the negative and not the positive lesson I learned from the harm, loss and danger of life. I learned that I had choices…to throw the covers over my head and stay in bed, avoiding risk…or take on a new view of life as being risky but having many rewards.

Five months ago I stood up from my chair in my office and made the comment, “I just can’t do this anymore.” I was full of fear, walking away from a paycheck and venturing into a risky undertaking to make more money. My plan didn’t work out as I would have had it, but little did I know that my decision would bring even more happiness than a fist full of money.

I’m still not out of the woods yet by any means but I’ve learned just how little control I do have over things and the little control I did exercise…..the decision process that brought me to this point, brought much more positive light into my life than I had ever bargained for.



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