Existing vs. Living



“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Oscar Wilde


We are all the culmination of our experiences and fears. The experiences that leave us gasping for breath and injured in our souls can damage our ability to enjoy life and thus the above quote is all too often very true. However, we don’t have to just exist as every day we can make choices to improve our lives and to start living. Let me explain using my life as an example.


When I first began therapy I was only surfing life. I breathed, ate, drank and loved but my soul was so numb from trying to hide from who I was—a survivor of severe trauma—that I found myself just existing. The trauma had caused me to implode, in effect closing in on myself and shutting down my emotions and dreams. I lived in a world that I had created, one in which I didn’t grow or reach beyond a comfort zone that, to be frank wasn’t all that comfortable at all.  I was in intense psychological pain 24/7 but in such deep denial of the stagnation of my life that I couldn’t see how blighted my life had become. The abuse of the past hid part of me in a cell of self-protection that threatened to take my life. When I turned twenty I promised myself that if by the age of thirty I still felt like life wasn’t worth living and that I was hopelessly locked into a futile struggle I would end my life on my birthday. I was lucky. I entered therapy in February of 1990 eight months before my thirtieth birthday. To this day I’m not sure if it was blind luck, divine intervention, my own survival instinct or all three that kept me alive.


I’d like to be able to say that I immediately found relief and a purpose for my life, but that would be a lie. It took many years of struggle to emerge from the prison I had erected for myself. I endured intense grief and mourning over losses no one should ever have to live through, but it was part of my healing journey. I have been hospitalized at least thirty times because I became exhausted in my fight, and became suicidal. It was worth it. Now on the other side of the trauma that would have killed me and the twenty-seven years of treatment that almost did I can say I love life. It isn’t easy some days, as I am only human, and I live with the after-effects of the stress I struggled through both as a child and as an adult which has left me splintered and in a wheelchair. Yet as hard as it can be it is still a beautiful existence and a wonderful adventure.


How did I go from part A—the trauma induced numbness about life to part B—living with purpose and joy? Hard work, honesty with myself and by having at least one person behind me who believed in me.


The years of therapy I endured caused me to look my past straight in the eyes and at who I am head on. I hated every moment of it, especially at first. It was exhausting and hard work that drove me out of the work force and onto disability for many years. Sometimes I lost sight of the present because I got so mired down in the past hurts. Eventually, and very slowly, I began to emerge from the darkness and have more good days than bad until today I can honestly say I have mostly good days.


I became brutally honest with myself. I recognized my shortcomings and failures without destroying my self-esteem even when ugly things about myself surfaced, as did my prescription drug addiction recently. I had to be honest with myself about all I was doing to me, climb out of that mess and allow myself to make errors like all humans do. I am not perfect but by God I‘m the only “me” there is in the entire universe and that makes me special and worthwhile.


I had a Therapist who stood beside me and believed in my ability to heal even when I didn’t believe in myself. Her belief in me propelled me into a new light and I am now thriving because someone said, “Come on! You can do it!” In this way I am no different than any other human to ever have walked on the earth. I am grateful to this Therapist for her kindness and her care.


I don’t want to simply exist. I want to live and to thrive. Every day I get up out of bed I thank God I am alive and sane. I count my blessings and encourage others to do so as well. Can you see? Hear? Do you have one person in your life who cares for you? Do you have clean water? A warm bed to sleep in? Food on your table? Then be grateful because many do not.


We only have a short span of time to live, why not enjoy the ride and leave a legacy of hope behind us when we pass? I have been told that living and living well is the best revenge but perhaps they should have added living beyond merely existing is the greatest gift we can give ourselves and the world.


“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.”

Sir Francis Bacon

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