I’ve been calling my various health calamities “tidal waves” for awhile now. I noticed this during my training to use metaphors when working with my coaching clients. People tend to think in metaphors even when they don’t realize it. Your metaphors are a clue to how your internal system is interpreting what has happened to you.
“Tidal waves” is a metaphor that implies an impossible situation, one in which survival is unlikely. When I looked deeper, I realized I felt like I was destroyed by my health crises, but in actuality I wasn’t. I was letting my feelings write a story that didn’t reflect the whole of my reality.
It’s healthy to acknowledge the feelings of devastation, overwhelm, and fear that naturally arise when it seems you’re being annihilated.
Had I been completely wiped out by the huge waves, though? I couldn’t say yes to that, because I’m alive and writing this article, coaching clients, teaching, reading, and imagining.
So how did I get back to a full life after being revived on the operating table during bowel obstruction surgery; losing a year to breast cancer diagnosis, bilateral mastectomy, chemo, and radiation; and getting a brain injury and discovering an underlying condition that required brain surgery.
All of those felt like unexpected tidal waves. I told myself I was knocked down, pummeled in the sand, and broken.
And yet, here I am.
During meditation this morning, I let my mind wander. It wanted to think about my tidal-wave metaphor and come up with a metaphor to replace it – one that doesn’t keep me telling myself over and over that I am wiped out. Decimated. Annihilated. Unsavable.
As I allowed my mind to wander into and out of metaphors, I remembered an incident that took place 40 years ago in and about a fast-moving river. I was hiking in the Cascade Mountains with my friends Lory and Laurie, whose names tickled the comic in me.
We wanted to cross the river to have a picnic. It was spring. The river was swollen from the snow melt. We mistakenly thought that because it seemed to be slow moving, we could easily cross it.
Lory, Laurie, and I waded across, leaning into the flow, picnic baskets and clothes balanced on our heads.
Laurie and I made it to the other side, but after we scrambled up the bank we realized Lory wasn’t with us.
In a moment of panic, I remember thinking, honestly, “Sh*t! Now I have to save her.” I prepared to jump in and probably die trying.
Thankfully, just before I jumped, her head popped up, she got her footing, made it to shore, and hiked back up to us.
Ah-ha! This is my metaphor. A swollen river, not tidal waves.
I realized in crossing the river of sickness and pain, the currents became stronger, and I lost my footing. I was terrified and, for a time, I was helpless. But somehow I managed to get to the other side. Of course, I was much further away from my original target. I had a bit of hiking to do, because I wanted to rejoin my friends, have them throw a blanket over my shoulders, hear my story, and welcome me back to our little tribe.
Now, instead of seeing an irreparably broken woman lying motionless in the sand after the waves receded, I see a survivor who was swept down the river, but who made it back to shore, and who hiked as long as she had to, so she could rejoin her friends and be accepted and comforted.
Two very different stories, two very different metaphors, and a decision to allow this new way of framing my experience to lead me to connection and community, rather that feeling broken and alone.
If you’d like to experiment with identifying and working with your metaphors, using a process called the Clean Language Approach, please schedule a complimentary coaching call with me to try it out.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!