“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms, you would never see the beauty of their carvings.”
~Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
*I took a little break from writing ‘My Life Story’ but then I got some unexpected encouragement so I’m continuing on. Photo above: Cindy Pickard, Dr.Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Andy Pickard
I sunk to the very bottom when I was 26 years old…I was drinking day and night and I was cutting myself-my arms with razor blades. I was desperately unhappy and I didn’t know who to talk to or what to do. My parents were not sympathetic..they had dreamed of the life they thought I should be living and I was disappointing them hugely. I had a few friends but none who could understand what I was going through.
I made an appointment with a therapist someone recommended. This ‘therapist’ was a former Catholic priest married to a former Catholic nun. He was cold and unwelcoming and what he said to me was “I will only see you if you agree to work on your marriage.” “Work on”? How do you”work on” something when there’s nothing there? What I needed for the sake of myself, my son and my husband was to get out of the marriage.
I remember too that at that time I was wearing the engagement ring my dad had once given my mother.And even though I hadn’t liked my mother much..my mother died when I was nine ..the ring was really the only thing I had of hers. The ‘therapist’ spotted it and said to me “Why are you wearing that ring? Are you married to your father?”
What an idiot!! Trying to analyze someone when he knew nothing of life and this is true of so many ‘therapists’. There are very, very few who have the sensitivity and understanding to work with people in crisis and this man was not one of them. I didn’t go back for another appointment and I wrote a letter of complaint to the American Psychological Association.
I was even lower than low then…I was at the END.
But in my darkest hour something amazing happened: my stepsister got me an appointment with John Bradshaw..it was the 11th hour because John had decided not to take any more private clients. I was one of the very last.John Elliot Bradshaw was an American educator, counselor, motivational speaker, and author who hosted a number of PBS television programs on topics such as addiction, recovery, codependency, and spirituality.
From the time I first walked in to John’s office at Palmer Episcopal Church in Houston, I knew that as bad as things seemed, somehow and in some way everything was going to be OK.
I think it was because John had the gift of Really Listening. I could talk to him freely about Everything without being judged….maybe it was because we were both the astrological sign of Cancer [Cancers are known to be sensitive and intuitive..and of course they also have their weaknesses] but John and I understood each other.
He had a sense of humor too…When I told him about my drinking problem, he told me he wanted me to go to AA. I told him I didn’t want to go and he said “Just try it for 6 weeks and if you don’t like it, you’ll be right in time for the holidays and you can start drinking again.” I liked this non serious approach to my shameful problem and I went to AA meetings.. for a while.
Then after maybe 6 months, I couldn’t stand another meeting. I think the end came for me when a homeless man walked into one of the meetings..he had a six pack of beer and he sat down hoping I felt, to be somehow included. This particular meeting was made up of doctors, lawyers and business people mostly from the upper class and they would have had nothing to do with him beer or no beer. So sadly, no one spoke to him and I never went to another meeting.
When I had my next appointment with John, I told him that the only time I had ‘a desire to drink’ was after an AA Meeting. “Then don’t go” he said “They aren’t right for you.” And I didn’t go and I didn’t drink for about 5 years and when I did start drinking again, it was no longer a problem….because I ‘had a life.’
John understood from the beginning that I had to get out of my marriage..he was supportive all the way through and often when I didn’t know what to do, he would say “Make a decision not to make a decision today.” And that helped me a lot.
Eventually I got a divorce and though it was painful in some ways and I was totally terrified, I was free to start on my journey. I could never have followed the path I’ve followed in this lifetime if I had been married or even in a serious relationship. I needed to be free of the expectations of others.
DR. ELISABETH KUBLER-ROSS
“Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. (July 8, 1926 – August 24, 2004) was a Swiss-born psychiatrist, a pioneer in Near-death studies and the author of the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying(1969), where she first discussed what is now known as the Kübler-Ross model. In this work she proposed the now famous Five Stages of Grief as a pattern of adjustment.”
My time of therapy was ending with John when Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross came to Houston to do a lecture at The University of Houston. I had no plans to go to the lecture but my boyfriend at the time had a ticket and he gave it to me.
So I went by myself and I sat in one of the back rows of the auditorium…. Elisabeth was introduced and started to speak and the sound system went out completely. Elisabeth had a strong German accent and she was very soft-spoken so she was not able to project her voice without a microphone. She asked everyone who wanted to hear her to come to the very front row but most of the audience didn’t want to do that..they preferred to sit where they were and complain.
I moved to the very front row however..right in front of Elisabeth. I didn’t want to miss a word she said..there was something mystical and life changing happening..information I needed..I could feel it.
Elisabeth talked about her 5 day live in workshops which were held throughout the world and which she called Life, Death and Transition/LDT Workshops.She explained that those people with the greatest need [death of a child, terminal illness etc] were accepted into the workshops first and at that time, there was a 6 month waiting list.
The moment I got home, I called the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Center and got on the waiting list.
COME TO THE EDGE
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
“We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
“Come to the edge,” he said.
And so they came.
And he pushed them.
And they flew.”
― Guillaume Apollinaire
Six months later, with fear and trepidation, I traveled to Oceanside, California for my first LDT workshop.
It’s not possible to put into words what that workshop was like…..I’ve never experienced anything like it on this Earth, not anything that could begin to compare.
A group of 70 or so people from all over the U.S, Canada and Europe, came together, many of whom had experienced the greatest tragedies that life can bring: a woman who while skiing with her 9 year old son, watched him ski off a cliff and die,… A couple who after losing their 12 year old son to cancer, courageously brought their terminally ill, 14 year old daughter to the workshop…she died a few weeks later. A young dentist dealing with a recent ALS diagnosis,…
…a man whose wife/soulmate had died only a few days before in a Chicago plane crash. And then were those of us who were dealing with past losses and grief and as well, a few chaplains, social workers and psychiatrists. These were the people who made up the workshop.
Every one who wanted to [there was never any pressure to do anything] worked with Elisabeth one on one but in front of the group. She wanted us to understand that though we might think that we are alone with our problems and that our pain is unique, we all share the same feelings..we are not alone but rather all connected. Or in the words of the Native American People: ‘MITAKUYE OYASIN’ We Are All Related.
We worked hard from probably 9 am til far into the evening…there was a lot of crying and screaming and then there was a lot of singing–people brought their guitars, flutes etc and we sang songs like Where Have All The Flowers Gone and Elisabeth’s favorite You Are My Sunshine.
During the workshop, from time to time Elisabeth’s ‘read’ our drawings. At the beginning of the workshop, we were all given a piece of white paper, a box of crayons and 10 minutes to make a drawing. This is a whole line of study in itself
On the last evening a bonfire was built and everyone gathered around, sang songs and any spiritual leaders-ministers, rabbis, imams were invited to say a prayer from their particular religion.
Then one at a time, the participants came to the fire and threw in a pine cone which represented what they were leaving behind and what they wanted to take with them.
Elisabeth usually told some of her favorite stories during the workshops. One that I never forget was the story of a woman whose young daughter was killed by a shark. This woman had taken her children to the beach; she had closed her eyes for just a few minutes and her daughter who was wading near the shore was suddenly grabbed by a shark. When they tried to recover her body, only her hand was left.
This grieving mother came to a workshop and she brought with her one of her daughter’s dresses-people often brought photos and personal items of the ones they had lost. Elisabeth suggested to this woman that she might let go of the dress..some time had passed but the woman didn’t want to and Elisabeth said no more. That night however at the bonfire, this grieving mother courageously brought her daughter’s dress instead of a pine cone and at the very moment she threw the dress into the fire, a huge shooting star shot across the night sky. This was the magic of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and the Life, Death and Transition workshops.
For me, these were the years of learning, and preparation for what would come next.
One evening I answered the phone and the voice on the other end said “Hello Cindy, this is Elisabeth.” I was so shocked, I hardly knew what to say. The world famous Elisabeth Kubler-Ross calling ME??? But that’s how she was..completely down to earth, always accessible except to those who she felt were using her–At the workshops, she was often up most of the night, meeting with the ones who needed her.
In this case, she called because I had contacted her Center a few weeks earlier to ask if there was a way I could get off Valium and she was responding to that. She also asked me to pick her up at the airport –she would be coming into Houston in a few weeks to do another lecture. And of course I was very happy to do that!
My time in Houston was thankfully coming to an end–my son and I moved to Austin after almost every home on our block was broken into. Austin was a welcome change and I continued my work with Elisabeth there, organizing some lectures for her.
Whenever Elisabeth gave a lecture, she always saw a few people privately and since I was organizing the lectures, I was also in charge of meeting with and scheduling the people who wanted to see her. I remember one lecture where nearly all those who came to meet with her privately, were parents whose sons had committed suicide.
In those days, I was working as an Occupational Therapy Assistant at a Rehab Hospital in Austin and I hated it! I hated it because the patients were not helped emotionally–the focus was entirely on trying to rehabilitate their bodies. Many of these patients were young and were either paralyzed or had head injuries from motor cycle accidents, diving accidents or car wrecks. And then there were the stroke patients. The atmosphere was filled with sadness, despair and hopelessness and one of my happier days was the day I told my supervisor that I was quitting..quitting and furthermore, I hated Occupational Therapy. You can call it unprofessional but it was just the simple truth. I went down to the cafeteria and had a biscuit with marmalade and I felt free again.
But I did have one experience there at that rehab hospital that made it worthwhile. I worked with a patient named Robert/Roberto who was completely paralyzed from the neck down. He was from Mexico and did not speak English but I could feel how kindhearted he was and also how much he was suffering. He had loved riding his motorcycle but his wife-I remember her name was Mary-was afraid of motorcycles and would never ride with him. One Mothers Day however, she agreed to go for a ride. It was a beautiful day and they were riding in the country when an old couple accidentally ran them off the road. Mary was killed and Robert was left completely paralyzed. He wanted to die and begged those who brought him to the hospital..to let him go.
Elisabeth was coming in to Austin to give a lecture and for some reason, I felt that Robert might want to go. He wouldn’t be able to understand her but still…So I talked with Robert’s nurse since he would be responsible for getting Robert to the lecture. “It’s a waste of time.” he said. “He won’t be able to understand anything..it’s a waste of time.”
But finally he agreed that Robert could go.
When I picked Elisabeth up at the airport, she asked who would be at the lecture and I told her about Robert. “Then I speak directly to him.” she said. And she did somehow though there were probably 1000 people in the audience. She reached him in some way because he was changed after that. He committed himself to finding a way to care for his young children, he went back to school and I heard later that he married the recreation therapist.
I went to 2 more LDT workshops-one in California and one in Kamloops BC and I went to a few others that were given by Elisabeth’s staff. I also traveled to an ashram in India, consulted astrologers, went through some more counseling and read lots of spiritual books. I was learning a lot but I had no idea of what I was supposed to do with my life.
Then one afternoon I laid down to take a nap and as I put my head on the pillow, it was as if I fell into a sea of bright light. For a few minutes, warm bright light surrounded me. A change of some sort was coming…
PART 5 OF ‘MY LIFE STORY’ TO BE CONTINUED
Below is a video clip from a talk Elisabeth gave to high-school students and also the song, “If You Want To Sing Out” from the movie, Harold and Maude. I’m including it because it inspired me to quit my Occupational Therapy job which I needed to do in order to take the next step on my journey. And it is one of my most favorite songs.