Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Choose Yourself

One of the first questions I’m asked at “Free Fall” readings: How is Eli doing?

People want to know that Eli, my former significant other, is OK. I’m grateful that I can answer in the affirmative.

After what Eli has been through, it’s easy to believe that his recovery and re-emergence after a year of hospitalizations is close to miraculous.

“Free Fall” describes how Eli was diagnosed with a mass that had spread throughout his digestive tract. On top of all that, the doctors withdrew the lithium he took for his bipolar condition because of kidney problems. No medications seemed to work and he spent a year seriously depressed, in and out of hospitals. I wrote about Eli’s hard year in my book.

Yes, Eli is doing well. He lives in a small, government-subsidized apartment with a very sweet dog. He’s made a few new friends and has some contact with his family. Both Eli and I have established new lives. It’s been slow going, with lots of small steps. When I take the time to pull back for a broad look, I see that each of us has greater independence and more peace. This couldn’t have happened if I continued to assume that Eli could not exist without me at his side, even if I did have good reasons for my assumptions.

Eli is now going about his business with far fewer of the mental health crises that challenged him before. Eventually some of the medications the doctors tried, along with electro-convulsive therapy, began to make a difference. Now Jim, Eli and I spend time together whenever we can. Eli comes to New York and we travel to New England.

While I stay in touch and find ways to stay in Eli’s life, Eli told me he would be fine if that were to change or if something were to happen to me. This information is a gift. He gave Jim and I his blessing when he learned we were together. Recently he told Jim he’s happier than he’s ever been. Eli’s generosity is the highest level of compassion.

I could never have guessed that the three of us would find ways to make all this work. It wasn’t easy and it took a couple of years. One lesson I take from my experience is that we must be responsible to ourselves first. This isn’t just lip service or New Age jabber. It’s just as the Buddhists teach: We must take care of ourselves before we can help others.

In another blog posting, I would be happy to cite examples of how this worked for Eli and me. For now, I suggest that we slow down and contemplate what we are doing with our lives. Spinning wheels? Working all the time? Sacrificing everything for ideas of what it means to help others? First, we must consider what’s most important to us. Writing? Sculpting? Peace? Health? Look for ways to get there. Ask others for help. Persist.

As Jim says, we must choose ourselves. If we let assumptions about others get in our way, we may waste precious time and possibly, hurt the people we are trying to help.

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