I lived with dread of my mother’s death. Every time I got off the phone with her, I reproached myself for being critical, for being hard-hearted, for harboring my secret resentment under a pleasant but false exterior. Her death would make that guilt my life’s companion.
What brought me to The Option Institute initially, however, was my concern about an underlying depression which had shadowed my entire life. I would wake in the morning thinking ‘Oh my God, not another day’, and then somehow psyche myself up for the next 24 hours. After eight years of slow progress in therapy, I was cautiously hopeful that a visit to The Option Institute might help, but these feelings of unhappiness had been my companion for half a century. How could I ever trace their source? How could I know why my marriage, my children, my career – all of them enviable – never touched the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach?
But it turned out, I did know. Under the gentle, non-judgmental questioning of mentors at The Option Institute, I came to see I was operating under a core belief: that until my mother was happy, I was not deserving of happiness myself.
I took a look at the results of that belief. Rather than demonstrating my love for my mother, it made me resent her and quickly lose patience with her. How could I sympathize with her problems when each complaint was another stone dragging me down? I saw the way in which we were enmeshed in a process that was hurting both of us.
Once I saw this and realized I could change my belief, I began to feel a new aliveness and joyfulness within me. Having unhitched my happiness from hers, I found I could listen to my mother without adopting her pain. I felt within me compassion and acceptance of her life choices. I even told her how much I loved her just hours before she died in her sleep of a sudden heart attack.
At my mother’s memorial service, I was filled, not with regret, but with gratitude for the time we’d had together, especially for the recent times when I was real with her, and in being real, discovered that I was neither cold, nor hard-hearted, nor unloving. If The Option Institute is a place for miracles, this was surely one of them. And today, a great peacefulness fills that empty space I thought would haunt me forever.
Linda W., Newspaper Columnist, Massachusetts