Abundance Has Never Been in Short Supply
It’s not uncommon, particularly in early sobriety, to see the abundance of others, but to see only lack and limitation in looking at our own lives. It took a while for me to see abundance – positive and negative – in my life, but I finally did. Here is what it looks like. I hope this story, my story, helps you find the abundance in your life.
There have been three distinct phases to my life, each filled with a very different kind of abundance. For me, the question has never been about the presence or absence of abundance, or even the quantity of abundance. Rather, it has been about the quality of that abundance and its effect on the quality of my life.
As a child, from age three on, I was a victim of long-term, brutal, multi-perpetrator, penetrative incest, accompanied by beatings, torture, and living (sleeping, eating, toileting, living) in a pitch black closet. I was also physically abused by an unpredictable and explosively violent mother. We moved 16 times in my first 11 years of school, and my parents drilled into my head that there was no God, that poor families like ours had no chance of success, and that money – and those who had it – were evil.
So my childhood was characterized by an abundance of terror, violence, brutality, isolation and loneliness, secrets, mistruths and lies, hopelessness, and fantasy. My life had little quality and was focused simply on enduring the unendurable until I was returned to the physical safety of the dark closet, only to be consumed by an emotional terror of the total darkness. I learned that my only value was as a sexual being and an object to be beaten, that I did not get to say “no” or set any boundaries, and that as difficult as the sexual and physical violence were to endure, they were preferable to the loneliness and terror of the pitch-black closet.
Teenage and Young Adult Abundance
As a teen and young adult, I engaged in behaviors that validated my beliefs about my worth. I was angry, selfish, unappreciative, entitled, and suffering…though unwilling to acknowledge that suffering. I was so damaged by my childhood that I felt suicidal.
Luckily, I found drugs and alcohol; they mitigated the feelings, but led to stupidity and poor decisions. Those decisions put me in front of a judge, who sentenced me to the state penitentiary. Being young, slim, cute, and not gang-affiliated, I endured multiple gang rapes throughout my incarceration.
Upon release, I found myself broken and deficient on every level – spiritually, emotionally, physically, financially, educationally (I was a high school dropout), and in terms of ambition and self-esteem. I vowed to not return to prison, but set about constructing a self-imposed prison of my abundant character defects.
This period was characterized by an abundance of self-pity, blame, shame, worthlessness, anger, self-sabotage, self-hate, hopelessness, fear, bitterness, envy, entitlement, fantasy, and irresponsibility. In short, I was not a vision for you, and the quality of my life was what you might predict for anyone wallowing in an abundance of the just-described character defects.
Opportunity sat patiently in front of me, while I continued to focus on my past and hone my skills and identity as a victim. Then, a friend suggested to me that “if nothing changes, nothing changes,” and that I needed to do something – anything – different. It hit me like a ton of bricks; I could continue to have a life filled with an abundance of misery, or I could change – me. I had a great place from which to start: sick and tired of being sick and tired, out of plans, little to lose, and willing to take direction. Wounded and suffering, I was unaware of how that suffering could become a vehicle to awaken compassion in me, for me, and for others.
That compassion allowed me to become a Wounded Healer, working with dying patients and grieving families. Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, followed by a certificate in grief counseling, and licensure as a Registered Nurse provided education and credentials. After years as a hospice nurse, I had the opportunity to serve as Clinical Director of the first Palliative Care & Bereavement Service in a California community hospital. In that role, I won multiple national and regional awards, and more importantly, served thousands of patients and families as they approached the end-of-life.
I have not had to return to the stone and steel penitentiary, nor the self-created one of my hopelessness and character defects. Rather, I have embraced a life of service that has carried me to Harvard Medical School (as Visiting Faculty Scholar), to Capitol Hill (for a national award), and to “Nurse of the Year.” I even got to return to prisons to teach “Being With Dying” techniques to the inmate volunteers of prison hospices – and got to walk out the doors at the end of those trainings!
I have unwaveringly been of service to the dying and grieving – the work I love. I have created Compassionate Journey, An End-of-Life Clinical and Education Service that empowers me to not only continue to serve the dying, clinically, but to also train other professionals to do the same.-Jay Westbrook
My life today is characterized by an abundance of grace and opportunities to be of service. I had a tender and loving long-term marriage to Nancy. It ended a couple of years ago, when she died in my arms, in our home, on hospice, with pancreatic cancer. I reframed the pain with which I wake and walk on a daily basis into “small price to pay for a life-long love affair.” I slipped my wedding ring off and took it, and Nancy’s, to a jeweler and had him meld the two rings into one, and that’s the ring I wear today.
I continue to live in our lovely Southern California home with a pool, guesthouse, and our four Coonhounds (Willow, Wyatt, Charlotte and Smokey). I live in the moment, walk with faith, do the work that I love, earn a good living, and am comfortable in my skin and at peace. My work with the dying and grieving fills me with gratitude, changes my perspective, provides amazing opportunity for service, and reminds me to walk with a soft belly, an open heart, a posture of exploration, and a certainty that the place where life and death meet is filled with God. (Yes, I used the “G” word.) Actually, I discovered a 12-Step Fellowship of people who seemed happy and successful, but assured me they had been neither in their individual pasts. They were spiritual, not religious, and were willing to share, for fun and for free, that which had facilitated their change.
They told me that what had happened to me as a child was not my fault, but that what I chose to do with those experiences was entirely my responsibility, and that neither blame nor self-pity would improve my life. I got to accept responsibility for my life. They suggested that self-esteem would come from doing esteemable acts, that I needed to go through the doors that were open, and that – since we see what we look for – I needed to look for solutions, not problems, for what was right, not what was wrong, and for where I could “chop wood and carry water,” not what I could take.
In taking these simple directions, the abundance in my life changed. The abundance of misery, suffering, hopelessness, worthlessness, and self-sabotage of my past has been replaced.
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