We Are Able to Change

Dr. Natalie  Gelman

We Are Able to Change

I saw an interview with Merry Clayton. She was a back ground singer in the 60’s. The documentary Twenty Feet From Stardom included much of the work she did. She was a Raylette, when she worked with Ray Charles. She told a story of being in an auto accident and being hospitalized for five months. She had her legs amputated at the knee. She is now in a wheelchair. She said she called upon the strength of her religious beliefs; God wanted her to continue to live and contribute to the world. She believes her attitude is what has contributed to her lifestyle and happiness.

It prompted me to reflect on an auto accident I was in twenty years ago. For five weeks it was not certain I would live. I have no memory of the first six or eight weeks. I was in a forced coma. When it was decided I would live, I was transferred to a different hospital to recuperate. I remember taking control. I remember decided I was going to live. I remember confronting doctors and demanding moving faster than they were allowing me to. I kept reminding them that I was not going to hurt myself. They yielded and I moved on. I had frontal lobe brain damage, and when I spoke to a neurologist who was not involved with me in the hospital but knew of my experience, she said all patients receive the same treatment and some make it and others do not. I told her I believed it has to do with our attitude, our involvement and our commitment to heal. She agreed.

I have always believed this to be true in my work. We all have choices and we are capable to achieve what we want, whether it is a change emotionally or a relationship with others.

The key here is choices. Sometimes we fail to see or con sider options. We may be very unhappy in a relationship. We have options. We can suggest getting help. We can offer alternatives. We can change our thoughts or behavior. We can leave. If we fail to look at alternatives, we are relegated to maintaining things as they are.

I recall a professor in college talking about a man who wanted to fly. He went up on the roof, stood on the edge, and realized that jumping off would likely mean falling to the ground and hurting himself. I asked the professor what choice remained for him. He said the man could acknowledge his disappointment, recognize the reality, and decide to create a new focus. We may not be able to change the data, but we can change of attitude or feelings toward it.

I encourage clients to do this in our sessions. What is an alternative way of looking at something or someone? What choices are there? What power do we have to invoke these options?

We need not be victims.

Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.