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Excerpt from LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
Excerpt from LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL
Interview with Sarah M. Johnson
Your straightforward, heart-shared account of the tragedy that forever had changed your life is titled with a most upbeat slant: why is life beautiful? Can it be for others who also have suffered severity?
The phrase “life is beautiful” has two meanings to me; first, my brother’s favorite song was “Life is Beautiful” by Sixx A.M. My brother and I had a moment together, which I share in my book, when we were sitting in his car at night and he told me to listen to this song. He said, “Sarah, listen to this song, it is me…” I listened to that song, with my brother sitting beside me, and really thought of him differently. I thought of him more deeply, misunderstood, and it was in that moment a rush of compassion and love fled to him. I don’t think my brother knew how to communicate his deepest thoughts and emotions, and music was a way for him to understand himself and allow others to understand him as well.
Secondly, the moment I gave birth to my daughter, Lillian, I realized life is beautiful. I gave birth to my daughter when I was 22, only three years after the airplane crash. In those three years, I had met my future husband, attended college, and continued to grieve the loss of my father and brother. The moment I saw my daughter and held her for the first time, all the feelings of depression, anxiety, grief, substance abuse had faded. It was like my father and brother had sacrificed their lives for my little girl. She was absolutely perfect, so beautiful.
I believe there is a Divine Intervention for EVERYTHING. Without the airplane crash, without my dad’s drug use, without all the ugliness I had faced in such a short life, I would have never met my future husband and gave birth to my daughter, and truly saw the beauty life has to offer.
I think to see the beauty in life; however, one must first CHOOSE to see the beauty. I really do believe others who have suffered severity/adversity, have the personal choice to see that life is beautiful. But, it takes acceptance to know one’s life is not what they want and to reach out and do something about it. I think life is what you make it; and if you don’t do the work, attempt to start life over; you may miss the opportunity to see that life beautiful.
You were 19 when the plane crashed. Looking back with the hindsight of strengthening your walk with God, plus the professional knowledge of social work and the desire to counsel others, what positive ways do you view that the young adult Sarah back then handled things?
I think young adult Sarah really did the best she could. Young Sarah was raised by parents who were addicted to substances. She unconsciously learned to numb pain with either alcohol or drugs. She also learned that reaching out for help was forbidden. As I look back, I am proud that Young Sarah accepted help when it was offered. She got into therapy, went to outpatient treatment, attended a youth group, and leaned on God. I am proud Young Sarah never gave up, I am proud Young Sarah knew things would get better; because in her heart she always knew there was something bigger for her; God had bigger plans for her than she could even comprehend in those moments.
Today, I have a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. I know we all do the best we can with what we have learned from our parents/caregivers. I did the best I could. But I also took a risk, which is what was different than what I was taught from my parents. I leaned on the HOPE that God had a plan for me. This faith came to me, as I also explain in the book, when I took hands with a young man I was dating at the time. As I took his hands, I was sucked into a channel, a white wormhole; something I cannot describe other than God’s Light… it was in that moment I saw God (or whatever He was showing me) and KNEW with all my heart and soul there was something watching over me, something I was supposed to see.
It was me experiencing God that night that gave me faith and HOPE for my future. I think my future would have been a lot different if I did not experience/witness God. As I mentioned before, I believe in Divine Interventions. I was right where I was supposed to be that night in November 2007, less than one year before the airplane crash, and that experience is something I relied on to get better.
In your book you discuss the emotional themes of the missing-dad-syndrome, guilt, betrayal by family members, and drug use by family. What’s the first step for someone who wants to step over these troubling issues and detangle from a dysfunctional family, or does one have to learn to live with these issues?
The first step in detangling from a dysfunctional family is recognizing the family is dysfunctional! Every family is dysfunctional to some degree, but when there is drug addiction, alcoholism, abuse, neglect, infidelity, fraud, etc., this raises the level of dysfunction.
I wanted to break away from the dysfunction, but first I needed to recognize and find who I really was and ACCEPT who and what I came from. It is okay not to come from the “perfect family” because they don’t exist. But what I needed to really work on was accepting my family for what it was and becoming a better person because of it.
We can detangle and learn to live with dysfunction. But I think detaching ourselves from the dysfunction is the best thing we can do if we want to move forward. We can be around our families and still be detached. We can learn not to take things personally, stay out of the gossip, choosing not to drink with the family, but also recognizing we are changing patterns, patterns of generational dysfunction.
One of the nurses told you that rather than dying in the plane crash that you’d been “saved for a reason” and that “You have a lot to accomplish in this world. You just don’t realize it right now.” Was this a haunting pressure or the fuel to drive you forward? How can others make this work for themselves?
It was FUEL to drive me forward! I believed in my heart I had survived for a reason and I did have a lot to accomplish in this world. The nurse telling me this was only reassurance of what I already knew it my heart.
As for others, I think people tell us things to reassure us of things we already know/believe about ourselves. I believe in the Law of Attraction, so things are said to us or people are put in our lives for a reason. I think the reason is for us to become better individuals and to live for our destined purpose.
LISTEN to what others are saying to you, good or bad, they are telling us for a reason… so we can be better individuals to move towards our purpose.
Your father had trouble with drugs. And alcohol was a problem for you both prior to and after the accident. Yet, you wrote about how you both found redemption in mission work. Why do you believe its human nature to seek redemption?
Dad had previously done mission work in Africa with my brother. Guatemala was going to be my first time experiencing missions work.
I believe it is human nature to seek redemption because we all want to be good. I think it is really easy to carry around shame and guilt about ourselves which can ruin our lives. I believe what we believe about ourselves is what we attract in the world. I was surrounding myself with people who also felt the same way about themselves and shared similar behaviors.
After the crash, once I started therapy with Pauline Boss, entered outpatient treatment, and started school again; I was starting to feel good about myself. I was dedicated to God and relied on the hope I was going to be fine. I was starting to attract positive, healthy people in my life. I was starting to detach from my dysfunctional family. I ended toxic relationships. I was moving forward with my life… I was seeking redemption. And the redemption felt GOOD.
People seek redemption because it moves them closer toward their destined purpose. Redemption establishes happiness and positive self-worth. Redemption is God. I believe the closer we are to redemption, the closer our relationship with God becomes. Which, many of us know, God is love. Everyone wants love. And, that’s why it’s human nature to seek redemption.
In your sessions with Dr. Pauline Boss you learned about “Ambiguous loss;” that is, loving someone who can’t give back (such as an absentee parent). Any advice for those who may struggle with this situation?
Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance.
Through all the loss I have experienced, the deaths of uncles, my aunt, and my dad and brother, the ambiguous loss of my mother has been the most difficult loss for me. My mother is alive and for the most part well. However, she is a distant stranger who I have yearned for. I have yearned to have her care, love, and accept me for me. Fortunately, my mother loves me, but is unable to provide “motherly qualities” to me. It has taken me YEARS to accept my mother for who she is and to let go of the feelings of needs and wanting more from her.
Working with a therapist, reading, praying and meditating, has helped me work through this loss. I have learned to accept individuals, especially my mother, for who she is. I cannot change her, nor do I really want to. I cannot change people. I must accept them for who they are. Only I can control me.
For individuals who are struggling with this situation, I advise them to ACCEPT their situation. Stop being the victim in your own life and take responsibility for yourself. If our parent has done something that has hurt us, this can only make us stronger individuals. I think having compassion for our parent(s) and recognizing they are really doing the best they know how can bring us ease.
One of your conclusions in the book centers on the choice of doing the work, or not, to move forward in life in an attempt to start life over. Why is this?
I believe certain circumstances occur in our life so we can start life over. Circumstances such as death, divorce, job loss, illness/disease are there for us TO start life over. However, we must use the circumstance as life lessons – and I think that is what the work is. It is working through the circumstance, questioning it, analyzing it, learning from it, and moving forward. I believe adversity builds hope. Bad things happen to us, things we just don’t understand, so we can become better individuals and move closer towards our destined purpose.
God has given us free will. We have the choice to do the work or not. We have the choice to conquer our adversity or let the adversity beat us. The first step, once again, is accepting the adversity/circumstance and using it as a life lesson to become the best we can be.
If we don’t do the work, and attempt to start life over, we may miss the opportunity to see that life is beautiful.
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Sarah M. Johnson is currently a graduate student seeking her Marriage and Family Therapy degree. She will graduate in 2015 and plans to open up a private practice and guide those who are seeking their own self-discoveries of love and happiness. Life is Beautiful was released on August 25, 2015. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
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