What sometimes takes me back, now keeps me moving forward.

My dad's rocking chair.

My dad’s rocking chair.

If there is one thing I have learned with absolute certainty in my profession is being a physician is awesome when it’s awesome. Alternatively, becoming an alcoholic and later a burned out physician sucks.

One day I realized I was burned out. I decided to take stock, reevaluate my life and make some needed changes. The transformation I went through was nothing short of miraculous.

For anyone needing to transform their life due to burnout I will tell you up front, the work needed to restore balance must occur in all four personal realms – the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual realms. Leave any one realm unattended to and you will be less than successful when attempting meaningful lifelong change.

I had terribly neglected my emotional and spiritual realms throughout most of my professional career for which I suffered mightily. It took professional burnout and a devastating personal crisis for me to realize where the bulk of my efforts were needed.

I had to look back and take a critical look at past behaviors to see what part I had played. I had to reconnect with past feelings and work my way through old regrets to absolve myself of guilt and unburden my soul.

I had to become deeply introspective to finally acknowledge the source of my unhappiness and take responsibility for my feelings. I had to revisit past shortcomings and find the grace to give myself the gift of forgiveness.

Looking back at my life with fresh eyes has enabled me to gain much needed perspective for moving forward. I have discovered what sometimes takes me back, now keeps me moving forward.

I was reminded of this just this week while reading a post by Joanne Miller at 48days.net entitled, “What are you attached to?” Her post was a touching tribute to simple possessions in her life that connect her to past events and memories which when seen and remembered give her a sense of peace.

She asked the following question, “I would love to hear what possession you have that speaks to your heart and tethers you to home or reminds you of something or someone special.”

Even before the last syllable of the last word of her question had left its impression on the left side of my brain I knew exactly what possession I would write about, the one that touched my heart the most and forever tethered me to the greatest man I have ever known – my father.

When my sister was about seven years old my mother became pregnant with yours truly. My father loved my sister very much but he also wanted a son. He wanted a boy so much he made my mother this unprompted promise. He said, “If you have a boy you will never have to get up in the night to feed him or change his diaper.”

I was born. Mom never got up in the middle of the night, not once, ever. My dad kept his promise. He would get up in the middle of the night to feed me or change my diaper and he would rock me back to sleep in the rocking chair you see in the picture here. I still have it. It still connects me to my dad.

My dad worked very hard to provide for our family when I was growing up. We didn’t spend as much time together as I would have liked but the time we did spend together was quality time. Ironically, we grew much closer after I became and adult and moved away from home.

The most important life lessons I learned growing up came from my dad. Although, I did not always heed them. He was a strong but gentle, thoughtful, generous, smart, no nonsense, common sense man. For any situation he always knew just what to say.

When I went off to treatment for alcoholism in 1992, I dreaded making the phone call to tell my father what had happened and where I was. I had worked very hard to keep my excessive drinking from him.

After I laid it all out for him I had no idea what he would say. Would he be angry? Would he be ashamed for me or disappointed in me? How could he not be?

I listened anxiously for his response. Without hesitation he let loose powerful words, the exact right words I needed to hear – “I’m proud of you son.”

After he hung up the phone he got in his car and drove three hours to the treatment center. He showed up unannounced to give me a rib bending bear hug. Thinking about those moments still makes me cry.

I love him and I wish he was still here with me. When I am really missing him I sit and rock in the chair and think about him and what he meant to me then and what he means to me now. When I hear the familiar creaking of the rockers, I can still hear his voice.

I can only hope he can hear mine. I’m proud of you dad.

Written by

Clark Gaither, MD

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