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Learning to trust that you can breathe underwater

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When I was writing my first book, “Breathing Underwater — A Caregiver’s Journey of Hope,” the word BREATHE popped into my mind to use as an acronym to provide structure for the message I wanted to convey.

After all, as anyone who has felt like they were drowning in the difficulties of life knows, it’s sometimes hard to breathe when you feel so overwhelmed. And as I conveyed in my book, the old adage — just keep your head above the water — is even too much to bear. With guidance from the Lord and support from family and good friends, I have found ways to learn a new way of breathing — how to breathe underwater, even when it feels like we are drowning.

After much consultation with marketing experts and students from the academy where I received my coaching certification, I came up with an acronym that inspired me to write the book, accompany presentations and even retreats with the same theme — learning to “breathe underwater.”

The acronym BREATHE became a simple structure that was fluid enough (pun intended) to be used in presentations in varied venues. I’ve spoken at healthcare conferences, parish retreats, women’s conferences, and breakfasts and even at some civic events. The structure and the message are often the same, but the emphasis changes based on the audience. The reason the message speaks to a wide variety of audiences is that everyone feels overwhelmed at some time or another.

Caregivers, and those fighting debilitating illness are chronically overwhelmed and so the message of breathe resonates with them even more. Those are the people I most desire to reach — because that’s where I live my life — trying to take care of myself while caring for others who face debilitating disease.

When we settled into our new home, and after a long winter of interior renovations, my husband had a local sign company post the word BREATHE on a piece of re-purposed wood. The wood and the letters came from a vintage barn. We placed the wood plank right above the window in my bedroom that faces our front yard and the Long Island Sound.

If you visit us in the summer, and even now in the fall, you aren’t likely to get a view of the water. But on windy days, we can hear the waves crashing and the sound calms my soul. Much to my husband’s dismay, I leave the window open and load up the blankets and the dogs in my bed just so I can go to sleep hearing the sound of the waves.

In the winter, as the trees drop their leaves, we see the Sound and the whitecaps on the water. I move my prayer time indoors and face the water as I pray. Above my window, my husband’s gift reminds me to BREATHE. It’s important, don’t you think??

Recently, as I was preparing for a retreat I’m leading for a group at Villa Immaculata, a local retreat house on the Long Island Sound, I looked up at the wooden plank.

I can’t read the word BREATHE without thinking:

Believe
Restore
Engage
Advocate
Time
Hope
Endure.

But this time, something switched in my brain. When I got to the letter “T” it was as if the letter was highlighted and I saw the word “Trust” in my mind’s eye. All I could think was how much time I spent on webinars discussing the letter “T” — sometimes sounding like a rerun of an episode on Sesame Street.

Taking time for oneself is a huge part of learning to breathe when you feel like you are drowning. But it always bothered me that “TIME” was the only word in the acronym that wasn’t a verb. It’s the writer in me that sometimes gets in the way when grammar doesn’t match.

When I speak on this theme of breathing underwater. I always explain that time is both a perspective and a need to “take time” to care for oneself. When we look at time with an eternal view and acknowledge that even difficult times hold a greater purpose — it helps to change our perspective from one of being a victim of our circumstances or claiming victory over our circumstances. The change in perspective can help us to appreciate the time we have to spend with others and take care of ourselves. It’s a game changer for many and it works in my presentations.

But how did I miss this treasure of a verb in the word “trust” when I was writing my book and preparing the program? It’s been four years since it was published and I have edited and revised the book a few times. How was it that I hadn’t seen this foundational principle before? It fit so well into this message of breathing.

I pondered these thoughts for weeks as I prepared for the retreat. The answer I’ve come to is simple and yet profound — trust is essential to breathing — and it is so very hard to have.

Think about it in terms of basic physiology. Breathing falls under the autonomic, in other words, “automatic” nervous system. Most of us don’t often have to think about breathing because — well — we just breathe and we trust the next breath will come.

However, over these past 22 years of raising my daughter, I have thought about this autonomic nervous system and its role in breathing A LOT. Mostly, when she has stopped breathing or required a ventilator to breathe. There is nothing quite like lying on a cot in the ICU next to your child while she is on a vent. The artificial rhythms of the ventilator that kept her alive are not soothing like the pounding of the waves crashing in the Long Island Sound. Still, it kept her breathing so I could get some sleep. Then again, when we return home from one of these long frightening stays for a brief time in our recovery, I find myself lying awake at night listening for her to take the next breath.

Right now, things are relatively calm — only two falls, one urgent MRI of the brain and one visit to the emergency room in the last month and the seizure activity seems to be under control.

I think that’s the reason I can focus on reframing the letter “T” from “time” to “trust” as I practice how to breathe and learn how to trust again.

For me, trusting God is not blind, because I’ve seen Him work miracles in my life and in many other peoples’ lives as well. But still, it’s not easy. Trust in God requires me to yield and admit that I am not in control of my life — God is, and He will work all things for my good.

The trust that helps me BREATHE also requires that I trust myself and know that I am enough, I have enough and God is enough for me.

I think it’s time to edit my book and focus on developing “trust” in learning to breathe underwater. If nothing else, the grammar will work better as I write and learn to trust again.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen