Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was a charismatic educator/author named John Bradshaw on Public Television.

He helped popularize the notion of the “wounded child within.” On one segment of his program, he enabled me to better understand the impact of change on a family and among friends.  

Using a hanging mobile as his prop, John showed how every piece was in balance, each counting on the other to pull its weight, and stay put. But once you removed one of the hanging objects the others were jolted into a spasm of change until they eventually found a new balance. My older sister’s recent death, for instance, altered the balance of her three children, their spouses, and her six grandchildren. It also impacted the relationships of her siblings, making me now the oldest, whatever that might entail. I don’t know what balance we’ll find, but it will be different from what it has been for many, many years.  

Change is a condition of living, but most change goes unnoticed, or takes little time to be embraced as the new normal. But another change alters lives in dramatic ways, leaving us gasping for air and some semblance of balance.  

When a person, regardless of their sexual orientation, becomes single through death or divorce, their social life changes. They are less likely to be invited to do things they often did as a couple. If friends are planning a group vacation, for instance, the newly single person is less likely to be asked to come along. The friendships they once had are no longer in balance.  

When someone quits drinking, it can have a huge impact on their relationships with others. Having a sober person present might make the heavy drinkers feel uncomfortable. By becoming clean and sober, you changed the balance you once had with these people. While they may admire you, you’re different now, and some feel you’ll be a downer. The same is true if you are in recovery and start drinking or drugging again. Your clean and sober friends are likely to feel less comfortable with you in social settings.

If left alone, everything will find a new balance. That is the pattern of nature. But it can’t be forced. It takes time, patience, and perseverance to find equilibrium after a significant change takes place in our lives. But, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the mobile of life has been altered. As a newly single person, you may mourn the loss of what you once knew and thoroughly enjoyed, but a whole new way of being in the world is now available to you. There are new friends to make and enjoy, and new interests to be pursued. If you don’t move forward, it may be because you’re completely focused on the way things used to be. Likewise, a newly sober person may not immediately trust that their life will find a happy, new balance, but given time it does. I speak from experience.  

Finding balance is a choice that requires action, and wisdom. Who and how we bring other people into our hanging mobile shouldn’t be rushed. It requires an open mind and a commitment to living happily. We all have stories to tell about how we lost our balance, about friends and family members who died, about coming out, about the pain that accompanies loss. We may not be aware that the new balance we found within ourselves and in the company of new people ever would have happened if change hadn’t taken place.  

Is it possible to help others adjust to significant changes in their lives, such as their parents divorcing, losing their job, learning that your spouse is transgender, or being no longer welcome in the home of former best friends? Yes, of course, but the timing has to be right, and they have to want the help. The best way to guide others through the anxiety, fear, sadness, and anger of unwanted change is to model your ability to reframe and create happiness in new ways.

I employ successfully the mantra, “I’m just here.” It centers me in an emotional storm. It means, “I’m fully present to this moment and to no others, because the past is over and the future doesn’t yet exist. I’m just where I need to be, and I have everything I need.” The Serenity Prayer also always helps me through a crisis. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I need to accept the things I can’t change, such as my sister’s death, change the things that I can, such as finding new friends after the breakup of a close friendship, and know the difference between acceptance and acquiescence. Change in my life status doesn’t make me a victim. I choose how I perceive things.

Many of us live in a fast-paced world in which slowing down doesn’t feel right. We have multiple responsibilities, with many people relying on us to be fully present. But when we get the wind knocked out of us by a sudden, unwanted change, when we find ourselves in an emotional tailspin, we need to step back, breathe, find solace in our friendships, and in nature, and give ourselves time to bring balance back into our lives. We do that moment by moment by being present to our feelings and to our new reality.


Two Guys and A Dog is a semi-regular column from Brian McNaught, who has been a leading educator on LGBTQ issues globally since 1974. Visit Brian-McNaught.com to access his books and DVDs for free. “No one has done a better job of chronicling what it is like to be gay in America.” – Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank.


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