Does it Take a Tragedy to Make Us Change?


Recently, my father was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. As you could imagine, many things must have raced through his head after hearing such a diagnosis. He had a couple options; he could decide life was over and stop living or he could “take the bull by the horns” and live every moment like it was his last. Since my dad’s diagnosis, he has chosen to live life by spending time doing the things he wants to do. Most recently, he has taken two trips to Florida one of his favorite places. Each time we speak, I encourage him to do the things he loves. Pre-cancer, he would likely have chosen to work versus take two trips to Florida.  It’s not uncommon to hear of something tragic being a pivotal turning point.

In life, we all face trials and tribulations; it is not what happens to us but how we deal with it and look at the situation. A divorce, death, affair, cancer, drug addiction… to name just a few. When something negative happens, do you ask why me and become a victim? Or, do you take this as an opportunity to grow and reinvent yourself?

You see people who have made significant differences in the world after major tragedies for instance John Walsh hosted America’s Most Wanted and helped solve several cases after experiencing the tragic loss of his son Adam. Brad Snyder, US Navy veteran, became a Paralympic gold medalist after losing his sight during active duty. Brad was a keynote speaker at a conference I attended a few years ago. Seeing someone go through such a traumatic event but persevere anyway, is truly inspiring.

The examples above are things that happen to these individuals, but what about when we are personally sabotaging our own success?

A friend of mine, we will call her Theresa, struggled with alcoholism for five years. After a night of heavy drinking, she came to work intoxicated.  Because she was at work and noticeably under the influence, she was sent home and given a final written notice. She was advised that if she came to work with any traces of alcohol in her system in the future, she would be fired.  Due to the fear of losing her job, she began to attend Alcohol Anonymous (AA) and tried to get help. A month or two later, she came to work again with alcohol on her breath. She knew the consequences of these actions, yet she came to work under the influence of alcohol anyway. She was put on administrative leave until the official decision was made regarding her employment. During the next two weeks, her life spiraled apart.  She gave up on life, drank excessively, and almost killed herself by consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. Don’t worry; this story does have a happy ending.

Why did it take death knocking on her doorstep for her to make permanent, lasting changes? Why is it that sometimes life needs to kick us in the pants for us to make significant changes?

For me, and I am sure for many others, it is hard when we see friends or family going down the road to self-destruction. Is it because they are in denial or not ready to make the changes necessary to get out of the situation? It is likely that they are in one of the early stages of the change model.

The Transtheoretical Model of Change

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According to the Transtheorectical Model of Change, we move through several stages when making transformations in our lives. By learning the model and phases, you can save yourself time, heartache, anxiety, and stress.

Here are a few quick definitions of the stages of change.


The individual may or may not know there is an issue. He/she is generally not at a stage where an action will be taken. It is likely Theresa didn’t realize how  alcohol had affected her life both personally and professionally. She received the written warning but did she understand the gravity of the situation.


The individual may realize there is an issue and are contemplating the pros and cons of change, but still are not ready for it. After Theresa received the final written warning, it is likely she was weighing the pros and cons of drinking and not drinking again.


The individual knows there is an issue and decides to research and learn about options he/she can take to make the change. It is likely he/she will be ready to make the change soon. After Theresa went on a week-long bender, she knew it was time to get help. She lost her job, and her marriage was in jeopardy. She began to research alcohol rehab treatment centers and knew she had to make significant life changes.


The individual is committed to making a change and taking determined efforts to produce the desired change. Theresa entered a 30+ day alcohol treatment center when she could get sober, improve her health, and obtain counseling services.


The individual develops a plan to maintain the positive change he/she has successfully made. Theresa regularly attends AA, outpatient counseling, and does not drink alcohol.


The individual reverts to the old behavior he/she has been abstaining from over the past several days, months, or years. It is a standard stage of change. If Theresa had a relapse, she will start over into the action phase. Perhaps, she could speak with her sponsor to help her get back into the maintenance phase.

Theresa has gotten her life back on track. She has a new job; her health is better than it has been in years. As a result, she has managed to lose 25 pounds and her marriage is on the way to being repaired.  She is happier than she has been in years!

Can you identify with Theresa, or is there something in your life that you’d like to change? In our society, we are quick to give people labels or take possession of temporary states. “She is an alcoholic”, “He has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)”, “She has anxiety”, or “He has depression, which he’ll have the rest of his life”.

Through my study of hypnosis and neuroplasticity, I have learned that alcohol use, anxiety, or vices like sugar addictions are habits we use to cope with underlying issues, not who we are. If you stop drinking, you are no longer an alcoholic, you are a person who had a drinking problem. A young lady, who I went to high school with, was a drug user. She became pregnant and stopped using for the health of her baby. After being sober for some time she said, “I now remember why I used drugs, I don’t like myself very much”. The drugs were a coping mechanism that she used to distract herself from the true issue at hand.

If you’d like to make changes in your life, a good starting place is evaluating your emotional health. Through hypnotherapy, we can help you deal with past emotions and navigate through the stages of change to achieve the life you desire. In a hypnosis session, there are several techniques we can use to deal with your emotional health. Regression is a common tool that is used to go back to the initial sensitizing event. Other tools like the Meta pattern, allow us to visit other triggering events without having to relive the initial trauma. The tool that is used is based on the clients and their needs.

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