On Control | With Suzie Norfleet
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Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Well, I’ve got options today. I think I’ll get terminal cancer.” That’s not something we want. We never want people we love to die or get sick. We want the best for people, but I have no control over what happens to my body. I have my mind and my attitude to work with. I can accept what’s to happen and do the best I can, or I can be miserable and make everyone around me miserable too. -Susan Norfleet
We all want control. And at times, we all think we have it. It’s natural for us to take actions that will ensure our survival, give us a certain amount of security and provide us with a reasonable amount of comfort and pleasure, but making those things the sole focus of our lives will backfire. The more control we think we have, the more disturbed we’ll be when the realities of life come knocking.
Susan Norfleet learned a long time ago that delusions of control come in many forms, and the lessons we learn regarding the nature of control can be painful. If God only gives us what we can handle, then he must have pretty high expectations of us. Her experience in Al-Anon (the 12-step program for families living with alcoholics) and her more recent cancer diagnosis have been lessons in how little control we have over the big-picture events in our lives… you know, the ones that make us who we are.
Damian: What was it like to hear your diagnosis?
Susan Norfleet: I’m very lucky to have the doctors I have, but I chose them because they are very honest and very direct. They never sugar coated anything from the get-go. I knew what I was going through and what I was facing.
DH: So what role does your faith play in your health?
SN: During this time, I was unlearning all I’d been taught about the Catholic Church by watching a lot of EWTN. So when I got to RCIA, a lot of the program already made sense. I think that I was also attracted to the thousands of years of tradition of the Catholic Church, because so much of the Old Testament is mirrored in the New. God’s plan isn’t just 2000 years old! It goes back much further. It’s reassuring and comforting to know that God’s prophecy is coming true. So of course I want to question my diagnosis and fight with it, but God has a plan for all of us… and it’s a much better plan that what we could have come up with on our own.
DH: How old were you when you realized the spiritual life is all that really matters?
SN: I think because of the way I was raised, I always knew the spiritual component of life was very important. When people are young, they put a lot of emphasis on things, and feelings and they get distracted by other people, and their emotions. I get really distraught about young people that have no one to mentor them, and no one to listen to them. When I grew up, I had a lot of support from my parents. We ate dinner together every night. We used to do laundry for the military ships on Saturday nights together. We’d laugh and carry on. So I think staying close to family is the key to a happy life. The closer you are to the ones you love, the better off you’ll be.
DH: Tell me a little about your family, and how important they were to you.
SN: My dad was the choir director at Church. Our Church would have these big parties – well, there were only about 250 members of our Church – but everyone would come. So growing up, life was really fun. I knew that you always had to be inclusive with people. I realized early on that things were not important – people were. So I’ve had faith throughout my life, but coming to RCIA laid out the tapestry of my beliefs in a way that made sense like it never had before.”
DH: What are you grateful for now that you’re a full-fledged Catholic?
SN: I can’t say enough about the beauty of the Church. I pray that people protect that beauty with vigilance because it’s the only thing that will last in this world. People’s politics come and go, but the Church gives us the greatest miracle of all – eternal life. We’re all eventually going to die in our physical form, but that only reminds me to live every minute to the fullest and love people the way God loves us.
DH: You’d mentioned you had some experience with Al-Anon?
SN: Throughout my childhood my father only drank socially. It was never a problem. He was in the laundry and dry cleaning business – and he started that business at the height of the depression in 1936. He did well after the War as most small businesses did. I had an ideal childhood. We went to Church. I was taught to be kind and loving, and to love God. I started out a Lutheran and went to a Lutheran college in upstate New York, so I had a sound liturgical background. But around the time I was 18, alcohol became a problem for my father – one that had to be dealt with. My mother had started to go to Al-Anon, and eventually got me to do the same. It was there that I realized I had all the tools I needed to solve the problems in my life – the tools that I’d gotten in my faith while growing up. I just didn’t know how to use them. And they sort of laid that out in Al-Anon. I can’t change another person. I can only change me.
DH: How did they teach you how to “deal” with your dad?
SN: I learned that I can have peace in my soul, even if all around me, life is going to hell in a handbasket. I could have a positive impact on others if I simply lived my life in a real and honest way. That was a wakeup call. I was able to take those principles into life, and later into business.
DH: How did that program help you to grow spiritually?
SN: Al-Anon and AA are based on a belief in a “higher power” (God). As long as the relationship with your higher power stays intact, you can make it through anything. The program works really well because of the mentoring. I used to go to a morning meeting where there were a lot of women. They’d complain about their husbands’ drinking. ‘You’re not going to believe what he does… etc etc. And the mentoring women would respond ‘You’ve pretty much tried everything, huh? Well maybe the person you should be focusing on is you, and how you’re going to live in this situation.’ I learned in Al-Anon that you can’t change another person – you certainly can’t control them. One of the things they always taught us was to treat the alcoholic like a boarder. If they were paying for room and board, and were content to go to their room every night to get drunk, let them do that. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to. I learned that my spiritual life was my business and my peace was no one else’s responsibility.
DH: All good advice. Thanks for telling your story. We’ll be praying for you.
SN: Sincerely grateful.