Forward Living: Making the best of bitter pills

Most of us are familiar with this popular lyric from the hit musical “Mary Poppins”: “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Mary Poppins and Mom had a couple of things in common: Mom had a lovely soprano voice and supported the notion that nasty-tasting medicine could be mitigated with sugar. I didn’t agree — but, then again, Mom thought me rebellious.

It wasn’t rebellion per se; my reaction was purely physical. When I spotted the teaspoon of sugar Mom was offering, my gag reflex kicked in. I knew full well what the next teaspoon would hold. Mom wasn’t fazed by my unruly behavior. She managed to get me to swallow the nasty stuff, despite me clamping my mouth shut, twisting my head away and spitting out the sugar. (OK, a tad rebellious!)

I was reminded of Mom’s “bitter pill” scenario during a heartfelt conversation with a dear friend whose solicited opinion I respect. I listened intently when he said, “It’s a bitter pill to swallow, I know.”

My feelings were validated; however, I gagged. Swallowing bitter pills, metaphorically or otherwise, is not my strong point.

That being said, most of us have been called to swallow a bitter pill or two while traveling through life.

Disappointments hold a top spot in the bitter-pill-swallowing category. Who among us hasn’t had to force down a crushing disappointment? Maybe you thought the road you were traveling was going one way, when life twisted you around and you were facing another road — a lonely one at that.

Sometimes we wonder how we got to an uncomfortable place where a bitter pill is washed down with our morning coffee or alcohol. We may look at the person we married, the city in which we live or the job we have and shake our head in disbelief. How did we get here? We made choices along the way, perhaps blindly, and those choices shaped our destiny.

Who doesn’t run a “B” movie through their brain, replaying the “he should and she should” stuff that may have us overdosing on the bitter pill of “expectation.” There’s always someone to blame or take the fall if our hopes are dashed. But whose expectations were they, anyway? A good way to avoid that pill is to state our needs; folks aren’t clairvoyant, as far as I know.

The bitter pill of loss, whether through the death of a spouse or cherished relationship or the loss of a job, almost always causes us to retch. During those grindingly difficult times, the world seems so dark that we fail to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes we need to feel our way through the darkness. Perhaps we stumble, but we gotta get up until we see a speck of light. That speck will gradually become larger, illuminating the way.

If you’ve done all you can to remedy a situation, no amount of sugar is going to make it feel better. A word of caution: Sugar comes in disguises that are sometimes tempting. Maybe an unhealthy relationship will ease the pain, temporarily. I wanted to buy a motorcycle, dye my hair red and take off for parts unknown during a particularly difficult time. (Not smart!) Maybe we want to get even with someone who did us wrong. Remember: When we seek revenge, we dig two graves — one for them and one for us.

Acceptance is the only antidote I know for swallowing life’s bitter pills. If what you expected has changed, face it, grieve it, accept it and let it go. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No.

During her own challenges, Mom would say with utter acceptance: “It is what it is.” What a surprise that rebellious me is finding truth in her reasoning.

And who knows? One day, in a magical moment of acceptance and clarity, we may grasp that we swallowed and digested that bitter pill, despite it all. And — bonus! — the realization that we were transformed, for the good, goes down easily!

Ms. Iannelli is a resident of Jamesport.