Like a Deer in the Headlights


It’s been almost a year since we hit the deer.

We were headed home from an afternoon at the coast. It was one of those crazy-beautiful Northern California fall beach days, the kind you hardly ever get in summer. We’d lingered to watch the sunset and the dark that followed came very quickly.

We turned off Highway 1 and were making our way inland, just outside the tiny town of Bodega, when the deer simply appeared, maybe 10 feet away. Suddenly he was just there, in motion, poised to leap to the other side of the road.

But when a deer is that close there’s no stopping. There’s no slowing down. The best you can do is hope that his momentum will carry him past your car.

Sadly, he didn’t get past us. And I’ll never forget his eyes as he turned toward us at the last second.

In that instant I found out what Deer Caught In the Headlights truly means.

I don’t know exactly what happened to the deer. The impact was so great that our car was crushed on the driver’s side, out of alignment, and certainly not drivable. Eventually our insurance company totaled it out and sent us a check.

All I know for sure is car connected with deer on his left haunch and then somehow he managed to get across the road and down into the forest, where I imagine he collapsed.

Dave wanted to go look for the deer but I pulled him back. I knew we needed to check on the leaks coming from the car. Make sure we were safe. Call for help.

Hours later a tow truck deposited us on our driveway, stunned, empty, spent and very hungry.

Physically we were fine but emotionally we were wrecked, like the car.

The next morning I woke up and immediately started spinning an elaborate plan for how we’d get through the following week with just one car. Being Thanksgiving week, it was pretty complicated, with lots of comings and goings.

But I forged ahead, planning how we’d juggle getting back to Sacramento the next day and going to our separate offices for work and clients.

How we’d somehow find a way to be in Santa Rosa in order to pick up the rental car when it was ready.

How we’d transport our cats (who’d been fending for themselves in Sacramento that weekend) back to Santa Rosa in time for Thanksgiving.

And finally, how I’d turn around and go back to Sacramento the following Monday to take the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Exam, by far the toughest test I had to take on my journey to become a psychotherapist.

And then, there was a moment, which thankfully came rather quickly, when I remembered that I didn’t have to be stoic through all this. That it didn’t need to be business as usual.

Even though I know better, my knee-jerk reaction is still sometimes stoicism, because I come from a long line of stoic women. It’s my birthright, passed down through the generations. A particular brand of warrior woman who just keeps marching on.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s just me. A lot of us seem to have inherited or been taught this. There’s an expectation that keeping on is what we do and how we get through. In good times and bad.

So with the holidays right around the corner, I wanted to tell this story.

I know the impact of holidays isn’t exactly like the impact of hitting a deer.

But the stress that shows up with the holidays? The belief that we must press on? The challenge we feel to get it all done?

Yep, all that’s similar to what happens when we’re stoic-ing our way through crisis.

Of course, I understand that sometimes in life we do have to just get through and soldier on. But if that’s your knee-jerk response to most things, then I’d like to gently ask you to consider that the response itself is an invitation to find another way through.

More often than not, when this comes up for my clients and they believe there is absolutely no other way, we discover there’s almost always some wiggle room to fall back, step out, regroup.

After all, the wisest warriors know this: retreat is often the best option when the going gets tough. And retreat is exactly what we ended up doing last Thanksgiving.

Dave decided to take the entire week off.

I told my clients what happened and rescheduled their appointments.

That afternoon we went to Sacramento, gathered up the cats and brought them back to Santa Rosa.

I postponed my test for a few weeks (and later passed it).

We spent Thanksgiving week huddled together, talking a lot about that poor deer and what happened. Holding on to each other. Recovering. Treating ourselves gently. Acknowledging that while we hadn’t experienced a huge trauma it was still a pretty unsettling experience.

Last week I decided to go back and revisit the spot where we hit the deer. 

It was another one of those gorgeous fall days, serene and peaceful.

As I stood near the spot where it happened, I felt tremendously thankful that I hadn’t just pushed the experience aside and stayed on the stoic path last year. Although it took me about an hour to choose instead to dial down the stoicism and fall apart a little, I’m so glad I did.

And that’s my wish for you, dear one. An un-stoic holiday season, full of peace and choice and even falling apart a little, if you need to.



* * * * *

As a licensed psychotherapist and board certified life coach, I help women dial down the stoicism and find more room for themselves. If you’re in need of that kind of support and you’re interested in booking a free consultation, click here. And if you enjoyed this post you’ll love my e-letter. Get inspiration, tools and insights that are only for subscribers by signing up here.








Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s