I used to think therapy was about fixing problems and fixing yourself by erasing all the things that are “bad”. I now know, after many many years in therapy that it isn’t about that at all. It’s about finding the courage to face the shadows in yourself, to give them room to have tantrums, to love them so much that they finally heal, and to then take a leadership role in your life so those shadows don’t have to run the show. They get to just be a part of you, rather than a lurking dictator that defines the whole of you. And you discover, after enough time in therapy, that these shadows are simply survival skills with the volume turned up way too loud.
So, for me, I began to make sense of myself and my problems when I turned the volume down, but while also still respecting how these shadows add to the music of me. I didn’t erase them. I didn’t call them bad. I loved their texture and their tone for what they are. This is what therapy has taught me.
Guess what? Drum roll. I didn’t just walk into therapy one day and say, OK YAY it is time to face my darkness and heal. Um. No. In fact, most of my life in therapy was spent resisting this by conning myself into the idea that I didn’t have any darkness and that everyone else was the problem. It wasn’t until an extraordinary amount of pain and stress from a rock bottom (or two) left me with no option: Get honest with myself or else.
There’s something about the moment before a person changes in this way that fascinates me. We often think it is about making a good choice, but from what I have experienced, it’s less choice and more an intensity of external and internal stressors that forces a certain new behavior. Because why else would we stare at a fork in the road and choose the path that promises change but also guarantees pain? There’s nothing easy about it. But, looking back I know something to be very true. Stress doesn’t have to be the negative scary thing we’ve been taught it is. In fact, I find it to be more like our shadows: Simply part of life that needs as much love and listening as the rest of the parts.
In fact, if you really think about the physiological function of both pain and stress, you can see that they actually mean well … at first. Pain sends messages to your nervous system that something needs care or adjustment. Stress sends messages to your nervous system that something is too much for your system. The pain calls to us and the stress places pressure on us. But, this is not to destroy us or make us sick as we have been taught, instead they cause these reactions and sensations so that we change because the change will get us closer to what is best for us and those around us. This means inherently that we as humans are designed to adapt, to pivot … to begin again. And this means that we can handle stress, in that we can learn to respond to it with care.
I’ll repeat that none of this is easy. We are dealing with our nervous systems. We are dealing with our psyches. We are dealing possibly with trauma and difficult life changes and other hard hard stuff. But, when I think about Joseph Campbell and his identification of the hero’s journey, modeled throughout history in mythology and story, I remember that this is what life is: Walking through the forest of Ick so we can get to the field of Oh Yeah.
I personally feel that the last year of all of our lives has been a giant forest of Ick. One that we could have never ever planned for. Not many of us sat around in high school and college considering how we might handle the life stressor of a global pandemic and the burden that would fall mostly on primary caretakers. I mean, yeah, no. But, my hunch is that as we walk through this together, we will make changes to our family and community systems that better serve us in the end. Don’t get me wrong, though. We are not out of the forest. We are in the worst part actually, where you can see the edges of it and you can see the field ahead, but you’re still in the dark and there’s still ground to travel.
I’m here with you. We will emerge. Just keep going and keep talking and keep venting and don’t go silent. Be a loud unpredictable tourist in your forest, maybe sing TLC at the top of your lungs and yell a few slanderous words at anything that has hurt you this last year. You don’t have to be a graceful hero. Heroes are heroes because they keep on walking and that is 100% the only qualifier. Healing is happening, even though we don’t know yet. Yeah?
I will also emphasize that the majority of us will need expert help on this adventure. I have never ever in my entire life known someone to walk through this without a guide, aka a qualified therapist. Someone who can teach you how to be with you and who can teach you about stress and pain and your true capabilities. And who will, because it is actually their hard-earned job, accept you and support you through the process.
This leads me to two very exciting announcements, which have me smiling ear to ear as I type this:
- Today we welcome our new Mental Health Advisors to the MommaStrong team: Annie Keilman, Monique Cortes, and Nicole Taylor Irwin. We have come to realize that our community needs some lifeguarding because, well, functional exercise that reminds you that you are enough often digs up lots of feels. And while we know we are safe for you to feel, we also want to stay in our lane and within our scope of practice. SO. Yes, our mental health advisors will be showing up in our community and in our programs, not to diagnosis or treat but simply to guide and support. Please watch/listen to this inspiring interview with them. YAYYYYYYYY.
- This most awesome team will be leading our June Challenge: Stress & Strength, which starts Monday June 7th. They will be teaching you about stress and resilience and all the amazing things connected to this. AND WOW. I get to look through this content before the challenge starts and I can’t even tell you how invaluable this. You are getting basically a super high end, informative course on stress taught by experts WHILE ALSO getting a daily workout plus a bazillion fix-me plus a community for $12. I don’t know. I’m not a good salesperson, but wow. THIS.
- Join the challenge today! If you are a current member, simply register by clicking on “Challenges” in the teal menu (you must be logged in). If you are not a current member, well dang, sign on up already and then go log in and click that Challenges link.
Ok, go watch and be inspired, as I am, by these incredibly gifted and giving and skilled humans. I feel so so so lucky to be surrounded by them (and you).