I remember a my father asking me, in genuine perplexity a couple of decades ago, why I was still in therapy after 13 sessions. Surely, whatever’s got your goat must be identified and fixed by then, right? What could be so wrong that I still need to go?
As much as I shrugged and laughed him off at the time, feeling that my pain might be worth at least 15 sessions, I internalized that message of “fix it and be done” in many ways over my years. The idea that old haunts revisit at different times and in different ways was still far out of my reach. I wanted peace: peace from my nightmares, my daymares and the intrusive thoughts, feelings and beliefs that kept serenity a mystery and turbulence my roommate. I needed to find the fix, and I would work hard, pay attention, and do everything my Guru therapist told me to do along the way. I was no joke and a good student. I was studying this healing thing like it was Calculus II.
Turns out I dropped Calculus and I felt I was failing Therapy 101 as well. Messages like “it took a long time for you to get into this place, it’ll take some time to get out” fell on deaf ears. I was to be the exception. Listen + practice = peace of mind.
A couple of decades later and I’ve had more years than weeks of help and support. Though forever a “dutiful” Jedi, I no longer buy into the formula. Instead, I’m learning the things that don’t work so well for me in my peace*quest:
- Fighting: I am a prized fighter at survival, and it came in really handy quite often. As time goes on, however, and my life is safe, beautiful, fits, and is mine, the only one I end up fighting is myself. When I catch myself using war terminology, it’s time to lay down the boxing gloves and practice acceptance.
- Numbing: Equally gifted at numbing, I can be in a lot of existential angst before I realize I haven’t cried in 6 months. Warning signs include irritability, persistent insomnia, extreme fatigue and eating myself through house and home. Something else is always up, and usually it’s a feeling I am trying to keep at bay. It’s always easier to face what I feel, as much courage and vulnerability as that takes.
- Military-style self-talk: If I talked to any of my employees the way I talk to myself, I’d have to fire myself. If I talked to my kids the way I talk to myself, I’d have to call child protective services. So when I hear a litany of “shoulda, coulda, woulda and by the way” coming at me fast and furious, it’s time put up a stop sign, turn to the part of me being berated and offer her an apology and a hug. This one is particularly hard for me, but I know it’s the truth. It’s time to make amends with the part of me I keep hurting.
- “I don’t care:” When I’m particularly overwhelmed and don’t trust my capacity to ride the waves, ‘I throw my hands in the air’ and pretend that I just don’t care. That’s usually the final warning, the one I can no longer fight, numb or curse my way out of. That’s an immediate self-care red card. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.
Each of these habits is a way to avoid just being in the moment, usually because I think the moment is too painful or otherwise difficult to bear. Yet what I’m learning, when I let myself stay centered in the present and notice all that is good, is that there is much more right than there is wrong. Often, the only thing I truly think is wrong, is me. When I surrender the idea that I need to change, peace finds me.