I had a great therapist for many years. It only took me like forty years to find her—after lying to pretty much every other therapist I ever had. I mean, seriously, was I really going to open up and show some stranger with a fifty minute hour rule that I was not all pretty and smart and capable and god knows what else. But then I found this incredible counselor. As I was trying to climb out of a deep hole that had sucked me down and sucked me dry and left me thinking that I better be done this time around because I am so not coming back again in some other life where I have to deal with this shit again.
This therapist I found, she was honest. Straightforward. Kind. And she challenged me. All the time. Our sessions were like really great intellectual debates. Well, not at first. At first they were me huddled in a corner of her couch, arms wrapped around tight, legs crossed over and tears of shame and pain and grief mixed in with fleeting moments of joy and acceptance as I made my way back up and into my life.
And then, when I was again a functioning member of society (whatever the hell that looks like) she and I got to really spar. I would come in with my deeply ingrained belief systems and she would raise questions. Not to make me agree with her. Never was her intention to convince me I was wrong. But to make me see my choices, see my beliefs. See them clearly. And then mindfully choose what worked for me. I was retrying everything on. One item at a time. Outfitting my internal closet. Keeping the things that still sat in my body beautifully while discarding those things that no longer fit.
It was a long process. Many years. And then one day, I didn’t need her anymore. We both knew it. I had a wardrobe that worked for me. I was ready to walk my life on my own. But I can still hear her voice in my mind when I am faced with difficult decisions or challenging situations or tormenting moments. She is not telling me what to do. She is telling me to go through that closet I created and pull from it something to put on that will get me though what I am facing at that moment. I have many different outfits. For many different occasions.
From this incredible interaction and truly life saving relationship I walked away with a great wardrobe. Now, I am not saying that my sense of style—my best life practices —are necessarily right for you. But I do feel blessed that I have created some really great ways to be in the world. Here are three favorites—
1. Life is not fair. Let me say this again. LIFE IS NOT FAIR. That crap we were fed, and our kids are being overloaded with, that everyone gets a trophy and we’re all winners and everyone is treated equal and is supposed to be treated equal, this is not true. Life is not fair. And it’s not pretty. It’s messy and complicated and doesn’t go the way we want it to. And it is a huge disservice that we are perpetuating this myth that we’re supposed to be happy all the time and things will be nice and fun and fair (that word again.) So what happens is that we have no skills to deal with the hard stuff. The tough stuff. The really lousy stuff and the stuff that is just uncomfortable too. And so one of my favorite outfits—I learned to sit in my discomfort. To see how it feels. Feel how it feels. And be ok with it. I learned to sit in it rather than trying to numb it or ignore it. I learned to sit in my discomfort and to honor it. To nurture it. The beauty that is being human often times lives in the struggles and the lessons we are able to learn in the process. So I try to love the lessons life is teaching me. And then I learn to move on. Not to fix it necessarily, but to let it go. This is not easy and I am not always good at it. But I practice every day.
2. Don’t lay your unhappiness on someone else. It is no one’s responsibility to make another person happy. Or to fill up their empty spaces. Yes, I love my kids and they fill me with joy. And my husband is a wonderful man. And I have deep, good friends and a very full, really lovely life. And yes, I am happy in these relationships that I have. But being happy is the blessing, not the purpose, of these relationships. And my responsibility to these relationships is to take care of them. By practicing self-care. And practicing self-love. By not needing input from others but rather meeting others in my life as a full, complete, person. Again, not easy. But I have learned to feel the difference—when I am engaging because I want to give to a relationship and when I am engaging because I am looking to get something from it. The latter does not feel good at all.
3. Own your shit. I try very hard to not put blame on other people or circumstances when something bugs me, or upsets me or makes me really mad. Because it’s usually not about them at all. It is about me. And the answers are right there, deep within me. And deep within you too. Truly, they are. So I ask myself—what am I supposed to learn here? Why does my sister’s nasty mood, my kid’s messy room, the neighbor’s flippant stare, effect me? What is truly going on here? What are my triggers? And I become aware. It is not really about the fact that my daughter does not put her clothes away. It is about something deep within me. Maybe I don’t feel respected because I bought those clothes for her. Maybe I am not able to be my best self when things are messy around me? I try to figure out what is truly going on, inside me, and then communicate that with those I love and who love me. I do not tell them that they are wrong. Because usually they are not. They are doing their own thing just as I am doing mine. And so I figure out what I am struggling with and then I let them in, and share how I feel. And once they understand me, it is then their choice whether to honor me or not. Chances are the people in my life that love me will honor the feelings that I have. I am pretty sure the people in your life will do the same.
So there you have it, three good outfits. I have many more but these are my favorite. I thought I would loan these three outfits to you. Feel free to try them on. In fact, keep what fits. That’s how it works.
~This piece was first published on January 25, 2015.
In my capacity as a Leadership and Individual Coach, as a Couples and Family Mediator, and as a Divorce Mediator, I am not providing mental health services or attempting to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure in any manner whatsoever any mental or emotional issue, disease or condition. By agreeing to work with me you agree and acknowledge that I am not providing medical advice, mental health advice, or religious advice in any way.
I am not holding myself out to be a Medical/Mental Health Provider (including but not limited to psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor, or social worker).