One of the reasons why we sometimes struggle to change our lives in significant ways is because we’re anxious about that life AFTER that change will look like.
After all, even if we’ve struggled with certain problems, such as depression or anxiety or addiction, for so long, we do have at least SOME situations or relationships in our life that are comfortable.
What if we make a big change in our life— and suddenly the few things that we actually LIKE in our life are suddenly gone?
I used to work in a trauma treatment program that had inpatient and outpatient groups.
Something we saw happen over and over again was, people would find themselves in our groups, and maybe for the first time realize that they weren’t alone in what they were going through.
Trauma has a way of making you feel like you’re completely alone— that you’re the only person in the history of the world who could possibly be struggling this much with your past.
When people would enter our program, they’d meet other people who were struggling in many of the same ways they were struggling— and they’d find themselves in an environment where, for the first time, other people understood and empathized with what they were going through.
They’d make friends in the group— friends who actually kind of “got” what their own life experience was like, and who were suffering and struggling in many of the same ways.
To finally connect with somebody like that, after year of feeling alone and like a freak, can be pretty profound.
Our program became a safe place— physically and emotionally— for survivors to come and be with each other.
It was a beautiful thing.
Then…we’d see something else happen.
As people worked the program, they tended to get better. Their symptoms tended to diminish; their functionality would improve.
Eventually, they’d improve to the point where the right thing to do was to cut back their time at the program, as they returned to their work and home lives.
And suddenly…things would get complicated.
The transition back to everyday life would turn out to be a time where a flare up of symptoms or a decline in functionality would happen.
There are lots of reasons for why times of transition can be triggering and difficult for survivors, but one of the reasons turned out to be: if they got better, to the point where it was time to cut down or end their time at the program, patients would actually experience that as a loss.
It was a loss of a space that had become comfortable and safe; loss of a certain amount of structure that had been designed with trauma survivors in mind; and loss of daily contact with people who had become their friends.
That is to say: the “reward” for getting better was to actually lose things they liked and valued.
This is a paradox that exists in recovery: as we get better, we actually do have to leave certain things behind…even if we like those things.
It’s particularly rough when the things we have to leave behind have been things that have been there for us during rough times.
As we recover from addiction, we have to leave behind certain people and activities that we may like— but which aren’t healthy for us.
As we recover from trauma and regain our autonomy and functionality, we have to leave behind some of the resources that supported us early in our recovery— because we’re beyond the point where they’re useful for our continued growth.
These losses can feel unfair to us. Why SHOULDN’T we get to hang on to certain people, places, or situations, for as long as we want? Why does getting better mean we have to leave certain people, places, or situations, behind?
For the same reason we can’t leave training wheels on the bicycle, or just keep reading children’s books for the rest of our lives.
Those people, places, and situations helped us, sometimes enormously, when we needed them to help us.
They were sources of support and comfort.
And they’ve served their purpose.
Life doesn’t stand still, even if we want it to. Rivers flow; planets revolve; glaciers melt.
We can acknowledge and mourn our losses— even those losses that are occasioned by our progress and successes.
And then, with gratitude and a little sadness…we can move on.
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