This post is dedicated to my therapist. And I realize this is probably completely not kosher to do. I mean, come on. But, it is. It has to be. And I highly suggest all of yous get a therapist, because while you THINK your best friend or pet sock puppet are good listeners and sages, they are most likely 98% of the time projecting their own gorgeous caca on to you - unless they’re doing their own work, which I know all pet sock puppets are required to do by law, but, oddly, human friends are not. So, be careful and be wary. This doesn’t mean they’re not amazing friends with tons of good shit to say, it’s that you will need qualified help in the form of people who perform investigative objective journalism on your life and your behaviors.
AND - before you get all “ugh I can’t” on me, look, there is always a solution. I know therapists are expensive. Like, holy crap. But, I figured it out even when I was literally counting quarters to get gas to drive my kiddos to school each day. There are free services and agencies, there are grants, there are meetings like ALANON and AA and ACA and NA and ALL-THE-A-WHATEVER. Start asking. Start digging. Make it a priority, because, well, you’re worth having an objective investivative journalist, aka bull shit detector, on your team. And if you’re gonna live vibrantly, you’re gonna need her/him.
So, in therapy last week, my bull shit detector said something that made me go - WAIT, why didn’t you say that 32 sessions ago? Cuz this deal coulda been a whole lot cheaper. “You weren’t ready,” she assured the cynical me. Yeah yeah. Anyhoozers. I hope I can share this with you all today so that you save those 32 sessions. Which means, get ready. Now.
She told me about The Myth of the Eternal Return, a book that discusses the normality of suffering and the propensity for human beings to constantly ache to return back to old habits/history in order to mediate the suffering that goes hand in hand with change, even positive change. And then she explained to me that this suffering has to do with a psychological death that occurs when we break through any sort of emotional/spiritual block. The old self must and will die off as you move forward to a healthier, stronger you.
The old self must and will die off as you move forward to a healthier, stronger you.
As she said this, I could feel the rush through my body, like tiny little brightly lit soldiers darting through my cells and neurons declaring Victory over the most recent battle in my personal Civil War. This - THIS - is why I have been so depressed, I thought, even though I’m doing all these amazing things to propel my life forward. THIS is why I’m a tangled web of a mess, even though I’ve done so much solid work on troubled areas. THIS is why I feel like I am flailing like an asshat, even though I’ve commited myself to humility and integrity without compromise.
Oh man. THIS.
I left her office armed with yet another book to go and pretend to read all the way through (although I might with this one) and a sense of clarity that I had missed for the past few months. And I got to thinking right away about the extensions of this idea of The Myth of the Eternal Return.
If this idea is true, couldn’t it explain why people have such a hard time making changes in their life? And could it be why the normal prompts for motivation don’t work and why ideas like willpower are so incredibly inadequate?
What if our inability to stay the course of positive change in our life has more to do with the fact that we have no idea how to stay put in the grieving of the death of the self that needed the old behaviors?
It’s quite plausible to me that we’ve completely missed the mark in terms of handling wellness/fitness/intuitive self care by focusing on mostly behavioral and environmental effects, while perhaps we need to focus instead on helping people through a death of their own precious self. Maybe we need to approach motivation from the standpoint of How Do I Help This Amazing Person Stay Put In Mourning the Loss of The Self?
For me, this is a giant YES. When I allow myself to see that my depression, anxiety, and/or flailing during a time of incredible growth is not something to be concerned about, but rather something to be with as I mourn this psychological death, I can see exactly what to do more of. I can see that’s it’s ok for me to want to be alone a bit. I can see that it’s ok that I need extra comfort from safe sources. I can see that I’ll be distracted and “homesick.” I can see that I’ll want back my old self. BUT, I can hold myself here. I can metaphorically dress in black and feel entitled to a moment of mourning, which I also know will pass if I do it thoroughly. And, if I hold this off and if I brace myself from the depths of that mourning, I’ll either run back to the old self or I’ll live in denial. Both equal a lack of progress and a stunting of my vibrancy.
So, if you’re wanting to stop certain things or move into true self actualization or experience authentic joy, you have to be willing to give yourself the gift of mourning. You have to be ok with what that feels like, which is freakin awful. It feels awful. It just does. No one gets a pass on mourning. No one does it better. It just has a life span of its own and you’re only mode of operation during it has to rely on a willingness to allow it and a commitment to knowing it will run its course in due time. This due time, fortunately, has been laid out for us by genius minds like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and others, in the five stages of death: 1) Denial, 2) Anger, 3) Bargaining, 4) Depression, and 5) Acceptance.
When you genuinely jump on your path of fulfillment and integrity, you will experience all of the above in your mourning of the old way of being. Why? Because you are a beautiful, fluid, porous, flesh and blood human being whose design both spiritually and physically is one that avoids death at all costs. In other words: You’re normal and you’re certainly not a broken bag of bones that can’t make good decisions for your health. You just need to learn some skills about how to be in mourning.
Maybe you’ll have to mourn the death of the self in you that needs to overeat or that needs to feel weak or that needs to be a victim or that is addicted to tv as escapism or that gossips or that facebooks or that doesn’t care for herself or or or or. You’re not alone. I’m here today to tell you that I am in mourning right now for the death of the self that needed to give inexhaustibly to people and situations without regard to my own discomfort, wanting, or capacity in order to feel loved. I’m mourning also the death of the self that needed to numb out in order to experience play and freedom. I’m mourning the death of the self that used depletion as a defense against feeling life’s pulse or being abused by others.
I can’t tell you what it’s like on the other side. But I do know that I can trust my bull shit detector and other great minds that it is the entire point of “it” all. To walk our walk fully and to learn to stay put and to continue to show up. Or in therapy-speak: To experience the re-emergence of the whole self, often over and over again in the eternal return. I’m in. And I’m not in with a bandwagon of “we can do its,” but rather - this time and from now on - with a willingness to attend some funerals and with the skills be a midwife at a whole lot of births.