It often happens that I find myself struggling with an issue that I thought I had completely worked through. I assume I have regressed – gone backwards in my healing – and that all the hard work I had done was for nothing. How could this happen? I thought I was doing things right, I thought I had been thorough, I thought I had gone over and over that territory and laid my monsters to rest. Guess not.
Here are the same old monsters, invading my dreams, nipping at my heels, making it hard to get out of the house and do the routine things I have done a million times before. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I am down on myself, because obviously I did something wrong, or I wouldn’t be in this place. It will never get better. It’s hopeless.
Slowly I realize that this time is not exactly the same as the other times. Maybe it’s less intense. Maybe there’s a new piece of information, a new monster waiting to make itself be known. Maybe this reaction was triggered by a holiday and I have completely forgotten that it happens every year. But this year the reaction clears more quickly. It is different.
The differences are so subtle that they hardly seem to matter. The change is so tiny, hardly noticeable, and it feels like I am right back at square one. For a few days I wallow in despair, self-blame, and self-pity.
Gradually, though, the little change gets incorporated into me, whatever “me” is. The black cloud lightens and I feel somewhat peaceful. Something, I’m not quite sure what, has been laid to rest, and I feel more self-accepting. I rest a bit until the next monster peeks out and demands attention.
When I was working as a social worker, I discovered I had a six-week learning cycle. I would start to feel dissatisfied with myself and critical of everything I was doing. I felt I was no good, untalented, and that even if I wasn’t actively harming anybody, I certainly wasn’t helping anybody. That was my LICSW monster coming into my office.
Since there is always something new to learn in social work, pretty soon I would be all excited about some new idea I had come across. Tentatively, I’d try it out in my work. I practiced applying it and after a while I felt I had mastered it. It became part of my repertoire and I felt good about myself and my work. For a while everything flowed smoothly, without effort. It was almost like dancing. And then, just about six weeks from the start of the cycle, I would start to get crabby again.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t until I started writing this essay that I compared my healing process to my learning process. That information was sitting right there for fifteen years and I never saw it. Being aware of the similarities in the two processes is going to be very helpful (if only I can remember!)
I’m going to have to look and see if this healing cycle averages six weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised, since there is a major satanic holiday every six weeks. That will be interesting, but what is really important is that the burden of feeling inadequate, stupid, incompetent, blah blah blah, will be lifted. I’ll still feel that way, but I will know that’s what I feel, not what I am, and that I feel that way because I am ready to take on something new. Despair will be transformed into a signal that I am getting ready to grow and become more competent!
Perhaps this isn’t just my weird way of doing things. Perhaps it’s a pretty normal human response to growing pains. I remember how irritable my kids were just before they made some huge change, like standing, walking, talking, riding a bike, dating. They were so impatient to get where they almost were that they couldn’t be civil for a minute. And then, when they finally got to do what they had been working so hard to master, they sweetened up and were all sunny and pleased with life.
It feels so good to discard the old tapes that say I am defective and will never be like other people and to realize that I am fine, I am normal, and I have been fine all along. I have just been lied to, and I’m not going to buy those lies any more.
Published in Survivorship Notes, Vol. 8, Nos. 6/7