I just completed a three-month tour in therapy. I’m not ashamed to admit I sought mental health counseling, especially after such a terrible 2013. It ranks up there in the top five worst years of my life: my living and working conditions were difficult, I was emotionally manipulated by a smarmy politician who broke my heart, then found love with someone new, then I got pregnant when I wasn’t ready for it, miscarried said baby, and then experienced the absolute worst heartbreaks of my entire life- losing both baby and baby daddy.
To say I wish I could have an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind experience and erase that entire year from my memory is an understatement.
But since that is impossible, and I have to live with the events of what transpired, I sought help that couldn’t be provided by friends and family. Tuesday was my last session, and in the spirit of moving on and healing, I thought I would share the lessons I learned from that big comfy chair on Glisan Street.
1. Your emotions are temporary.
This means that the way you feel at this moment is not how you will feel forever. Emotions ebb and flow. Even when it feels like your feels as if it has been wrapped up in barbed wire, even when the pain feels far too difficult to overcome, those feelings eventually will pass. It’s okay if it takes a while to move forward, but just know that you will move forward.
2. Allow yourself to experience your feelings. It’s the only way to get past them.
I learned how deeply I could bury my feelings so I can quickly move forward. I was still holding on to pain from years past, and that pain was seeping into my life like a toxic sludge, poisoning my actions and relationships. This was completely unhealthy, and I suffered the consequences.
No matter how much you want to avoid it, your feelings must be fully experienced in order to move on. This includes pain, anger, hurt, and sadness. No matter how far you try to push those emotions to the side, they won’t grow legs and walk away. Instead, they will become squatters on the periphery of your life, festering in silence, growing putrid and rank, influencing you in negative ways without you even realizing it’s happening.
You can try keeping busy, burying yourself in work, or dating new people to distract yourself, all in the name of “moving on.” It’s fine to be busy, but you still must face your emotions and allow yourself to just feel them. It’s okay to feel hurt, to be sad for what you have lost, and it’s even okay for you to cry it out. Each day is going to be different, and you need to go easy on yourself as you work through painful experiences. The key is to recognize and feel the emotion, and then let it pass.
3. Your emotions do not define you.
This is an important part of working through pain. You may feel like this is a permanent part of who you are, but it’s important to remember that there is a difference between what you feel and what you are. I told my therapist, “I am damaged. I don’t know how to move forward.” She was quick to point out the language I used, and talked about how that negativity will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I tell myself I am damaged, I am setting myself up for failure.
“You feel hurt, you feel pain, but you are not hurt and pain. You are not damaged. How you feel is not who you are.” This taught me to be very aware of the language I use in describing how I feel and who I am.
4. You’re actions don’t define you, unless you let them.
Just like your emotions do not define you, you’re actions do not define you either. That is, unless you allow them to. We all stumble and fall, make poor choices, and sometimes hurt the ones we love. When this happens, we must atone for the grievance and seek forgiveness. We must also remember that we may not be granted forgiveness, no matter how much we try to make things right. Therefore, and this is extremely important, we must learn to forgive ourselves.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean that what you did was okay, but rather it means that you have made peace with yourself. It means you won’t hold on to the pain and regret of your actions. It’s far too easy to get lost in the past. If you walk around thinking to yourself, “I really screwed up and acted pretty terribly. This means that I must be a terrible person, and will continue to screw up in the future. I will hurt every person who tries to love me. It’s just who I am.”
No no no. Do not let your past actions define you as a human being. Take the time to acknowledge what you did, take action to right the wrong, learn from the mistake, and then forgive yourself. It’s the only way to move forward in a positive and healthy manner.
5. Your future is not governed by your past, so stop living in it.
One of my current biggest fears is that I will always be haunted by my dad’s abandonment, and will push away every man who tries to get close, as I have been doing for the last twelve years. This will only come to pass if I ignore everything on this list, as I have been doing up to now, and marinate in the negativity.
Nothing can change the past, and nothing can predict the future. All you have is the present. What can you do today that will change your future? What can you accomplish that will throw off the shackles of the past and allow you to be free and focus on what is happening now?
I have been stuck in the past before, and it’s not a fun place to be. I realized that I’m doing it again- living in the past, piling regret upon regret, thinking to myself, “If only I had said this, or if only I had not done that.” Does that make a Delorean appear in front of me to transport me back in time? No. All that does is further my frustration.
My future is what I make it to be, and so is yours. Will it be one that continually looks backward, allowing those shackles to hold you back? Or will it be one that steps forward into a new journey, a fresh start? Choose the latter.
6. 99% of the time, other people’s actions have nothing to do with you.
I realized in therapy that I have been hinging my self-worth on my dad’s actions, and the actions of every man I have encountered since. There has been a feeling of worthlessness, that I wasn’t enough for my dad to stick around, so I won’t be enough for any man to sick around.
Except, that’s not true at all. My dad’s actions were his and his alone, and do not reflect upon me at all. He is an emotionally unavailable man who wants things on his terms, and when he doesn’t get his way, he tries to bully you into doing what he wants. His issues are his and his alone. My mother raised me to be a different kind of person than that, and I can recognize that my dad’s career choice was perfect for him. It allowed him to be both physically and emotionally distant, and this has nothing to do with me. He disappeared because he was a coward, not because I wasn’t worth enough for him to stick around.
Do you have someone in your current life or your past life who has made you feel like you aren’t good enough? Let that go. Even if you haven’t always acted right, that doesn’t mean you deserve to be put through a proverbial wood chipper. It’s always good to self-reflect and learn what kind of role you have played in a relationship, but if someone makes you feel like you have no worth, that reflects upon him or her, not you.
7. Learn to draw boundaries.
Are you a “yes” person? Do you do things you don’t want to do, just because you think you should? Do you spend time with people you don’t want to see? Do you let someone at work push you around? Do you let the ghost of the past infiltrate your present?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to start drawing boundaries. For me, one boundary I had to draw was with friends who are pregnant. One was about to give birth, and I told her I couldn’t go to her baby shower because it was too painful. The other friend was only three weeks behind me in conception, so looking at her is like looking at where I should be in my failed pregnancy. With her, I had to say that it was okay to talk about her health and how she was feeling, but to just be mindful of how much she said, and to please not show me all the baby stuff she was buying. For example, she found out the sex of the baby, and I asked her what she was having. She talked about it for a bit, and when I gently changed the subject, she understood and we talked about something else.
Drawing boundaries is important for your mental health, because you have to take care of you. If you are too busy trying to please everyone around you, you risk neglecting your needs, which are valid and important. If someone reacts negatively to your boundaries, that is a reflection of them and their insecurities, not you. So learn how to set boundaries in your life by saying “no” or voicing your feeling and concerns. It will be like a weight is lifted off your shoulders.
8. You have to love yourself before anyone else can love you.
This is a biggie. Perhaps this is the most important lesson on the list. If you don’t think you are good enough, then no one else will, either. You can try to hide your insecurities, but eventually they will pop up like a bloated dead body down in the river. Gross imagery, right? Think about it. We all know someone who is so insecure it makes the people around them uncomfortable. We’ve all had that friend or significant other that puts himself or herself down, can’t take a compliment, is so clingy you feel like you need a gallon of Downy to break that static down. No one wants to be around that guy, right? Right. Just like no one wants to be around a dead bloated body.
Learn to love yourself. There is only one of you, and that person is pretty great if you give yourself a chance. Work on figuring out who you are, what you like, and what makes you awesome. And when you are comfortable with who you are, when you genuinely like yourself, that glow will shine out like a lighthouse, attracting all kinds of ships.
9. Focus on the good things that you have, not the things you don’t have.
If you keep thinking about what everyone around you has that you think you should have, you’ll never move forward. This is something I am terrible at. I look at my age and current life status, and get angry with myself for not doing things differently. I’m the last single friend, I don’t have a home of my own, I’m not financially secure, and I don’t have a career. It’s hard when everyone around me has the things I so deeply desire. So I end up letting my self-esteem take a beating by comparing my life to theirs.
It’s not easy to reframe an entrenched way of thinking, but this is what you have to do. Ask yourself: What are the postive things in my life? What do I have that is good? What do I have that makes me happy? Start a gratidue journal and write down three things that made you happy. It can be as simple as “The sun came out today.” The more you do this, the more your brain will begin to focus on the good and not fixate on the bad.
I tell myself “it’s okay that I am starting over at 31. I can do this.” I’m starting to believe it, too.
10. You’re stronger than you think.
I promise this is true. I know it’s hard to believe it sometimes. It’s hard for me to believe it sometimes, especially when things get overhwhelming. The last three months have not been easy. In fact, they’ve been some of the hardest months of my life. Yet, I’m still here. I’m still standing. When I look back at some of the things I’ve experienced in my 31 years on this earth, I see that I somehow manage to keep moving forward. I don’t crawl into the fetal position under my covers and hide from the world. Well, maybe I did once or twice. Sometimes we just need that downtime. But I didn’t stay hidden under the covers. I eventually got up and faced the world. And you can, too. Find your inner-strength and channel it, even on the days you don’t want to. It will begin to make a big difference in your life.
Those are my ten lessons I learned on Glisan Street. My time in therapy was valuable, but by no means am I healed. I still feel hurt. I still feel lonely. Last week I had my first OBGYN visit and it took courage to return to the clinic, my first time since I lost the baby. And this morning I broke down in tears in front of a nurse practitioner in immediate care because she asked me what sources of stress I’ve been experiencing lately. It is still incredibly pain to say the words I had a miscarraige. And I know it will be for a while. And I also know that’s okay.
I still have a lot of work to do. One of the reasons I wrote this list was to remain mindful of the work I have done, and to have a place I can return to when things start to feel bleak and hopeless. I can read this list and be reminded of how far I’ve come, and that I have the ability to keep going. I have the ability to heal. And so do you.
Until next time ~ B