Read this story about my client, Sue, who was completely disassembled by life. She’ll show you how to find peace and hope again.
Sue kept her world in tight order.
A driven yet unfulfilled business owner, she came to see me because she wanted to explore a new career for herself.
Yet, as often happens in therapy, other issues began to arise.
At first it was a trickle.
A little hiccup in her marriage.
Maybe a bit of concern about her parents and siblings.
Oh, and of course, there was that thing about trying to achieve one-hundred percent recovery from a severe stroke five years beforehand.
The trickle began to widen and grow into a river.
The economy was affecting her business more and more. Money was getting tight.
The hiccup in her marriage was turning into a chronic cough – it felt like she and her husband were getting further and further apart.
Her parents and siblings started to bring their chaotic lifestyles into hers.
And the stroke. That damn stroke! Every day it seemed like two steps forward and one step back. Despite her intensive daily workout routine, she just was not getting that last ten percent back that she so desperately wanted.
Sue realized that control wasn’t working very well in her life and began to explore the idea of letting go of some of her cherished ideas: that, if she just worked hard enough, everything – business, family, physical recovery – would be okay.
The dam finally broke and the river became a raging flood through a great abyss, dashing apart everything Sue knew about herself and her life.
For months, Sue came into my office in tears. Broken with grief.
Her business teetered on the brink of collapse.
Her marriage wobbled on that same edge.
Her family’s chaos forced her to see them for who they were rather than who she wanted them to be.
And she had come to a realization about her stroke. One that was liberating and devastating at the same time. Through her sobs, she told me, “Bobbi, I’ve been working so hard – SO hard! – all of these years because, deep down, I thought if I just worked hard enough, I could erase that it ever happened. I brought it on myself and I’ve been trying ever since to fix it.”
After several months of mourning the devastation caused by the flood, Sue came into my office with an air of peace.
“I think I finally hit bottom,” she told me. “After all this time, I realized that I have been motivated by fear. Fear of losing my husband, my family, and my business. Fear of not getting back to full physical recovery.
“This is why I’ve been so tightly in control all these years. I was afraid.
“I finally decided to turn and walk into the abyss of fear.”
I listened carefully and then said, “Sue, it’s as though this journey through the abyss has disassembled you. But the good thing now is that you can reassemble yourself any way you want. Your reassembled self may be even stronger than who you were before.”
Sue nodded enthusiastically.
“That’s right! I can put myself back together in a new way after falling apart. I know I’m still in mourning for the things I’ve let go of, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel now. I feel like I have more options – I don’t have to control people and things. I can still love them and let them go at the same time.”
I love it when my clients teach me things.
Here are five lessons we can learn from Sue:
1. Resiliency doesn’t always mean bouncing back right away.
Sue has worked hard – really hard – for the last few years to get where she is today. It didn’t happen all at once for her.
Are you frustrated because you’re not bouncing back as fast as you’d like? Be patient and have faith that you are moving forward even though you may not notice your progress right now.
2. Sometimes we bounce back to a different place.
Taken literally, resilience means “regaining one’s shape and form after being bent, stretched, or pressed.”
But we are not pieces of rubber. Sometimes we do bounce back to exactly where we were before, but many times we end up in a different place. One that might be even better than where we started from.
Are you locked into bouncing back to right where you were before? Or can you learn to be flexible and land exactly where you need to?
3. We can’t erase the past but we can let go of it.
There were many different ways that Sue’s stroke impacted her and her family. And she didn’t like any of them so she tried to use her cosmic eraser to go back and fix the problem in the first place.
It didn’t work.
She still struggles with her body and its limitations, but she has really begun to own the idea of letting go of the guilt that motivated her to “erase” her experience.
How many times do we try to erase the past? Most of the time – like Sue – we don’t even realize we’re doing it.
Is there something from your past that continues to trip you up? Take a good look to see if you are trying to erase it in some way. Perhaps it’s time to let it go rather than make it go away.
4. Walking into the abyss of your fear is damn scary and freeing at the same time.
Awhile back, I wrote about the story of Ged, a young wizard who ran from his greatest fear only to find out – after he stopped running – that it was an integral part of him.
Sue has courageously re-taught me this lesson. Even though it felt like she was going to her own death, she turned around and walked directly into her fear.
And, to her surprise, is now coming out the other side with more freedom and peace than she ever could have imagined.
Freedom is on the other side of your fear. And since fear is an essential part of you, you must turn and embrace it.
5. Some disassembly required.
Sue’s tightly controlled life wasn’t working for her and finally reached its breaking point. It was only then that she could learn the value of letting go, of doing something different, of being able to create the new Sue she always wanted.
Do you need some disassembling? It can be painful, but the re-assembly can make up for the pain in joy, creativity, and lightness.
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