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Some disassembly required: 5 lessons to put yourself back together after falling apart


Ever feel like life has left you in a jillion pieces?falling apart

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.

Letting go was hard.


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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  1. The Aunt says:

    Very good assembling. I still think the three hardest words to put into action are “let it go!” Got some concrete suggestions as to how to let it go?

    • Bobbi says:

      Arlen, notice how Sue discovered that she was motivated by fear. She was basically hanging onto the “fear of her fear.” When she let it go, turned around and faced it, the fear melted away and gave in to peace.

      The concrete thing here is to look at what you’re hanging on to, what you’re grappling with, and decide you’re not going to do that anymore. So, if I’m hanging on to the idea that I can really change someone or something, I have to recognize that and consciously decide not to do it anymore.

      Since you’re struggling with illness right now, what are you hanging onto? Anger? Fear? The thought “why me?” As Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” If those things aren’t serving you, you may want to let them go.

      Make sense?

  2. Great article, Bobbi! The central point for me about letting go is that it doesn’t necessarily look the way it’s supposed to.

    When we “let go” of fear, it doesn’t mean we don’t feel it anymore.

    Letting go of any feeling really just means allowing it to be what it is, instead of trying to avoid the experience.

    What I hear you saying here is that the concrete action you can take is to decide on purpose to ALLOW the fear to be there. And to tolerate it.

    The mere act of sitting with what IS, creates a shift.

    • Bobbi says:

      Tina, thanks for articulating so well what I was having a hard time forming thoughts around! Yes, it is all about allowing fear and other emotions just to be, rather than adding onto them by resisting OR hanging on!

      Arlen – read Tina’s comment, not mine!

      Thanks, Tina!

  3. Bobbi, I love how you told this story. I kept thinking “economy/marriage/parents” — sounds like me! A warning and very valuable lesson. Thank you.
    Debra Eve | Later Bloomer recently posted…Julia Child: Eat Well, Live Big, Bloom Late!My Profile

  4. Ani says:

    Very nice post Bobbi.

    Realistic image of the situation but with so much hope and light at the end of the tunnel 🙂
    Loved it!
    Ani recently posted…How To Stay Balanced While Arguing With Colleague: 7 Ideas That Really WorkMy Profile

  5. First of all Bobbi, kudos on the incredibly catchy headline. I don’t think someone could come across a link to the headline and NOT click on it.

    I enjoyed the story and love the concept of some disassembly required. Can you tell me if a jillion is larger than a bazillion though? 🙂
    Joel Zaslofsky recently posted…Ask the Community: Why Do You Struggle Creating Value from Information You Consume?My Profile

  6. Bobbi says:

    Joel, a bazillion is larger than a jillion but smaller than a gazillion.
    Bobbi recently posted…Some disassembly required: 5 lessons to put yourself back together after falling apart My Profile

  7. Kaylee says:

    Bobbi, I *love* this post. You’re such a good storyteller – I loved hearing about Sue’s process.

    As I was reading the lessons at the bottom, I could totally relate. Especially #2 – it’s easy to become attached to how things were, to want to bounce back to that…but you’re right, sometimes we bounce to a new place. That’s exactly where I’m at right now.

    Thanks for these important lessons and sense of peace. =)
    Kaylee recently posted…Strap on Your Overalls and Tend to Your Goals Like a Good FarmerMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Kaylee, I’m glad you are open to being in a new place! Sometimes it takes awhile, but a new place can often provide us with a lot of opportunities for learning, growth, and fun.

  8. “Walking into the abyss of your fear is damn scary and freeing at the same time.”

    oh so true! I am a big believer in facing your fears and not letting them stop you, whether you are reaching new heights or re-assembling your life.
    Lori Lynn Smith recently posted…8 Ideas to take Control of your time and your lifeMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Yes, but fears are scary, Lori! (That’s a redundancy if I’ve ever heard one.) I’m glad you are courageous about facing them. I know that, like Sue, sometimes it can take me awhile to 1.)Admit I’m afraid of something and then, 2.) Do something about it.

  9. It’s true you are an awesome storyteller Bobbi. Sue’s story illustrates such an important point: we have to walk through that fear before we can get to the other side. But so freakin’ hard to face it, and even harder stay with it until it’s time to move forward!

    Usually when I get all stuck and everything is unraveling it turns out that it is fear at the bottom of it all – even when I think it’s something else entirely.
    Sarah | Holistic Hot Sauce recently posted…Worried That It’s Too Late To Bloom?My Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Yes, I hear what you’re saying, Sarah. Even when part of our motivation to stay in one place is because we’re comfortable, it’s usually the fear of discomfort or change that keeps us there. I really admire people who can easily see their own fears and walk into them – it’s really a tall order!

  10. Amit Amin says:

    I wish I had read this a few years ago! I spent so much energy on trying to eliminate 100% of my fibromyalgia, that every additional day with it felt like a failure. I’m still guilty of this. I know that when I focus on how I can grow, I’m happier, but that I have a tendency to keep on trying to erase my past. Thanks Bobbi!
    Amit Amin recently posted…How Grateful Are You? Interactive Quiz + Seven Strategies for Cultivating GratitudeMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Chronic illnesses are tough, Amit. It always seems like we “should” be able to do more, but sometimes you have to give in without giving up – accept the illness while still trying to be as healthy as possible.

  11. Chris Edgar says:

    Yes, it does seem that sometimes a “disassembly” is necessary to get our attention, whether it happens gradually or suddenly. For me, the pain of denying my empathic side and relating to the people in my life on a superficial level gradually became so great that I needed to return to who I was (and I’m still in the process of doing that).
    Chris Edgar recently posted…My New Song and Music Video About BloggingMy Profile

  12. Bobbi says:

    Chris, I hope that your re-assembly is healing and peaceful. I’m so glad you listened to your own pain.
    Bobbi recently posted…Some disassembly required: 5 lessons to put yourself back together after falling apart My Profile

  13. Ciara Conlon says:

    Hi Bobbi, beautiful story and very well told. I think disassembling is so necessary in life most of us that have done it have strongly benefit from it. Holding on doesn’t give any rewards, it just creates friction and stress. And I too believe that on the other side of fear lies our freedom
    Ciara Conlon recently posted…Top Productivity Bloggers Share their #1 TipMy Profile

    • Bobbi says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, Ciara. I think most of us understand the importance of disassembly, but we sure hate it when we’re in it!

      Or maybe I should just speak for myself 😉

  14. Lee J Tyler says:

    I am in the midst of a breakdown as all I have ever done is try and put myself back together after some terrible things and now I’m on chemo and every day is like grabbing hold and getting through. After some medical problems (additionsl) and the inevitable bills, plus that one last straw, I broke down; horribly. Not just the normal cry but I actually cried out my eye surgery (autoimmune thing). And I’m finding a hard time to get it back together. I’m a strong person but I feel like I’ve lost all of my ‘go’ which has gotten me through. I am printing out this article and re reading it every day. Thank you.

    • Bobbi says:

      Lee, I’m so sorry life is so very hard for you right now. The disassembly part can really suck, but I hope that when it comes time to re-assemble, you will create a lovely new place for yourself.

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.