“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” – Cynthia Occelli.
During my first year as a practicing Psychologist, an adolescent I was working with sent me this quote, and I have thought of it nearly every day since. It came following a particularly difficult session that had required us to work through some painful and devastating realizations about her life as it was. It also came during a time in my life when I was going through my own destruction and rebirth. My client was 16 at the time; I was 30.
As a therapist who works primarily with adolescents, I find myself in nearly constant awe of the courage and willingness of these young people to do the work that many of us don’t begin to do until we are well into adulthood. And for good reason. The hard truth is this – in order to fully bloom, we have to shine light on our broken parts; those parts of ourselves that are slightly brown and wilting, and also on the pieces of our stories that made us that way. A remarkable young lady recently described this process as having someone turn on harsh fluorescent lights over you — you’re forced to really see yourself as you are, every broken bit, required to accept this fully, and then somehow figure out a way to heal. It’s scary, and painful, and can feel like grieving. No wonder many of us avoid it for as long as we can.
In this way, I consider myself to be a late bloomer. When I was 30, most people who knew me would probably not have classified me as such. I had recently finished graduate school after 11 years of university, I was working at my first job at a private practice specializing in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and I was learning that I was a rather skilled therapist who was able to connect with clients in a way that felt genuine and meaningful. I can recall feeling surprised at how skilled I already seemed to be at helping people turn on the fluorescent lights, sit under them, and heal. Yet, at that time, I was still actively refusing to let anyone or anything to do the same for me.
You might be wondering how one could spend so many years training to be a healer without ever having done their own. Well, I learned at a young age that focusing on helping others was one of the most effective ways to avoid facing my own painful feelings. Factor into that the bubble that one enters when they start graduate school, and it turns out that avoiding your own pain is a relatively easy task.
That didn’t last long, however, once I was working as a therapist. The dissonance I experienced asking others to do hard work knowing that I hadn’t done it myself was almost immediately intolerable. It’s one of the few times that my feelings imposter syndrome have been valid.
So, I made some changes. The first thing I did was find a good therapist with a skillset that I knew could break through the specific barriers I had put up — and then I went all-in. It was so painful and at moments I wanted to stop – the well of sadness that had opened up within me seemed so deep that it felt like I’d never find the bottom of it. But I had enough trust in the process to lean into the pain and continue to move forward. I eventually found the bottom of the well, and there I found a healed and more genuine version of myself.
From there, finally awake and connected with myself, I was able to access my own inner voice and intuition more clearly, and for the first time could see clearly the way forward. In the past five years, some of the changes that I’ve made have included the following: relocating to a new area of my current city, joining a new community, creating new friendships with people who both support and challenge me, telling people when I’m hurting (even crying in front of people), asking for support when I need it and then actually accepting it, and trying any new activity that I feel a pull to try (running, obstacle course racing, mountain biking). I’ve stopped binge-watching television, I don’t drink alcohol, I rarely find myself numbing out at all anymore (although my phone continues to pose a challenge in this area; I’m still figuring that one out). I spend my spare time in nature, staying active, reading, and writing. I have a daily meditation practice. These are all things I only started doing once I was able to really and truly know and trust myself.
There have been a couple of dips of course, a month or two of feeling wilted here or there – painful things do happen to us all. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that life continually cycles between blooming, wilting, and stasis. Each time our flowers begin to wilt, we must tend to those parts of ourselves and heal again. And during the in-between times of stasis, we need to lean into just existing in the day-to-day, green and healthy, but perhaps not flowering. And when we’re in bloom, well, that’s the good stuff. Human life includes inevitable periods of feeling lost, uninspired, even heartbroken; we can’t exist in a continuous state of joy or even simple contentment. My advice to you is this – find a way to bloom just once, and you will have gifted yourself with the peace that comes with knowing that we can, and will always, bloom again.
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