There is a question that I am often asked, usually at the end of an initial meeting. We are sitting together for the first time. We have outlined current stressors, colored in history, and sketched out future goals. We’ve touched on the things that hurt, and shone light on crevices that need space. At this point we’ve established the first wisps of attachment; we begin to think about what the work will look like moving forward. It comes in many flavors, but the essence of the question is:
How long will this take?
My answer is, always: I don’t know.
I don’t know, because it’s not my journey. I’m riding shotgun to someone else’s odyssey. I’m here, sitting beside you, or next to you, but I’m not the one driving. I’ll ask questions, probing in places that have gone rigid from disuse. I listen on multiple levels, hearing dreams and fears mixed in with the laundry. I hand over tissues when the feelings start to leak out of places long covered up. But I don’t know how long the process will take because it’s not my process.
Here’s what I do know. My task is to help my clients find their way into the struggle. This often confuses folks. First time initiants think that I’m going to help them stop struggling, when the truth is just the opposite. I’m going to help you struggle with yourself. I’m going to encourage you to look at the places that you thought you wanted to paint over. We’re going to sit with sadness, grief, anxiety, hate, and loathing… to name just a few of the most common feelings named in the work that we do.
And through those encounters, we will find something real. With time we will find courage, patience, understanding, and usually humor and joy. Feelings run on a continuum, you see, and you can’t have one side without having the other. You can’t have joy, without experiencing despair. You can’t have success without living with failure. The grit, the growth, the life we all want comes with both sets, both sides of this coin. You can’t have one without the other.
When we try to limit our sadness, anxiety, or any feeling, for that matter, the result is not what we bargained for. One of two things tends to happen. Sometimes the more people push the feeling away, the more it comes back with an overwhelming ferocity that washes over everything. Or, it’s like a seesaw; you lop off one end of the line and you have to get rid of the other side to maintain equilibrium. People end up existing in the smallest subsection of reality, no highs or lows, just a tiny box to live life in. It’s confining and isolating, at best.
So instead, I’m encouraging everyone to embrace the struggle. Look deep into the hard parts. Celebrate your vulnerability, expose the softness. That’s where the win is. It’s through sitting with ourselves, and witnessing our journeys through the strife, that we become our truest selves. And truth isn’t gorgeous, easy, or comfortable. But it’s real. And the realness is what makes each one of us knowable and lovable. When people allow themselves to show up as their whole, messy, dirty, scared selves, that’s when the work starts. That’s where the rubber meets the road and we can start to talk about what comes next. And while this is not fast, easy, or fun, the journey is worthwhile and meaningful, ultimately allowing people to connect with themselves and others.
So yes, the struggle is real. Nothing worthwhile is easy. Your struggle is worthwhile because that’s where growth resides, where goals are met, and where success lives. So meet me in the struggle, and we’ll find our way together.