Coming full circle
So there I was sitting in the nurse practitioner’s office. Imagine your standard medical office. Fluorescent lights. Odd, plastic, blue-grey chairs, a brown examination table with stirrups (FUN!) and a landscape painting on the wall to make you feel more “comfortable”. Needless to say I was feeling a hell of a lot of things. Comfortable was not one of them.
I sat down in the hardened chair and waited. This was a new doctor as I’d changed my insurance and had never thought I’d be in another MD’s office talking about what I was about to lay on this woman.
The truth was, I thought I was through with my ulcerative colitis. Over. Done. FINIS. No more flare-ups for me thank you very much. It had been almost three years since my divorce which had instigated a miraculous healing of all my health problems. I’d been the paragon of wellness and strength for the last 56 months and I just couldn’t imagine this incredible health and freedom being taken from me.
In the middle of contemplating what a nice rug or throw might do to warm up the place, the doctor flew in.
She was tall with short brown curly hair, blue-rimmed glasses and a face that looked quick to laugh.
She pulled up a chair next to me and said, “Sorry for the wait. So tell me, what can I do for you today?”
I don’t know if it was her unexpected kindness or my desire to keep my shit together but before I could stop myself I blurted out, “I just can’t believe I’m here again.” And then, of course, started crying.
As I reached for a tissue to dab the deluge of tears that were now pouring from my face, I heard the doctor ask, “You can’t believe you’re where again, Jamie?”, confused because, of course, I’d never been in her office before.
“Here,” I said, shaking my head. “I can’t believe I’m sick again. I can’t believe I’m sitting here in a doctor’s office, dealing with an ulcerative colitis flare-up, wondering what’s happening inside me and terrified I’m dying.”
Thankfully she did not say, “You know Jamie, we’re all dying,” otherwise this would have been a story about the first time I struck a healthcare provider.
To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what she said. All I know is when we were done, I felt better. She hadn’t promised to “fix me” or that things would get better soon.
What she did was remind me that I wasn’t alone, that she was there with me and that, if I gave myself permission, I no longer had to be a lone wolf-martyr, sucking it up, pushing hard and living in fear.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the trajectory of our lives and how they seem to circle back on themselves. We go through the ups and downs of hardship and once through it, think, “Thank goodness THAT’S over!” And then when the old hardship or difficult feelings pop back up, we think, “What the hell? I’ve already been here and I made it very clear I was uninterested in visiting again.”
It’s like we make a subconscious promise to ourselves that if we just keep going and get through whatever’s hard, our reward is it won’t ever come back. We feed ourselves a comforting tale that we only have to do that hard thing once.
And yet we know that’s not true. We’re constantly faced with hardships we know quite well. We struggle in our relationships, in our careers, with our bodies and with ourselves in ways we’ve seen play out over and over again.
So why are we always so dumbfounded and hard on ourselves when the old concerns pop back up?
Because we want to believe we’re always moving forward, evolving, heading up and out and dealing with tired, well-known bullshit feels like stagnation. Which we HATE.
What if, rather than seeing the return of old pain as a sign that we’re broken and stuck, it becomes an opportunity to flex what we’ve learned while it’s been gone?
I like to think of facing my old shit like I’m spiraling up a mountain. I walk around the same sides of the mountain but my vantage point changes and I can see more clearly every time I cycle around and up.
Each time I walk around the mountain and am confronted by a familiar struggle, I have the wisdom I gained on the previous traverse around and am now equipped differently to handle the same struggle when I come upon it again.
In other words, I can now approach my flare-up with the love and compassion I’ve gained since my last. I can see my own human frailty and tenderly hold my fear and my experience in a way I simply wasn’t equipped to 3 years ago. I’ve learned an incredible amount on the circle around and up between my last flare and this one and it feels good and powerful and humbling to see how much I’ve grown. This flare-up doesn’t mean I’m stuck in old shit. It’s showing me how far I’ve come.
The next time you begin to harass yourself when old hurts flare, let them be a chance to see things from your new vantage point, from your new place on that old mountain. How are things different this time than they were the last?
Take in what has actually changed and let your old struggles reveal just how far you’ve come.
All my love,
P.S. I still have a few Clarity sessions left for the month. Clarity Sessions are a no-string attached, one-shot coaching session where we work through and gain clarity on one burning topic. If you’re having a hard time finding fresh perspective on an old struggle, let’s talk. Simply email me and we’ll get you on calendar.
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