I’ve been asking myself a question–why do some people recover and learn to thrive in life while others remain stuck? I’m certain that there are many highly trained people who could give me good answers, but I do wonder if the foundation of those answers will have something to do with truth. The people whom I’ve met who are doing well in their lives value the truth.
These men and women aren’t in ideal situations. Is anyone? Some of them are struggling in their marriages. Some of them are unemployed and facing financial crises. There are family issues, issues with sexuality, issues with past abuse and trauma. The obstacles facing these people cover the spectrum of troubles anyone might meet in life. These people, however, are managing to grow and find some kind of traction to move forward in spite of their circumstances and inner pain, or perhaps I ought to say with their circumstances and inner pain. Why? What do these people have in common?
In talking to these people, I have noticed that they all place a high value on leaving behind self-pity. When I was working with a life coach he had one thing to say about self-pity–set aside 30 minutes to feel sorry for yourself when something dreadful happens to you. Find out if pitying yourself will lead you on to a more productive emotion. If it doesn’t, then shut it down. Self-pity was useful to me because it allowed me to access deeper emotions like grief. I was able to cry freely when I allowed myself to feel self-pity, even lament. Self-pity can be an entry point to a deeper emotional experience–a touchpoint with something sacred even– which can be a point of healing, but one should never choose to camp out there. Self-pity by itself is only a doorway. If one chooses to remain immersed in it, more toxic emotions like despair, worthlessness, hopelessness, self-loathing, envy, and covetousness are sure to follow. The possibility of a point of healing or communing with how one experiences God potentially vanishes.
Another thing these people share is something I’ll call “the mirror view”. When something isn’t working in their lives, they look in the mirror, not at everyone else in their lives. These folks understand that they themselves are responsible for their own well-being and happiness–no one else. This is a very hard truth to internalize. After three years of intense psychotherapy, I closed out my work with life coaching. There were things in my life that weren’t working very well for me. At the end of all my sessions the issues that needed attention always came back to me. If I didn’t like them, I needed to change. If I wasn’t happy, I needed to change. If I was overcompensating for lacks in my own family, I needed to change–not my family. The main issue behind all my unhappiness was, well, me. I am responsible for my own well-being and happiness. Me. Not my mother. Not my husband. Not my children. Not my community. Me. And, if I couldn’t ask for what I needed or wanted, then I needed to change. If the trajectory of my life was ever going to change, I was going to have to change because I was the starting point. It was shocking, but it was true. Realizing and internalizing that truth was very difficult for me, but I would have been permanently stuck if I hadn’t.
Lastly, these people don’t do denial…ever. If there is a problem in their lives, they tackle it. Granted, there is something to be said for putting problems in a certain order. Sometimes there are so many problems that certain issues must be put on the back burner to simmer for a while so that the more important problems can be solved right away. That is very different from running away from glaring deficiencies in a life that will eventually bring destruction. One of my lifelong friends put it like this; she said, “I want to know the truth about my part in [this] even if it brings me to my knees, even if it breaks me, because it will never be solved or healed until I know what is true and what isn’t.” That sums it up, doesn’t it? There is no running away there. There is a complete willingness to be accountable for behavior and choices no matter what. That is what it means to desire truth in all things. We want to know what we are doing that isn’t healthy, and we are willing to be held accountable for it. We want to know where our relationships aren’t working, and where they are. We want to know where we are stagnating, and where we are growing. We want to know how our inner life is looking. Is our thought life healing or hurting us? If we have a faith practice, is it healthy? How is our relationship with God? What do we believe God thinks about us? What’s our self-view look like? Is it accurate, or is it shame-based? There are so many aspects of life where truth is needed. Truth in life is a priority if we are to continue to grow regardless of our circumstances. This is a major factor in whether or not a person is successful in a true and lasting recovery. They are asking these kinds of questions, and they are committed to answering them. The issue here is where are we going for our truths? Are they reliable and balanced?
This is what I am currently seeing in the lives of people who are gaining ground in a life that is thriving. They have these things in common:
It feels a little “hard core” and insensitive, but attaining spiritual, emotional, and intellectual maturity while experiencing a true recovery marked by healing with the ability to know authentic intimacy with others and God (if spirituality is a practice in your life) is not easy. There is opposition in life, and if that’s your vision for life, then we have to correct our vision. I want to see every step with clarity. Sometimes the truth hurts to the point that I do feel like I might break, but what are the options? Denial? Where does that lead? What I can say with utmost certainty is that if you choose denial, then you will never have the life for which you were created. And, we were created for freedom, intimacy, joy, peace, meaningful work, and deep and meaningful relationships that bring fulfillment and purpose to our lives. None of that is possible with the distortion that rose-colored glasses lend to our vision.