Episode #44: Transformation
The product of transformation is beautiful. The journey is messy and hard. In this episode I share observations about the process of transformation and tips for supporting yourself through the journey.
Welcome to the Freedom from Empty Podcast: Building Strong, Effective, Resilient Leaders and Humans. My name is Booth Andrews, and I am your host. Thank you so much for joining me for this episode.
I feel like I just emerged from a chrysalis. I will explain more, but there is a favorite Twitter post that has resonated with me quite a bit these days (and also resonates for the journey that many of my clients are on) that will give you some insight into what I am talking about. I am linking the post in the transcript.
Part of my journey is to continue to try to pay attention and be more present to how I am feeling in my body. Last week felt heavy and hard. I felt overwhelmed and fragmented and distracted and torn as I debated how to spend my precious energy. At one point I just wanted to crawl into a cave and hibernate for a few days.
Because I am responsible for generating my own income, it is particularly easy for me to also feel panicked when I am struggling to be “productive.” But even if you are not self-employed, if you are performance or productivity driven, I imagine you know that kind of panic I am talking about. When you’re just not sure if you’re ever going to feel better, and what’s going to happen with all the things on your to do list.
And then I remembered that many of us have been called to transform during this incredibly challenging time. So today I want to share some thoughts about transformation and how to navigate transformation:
#1 Transformation is HARD. It’s not like we wake up one day, without any effort and suddenly feel like a different person: a better, happier or more whole version of ourselves. All the wishing in the world won’t make it so. We have to put in the work.
#2 Transformation almost always (or perhaps inevitably) involves grief. In order to transform we also have to release old ideas, dreams, visions and beliefs about who we are, who other people are, and what we imagined for ourselves and our future. We have to let go of what is or what will not be in order to make room for what is possible. We must walk through the stages of grief, not always in linear order and not always just once, in order to get to the other side. I have linked more information on the stages of grief in the transcript.
#3 Just when you think you cannot take any more, you are almost there. I attended a habits webinar put on by my gym during lockdown and one thing that the coach said really stuck out to me. She is currently pregnant with her fifth child. In the context of birth, the moment that she thinks she absolutely cannot take anymore is the moment right before the baby emerges. This transition period--when the pain is extreme and the future seems like it will never come--is the dark before the dawn. And the concept and reality of this transition period is applicable to the development of new habits and other transformative experiences.
#4 The pain of transformation eases when we surrender. I may have told this story before, but there was a moment during my last, big PTSD episode which extended over the course of about 6 months when my inner voice said . . .”And the darkness said to me, I will not let you go until you stop trying to get away.” At the time, I didn’t even realize that I was still fighting. I didn’t realize that somehow I was still trying to hold on to some measure of control over what was happening to me. But when I SURRENDERED COMPLETELY, that was when the darkness started to pull back. Now don’t get me wrong . . . it took another 3 years to fully emerge from that darkness. But the process began when I surrendered.
So here are some tips for supporting yourself through transformation:
#1 Don’t “fight” yourself. I was talking with a dear friend last week who was also feeling challenged by her lack of energy and she talked about doing her best not to “fight herself.” That resonated so deeply with me. How often do we beat ourselves up because our performance capacity is lower than we think it should be? But, beating ourselves up isn’t helpful. When I look at my to do list and just don’t feel up to it, when I am feeling overwhelmed and cannot focus or maintain my attention, it is easy for me to panic and start beating myself up for being “weak” and “undisciplined.” But I have learned more and more to just allow myself to be “where I am,” to use my tools to take gentle care of myself, and to trust that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s the thing. I can pass through the tunnel of transformation while flogging myself, or I can pass through the tunnel as gently and kindly as I can. One strategy is depleting and exhausting and the other makes emergence that much sweeter.
#2 We may not need to know “why” in order to heal and transform. I like to know the “why” of things. And some therapies involve an exploration of the “why” behind the choices we make and our perceptions of and reactions to stimulus. Sometimes understanding why is helpful. But I have learned on my trauma healing journey that it isn’t always necessary to know why in order to be able to heal, integrate and step forward. I reference this now because when I feel like I felt last week, it is also easy for me to fall into a trap of spending a lot of time and energy trying to dissect why I feel the way I feel. I think this is a remnant of my old emotional suppression strategies. If I could apply logic to the situation, I could avoid feeling the pain. But I have learned not to let my brain run away with me by searching for answers and explanations and justifications; instead just recognizing how I feel and using my tools--not to try to “fix” anything, but just to support myself through it.
#3 Learn to recognize what the chrysalis of transformation looks like and feels like for you. The more I work to heal and integrate, and the more I am learning to pay attention to my body, the more easily I can identify when I am in the chrysalis. For me, it feels like compression, heavy, thick, opaque like a dense fog. I notice that this time that I often felt overstimulated, like even sitting on my screened in porch, one of my very favorite places to spend my time, with the sounds of birds and yard equipment was too much. I found myself wanting to spend more time in my quiet, concrete, densely protected basement office with my body tucked into the crook of my couch.
The last few days, I have started to feel like myself again--energized, focused, integrated and grounded.
Author and activist Glennon Doyle says, “First the pain. Then the rising.” If you find yourself in a chrysalis, whether now or in the future, I hope you can use these tips to make the journey a little easier and a little less terrifying.
Speaking of terrifying journeys, it occurred to me today that it was just a little over a year ago when my chronic and severe mental illness--anxiety, depression and PTSD--were declared in remission. In 2012, when I first began medication and treatment for my mental illness, I remember wondering how soon I would be “better” and able to stop taking it. Then, as my mental illness continued and sent me into the depths in 2015 and 2016, I wasn’t even able to imagine that there might be a time when I would be “better.” The focus was just on survival. Left foot. Right foot. Breathe. Repeat.
When I was declared in remission in 2019, I was happily surprised. I knew I felt better and had fewer and fewer really bad days or weeks, but it really hadn’t occurred to me that remission was a “thing.” My March 2020 blog post talked about the light returning to my eyes, and just this morning someone mentioned to me that I look great. And she didn’t mean physically so much as energetically.
I have to come to believe that we arrive on this earth with a purpose connected to our highest and best self. And then the world tells us who we are, who we are supposed to be, that we are not enough and that we need to be someone else in order to be safe and love; still connected to the tribe to whom we are biologically dependent for survival. If we aspire to rediscover and reconnect with the person we were designed to be, I believe we will be invited to the chrysalis multiple times in our lifetimes. Hopefully these thoughts will help you on your journey.
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I look forward to being back with you next time!