Inspired by my Colorado experience at Reboot, I wrote “Feast on Your Life” in February, which was about finding a deeper seam of meaning by accepting that “the way up is to go down”. But I never wrote about the therapy that led me to that point, until today. I’ve got some basic advice at the bottom, but I primarily wanted to share what that experience was like for me in the hope that it might help others.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”- Rumi
January 2015, Marylebone, Dr Tunde Vanko’s office. The first stage of my therapy focused on my behavior, and it introduced me to this character that we quickly agreed to call StageFred. StageFred was essentially a comfortable skin to wear so you didn’t get to meet the real me.
StageFred impressed others, charmed with his wit (or thought he did),
was mostly fun (same), highly adaptable and always wanted to make an impact fast. He seemed to be on a constant natural high. Oh, he was very branded, too. Consistent.
StageFred also came with serious downsides: he never truly engaged, he communicated a lot but learned little, he had no “off” button, he was too intense, and he often acted without thinking and without awareness. He was often looking for the next smart thing to say instead of being in the present. He didn’t pay attention to others. And StageFred also had a MAJOR flaw: he was overly anxious to look like a good guy. An emotionally greedy guy; no one likes those.
I’d never met him before; I just moved through life too fast so I didn’t have to look inwards. I initially kinda liked him, if truth be told.
Behavior to cause
Stage two. It’s not because you understand a behavior and know it’s wrong that you’re going to be able to change it. If you want to change, you need to get to the cause, the motivation. In my case, it took a while for me to accept it: I was afraid that people weren’t going to like me for who I was. It was really that simple. I was afraid that if people saw me without all the brilliance and the trappings that came with being successful and witty and all that jazz, they’d walk away. Fred was terrified that if he let StageFred go, everyone around him would think there was no one worth loving.
Finding the root
Therapy doesn’t stop there; it doesn’t stop with you admitting shame, or fear, or anger or whatever is fundamentally holding you back from being your true self (for me : shame of not being good and fear of not being loved). The hardest part is understanding where that comes from. The cliches are true: we all carry stuff from childhood. Stage three was all about digging into the past, to when I was a child. Without exposing too much, let’s just say that I was put on a pedestal from a young age whilst at the same time not necessarily being understood or receiving the simple, unconditional love I craved. The result : I barricaded myself behind StageFred, who thought he could do no wrong. I never admitted vulnerability and built an efficient set of defenses that ultimately resulted in that stage persona.
Therapy has a few “ha-ha” moments; this was one of them.
Now the work starts
The most important thing to realize about therapy is that the real work starts after the moment of clarity, after the diagnosis is established. You literally need to de-program yourself from years of highly trained reflexes. It’s frustrating as hell to have gone through all that work and find out that you’re STILL doing it. But I did, and I do.
On top of that, I wasn’t acting like that in all areas of life. In my work for example, I always acted true because I had patiently built my craft and had confidence that I was doing good work. I had no fear, no need. This knowledge (and the pride it gave me) shielded me from looking at myself hard enough. It also showed me who I could be.
The shadow was stubborn; I just kept on kidding myself.
The loyal soldier
After World War II, Japanese communities had the savvy to understand that many of their returning soldiers were not fit or prepared to reenter society. Their only identity for their formative years had been to be a “loyal soldier” to their country.
So they created a communal ritual whereby a soldier was publicly thanked and praised effusively for his service to the people. After this was done at great length, an elder would stand and announce with authority something to this effect: “The war is now over! The community needs you to let go of what has served you and served us well up to now. The community needs you to return as a man, a citizen, and something beyond a soldier.”
Discharging the loyal soldier is a key part of getting closer to your personal truth. The Loyal Solider has served you well, thank him, honor him for services rendered, then let him go. Put down your armor.
Loving (and respecting) yourself
At Reboot, I was surprised by how much of the focus was on loving yourself, and how much the Buddhist masters Jerry and his team referenced emphasized that; it took me a while, but I think I get it. You are only disrespecting yourself when you act poorly, and you need to learn to love yourself for who you are and, critically, forgive yourself too. Not forget, by any means, but forgive. You can only focus on others once you have learned to love and understand yourself.
Here are a few simple tips I picked up along the way:
- No amount of writing blog posts can serve as atonement for the past. You have to accept that if you have hurt others, particularly those you love, they alone can decide to forgive you. What is done, is done.
- Real change takes time, and work. You will regress and hate yourself for it. Just accept that it’s a journey and it’s worth traveling.
- You’re going to be painfully boring to those close to you when you go through therapy. Always stuck in your own head, always ruminating over the same issues, overly self-centered and painful to those around you. Try to be aware of that and keep the therapy where it belongs. Talk about other stuff. It’s good for you and it’s nice for them.
- Don’t do it alone. You need a few trusted friends, people who are close to you to help you get some real-world feedback. Enlist them early on and make sure they know what they’re signing up to. If you’re lucky, like me, you can find someone really strong who cares about you and will absolutely kick your ass whenever you’re not being truthful about what’s going on. I don’t think you can make it alone.
- Realize that progress is 100% percent reliant on leaning into the part of you that you don’t like, the shadow, and that your defenses are stronger than you think.
- Don’t blame anyone else for your troubles. It’s on you. No one else can solve this for you, and no one will. You were born alone and you will die alone. Whether you want to live a full life relies on your courage and willingness to improve.
At the end of the day, this is one thing you can’t hack by reading a “how-to” post. It’s elusive, it’s frustrating, and above all, it takes time. It’s also the way get closer to this:
I will not die an unlived life
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.
– Dawna Markova