For the past six months Connor had spent one hour a week on my couch. In that time he’d gotten a job, gotten back in to school, started meditating, exercising, and eating healthy, started sleeping well, started dating someone, significantly deceased his panic attacks and trauma symptoms, and let go of much of the fear that had paralyzed him.
“I don’t think we need to see each other as much,” I said.
“But why would you say that? I’m not sure that’s a good idea” Connor said, a look of equal parts confusion and fear flashing upon his face.
He’d forgotten the 1 in 168 rule.
I’d reminded Connor many times about the rule. He and I have only one hour a week together, and there are 168 hours in a week. That’s literally only one half of one percent (0.5%) of his week that we’re together.
I don’t get to make changes for my clients. I’m not around enough. I help them feel empowered by finding real ways to move through what’s holding them back. I help them strengthen their agency so they can make the changes they want for themselves.
Sometimes terrible traumas weigh us down. Sometimes it’s fear of failing, abusive relationships, isolation, addiction, anxiety, or depression. Sometimes it’s the complex system of oppressive forces that favor the privileged while dismissing and punishing the marginalized. Sometimes it’s all of the above.
Creating something better
There truly is the possibility of creating something better. Whether with a trauma therapist like me, a friend, a religious community, or a random Meetup group, today is the perfect day to reach out for support. Our connections to others are what bring us healing and hope.
In Connor’s case, we had one more fear to confront that hadn’t made itself known yet. A part of Connor was terrified he was the one responsible for the changes he had created in his life. A part of him wanted it to be my doing.
If I was the one who’d created the positive changes in his life, then I’d also be the one responsible if everything went to shit.
I asked Connor to do something uncomfortable. I asked him to take a moment and reflect on the fact that he could, with very little effort, screw everything up.
He could stop doing his school assignments. He could stop showing up to work. He could throw away his new relationship in a dozen different ways. He could give up on all his healthy habits and choices. He could find his way back to his panic attacks.
I asked Connor to radically, fully, and completely own his power to ruin himself.
Then I asked Connor to assess what he’d actually been doing for the last six months.
What choices had he been making? What self-limiting thoughts and beliefs had he been freeing himself of? What feelings and emotions had he been noticing in his body? What had he been doing so well these past five months.
After a few minutes of us talking about everything he’d worked towards and accomplished Connor said, “I thought you were the one who’d done those things, but it was really me.”
“Yup,” I said, “that was all you.”
“But you were a part of it, weren’t you? I mean therapy really matters doesn’t it?”
“I was and it does,” I responded. “I shared some knowledge and wisdom, offered you some tools, and challenged you when you were stuck. And, therapy will only ever be a small piece. You’re the one that made those changes, and you’re the one who has the power to keep making them… and the power to screw it all up… but I think we both know which choices you’ll make.”
Connor and I are now meeting every two weeks. And maybe soon not at all.
Are you holding yourself back?
The world is not a fair place. When some have so much privilege, equal effort does not mean equal reward. Making all the “right” choices isn’t a guarantee of anything.
Sometimes what is holding us back is not accepting that we have the power to screw it all up.
Most of the time we really are only a few bad decisions away from losing everything we’ve been working to achieve.
But life isn’t always so fragile, and if you take a few minutes to take stock of what you’ve been doing, you’ll probably discover that you’ve been doing a damn fine job… even if you haven’t been perfect.
With all of this in mind, today is the perfect day to reach out for more help if you need it.
Always remember two things: Healing Is Possible, And It’s When We’re In Connection With Others That We Thrive.
Hudson Wilkins, MA, LPCC, EMDR, IFS. Hudson is a nature and mindfulness based trauma therapist inFort Collins, CO. He operates a private practice with a specialty in supporting folks who have experienced sexual violence first hand, and those that love them to heal and rebalance their lives.