Healing is a process, a journey, and wherever you are on that journey, it’s likely you have encountered, or will encounter, a few hiccups along the way. These little glitches sometimes take us off track and make us forget about all the progress we’ve already made thus far. Sometimes these perceived setbacks are tests from the Universe to see if you’re serious; sometimes they are your own self-doubt intruding; and sometimes life just happens for you. Regardless of what caused the hiccup, know that it’s there for a reason. It’s your job to figure out what it is, why it’s there, and what you need to do about it.
But know this: you are not alone. I’ve been getting several questions lately from frustrated podcast listeners, YouTube channel subscribers, and clients around topics related to healing. Whether you’re healing from a divorce, an eating disorder, body dissatisfaction, codependency, or anything else, there seem to be two central questions that give all of us pause during our healing process: 1) Why does it takes so long to heal? (For my answer, listen in to this podcast episode). 2) Why, once you feel like you’ve made significant progress on your healing journey, do you always seem to fall back in the trap of whatever it is you are trying to escape?
To answer that last question, I think it’s important to recognize that healing is a process. In my experience, it’s one that seems to boil down to these 5 steps. I’m going to walk you through these steps using my divorce several years ago as an example.
- Awareness – when I was married, I was not aware I was in a codependent relationship. In fact, I didn’t even know what a codependent relationship was. After all, my parents had a codependent relationship, so I just thought marriage was supposed to be that way. The therapist I was seeing as I went through my divorce diagnosed me with complex PTSD and told me to read Melodie Beattie’s Codependent No More. That’s when I finally discovered that my marriage wasn’t healthy, for either of us.
- Acknowledgement – this is truly the first stage of healing, where you admit you have a problem. You begin to see the issue, in my case codependency, for what it is. As you acknowledge the issue, you begin to go through the process of healing, letting go, and forgiveness of yourself and whoever else was involved (Note: to me, forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been any different than it was – after all, you can't change the past, so ruminating about the “should haves” or “if onlys” does no good).
- Testing a Different Way of Being – once you have acknowledged where you are/were – in my case in a codependent relationship – at some point you must decide that you no longer want to do that. However, that’s often easier said than done. I knew I didn’t want to be in a codependent relationship again, but I wasn’t quite sure what Plan B was because I’d never known anything other than Plan A (codependency). So I began to try new things, relate to people differently. Yet, because Plan A (codependency) is all I’d ever known, I kept falling back into that trap with every man I dated post-divorce. The good news was that now that I knew what I was looking for, it was very easy to spot when it happened. So, I had a choice – to go back to codependency or to explore a different way of being. I chose Plan B, not really even sure what that was going to look like. I’m not going to lie, it was a little scary. But I knew it had to be better than Plan A (codependency was miserable). So I experimented. I tried new things. I explored what happened when I did things a little differently. Sometimes I found myself stuck in self-doubt because I didn’t yet know where I was going. In those cases, I learned to breathe through that doubt, so I could move on to stage 4.
- Deciding What You Really Want – after enough experimentation and observation of how other people did Plan B (what you want – in my case, a healthy romantic relationship), I started to get a better idea of what I wanted as well as how to cultivate that. I started taking notes, writing it down so I would remember what I wanted. I then continually revisited this written reminder of how I wanted to be now and what I wanted in a romantic relationship. It was still a lot of trial and error at this point, but I could at least see the new way of being even if I didn’t choose it 100% of the time (after all, as miserable as Plan A was, it was familiar…). Yes, it was uncomfortable at first, but I kept going back to my list of what I wanted. I also found a few role models – in my case, women who had recovered from codependency and learned a new way of being. I read their stories; listened to their interviews on telesummits. I even called a few of them to talk it through. That was tremendously helpful as it gave me hope that I, too, could do this.
- Walking Down a New Sidewalk – you have enough practice under your belt that most of the time, you are living in this new way. It's still a practice, but with time it does get easier, and past becomes just a memory of how you used to be.
Did I heal my codependency? Yes. Am I in a healthy relationship now? Yes. Did it take time? Absolutely, and this time piece was invaluable. You can’t rush things – trying to hurry the healing process will likely only result in you falling back down the rabbit hole of whatever Plan A you are trying to escape. (I know because I speak from experience!) How long did it take? About 3 years, which is actually right on track with what we know about rewiring the brain (for more on that, listen to my podcast episode here).
Bottom line: If I can heal, you can do this too. But it will take time. How much time? That depends on what step you’re on and how much work you’re willing to do. But know this: you can do this. You are not alone. You have others out there, like me, who would love to support you (you can learn more about working with me here). Find them. Find your tribe. Get the help and support you need. You’ve got this.