At some point I stopped trying to figure out what happened – what went horribly wrong and how quickly the secure and comfortable walls around me fell. I stopped trying to put the sharp, jaded pieces of glass that resembled my now messy and very broken life back together. After many failed attempts of trying to put what once was back together, I realized it was time to move forward. And, honestly, for a while I struggled with how to do that.
You see, it was a scary thing to do – to let go of a comfortable and (seemingly) secure kind of life. I knew it meant saying good-bye to people whom I had come to love dearly and whom I greatly treasured. It would include walking away from dreams and expectations that had become a part of my very soul. Gone were many visions of what I had expected and counted on as being my reality.
The life I have now is hardly the life I imagined or dreamed about. The exhausted, worn-out single parent look was not a look I desired to wear by any means. But, it IS the look I now wear – and with style I must add. (Yes, those dark spots, aka bags under my eyes, are the greatest badges of honor I wear…daily.)
For a while, I resisted the change. I avoided the subject. I refused to associate with ‘single parent status’. I think I resisted out of ‘educated fear’. And by that I mean I had done my homework on the single parent research. The outcome data for single parents and their children, let’s just be frank, were less than celebratory. And so, for a while, I avoided it all like the plague.
And then, given some very divine intervention, it dawned on me that this avoidance pattern had me running. And all of this running was hindering me from moving forward. I had to face the uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings and thoughts of this life altering life-change. I had to accept what was and to stop avoiding the uncomfortable.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
John Murphy, from the University of Central Arkansas, equates thought and feeling avoidance to that of running in a rainstorm as he describes a way to deal with such uncomfortable feelings and thoughts through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). He states the avoidance comes when one tries to dodge the drops of rain in order to avoid becoming wet, but in fact what one ends up doing is just running in circles. According to Murphy, this avoidance pattern ultimately prevents you from going anywhere.
I couldn’t help but think, after reading this approach to dealing with the uncomfortable, how life-altering changes can resemble that of running in a rainstorm… Life-altering change can resemble that of a storm in which we find ourselves. Not wanting to face the unfamiliar, we cling to what once was while trying to avoid the unknown ahead. Instead of embracing the opportunity to move forward by dancing in the rain, we instead end up trying to avoid it and find ourselves stuck in an unprogressive circle or unproductive pattern of behaviors.
According to Murphy’s explanation of ACT, one must thoughtfully engage in answering the question, “Are you willing to do what it takes in order to attain the life that you want?” I like this question, but at the same time recognize just how big of a question it is. When life has dealt you a rough hand, it’s often more comfortable to sit back and to see circumstances as events that just happen to you and that you are powerless to change versus seeing that you have the choice to do something about those circumstances.
What if answering this big question includes accepting the feelings and thoughts you have while not engaging in behaviors of avoidance? ACT, accordingly, seeks to help individuals to recognize one’s values and goals, identify presenting barriers to reaching those goals and committing to take the necessary actions to reach one’s goals. It’s also about recognizing that the thoughts we have are not necessarily absolute truths. We need to mediate on thoughts that are in fact the truth. Just because I think it, does not mean the thought is true.
Here are three steps to get you started. Try writing the following out on a notecard or record in a journal to refer back to along the way to attaining that life you want.
I think if we are being completely honest, it takes courage to dance in the rain and to take the risk of getting wet. It takes courage to deal with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings instead of engaging in avoidance behaviors. But, sometimes, we have to do those very things that we are afraid to do if we truly want a great life. Isn’t that what courage is all about – sometimes we have to do the things we are afraid to do?
When we do take that risk to dance in the rain and to allow ourselves to get wet, we find that those things that were once uncomfortable and had us running won’t affect us in the same way anymore. They won’t have a hold on us like they once did, because we made the choice to step forward and out of the circle.
Oh, yes, how true it is that life will come at us in ways we did not expect. Disappointment and hurt will come by means of dreams that may be deferred indefinitely. But, what if the disappointment and hurt are opportunities to build something better? What if they are opportunities to build courage and character?
Courage comes when I allow myself to face and to not avoid those uncomfortable feelings and thoughts. Courage is dealing with those feelings and thoughts so they can no longer hold me back from living the life I want to live. Courage is allowing oneself to get wet and to dance in the rain.
I’ve come to learn, through many of those dreams deferred in fact, that sometimes the rain isn’t all that bad. Yes, I have been disappointed and have been hurt. But, I am still loved and have many people to love (and that is a truth worth meditating on). I may no longer have the dreams I once did, but I now have new and improved dreams – ones that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for this life altering change. And, every day, I’m learning how to dance in the rain.
Reference: Murphy, John (2006). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in Schools: Prevention and Intervention Possibilities. Presented at the NASP Conference in Anaheim, CA.