~ Guest Writer, Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D ~
New beginnings. Why don’t we just call them New, “What again?!”-ses.
Because isn’t life like that? A series of downs and ups? These days we hear a lot about failure being such a great thing. How it isn’t the falling down that matters it’s the getting up. The New Beginning.
That’s cool. Better than making us feel like awful whenever something goes wrong, we’re encouraged to see an opportunity to begin anew! What I think gets missed, though, is that whatever it was that knocked us down, while not failures, can be cosmic, existential, titanic upheavals.
When I was really young. Like early 20s (I’m 64 now to give you a bit of perspective) I landed in the hospital and “Surprise!” was diagnosed with a kidney illness that was going to be with me my whole life. Later, in my 30s I was diagnosed with scleroderma which was a lot worse. This is about being hit by a truck figuratively and in some cases, literally, being stopped in your tracks and thrown off what you always envisioned as your well-deserved track to find yourself having to rethink the whole thing.
Most of us have had these moments. My idea of a healthy life suddenly got upended. My book club-mate found herself a widow when her husband of over twenty years died in a freak accident. My friend couldn’t get pregnant. My sister got the same nasty, weird disease that I got, only a gazillion times worse. My patient decided to leave a partner-track job when the environment became abusively stressful.
And our moments of truth do not need to all be so dramatic. No matter how much you expect it, plan for it and even want it, any life transition can be a “What the f@ck?” moment. Empty nesting. Retirement. Returning to grad school. Starting a new business, a new job, a new relationship…
Through the lifespan, if we’re lucky, we get some good stuff out of whatever stage we’re in but over time, as much as we like ourselves, we may need to shed our old skin to accommodate something new.
Shed an abusive relationship to allow for self-discovery.
Shed health to learn how to live well with illness.
Shed motherhood to learn how to live without creating a child.
Shed a rotten toxic job to discover a new occupation.
Shed timidity to discover your voice.
To paraphrase W. Shakespeare, a New Beginning was thrust upon us.
Suddenly, after the shock of the cosmic, existential, titanic upheaval begins to wane, after giving ourselves whatever time we need to grieve over the vision of ourselves that was lost in the upheaval, we find ourselves with choices. Begin all over again from this strange, new place, or slide from grief into the rabbit hole of depression? I’ve gone down that rabbit hole more than once. It happens. And sometimes I think it needs to, you just don’t want to stay there.
Most of us are familiar with the slippery slope of depression, and its twin, anxiety. Those suckers can be sneaky. Over time we do less, because, who can bother? Unfocused restlessness, random panic, irritability, self-pity or worse, self-hate. Just the thought of a New Beginning fills us with such exhaustion and dread, it’s just easier to go back to bed. Then we wake up and we’ve gained ten pounds, look forward to our mommy wine at the end of the day a bit too much, and don’t remember the last time we hung out with our girlfriends. If you’ve ever had a loved one kindly say, “Honey, maybe you should talk to someone.” (the universal code for “Please, for God’s sake, see a therapist!”) take them seriously and go. #therapyworks.
This is all to say that New Beginnings are not for wimps.
They are scary, they take work and, therefore, are to be avoided for as long as possible! They take guts. They take a sense of adventure. You can be scared and brave at the same time! To make a New Beginning doable…
Take your time. Standing still is not lazy. It’s very smart. The adventurer stops at the crest of a mountain, surveys the landscape and thinks about the next step. The pause is rich with possibilities. Enjoy the moment.
Baby steps count. Whether we’re coping with illness, adjusting to a new role, starting a new business venture, just getting out of bed is a New Beginning! Appreciate getting one damn thing off the To Do list instead of dwelling on all the stuff not yet done.
Let the village help. Frodo had his Fellowship, Luke had Han and Leia. Two therapists (not at the same time), a bunch of good self-help books, dear, loving friends, family, husband, all helped me on the path to New Beginnings.
Ultimately, it’s all You. The Universe has chosen you for this particular adventure. After the New Beginning honeymoon phase, when it gets hard, say to yourself, “I don’t have to do this. I get to do this.”
Author’s Post Script:
So many times the Universe has called me to do something and I naively say “OK!”, even though I have no idea what I’m doing.
New Beginning #1.
The practice. I named my psychotherapy practice to encapsulate the adventure of self-discovery that good therapy offers. Explore What’s Next was born after my husband was not given tenure. We faced a new life we had not planned for. Out of the ashes John created a biotech company, CH3 BioSystems. I created Explore What’s Next, my dream practice, embodying my vision of what psychotherapy could be: stigma-free, accessible, safe.
New Beginning #2.
The book. Living with my chronic illness I was called to share my story, first on the EWN blog which helped me reach beyond my brick and mortar office, get over myself and dare to stick out. Then in the book. While I was putting the book together, I was interrupted a bunch times with relapses and self-doubt. They would stop me, so I had to breathe, collect, get depressed, recover, and begin anew again. What kept me going was the idea of making one person’s experience a bit easier. After seven years I finally published the book. When I read my first five star review, from a stranger who said the book helped them change their life, I cried.
New Beginning #3.
The Studio. What more could I do for our community? The Studio extends value added service to psychotherapy. We provide the embrace of radical self-care through trauma-informed yoga, meditation, strength classes, massage, reflexology, essential oils, mindfulness-based stress reduction workshops, seminars on nutrition, sexuality, parenting, and more.
Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D
Elvira G. Aletta, Ph.D. is a wife, mom to two adults and one horse, psychologist and writer who lives in Western New York where it’s cool to wear a cape and tall boots every day.
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