Make Like a Tree and Let Go

There are less than 50 days left in the year. This inspires a lot of go-getters, influencers, self-help authors, and leadership coaches to call for some kind of goal-setting push to finish the year strong.

But I want to consider something else.

Instead of doing a hard push, forcing yourself to live up to some imaginary expectation for yourself only YOU are freaking out about, let’s acknowledge what you’ve been through and the coping mechanisms you’ve developed in effort to support you.

No judgment. No shaming.

I’ll go first.

When I’m stressed, I like to numb out with a bag of flavored chips that will make me feel like crap afterwards.

Do I want to do it? No. Is it “healthy” from a physical, mental, or spiritual standpoint? Probably not. But it’s familiar to me. It’s comfort. This coping skill worked when I was younger. It brought me temporary relief and comfort when I was depressed and couldn’t find relief or a way out of the dark hole I had fallen into.

By beating myself up for continuing to fall victim to my coping behavior, I make it worse, and cause more stress… making me more likely to repeat the behavior, perpetuating the cycle of unpleasant feeling, coping, shame, unpleasant feeling, shame, and coping.

So the worst thing I can do, in order to cope with my stress, is to add on more rigidity, more standards to live by, forcing an already stressed out and emotionally dysregulated brain into more dysregulation.

It’s going to backfire. My brain wants to keep me alive, and when things get hard, my brain will find the familiar way out. Every time. It’s what brains do.

I’m in a season of growth and healing. I’m in a season where I’m sick of quick fix programs that don’t allow me to do the deeper work of accepting where I’ve been and how I’ve gotten there, and the habits I’ve formed along the way. Even the habits we consider “bad” have served a purpose at some point to create escape and survival. Imagine where we’d be if we didn’t have these escape mechanisms!

Instead of setting another goal, I want to make room for the mistakes, the slip-ups. Observe them, notice them without judgment.

Maybe you’re reading this and you’ve been beating yourself up for your go-to behavior. Maybe it’s a bingeing, or maybe it’s obsessive exercise or some kind of food restriction that you turn to when you’re stressed. Maybe you hop from diet to diet as a way to cope with not feeling in tune with your body’s needs. Maybe you have unpleasant symptoms, physically or mentally, and in order to not feel as bad, you try to beat your body into submission by finding a new diagnosis, or new treatment, or new solution. Maybe it’s a nightly glass of wine to help take the edge off so you can sleep, maybe it’s adding one more item to your Amazon cart. Maybe you cope by staying busy and overcommitting and coming to everyone’s rescue.

Whatever your thing is, before you get mad at yourself and plan to turn it into a New Year’s Resolution or quit cold turkey, do some digging. What is the cause of that behavior? How has that behavior been helpful for you? Can you reframe it so it isn’t shaming? Can you share it with someone so it doesn’t hold power over you?

And the bigger question – can you make room for growth and find what triggered the behavior to begin with?

Removing all sugar from your diet will not remove the unpleasant feeling that sends you into your kids’ Halloween bucket. Quitting all processed carbs won’t quit the feeling that triggers you to numb yourself through chewing through a slice of warm, soft, fluffy bread.

Deciding to stop buying flavored chips will not cause me to not buy into the feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, and self-avoidance that bring me to the Doritos.

I’m done with the “band-aids on bullet holes.”

We can confront our coping behaviors and not try to shame or fix or suppress. We can ask ourselves what they’re telling us. We can thank them for their presence, and we can ask ourselves if their services are still needed.

So for the rest of this year, I’m going to follow the example of the trees. I’m going to patiently, in my own time, let go of what is no longer serving me, all the while staying rooted in the Truth of who I am. Maybe I’ll allow a few coping leaves on my tree. Maybe I’m not ready to let go of all of them.

This body of mine has been through a lot, and I’m done contributing to the onslaught. It’s time for rest. It’s time for healing and renewal. Healing will not come from a place of avoidance or shame. It comes from looking deeper within, and acknowledging that I’m already whole, and I have everything I need, right here in front of me.

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