Shit happens

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It’s been a while since I wrote anything.
It’s one of those things. I’ve felt time pressured for several months; I’ve had neither the inspiration nor the perspiration to sit down to write. life trumped the pleasure that I get sitting down writing pieces for my blog.

Today, for the first time in four months I’ve got the time and the motivation to write. It is my hope that these words extend a little bit of inspiration to you.

Like most people, I have the tendency to try to control events.
When good things happen, I think: ‘I’ll have some more of that!’ then sit back bathed in the sunshine of good feelings. When shit happens, I’m to try to make the shit unhappen in a bid to return to better times.

It’s taken me a while, and the experience of talking with many clients, to understand that ‘building back better’ isn’t a sane or promising option. When something is done, it’s done. You can’t turn back time: regret is by a large a massive waste of emotional energy. But we all do it.

We regret, we wish that we had done this instead of that, we rail against the gods of misfortune. But no matter how much we act up, weep or wail, we can’t undo the bad shit that’s happened.

In part, my job is about supporting people to recognise their patterns and behaviours that don’t do them any favours. I seek to encourage them to think about how they might bring about change by moving forward in a way that is constructive for them and hopefully the important people in their lives.

But, we’re human, so we get stuck. We fall into deep holes with slippery walls which are difficult to climb out of. How do we begin to think about moving forward when we can’t even move from the spot that we’re glued in?

It takes moving out of the mire to see and understand that the purpose of the shit was to help propel us forward; we may always feel the pain of the events that threw us into that swirling, fetid black hole however, fighting and having a positive mental attitude is not always the right thing to do. To my mind, the more effective route to change is fostering the determination to do things differently.

I say this because when we fight and don’t win, we think and feel badly of ourselves: this negativity can lead us further down the path of depression, stress, disappointment and anxiety. There is nothing better than giving ourselves a good emotional thrashing to make our mental state worse.

I like to look at events that cause us pain as being thrown into a lake of quicksand: the more you fight, the deeper you sink, the deeper you sink, the harder it is to come up for air until eventually you’re dragged under disappearing without a trace. So instead of fighting, it may serve us to be more zen, more accepting, more forgiving of ourselves and others, recognising that trying to exert control may in fact be making matters worse.

Think, for example, of a person who has lost the love of their life, not to death or anything horribly threatening, but simply to the realisation that the relationship is not right for them. It’s shit, it stinks, we feel denigrated, attacked, disregarded, disrespected. We cry an ocean of tears, whilst trying to win back our lover. But instead of our actions having the desired effect of bringing the loved one back to us, we push them further away.

Take a moment to sit back and think about this.
In our eyes, they are wrong and have made a terrible mistake. In their eyes, your actions prove that they have made the best decision as they were right in their assessment that you are barking mad, and things would only have gone from bad to worse.

The control that we have sought to take ends up by firmly shutting the door on the one thing that we wanted most.

So what can we do instead?

Nothing stays the same forever. Pain fades in time as our lives grow around it. If we take on new challenges and ventures, our lives grow. The space around us gradually becomes less oppressive, gaining warmth, light and colour. We can’t bring the person back (especially if they have died) but we can grieve them and in time begin to get used to their absence, which in time becomes a normal part of daily life.

Some people try to avoid the grief of loss by distracting themselves by getting busy; others try to avoid and ignore it by shutting the pain in an emotional strong box which they bury deep within; others refuse to acknowledge their feelings and show the world the stiff upper lip or mask their internal state with a smile that will light up a Christmas tree. The downside to this courage and bravery is that small unexpected events trigger their feelings of loss and propel them backwards thus the pain is experienced as if it had only just happened.

My mother used to say ‘better out than in’ when one of us tried to hide a fart. This is my credo about emotions: better out than in. Held in, smothered, buried emotions will run riot in your head which may lead to debilitating mental ill-health.

Time to grieve allows us to become used to a new state of being.

In recent times. I have found that stoicism has helped me far more to process my feelings than action.

I have found that by accepting things the way they are and grieving for what I’ve lost, I am far better placed to move forward energised and positive, than if I had put all of my resources into keeping things the same or trying to control the emotional direction of travel.

I discovered that deep shit has often put me on the path for better things. I’m not saying that it’s easy, but it’s a damn sight easier than trying to control things that are out of my control.

Acceptance is not sitting back and being complacent: acceptance is looking at where you are, thinking about what opportunities are open to you, then welcoming them with open arms. The chances are that they will take you to a better place.

Let me give you an example that may or may not be pertinent to some of you. Changing a habit or trying to move away from an addiction.

Giving up something is awful.
First, you have to relinquish the physical control that, say fags, booze, food, drugs, reckless sex, exercise etc., may have over you. Once that aspect of the process is on its way, you feel better and ready to challenge the world. What follows is the stickier task of allowing yourself to relinquish the emotional control that your habit held over you. It is a long and arduous job, but soon you start walking the walk and can take off your emotional training wheels. You can then begin to see that life offers opportunities that you never thought possible.

Shit is random, dark, fetid, unfair, destabilizing, but it also has a light side: shit happening can set you free, helping you to expand into the person you want to be.

So cry, scream, shout, grieve, wrail at the unjustness of life, then dare to grab the opportunities that your broken dreams have brought to you.

By ericapcounselling

Systemic and integrative counsellor/therapist Specialisms: Couples counselling, relationship counselling, addiction, bereavement and loss, mental health, stress management and self-care. Counsellor by day, singer by night!

1 comment

  1. I too have benefitted from the teachings of Stoicism. What I love the most is the teaching of only focusing on what you can change. We can lose track and worry about everything else, but reminding yourself to only care about what’s within your control is always a good practice to have. Thanks for this post!

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