You Cannot Erase Your Progress_Epis. 11

You Cannot Erase Your Progress_Epis. 11

Talking through the moments in which clients or often people at large experience their life falling apart, or re-experience painful emotions and conclude that all their progress in therapy, personal development or betterment has been lost and they are back at “square one”. This is not the case and I talk through the gains that cannot be erased.

Episode Transcript:

Hi everybody, doing a lunchtime podcast. I had started one this morning and wow, it was a little complicated dense social implications lots of psychology in it and I got a phone call in the middle of it and had to bail and had a few conversations this morning and was thinking about some conversations that I've had over the past 10 years as a therapist and realized that there is this one Perception of this one thing that people struggle with. That I would really like to set the record straight on. That might provide a little hope in your own work. This could be in therapy. It could be in recovery from alcohol or addiction. It could be just working on things in life. And the complaint or the struggle that people have is they'll come into therapy feeling pretty bad and struggling, and they'll sort of slowly incrementally work their way to better beliefs about themselves, better ways of relating to their distress, working with their life situation to make things externally better, healthier for them. And then one week they'll just be really depressed and angry, and they'll come back, And often what is said is, you know, what happened? How am I back at square one? It's like I've lost every, I worked on all these things I'd gotten so far, and I lost everything I worked for. I'm right back to square one. You see the same perception a lot in addiction where someone will go to AA or NA, whatever their addiction is, and they'll work really hard. They might work six months, they might work for a year, they might work for a couple of years. And then they'll relapse. And then there will be this conversation of like, I can't believe I blew it. Like I'm right back where I started. How did I do this? How is it that I keep ending up in this place? And so because I always love talking about mountain biking, I'll share with you something that's a more physical component to sort of make this more hopeful and to share with you that there is no such thing as being back in the same place. No one ever ends up back in the same place. And we'll start with a more physical metaphor. I've been mountain biking since I was probably 24, 25. Bought a mountain bike, way too small for me, a medium frame, hard tail and just went out and just pounded the area in Santa Monica Mountains. Sometimes I would ride for, you know, four, five, six hours. Really, really, really loved it. And so I was in some modicum of shape. I was really into exercising. I would swim when I was in college. Furthermore, I would swim for 45 minutes every lunch. And hit the weight room here and there. I was in pretty good shape and young. And there are times now since I've had my kids, sometimes I barely get out on the trail maybe three times in a year. And in between, of course, I'm very frustrated. It's like, man, I'm going to be so out of shape. I'm so out of shape. I feel so weak. Plus, now I'm 56. You know, it's like 30 years later or whatever. And it's interesting though, when I get back on the bike, even if I haven't done any exercise, I haven't gone to the Y, I'm not really doing push ups, you know, whatever, I'm not really doing anything. And I'm like, oh man, I feel weak, and I feel out of shape. I get on the bike, and I'm always surprised. That the years that I spent doing some single track, doing mild to medium technical and climbing and pushing my legs, that I might huff and puff for the first 20 minutes while my body remembers, but then my body will remember. And I'm still climbing better than maybe someone would at 30 who had never mountain biked. Right. And yeah, I can definitely tell I'm not where I would be if I was biking twice a week. But there's very little lost. I could get back in shape. I could do two or three rides and do some high intensity interval training. And I can tell you that once I learned to be more healthy and to give myself more downtime to recover and got better habits, I've actually set personal records in my 40s and 50s that I or broken personal records in my 40s and 50s that I had set when I was 30, 35, just because I was not approaching it. I was too intense and I overtrained. So here's the message. We want to stay away from the black and white linear thinking in psychological, personal, existential, spiritual, however you view recovery, recovery from alcohol or addiction to some other drug or your own work. People have PTSD and have chronically lived in it, and then they feel a lot better for a month and then something triggers them, and suddenly they're right back and feeling paranoid and super twitchy and irritable, and it's like, how am I back in this place? Well, I get it. On one hand, I totally get it. What you came to therapy for was to not feel that way. And here you are feeling that way again. However, we want to be really, really careful. About completely marrying your trajectory, your success, your wisdom, your skill set, your evolution to merely, I feel bad, or I feel good. And that's the way people think about it at the beginning. I feel really, awful. I have for a long time, it finally forced me to go to therapy. So now therapists make me feel good and success, and I'm out. Well, yeah, in general, if you're paying a therapist, if you're laying out good money and spending a lot of time, Ultimately, you do want to generally feel better more often than not. But getting really muscular about, well, I feel better, I succeeded. I feel worse, I failed. Not only I failed, but I have undone. I think people literally view it as I'm climbing up this hill. This is Sisyphus pushing the stone up the hill. It's like I'm climbing up this hill and I slipped, and the rock rolled all the way bottom and I rolled all the way the bottom, and I'm starting over. That is simply not the case. That's simply not the case. In fact, if the myth of Sisyphus was an accurate myth, they would depict that when he rolls back down to the bottom of the hill, he's in fact much stronger, he knows the hill better, and he can choose a better line to push it up the hill, and he has more strength to push it up the hill, and with wisdom and time, he might even decide to rest a lot more and allow his muscles to build themselves, and with even more time, he might build the pulley system. So, it simply is never the case If you relapse, it's simply never the case if you experience a flashback to an old emotional state. That does not mean that you undid all the work that you did. That does not mean that you don't have the coping skills. And this is where a physiological understanding, a biological understanding can really be helpful. When we're in a state of deep depression or high anxiety or PTSD activation, If you could literally have a window into your own brain, what you would see is the amygdala, the emotional brain, the amygdala, the fight or flight center, is way over-activated. The right hemisphere, which is the effect of the emotional side of the brain, over-activated. The left side of the brain, the more linear logical side, is going a bit more dark. And the prefrontal cortex, which is part of the executive system that sort of parents and manages All of these responses has gone dark. So what has happened is when you are triggered, when you fall into that state that you don't want to be in, You're in a part of your brain that doesn't do evolution, it doesn't understand that things are way more complex, that you have built in all of these skills and these coping mechanisms and that you've evolved and that you're stronger, and you have, you'll probably recover from this faster and that you also have better tools for relating to this and that you may make a call to a friend, and you may make sure that you take a two-hour lunch and go out and walk on the beach or take a walk in the woods. You're not the same person, even though you might be feeling the same. The fight or flight system is made to save us from the charging lion. It doesn't want you to think complexly. It doesn't want you to remember your coping skills. Furthermore, it doesn't want you to think about the overall trajectory. So it's going to tend to try to push you into this belief that, oh my God, I'm right back in the same place. I'm overwhelmed. I need to have some knee-jerk reaction. So it's understandable that you feel that way. The fight or flight system wants you to feel that way because amongst our ancestors, the ancestor who had a very simple reactive response to the smell of the lion after one near miss is the one who survived to have kids, and they are your ancestor. The predecessor who thought complexly, who stopped and considered and thought about the smell of the lion got eaten and didn't have kids. So if we're using a strict, a classical sort of evolution view of it, The amygdala, the fight or flight system was created by people, was created for the purpose of not being complex and for ignoring your overall trajectory, the wisdom you've gained, the resiliency you've gained. If you can hold on and breathe through those times, you will much more quickly come back to the realization of everything you've learned. Again, I will relate this back to my mountain biking. I've barely been mountain biking this year. I'm in really not good shape. And then for two or three weeks, I was not even doing any exercise. I was really, really busy. And I finally got a chance to mountain bike. And I went and rode a medium difficult climb that always kicks the hell out of my legs because the first three and a half, four miles are nothing but medium technical climb. Just keeps beating the hell out of your legs. For the first half hour, I was sitting there feeling a little depressed and feeling like, wow, should I just stop? Am I literally at the point in my life I should stop mountain biking? I should just accept that I'm old. This sucks. I feel weak. My lungs are laboring. I'm having to stop. This sucks. But I pushed through it and then my body remembered and my brain remembered. And then it didn't get a lot easier, but it got quite a bit easier. And I pushed through and did a reasonable length of a ride. And I still feel better from that ride because I had not lost my skills. I was just tempting myself to go, oh, like maybe I should quit. Don't quit. This is not a linear game. Evolution is not a linear game. Growth is not a linear game. It's not like, oh, I was here, and then I felt better, and then I felt worse. So I'm back there again. That is literally not how it works. Unless you're actively topically working to destroy yourself. Like you'll see some people do a bad spiral where it's almost like their will is to destroy themselves. But if you're just in therapy or if you're just working in life, and especially to my folks out there in addiction, alcoholism, whatever, where there's a real tendency early in the game in recovery, where if you relapse, there's this feeling of shame and a feeling like, oh my God, I'm starting over again. I can't believe I did this. I had two years of sobriety, and now I'm right back at the beginning. No. This is coming to you from a therapist with experience in the addiction and recovery community. No, you are not right back where you were. You might have imbibed something that created the same experience that you remember as being back then, but you're not the same person. You have two years of recovery under your belt. Furthermore, you have evolution. Furthermore, you have a social system, hopefully. Furthermore, you have wisdom. Furthermore, you have experience. Furthermore, you have experience recovering from this. Furthermore, you have experience coming out of this. Don't slam yourself and go into shame and go, oh, that's it, right? Don't be me and give up. You know in the first 20 minutes of mountain biking because your body hasn't remembered yet what you've earned over all these years. So I wanted to send a message of hope and to tell you if life gets really, really hard, and you fought really hard, and you've learned some skills, and you felt like you know what I'm doing perfect and I feel like I like myself I respect myself, and I've built some things and then life comes along and does what life does sometimes. Just takes a crap on you and everything falls apart, and you feel maybe worse than you've ever felt. Do not kid yourself and don't let the shame and the hopelessness creep in. In therapy, as well as life, there's no such thing as like, oh, I just went back to point A, you might have lost your assets. But you as a human, as a conscious human, if you have learned, if you have worked, if you become wiser, if you develop coping skills, if you become more resilient, if you've experienced suffering and survived suffering, you now have the experience of knowing that you can survive that suffering. No one ever goes back to the same point. There's no such thing. You get credit for, and you get strength from and wisdom from what you've worked for. And that cannot be taken away from you. I wanted to leave you with that message, and I hope you guys have a great day and I will see you next time. Take care.

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Jon Sorensen

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