Every parent has heard the familiar plea from a child on a long car ride, “Are we there yet?” Young children don’t have a way to measure time, they have no sense of how long it will take to get to the destination, and sometimes don’t know what the destination looks like or what the family is going to do when they finally get there.
No matter how many movies, games, and snacks, the ride keeps going mile after mile, and the child starts to feel like the trip is never going to end.
The journey of recovery, healing, and emotional growth, often feels the same. I have heard many a client ask, “when is this process going to end”? “When will I finally be better… without addiction struggles, free from symptoms, or without relationship difficulties? The inquiries are often generated out of shame, fatigue, and fear.
Receiving mental health help continues to have a stigma attached. Often there is a concern if therapy goes on too long, it must mean I’m really messed up or broken. Most people can go to medical doctors, physical therapy, or other types of healers such as acupuncture without embarrassment.
Yet, many associate shame with psychotherapy and psychiatry. Reality is that we are body, mind, and soul. Self-care can and should mean getting support or professional care in any of these areas.
Often underneath the question of “are we there yet?” lies the anxiety of not knowing what the process looks like, or how to know when it’s complete. Just like the young child that can’t conceptualize time yet, the person new on the recovery path has no frame of reference for what it feels like to proceed through the process. If you are asking the questions, “What is this process like? When will I know I’ve completed it?” the following are some things to think about as you move through your own healing journey.
Where are you going?
Like the children on the long car ride, you likely don’t know what the destination looks like on the other end of your recovery process. Of course, this is highly individual for each person. To determine this for yourself consider the following:
- Goals – Establish what your needs are and what you desire for your life. What do you imagine it will be like when you get to your destination? Goals can include establishing sobriety, decreasing anxiety, resolution of relationship concerns, and healing internal angst and emotional pain.
- Hold your goals loosely – Often, we head out to meet a goal and then new insights cause us to realign to an unexpected direction. The process of learning, discovery, and new insights open vistas we didn’t know were there at the beginning. Be willing to let your goals be dynamic enough that you are open to adapting them as you gain deeper awareness of your needs.
- Collaborate – It takes a strong alliance between therapist and client for therapy to be effective. It’s important to make your goals and needs known to your therapist. Don’t be afraid to speak up if it feels like you’re heading in a direction you don’t want to go. And likewise, allow yourself to be receptive to what you’re hearing from your therapist.
How are you getting there?
Process is the core of growth, healing, and recovery. It is often said that recovery is a process and not an event. Healing and growth occurs through the experience of the process and allowing the process to work on you. Key parts of the process might include:
- Taking in new information. Reading books, listening to your therapist’s teaching moments, going to workshops and seminars, viewing and listening to videos and podcasts, are all sources of learning. Recovery requires taking in new data on what it means to be healthy, strategies for identifying and regulating our emotions, and skills to engage in healthy relationships.
- Sharing with others. The very act of making yourself known has healing properties. This occurs with your therapist, recovery companions, therapy groups, and safe friends.
- Feeling your feelings. Doing the work of therapy means feeling emotions and allowing them to be present. Often this is scary territory for someone experiencing feelings that have long been tamped down. Allow your supportive connections to help you.
- Participation in group therapy. Group therapy is invaluable in the process of healing. There are things that can never be worked on in individual therapy that are addressed magnificently in group. It is a place to take in others’ experience, make yours known to others, get feedback on how you are coming across and impacting others, and a “laboratory” for putting many new skills into a practice arena with the safety of a therapist.
- Implementation of your growth and skills with your own family and friends. There is no substitution for the experience of real life. Doing the work of therapy means using your new skills, making your needs known more effectively, making needed changes in interactions with others.
- Doing it again. Recovery and growth is never accomplished on one try. You do all the above, and then you do it again. There will be frustration and anger as you establish new ways of being with yourself and others. Don’t despair, allow it to take the time it takes.
Have you arrived?
The truth is, we never fully arrive. To be in the process of recovery means we know there is still more growing to do. But there is point where you sense that you have experienced significant transformation. You discover you are living successfully, with more trust, peace and joy. Some clues you may be in this stage are:
- Less need for therapeutic support. You start to realize that you don’t have as much to talk about or work on in therapy. You might feel less dependent on your therapist, or conversely you might not feel the need to fight your therapist. You talk with your therapist about the possibility of reducing appointments and eventually graduating out of therapy.
- Reflection on the past reveals change. You look back on how you were living and the way you were doing relationships when you began therapy and you see the tremendous changes that have occurred. Reflection on your past reveals all the changes that have occurred, sometimes without you even realizing.
- Relationships are working. Recovery is evident as you experience meaningful and successful connections with family and friends. Conflict is much less, and when it occurs you can deal with it in a healthy fashion. Your need for defensiveness is much less and you are empathic with others.
Recovery and healing can take us on a path we never expected. It will be filled with ups and downs, joys and heart break. But there is no doubt it is worth every step along the way. Allow yourself to surrender to the process and you will discover the mystery of experiencing empowerment and strength as a result.
Written by: Cheryl Schenck, LPC, CSAT