Lately, I have been doing a lot of reading in the self-improvement genre. I just finished Gary John Bishop’s Unfu*k Yourself (2017). Before that, was Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness (2017), and before that was the lesser-known Trauma Survivors’ Strategies for Healing (2018) by Elena Welsh. One thing I realized as I was reading and listening (I get a lot of my books on recording so I can listen to them while driving) is that the author wants me to believe in myself. At the end of their book they want me to be able to exclaim, “I’ve got this!”
Only, what if I don’t? I mean, here I am, sitting in a recliner with a cup of coffee (peppermint mocha creamer because I’m feeling fancy) with a Shi Tzu curled up at my feet. Am I really in the same frame of mind I was in yesterday as I was driving across I-80 learning how to unfu*k myself? As the author’s Scottish brogue wound me up to the point where I wanted to get out of the vehicle and run alongside it while Edward sang the Eye of the Tiger. Then, I felt like rolling down the window and screaming “Towanda!” like Kathy Bate’s character in Fried Green Tomatoes then. Now, I’m not even close.
The thought of getting out of this chair, going downstairs and working out is the furthest from my mind. Not. Going. To. Happen. So, what’s the point? Why do I do this to myself? Why do I read all the things about how to get better, only to add the book to my vast library and then continue on with my life unchanged?
Well, honestly, this reoccurring problem brings up the other motive I have for reading all these personal development books. In last week’s blog, I mentioned I was working on a proposal for my own self-help book. Someday, I too want you to purchase my book, read it, and exclaim “I’ve got this!” But what makes me think my book will be different than Gary’s, Brene’s, or Elena’s?
Three years ago, I started writing because I felt disillusioned with the idea that it takes 17 years for research to reach the hands of the practitioner. Who knows how much longer after that it takes to have impact for their clients? I specifically wanted to write in personal development, because it was frustrating that only those with access to quality practitioners and afford health insurance, deductibles, and copays would be privileged enough to benefit from this 17-year-old information. So, I wrote a memoir.
Confused? At first, so was I. When an editor at Roman & Littlefield told me that my self-help writing sample read like a memoir, I got angry. My anger was a flimsy mask hiding my embarrassment. Although her response was gentle, I felt dismissed. Who did I think I was anyway? I had just finished my PhD a year ago. I was a baby scholar at a teaching university (as opposed to a research institution) who had needed to retake my qualifying exams before the school would even let me start my dissertation. My research centered around bystander intervention in anti-LGBT bullying, and here I was trying to write a self-help book about recovering from childhood trauma. What had I been thinking?
“I’ve got this!” was what I had been naively thinking. The only thing was, I didn’t have this, or many other things. In fact, here I am almost 3 years after the editor at Roman & Littlefield rejected my personal development book proposal, and I realize how much more personal development I must do.
But there is something I have learned along the way, and I’d like to give you a bit of hope for your own journey. A central message in my writing is that in order to move forward, sometimes, you need to look back. In times when we experienced utter failure to “get it” we can abandon ourselves. A part of us gets stuck, reliving the defeat, wallowing in it, allowing it to define us.
In Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown touches on this central lesson when she talks about her failing auditions for cheer squad in her high school. It isn’t until years later when she is able to look back at that defeated little girl standing in front of the gymnasium doors and say, “Now, ‘I’ve got this!’ I didn’t then, but now I am strong enough to handle this and to learn from it.”
In my own journey of healing, I’ve had to return to many scenes where I’ve abandoned a part of myself. At the time, I didn’t have the strength to handle what I was being dealt. But, with the help of my loved ones, my therapist, and some hard work, one by one, I’ve gone back to tell those abandoned parts of myself not only “I’ve got this!” but also, don’t worry, “I’ve got you.”
If you’d like to share part of your journey with me, I invite you to connect with me at: WillKoehlerLCSW@aTraumaInformedLife.com or find me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. I’m also now on Research Gate and Psychology Today.