If It Feels Like You're Going Through Hell...

Everything they say about change is true. It's hard. It's also true that it's always darkest before the dawn. But how many times in our lives do we see the darkness and we say to ourselves "It's too dark. I can't handle it, I'm turning back instead of going forward."

What if I told you that the darkness is just a part of the process? It is merely step one in a four step change process, and it WILL get better because that is just the way the process goes.

When I learned that, it took so much pressure off. But I had to identify that was where I was. And prior to identifying it was just plain hell. 

When I quit my job last fall, I went on a cross country road trip by myself. About a week and a half into the trip, I found myself in San Francisco feeling absolutely miserable. What's a word for worse than miserable? Because that's how I felt. 

I was sleeping poorly, and I was feeling uncomfortable for the last few days. I wasn't comfortable in my own skin, so how could I expect to feel comfortable in these new and strange places? 

It was a Sunday morning, and I had a call scheduled that day with my accountability group from my coach training program. I remember it was raining that morning, and I walked to get a cup of coffee and barely noticed the dampness all around me. I was in such a fog, like the Bay area fog had gotten into my soul. I sat in my car and called into the group call, and as our grounding meditation started, I just started crying.

When the meditation wrapped up, I spoke up. I asked for help because I had been crying the whole time. I shared how I had been feeling for the last week and a half. I felt like I didn't fit anywhere. I was feeling so alone, and anytime I tried to call a friend I just got their voicemail and they didn't call back. Even spending time with a friend in California felt empty. I wasn't connecting to anything or anyone, as much as I tried. 

The more I talked, the more I realized that loneliness wasn't the problem. The problem was that I was starting the change cycle.

Change works in a cycle, and it has four distinct phases. The fantastic Martha Beck teaches it using the analogy of a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.

Imagine a caterpillar, living a great life. He has his friends, his routine, and all the leaves he could want to eat. And then, one day something inside him calls him to change. He is inspired. It is time. So he goes and makes a cocoon, and starts the process. 

And the wildest thing happens. When a caterpillar enters his cocoon, he completely dissolves. His has to let go of all his old molecules and change into something else. This is phase one of the process, and I like to call this phase "caterpillar soup." 

This phase is MESSY! All the old ways have to dissolve and it feels like your entire life is just goo. It is unrecognizable. It feels awful, and your emotions are a wild mess. It feels like it is the darkest, most hopeless time, and it seems like it will never, ever end. 

This phase is all about dismantling of what once was. It feels like the world is falling apart, because it is. Because it is a death of the old ways. You are literally mourning an old part of your life that will no longer serve you, and it cannot come along on the next part of the journey. You must mourn and let go of the old ways before you move on to the next step. Where you are going, the old stuff cannot come along. This is the part of the journey when it can help to say that you are clearing space for new things to come into your life. 

This can be incredibly hard, because often we are thrown into the first phase without our own conscious choice. A relationship ends, we get fired, we move. For me, I had quit my job and chose to go out on the road and started the change cycle on my own. But that didn't make it any easier. It's also hard to let go of things that seemed to be working.

But here is the important part that I had to realize. My old life didn't fit me anymore. Just like an old pair of shoes, I had outgrown my old life. It was too small, too tight, too constricting and rubbing in all the wrong places and giving me blisters. I didn't want to squish myself to fit into that life anymore, and it had to go. 

And just like letting go of old shoes, there is a sad part to it because they have good memories and at least I knew what I could expect. I tried to make them fit for too long, and would compensate by wearing bandaids to prevent the blisters. But at a certain point, it just has to go. 

Change can feel really rough. I know it is really unpleasant, and scary to step into something completely unknown. For me, it was comforting to know that it was just a part of the process. And if it is a part of the process that means there will be more to it! This is not the end, it is only the beginning.

This is part one of a series I am going to write about change. I want to know from you a story about a time you felt like you were going through hell. Maybe you are going through it right now! Tell me how it felt, what was your experience? What did you do to help yourself get through? 

Until next time, keep breathing. Know that if it feels like hell, it won't always feel that way. 

Lots of love.