The Pain to Stay the Same


More than usual this week I have been experiencing a feeling of gratitude for the quality of my life today. In looking over my shoulder I can see what appears now to be a somewhat straight line path that brought me from where I was to where I am. However, from where true change began to present day the path I walked was much different. It actually zigzagged all over with a greatly varied pace containing many stops, starts, successes and failures.

The beginning: “When the pain to stay the same exceeds the pain to change, you change.”

The first time I saw those fourteen words was on a bulletin board. They have been burned into my psyche ever since. The initial glimpse was at the time when realizing I could not read or learn myself into life changes through applying my intellect. I had to do the emotional work and face what I had long avoided.

Lobsters grow by molting, or shedding their shells. When its shell has been shed the lobster spends time under a rock or in a crevice while growing a new shell. During that time the lobster is vulnerable without the protection of its old hard shell.

The process of “change” caused me to feel a lot like a lobster. For a while it had been evident to me I was stuck inside a hard shell that resulted from childhood abandonment and abuse. It was stifling me. I needed to shed the old casing and grow a new one. I had to be vulnerable in order to change. Yet, doing what I needed to do felt impossible at the time. I could not muster the courage to “jump in and do it”, but knew not changing meant I would continue to suffocate in my old shell.

Did I muster the courage to shed the safety of my old hard outer armor plate and jump into the sea of change? No! I wish I could say I became brave enough to do that. Instead life events came along and left me only with drown or swim options. My old shell was shattered and stripped away and then “the pain to stay the same exceeded the pain to change”.

Pain and discontent was stage one of my growth and change. Suddenly I saw myself more clearly and could view my past at least with some accurately. As if being slugged, the force of it crushed my shell and figuratively “knocked the wind out of me emotionally”. Getting knocked down and broken open was step #1.

Admitting I had problems was stage two of my growth and change. There had to be an end to my running away. I had no choice but to let the issues take me over. Opening up and allowing myself to feel the full force of what I had so long avoided was what I needed. Accepting my issues was step #2.

Realizing I needed help was stage three of my growth and change. One of the effects of childhood trauma can be to become an overly self-reliant and a seemingly needless adult. I became quite good at denying my own needs. Seeking outside aid was rarely an allowed possibility. Accepting that I needed help was step #3.

Doing the work was stage four of my growth and change. Being one who wants to begin today and have everything accomplished tomorrow, this step was difficult. Coming to grips with my dysfunction took lots of time. Gaining the upper hand on it took much longer and now spans years. Putting in the time and making a long-term effort was step #4.

The realization I was getting better was stage five of my growth and change. At first it seemed as if nothing was changing, but over time I began to feel a little different. Life began to taste better. The better I got, the more I wanted. Working past setback and disappointment without completely losing my momentum became a key for me. Realizing I could heal was step #5.

Real change takes a long time. Clinical perspective says real personal change takes at least three years to be fully implemented. That is why small changes I made and continued to repeat over a long period of time have yielded a positive impact. On my path there has been an abundance of stubbornness and hanging on to the past combined with emotional dread and frightful depression at times. What began with “baby steps” and became one step at a time, one day at a time has now several years later brought me to much better mental and spiritual health. There is joy for living I have not known before.

I am not fixed and will never be completely. The scars will always remain, but I am better and continuing to improve. To even try to express the quantity of thankfulness I have for my life today would be completely futile. I am grateful to a power greater than me for the inspiration and to every person who has helped me along the way.

Change is not made without inconvenience,
even from worse to better.
Richard Hooker

First posted on August 26, 2011