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Stepping Out of the Shadows/[Re]Connecting With
Your Life's Journey

© 2002 Alive And Well Publications. All Rights Reserved.
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Stepping Out of the Shadows

By Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D.

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The Heart of the Matter

With all the miseries surrounding us, threatening our destruction, we still have an instinct that we cannot repress,
which elevates us above our sorrows.


We were finishing up our last session. This was a time for reflection. Looking back upon where we started, understanding where we were today.

“I can see so much more clearly today how lost I was back then. I remember thinking then that I wasn’t the one with the problem, everyone else had a problem.”

As my client was speaking, I was reminiscing in my own mind about our first session together, what brought him to my office, what it was that he said he needed to work out. I especially remembered how angry he had become with me in that first session, so I casually brought that up to him.

“That’s right, I remember now. My fiancée had given me a pamphlet you had written, I don’t remember what it was about.”

Seven Steps to Emotional and Spiritual Well-Being,” I reminded him.

“Oh yea, something like that. But I do remember telling you that I understood what you had explained in the pamphlet, I just didn’t understand how to go about doing it.

“So I thought I would ask you to explain, little did I know then what I know only too well about you now, you refused to explain.”

“I refused to explain?” I responded, not quite remembering things the way he had remembered them.

“Well, you gave me what I thought was a bunch of double-talk. Something like, ‘Those steps are not something that can be taught to you, they are something for you to discover. Ultimately, you must discover your own solutions to the challenges in your life, rather than live out somebody else’s solutions.’”

I laughed at his sarcasm as he tried to mimic me. “Well, we got through that first obstacle. Do you remember what those seven steps were?”

“Let’s see. Yea, I remember a few of them. Uh, the first few are easy. Awakening the soul. Liberating the spirit. Illuminating the path and um, let’s see, oh yea, transforming the mindset.”

“So far so good,” I encouraged him. “What about healing your wounds, and strengthening the bonds of fellowship?” I asked.

“Right, right. I wonder how it is that I could have forgotten my two favorites,” he smirked as he shot me one of his looks. “Let’s see, the last one was, um, the rhythm of life, at least I think that was the last one.”

“Well, that’s not too bad. But knowing what they are is one thing. Making them a part of your life is something else. Where have you gotten with that?”

He was silent for a few minutes as he gathered his thoughts. “Well, overall, I feel pretty good about where I’m at. Although I’m finishing up with seeing you, I know that I have a long way to go with each of those steps. But I can see in more global terms how far I have come.   

“What do you mean by global terms?” I wondered out loud.

“For example, I remember only too well what you told me when we started. It really pissed me off at the time, mostly because you were right about me, even more because you were right about the way this would all unfold.”

“What do you mean?” I asked somewhat puzzled.

“You know that stuff about making this my work, not doing this to get somebody else off my back. In fact, I think your exact words were, ‘When are you going to stop making this your fiancee’s therapy and start making it your own work?’

“I didn’t like what you had to say, but I got your point. Unless I was willing to go through this for myself, I would never get anything out of it. Believe me, that was a big shift for me, to make this my own journey rather than trying to make other people happy.

“But something else you said had a lasting impact on me as well. Remember how you told me what I could expect out of the first few weeks? I was so insistent on wanting to know how long all of this was going to take.”

“I remember that you wanted this over with before you even got started.”

“Yea, yea, you kept telling me you understood how frightened I was, but all I could do is look at you like you were crazy. But the point I wanted to make was when you told me about the first twelve weeks.

“You told me that I would start feeling better after two weeks. I think the term you used was, um, subjective distress? You said that the fear, anxiety, the loneliness, and the hopelessness would lessen after the first two weeks. By week eight, the circumstances that brought me here would settle down and I would begin to feel even better by then. That by week 12, I would start asking myself why the hell am I coming to see this guy in the first place.

“I don’t know what your point was, but what I took from that was that this work is easy to do when someone is hurting, but there is more to this work than merely alleviating the symptoms. If I wanted to go beyond merely seeking relief from my symptoms, if I wanted to change more than the circumstances through which my pain was being expressed, I would have to find something other than the immediate pain in my life to keep me going. I would have to find something deep within me to motivate myself to grow and change.

“What occurred to me, whether you intended this or not, was that I was going to have to make a commitment to myself for myself. And you know what I realized? I had never done that before and more importantly, if I were brutally honest about it, that thought scared the living daylights out of me.

“To make such a commitment to myself would mean that I would have to believe that I was worth such a commitment, that I deserved such a commitment. Believe me, it took more than twelve weeks to get to a place of feeling like I deserved anything.”

“You’re right!” I exclaimed, “those are pretty big global shifts.”

“Yea, I think what you would say is that I learned how to take ownership of my journey. I learned to not hold everyone but myself responsible for my well-being.

“The way I see it, I had to start seeing who I was and how I affected the people in my life rather than stay so focused on what the world was doing to me. I had to start seeing how the things that I was doing, the ways I protected myself just didn’t work for me any more.

“When I started here, I was angry at everybody for not understanding me, not caring about me. I can see now that I wouldn’t let anybody care about me. I had made my work the center of my universe and pushed everyone else away.

“As I drifted further and further away from the people that mattered most to me, from the things that brought me fun and pleasure, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I lost myself.

“I guess that’s the biggest thing that I will leave here with, knowing all the ways I lose myself and how destructive that is for me. I have to remember how to hold onto myself if I am going to make my life work for me the way I want it to.”

“Hold onto yourself?” I liked the sound of it but I didn’t know exactly what he meant.

“Yea, that’s become almost a mantra for me. Hold onto myself. What I’ve learned is how easily I lose myself. In my relationships. In my ambition. In my value system. In the choices I make. In the issues I leave unresolved with my fiancée. Every area of my life is full of potholes for me to fall into. Hell, forget fall into, sometimes I willingly dive headfirst into them, but the end result is, I become totally disconnected from myself.”

I was genuinely impressed by the depth of understanding that my client was taking from our experience together. “Well that does sound important. So how do you hold onto yourself these days?”

“I work at it. I don’t think I’m there yet. But I keep working at it. In fact, I can honestly say I still lose myself in a lot of crap more times than not.

“But, I know now how important my friends are to me. They keep me grounded, so I work at these relationships, even when the work is tedious or overwhelming or both.

“Secondly, I’ve only uncovered the tip of the iceberg about myself. But I have to keep peeling back the layers that hide me from myself and the world. I never realized how not-present I was in my life. I’ve made it a point of absolute commitment to keep doing the work that will enable more and more of myself to show up in my day-to-day life.

“Lastly, and don't ask me to explain this one because I don’t have a handle on any of it yet. But spirituality, spirituality is a big part of me holding onto myself. I divorced myself from that part of me my whole life because religion turned me off.

“I’ve learned from you that this isn’t about religion, it’s about a relationship I have with a higher part of myself and some kind of higher power in the world. I get it in my head, I just don’t know what that looks like in my life just yet.

“But I also know, that all of this doesn’t have to make sense to me just yet, in fact it’s likely that it never will make complete sense to me. It’s only important that I’m moving in the direction that will enable me to make sense out of all of this little by little. For I’ve come to accept that I’m a work in progress rather than a project waiting to be completed.”

I looked at him with a big smile on my face and said, “You take my breath away. It’s easy to see that you’ve made this journey your own voyage, where you’re discovering your way rather than expecting somebody to teach you their way.”

That’s the secret to all of this, discovering your way. Discovering your path. Forsaking the safety and security of somebody else’s expectations, somebody else’s methods. Your life can only be genuinely lived by you with the courage you have to forge your own path. Anything else is a cheap imitation of somebody else’s vision. You don’t have to settle for less than the path that enables you to step out of the shadows and [re]connect to your life’s journey.

As we travel together through this book on our shared journey, I will introduce you to different phrases that I use. They can only be useful for you if you take the time to discover your own meaning of each phrase rather than settling for what I tell you they mean to me. It will be worth your while to take the time to think about these different phrases and the steps they articulate. What I am suggesting is for you to begin shaping your own meaning as to what these phrases hold for you.

As you begin to do this, remember, there is no one correct meaning that each phrase holds, there is only a continually unfolding, uniquely personal meaning for you. So let’s start out with Stepping Out of The Shadows. What does that phrase mean to you. Go ahead and write down a short description. It will be fun for you to revisit your answers and notice how much they change as you grow and change. If you need more room to write, go ahead and use some paper and place it here with the rest of what you have written.

Exploring the meaning of Stepping Out of The Shadows  reminds me of a conversation I had with my friend Mary Jo. Mary Jo and I have been friends for twenty years. We have watched each other struggle and grow stronger from those struggles. We know how hard we both have tried to be true to our paths as well as what our lives have looked like when we were totally disconnected from our paths. She was in town on business a while ago. We talked to each other into the wee hours of the morning taking an inventory of what life has taught us. She shared with me the most important lesson that she has learned.

"The times I have abandoned my path, those were the times I became confused and disoriented. I can see how certain choices I had made were more about stopping my pain and silencing my fear rather than honoring my life’s journey.”

I thought about what she said for a moment. I was staring off into the distance, listening to the piano player playing Killing Me Softly With His Song. Finally I said, “It sounds like you’re saying that there were times you chose the path of least resistance, whatever was expedient, but a path that inevitably caused you more suffering than the pain and fear you were trying to escape.”

“Steve, that’s exactly right! At the time I believed I was choosing the only means available for me to survive. When I chose mere survival, my life became frozen. Every step I took was encased with rigidity, caution, self-protection, and inevitably self-sabotage. Those were the times that fear and hopelessness permeated my emotional world. Confusion, bewilderment, they both coated my mind with a clouded sense of who I was, where I was headed.

“As the feeling of being trapped with nowhere to go overtook my whole being, I sank deeper and deeper into a routine that ensured my safety but stifled my growth.”

Mary Jo paused for a moment to collect her thoughts. She was being careful not to misspeak. She sipped her coffee as she continued, “Think about it this way. I developed a routine that gave me one thing: safety. But the net result? The net result was that I abandoned my sense of adventure, my willingness to take risks. My life became sterile. It was stripped of the natural emotional ups-and-downs. As a result, I lost myself.

“You lost yourself?” My eyes were squinting, almost as if I was searching for something in the air that would help me understand what she was saying.

“I lost my connection, my connection with, with my humanness.”

“Your humanness?”

“Yea, let’s see. How can I...?” she stared at the ceiling searching for a way to explain herself. “My humanness, my humanness, well my emotional experiences, I guess is what I mean. Those things that make us all human. My hopes, my sorrow, my joy, my wounds, my pain. All of that, I was totally disconnected from.

“My world was black and white. There was no pain, but there was no joy. There was just a growing sense of apathy, an increasing sense of powerlessness.

“By dedicating my life to the avoidance of pain, I became numb to all of my life experiences. You see, it was this very process of avoidance, routine, and emotional numbness to my life experiences that deadened my soul. 

“Ultimately, what I discovered is a very simple truism, we all need to get [re]connected with the path that leads us out of the shadows, and to turn away from the means we use to drown out our pain and fear.”



Dr. Steve Frisch, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in
Chicago, Illinois and Northfield, Illinois.

You can contact Dr. Frisch, Psy.D. at drfrisch@aliveandwellnews.com  or at
(847) 604-3290.

Recover from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frisch’s, Psy.D. Recovery book series.


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