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The Route to the Root (or Changes Happen When We’re Prepared)

As I journey into my seventh year of being alone, I marvel at where I am, where I was, and still cringe at where I need—and want—to go. The process of grief is also the process of growth. Growth hurts. If growth is not hurting you, think, look, and observe your life because you might not be doing your best work. Growth is a combination of insight and forward movement. 

When I think about what it takes to engage this process called growth, I’m taken back to the basics of what we need to survive. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs serves as a great framework for why growth works, and what it takes for growth to work. I would propose that personal growth and discovery cannot even begin to be considered until the two basic tiers are secured. The reason for this is that in a crisis situation, which much of growth tends to stem from, we need to first secure physical and safety needs. Looking within can’t begin until we do the prep work. Once the bottom rungs are established, the freedom to build the upper rungs becomes possible. 

People talk about doing grief work, and the fact is that until you are in a safe place, with your basic needs met, you can’t go there. In a real sense, no matter which route you might want to take to do your needed work, it won’t work unless the basics are firmly established. 

Looking back over the years, I can see that it took the first year to establish and secure the first three rungs. While I had food, clothing, and shelter, and I was “safe,” I needed to feel as I was safe in the new situation. As I began to be able to feel that things were stable, I could move forward and look at the third rung. In looking at my need to belong, to be supported by friends, and to know that I had the love of people I cared about, I could sense that it was time to move forward. Grief is movement in motion, and if we aren’t ready to engage in the forward motion, seeking professional help will not be helpful unless you know you need to do the work and are willing to engage in the process at a lower level of readiness.

I don’t talk about doing therapy or spiritual direction much. I hardly ever mention either. The route I took to get to the roots of my own grief issues began in one way and ended in another altogether different manner. 

I’ve talked about the “Please Do’s” and some do nots. I’ve seen people face their hell with powerful honesty, and I’ve seen others run like a bat outta hell from the work that needs to be done. This past week, I heard the “How do I?” question again. It’s all part of the route to the root. 

A therapist should converse with, question, and guide people to discovery. Short-term therapy is the quick fix. You might gain a skill or two. It will work, and you can learn to manage the basics. Short-term therapy won’t fix the deep-down stuff because the deep-down stuff is buried and in need of being discovered. The discovery conversations take much longer and are centered on enabling you, the client, to understand yourself fully. These conversations happen when we’re able to move up the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of Maslow’s needs pyramid, which is where deep changes happen.  

My first therapist stirred it all up. I did a great deal of growing and learning about life. It would take other therapists holding space for more mature work to be done. All therapists listened, and the really good ones called me out on my stuff. I learned, I hurt, and I grew.

Insight therapy is about a process and involves creating a relationship with someone. Hopefully that relationship will reflect the reality of our lives when we’re engaged in the outside world. What insight work offers us is a chance to understand how we relate to the world in better, and possibly healthier, ways. Sometimes it is sobering, and at other times delightful. The lightbulb moments are the best. 

I’m thankful for insight work. I’m thankful that I’ve been called out on my stuff, and for the professionals that walked with me into uncharted personal territory. 

After Jon’s death I returned to the model I knew and discovered that I needed to do a different form of growth work. Four years ago, I was tapped out. The psychological road was too familiar and worn, and I realized it was time for another type of insight work. I didn’t need to be fixed, which is what much of therapy is focused on. I needed to do the work of the spiritual, and I had found a great spiritual director who listened and called me out in new and wonderful ways. It has turned out to be an amazing growth route.

Direction focuses on the spiritual. For some people it is about where God might be leading or guiding us. It is not about organized religion or any church; its goal is to accompany the person on their life journey and not fix anything. I began the process in 2019 and the growth from direction has been a gift. I’ve done much of the same work around grief and loss and have been led in my once-per-month sessions to reflect, grapple with a new life, and navigate the storms the changes of 2016 offered me. 

Over the years I’ve spent time in chat rooms, seen people rush to find solutions, and have noticed a trend to escape the crying jags, the uncomfortable, and want it all to go away soon. I watch, do some head shaking, and realize that as much as it is normal to want to avoid pain (physical or emotional), we get to the route of what ails us by committing to the wrestle within. As much as I would have liked to feel more control over when the crying jags hit me, letting go and letting tears come naturally sped the growth and discovery along to a better place. I discovered in the tears that I was crying for any number of reasons. The tears took me into looking at our relationship and opened a gateway into understanding the positive and the negative of all of it. 

The struggles of the first two years enabled me to do the work of the last four years. I wouldn’t alter the path. Had I not sat with some really hellish things and dealt with the crisis, the fear and the uncertainty, I could not have gotten to a point of deeper insight. 

In this age of instant gratification, the challenge is to wait for the good stuff, and to trust that it will arrive at a good and healthy time. Grief and loss work is done in layers and can take years. The areas of my life I’m working on now are things that I could not have dealt with in the beginning. There are reasons for where I’m at now. What I face now are is what I would term “essential but go slowly and uncover safely” issues. The route that has taken me to my root has been spectacular!  

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