In Spring 2012 I opened a series about Comebacks. We talked about how to proceed after a setback in life.
The next stage in making a comeback is about rebuilding. Perhaps you went through a difficult treatment for an illness or addiction. Or maybe you had a traumatic life event. After processing your initial feelings, finding small comforts, and spending time with safe people, it is time to look at your life through your new set of eyes and feel the ground underneath you again.
It is important during this “re-building” phase to remind yourself that you are not leaving everything behind. You are a different person and at the same time you don’t have to be a stranger to what you once knew. For example, a recovering alcoholic will notice that the parties without alcohol probably contain the same people. The divorced mom still has the same Christmas parties to attend. For a while you probably avoided similar scenarios as much as possible while you were grieving. The world seemed full of nothing but triggers for what you had lost or what was difficult.
Triggers are people, places, dates, and activities that remind you of your difficult patch. Sometimes they are obvious (a date) and sometimes they will catch you by surprise. Begin to notice your triggers. You cannot fight through them. You can expose yourself to them when you are feeling strong, but this will come and go and this stage of your comeback.
This is a time to create Protective Solutions for your triggers. Protective Solutions are responses to when you have been triggered. This might be a “wing man” at a party if you are avoiding alcohol or an ex-boyfriend. This might be journaling, running, or creative expression when you are feeling sad or angry. You will have to experiment to find your own.
Now you are ready to add some of your former activities back into your life. Depending on the scope of your event, usually 8-12 months out is a time when you can endure some of these triggering people and activities, and even learn to enjoy some of the old things that were once part of your routine.
- Go Slowly And Listen To Your Gut. At the risk of being too obvious, you may find yourself doing something that you thought was a good idea but which turned out not to be. If you have worked hard to overcome a binge eating problem, pat yourself on the back for attending the block party with the enormous buffets of food, even if it resulted in a return to old habits. Walk away and resolve to try again in a few weeks after brainstorming a Protective Solution or two.
You are not a weak person if you still cannot endure the company of certain triggers! You will get there. You are not going to get there faster by exposing yourself to these people, places, or situations.
2. Continue To Have Positive Outlets For Your Feelings. Even as you go about your daily life and it starts to feel somewhat normal again, it is important — especially after exposing yourself to Triggers — to have a way that you can release feelings.
Use your Protective Solutions. If you are mourning the loss of a loved one, be sure to continue any healing rituals. This is also a good time to create new rituals and outlets. Channel your feelings into a hobby or project, and clearly state to yourself, and whoever you feel comfortable with, that this project is part of acknowledging your past in a positive way. You want this deliberately announced intention to reach the deeper parts of your being that are still recovering and need acknowledgement.
3. Communicate with a smaller group of core people about what it means to be Rebuilding.
For most of your friends and family, the goal has been to see you out doing the things you loved to do in your old life. They missed you and want you back and are encouraged to see you exploring the world again. Supporters: remember that this can be hard for some of those who are recovering, especially from grief. Their life will always have a missing piece, and it can feel insulting to hear that others believe it is somehow behind them.
Rebuilding is a time of highs and lows. It is the part of the Comeback path that has the most extreme fluctuation and therefore can generate the most confusion. It can also be quite long, and it is only YOU who can say when you feel you are emerging from it. I have had recent clients who are just now seeking therapy to begin their comeback 5 years after their trauma. They know that they have a lot of unprocessed feelings. They are irritated by what is still difficult, and mad at themselves for not being “over” it. With self compassion and support from their core people, Rebuilding will be the next positive step on their comeback.
To read Part One about Comebacks and get ideas for the difficult early days, click here.