I remember the very first time I visited a therapist. I went to find out what was wrong with me. I didn’t understand why my former husband was annoyed with me all the time, why I felt so on edge and why I felt unsafe. I also didn’t understand that he was an alcoholic. My mother treated me the same way as well. So I went with hope that I would discover what was wrong with me and why the two people in my life that I should have felt the safest with, I didn’t.
What I learned was how to peel an onion.
I’m sure I learned more than this, but what has stuck with me all these years is the analogy of emotions, feelings, habits and beliefs being buried under layers of onion skin. To heal emotionally, to change habits and beliefs, to break behavior patterns that do not support our well-being requires peeling the layers away.
Have you ever peeled an onion that made you cry so much that you had to step away? Or if you’re a bit weird (also known as brilliant) like me you strap on swim goggles completely masking the effects of the onion fumes that cause tears.
I strapped on my swim goggles and got busy. As long as I was busy I could keep the tears that were so close to the surface away. My busyness became the mask I wore to avoid the pain I didn’t want to feel. My busyness meant I was too busy to think about how miserable I felt and instead I focused my energy towards my multi-tasking skills, my coping skills and accomplishing as much as I could in a short amount of time while always appearing happy and positive.
And then my world shattered. My dad, who so wanted to live, who I was very close lost his life to cancer. My way of honoring him was to embrace being healthy, alive and somewhere deep inside me a layer of onion peeled away. I knew in order to be “alive” I had to do something different. I didn’t know what, I didn’t know how, but I had removed my goggles and admitted to myself that I was miserably unhappy.
The first step to change is awareness.
Back then I didn’t believe in God as I had him wrapped up in “traditional religion” which isn’t my way. But when I look back on those years it was nothing short of divine intervention that started me on the path to this much better place I am today. Tough times for sure and as I was thick headed and living in the whirl wind of busyness, I received many smacks upside the head with a two by four to keep me on the path that eventually lead to here and now – awake, aware, alive and very grateful!
Peeling your onion is difficult when running around on the hamster wheel. These days when I begin to feel stuck, or overwhelmed or feel the draw to drink again from the busyness bottle I now have the tools, in the form of questions to ask, in order to exit the hamster wheel before it completes its first rotation.
Here are three of my favorites:
What is this? Sometimes I’ll ask this for days. This is called living in the question. I don’t obsess over it. I quietly ask “what is this?” The answer comes in the most interesting ways. A conversation sparks a thought. A memory comes back. You read something that prompts an ‘ah ha’ moment. It may take minutes, hours, days or even weeks, but if you ask, and let it go, the answer will come.
Do everything differently! When I felt myself about to respond to a situation as I always had, I would say to myself “do everything differently”. This became my theme for an entire year. It’s a fabulous question to ask in the moment because it triggers your emotional response system to pause, reflect and proceed differently.
What is the hardest thing/step/action I can take? I get butterfly’s even writing this.This is the big kahuna! This is the question that led me to speaking the words “I want a divorce”. This is the question that led me to tendering my resignation and buying a business. This is the question that led me to ten years later selling the business. And this is the question that led me to embarking on my “year of no” – my sabbatical.
This is the question you ask, then answer, then freak out and grab the closest bottle of busyness unless…you have already peeled away a few layers and have at least one person to support you through the process. With support, whether its friends or a therapist or a coach, peeling those layers away eventually reveals what is really for your highest and greatest good. With support, change happens with grace and fewer ‘two by fours’ upside the head.
One caveat around asking the ‘big kahuna’ question and support for follow through. I feel this one person is not your spouse, or partner. Share your thoughts and feelings and of course keep them in the loop. However, as your next step could very well affect them (or even be about them), even though their intentions are good, their support may be masked with their own emotions. For me sometimes it’s conversations with my spotter sisters that peel away the layers (and at times reveal that what I thought was the ‘big kahuna’ wasn’t) and I bring what I’ve learned to my husband. Or I share my thoughts with my husband and then process it deeper with my spotter sisters. Because truth be told us gals and guys process things differently.
These days I peel my onion without goggles, however not necessarily without tears. But now I know that tears mean I’ve touched what is real and precious to me and this is where self-acceptance, healing and transformation begins.
P.S. The photo I used here was taken on Roatan. We found this roadside chicken skewer stand ($7 for a complete dinner), but I wanted to dine on the water. The young man overheard my comment, picked up the plastic table and chairs, ran them across the street and served us! Different – you bet. Fabulous – absolutely!
What would you like to do differently? Comment below.