The photo above was taken a few blocks from my house where I take my daily walks. Because I am blessed to live by the ocean, one of the sights I get to take in on almost a daily basis is people of all ages flying kites and others attempts to be a human kite- like the gentleman in the photo with the paraglider. I have spent quite a bit of time watching people attempting to catch the perfect gust of wind so that they will be magically lifted up into the sky and then sent to float blissfully above the ocean. How often have I seen them actually catch that gust of wind and take off? Once. And how far did this person get? About three feet and then landed on the ground again. How many hours have I spent watching such attempts sending these hopeful human kites the prayer that they will catch that perfect wind and sail above us all? Too many to count…
One of my other favourite past times is going to a rushing river at the end of the salmon run and cheering on the giant fish in finishing the last leg of their race before they die. Again, it appears that all odds are against these majestic, massive and highly determined fish. They are doing their best to swim UPSTREAM- against the powerful rushing current of freezing cold river water. How many have I seen actually make it and get to their destination? A couple. How many hours have I spent watching such attempts sending these persistent fish the prayer that they will defy all odds and have a successful attempt to swim against the current and make it to their final resting place? Too many to count…
I love witnessing these instances of pure grit, determination, and stubbornness on the part of various sentient beings to reach a goal which seems impossible because it reminds me of what is possible for all of us if we are able to achieve that state of singular focus on a goal and keep trying to achieve it, even if we fail multiple times along the way. I am absolutely convinced that the people who engage in therapy and stick with it- even when it’s a struggle- are the ones most likely to achieve their personal goals- whether it’s overcoming an addiction, breaking free of a phobia which has haunted them for a long time, or having more satisfying relationships- all of these are possible if we are willing to roll up our sleeves and put some elbow grease into the hard work it takes to achieve our goal. To inspire you to set a difficult but positively life-changing goal for yourself, I will share a few examples of other women I have worked with who also did the same, despite all odds, and came out the other side beaming at their achievement.
Real-Life Example #1: Pushing Past a Serious Eating Disorder
In nearly twenty years of being a therapist who specializes in helping women recover from eating disorders, I have been privileged to witness multiple success stories in the lives of women who previously thought that they would never get a handle on their eating disorder, let alone recover from it. I have watched so many women fight back against anorexia and bulimia and win that I am dismayed when I read things in the press which state that it is nearly impossible to recover from these. This is simply not the case for myself, and the thousands of women I’ve worked with over the years.
Here are two lovely examples from clients I have worked with recently:
‘Jocelyn’ is 25 years old and struggles with bulimia. Her pattern tends to be starving herself throughout the day and then ‘rewarding’ herself with a massive high-calorie binge in the evening which is followed by purging. She told me that she is ready to give this pattern up because it is severely interfering with her ability to get close to others and to share fun experiences with her friends and family after work. The problem is that she’s been doing it for so long, that it has become a HABIT. And as we all know, habits are very difficult to break.
I levelled with her and told her that I would be more than happy to guide her towards her goal which we outlined together- to eat three normal meals a day, which meant eating a solid breakfast and lunch, maybe a snack or two, and then a solid dinner when she was out with friends or family- and that this would be incredibly challenging and would likely bring up a lot of fear. She nodded grimly and replied, “I’m freaking out just thinking about doing that, but I really want to break out of this habit and start to have a normal relationship with food so that I can have a fun social life.”
Jocelyn is now off now practicing eating at least one regular meal a day to begin the journey and I’m eagerly awaiting to hear how she makes out. I foresee it being incredibly difficult with many setbacks along the way and I warned her that this would likely happen. But I also reminded her that I will stick by her side as she courageously defies her eating disorder and takes the reigns of her life back again, one little step at a time.
Real-Life Example #2: Defying Hospital Phobia
I have been working with ‘Mary’, a 28-year-old woman with multiple phobias for over four years. At the beginning of treatment, we created a hierarchy of her phobias, starting at the least amount of fear to the highest. We began with the phobia carrying the least amount of fear for her to get her started and to increase her confidence in facing her worst fears. One by one, she proudly crossed of phobia after phobia after she had practiced the exposure techniques I taught her in sessions. Her life began to expand enormously as she became less and less afraid of the outside world. She began travelling, and trying all sorts of exciting experiences she never would have dreamed of previously. And most importantly, she greatly eliminated the fear she had attached to every one of these activities. All was rainbows and sunshine until we got to the top phobia of her hierarchy- being in the hospital. She was so freaked out by this particular phobia that she told me on many occasions that she couldn’t even discuss it, so we let it go. Until…
Mary and her husband decided they wanted to start a family. She wanted to be a mother more than anything else in the world, and yet she knew that this would most likely require her to be in hospitals- more than once I might add- throughout her pregnancy and then when she was in labour and delivering her child. As freaked out as the idea of being in a hospital made her, her desire to have children outweighed her willingness to hang onto her phobia of hospitals. This is every therapists’ dream!
I saw this as a golden opportunity for her to face, challenge, outwit, and then beat her hospital phobia. Convincing her that this was a fabulous opportunity proved to be challenging however.
We decided together that since this was her most challenging phobia of all, she should work with it slowly, taking one small step at a time, and then working her way up to bigger challenges until she got to the labour/delivery part. It was a good thing we had a nine-month timeline to do this in!
Mary got pregnant easily and then she went to work on her hospital phobia. I suggested she start with regular visits to her family physician, which were required for different stages of her pregnancy. This proved hard enough in and of itself. Then she had to have some tests done at the hospital itself. We had a session before each of these appointments to guide her through the fear, and even though she experienced a high state of anxiety leading up to and during the appointments themselves, she was thrilled at the end of each one and proud of herself for facing her fear and coming out the other side.
We spent a lot of time dwelling on her small successes so that by the time she went into labour, she actually had very little anxiety about being in the hospital. She had experienced so many positive interactions with medical staff during her pregnancy and gotten to know the hospital and her medical team, that she felt she could relax and trust that she and her baby would be well taken care of.
Real-Life Example #3: Choosing to be single rather than settle for the wrong person
My last example is from working with a young woman of 20- let’s call her ‘Ella’- who was willing to let go of a boyfriend because he wasn’t paying enough attention to her. She came to the first appointment in tears because she had recently broke up with her boyfriend and was missing him a lot. When I asked her why she ended the relationship, she said it was because she realized that she deserved more in a relationship and that this guy wasn’t giving her the time and attention she felt was reasonable in a long-term dating relationship. She also told me that she felt there was a ‘huge hole’ in her heart now that he was gone and that even though she ended it, she missed him a lot.
In this case, this young woman made a decision to be single and a bit lonely, rather than settle for a relationship with someone who made her feel like she wasn’t important. I consider this a daring decision because most of us would rather be in a somewhat miserable relationship over being single. Our need for company often outweighs our desire to be with someone who is a really good fit for us. I commend Ella for taking this stand and sticking to it and am certain that the rewards of ending that relationship will start to increase as time passes. I also feel that her chances of ending up with someone who gives her the attention she wants and deserves will also greatly increase if she continues to not settle for just anyone because she doesn’t want to be alone.