For the last 10 days, someone near and dear to me has been struggling with inner demons. This person thought they wanted a dream. They sweated blood for this dream, sacrificing years they could've been doing other things. One day their world came crashing down when they realized they'd been chasing the wrong dream.
Here's what happened. As is often the case, this friend had a sneaking feeling in the back of the brain that maybe the dream wasn't the way to go. It made sense once upon a time, but my friend had begun to wonder (but definitely not admit) that maybe things had changed. A big failure along the path to this dream made it impossible to keep up the facade.
It's like looking out a window and thinking you know what you're looking at but then the window shatters and the world you thought you were seeing is completely different. It's foreign and terrifying.
Your reality gets flipped upside down. You question the last 20 years, wondering if you've been disillusioned this entire time. You're thrown into the dark night of the soul. You feel all alone, lost, and frozen in fear.
How do you recover from something like this? A part of you has hope you'll look back on this and learn valuable lessons, but this is a tiny sliver that gets buried beneath the fear. The majority of your thoughts are consumed with "What now?" "What will everyone think?" and "maybe I can still make this work. I've put so much time and effort into this, I can salvage this."
You get dizzy with the looping thoughts. You become sick of yourself and worry that all the people who love you will also get sick of you and even worse, that they'll be disappointed in you.
You hurt so badly you pray for something to end the suffering. Is there a pill you can take? Someone who can fix this? Can you sleep for a year and then wake up? Then the thoughts loop back to how stupid you were to believe you were on the right path, when, in hindsight, it was so obviously not your path.
It can be dangerous business to life coach good friends, and if it's a traumatic thing like this friend was going through, I insist they see a therapist. But, if I were life coaching someone in this situation who was also seeing a therapist, here are some questions I'd ask
When you imagine this dark future you've described, how does it feel in your body?
How would you rather feel?
What thoughts are causing you pain? How do you treat yourself when you believe those thoughts?
What would grace look like in this situation? If you were able to show yourself grace, what would you say/do?
What do you think your body needs in this moment?
When you're in the throes of a crisis, the best thing you can do is to treat yourself like you would a child who's been traumatized. You'd ask them if they wanted a hug, a blanket, a quiet place. You wouldn't insist they have a play date, force them to start a new project and map out their future plans, you wouldn't turn on loud music and insist they get over it.
Why are we so hard on ourselves? It's our damn lizard brain. The part of us who's worried about our survival. The lizard brain (or inner critic in some cases) is freaking out because back in cave-man days we could die if we wrapped ourselves in a cocoon of grace and recovery and sat in our cave until we felt a glimmer of hope. We still retain a part of the lizard brain and by George, he's not going to let us off the hook. He's going to whip us with fear and stress hormones until we get off our butts and get back to the rat race of life.
But guess what? We have another, kinder part of us. An inner chocolate chip cookie-smelling grandma type with big bosoms who wants to smush you in a hug, wrap you in a soft blanket and bring you a mug of something soothing and delicious. She tells you all the things you long to hear, that you matter, you're worthy, you're precious no matter what choices you made. That it'll all be okay.
Which part do you want to listen to? You have a choice. A choice to suffer by listening to the painful thoughts that aren't real (can you believe it? Thoughts are made up in our brains! Not real at all!) or you can rest, recover, and let grace wash over you during this difficult time. Even if you can't allow yourself this grace, ask yourself what you'd want for the person you love the most. What would you tell them if they were in this situation?
This is hard work, especially if you're lost in the dark woods. Don't try to do it alone, the lizard brain is too tricky to trust solo. Reach out and we'll find you a great therapist and coach. Don't give up, friend, this is the cocoon phase, you'll come out when you're ready and not a moment sooner. And I know you can't imagine it, but you'll be transformed into a new and beautiful version of you when you do emerge. And one day, possibly a long time from now, you'll see the aerial version of your journey and realize this, too, was part of your path. Not only part of your path, but the only way to get to where you're going.