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Squeeze the toothpaste (just a little)

Posted: March 31st, 2017 | Columns, Featured, Life Beyond Therapy | No Comments

Dear Michael:

I am writing to you because I want to get some therapy, but I’m afraid to. I am a middle-aged lesbian with a great girlfriend who loves me and tells me so on a regular basis. I have a job I like (most of the time, anyway) and a solid circle of friends. What’s my problem? I have so much baggage from my past that I think if I ever started to address it, I’d never finish. So why bother?

Honestly, why should I put myself through the torture of working through all of my old, unresolved shit? Isn’t it just better to just move on and live in the present?

Sincerely,

Too Much Baggage

Dear Ms. Too Much:

You’re not alone. We all, myself included, have lots of baggage. In fact, being human, it’s impossible not to. No matter how great your childhood, parents or early life, bad things have — inevitably — happened to you.

So, what do we do with our baggage? Should we just pretend it doesn’t exist? Well, that may work in the short run. In the long run, however, our old, unresolved traumas haunt us and keep hanging around, waiting for us to do something about them.

But what do we do about it, and when? When there’s so much to work through, how do you start, when do you start and where do you start?

You start whenever you’re ready. And only you will know when you’re ready. You may be 18 or 81 when you’re ready.

Don’t worry, you’ll know it. You’ll feel it inside. You’ll hear a little voice (it’s usually faint) telling you, “It’s time to work on our stuff now. Let’s not suffer any more.” And, voila! That’s when you start to work through your old pain and trauma.

But, you don’t “attack” it all at once. That’s a recipe for failure. You deal with it a little bit at a time.

This is where the idea of squeezing the toothpaste comes in: Your old baggage, trauma and pain is like toothpaste in a tube. You could squeeze the tube violently and get way more toothpaste (e.g. anxiety and discomfort) than you can handle, or, you can squeeze the toothpaste gently and let it out a little at a time, in small amounts that you can handle.

Don’t overwhelm yourself. Take your time. Squeeze gently.

After all, we’ll be squeezing this toothpaste until we take our last breath. We are never really done growing, changing and becoming happier and healthier.

It’s a life-long process, so there’s no need to rush it or panic. You have plenty of time. You might even consider enjoying the process: laughing at your foibles, forgiving yourself (and others) and seeing the humor in so many things.

Healing takes time, it’s not like a fast, extreme weight-loss diet: It evolves over time. You can help it along, but you can’t rush it.

So, since you’re in it for the long run, why not ease up on the pressure you put on yourself and cut yourself some slack? No one wants to work on their psychological baggage all the time.

So don’t.

Squeeze the toothpaste periodically, but give yourself breaks when you don’t. When you take on a long-term project, you pace yourself, right? Same with working through your old baggage: Pace yourself.

Remind yourself, “I’m in this for the long run; I can take breaks. Even if I fall down a few times. I can always pick myself up and get back on my feet.”

Michael Kimmel

We all have baggage from our past. Many of us are afraid to begin to work it through because it seems like too much to deal with. But since it doesn’t usually disappear on its own, we can begin to squeeze that toothpaste (a little) and start to be free of our old demons.

We may never “finish” (e.g. become perfectly happy all the time). So what? If we grow a bit happier with each passing day/week/month, isn’t that progress? And, let’s be clear: It’s progress — not perfection — that we’re after.

—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.

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