Lesson #16: You don't have to go at it alone.
"You'll figure it out," is a common enough phrase in my family. Sometimes I hear the variations - "You'll find your way." "This is your path to navigate."
Even when I was younger I can remember struggling with conflict or confusion at school, with friends, with relationships. And my parents - keen on maintaining a low-boundary, high-self-discovery home, would tell me that I'd figure it out.
It's a luxury to have parents like that, I'm aware. So many parents try to stifle their children's lives, telling them how to live it, telling them what to do. I didn't experience much of that directly. But growing up, I heard other words woven implicitly into those phrases.
"You'll figure it out....alone." "You'll find your way...by yourself." "This is your path to navigate....and no one else can help you."
My therps pointed this out to me a few years ago. I'd struggled for so long to reconcile my belief that figuring things out on my own was a critical part of growing up with the fact that I really needed and wanted to be in therapy.
"Why are you insistent on figuring out everything by yourself? Why is it always you that has to go at it alone?"
"That's just what life is. No one can go with you, no one can tell you how to live your own life, so you need to figure those things out by yourself."
"What about asking for help from the people who love you?"
"What's the point?"
There's a thing that happens to me in therps that I've grown fond of but used to hate. I'll be very calmly saying something, my therps will start pushing back on my sense of 100% certainty, and as my logic unravels before me, I don't notice until I grab a tissue that I've started blubbering while talking. My face feels hot and my hands get sweaty and I feel a sob come from my gut, from my inner child, from an old wound I thought had healed. And that's how I know - something is up here. I'm being stretched into a new truth that is tearing away at how I understand the world. And myself. And it blows.
This was one of those times.
"What about asking for help from the people that love you?"
"You said that. And I said, what's the point? I mean, everyone's journey is separate from one another and trying to get advice from other people just gets in the way of having to navigate life on your own."
We sit quietly for a minute. I'm rubbing a corner of the tissue between my fingers until it starts to break up into bits of lint. And then she says:
"I think you're mixing two things up. Yes, each one of us has our own lives, and we're the only ones that live them. We get to make choices and decisions about how we live that life based on a lot of factors, including what might feel best for us. But how we bring other people into our journey, and lean on one another as we live that life...that is something different. That's a support system. That's the trust and the vulnerability and the love that helps us grow. We get to ask people to come with us."
I tear up now thinking about when this distinction clicked in my head. Our journeys are enhanced by the people we bring along for the ride. And one of the great choices many of us get to make is asking our loved ones for help and support.
I think Little Girl Nina wanted answers all those years ago. I think about conversations at the dinner table, my parents so well intentioned and urging my independent spirit, telling me I'd figure it out in my own time. "When it's time, it's time." they'd add. I wish I could go back and say, "But I'm just a kid! I need you to help me! I need to know it's ok to not want to figure out something by myself."
Adult Nina is here and she reminds that little voice in her head of this in the moments when I hesitate to FaceTime a friend because I'm so depressed I can barely get out of bed to eat. When I pull away from loved ones because I'm afraid that I'm not good enough. By far my biggest lesson in 'leaning in' has been to lean ON my loved ones; that wonderful support network that we are not all blessed to have.
I transitioned out of regular therapy just over a month ago. What that means - and how I arrived at That Place is still very tender and private to me. But I will say this. It couldn't have happened without a shift in my understanding of what it means to "figure it out." Even though I don't see my therapist regularly, I take her words and her care with me. I don't go at it alone anymore.