The permanent impermanence of change

Ah, spring. We love to feel our skin thawing from the cold of winter (if it ever actually was that cold, which, in New York, it really wasn’t), the sun reaching into those crevasses of our mind that the drear seems to coat with a thick layer of regret, sorrow, negativity. Things seem more hopeful in spring, less futile, more promising.

Or, not. Spring also activates us animals, bringing alive the previously quieted feelings of rage and aggression, grandiosity and pride. Psychiatric emergency rooms tend to get pretty cozy this time of year, with the more insidious of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors breaking free from the ice.

And there you have the unending complexity of the human experience. You can’t have the winter without the spring, the good without the bad, the hopeful without the despairing.  And it all happens, every season, every year, without end.  A permanent impermanence.

Part of what we strive to do in DBT is hold the dialectic, the thesis and the antithesis, right up next to each other, like two handfuls of sand, one dry, silky, and clean, the other wet and sticky with plastic bottle caps, cigarette butts, and chewed up gum. We do this to see that both exist, both have value (seeing a dirty beach reminds me to be more careful with my recycling), and both are inevitable halves of the same imperfect whole.

So it is with change.

I hear my clients debate this all the time. I want to leave this job but I am afraid I won’t find another. I want to end this relationship but what if he’s the only one who’ll love me? I want to stop drinking but where will I find comfort? I want to forgive her but, without my anger, am I just giving up, letting her win? I usually respond to this with a yes, and…. Yes, you do not know if you will get another job, and  you are miserable in this one, and,  we pretty well know that, for as long as you stay in this one, you have guaranteed misery, whereas in another, there is at least the hope of something better. Yes, there are no guarantees that you will find someone else, and the cost of holding onto this relationship which no longer works is practically killing you.  Yes, drinking has meant comfort, even love for you for so long – your only friend –and you feel ashamed, more depressed, and ill as soon as the buzz has worn off.  And, yes, the anger in some ways is your only connection to her, and it has never brought you the peace you seek within.

The serenity prayer says it best: please help me accept the things I cannot change, give me the courage to change the things I can, and [for God’s sake] please give me the wisdom to know the difference! When you can change, you must. When you can’t, you have to do some internal work on accepting.

This spring, as you’re cleaning out your closets, your pantries, your desks, your lives, why not take an inventory of all the other things you don’t need?  Why not make room for change?

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Therapy, at its finest, provides a place for us to know ourselves without judgment. My practice is centered around the idea that change is inevitable,
and that we can shape our lives in ways that allow us to both accept the roots of our history and prepare for the growth of our future.