If you've ever been in therapy before, whether it was for ongoing support or a specific issue, you've probably experienced the feeling of doing really well and then having a setback. The whole two steps forward, one step back type of thing. Or maybe it was one step forward and something happened that made you feel like you went 10 steps back, or even back to where you started. You've probably heard from someone, be it your treatment team, parent, partner or friend, to "stay positive and keep going." As a therapist, I try to steer clear of what I like to call the "therapist one-liners" including but not limited to: "recovery is not linear," "I totally understand," or the ever-so-common "how does that make you feel?" Not my style - but I digress. I can only imagine the frustration of working day in and day out to change a behavior, mindset or communication pattern, especially one that has been there for years, only to fall right back into it. You know it's harmful, you have the insight, you've thought it through, yet you find yourself taking what feels like 1, 10 or even 100 steps backward.
Take a breath. All of that hard work, all of that insight and all of that dedication is not erased. It's a part of the process, one that is uniquely yours. In situations like this, I like to use the analogy of a labyrinth. Bear with me. I say this knowing that when one thinks of a labyrinth, it's usually not something that sounds comforting. It's also probably not something you want to hear from your therapist either (remember how I feel about those one-liners). You hear the word and you might think of some confusing maze that you can't escape - a confusing and nauseating trap. Maybe you think of the David Bowie movie.... Either way, the very definition of the word is "something that is extremely complex and torturous in structure, arrangement or character."
All of that being said, when you take a closer look at a labyrinth, you'll notice that it isn't a maze at all. A maze is something you must get out of. It's a guessing game and if you make the wrong turn, you hit a dead end. It's filled with decision points, frustration and a lot of uncertainty. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is very different. Look at the picture above and start tracing the path with your finger. You'll notice that it's one long, continuous trail. Yes, it's filled with twists and turns, but eventually you get to the center. There is no right or wrong and the goal is not to escape. Sometimes you think you're getting really close to the endpoint but then you take a turn and you end up somewhere that FEELS further away. However, by making that turn you are actually getting closer to the center. It's a part of the path that cannot be avoided. Eventually, if you keep moving forward, you'll there.
So now let's apply this to therapy. You are making great progress, feeling really proud of yourself and thinking that you're close to your goals (the "center"). Then something happens and those old patterns come back. You feel like you're moving backward, when in reality you are actually moving forward. You may have taken that long turn towards the outside of the labyrinth, but you are still moving in the right direction. Rather than beating yourself up about making the "wrong" decision, try to remember that this is a part of your process. If you try to skip over it, you won't make it to the middle.
It takes a lot of courage to decide to step into the labyrinth of treatment. You write it as you go and it's filled with many unexpected bumps and curves. However you take that first step, then another step and then other one and ultimately, you'll find yourself where you need to be.