This is not a post about new year’s resolutions, or vision boarding, or new year new you, or sugar-free January, or dry January, or Whole30, or dieting, or cleansing, or reinventing yourself. What a racket we’ve made of our annual trip around the sun and its accompanying frenzies of self-improvement. I’m not here to sell you a cure-all for shedding an old skin and emerging, green juice in hand, a better, glowier, goop-ier version of yourself. I’m here, instead, to talk about how I stopped fragmenting my psyche in the pursuit of wholeness and happiness. Or how I tried, and am still trying, to stay whole. Let’s go ahead and call it: No self left behind.
Late in 2017, I fell in love with Alanis Morissette’s podcast. It’s not, as one might think, about music. Instead, each episode is a conversation with a leading academic or psychotherapist, exploring psychology, neurobiology, and development. There is much discussion of relationship, attachment theory, and other joyfully painful topics that demand heart and soul excavation. My favorite kind, if anyone was wondering.
When I was in therapy after my mother died, we spent a good deal of time allowing the different voices in my head to come forth. It was in some ways reminiscent of the empty chair technique derived from Gestalt therapy, but far less controlled. I would lie down on the floor (breaking the pattern of sitting where I usually did) and, one at a time, allow the distinct voices who influenced my thought patterns to speak up.
It was a highly effective practice—a way of acknowledging and bringing to light the many aspects of self I towed along with me wherever I went. You know how it is: There’s the mom voice, the dad voice, the boss voice, the older sibling, the popular girl in high school, the boy who never likes you, the critical adult who won’t ever believe in you. We each have our own set of voices—some practices call it a “board of directors”—that, in chorus or cacophony, become the dominant voice in our minds.
Take a moment here. Take a breath. See if you can instinctually identify at least three different voices that influence you on a daily basis. Yah? Ok.
Back to Alanis’s podcast. As I was binge-listening to past episodes, I stumbled across her conversation with Richard Schwartz, a therapist who developed a modality called Internal Family Systems (IFS). IFS assumes that the mind is subdivided into a number of different parts, each of which plays a role in keeping the central self stable and safe. Schwartz generally categorizes those parts as: managers, firefighters, exiles, and self. Managers plan, organize, and judge. Firefighters protect and soothe (often with damaging behavioral patterns). Exiles carry burdens from being wounded, and seek avenues for safety and expression.
Think of it this way: Managers, firefighters, and exiles will think, speak, and act in reaction to some past wound. Contrastingly, Schwartz describes the self as a person’s centered core being, from which one acts out of calmness, clarity, courage, compassion, and confidence.
But we cannot go from fragmentation to wholeness (or, in IFS terms, from the knee-jerk reactions of managers, firefighters, and exiles to the clarity of self) without acknowledging and giving voice to the parts of ourselves that have been abandoned, shut down, and silenced. Which is why the drive to cast out an old self in favor of some shiny new illusion of identity on an annual basis can actually be quite dangerous. It encourages us to abandon the wounded parts of ourselves without resolving their pain, and to relinquish control to a part of the mind that is obsessive and hyper-critical.
Which is why, when I laid down on the floor of my therapist’s office and allowed those disenfranchised parts of myself to speak, I eventually heard the clear bell of self talking. And yes, she did want to make changes, to usher in a kind of reinvention. She wanted me to quit my job and renegotiate the terms of my relationship with many of the people in my life. She wanted me to get back to the core of what I’ve always wanted: to write, to create beauty, to be connected to the land. But I had to let all the other voices, the managers and firefighters and exiles, loose in order to hear, truly, what self had to say.
It’s not easy to listen to the parts of ourselves that have been so deeply wounded, pissed off, abused, and shut up. In fact, it’s far easier to march forth, pretending that a quick fix of a New Year’s resolution, a month without sugar, or a hot date with a vision board will heal all past trauma. In reality, if we want a shiny new self, we must turn our attention to all past selves and let them know they are safe, that we have grown, that we are newly equipped to care for them, that their terrified woundedness no longer needs to be in charge.
We are smarter. We are better. We have done the mother-freaking work*.
And yes, gosh darn it, we’re armed with spicy winter green juice, too. It’s made in the blender, with citrus in season (I used lemon and mandarine, but you could use any you have on hand), fresh ginger, and kale (again, any leafy green will do), water, and ice. Couldn’t be easier. Will boost your immune system (vitamin C and chlorophyll are so good for that) so you can get back to all that soul excavation.
I believe in you!
* If you’d like to begin some of the work described here, I highly recommend seeking the assistance of a qualified counselor or therapist.
WINTER CITRUS GINGER GREEN JUICE.
A tart and spicy green juice with fresh, vibrant winter kale, clementines, lemon, and ginger. No juicer required!
- 2 cups cold water
- 1 cup torn fresh kale leaves
- 1/2-1 inch piece of fresh ginger, depending on desired spiciness
- 1 small clementine or tangerine, peeled and deseeded
- 1/2 medium-large lemon, juiced
- 4 cubes ice, if desired
Place all ingredients in a high speed blender and blend on high until completely smooth. Pour and enjoy!