When You’re Not Sure Therapy and Self-Help Is Working

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Love the moment. Flowers grow out of dark moments. Therefore, each moment is vital. It affects the whole. Life is a succession of such moments and to live each, is to succeed. ~ Corita Kent

Over the many years I’ve been a counselor and seminar leader, I almost always hear people say that they are doing the right stuff–going to therapy, support groups, reading books, journaling, grieving and everything they are told to do–but don’t feel if they are making progress.

One of the things that helps me provide answers is that I’ve gone through the process. After the ending of my first marriage, I was a mess, as I have recounted in the books. When I speak, it is not just with the education and experience of a therapist, but with the conviction of someone who has traveled the road from hurting to healed. Many who have read Getting Past Your Breakup or Getting Back Out There or watched the videos have remarked they are glad I am not just a talking head, but someone who has been there.

And I’ve been exactly in the same spot where those who are thinking that nothing is happening despite hard work.  It’s taken me years to look back and understand exactly how the process works. From living through the experience, I know that sometimes it does feel like nothing much is happening when something absolutely is. And I know that from being a keen observer of how things work in the natural world, of which we are all a part. 

We humans, despite the amount of technology that keeps us from this truth, are still part of the natural world. If we take our cues from that fascinating world, we can rest assured that our hard work will pay off even when we’re not sure much of anything is happening.  Trust the process because it is. 

When I first moved into my own (just mine) house, I noticed that there were flower beds both lining the driveway and in various places around the yard. Growing up in New York City, I knew nothing about gardening, but thought that the beds would look rough without flowers so I decided to learn something about gardening and plant my own. It was fall when I moved in so I had all winter to learn. 

I bought about 10 huge and very expensive gardening books (because that’s what I do when I want to learn about something) and spent most of the next few months learning about cultivating the soil, what flowers were almost sure to bloom and which ones would either be difficult to grow or take much loving care (and I did not yet know how well I would be at providing that care.)

In my first few years as a gardener, I discovered that plants and seeds I bought did not read the same books as I did as many behaved differently than I thought they would.

I would spend all winter with my gardening books, looking at the beautiful pictures and sketching out ideas in notepads. I usually designed perennial gardens with plants that had different bloom times from early spring to late autumn and I would fill in the gaps with annuals. I would look at colors and heights and the likelihood of a plant or bush taking hold for good. Then the spring would come and the work would begin…tilling the soil, selecting the plants, planting and then throughout the summer carefully pruning and shaping and sometimes adding annuals where perennials didn’t bloom. In the fall I would plant new bulbs and cover my beds for winter rest. 

One of the joys (or dismay) of gardening is discovering what blooms and what doesn’t. I would be amazed that some plants listed in the book as sure things failed to grow and others labeled “high maintenance and difficult to grow” by all ten of my huge books would come up without much work and stay in bloom without much maintenance at all.

Some surprised me with their beauty and hardiness…and some would pop up as a surprise…I wasn’t quite sure where it had come from or even what it was…a random seed, a mislabeled seedling? who knew? but it was pretty and I enjoyed it all the more because it was unexpected. I would learn about the unexpected stranger in my garden and put it on my list of things to include in the spring flower shopping. 

All plants and flowers need the seasons and the cycles. All plants and flowers need specific amounts of acid and alkaline in the soil and all need specific amounts of food and water. And much depends on where you live. In the Northeast I could plant perennial bulbs and leave them in the ground. But when I moved to California I had to dig up my tulips and put them in the freezer because they need a deep freeze to be hardy. 

And so I noticed that like my journey in life, flowers need both darkness and light to bloom beautifully at the right time.

When it is a dark time in life, when there has been loss and sorrow, it is good to remember that life is a cycle and in order to bloom and grow we need the dark times, the restful times, the time to go inward and explore our own depths before we can turn our faces to the sun.

It is difficult to appreciate our ability to bloom when we are in the midst of winter but know that we have it, that we are able to do it.

We have to do our work, our work on ourselves, our grief work, our journaling, our meditation, our hibernation time.

There are books we read that we think are the solution and turn out not to be. We follow the advice of well-meaning family and friends and find it makes us feel worse. Sometimes we do something thinking it’s the sure-fire way to feel better and it doesn’t work and other times we assess something as too hard to do, but try it and it’s not so hard and it works. Therapy and self-help books and/or support groups are very much like gardening. It’s hard work and it takes planning combined with walking the talk, but the results are undeniable and wonderful. 

It’s sometimes a complete surprise as to what blooms from what we plant. Almost all my clients are skeptical about affirmations and some say “I tried it for a few days and it didn’t work” even though both the book and the workbook and many posts on the blog say they need AT LEAST 30 days of saying several times a day to work. Then they commit to that and it works and then they stop doing them and start feeling awful and don’t know why. You have to keep shaping and pruning and caring for YOU through affirmations, acceptance statements, positive self-talk, journaling etc. You have to keep the work going even when you don’t see immediate results or you are not sure anything is going to bloom from what you are planting. What does bloom may surprise you in a pleasant way.

We need to do the work and will gain great rewards from it.

Trust the process. Believe in it always. You will not only reap what you sow and enjoy the benefits of what you have planted, but there will random and unplanned joys along the way. Do the work in the heart of winter and the spring will reward you with a beautiful bounty.

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