We’re all the heroes of our own stories, but the heroes we admire in literature and on the screen find themselves undergoing spiritual and emotional transformations more often than they find themselves using the bathroom. If all of us are heroes, each going on a continuous, limitless, and recursive journey throughout the stages of our lives, then where are you in your journey? How does it relate to your current struggles? What lessons are here for you to learn?
Every journey must eventually reach its destination. But what happens when we aren’t the people we were when the journey began?
At the end of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, the archetypal hero must return to the old, familiar environment from whence they came.
After attending the prince’s ball, Cinderella had to return home, and so must you, in your own way. By embarking on your life-changing journey, you necessarily have to make huge changes along the way, and the routines of your old life can no longer bring the comfort that they used to. So if this can’t be a simple return to the way things always were, then what is there to return to?
Self. With a capital S. You began your journey because you were unsatisfied with your own relationship to yourself. So as you approach the end of your journey, you must finally navigate each of the patterns and pain points that were there from the very beginning. Whether you realized it or not, by walking this path, you were executing a fearless inventory of your own interior.
Before your journey, you lived in the external world as a caterpillar.
You crawling through the twigs and dirt to find any source of sustenance. When you took your first step on your journey, you built a cocoon, and crawled through the twigs and dirt of your own soul searching for emotional and spiritual sustenance. But now, it’s time to re-emerge into the external world as a butterfly, and flutter through the open sky in search of blossoming possibility.
The struggle of your return is in confronting the echoes of your old self.
You’re still facing your shadows, even at this stage of your journey, but now you have all the tools to approach them constructively. You must investigate the remains of your old way of doing and being, and ask yourself the right questions. What ensured your safe passage to the conclusion of your journey? Which skills made the difference between growth and stagnation? Who has enthusiastically journeyed alongside you? Who has chosen continued stagnation? How will you commemorate and honor the growth you’ve made along the way? How will you show the world the fruits of your emotional labor?
It might feel unnecessary to celebrate yourself, and mark the occasion of your growth, but it is completely non-negotiable.
When you don’t recognize your victories, you act out a vicious pattern that only teaches you how to be defeated. I’ll give you this, it’s vital to learn how to be defeated in this life, but trying to shoehorn a lesson on defeat into your moment of triumph is like going to clown college for a degree in physics. Your celebration will tell your body that you did a good job, and encourage you to keep up the good work. It might feel bittersweet to come to the conclusion of your journey, like returning to school at the end of summer vacation. But your journey still has distance you’ve yet to cross.
I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is that your journey doesn’t have to end here, and the bad news is that your journey can’t end here. When we began, you set out to improve yourself, and consciously or not, you chose to commit yourself to a lifelong goal. The next step in your journey is the endless repetition of all the previous steps, and you are more than prepared for it. You were meant to change a lot over the course of your journey, but you were never meant to stop changing.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
It’s helpful to remember that even though we are completely capable, and entirely responsible for our own actions, we are, first and foremost, human beings. You do not need to hold yourself accountable for being human, no matter how tempting it becomes. It’s easy to confuse our competence for the perfect divinity of the mythical heroes that we so often emulate. Through your journey, you have strived to become a more complete person, and failure was never an option. Beating yourself up is something you do for yourself, not your Self.
If returning to a state of normalcy becomes a struggle, here are a few tips
- Keep pushing. Continue seeking our new opportunities. Your journey has been arduous, no doubt, but that is no excuse to rest on your laurels. This is not a return to your old habits, this is a return to loving your life, and yourself. That includes being present, challenging yourself, and maintaining a good attitude. That’s what they don’t tell you about happiness: participation is necessary.
- Talk to yourself sweetly. Too frequently, when we make a mistake we nail ourselves onto a cross of our own imagination. We do this out of the mistaken belief that we need to be punished, but who are we doing this for? Nobody is asking us to be in pain, and by being cruel to ourselves, we only entertain the fancies of our toxic ego. You have proved that you are capable of making major changes for the better, you don’t need to make it quite so hard on yourself.
- Be fit to handle your challenges. Be grateful for the challenges that are set ahead of you. You don’t have to mope over what you wish you had to deal with. Be grateful that you have a plunger, not angry that your toilet is clogged.
- Make an appointment. If you are facing difficulties with your emotions, and struggle to cope with the stressors of this stage, your best option is to book a therapy appointment.
While you’re there, here are a few concepts that it might be helpful to bring up in an appointment.
- Coping Ahead. Ever been anxious about the future? Even with a bright future ahead of you like yours, it’s not easy to go around with the weight of the worst things imaginable shaking around in your head. In just three simple steps, you can cope with the stresses of the oncoming future. Imagine and describe a situation. Figure out which DBT skill you want to apply. Rehearse it in your head. If anxiety about the uncertain future overtakes you, talk with your therapist about coping ahead.
- Building Mastery. With your renewed sense of Self, there’s probably a lot that you want to accomplish, and not enough confidence in your ability to do it. The only way to achieve mastery over anything is through practice, and in order to practice effectively, you have to be committed to what you’re doing and prepared to see it through even through the challenging bits. If lack of self-confidence puts a monkey wrench in your plans, then have a conversation with your counselor about Building Mastery.
- FAST. It can be far too easy to fall into people-pleasing behaviors when striving to be a kinder and more empathetic individual. FAST is a DBT skill for those of us who struggle with maintaining our boundaries and self-respect when involved in personal conflicts. You can put FAST into practice by being Fair, making no Apologies for making a request, Sticking to your values, and being Truthful without exaggeration or omission.
The journey is long. So long that you’ll be travelling along its path for the rest of your life, maybe more than once. The pace can be grueling, because we don’t choose when we need to grow, only if. The rewards are countless, endless, ceaseless, and priceless.
If you happen to be searching for a therapist to offer guidance in this journey to fulfillment, we have an excellent team of therapists, analysts and specialists in narrative therapy who would love to help you. Other mental health services Integrative Counsel provides are art therapy, depression and anxiety treatment, improving codependency and boundaries, grief and life transition, accessing your body informed wisdom, and increasing mindfulness and awareness.
Sunny Ebsary is a writer and singer-songwriter from Tampa, FL. When he’s not sing-songwriting or just regular writing, he’s probably drinking water with a lot of ice, having a staring contest with his cat, or giving people great ideas. You can listen to Sunny’s music here.