The world feels like a hard place to be in right now.
I’ll go ahead and say it. The world feels like a hard place to be in right now. We’re all tired of this pandemic, of racial injustice, of anger, of people just not hearing each other or themselves. Tired of being tired.
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That sounds great. It is definitely something to strive for. But sometimes, we need to step back and acknowledge the lemons. So said Donna Oriowo, educator, therapist and author, at a recent webinar I listened to.
The lemons haven’t been the same for everyone. The death of George Floyd ignited international outrage. It laid bare the kind of treatment that People of Color have told me they have often been aware of as a possibility, or a reality, but it has rarely entered the consciousness of most White people in this country. It was one brutal incident that was filmed, among many others that weren’t.
Even if you haven’t been physically brutalized, maybe you have still experienced trauma, humiliation, or stereotyping on the basis of your skin color or ethnicity. The events of this past month may have triggered past traumas that are the result of racism on systemic and interpersonal levels. That is your story, your experience, and I don’t want to tell it or interpret it for you. Nor do I want to assume that that is even the same story for everyone.
But I am here to listen your experience, whatever it may be.
What ARE your lemons? That’s what we take time to look at in therapy.
The lemons are the bumps. The hurts, the stressors. The roadblocks that get in the way of us being fully present in our lives. They could be experiences you’ve had with being sized up and treated a certain way, and as a result, you felt ashamed, powerless, or humiliated.
It usually doesn’t help when someone asks you, “Are you sure that’s what happened? Maybe it wasn’t (racism, sexism, harassment, ageism – insert your own perspective here).” This likely well-meaning person is coming from the premise that it’s your own distorted perceptions that are keeping you stuck, and if you only changed this perspective, you would feel and do better.
But when we are hurting, that’s usually not helpful. It makes us feel more alone. Unheard. How do we trust someone if they can’t even hear us out? So we push that lemon down deep into ourselves, and keep on with our lives. No judgment there – we do what we do to get through our days. But over time, with all those buried lemons, it’s kind of hard to make lemonade, isn’t it?
When I think back to the times when I was really hurting about something, and someone tried to be helpful, you know what meant the most to me? When someone really listened. Listened, without judgement, without trying to change my perception or my feelings. That felt like compassion.
And that meant the world to me. It made me feel less alone.
I think a lot of us need more of that, nowadays. People who can just acknowledge the lemons without trying so hard to make us “get over” them.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of racism, you have probably felt this for years, at different levels of intensity, but to survive, you may have had to suppress the parts of yourself that hurt or were angry because of this. (And maybe you still do, at times.) Maybe those are your lemons.
If you have high-risk people in the home and are feeling anxious because you have committed to social distancing and/or isolation, while others around you have not, those might be your lemons right now.
So what do we do?
First of all, acknowledge the lemons. The frustration, the pain. Accept that they are there, with compassion for yourself.
Give yourself time for this.
Then, get help. I know I am not the only therapist out there. There are options that are more affordable, and therapists whose way of working and being may be your preference right now. But if you want to work on your stress and trauma in a structured but centered-on-you-in-the-moment way to get relief, that’s what I do.
I’m not here to decide what is “real” or not. That’s not how trauma therapy or life stress reduction work.
In fact, if you have done therapy before, you are probably used to a therapist giving you their opinion or interpretation of what’s happening in your life, and what to do about it. That has its place, and if that’s the approach you prefer, go for it!
It’s just not what I do, generally. We will work to determine your lemons, YOU will decide with me, what they are and which ones you want to work on, and we will go from there. It’s a process, and we will work on it together.
It starts with acceptance of ourselves. We don’t have to like every part of ourselves; just accept that these parts are there, lemons, lemonade, and all. That’s where compassion starts.
Take care of yourself this month. You are worth it.
“When someone really listened… without judgement, without trying to change my perception or my feelings. That felt like compassion. “