We know recovery from physical pain can take months to years. Improvement is often easy to detect. A doctor looks for signs showing improved strength, stamina and the ability to return to daily activities without strain or re-injury.
What about recovering from mental, emotional and spiritual pain? How do we know when strength is building and freedom is gaining ground? Signs may not be as clear cut.
Let's walk through a real-life scenario. We'll use a 3-part question to illustrate how the right questions can help us better understand ourselves and assist problematic relationships. The first two questions lead to the third question, which ultimately leads you from struggle to strength.
Sue has been dating John six years*. During the first year, each was invested in building toward something mutually special. Over time, their connection has begun to crumble. They spend less time around each other and don't know why they're still together.
John's mother has been addicted to pain medication for years. She also experiences great dependency on her son. In turn, John has gradually developed a strong need to save his mom from drugs. He doesn't contribute to his own growth as a person. He struggles with feelings of emptiness and failure.
Sue comes to see me for guidance on what to do about John. Before she talks about John, she says she wants to be married and starting a family.
What is the reality?
Step back and review the scenario. Identify the players and how they influence the story. Reflect on their varying mental, emotional and spiritual contributions.
Sue's reality is John will never be fully available to her. She recognizes that John feels empty because he is distracted by the constant demands of caring for his mom. He pushes through his feelings of failure in hopes of witnessing a breakthrough in his mom. Sue believes the mother/son relationship is unhealthy and co-dependent. Lately, her feelings of loneliness, isolation and invisibility show up more often and with growing intensity.
What is the fantasy?
Check in with yourself and determine if false hope has taken over. Plug in to your imagination, feelings and love meter. Look for the most common themes circulating over and over for you. Do these messages make rational sense?
Sue's fantasy is John would get his act together, leave his mother and marry her. They would have three kids and live happily ever after. In six years, this fantasy has caused great struggle in Sue's heart and mind.
What is the truth?
Once reality and fantasy come to the surface, it is time to let them go to make room for truth. Whether the truth shows up overnight or 100 years later, it will be there when you're ready to embrace it fully. This is awakening.
Sue's truth is telling John she is not available to him. She must clear a path for a new person who is available and interested in a long-term partnership including kids.
Sue will achieve her goal by rooting herself in her values and spirituality. At one point during the session, she had identified four beliefs to keep her on the path of truth. Sue's truth is practicing generosity, kindness, openness and joy often and with conviction.
Getting past so-called "reality" and fantasy is not easy. Your willingness to find truth is key to restoring strength in the heart, mind and spirit. If your suffering is not physical in nature, reflect on these questions and allow the answers to lead you to recovery.
*Names and other relevant information has been changed for privacy.
If there is fear, resistance or avoidance at the idea of doing this exercise, it's definitely time to talk to a coach for support.