Transitions are in-between times. We haven’t quite made it to the new thing, but if we turn around we can still see the old thing in the distance. There can be a pull back to what once was (especially if we are electing to transition and we start second guessing ourselves). It’s like seeing the light at both ends of the tunnel. But you know what? Going back, it won’t feel the same as it did before. If you wanted to move forward in the first place, it could feel like compromising your values. It could also feel safe because it’s what you’re used to. And sometimes we need to go back to recognize how much we really did want to go. Maybe we need more time. That’s okay too.

I don’t know about you, but I often hear myself saying “yeah, there’s a lot going on…it’s been a big change!” We hear that change is constant, and it’s true—many elements of our lives are in flux at any given time. Does knowing that it’s happening regularly make it easier? Nope. Change is hard.

I work with a lot of families who have recently had babies. When we have the opportunity to process and talk about how the birth went, parents often talk about the time between complete dilation (the OK to start pushing and welcoming their baby into the world) and actually doing the pushing. This time is called “transition”, and the birthing person often feels exhausted, defeated, and unsure of whether they are going to be able to birth their child. This is also the time when parents say “nevermind! I don’t want to do this anymore! I don’t want a baby!” They also feel afraid, because you know what? That baby is coming and it’s only a matter of time. Change is inevitable, and when there is pain associated with that change, it’s even harder. All of the preparation and worrying and wondering has led to this very moment (or maybe the next 2 hours, but either way, it’s happening).

I was brainstorming this blog with my partner, who suggested that maybe transitions aren’t like tunnels at all, but train stations where you are choosing your new path. There are life events that force you onto a train you never wanted to ride, but eventually you will arrive at a new place, maybe one you didn’t expect. Maybe it could be okay. We don’t know yet. But maybe. And that’s the important part. We would love to know that in 3 months, we are going to feel grounded and confident, have a great new friend, know all the best places to have tea and also be awesome at hip-hop (or whatever it is that would feel wonderful for you), but we can’t know. When it’s not predictable, it’s a little scary.

Here are some suggestions for surviving transitions and making the most of them, even if they were not part of the plan:
1. Gather information about your options. Sometimes we don’t have a choice, but we can find small decisions within our circumstances. Knowing the change is here, what could you do with it? Is there any way to make it more okay?
2. Review your support people, and call on them when you need them. Who will listen when you need to vent? Who is awesome with giving you feedback when you need it? They want to be there for you, and they need to know you need them. If friends and family aren’t the folks you’re needing right now, maybe there is a great support group happening that would welcome you with open arms.
3. Find compassion for you and what you’re going through. Think about what you would say to a friend who was going through the same thing. You probably wouldn’t guilt them, make them feel bad for having their feelings, or tell them they should be doing better than they are. Try talking to yourself in the same soft way.
4. Remember the times you went through something really challenging and note whether you made it through. If you’re reading this, I am 99.9% certain you have been through some kind of transition or difficult life event, and you made it through. You can do this. It doesn’t feel good, and it might not for a while. But it will. You are going to be okay.

“As I row, row, row
Going so slow, slow, slow
Just down below me is the old sea
Nobody knows, knows, knows
So many things, things, so
So out of range
Sometimes so strange
Sometimes so sweet
Sometimes so lonely

The further I go,
more letters from home never arrive
and I’m alone
all of the way
all of the way
alone and alive.”
—Patty Griffin, Rowing Song

Elizabeth Gillette, LCSW is a therapist based in Asheville, NC who works with expectant families, couples, and people experiencing big changes in their lives. Contact her to discuss counseling services.

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