When I first entered 12 Step recovery in my early 20’s I was faced with the daunting task of identifying a “Higher Power”. I came to the program anti-religious, not particularly spiritual, and very committed to rational thought. I was also un-trusting enough to make relying on my sponsor or the group as my higher power totally unrealistic.
Time may seem too impersonal of a concept to use as a higher power. But for me, it was solidly reliable. No matter how I felt…rageful, hopeless, overwhelmed, bored, confused…which I felt frequently in early recovery…I came to trust that if I could keep myself from acting on my feelings…by using or breaking up with my partner, quitting my job, or screaming at someone…I would feel different later.
I came to understand that Time would do the work of bringing my emotions down a few notches, and my job – was just to trust that. I learned not only how to keep from acting, or rather acting out, while feeling anything super intensely, but I also learned to refrain from big thinking/ processing/ discussing/ decision making while really worked up. It isn’t that really worked up feelings aren’t authentic; but when too stirred up, emotions don’t lend themselves to reasonable thinking.
Everyone has heard the saying “time heals all wounds”. It sounds a bit over-simplistic to me, but Time definitely transforms emotions. When I sit with clients in profound suffering, my hope for them is they too can sit with and tolerate the feelings they are having, to taste the details and nuances of what they are feeling. Those details are important pieces of information about their truths. But they aren’t the only truths.
As the feelings subside, it is our job to lend thinking to our process, with the details and nuances as clues to understanding why we were so deeply suffering. So often it is linked to residue from our past or fears about our future. That is why we must let time work its wonders on us.
Time alters your emotional self; not necessarily in an orderly way, or nicely from “negative” to “positive”, and interestingly, not in a predetermined way. Emotional states will come, chaotically, moving back and forth and sideways, with exhausting repetition, bizarre little turns, until they find a new, unexpected resting place. While we spend lots of time fantasizing what we are going to feel like later, we could never predict where we will end up.
I do not believe Time inherently heals. What I do think is that Time is a wind to help move you along as you do the work of healing. As long as you keep in dialogue with yourself and others about your injuries, time will carry you through rough terrain and take you to a new place.
Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
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