Feeling a little disoriented? A year ago, while feeling like someone had cut my dock rope, I sat by the river and wrote the following words. I never hit ‘post.’ At the time, I felt alone in my disorientation. A year later, I find there is a great number of you that would join me on that riverbank, looking confused, wondering, “What Happened?” We feel “untethered.”
Set adrift. Cut loose.
Under normal circumstances, it is one of my favourite feelings in the world.
I crave the moment my kayak lifts loose from the rock bed and floats free. My stomach flips with excitement when airplane wheels tuck up to slumber away the flight. Both moments are rich with the floating sensation that you are untethered from terra firma and firmly in the hands of, what one hopes is, a capable pilot.
Many of our bucket lists moments are composed of dreams of being untethered. Floating in a hot air balloon. Hang gliding off cliffs. Throwing ourselves out of planes. A segment of us humans have a fascination with being free of the constraints that come with always being tied down by gravity.
On the flip side, the untethering moments of our lives produce the scariest moments for us. Job loss. Divorce. Diagnoses.
Even graduation – a celebratory event quickly followed by “What now?” These are those moments when stuff happens leaving you flying headlong and blind into uncharted territory. Floating in a sea of fear feeling like someone or some thing with a mighty hand and sarcastic smirk has reached down and whacked away the rope that tied us to the dock.
Instead of soaring in wild-eyed wonder, fear and dread threaten to bring us crashing down.
Rather than experiencing the lightness and thrill of being set free, we are instead dragged down by the anxieties of the unknown.
Instead of unbounded freedom and choices, we become disabled by overwhelm and worry.
Seasons of Transition
Transition: The moment that bring us close to death also bring life.
I was surprised in prenatal classes to learn that there is a stage of labour and delivery called ‘transition.’
It happens in the moments before birth when labour culminates in a final show of force to launch this baby into the world. It’s an intense time marked by profound, instinctual power, giving birth to new life.
And it’s painful. Wickedly painful.
It’s out of our control.
And it can be a bit traumatizing.
Why couldn’t we be like butterflies? Snuggled in a cozy cocoon, assigned with eating our way out. Emerging into the world to discover, while you were immobilized, you’ve developed highly functional and completely gorgeous wings. You unfurl them in a glorious display and take off to feast on the milk from flower blossoms. No one was hurt or scarred in their development. There were no tears or screaming in the emerging. (That might not be true!)
Human transitions simply aren’t that glorious.
As humans, our journey from one solid place to another seems to be filled with pain. Unbearable moments of oxygen deprivation, screaming, crying, anger, bargaining, gasping, grasping, cutting, hopeless flailing and insane nastiness. Letting go, while hanging on for dear life.
Where’s the Emotional Epidural When you Need one?
In transition, we are caught between the shore and a hopeful landing spot. We don’t even know what our destination will look like.
I can promise you that there is life after the transition. Babies enter the world every day. They and their brave mothers push through. They are caught in anticipating arms. Pulled in close. They grow quickly and never fit again into the space that once held them. They walk. They run. They laugh. Smile. They enjoy life…and you will too.
In the throes of transition though, there is nothing to do but go through it. Although we have epidurals for mothers, we don’t for babies. They just have to endure it. Babies have to be free from medication so, when they emerge, we can see they are fully alive and well with all systems functioning normally.
Seasons of Transition Give us Information in 3 Key areas
Being untethered puts a spotlight on crucial things that we wrestle with. It also shines a light on things we’ve done our best to avoid wrestling with. Transitional seasons can show you what some of your next steps need to be when you get your feet back on the ground.
I. The Ability to Take Care of Ourselves: Body, Mind & Soul
When you’ve been untethered and you can’t catch a glimpse of a safe landing spot, the focus shifts back to basic survival skills. Have you developed the skills to provide the basics of life for yourself?
Do you adequately ensure you get enough sleep, healthy intakes of food and drink, and are investing in giving and receiving love. These are foundational to being human and yet we seem to treat them as luxurious options to get to when our work is done.
Transition is a time of discovering that being cared for is a gift we can give ourselves. Not because we’ve accomplished to check off the to-do list. Not because we’ve done anything to deserve it. Just because we are human.
Along with caring for your body, learning the skill of self-compassion can ease your mind. For many of us, the inner critic has had free rein in the playground of our mind for too long. In transition, that inner critic can go wild blaming the present situation on anyone and anything. It can turn it’s raging eye on you and your mistakes and shortcomings. All those mental gymnastics are wasted energy. Unsettled times give us the opportunity to notice the unhelpful antics of this critic and step up to protect yourself from its damaging dialogue. It’s part of learning to look after yourself and care for yourself. Learn how to replace it with a kinder, more helpful voice.
Give yourself the gift of self-compassion and self- care. Focus on being a good parent to yourself. Throw self-loathing, self-pity and self-sacrifice overboard.
II. The Quality of Your Support System
Butterflies seem to rock transitions. They are almost completely autonomous. You aren’t. Humans are made for families, tribes and communities. Despite our bucket list desires to fly free, an equal cry of our heart is to be seen, heard and held.
There is a reason we obsessively check our devices to see if someone has reached out. We are in a constant search to know we matter to someone.
Times of transition give us information about the quality of the support system we currently have. It show us our need to rely on others and painfully reveals when there are holes in that support team.
Even if you’ve struggled to find a place to fit, I’m convinced it is out there. You may have to step into some uncomfortable places to find them, but they are there. As a counsellor, I wish I could start a friend-matching service. So many people are lonely. Step out of that tight comfort zone and go find them. If you have that supportive community, open the edges and draw others in.
III. Unresolved Faith Issues
In transition, our faith is challenged on all kinds of levels. What we were taught may feel like a suffocating cacoon we need to crawl out of. Just as often, it may feel like a safe place to return to. Transition can make what we believe clearer or more murky.
Transition is the wrestling ground of faith. In Judeo-Christian teachings, we see the people of Israel in continuous transitions. The name Israel itself means “Wrestles with God.” When transitions force you to wrestle with what you believe, don’t believe, want to believe, and no longer can believe – know you are surrounded by good, ancient company.
I can’t comprehend how huge pieces of metal, filled with people, can stay afloat on wind currents. But I know it happens all the time. I know there’s a scientific explanation for why my kayak keeps me out of the water, but it’s no less a miracle. When you’re between the shores of life, it often reveals the unanswered questions and issues of trust and faith. If you let it, transition can draw you a little deeper to see a greater picture,
When we are stripped of our control, we have to rely on faith, in some form, to guide us through these transitional waters. It fills the gap between the shores of life. Faith is believing when you aren’t experiencing it.
Faith is holding on and taking time to enjoy the ride when you don’t know the destination.
Faith is trusting when the tarmac gives way or the boat rumbles off the bottom, that there is a pilot at the helm that knows your destination even when you don’t. That you are being buoyed up by forces you can neither imagine or explain that are working out a purpose in your life.
When your moorings are cut, and you find yourself adrift in transition, awake to the fact that there are even greater powers that are holding you up. You are being buoyed up and pushed to the surface by something way stronger than the dock rope. If you’ve been depending on the rope to keep you safe, you may need to expand that view.
The Thrill of Life Happens After the Unmooring
Transitions always take longer than we expect. They are messier than we ever thought possible. They bring to the surface areas we need to work on that we may not have been previously aware of. They also draw out of us strength we never knew we had.
What is the hardest part of the transition you find yourself in?
Can you recognize moments in life when being cut loose actually helped you soar?
What has this transitional season showed you about your ability to care well for your body and mind? What do you need more of? Less of?
Who are the pillars in your tribe? Are there holes in your support system? What comfort zone might you have to step out of to find people to fill that gap?
Untethered. Feelings of being set free is an illusion. Although we are untethered from one thing we are still held by another. What have you been set free from? What now holds you afloat?
Trish is a counsellor in Saskatoon, who stays afloat by wrestling with issues of self-care, tribe reconciliations, and existential ponderings.
Need help maneuvering this transition? I’d love to help. Email me : firstname.lastname@example.org; Phone or text: 639-630-2010 orSchedule an Appointment