Remember the scene in the Simpsons when Homer stops to get a can of soda, and, realizing he has no money, he sticks his arm up into the vending machine? If you haven’t seen it, spoiler alert: he successfully gets his hand on a can, and then he promptly gets his arm stuck inside the vending machine. He drags the vending machine around, somehow ends up getting his other arm stuck in yet another vending machine, and is forced to call a group of men to come free him from the whole debacle. Just as one of the men is about to literally saw off Homer’s arm, another leans around the side of the vending machine and asks, “Homer, are you just holding onto the can?” To which Homer replies, “Your point being?”
Somewhere along the way in our recovery journeys, many of us experience this, “I can have it…but I can’t really have it” type of mentality. We feel fearful, falling into a sense of entrapment, self-doubt, and maybe even self-loathing as we struggle to move forward differently in the wake of deeply engrained beliefs about ourselves, food, exercise, substances, sex, etc.
An important part of my work with a client is helping her explore her fears around changing – or rather, her fears around what changing will cost her. Sometimes, that cost can feel so overwhelming that she has — either knowingly or unknowingly — begun to seriously doubt that she is up to the task, thus compounding these feelings of entrapment and inadequacy.
So together, we first aim to shed light on whatever it is that gives her a taste of what she desires but that never truly satisfies –- the soda can, if you will. We identify the lies that she’s struggling to let go of, and we get familiar with the ways in which her critical spirit towards herself and her story have held her back from achieving her recovery goals. Then, we dig deep into the rich gift of self-compassion. We learn healthy ways to challenge our inner critic, and we practice letting go of self-resentment and extending grace to ourselves as we would towards our friends and loved ones.
Across the board, it seems that this feeling of being stuck comes when we are putting our hope in something that is hopeless. So, another key step is working together to discover her true desires again – the desires that bring life, the ones that aren’t twisted by false beliefs or fears about self and others, the ones that are connected to the deepest part of her. All of this can only be done through a lens of kindheartedness and gentleness toward self.
Obviously, letting go of a can of soda is much simpler than letting go of deeply entrenched patterns, beliefs, or behaviors. But perhaps by starting with this simple question – “What am I holding onto that promises to fulfill me but leaves me only with a profound sense of hopelessness, fear, and insecurity?” – we can begin to reconnect with and be propelled by our truest and purest hopes and desires.
~Stephanie Thorsen, LPC