Sorting through some papers I come across letters written years ago to an old girlfriend. Reading the flimsy sheets it is hard to fully recognise the hand that wrote them. I’m filled with emotions and most of them are uncomfortable. I feel strangely ashamed of my younger self, the naivety grates and the scarcely hidden attempts to impress make me cringe.
In supervision this week I was talking about the palpable difficulty people have with marrying their intellectual understanding of a problem with change to their emotions. I may be able to acknowledge that my historical desire to please everyone came from a tricky relationship with my mother, but turning that clarity into a different emotional response took me more than a decade. So why is it so hard to feel different? Is it perhaps that we hang onto our damaging beliefs much more determinedly than we would imagine?
Listening to music while I read the old letters “February” pops up on my playlist. It tells the story of broken love and the writers attempt to avoid the repetition of previous painful mistakes. It has always resonated with me for its beauty but also for the ease with which I can identify with what has often felt like a lifelong crusade to avoid constantly falling into the same holes.
After many years of continually making the same errors I realised that maybe I wasn’t so keen to let go of the damaging parts. The reason was simple. As I couldn’t remember a different, a better version of myself I was afraid of not existing at all.
When anxiety, depression, deep sadness or indeed any of the most uncomfortable emotions have been constant companions their familiarity have a certain sort of perverse comfort. Trying to imagine yourself without them is much harder because the picture you hold of yourself, the feeling you imagine experiencing, just can’t be reached. So we stay where we are instead and wonder why we don’t appear able to change.
Fundamental change in the way that we perceive ourselves requires us to go through a bereavement. We cannot be anew until we are prepared to take the risk involved in letting go of who we once were and, with it, all that we felt sure of.
The song is full of metaphor. The cold month of February a perfect setting for the frostiness at the end of love, and the frantic chopping of wood an effort to stave off harsh winters and heartbreaks to come.
Reading through the letters it strikes me that there were too many times in my life when I waited for other people to chop the wood to keep me warm. When I took the risk of picking up the axe myself, unfamiliar as it was, everything began to change.