Many of my clients come to me in the midst or in the aftermath of forced transition; they’ve lived through cancer, job loss, the seemingly simple fact of aging, death of a dear one, the development of chronic illness or pain, children leaving the nest, and just about any other large or small trauma you can imagine. Something about this undesired shift in their life has brought them face-to-face with the need to redefine what health has meant to them. So, we set ourselves about the business of finding out what health might look like in their near and far-off future.
This work continually reminds me of what is both a common platitude and a lyric from a killer Melissa Ethridge song: The only thing that stays the same is change. You are familiar with this sentiment even if you have not fully accepted it in your own life. Life is constant change. The truth – maybe the biggest truth -- is nothing, ever, stays the same.
For some of us, this produces unending and seemingly unmanageable anxiety and/or depression. For all of us, without exception, this produces ongoing grief. We grieve the loss of many small things in many small ways. We grieve the loss of impossibly large things in many deeply difficult-to-hold ways.
When something good comes into our lives, we want to hold onto it tightly. We never want to let it go. In a certain way, this is healthy. We are always on the lookout for these good things, good people, good places because we are human. As humans, we constantly seek safety because we constantly seek survival. The way that we know we are safe is to know what feels good.
Mind: Even the good feels that come from what we know to be dangerous activity like relationships in which we are being abused, at any level; unprotected, risky sex; indulging an addiction, and other activities… signal a certain sense of safety. If all you’ve ever known about a loving relationship is that it comes with a side of abuse, abuse feels safe. If you have convinced yourself that you need the one who demands the unprotected, risky sex then having the unprotected, risky sex to keep them close to you feels safe. If you need an addiction to cope with an otherwise unmanageable existence, engaging in the addiction feels safe.
I don’t wish for these forms of “safety” for any of us. For all of us, I want the forms of safety that are truly safe: love without any abuse, complete respect for our boundaries and our autonomy, lives free of a need for harmful addictions.
But the fact remains that whether we are clinging to true safety or dysfunctional safety – because life is constant change -- that safety will leave us and we will have to look for another kind of safety sooner or later. This is why it is, ultimately, easier on us to work toward acceptance and agency over our lives than it is to keep clinging. Acceptance and agency transmute life’s constant changes from forced transitions into transformational flow.
Accepting that life is constant change (and therefore constant grief) can free us up to experience the also-constant wonder of life. Taking agency over our lives to 1) see the choices that are before us, and 2) make the choices that are safest and healthiest for our unique circumstances… frees us up to create our own change rather than waiting for the next inevitable change life throws at us against our will. Transformational flow is meeting every changing moment of our lives with an attitude of acceptance and the courage to live in our own agency.
The only thing that stays the same is change. Choose change before, or even as, change is choosing you. Transformational flow is one form of survival. It is the form of survival I try to help my clients find as they redefine what health looks like in their own, ever-changing world.
About JodiAnn Stevenson
JodiAnn Stevenson lives in the U.S., in the Northwest Corner of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, on The Big Lake. Her writing has appeared in numerous venues since 1996. She is the author of three published chapbooks of poetry: The Procedure (March Street Press, 2006); Houses Don’t Float (Habernicht Press, 2010); and Diving Headlong Into A Cliff of Our Own Delusion (Saucebox, 2011). Her mixed-genre work Marina Abramovic Is My Mother is available in the form of a short-run podcast. She has also produced eight chapbooks of poetry for The Broken Nose Collective which she co-founded in 2013. JodiAnn was founder and co-managing editor of the feminist micro-press, Binge Press and its sister journal, 27 rue de fleures, from 2004 until 2017.
A (more or less) complete list of publications and appearances: