Are you bumbling along?

I’m immersed in a text called Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People For Change, which is incredibly relevant to both my Counseling Psychology studies and my personal life. Authors William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick explore the ways and reasons people change, and how counselors can support and encourage this process. Rather than trying to push people to change, these two addiction specialists encourage counselors to take a non-authoritarian approach to helping people access their own motivations and resources.

When I cracked open the book several days back, I came across a passage in the preface that keeps resurfacing in my mind:

A defining characteristic of addictive behaviors is that they involve the pursuit of short-term gratification at the expense of a long-term harm. Often the person is quite aware of damaging consequences, and has resolved to control or abandon the addictive behavior, yet time and again returns to the old familiar pattern. The addictive behaviors are chronic relapsing conditions.

This problem is by no means restricted to the addictive behaviors. A central characteristic of the neuroses, as Freud and his students describe them, is their self-defeating nature. Books and self-help programs abound to help people with motivational problems that are variously described as difficulties of procrastination, self-esteem, self-assertion, positive thinking, and “getting unstuck” (e.g., Simon, 1988). Within religious contexts, conceptions of sin often emphasize the struggle of immediate gratification against higher values. Our colleague Tim Stockwell once quipped that “Life is a chronic relapsing condition.” (p. ix) 

As a recovering food addict, the word “relapse” carries a very scary connotation, since I desperately don’t want to go back to the dreadful darkness that God has so graciously led me away from. When I am able to harness this fear of relapse, the emotion energizes me to stay on a positive trajectory, taking the action steps necessary to keep me on the path of Life. On the other hand, at unhealthy levels the fear can be limiting and binding, stealing my freedom to color outside the lines and take healthy risks.

For some reason, picturing every person – even the healthiest, highest functioning ones – as being in a “chronic relapsing condition” has helped to loosen fear’s grip on me. The visual image of each one of us being ruffled up and and turned around and somewhat confused and yet doing the best we know how to journey forward with the tools and knowledge we’ve been given…two steps forward, one step back…that’s a freeing image. It reminds me of a dear friend who regularly refers to herself in a light-hearted way as merely “bumbling through life.” Skipping, tripping, skinning knees, getting back up, continuing onward – fully knowing, accepting, and embracing the fact that lots of mess and mistakes will accompany every single day.

Yes, I think I’d like to be more of a tumbleweed rolling freely with the wind of the Spirit, rather than a tightrope walker, always tense and teetering.

Are you bumbling along?