Pillars of Wellness: Discovering Yourself & Uncovering Your Layers

In a recent session with a client, we shared about the intricacy and the awareness that happens in a healing and recovery process that’s intentional. This client has been coming consistently and regularly for sessions, being intentional about making therapy and growth a focus of life. We’ve talked about and considered whether sobriety was something that they wanted in their life, whether it was realistic and attainable or even desired. This client, like many of our clients, is newer to the Chicago area, trying to navigate professional and social life in new surroundings. It can be thoroughly overwhelming to consider all the options and opportunities our city has to offer but when you’re a young professional and college life was filled with an abundance of exploration in relationships, parties, substance and casual sex, knowing how to have fun and engage more authentically and unfiltered with people is more than daunting.

This client story isn’t just one client story, it’s true of so many who are new to Chicago. They come here for school and decide to stay and settle their life here (like me) or they move here for their or their partner’s job. But what do we connect with first in the city? For those who grew up in the church, they may decide to “church shop” and connect to this ready-made community with rituals and routines that are known to them. For others, our first friends are made at work or in class, we hope that they’ll invite us out to connect (tip: the majority are thinking that but someone needs to make the first move… you? Yes!) Some exploration happens on our own, and wow is that vulnerable! I remember not wanting to go out to eat by myself or to the movies or a street festival by myself. My inner voice berating me: Jenn, you’re so pathetic, these are things that people do together! It shouldn’t be that hard to find people! What’s wrong with you? And that voice convinced me that everyone was looking at me, and saying the same thing in their head toward me. For me I had a sense of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to explore but I held myself back for far too long because I told myself that I would be judged for doing that in a big city where no one ever seems to be alone and everyone already had their people… my clients have taught me I’ve had it all wrong and honestly, have helped me out of my own “stinking thinking” around that in a long term way.

But the question arises, when we’re newly trying to settle somewhere or with someone and not much is familiar, how do we want to engage when it’s finally up to us? For a lot of us, at first we don’t realize this is a new moment. We don’t realize we have options, and control and an invitation to try something new. Familiar is comfortable, but is comfortable actually helpful in these new moments? Will our old habits still serve us with new people? Sometimes using the old ways of connecting with people – pre-gaming before an event, bringing someone home after the club, going back after two years to our alma mater’s homecoming and blacking out among friends. When we’re with new people, in new surroundings, or even old surroundings after a bit of a break, reality hits different. We’re different. We need something else because same old, same old isn’t feeling right. We’ve changed, or at least are noticing things, in a new and different way.  When we know how we’ve had fun before but we don’t want to lead that life anymore, where do we start?

Whew! Take a deep breath. And please remember that everyone who’s been new to this city has had these wonderings, you aren’t in it alone.

A few questions to start out with and guide the way:

  • Who have been your people, as early as you can remember:
    • The creatives?
    • The sports fans?
    • The outdoorsy folks walking in the woods down the block?
    • The wandering bike riders?
    • The people playing board games, with puzzles or video games for hours?
    • The quiet introverts who love being together but doing tasks independently?
    • The small group of people building legos or other things together with no goal in mind?
    • The ones who mess around in the kitchen trying to make something out of nothing?
    • The people who can sit down with an instrument and just create and play around?
    • What kind of things have you been sort of interested in but never had the time?
      • Buying a cookbook and making every recipe – there’s so many cooking classes like this
      • Rock climbing – indoors to start please
      • Throwing pottery – apparently this is what they call it, don’t worry, it’s not violent
      • And sure even ax throwing while we’re at it
      • Trying a running club because now you don’t have to do it with a coach blowing their whistle at you
      • Group fitness: spin, rowing, yoga…
      • Reading for the fun of it and sharing a meal with people who want to talk about it
      • Joining a walking group or birding group
      • Playing a sport that you never did as a kid
      • Trying out a new way to understand your spiritual self, sure maybe church but engage in a new faith to see what it’s about… but there’s also meditation, sound healing, Quaker services, social justice workshops and community service.

    Oftentimes in my own life, I’ve found that in order to feel the surge of life within me again I don’t need a substance, I don’t need adrenaline or even the structured routine I’ve created, I don’t need more time in bed or on the couch… I need newness. I need to feel myself connecting to someone new or having a new experience. Even if it’s as simple as rolling out of bed a little earlier to get to a new coffee shop before it’s too crowded.

    When you’re stuck and trying to discover what you might need in your life at this new moment it can be helpful to track back to what you enjoyed as a kid or what you haven’t yet experienced in life. Find people to do those things. Chicago is chalked full of these things. (And if you follow us on IG @thriveaheadco, we like to highlight experiences like these for our community to engage in something new for themselves).

    A number of clients I’ve worked with have big questions and equally big fears about who they are as they’re thinking about leaving behind a part of themselves: a relationship, an alcohol or drug experience, a job that no longer fits, an unhealthy pattern that protected them at one point. I urge you not to be afraid of these questions, allow yourself to sit with the fear for a moment. Acknowledge that sometimes fear and excitement feel the same in your body and if there’s no threat, you can try something new even with a bit of fear. Stepping into the new thing and getting present and connecting in the moment will help decrease that fear, but on your own and not taking that change, the fear can likely stay and grow.

    Changing habits is difficult. The internal ones of self judgment and criticism, maybe the spending, gambling or porn habit as well as the external ones like drinking, smoking or having sex with people who we aren’t really connected with. We all choose these things to protect ourselves. We think we need these things to keep ourselves in a space where we’re content, okay and everything’s known. Many of us won’t need to engage with a specific rehab or recovery process to change or confront these habits. But regardless of the severity of the unhealthy patterns that you find yourself in, I invite you to consider what an “uncovery” process would look like, and what support you need in that process. By that I mean, though there’s many unknown and scary things about leaving patterns or people behind, let yourself uncover who you really are. Who do you newly need in your life to find that true, authentic self? What friends do you need to surround yourself with? What is the work community that you’re needing to grow your career? What relationship partner are you really needing? What experiences can lead you to your best self? Where are you willing to be quiet with yourself and wonder what’s next and who you actually might be? And what community do you need around you to hold you lightly and support all that growth and change? These are all possible. You get to create the life you want. There’s a lot of possibility and freedom in starting over, allow yourself to let things be new… and for sure it’s likely to be awkward, embrace that too, good stories for new friends come out of that too.

    Just writing about real things over here… peace! It’s gonna be a great day. Don’t get stuck in your mind, go do the thing!

    Written while listening to “Creative Writing – NO WORDS – Inspo. Music” thanks to @kbboggan at @oromobucktown – Oromo Cafe Bucktown on Western – visit them! They’ll give you a wonderful experience.  

    Jenn is the amazing founder behind Thrive Ahead Co. and is a licensed clinical professional counselor.  Currently, she is accepting clients for her career counseling services.  Jenn is an active guide for her clients, is involved, approachable and attentive. “You can bet that in a tough session, we’ll still find ways to connect with humor as I truly believe when used well it’s one of the most integrating skills we can have, to know and hold this lightness at the same time as the seriousness and even pain that life brings us.  Schedule A Consultation Call Today Here



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