Last year, a client of mine and now dear friend got a pretty damn scary diagnosis. She found out she had breast cancer and needed chemo and a double mastectomy at 29 years old. Now, this woman is kind of a super-hero so she was playing it pretty damn cool. She was filling her life with activities she loved, spending a lot of time with friends and was honest about wanting a distraction. She was attempting to distance herself from the pain and the fear and focus instead on action. Like I said, she is a rock-star and all of this was super well-intentioned.
We wound up having a conversation and I asked her how she was doing with all of it. She said she was handling, that she was was going to be fine, but it was clear her pain was right under the surface. Because I was her coach and we had been working on vulnerability together, I decided to dig a little deeper.
“Have you allowed yourself to really be with it?” I asked, “Have you gone all the way down the rabbit hole?”
Oftentimes, it’s not just what is happening (the diagnosis, the news, the rejection) that upsets us. It is what we do with that news. It is how we internalize it, and start to create a forecast of all the resulting catastrophe. It is a super natural and HUMAN tendency to start to plan for worst case scenario. It is a survival mechanism so we can plan a map out of the deep, dark place. We start to rehearse pain, shame and humiliation as a way to feel in control. And again, this has a positive intention, to lessen the blow, to plan to a way out. It is a sign of incredible fortitude. Brene Brown talks a lot about this concept in Daring Greatly (highly recommend!!!).
Now, you might expect me to say that worst case scenario likely isn’t going to happen, so focus on the sunshine and positives.
But the truth is, worst case scenario COULD happen. It is one of countless possibilities but it is still a possibility. So, while many well-intentioned friends and relatives may try to cheer you up and talk you out of your pain, I can’t do that. I can’t do that because I know the rehearsal of pain will get stuffed deep down and create low-level anxiety that may likely surface many times and in different dysfunctional ways (emotional eating, drinking, drugs, denial, avoidance, break downs). If you give it the power of ignoring it, it can own you.
The mistake we make is not that we go to worst case scenario (that is a deeply ingrained human coping strategy). The mistake is that we either treat it as if it is absolute truth OR we try to talk ourselves out of it. By doing either of these things, we hand our power over to it. Neither of these options tend to work very well. Instead, I ask my clients to go to the dark side for a visit, and really be present with it.
When I asked this friend what she was afraid of, she said, “I’m not afraid of dying. I know that isn’t going to happen.” I believed her. Okay. So, what had power over her?
She realized she feared losing control in her life. She feared losing her identity if she couldn’t work (who would she be then?), she feared that her friends would get sick of supporting her, she wouldn’t be able to continue taking care of her body (she was in enrolled in a weight-lifting competition a the time), she wouldn’t be able to take care of herself on a basic level and she would have to rely on others, she would be forced to move out of NYC, and she would gain weight after working so hard to lose it.
What was the scariest part about that? Losing control, identity and the people she loved. She also feared that even if she went through all of the chemo and surgery, it might not be the end of the problem. She could still struggle with cancer down the road. So, we stayed in that space for a little while. What would that be like? How would it feel? She let herself fully experience it. She now tells me that this was SUPER hard. She had to put the phone down and take a breather before she could return to it and to me.
BUT she realized, even in worst case scenario land, she had choice. Even in worst case scenario land, she had personal power. She could take action for herself, she could work her way back to her dreams, she could get back on a path toward health and hotness with her body. That even in the darkest scenario, she still had herself. She still had the power to create her own experience.
It wasn’t just the diagnosis, it was the STORY and the power she gave to that diagnosis. She wasn’t letting herself fully acknowledge it, and because of that, it was owning her. So, she had to let herself MOVE THROUGH THE DARKNESS, surrender and find her inner resolve in order to release it.
Once she had moved through that darkness, we realized yes, this was one possibility, but there were all TONS OF OTHERS,(including the magic that wound up happening…stay tuned).
We realized it was possible that she would still be able to exercise throughout chemo, that she may be able to work throughout her chemo, that this could be an opportunity for her to LET others get close to her vulnerability (which she had been working on), that she could wind up serving as an example for other women going through the same struggle, that the experience could make her stronger, feed her creatively and emotionally, and open up incredible opportunity in her life.
We realized that she was giving worst case scenario land WAY TOO MUCH POWER by NOT being with it completely. Similarly to when you consciously ignore someone at a party, it shows that you actually DO care about them.
The thing about worst case scenario land is that it typically robs you of all your personal power. In worst case scenario land, you got a train to a terrible place without any way out. You wake up in a nightmare. In most situations, we have a lot more control that we think; to take a new action, to change our perspective on what we can’t control, to find the gifts. We have more fortitude and tools than just getting on that train.
So, what wound up happening? (Well, it’s kind of mind-blowing)
Well, once she was able to fully embrace the unknown, and recognize her own power, amazing things started happening. She made herself vulnerable and ASKED for support from her community. She went to chemo treatments armed with snacks, buddies, Whitney Houston playlists and became famous among the nurses, as she taught many of them how to twerk. Instead of waiting for her hair to fall out completely, she shaved it, as a group of twenty people from her gym cheered her on. Other incredible peeps shaved their heads out of solidarity. She kept moving through my group coaching programs working on relationship with herself and others, and focusing on creation. She continued to work out and take impeccable care of herself, actually LOSING weight during the process of chemo because of her goals instead of gaining (which is standard).
She kept working all the way up until her double mastectomy and knows when she is returning to work. She has embraced her beautiful new boobies (they are looking pretty awesome) and is planning her first tattoo!! She purchased her first home shortly after her surgery because she continued looking throughout treatment. She raised awareness and funds for Bright Pink (an organization for early breast cancer detection) by selling #TEAMTING (that is her last name) t-shirts to her community. #TEAMTING grew from four people to hundreds. She inspired an entire gym (a group of thousands) with her story, many ran half-marathons with their #TEAMTING shirts. Her gym threw her a NEW BOOBIES party (complete with boob cupcakes, and meatballs). #TEAMTING grew to hundreds of people, supporting, showing up to treatments with her and she ALLOWED herself be supported (not initially easy for Miss Independent). To witness what wound up happening was nothing short of mind-blowing. She approached the darkest scenario with the personal power of a mythical goddess. She creates her own best case scenario and let herself move toward it, one step at a time.
To create best case scenario, you need to be willing to stand fully in the arena of your own personal worst case scenario. In that arena, you can choose personal power over defeat. You can take the reigns of what you CAN control and release from what you can’t.
Next time, you find yourself avoiding worst case scenario, take a moment to let yourself completely be with it. What are you making this situation mean about what is possible for you? Cry it out, scream it out, run it out. Let it move through you.
Then ask yourself,
Is it true?
Do I know this scenario to be absolutely true?
What possibilities could be equally as true?
You will discover that underneath, you do have choice and you can CREATE even within the darkest of circumstances.
Rock On & Be Well,