For several decades, my dad maintained an extraordinary garden filled with an assortment of scrumptious melons, colorful chili peppers, various beans and mouth-watering tomatoes. After enjoying several months of delicious delights, the cool temperatures of autumn would bring change.
My dad would meticulously remove all the dead plants from the garden boxes, roll up the watering hoses, turn off the drip system and methodically secure his plethora of tools in his neatly-arranged garden shed.
The garden soil remained dormant until the warmth of spring signaled the arrival of planting season. Then my dad would begin his yearly ritual of tending to his garden boxes, inspecting them to be sure they were solid and secure. Then he checked and rechecked the drip system.
My dad spent days cleaning out the remnants of plant debris in the gardens, turning the soil and feeding it nutrients from a nearby compost pile. Then with his hands, he tenderly removed any remaining rocks and weeds. Upon completion, the garden bed’s raked surface showed its readiness for replanting.
Today, with winter coming to a close and spring on the doorstep, it is the perfect time to do some personal preparation for growth. I begin this process by identifying aspects of my life that are healthy and those that are not.
Just as my dad reaped the benefits of deliberate preparation of his garden, I experience personal renewal through deliberate spring cleaning. In other words, by letting go of unhealthy behaviors, I give back to myself.
Three Steps for Spring Renewal
Step One: Take an honest inventory.
I ask myself the following questions:
What is working for me? What or who is contributing to my well-being, augmenting my recovery, enhancing my sense of self-worth and supporting me in healthy ways?
What is not working for me? What or who is depleting me, draining my resources or diminishing my capacity for inner peace, balance and joy? Who or what is not supportive of my recovery?
Spending as much time as necessary, I thoughtfully answer the questions, acknowledging both the positive and negative aspects of my life.
Step Two: Implement specific strategies for letting go.
Once I have identified my negative behaviors, I begin the process of letting go. For me, this is not a one-time event. I take my time and move forward only after I have experienced success letting go of each unhelpful behavior.
Removing detrimental behavior arising from obsessive negative thoughts and feelings is difficult work. I find I must have specific exercises which interrupt and arrest them. The following five-part cognitive-behavioral exercise was adapted from Arthur Freeman’s Clinical Applications of Cognitive Therapy, Second Edition (1990) and David L. Watson and Roland G. Tharp’s Self-Directed Behavior: Self-Modification for Personal Adjustment
On an index card, I take a baseline count of how many times a day I fall into the identified unhealthy behavior. I do this for at least three to four days, until I have an average daily count.
I set a goal of reducing this behavior over the next several weeks or months. For the first week, my goal might be to decrease my baseline by two each day for one week, then by three, and so on. I do not move to the next problem until this goal is reached. If I am not meeting my goal, I lower my daily expectations and keep at it.
I then incorporate the following strategies into my everyday life:
3. I place a rubber band snugly around my wrist; I snap it every time I start to fall back into self-blame or any negative thought. Yep, I snap it! And I stop that thought.
I immediately replace the negative thought with something pleasing, positive and productive. Sometimes I use a verse from a favorite song or prayer, a few words of affirmation or a meaningful quotation. If the negative thought returns, I repeat the process as necessary.
When I have reached a daily goal or a weekly goal, I reward myself in healthy ways. It can be anything from a tasty iced mocha to an extra night at the gym or to lunch with a good friend.
Letting go might also mean releasing unhealthy relationships and friendships, as well as unhealthy places and things:
I review the significant people, places and things in my life and specifically identify and describe any negative or unhealthy aspects related to them. Is it a behavior? An attitude? Does this person or thing trigger me? How? When I am unsparingly honest, I usually know what boundaries I need to implement.
Although boundary work can be challenging, I remind myself that boundaries are not about pushing people away; they are about protecting my recovery. I set realistic boundaries that specifically address these issues.
As I set boundaries, I clearly communicate my priorities and expectations. Then, I make certain my actions support my words.
Lastly, but equally as important, I release any unhealthiness to my Higher Power. I continue to do so as often as needed.
Step Three: Preparing myself for new growth.
After my dad cleaned out the garden boxes, sifted through the layers of earth and nurtured the soil with nutrients, he watched and waited. By not rushing the process, he gave the soil time to recover and ready itself for planting.
Just as my father waited after a period of cleaning out his garden before planting, I am learning to wait. In the past, I found myself quickly refilling those empty spaces and falling back into the same unhealthy patterns I had worked so hard to release. This step guards against regressing or relapsing by preparing me for new growth.
I take time, both during and after the process of letting go, to rest and reassess. I allow myself to feel what it is like to be free of the weightiness and heaviness of my adverse behavior. I slowly and mindfully examine my readiness to accept the lessons from my past. As I consider new and healthy behaviors, I remind myself that there is no rushing growth. Rushing new behaviors without a solid foundation can jeopardize permanent change.
Each spring, as my dad returned to his gardening rituals, he respected the earth and honored its process of renewal. As a result, under his tender care the soil gave back . . . season after season.
By regularly returning to and embracing the practice of letting go, I respect myself and honor my process of renewal. Under my deliberate cultivation, my mindset of wellness gives back to me . . . time and time again.
©2014 Holli Kenley
Holli Kenley (MA, MFT) is a master’s-level California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She has authored numerous articles and four books, including Breaking Through Betrayal: and Recovering the Peace Within (New Horizons in Therapy); Cyber Bullying No More: Parenting A High Tech Generation (Growing with Love); and Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back… One Breath at a Time (New Horizons in Therapy). Visit Holli at http://hollikenley.com or http://Facebook.com/AuthorHolliKenley or contact email@example.com..