I met with a young woman who promised me she only used clean needles. Going through withdrawals from heroin, she wept as she begged the Emergency Room doctor for something that would make everything feel better. She wanted to quit using—she just didn’t want to experience the pain of quitting. She expressed anger when we couldn’t produce a magic wand and make her addiction and it’s consequences go away.
In a world that emphasizes either/or, black/white, now/never, there is a place for learning that there is more to the moment than now-or-never. I tried to help the young woman recognize that she was in the best place she could be, and did my work to get her the help she so desperately needed.
It was easy to see her “I want it NOW” mindset. I see it often in my line of work. I grew up with it in the bowels of Christian fundamentalism (The sinner’s prayer or go to Hell!). As destructive as I know it can be, I inadvertently carry it around with me all too easily.
As a clinician, I want to be amazing…now. As a parent, I want to be incredible…now. As a partner, I want to get all this relationship stuff exactly perfect…now. When I get into the now-or-never mindset, I can start beating myself up at the drop of a hat whenever I feel like I fail in any of those areas.
Instead of getting it all “right”, I fumble around, lost in the forest when I should be observing a tree, or stuck in the tree when I need to have a view of the forest, and only sometimes managing to be at the right place at the right time doing the right thing.
Or maybe that is more of that either/or, right/wrong thinking that trips me up so often. Maybe there isn’t necessarily a right thing. Maybe it’s okay to be stuck up a tree when a view of the forest is handy. Maybe I can learn how to climb a little higher in that tree and get a good look at the top of the forest, in both at the same time.
Both/and. Both/and. Both/and.
I love the concept of both/and…but it can sure be hard to live.
The young woman wanted a magic wand. Both/and can be that magic wand. It is an instant anxiety-reducer when one is in the grip of the stressful either/or. Both/and gives me space to breathe, to think, to feel, to know that all will happen in its time, remembering process as well as product, journey as well as destination.