I like to use symbolism and metaphors when working with my clients and students. I’m sure I get an eye roll every now and then with, “She’s going again.” But it does provide an opportunity to visualize our life experience in a way that may seem less abstract, more solid, or relatable and understandable.
An analogy I often use is the idea of rocks in our backpack. Imagine that you are carrying a backpack. This is obviously an invisible backpack, but imagine it hanging on your back. You can feel the straps cross your arms and feel the weight at the top of your shoulders on your back pull slightly down. Now imagine that there are stones in the backpack. The rocks represent things that bother us, things that we cling to, things that take up space in our lives. For some of us, we have small rocks, like pebbles. Rocks that represent our daily stress and responsibilities, the things on our to-do list. Maybe there is only a handful, for some of us maybe a full bucket. Maybe some days these rocks are bigger and heavier due to some stressful event going on in our lives. Or maybe we just have a rough day and the rocks feel a bit heavier. Can you feel the heaviness of your own backpack?
Now imagine if those rocks were even bigger like bricks or boulders. So heavy that it makes life hard to get through because of the backpack’s shear weight on your shoulders. These bricks or rocks represent the trauma we have been through, the pain, the resentment we hold on to, depression, anxiety or deep fear, perhaps anger or resentment, loss or grief.
Walking through everyday life with a backpack full of large rocks is difficult. Sure, we could carry a heavy rucksack on our shoulders for a mile, maybe a few … but get up every day and carry rocks on our backs when we try to get to work or school. school, trying to raise children, be present in our relationships, try a social life, be there for others or even take care of yourself?
I often encourage my clients to make decisions about rocks. With a full backpack or stones holding you to the ground, it may seem impossible to pick just one stone to focus on, but we have to start somewhere. Maybe you choose an easy stone first. Create a plan, take care of the rock, and your backpack will be lighter. Maybe just a little lighter… but over time, one stone at a time, life will be easier to walk when there is not so much weight.
Another option is to donate stones. Sometimes we hold onto a big boulder so firmly because the thought of one day being able to face it is scary and overwhelming. Or maybe we’ve had this big rock for so long it feels like it’s forever attached. But how much lighter would your backpack be if you gave a stone? Look for others to save space for you, for your rocks. It could be a family member, a friend or a counselor. Anyone who will support you will not pass judgment against you and validate your experience and feelings. Perhaps offer your rock to God, to nature, to the universe. Allowing someone else to hold a stone for you means some of the weight is taken off, making life a little easier to get through.
Nicole Ball is a professor of social work at Ferris State University, a clinical mental health therapist, and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling, a holistic mental health center in Traverse City. Learn more about www.mentalwellnesscounseling.com