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I’m not sure when I first heard this phrase, and I’m not even sure where it originated! But, it is a saying that I’ve found relevant time and time again, in both my own life and my clinical work. The only way out is through.

For better or worse, struggle is a part of life for everyone. At some point, we all face challenges, losses, or traumas. When we’re facing something tough, it’s natural to try and avoid it. To not think about, to keep yourself busy or distracted, to numb yourself as best you can, or to pretend it’s fine or you’re fine. But at the end of the day, we know this saying to be true: the only way out is through.

We are masters at avoidance. And it usually helps for a few minutes or days or weeks. The problem is, when we stop avoiding, the issue is most likely still there. Avoiding doesn’t make a problem go away, it just makes it last longer.

Spilled Milk

Imagine you’ve spilled a glass of milk on the carpet. The idea of cleaning milk out of the carpet might be exhausting. Maybe you’re running late or just sat down to watch a movie. So rather than cleaning it up right then, you let it sit for a while. No matter how long you avoid it, whether it’s minutes, hours, days, weeks- the carpet doesn’t get better or clean itself up. The problem that you’ve been avoiding is still there. And not only that, but it’s probably much worse (and in this case, much grosser). So this problem, the spilled milk, was initially a mess but likely could have been solved in a few minutes. Those minutes would take some effort and some work, but the mess would be gone. If you’ve let it sit, the problem lasted longer and I would guess weighed on the back of your mind a bit, too.

Avoidance Versus Engagement

Real life hardships are usually way more complicated than spilled milk. And yet, our tendency to avoid is often the same. We are naturally averse to sad, unfair, or hurtful things. It is easier, and even makes sense in the short term, to avoid. But we know that the more difficult, yet ultimately better and more effective, choice, is to engage.

Whether you’ve suffered a loss, experienced a trauma, noticed consistent symptoms of depression or anxiety, maintained conflict-ridden relationships – there are plenty of ways to avoid it. And there are reasons we avoid! The engagement, the work of processing and feeling and thinking is hard. But any of those issues, just like the milk on the carpet, aren’t necessarily going to improve or heal if we aren’t engaging with them.

The Role of Therapy

One of my favorite things about therapy is that by scheduling that first appointment and showing up for that first session, you are choosing to engage and work through whatever it is that you’re carrying. To me, it is the ultimate act against avoidance, and it is such a privilege to be able to sit with people who are actively choosing to face the hard things head on and begin the process of moving through them. As they do the work and heal, these brave people consistently remind me: the only way out is through.

If this resonates with you, if you notice within yourself that there are some tough things that you’ve been avoiding but may need to air out, I’d encourage you to reach out to a therapist. It is hard work, but the healing is so worth it. Call us today!

Written by therapist Clair Miller

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