Strictly Come Recovery?
So are you strictly or X factor? Or, perhaps I should say ‘were you’, as after this weekend both will have come to an end ... well at least until our screens are filled with Christmas specials! Thanks to the devoted attention of my daughter, our house has been a strictly zone every weekend for what seems like ages, and I’ve got used to hearing her comments drift through to the kitchen as I make dinner – gasps of admiration, shouts of horror if the judges give low marks, screams of excitement if they give 10s ... Her favourite dancer has changed almost week to week (especially as some of her favourites were voted out earlier on!), and her excitement is reaching fever pitch as she counts the days to the grand final on Saturday.
I’m certainly not going to give any of my opinions on who I think should win (to be honest I don’t actually know who is in the final, though I am sure she could tell me, and I assume the fact she hasn’t means her current favourites still are!). But I have a secret to share. I always had a soft spot for Anne Widdecombe. Now, I don’t want to get involved in any of the fierce debates over whether she should have been able to progress so far in a dancing show in spite of showing – let’s face it – fairly limited dancing ability. And I certainly don’t want to get dragged into discussing any of her various political views which I know have been so controversial. No, it’s got nothing to do with any of that. The reason is that actually watching her dance reminded me of something to do recovery.
Let me explain what I mean. I often use the analogy with people I am working with that recovery from any mental or emotional health problem is a bit like learning a new dance. Imagine that all your life you have danced one particular dance step. Your childhood and early life taught you that waltzing was the best step to use, and you’ve perfected every step. Now – especially if you are in adulthood, you waltz without even thinking about it. The minute you start to move your feet just automatically start to dance the steps. You might not even realise you are doing it until someone points it out to you. This is just like the way that our minds work in relation to our emotions – the way we react to them, the things that often trigger them and the thought patterns which follow. We’ve all learned some basic rules about the way the world works and our own place in it and these rules form the steps of our own ‘dance’ as we journey through life.
Most of us find that we have learned a dance which works fairly well, and means we are equipped to manage with what life throws at us. However, for some of us our dance might leave us at risk of developing a problem with our emotions or feelings. Some people find that their experience of life has taught them lessons which are painful, which trigger difficult emotions, or which can even leave them unable to function in a normal healthy way. And life can sometimes throw things at us which we never expected – which knock us for 6 and really challenge the usual attitudes and beliefs we hold about the world. Some of us find at times we least expect it that we need to learn a new dance – a new way of thinking and seeing the world - and that to me is what therapy in its many forms is often about.
The thing is, what most people love to see on Strictly is beautiful dancing. Many of the celebrities who take part learn, over the weeks and months they are training, to bring their dancing up to almost the level of the professionals who are teaching them. It’s breathtaking to watch. But are we too focused on the people who do manage to get it right? My experience of working with lots of people who are trying to change the way they think and the way they view the world is that it is far from easy. Whether you are recovering from a bereavement, trying to recover from an eating disorder, trying to deal with an issue like self harm or overcome an addiction to drugs or alcohol, learning a new dance takes practice, and at first feels very odd. If your feet have waltzed all your life, trying to suddenly tango will feel bizarre, scary, even wrong. It takes time – and there will be many more moments when you get the new steps totally wrong than when you get it all right. In those moments it can feel like the world is full of people like those doing so well on Strictly – people effortlessly dancing rings around you whilst you are the only one who is struggling.
What I loved about Anne Widdecombe was her honesty. She wasn’t great at what she did, and it must have taken great courage to come along each week and stand side by side with all those glitzy, picture perfect dancers. There must have been times when she felt like giving up – when she was finding it impossible to learn a new dance step or perhaps when she read some of the unkind comments about her. But what she may have lacked in raw dancing talent, she made up for with her determination and motivation. And it was fantastic to see her, along with all the others who were so good, because to be honest I think a lot of us feel more like her than them most days! The temptation to drive ourselves too hard, to demand perfection, to beat ourselves up for falling short can be very powerful – particularly if you are in the midst of an emotional turmoil.
In fact, as I sit now in a cafe writing this blog, I can hear the usual Christmas tunes playing and we’ve just been treated to Dina Carroll’s ‘The perfect year.’ One of the lines caught my attention: ‘Now you’re with me, next year will be the perfect year.’ Now it’s a lovely sentiment, but think about it – is it realistic? I have had some pretty amazing years with some great stuff happening. But I don’t think I have ever had a perfect one. We have to be careful that we are not seduced into expecting perfection from a world that is just human. At the end of the day, we’re not in a dancing show. It’s great if we do manage to perform our dances well, but most of us are just about muddling through each day and trying not to make too many mistakes. We need to aim to be good enough, not perfect – and learn how to accept the times when we feel like we have fallen far short of where we wanted to be.
So, when my daughter sits down to watch the Strictly final this weekend, I’ll be thinking of Anne, and of all the people I know this Christmas who are in the middle of their own struggle to learn a new dance. I hope that if they have moments where the new steps go really well, there are people around them to cheer and hold up tens. But more than that I hope that on the days when it is all a disaster, when they have two left feet and forget all the new steps, like Anne, they still get a standing ovation - because they really do deserve one. Here’s to you all – and I guess in any discussion about strictly the final word has to come from Brucie! So, wherever you are on your journey, remember – do keep dancing!