By Belina Nassi Fruitman, LCSW, CAClll
Now that we are all past the one-year mark of the pandemic we are reflecting on our lives and the greater communities at large. The past month we all have heard endless reflection articles on how lives changed, on how we all adjusted, and how different countries around the world have suffered. Much suffering led to languishing rather than flourishing. Often, we have heard about adjustments and changes many of us made, like cooking more, eating at home, exercising at home, disinfecting strategies, and binge-watching Netflix. Information around medical establishments, scientific progress, the Covid 19 virus, and telecommuting via video conferencing were three hot incessant topics all day long. Fast forward to now, from the lens of a licensed clinical social worker of 25 years, I am seeing something else.
Many of my clients are reflecting on the past year in a different way. They are asking “what did I accomplish this past year while in isolation or quarantine and/or social distancing?” Typically, they might feel like they did not accomplish enough. Thoughts like “I meant to pick up my old instrument….” Or “I meant to start my memoir….” Or “I wanted to begin a new workout routine (on Zoom or outside).” Or how about “we wanted to create a family mural.” Or “improve my Spanish skills.” The deeper question is around an acronym, a bit faul, but hits the mark: AFGO. These four letters stand for, excuse the vulgarity, Another Fucking Growth Opportunity.
Once I heard this acronym, I thought of all the examples I have seen in my private practice. One obvious example that I see most often is someone being charged with a DUI. Typically, someone developed a habit of overindulging in alcohol and then driving. Putting themselves at risk along with other innocent bystanders. Initially that person may be angry that either they got caught by the law and/or that they “decided” to drive after drinking. That anger may then morph into fear of an impending court sentence, the fines accruing, the interlock device and the probation. However, usually there is a mental shift that happens, we will refer to this as AFGO. The person begins to reflect, process, and engage in therapy and may see this crisis as Another F—ing Growth Opportunity. They will then realize that the only way he/she would change that old drinking habit is via a crisis. That type of crisis mandates that one look at their habits, how they cope with daily life, process conflict and feelings. Another way to summarize this would be “a blessing in disguise.” An urgent matter can force us to find the opportunities for change and growth. The Chinese have known for centuries that the Chinese character for crisis translates to the word opportunity.
Other issues that many have faced during the past year of Covid may include interpersonal relationships. If we were fortunate, we were hunkering down with our loved ones. Unfortunately, many elderly folks were alone in their assisted living units which is another topic related to the year of Covid. But back to families in isolation, there were many growth opportunities in that we had to learn how give others space, patience, and encouragement. The growth opportunity might have been honing our creative skills. For example, our kids who were to walk through a graduation ceremony suddenly had to rethink how to honor that milestone. Or a freshman in their first year of college had to learn how to navigate online schooling while maintaining far away friendships. The youngest children were suddenly enrolled in online school, spending more time on their screens. Parents had to adjust work schedules in order to maintain employment while role modeling to their kids how to be resilient. These were all personal growth opportunities.
According to the NatLawReview, April 2021, the interest in divorce had increased by 34% in the US, with newer couples being the most likely to file for divorce. 20% of couples who had been married for five months or less sought divorce during this time period, compared with only 11% in 2019. This tells us that perhaps they did not reframe their interpersonal issues as an opportunity for growth. Rather, they retreated to separation. What if each party recognized the struggle of adjusting to a pandemic and then committed to dig deep and resolve conflict? If they did, it would pay dividends otherwise known as personal growth, AFGO. I am not naïve in knowing that working through conflict can be excruciating. However, I also know that it is possible. We grow through discomfort; when times are leisurely and easy, we might be coasting. Just like a flower, it must push through the darkness and some dirt before it rises and blooms.
So where have you grown during this past year? What challenging did you overcome? Did you go from languishing to now flourishing? Was here an AFGO moment or two that led to now flourishing? While out of the darkness, see the light or the growth? We are all more resilient than we may recognize. Let us celebrate this and bloom.