Traveling in Thailand meant adapting to changes. Like every other human, I find that difficult. I expected to miss the big things in my American routine: brewed coffee and toilets that you can sit down on. I was caught off guard by my strong reaction to the little changes. The Thai lack of napkins made every meal a little uncomfortable.
My “good girl” habit of placing my napkin neatly in my lap is apparently indelibly ingrained in my soul. I found myself plastering my lap with Kleenex, anything, so that I could get on with my meal. On one sordid occasion, I sunk as low as toilet paper.
As a therapist, I am constantly asking my clients to consider making changes, big and little shifts, in their lives. “Be nicer to yourself”. “Ask for what you need”. “Use ‘I’ statements”. “Make time for yourself”. These words are easy to say, and I say them well. But my napkin addiction helps to remind me of how comfortable, how pleasantly familiar our habits are, even our bad habits.
Humans are creatures of habit. We get hungry at certain times. We want certain things with certain other things—milk with cookies, ketchup with French fries, movies with the lights out. In Thailand I missed my many habits. I missed my mattress deeply, being presented with an uncomfy box spring to sleep on in two different hotels. I missed having a flat sheet to protect me from the blanket. I missed cheese. I missed sandwiches, heck anything involving bread. And napkins.
I have learned in my life to change. I have learned not to miss judging myself all the time. I no longer put myself last, or feel ashamed to be me. I’ve learned to set boundaries with my time. I don’t feel guilty so much. I’m less angry, less hyper, less scared.
All of these changes took time to become comfortable. Liking and loving myself took time to feel normal. It took years.
Humans learn quickly, sometimes instantly. But we like ruts, maybe more than we want to admit to ourselves. We feel safer inside of sameness. I know there are a lot of Americans who will never make that long flight to Thailand. They will never miss a napkin. But they will still have to make major changes.
Learning to live alone after a divorce or death is difficult but many of us have done it. Dealing with aging and our strange, changing bodies is difficult, but we do it. Learning to let go of a substance, a person, or a behavior that is harmful can be painful, but many of us have done that too.
We are resilient and glorious creatures, even in our stubbornness and fearfulness. We endure, we transform, and we re-invent ourselves. We go on, and often we grow and gain things in the process.
I need to remember that too, when I’m working with my clients. Being uncomfortable is temporary. Strangeness fades. Our love of routines helps us create new ones. We have learned to wear seatbelts, to recycle, to quit smoking. These things are automatic now. We all reach automatically for our cell phones, although we functioned quite happily without them.
We have learned that we have choices. We have started searching for health. We push past our discomfort and fear and turn our faces to the light. We just want to keep our napkins, our resentments, and our secret self-loathing. But we can’t. We will be challenged to surrender, to let go, to do without, to grow up. We will be uncomfortable, but not for very long.
We will find our way.

Author's Bio: 

Anne K. Crothers, M. Ed. is a therapist in private practice in Allentown, Pennsylvania. An expert in trauma and sexual abuse, Anne has a gift with children and adolescents. She uses expressive therapies like art and play therapy and has a spiritual focus. In addition to individual and family therapy, Anne partners with colleagues for interventions, trainings, workshops and more. For more information about Anne, see her website at http://www.healingworksallentown.com .