Thursday, August 16, 2012

Falling Apart: Erin Diedling

Falling Apart
By: Erin Diedling

Falling Apart, Coming Unglued, Becoming Unraveled…It’s Good Stuff. No. really.
The idea of it sends most people running, saying uncle or plugging their ears. But it is also an act of being. An act of bravery. I speak from the front lines.
I have the great privilege to work with the brave clients who seek help in dealing with a binge-purge cycle, ADHD, OCD or the myriad other smart ways their nervous systems attempt to right the proverbial ship. I find that these clients use these tactics because they are simply looking for a way to defend against what may feel like a greater emotional pain. It’s actually quite intelligent of the body and psyche to defend against what feels scary and overwhelming. They may fear that if they don’t defend against the overwhelm, they may fall apart. But don’t underestimate the power of coming unglued…the genius of falling apart.
This is usually the difference between a client who goes away to treatment and a client who tolerates the suffering so as not to go away to treatment. That’s what treatment centers are FOR – for clients to fall apart and to have multiple safety nets in place as they do fall to pieces. It is the grateful kind of falling to pieces.
Most of the work I do in a private practice setting, while working with trauma, eating disorders and blocked artists/creatives has to do with controlled little-falling-aparts. Clients keep it together during the week and then come the weekly appointment, in a safe incubator they fall apart a tiny bit in session, do some psychoeducation, and get back on the road of day-to-day life armed with new tools and skills.
In our offices, at The Awakening Center, in a quiet, non-shaming and safe way, we hold a space for clients to gently sink into and feel those emotions. We invite them to sense inside and find a voice, an image, a color, a sense, an expression for that small quiet or scared part to speak up, to be scared, and to get the comfort – to FEEL the comfort and finally get what she needed, even if it is 20 or 30 years after the scary, annoying or triggering incident.
Sometimes it is in the falling apart that the true self can come forth. In allowing ourselves space, time and permission to fall apart, we allow things to ultimately fall INTO place.
I recently had an experience going into what I affectionately call, “the dark night of the soul”. And I don’t say that lightly. It was some of the most difficult, albeit intentional, raw space I’ve ever handled. It is my job to keep others safe. To keep it together. To be a healing force for the mental health of my clients and to forge greater awareness of trauma treatment in the world.
And yet, at the core of me, I knew I needed to fall apart. So I did. I gave myself time, space, permission and the required ethical time away from client work to go through whatever it was that would get me where I knew I needed to go. I craved greater self love. I craved putting my emotions as a priority. I wanted to KNOW what interested me. But I grew up in an environment which put all that on the back burner. There was always a fire to put out, there was always chaos or oppression to dodge.
I see this in my clients. When kids grow up in that kind of home and I ask them as adults what they prefer, what they like, what they desire, I’m often met with silence and a faraway stare. This is a new question to a client who grew up in chaos and/or trauma. If we’re lucky, we’ll actually have time to explore those preferences in therapy. They may have habits, ways to regulate the nervous system, ways to stay safe via ADHD, OCD, restricting or binging and purging, etc, etc. Habits to stay safe are one thing. But when you ask them what they WANT, what is fun, what is worth it, what is desirable, what makes them tick????? Well, that is a whole other ballgame.
Counselors often attract the kind of client they are or the kind of client who has been through what the counselor has been through. Hopefully, a good and ethical counselor will continuously do the internal work so that she can be a wise and experienced resource to her clients. That experience can only add to the compassion within the therapeutic alliance.
My compassion has increased as I see clients who are looking at the potential for unraveling. I let them know that it doesn’t have to happen all at once. That they have their answers inside. That finding the answer may involve some falling apart. It may also involve some joy.
For me, in the process of falling apart, I trusted in the universe and I trusted that the child inside could and would get the support she needed. I joyfully sank into the trust of the universe. And interestingly, the universe delivered. Gratefully, colleagues, healers, friends, even strangers showed up for me in such unusual places. I got everything I needed and more. And my heart is broken open, inviting, but protected and radiating trust. This is all new.
So, you say you’re afraid of falling apart? It’s pure genius. Go for it!


  1. I found so much wisdom in this post! First of all, I think it is so true that allowing ourselves to become unraveled is an act of bravery, as it takes real courage and humility to admit that we are only human and sometimes we need to fall apart to become stronger and learn about ourselves. Furthermore, asking for help, or seeking treatment as you discussed is also such a brave and strong act for those who are willing to ask for it. I also like the notion of giving ourselves the time, space, and most importantly "permission" to fall apart. This way, we can be gentle with ourselves, almost as curious observers who are learning about what our core needs are.
    Courtney Morris

  2. It's nice to know that we all sometimes need time to "fall apart" - it's part of the human condition.

  3. Love it, Erin! Brilliant as always! Elise

  4. This is so true, and really helped confirm my own recovery experience from a recent bout with depression. Letting myself fall apart was the only way I could finally begin coming back together. It's always good to hear others' stories and know I'm not alone.