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AFGO’s as your litmus test…

Back in the day when I lived and worked at Esalen, I first heard the term AFGO.

AFGO, someone explained to me, stands for Another F*cking Growth Opportunity. 

And it was used with chagrin, humor, and resignation to describe Yet Another Hard Thing that would emerge in someone’s life – hard, but a chance to do more healing work.

Recently, a series of very hard things (good ol’ AFGO’s) happened all at once in my personal and professional life. 

AFGO’s as your litmus test…

Hard things that were and felt like a series of rejections and abandonments.

I won’t go into details about the events in this essay but, suffice it to say, the events did not feel good.

But while I was moving through them, dealing with them, feeling my feelings about them, these hard events didn’t collapse me either.

(As they might have back in 2011, 2012, etc)

Yes, they were yet more AFGO’s for me, but, I realized, these AFGO’s were also a proverbial litmus test of sorts to show me where I was in my relational trauma recovery work and how far I’d come. 

I didn’t necessarily ask for a status report/evaluation of my capacities, but the AFGO’s delivered one, and I was (and am) pleased to see how far I’ve come.

Join me in this post to learn more about how AFGO’s can serve as clear indicators of the personal work we’ve done (and may have yet to do) with some specific markers to observe and questions to ask yourself the next time they occur in your own life. 

How AFGO’s become our proverbial litmus test

AFGO’s – though most of us don’t consciously seek them out – can catalyze our growth.

It’s basically that old adage of “struggle leading to strength.” 

But not only can AFGO’s carve out new capacities inside of us to deal with hard things, they can also show us how far we’ve come and provide clues to what work still needs to be done if we pay attention.

I paid attention when those super hard things occurred these past few weeks and I observed myself and noticed:

“Huh, I didn’t feel that familiar, all-consuming heat in my stomach.”

“Huh, I reached out to safe people immediately to process this time.”

“Huh, I had more adaptive thoughts sooner.”

“Huh, I chose to go for a fast run to dispel the cortisol versus bury it with popcorn.”

I observed that the key indicators of my historical distress response were reduced. 

Greatly reduced.

For me, my historical distress responses usually looked like this:

  • A lot of somatic disturbance in my body – especially around my stomach area – when cortisol would flood through me.
  • I would isolate and withdraw, turning inwards for self-comfort instead of reaching out, doubting I could get support from the relationships around me.
  • I would ruminate for days or weeks, stuck in unhelpful thought loops about things being unfair and/or having catastrophic thoughts about safety.
  • I would slide back into some of my less helpful emotional coping mechanisms like emotional eating and workaholism. 

But this time, in this chapter of my life, I felt less somatic disturbance and reduced cortisol flooding.

I was able to quickly reach out to safe, functional relationships to process and grieve.

And I was able to generate far more adaptive thoughts sooner and more consistently about the situations. 

Did I love those AFGO’s? 

No. I still wish they hadn’t happened.

But if they’re going to happen, I’m glad to see how far I’ve come in terms of making progress in my relational trauma recovery work. 

This series of experiences reminded me of what my favorite Peloton instructor – Robin Arzón – says in so many of her classes:

“It doesn’t get easier. But you get stronger.”

I used to bristle when I heard her say this, lungs burning as I raced on the bike or willed my legs to move faster on the Tread.

I wanted it to be easier. 

I wanted there to be a finish line of more ease after I did all the hard work of the initial phase of my fitness journey. 

But that’s not how it works in fitness or in life and certainly not in our relational trauma recovery journeys.

We can’t stop hard things from happening.

And if you’re a lifelong athlete (like I’m aspiring to be), you willingly put yourself into hard things 5 or 6 days a week.

So if we can’t stop hard things from happening, we can increase our capacity to deal with hard things.

In the last few years, I’ve increased my capacity to cope with and tolerate critical triggers of mine: perceived and actual abandonments and threats to my safety.

Through my own work receiving EMDR therapy, I’ve been able to metabolize maladaptively stored trauma memories, generate new, more supportive cognitions and coping behaviors, and generally feel less (sometimes no) triggering when challenges occur.

My work in EMDR therapy was tested, so to speak, by these recent AFGO’s and I got to experience the results of my healing work, my personal growth investment.

I’m proud of this and pleased about it.

Of course, I still have work to do, but like hitting a new PR (personal record) on a morning workout, it’s good to see how far I’ve come since starting.

Questions to ask yourself and signs to observe when AFGO’s occur in your life

The next time AFGO’s happen in your own life, as you move through them, use them as a proverbial litmus test by observing the following and asking yourself the following:

  • Body: Is my body responding to this hard experience in different ways than it did in the past? Do I feel less disturbance? Is there less adrenaline and cortisol flooding through me? Am I able to regulate my body more effectively?
  • Mind: Is my mind responding to this hard experience in different ways than it did in the past? Do I feel “online”? Is my prefrontal cortex able to function (effectively problem solve, organize solutions, sort through reasonable options) or does my brain feel “hi-jacked”? Am I able to generate more helpful thoughts and reframe these hard experiences? Can I hold a kind of reasonable perspective on these events?
  • Relational: Am I able to utilize the safe, functional, and healthy relationships in my life differently than I did in the past? Am I even able to recognize that there are safe, functional, and healthy relationships in my life? Am I able to turn towards safe relational supports this time and allow them to support me?
  • Internal Self Soothing: Am I able to utilize more helpful, more adaptive self-soothing tools to help calm myself? Do I feel as drawn to my old, destructive self-soothing habits? Is the urge as strong? Do I have a bigger, wider toolbox of emotional self-soothing tools to choose from this time?

Use these prompts to consciously treat any and all AFGO’s that occur in your life as your own proverbial relational trauma recovery litmus test to see how far you’ve come since beginning your healing work.

And, if and when AFGO’s occur and you observe that you still feel a lot of disturbance and distress, please use this as an opportunity to consider seeking out support, specifically EMDR therapy.

I swear: few other tools in my life have accelerated my healing work as much as this modality which is why I’m pursuing the highest level of training and certification possible in it and focusing the hiring at my therapy center on recruiting highly trained EMDR therapists to work alongside me. 

It’s really a power tool for relational trauma recovery.

And so if you live anywhere in California (or know someone who does) please consider reaching out to me and my team to explore EMDR therapy as part of your own relational trauma recovery journey. I’m confident it will change your experiences the next time you move through AFGO’s as it’s changed my experience with them.

(Here’s some more information about what EMDR is, how it works, how my team and I do EMDR therapy remotely across California (or locally if you’re in the Bay) and what to expect from it.)

And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

When hard things happen in your own life – when AFGOs are unavoidable – what other signs and markers do you look for as evidence of your personal growth? 

If you feel inclined, please leave a message in the blog comments below so our community of 20,000 monthly blog readers can benefit from your wisdom and experience.

And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie

PS: The photo of the little girl accompanying my post today is a WHOLE MOOD. And I put her up on my vision board for inspiration. May we all be so fierce and determined in the face of hard things.

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