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Transitions teacher Suzy Allegra can help your emotions undo the twist
By Gretchen Giles
Seven years ago, elementary schoolteacher Suzy Allegra came home from work and began to weep. There were no problems at school--her students were learning well and the administrators and parents were pleased with her work. She had no relationship troubles and the money thing was OK. "I finally realized that it was about burnout," Allegra says of her malaise, leaning forward in a pillow-backed chair at her home office.
"I was so exhausted from giving that I needed to get out. I went the next week and signed my leave-of-absence papers, not knowing what I was going to do. I just knew that I had to leave." Fear kept her in school on a part-time basis for a few more years, but three illnesses in short order--the last one an end-of-summer dash to the hospital to remove a hot appendix--convinced her that if her head wouldn't let her change jobs, her body would force her to.
Today Allegra--a petite, energetic blonde in a jewel-toned silk suit--is most decidedly not burned out. If anything, she's on fire. Still a teacher, Allegra now trains adults to handle the one constant in all of our lives: change.
"There are two reasons why we have difficult transitions, and one of them is how well prepared we are on the inner level," she says expertly, "and the other is how connected we are to what we're letting go of. I was so connected to teaching that that's why [the thought of moving on] was so traumatic in my life."
Citing three stages to transition--endings, middles (which she calls limbo, that period of waiting to act), and beginnings--Allegra recommends a "take-care-of-yourself checklist" for the overwhelmed. "In transition, we tend to have a lot more stress," she says logically, "and so what we tend to do is that we eat all the worst things, we give up the exercise--we do the exact opposite of what we need to do.
"Half of the battle is to be conscious of what some of these elements are."
As a transition teacher, Allegra engages herself in helping others to better understand ways to cope with the inevitable twists and turns of life--changes that she feels are becoming more and more overwhelming all the time. "Two hundred years ago, we lived on farms," she reminds. "We had a community, and birth, death, and marriage were basically the biggest changes that a family faced. Life had a fairly even rhythm to it.
"Now change happens more rapidly."
Acknowledging the inevitable, Allegra nonetheless laments our society's brusque attitude to life-sized transitions. She advocates small, inexpensive ceremonies such as leaving a note and flowers for the new tenants of a house you are vacating or the framing of a memento from a previous job to hang in your new office as important transition markers.
"We get more emotionally and in a spiritual way when we honor and demarcate [transitions] in a symbolical way, as opposed to what our society does, which is to just ignore them," she adds. "We have this macho attitude about not acknowledging emotions and the significance of things in our lives.
"We're supposed to be just fine no matter what happens," she says incredulously. "We're strong, and we're modern, and all of that."
Calling feelings the new "F word" in our society because she believes "that it's easier for us to swear in public than to really talk about our emotions," Allegra advocates what she calls the "Four-A method of handling emotions." Acknowledgment of feelings is first on the list. Allowing them to surface ranks next, since unallowed emotions can "stay there until it is too late and you get ill or [the emotions] explode."
Once you've acknowledged and allowed, you need to accept the ugly little feelings that might worm their way to the top of your consciousness. "Society tells us that some emotions are good and others aren't," Allegra fumes. "My belief is that emotions just are, they aren't good or bad. If you can get into a space where you can accept yourself and your emotions as being OK, whether it's fear or anger or grief or sadness--or one of the 'good' emotions--then I think that you move through them more easily.
"The fourth step is appreciation of emotions, and I think that's a hard one for all of us," she grins. "There are reasons why we have emotions; there are good reasons. For example, fear puts us on notice. I think that grief is a cleansing emotion, it lets you let go of some of the pain of loss. Anger [can be] a separating emotion.
"If you appreciate that the emotion is there for a good reason, then it helps you to accept that you are going through the process of transition."
Suzy Allegra presents "Transitions: How to Handle Life's Changes with Courage and Grace," on Saturday, Jan. 20, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Glendale Federal Bank's Community Room, 290 B St., Santa Rosa. Admission is $69-$79. 527-8843.
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From the Jan. 18-25, 1996 issue of The Sonoma County Independent
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