Know what’s amazing? Therapy. Know who needs to realize this? Everyone. I just got a message from a friend explaining how he unloaded six months worth of built up mental health concerns in one session. The result? A prozac prescription. During that six-month period, he had gotten out of a tumultuous relationship with a bag of crazy, so the need for a little help from a professional was unsurprising.
What was surprising was that he hadn’t sought out a therapist months ago. Therapy is the only thing that got me through two beyond-shitty relationships and years of neurotic self doubt. It’s amazing.
Everyone has their baggage. Everyone. Some people are better at dealing with it on their own. But those people are liars. Talking through your experiences with someone who has no bias, no reason to tell you what you want to hear, but is being paid to tell you what you need to hear is scary, but freeing.
Both of my major therapy stints equipped me with a number of things I needed to get out from under controlling, miserable men. I learned that I’m not in charge of someone else’s happiness, but I am responsible for my own. And, I learned the language I needed to understand that within my own internal dialogue. I also learned the language I needed to communicate my needs with my exes, even if that language was silence and distance.
My first experience with the therapist started as couples therapy. Initially the thought was that I was going to save this relationship, but, in reality, I needed a way out and I couldn’t find it without help. Fortunately, my fiancee at the time wasn’t as committed to the idea of mental health as I was, so he begged off after a few sessions, leaving me free to be boldly and excruciatingly honest about my side of the story. (To be honest, the therapist seemed to understand the nuances of my side of the story before I could fully share it. I wasn’t as stealthy as I thought. But few 23 year olds are.)
Out from under the watchful eye of the man who was controlling me, the therapist was able give me the tools I needed to enter a period of introspection. A period I needed to wrap my head around why I was feeling so despondent and alien during what was supposed to be The Happiest Time of My Life™. Why I was feeling like a visitor in my own life. (Aside from the normal reason everyone in their early 20s feels like a visitor in their own lives.) Just having an explanation from someone who had no stake in whether or not this relationship continued gave me the strength I needed to end it.
I’m not going to pretend I left the therapist that day, told the guy it was over, and then happily went on with my life. It was a process. I built up my strength little by little. Every session helped me loosen the grip I had on my crumbling relationship. Even after it finally ended, I spent another three months in the refuge of that office just learning how to be an grown up person with needs and feelings and how to feel all those feelings.
The second round of serious therapy was more urgent. A particularly traumatic culmination of months of monstrous behavior sent me frantically calling for an emergency session. After five “sorry we don’t have anyone available today” responses, I found Barb. It’s difficult to find a therapist who easily slips into your own special brand of family baggage, broken experiences, belief system hangups, and weird neuroses, but Barb was my savior that day and for six months after.
The circumstances were exponentially more dire this time around, but the first round of therapy had prepared me for the months of weighty soul-searching that lay ahead. I already understood many of my issues and had a general sense of their source. With nearly 30 years under my belt, many of the past seven as a single person. I knew myself better. I understood that my codependent, fixer complex was seeded deep. Historically deep. (I come from a long line of enablers.)
Once I was out of the darkest part, Barb helped me clearly outline what I needed out of therapy, beyond getting over my ex. I was determined to make this unhealthy mess of a relationship my last. I was finally able to take responsibility for the bad habits I had that led me down a precarious path or two and shake them for good (well for all intents and purposes for good).
I still go in for a tune up every once in awhile. I’m painfully human, afterall, but having someone who isn’t obliged through motherhood tell me that it’s okay to be flawed is awfully nice. Even if I have to pay them to do it.