I did not find therapy. Rather, therapy found me.
Or, more accurately, I was coerced, dragged, and bribed with a Harry Potter book to attend what my adolescent self found to be the most pointless 50 minutes of my life. “Waste of time” and “stupid” were other words I used to classify my experience. I wanted to be on my own to… you know… like STUDY (I know, I was lame). Sometimes I would just pull out my AP US History textbook during session. How could she stop me? Our sessions were confidential, right?
My relationship with therapy has been a lot like dating someone you don’t know you like. It has been a very love-hate endeavor. Since I began in therapy as an angsty pre-teen who took selfies with braces before selfies were cool (note taken: selfies with braces = still not cool), a lot has changed. Slowly, I have started to own my need for therapy. And ultimately, I have started to change. It took a long time. But it happened.
When I was a teenager, I was convinced that everyone needed to go fuck themselves and leave me alone. Everyone was concerned with my eating disorder and obsessive-compulsiveness and anxiety and BLAH BLAH BLAH. I put on a facade of wellness enough to appease others and continue doing whatever I wanted which was, in hindsight, destructive. I don’t know if I knew that what I was doing was bad. Honestly, I just didn’t give a shit.
It is really hard to help someone who doesn’t think they have a problem. Therapists tried with various degrees of success but weren’t able to adequately penetrate my ambivalence and denial. The behaviors that I developed were ingrained so deep into my psyche that stopping even one of them felt like I was being suffocated.
There was not a magical revelation or a moment when I owned my need for help. Rather, there was a period of time, over a couple of years, when I admitted– kicking, screaming, crying (okay, fine, bawling)– that I had a problem (okay, fine, many problems), and I needed help.
People often tell you in eating disorder recovery that food is like your medicine. That is true. Without nourishment for your body and brain, nothing else can happen. However, I realized that I needed therapy too. I couldn’t just eat my way to recovery. Therapy was another type of medicine: a different type of sustenance, but sustenance nonetheless. In the past, I had seen therapy as a waste of time, so it was a waste of time. I acted like it was prison, so it was prison. But… what if I saw therapy as healing, and I wanted to heal? Maybe– just maybe– then, I would heal.
As I was also going through a period of identity and paradigm shifts and learning about psychology in school, I was open to self-reflection and growth. For the first time, I was ready to do the work. On my own accord, I returned to therapy and decided to let someone in.
Over the years, I have come to see that therapy is not a series of skills, tasks, and tools in and of themselves. It can include those things, but it can be so much more than that. Therapy is the act of being present with another person. It is a real relationship, albeit special, with a certain purpose. The few therapists who I have let in have given me warmth, love, and empathy that I never thought were possible. In the context of that safety, I began to thaw.
Therapy can be deep and painful. I like the analogy Brene Brown made about the church being a midwife and would like to extend it to therapy. At times, the pain that comes up in therapy has been so overwhelming, it feels like I’m having contractions and it. won’t. end. My therapists have been there in solidarity, holding my hand through pain. As I learned, when you open the Pandora’s box of feelings, pain often coincides.
I had to learn to become vulnerable and unlearn maladaptive patterns from my childhood, such as stuffing, suffocating, and hiding my feelings. Opening myself up, exposing the dark parts of me to someone else, and letting that other person hold those parts were the most terrifying trust-falls of my life. Therapy felt like I was jumping off a cliff and praying that this person who was holding my deepest hurts wouldn’t drop them.
Change took me realizing that I was at the end of my rope, and I didn’t have to pretend like everything was okay anymore. After years of running in circles and forming tight defenses against anything that might get too close, I found that I could just crumble to the ground. Paradoxically, it was in the posture of utter powerlessness that I could heal.
You would think that I’d be some therapy expert after being in therapy for so goddamned long. Not so. I have not “arrived,” nor do I even understand what “arrived” means. I am not better. I am not healed. And subsequently, I am on the remedial therapy track.
But you know what, there are worse things in the world. I’m just going to come out and say it:
I love therapy.
After over a decade of therapy, I have more than an abundance of skills and tools from all the BT’s, and I can reference them on cue. More importantly, I have felt unconditionally loved and understood by my therapist. She has learned my dirty webs of defenses and the ever-abounding slime in my deepest parts, but she has not turned away from me. I love seeing her every week to work on my issues. Talking about defense mechanisms has become my crack. I keep a dream journal and text my therapist on command when I dream about her. Her insight has become ointment to my hurting soul.
Therapy is a beautiful, redemptive mess, a microcosm of the craziness of life.
Now, therapy is not a panacea. For those who are like, “Where can I get a therapist?”, this is not a public service announcement. I do think everyone could benefit from therapy, but the process of therapy takes a lot of work. When I said I was finally ready to do the work, I didn’t know what I was signing myself up for. It’s like ripping off a band aid. No one wants to do it, but unless you want to live the rest of your life with a band aid chilling on your arm, you need to pull it off.
Without therapy, I would be either dead or a brittle body with vacant eyes. I needed to address my issues in order to survive and thrive. It sucks at times. As much as I love my therapist, sometimes she says, “How do you feel about that?”, one too many times in a given session, or she looks at me reflectively with those Carl Rogers eyes, and I want to tell her to go to hell.
Therapy can involve crying and talking about things I’d rather not discuss. It always involves feeling.
FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS.
For a very reflective, existential, intuitive, sensitive person, this has meant feeling a lot of feelings. I don’t like to feel all the feelings. But through therapy, I have come to see that my feelings are an asset, not an annoyance. They are part of makes me, well, me. They are what help me empathize with and love others.
I think my 13-year-old self who would scream in dismay at this, but I have become one of those people who believes in therapy. I have seen the redemption that can come from a corrective, messy, deep experience of connectedness. Therapy has been healing, needed, and so, so worth it.