The mental health issues that exist in today’s day and age are very complex. Quite frankly, my heart feels very heavy from the judgmental, snarky, and oftentimes misinformed public who like to look down upon the ones who have faced such difficulty.
So, this is my story.
I probably should have written it sooner.
Hopefully it will help others understand that there is absolutely nothing wrong in seeking healing. The right kind of help. NOT ONLY from prayer, or the Bible, or a pill, but from a holistic approach. One that usually requires (talking) and (therapy) and (prayer) and (time) and (all-sorts-of-things) working together. Other’s stories might look different than mine, some might be the same, but through all of it, I hope this will help in taking away some of the misunderstanding that exists, or at least alleviate some of the judgment.
My story is just that, my own experience of how counseling helped me, educated me, and gave me the tools to live this life differently. I am forever grateful to a church that believed in keeping professional counselors on staff. They were equipped with the knowledge, education, and experience, to correctly work with me while praying at the same time. The world is suffering and looking for answers. I believe Christian counselors possess a lot of these answers in today’s world. So, with that…
Counseling is an incredibly complicated and artful activity to describe. It’s like a great, big, mesh of remembering the old and starting anew.
It’s the sometimes long/sometimes short/just right process of opening up wounds, forgotten and unforgotten, and then willing to stay there for a while. Just long enough to figure out how they got there, but not too long to inhibit healing.
Counseling is trying your damnedest to be open and honest but finding it almost impossible to do so. It is absolutely about being comfortable enough to share repressed memories, hurts, and blessings over time, while not knowing exactly how the progression of counseling works.
It’s oftentimes a difficult journey of admitting regrets, selfish behavior, unwelcomed hurts and doing the homework after the session. It is a procedure, a development, an activity, a method, scientific, spiritual, and terrifyingly intimate. Counseling is doing all of this, at separate times and at the same time. It’s knowing how to manage this unique relationship, by being respectful of both parties involved when so much is shared. Counseling looks the same at a distance but is always unique to the individuals involved. My counseling session has never been done before and will never be done again. The tears, the talking, the secrets, the questions, the realizations, the thoughts, and the time invested, is truly unique and priceless. If done right, with the right person, and the right amount of time and prayer: counseling is healing.
I’m going to be honest… I used to think counseling was for other people. You know – the troubled, the addicted, the problematic. Everyone else but me. “Because OBVIOUSLY I NEVER had any problems or addictions or troubles,” said my lying self to my screwed up brain. And I believed it! Sadly, time marched on and before you know it you’re in a different job, different city, and different circumstance. Time kept ticking and I ended up running around in the mayhem and busyness of life. Masking, hiding, and deceiving myself, any which way I could.
Wine was usually the fix I needed to give myself the false illusion that everything was just the way it was supposed to be.
Yes, I’ll take another glass of Cabernet please.
Sure, I needed a little work here and there. Who didn’t? The odd rants of anger, the constant need for approval, and all those skeletons in my closet were just details. I mean, I would eventually fix all those things. With more time anything can be fixed, right?
That’s another lie we often tell ourselves:
The lie that more time is all we need.
And the cost is the same as the payment = TIME.
I was thirty when I started professional counseling and regrettably, given my past, my addictions, and a slew of different problems, it should have happened a lot sooner. I never was clinically depressed, but I definitely experienced patterns that were harmful to myself and others. I will never be able to divulge all the many, different, reasons I called and made an appointment with a counselor. What I will tell you is that I remember the horrible, hopeless, dark night of my soul shaking with fear and desperation. The isolation and silence where you are forced to listen to everything inside of you. When you know deep down that you are more than broken, lost, scared, alone and barely able to whisper, “help”.
During that time, I didn’t like my life anymore. I was on the brink of divorce. My husband and I had been separated on and off for two years. I was involved in a separate relationship. I was working almost 60+ hours a week for a corporate job that was sucking the blood out of me. I was hardly able to spend any amount of quality time with my daughters. I was lying to myself and everyone around me. I was drinking excessively, exhausted, overwhelmed, and so overly lost.
I had everything this world tells me is worth pursuing, but for what? How does Hollywood make scandal and money look so provocative? I had the money, the car, the trips, the hair, the friends, the ultimate life of living for my own pleasure, experiences, and satisfaction. The lie that exists on magazines, reality TV, and every American city: That it’s all about you and your happiness. The more I tried, and did, and worked, and pampered, and guzzled, and gained, the more unhappy I became. Like I was selling out so much for so little in the end.
That’s what so weird and crazy about this western world we live in. Still, so much of the fools searching and digging for gold and coming out with nothing. Outwardly, my search looked much different than the California Gold Rush in 1849 but inwardly, very much the same. Different time, different form of transportation, different clothes, different job, SAME DEMON. We will give our lives to attain a false fortune, a sense of comfort and tepid success. But we will not tend to, and care for, and heal, what really matters in this world: Our soul, our hearts, and family.
So, I got up off the couch, finished drinking my Malbec, grabbed my iPhone and dialed. I was able to get an appointment on the calendar. BARELY. Not because of the counselor, because of me. And even though I made the appointment, I wasn’t entirely sure I would go. A lot of times we get moments where our conscious is on FIRE. Where our soul stirs and we make a promise to ourselves to, “Never do that again”. Or we vow to make things different, only to go on living no differently than before. I am Queen Bee of shaky vow making under distress. Maybe that’s why Jesus tells us to let our yes be yes and our no actually be no. What a concept.
But this time I didn’t do that. This time I didn’t keep living as if everything was A-OK. This time I didn’t have enough wine to drown it all out.
I’m not really sure how I got the courage to go to my first counseling appointment. Everybody in the whole wide world, that truly loved me, must have been praying for me at the EXACT same time… And God heard them. I remember opening the door and walking inside the lobby. No one was there. Just some forms, pens, magazines and a couch. The doorway that leads from the lobby to all of the counselor’s office stays locked. For protection I am assuming?
Just so you know. The first counseling appointment is HORRIBLE. I don’t care what anyone else says, it is. It’s awful and uncomfortable and awkward. It’s the most abnormal part of the whole freaking process. The first appointment is like a bad first date. Introduction’s are in order, a little bit of the ground rules, a little bit of history, and the LONGEST hour of your life. You leave feeling uncomfortable, exhausted and wondering how this is ever going to help. Even your counselor tells you that. At least mine did. She pretty much laid it all out there. She said that I wouldn’t want to come back, but that I needed to. That I needed to find the courage to do the work and come back again, and again, and again.
If you can muster up whatever strength is left inside of you after the first appointment and make it back to the second appointment, then you can make it to the third and the fourth and the fifth. Like people say, “showing up is half the battle”. I have found there to be truth in that saying. And for those who are just starting out in counseling, this is the most important truth you can hold onto. Just show up. It takes a lot of time. A lot of three steps forward and two steps back in the beginning. And just about the time you start to get comfortable showing up (which for me was a very long time), that’s about the time when things start to get a little better. You get used to the face sitting across from you, familiar with the walls, and comfortable in your surroundings. You gain a little insight, a little hope, and a little bit of inclination that things could get better. You don’t know how quite yet, but you just know that it could. Could is hope.
Then, before you know it, you’re doing the homework. You’re remembering important events, decisions, memories and things in your story. You understand a little more of why you do some of the things you do. You start seeing patterns. If you’re anything like me, you gain a little knowledge of how this amazing, complex, brain of yours works. The person sitting across from you starts to become a trusted confidant. The space you and your counselor occupy becomes safer than any place you have ever been.
You start bringing things up on your own. You ask more questions, seek more answers. You dig. You search. Then one day you realize that you can change. You have changed. Could becomes can. Hope turns into grace over time. So slow, so steady, you don’t even realize it. Looking back, I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I never found the courage to go back again and again and again. It has been one of the only times in my life that I have ever been truly brave.
I met with my counselor, very intensely, for about ten months. Most things didn’t change much in the beginning. I still went to work, my husband and I were still separated, and I still did happy hour. I did start to journal. I started to have some quiet time. Just myself and my writing. For the first time in a long time, being honest with myself, one sentence at a time. That’s when things really started to change. Slowly, like watching fall turn to winter. Where the leaves turn bright, orange, and chocolate. Sporadically and intermittently, they begin to fall from the tree and color the ground. It gets a little colder, the trees start getting a little barer, and the daylight isn’t quite the same anymore. Almost making it bearable for you to brace winter. Not too much too soon.
Listen, I had to do a lot of counseling. I was in those hallways A LOT. Eventually adding in a marriage counselor. So, you do the math. One hour a week for my own counselor, and another hour a week with my marriage counselor… HOLY COW. That’s a TON of counseling and money. But I’m so glad I never let anyone talk me out of it. I heard whispers, and got looks, and experienced about every kind of shaming you could possibly imagine, but I didn’t let that stop me. The miracles that were happening inside and outside those counseling sessions were far too precious to let others stand in the way. If anything, I just wish I saw someone sooner. I wish I could tell my 18 year old self, or my 26 year old self, to go see someone. Go.
Flourishing doesn’t even begin to describe my family and me now. My marriage is in one, glorious piece of a miracle now. Healing, and a thousand words on top of that, is what has taken place between my husband and I. What was once so shattered and broken into a tiny, million, different, pieces is now a beautiful piece of art. It’s been over a year since I quit my corporate job. I am spending the most time I have ever spent with my daughters. I am writing, and reading, and walking, and talking with intention and presence.
To tell you that the journey was easy and counseling was a walk in the park would be a sick joke, and I’m not one to sugar coat. Counseling is more than hard. But if you are willing to listen, to open up, to share, and to do the work after the session, than healing old wounds is possible. God is furiously longing to restore people and marriages and stories like yours and mine. But it takes both parties involved. Much like counseling. Actually, a lot like counseling.
The one piece of advice I so wish I would’ve heard or had growing up is that – Counseling is good. You don’t need to hide it, or pretend you are too good for it. Counseling is not for the weak but for the courageous. The brave souls that can face the bare, raw, baggaged, beauty of themselves and ask for help. If you think you need to talk to someone, go do it. Not just someone who will prescribe you pills and not to someone who’s only advice will be to ‘pray more’ or ‘read your Bible more’, but find someone who loves Jesus and knows there is science inside of you that exists. Someone that is professional and loving and knows that science and spirituality go hand in hand with healing.