Putting words into the atmosphere, and expressing my thoughts and feelings with another person helps me process. I’m one of those…writers, I think they’re called. But, sometimes, I need immediate feedback, so verbalizing my thoughts in therapy sessions has been useful. I’ve seen a therapist during four “divorce seasons” in my life. The first time I went to talk things through with a therapist was when I was a child and my mother and her husband divorced. The second was more than 20 years later when my husband agreed to try marital counseling, sort of.
Our marital counseling sessions consisted mostly of me praying in the bathroom before we started: begging God to show up, begging Him to change my husband’s heart or my heart, or give me the right words to make some immediate, fog-shredding miracle happen, begging Him for a breakthrough. They consisted of me weeping throughout while my husband sat next to me, an uncommunicative, sequestered echo of who I had known for nearly 11 years. Once, the therapist was so overcome he actually began to cry when he was trying to convince the man poised for flight next to me not to throw away this life we were building together. Later, when I asked my husband if he was affected by the therapist’s emotional response to our situation, he said, “No. I think he’s been doing this too long, and he was dealing with his own stuff, not ours.” Marital counseling didn’t look promising after that point, but we continued to go for a few more sessions.
The third season came when I was working through our divorce, and I realized that fantasizing about drifting over the dividing line into oncoming traffic wasn’t normal, and I needed help. I was beginning to separate from reality, to float above it, a sad storm-cloud with no thunder and no lightning, the Eeyore of storm clouds. I needed someone to talk to–a pro. And she had a big job. I had a lot of issues, and she carefully, patiently helped me clear through the lenses of pain, betrayal, and desecrated confidence that muffled everything in my life at that time.
For the first couple sessions, I focused on her youth and freedom. She was nearly 10 years younger than me and unmarried. Sometimes, my mind would slink sideways and recall how hopeful I was in my mid-20s, how unsuspecting I was that life could, and would, punch me so hard in the throat. Sessions with Lauren (of course that was her name), started with me sobbing, continued with me sobbing, sometimes so hard that I couldn’t speak for minutes at a time, and ended with me hiding my reddened eyes behind my sunglasses as I passed the next patient in the lobby.
Weekly we would meet in a prayer room in my church. She agreed to drive in from St Louis, where her regular practice was located, to see more clients in my local area. Even though we met in a prayer room, I didn’t pray before those sessions. I don’t know why not. Maybe because I was only existing, and only moderately. And I needed therapy, because I knew I wasn’t going to be all right on my own. I had to do the work so I could take care of my children. I didn’t want to be unhealthy for them. I didn’t want to shrivel up from the inside out and deform into an “abandoned wife.” I also didn’t want my boys to be the sole source of my emotional worth, little crutches to help me walk through the hurt. I didn’t want them to carry the burden of my unmet needs and unexpected disappointments, my imbued sorrow and soggy hope. They were only children, and it wouldn’t be fair. So, I did the work. Most days, when I left those sessions I felt like a skinned tomato, an unsheltered, bloody discombobulation of nerve endings. Eventually, I stopped sobbing through every session, and I stopped needing to hide my eyes as I walked through the lobby afterwards. But most importantly, I stopped thinking of crossing the center line as I drove to work.
The fourth season of therapy is now: post-divorce. It’s really post-everything: childhood, teenage years, first loves, first times, my roaring 20s, marriage, motherhood (an ongoing excuse to see a therapist), divorce, five deployments, a few promotions, some diplomas, and the end of my 30s. No trauma is imminent or transpiring (except turning 40 in a couple of years–which I’m really looking forward to)…and no trauma has recently transpired (unless you count the disciplinary meeting I had to attend with my ex about our first-grader–but if I counted that I’d have a trauma at least once a week). I’m not recovering from anything, and I’m not worried or scared, sad or depressed. But I am in therapy. I’m in it. Fully vested. Bought in. Committed to doing more work.
I found her on the internet. She was listed through some sort of Therapists-R-Us site that seemed legit. Her profile said she had both counseling credentials and a PhD in her field. I liked that. She was all in, too. She looked mother-y in her photo. I like mother-y women. They make me feel cared for and safe. And her office wasn’t very far from my work, so I could pop over during my lunch break without too much navigation through traffic–all solid reasons to select a therapist.
Dr G is a calming whirlwind. She pulses energy through her eccentric jewelry, to the streaks of brownish red in her otherwise blond hair. She sports a trendy bob with an asymmetrical style that’s shorter in the back and lengthens on either side of her jaw line. I never smell her perfume, if she wears any. She sits in her office chair with one leg tucked underneath, and she gives me book suggestions about psychology theory. When I talk, she sits quietly, sometimes writing, sometimes nodding, sometimes waiting to ask me a question. A calming whirlwind, luring me further inward, into me. She told me she thinks of me as a fellow woman, not a patient. And our sessions are nothing more than two women talking about things. I think of her as an authority figure. I want her to have the right answers and give them to me. We’re still getting to know each other and navigating our relationship.
The first time I visited her, I was embarrassed and tried to distract myself by focusing on anything else other than walking into a therapist’s office. Instead I made eye contact with those I passed on the stairs or saw in the lobby, greeting each one with a smile and a nod. “See? I’m a ‘normal’ person seeing a therapist. See how I meet your eyes and smile? That’s because I’m ‘normal’.” In the past, I was obviously drowning, overwhelmed by wave upon broken wave, and in my drowning state, I reached out to therapy as a life-preserver. I was at the bottom of whatever life I had, and there was no room for embarrassment. Embarrassment would have been a step up during those times. But now…Is it okay to go to therapy, even if I have nothing terrible going on in my life? Am I allowed to simply want to be better? Is therapy really necessary?
And each time I bounce up the stairs to her office, check in with the receptionist, and wait for Dr G to usher me in, I know the answer: yes. It’s okay because it helps me be a light in my sons’ lives and in my own. I’m allowed and encouraged to be better. And it’s necessary if I say it is.
I’m still too concerned about other’s thoughts and feelings, Dr G points out. She calls me out on my self-doubt, and my tendency to minimize hard things I’ve experienced. She gives me permission to examine them under a microscope if I want, or casually, like window shopping when I’m not ready to go inside. Her office has become a ruby-warm cave where I am allowed to focus on myself, my thoughts, my frustrations, my joy, and, sometimes, my pain. I’m still doing the work to be healthier, to be an improved statement of myself, to be my own best thesis. Dr G assures me that 38 is a terrific age because I’ve evened out the irresponsible pace of my 20s, and I’m ending the uncertainty of my 30s. I’m preparing for the rest of my wonderful life, she says. That all sounds so good to me; I’m ready. Let’s get to work.