This week marked a big milestone for me. On Thursday, March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, I celebrated my 5 year anniversary since I buttoned up organized therapy. I ended therapy on St. Patrick's Day on purpose. I LOVE the holiday (it's that redhead in me) and I always wanted to remember the end with a happy day. If I was a drinker I would maybe have an extra drink, but alas, I am not, so I had a big fat piece of sinful 7 layer chocolate cake in my princess bed and it was glorious.
I've written about my experiences in therapy and post therapy a number of times on le blog. There is a lot about the therapy process that is still so wrought with stigmas and misconceptions in the media and I've tried to be as open and honest as I can about the process and what I learned. There is also a part of my experience that purposely is staying in the past. It includes the mistakes, the heartaches and the toxic pain that I shed through the help of my amazing therapist. History remains history and there is just some of it that I don't need or want to talk about. I know I have a lot of readers who have struggled with the process of therapy and didn't feel like it helped them. Today I am going to be very real and very honest so that you can see that therapy didn't actually cure me. Therapy made me a better me so that I could face life differently. But, it sure as hell did not cure me.
The first thing I want you to know about therapy: there is absolutely no shame in seeking help. There is immense value in talking to a third party that you are not emotionally connected with in any way other than the fact that you air your dirty laundry to them and they take notes and offer suggestions for coping. These brave souls who have chosen the career of mental health specialists are highly educated and wired to take on the analysis of our lives and brains. God bless them because I couldn't do it. I know enough about people and their weirdness through my chosen profession, but I don't need to know more. Much of the shame that we may feel is because our brains are so mucked up with trying to deal that they want us to give up so that the wiring doesn't have to change. However, just like a well-maintained engine, our brains do so much better when they are oiled and monitored and flushed on a periodic basis and therapy can serve that purpose if we will let it.
The second thing I want you to know about therapy: it is only as good as how you apply it in your every day life. I was TERRIFIED to end my time with Jennifer because I knew it meant I had to deal on my own. It was scary to think about having relationships and facing life challenges after I was done checking in with her. I made absolutely sure that I was ready to fly on my own, but I also had a long list of things that I kept and still keep close to my heart. What are my triggers? Who are my triggers? What calms me down? What can I let slide and what do I have to always do when I'm having a tough mental health day? How do I stop myself from the avalanche of "what ifs" that I'm so good at doing? Who do I trust implicitly with all the hairy details and who am I on a "need to know, surface only" basis? The list goes on and on. More than once I have had to sit myself down and have a mental tune-up to get myself back on track after a big event or boulder fell out of the sky. 2015 anyone? My most recent therapy post talked about a pair of shoes that reminded me of a terribly awful relationship mistake that I made. In the post I talked about keeping them as a reminder of what I had accomplished. I am happy to report, that because of my own blog post and the triggers that I set off (boo to me), I ended up getting rid of those hot polka-dotted vintage inspired pumps because they (a silly pair of shoes) were a trigger and they needed to go. Talk about a weight lifted when I don't see the lurking reminder in my closet anymore.
The third thing I want you to know about therapy: you are still going to have hard days. You're going to have completely shitty, sad, crying, awful, hard-as-hell days. But, you will also have days when you will think, "wow, pre-therapy me would have crumbled quicker and longer in this scenario than post-therapy me." My knees still get bruised and bloody when I fall and my heart still breaks when a relationship ends or someone dies. But, how I treat myself and how I work through it compared to pre-therapy is light years different. I still ache to have a better reality in regards to a couple of things in my life, but I know that gratitude conquers all and with that I relish in what I DO have and let the rest go.
The fourth thing I want you to know about therapy: Decide that you will not settle for any type of treatment or abuse that will put you right back to where you were pre-therapy. THIS takes practice and a whole hell of a lot of effort. I'm still finding out little quirks and nuances that I thought were fully addressed are, in fact, still a raging issue if I'm not careful. I've had some conversations with my friends that have recently divorced when I asked them, "what went wrong on both sides and how will you improve yourself the next time?" There are a lot of people, myself included, who have a hard time admitting they were wrong and at fault and that they need to use their picker with more prudence next time. If your surroundings need to change for your therapy to stick, then move. Have the faith to do it. If you need to have a sitter to watch your kids so you can go to the gym, then MAKE IT HAPPEN and go to the gym. If you need friends who don't encourage you to drink like a crazy person or use drugs, then bravely cut them off and find new friends. If you need to have a date night and some good loving calendared with your sweetheart then write it on the damn calendar and do it! Remember how I said therapy is only as good as you apply it to your daily life? Well it is. Trust me. Don't spend all that money, time and effort and expect no change necessary. That is a LIE. Change is the point. Change is the healer.
The fifth thing I want you to know about therapy: You can go back. Jennifer called them booster visits and I've had a few. The funny part about mine was that we usually chuckled together because I knew what I needed to do and was well on my way to the right path. Going to see her for a booster visit was mostly for validation that I was, in fact, coping like a boss without her. I've kept in contact with her and will send her a periodic email from time-to-time just to solidify that I'm doing well and that she's still there. I've referred a lot of friends to her. When it came time to leave Utah, I promise you that I had a conscious thought process that included "what if I ever need to go see Jennifer? Will this next home be close enough that I could do that?" The answer is yes, but I'm confident that I probably won't need to use that lifeline because I am using her advice every day as best I can.
I am grateful for this milestone. It has not been an easy 5 years. Holy hell, at times, it has been everything but easy. I've felt a lot of anger and hate, but I've also learned to deeply, truly love others and myself and I know that my choice to give organized therapy a shot is the reason why. Don't give up on yourself. Talk to someone who can help you trudge through your sorrow and confusion.
The moral of the story: Breathe. Trust. Love. Have faith in the timing AND the process. And most of all work. Work very very hard to be your best you in spite of your imperfections.
Until next time, my lovelies!