I broke up with my therapist today.
I didn't have any idea I was going to end our 7-year relationship yet I walked in, sat down and told her I was ok and didn't need her anymore. She smiled and told me she had been thinking the very same thing. This was the best break-up I've had.
8 years ago I was in NYC for the night, a rare treat at that time with two young kids back at home. Treat turned traumatic when a phone call answered from a Bloomingdale's dressing room wound up not to be a quick question on where the diapers were. Instead, a detailed description of everything wrong with me and how I must seek help. Accepting the dissection of me as fact and the insistence I get help, I called a friend and got a referral. Never having been but never against, I decided to give my therapist a shot. Considering I had so easily accepted someone else's diatribe on all of my shortcomings, this was one of my better decisions (albeit from a misguided directive).
What a journey it's been. I am a better mother, sister, daughter, friend, girlfriend and person for it. I'd like to think I would have found my way but at the time I was very confused and that confusion only got worse for the following few years. I had been told the sky was red so many times I believed it. I had twisted myself into a pretzel trying to become what someone else wanted. I was exhausted and alone so finding my way alone would have taken so many painful years longer. Having a neutral party, one with zero agenda was invaluable. She saw things before I did, she listened to the words I said, words from my mouth that I somehow blocked from going into my own ears. She let me do the talking, the figuring out.
My dad once asked me curiously, "Why can't you just talk to your mother and me?" I replied, "Then who would I talk to about you guys?" This is literally true but also goes deeper. Sure they were the topic of the day over the course of years. More importantly, when it comes to my happiness and my kid's lives, they have too much at stake to remain neutral. As a mother myself I say this with love and understanding. When it comes to your spawn there is no such thing as totally objective. Sometimes it's just best to outsource.
Why share this very personal story? Because I come from a quiet, keep-it-to-yourself family. I come from a quiet, kept-it-to-myself life. Then one day I met a stranger I could trust without agenda or judgment. Over time I talked it out and worked it out. My talking became louder until I was shouting. I stood up for myself and reclaimed my life. It might not be for everyone and that's ok. But, if you are quiet, lonely and confused and open to the idea, the right therapist can be a powerful asset.
We go to doctors when we have the flu, salons when our hair is too long, the Genius Bar when our iPhone freezes, get tutors for our struggling kids, take our cars for regular service appointments and ask professionals to literally rip the hair from our bodies with wax. We will discuss the latest in bikini waxing and get naked with a stranger but talking to a trained mental health professional is what embarrasses us? This is what we don't want to tell our friends and families? This is what has a stigma? No one can do it all which is why we all do different things. We outsource everything else we need help with and our mental health should be at the top of the list. This is why I share this.
Yes my therapist is kind, smart, funny and from a similar yet different background. She gets my language and my history. She has offered guidance, strategies and the language I needed over the years to talk to my kids about difficult subjects, the language I needed to use with my parents and siblings, the language I needed for myself inside my own head. But the best thing I got from my years from her had nothing to do with her. The best thing I got was that for one hour a week I focused on myself and faced whatever was bothering me. I could speak freely, no toes to trip over, no shells to break. One small hour a week devoted to my well being over time added up. It added up cumulatively and the lessons she offered along the way, the insights and strategies built upon each other until I had real steps to walk up and into my life and down and out of her office.
It's ok to not be ok. For a long while now I've been ok and I've been ok when I haven't been ok. I will miss her, but I don't need her. When I walked out I told her I might call again down the line for a check in. Parents get older, kids go through adolescence, relationships go through turmoil. She hugged me and smiled her "I know, I was just waiting for you to see what I do" smile. I see and I thank her, keeper of my secrets and a witness to my most painful journeys.
What was barked at me as punishment, what was ordered with the goal of me being what someone else needed, wound up as a gift with the result of me being exactly who I need.
It's rare we are aware of the moments that our pain is fully realized as a gift. I was fully aware of the heft and levity of my deciding it was time to walk out after 8 years. I smiled and teared up at my unexpected accomplishment and made a mad dash to get my kids from school.