“When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave, new ending. ” Brené Brown
Since I was a kid, I’ve had a handful of therapists. I remember feeling such shame about seeing one. What would people think? Is something wrong with me? Why do I need help?
I’ll never forget my first therapist. My parents were going through a nasty divorce. After running away a couple of times and a failed suicide attempt, they thought I needed a little help. At the end of our first meeting, she asked, “Can I give you a hug? You look like you need a hug.” Ugh. No.
My second therapist came along while I was in college. I had recently moved away from home, away from my friends, away from my cat, and I was feeling depressed. At the same time, my mom was dealing with an abusive new husband. I felt helpless. So each week, I’d walk into my therapist’s office and she’d encourage me to look out the window. “What do you see? What do you feel?” I saw trees.
Before my ex-husband and I got married, we went to couple’s therapy. I was feeling like he was too controlling and he didn’t understand why I was no longer the woman he met three years prior. To prepare, the therapist asked us to fill out a questionnaire so we could review our answers during the first appointment. I was so sure she would be on my side because, well, I’m always right. Heh…heh…”Fiana, it sounds like you lack self-confidence.” Ugh.
The day my ex-husband left me, he walked me to the subway. I looked at him and said, “You never really loved me, did you?” He stared at me with an expressionless face, gave me a kiss on the forehead and said goodbye. With tears running down my cheeks, I turned around, walked into the subway station, onto a train and straight into a new therapist’s office.
I saw Dr. P once a week for about a year. Upon his advice, we increased these visits to twice a week for the second and third year. He felt like I needed constant attention since I was dealing with so much trauma from my failed marriage and my difficult childhood/family life. I felt like he was leading me on an endless therapeutic course. But I didn’t trust myself at the time. So I did it.
After a few years, I knew I needed a change. Dr. P had helped me through so much but I began to hide things from him. I didn’t want him to know I was seeing my husband again. I didn’t want to tell him about my new tattoos. I certainly didn’t want to tell him that I was out until 3am the night before. And a few hundred times, he recommended I take salsa lessons, which worked for him when he was going through a rough time.
Dr. P was becoming my dad. A very, very expensive dad.
Dr. P: So what are you saying?
Me: Um….I think we need to stop seeing each other.
Dr. P: Starting when?
Dr. P: I don’t think this is a good idea. But if it’s what you want.
With 40 minutes of the appointment left, I walked out of his office crying.
Knowing I had more work to do, I scheduled consultations with two therapists to see how I felt with each one of them. One made me feel guarded, nervous, shy. The other made me feel like I had known her forever.
Dr. Strongin was from Texas. Like me. She had beautiful red hair and a demeanor that made me feel comfortable enough to tell her everything. I felt so safe in her dimly lit office. This may sound weird but she felt like…my angel. And…well…her last name had the word “strong” in it.
Rather than talk to me and tell me stories about her life, like Dr. P often did, she let me explore my own thoughts by asking me all the right questions. She pushed me to feel out various situations on my own. She encouraged me to figure out how I wanted my eggs cooked and to know exactly where I wanted to go for dinner. She’d check in if she sensed I was getting angry with her and she’d send me a note when I was away for long periods of time. I felt stronger with her by my side. For the first time in my life, I looked forward to my weekly therapy sessions.
A few months ago, we held what turned out to be our last appointment over FaceTime. It was a snow day so we were all stuck at home in our PJs.
Dr. Strongin: Fiana, I don’t know what it is but you sound like a different person. You sound more confident than ever.
Me: I do?
Dr. Strongin: You do. You’re thinking for yourself. You’re acknowledging your triggers. And you’re more aware of why, when, who. You sound strong. You even know how you want your eggs cooked!
Me: Wow. Well, yeah. Soft-boiled. And yeah, I do feel pretty good and more or less cognizant of my actions. That’s all thanks to you.
Dr. Strongin: So, I didn’t plan for this but…what if you went out on your own for a bit?
Dr. Strongin: Yeah. I wish we were speaking about this in person but I don’t know…something tells me you’re ready…to go out on your own. What do you think?
To be honest, I had been thinking about this for some time. Therapy wasn’t feeling as effective as it used to. I started to feel like a broken record in our meetings and like she was becoming a good friend rather than my therapist. I needed someone to listen but I didn’t feel like we were going anywhere anymore. It wasn’t that she wasn’t helping. It was that I was helping myself. But whatever was going on, I didn’t want to lose her. I needed her–so I thought
Me (heart sinking, holding back tears): “Ok. Yes? Let’s try it?”
Secretly I wanted to ask her if we could be besties who brunched. But I didn’t.
It’s been about three months without Dr. Strongin. I’m still getting used to it. There are many times, as I sit in my corner in pure frustration, where I think, “She definitely knows why I’m acting like a brat right now.” Or, when I’m feeling lost and alone at work, I wonder, “What would she recommend I do about it?” I often speculate about what she’d say to me when I tell her this story or that. What if I’m making life mistake after life mistake and don’t even know it? What if I’m not as happy as I think I am? What if I wasn’t supposed to say “yes” to going out on my own?
Whatever the case, I’m doing it. I’m doing it on my own. Dr. Strongin was never going to prevent me from making mistakes. She was never going to anoint happiness on me. She was never going to give me that golden ticket to life. Instead, she pushed me. She forced me to think for myself. She gave me all sorts of strategies for handling all sorts of life situations. She equipped me to go out on my own. Just like she was supposed to do.
And the rest? All on me. I think she knew that the whole time. I guess I kind of did, too.
Most importantly, she left the door open. I have yet to knock on it. And maybe someday I will. Nonetheless, it sure feels good to know she’s there.
Dr. Strongin, thank you…for everything.