If you expect your therapist to provide answers and a road map to happiness, you’re not giving yourself enough credit.
I go to therapy because I’m 37 and still have no idea whether I’m fat or thin. Because every five months or so, I’ll skip a workout, imagine my skin has mutated to dough and use my husband as a mirror. Because if he delays even a second in answering a question about my thighs, I’ll feel them balloon to epic proportions. Because I’m 37, my body still doesn’t belong to me, and I’m not sure it ever will.
I go to therapy because, some mornings, I cry while I make the beds. Because I think long and hard, as I’m stuffing a pillow into a satin case, about the social implications of making that bed and how I’m dragging women down a notch and possibly ruining my daughter’s ideas about womanhood by smoothing sheets instead of attending Monday morning meetings.
Despite all of the reasons I know I need therapy, a reality smacked me hard in the face after giving birth to my second baby and while feeling wholly incapable of keeping two tiny humans alive: I decided that it was high time I quit therapy. I was due at my therapist’s office in 35 minutes (it takes 20 minutes to drive to her bucolic neighborhood), and yet there I was, sprawled across my couch with wet hair, combing Amazon for a new electronic toothbrush.
I decided in that moment that all I’ve ever really needed all along was a good night’s sleep and that therapy was total bullshit.
Truth be told, I was livid at my lack of progress. I suddenly felt I had squandered time, money and emotional energy on a person who was unwilling to share all of the solutions to my problems she had clearly learned in grad school. I got tired of hearing that my mother was to blame. I know she’s to blame. She knows she’s to blame. But the “mommy ruined me” excuse gets stale the older you get — especially when you have children of your own and realize that same monster who nourished your insecurities also walked the halls with you for hours when you had a fever, wiped your vomit from her hair and would have chosen to do the same thing over and over again if it meant protecting you from the slightest hint of discomfort. Does that excuse her shitty narcissistic tendencies? Yes, actually, it does a little.
And, besides, my mommy hasn’t ruined me in at least 15 years. I gleefully passed that torch to myself. It’s time to get a move on.
So I mentally prepared myself to fire my therapist that evening — last-minute Amazon shopping was just part of the here-I-am-on-the-couch-casually-proving-to-myself-I’m-over-this process. In the real world, people sucked it up — I, too, would suck it up.
Since I don’t like upsetting people, I got to her office right on time, wet hair and all. Those first few seconds when she waits for me to speak are usually right up there with the most uncomfortable ones of my life. In the real world, I’m never the first to speak.
Finally, I broke the ice: “I don’t think I’m doing therapy the right way.” This might be a good time to mention I’m nonconfrontational to a fault.
“What do you mean?” she asks. “I think you’re doing therapy just fine.”
Then I throw down. In a 10-minute rant, I passive aggressively declared that she has single-handedly squashed all of my therapy hopes and dreams. It went a little something like this:
I don’t want to be mean, but this isn’t working. I still don’t know what to do when I’m anxious or how to control my emotions. I’m still the same amorphous ink splotch watching vibrant oil paintings smile through their lives and grocery shop without agonizing over the state of the bananas they’ve thrown in their carts.
Also, what is my label? Why haven’t you anointed me with a label yet? Do I have an eating disorder, even though I know exactly when to stop and eat an almond? Is it an anxiety disorder? Am I victim of emotional incest? Without a label, how can I be sure I deserve to be here? Can you at least save me from the f***ing embarrassment of finding out I’m in therapy for no reason? What am I supposed to do when you finally tell me I’m just like my mother? Feel shame and just live with it?
And, like that, I revealed to myself (because my therapist had known this for months) the two reasons I felt I wasn’t making progress in therapy. The first: I was ashamed of every single, ugly part that I felt compelled to reveal. I felt even more ashamed of myself after a session in which I concealed that nasty thing I said to my husband during an argument, while having no such reservations when it came to bitching about his behavior.
The second: I wanted my therapist to save me. I craved a beginning, middle and an end to therapy and believed we’d have a session somewhere in the middle where I climaxed. So, when each session failed to produce that release I craved, I deemed it a failed experiment.
But therapy isn’t an extracurricular activity in which you score a few goals, win a trophy and move on to bigger and better things. It’s a slow-moving, slow-burning process that can be tedious and frustrating at times. One day, you’ll wake up feeling cured only to begrudgingly attend your “last” therapy session and find yourself crying your eyes out because you realize you’re ashamed of yourself for no goddamn good reason.
But the fact that you can finally, after living in your own shadow for years, see yourself with clear eyes and come to terms with how you’re holding yourself back — even from therapy itself — is proof that therapy is working.
I hate therapy more than I love it. I despise knowing the person in front of me, though highly qualified and a lot more insightful than I could ever dream of being, is not my personal guru and is only here to help me set myself free so that I can govern myself. At the same time, that’s exactly why I’m sticking it out.