A Shameless Plug For Counseling

A Shameless Plug For Counseling

I’ll be honest – this post is mainly just a shameless plug for counseling. But I don’t care.

It took me 16 months to decide to find a counselor post-college. I wish it had taken me 2 months, but alas here we are. It’s funny how stubborn I get whenever I need help in life, especially mentally or emotionally. Or spiritually. I will truly convince myself that I’m fine for, well, 16 months before doing anything about it.

But a month ago I finally broke down and googled enough and found a name of a counselor that I prayed would listen to my story and see through my craziness and love me. And yesterday was our second time meeting together.

I hate driving to a counseling appointment because I spent all week closing up and trying to convince people I was fine about certain things, but I know that it would be a waste of my time and money to do that in front of Sarah (not my real counselor’s name, but that’s what I’ll call her). I remember that I have to let down walls, and I’m always pretty sure I’m gonna cry and I’m usually not in the mood to be emotional about the sad stuff I’ve been trying to shut out.

Counseling is hard work but it’s worth it.

This was actually a huge week for me. A really exciting opportunity came my way and it has been a week of celebrating that and being with those that I love. But this great opportunity will also mean a lot of change in my life, and deep down that has gnawed at me.

So when I sat down yesterday at 3 p.m. on the grey plushy couch in her office and Sarah asked me what my week was like, I truly couldn’t think of a single thing to say. Instead, I hugged a throw pillow to my chest and stared at the blinds on the windows behind her and mumbled some stuff about it being fine. And then it hit me and I was like, “Oh my gosh, wait how did I forget this happened?” And I began to tell her about this new opportunity in my life and how it was so exciting.

But I didn’t look excited or sound excited. In fact, I felt like I had become a piece of cardboard – flat and brown and dry. Emotionless, even in the face of huge exciting news in my life.

The great thing about counselors is that they don’t let you get away with that kind of stuff. So Sarah dug in and started asking me what was up. This was a great thing in my life – why am I talking about it like someone died? What’s really going on?

It took me about 45 minutes to answer that question because I didn’t really know. Or, at least, the answer was so complicated that it took that long to reach any sort of explanation. I started to realize that, although this new opportunity was something I had been dreaming of for years, now that it’s here the change it will bring into my life scares me. And, I began to realize through tears, it scares me because the last huge change I went through in my life was harder than I ever let on to anyone else.

I want to share with you my journal entry from this morning because I thought maybe it was just honest enough and maybe you need that in your life today. It talks a lot about the post-college fellowship program I did last year and the internship I had at a ministry at the time.

I cried at counseling yesterday, and then sobbed in the Chipotle parking lot afterwards.

Sarah asked me about my week. At first, I forget about what even happened this week which was crazy because I actually got some super exciting news. But counseling, in all it’s glory, brought emotion out of me where there was only numbness. In my heart and mind, I know I have always downplayed just how hard my fellows year was for me. I was so depressed for some of it. I was in really bad shape. But while it was happening and even now, I just block it out and downplay it. Out of survival, I think. While I was in the fellows program, I just wanted to survive it. Failing the fellows meant moving back home and admitting that I couldn’t make it.

I know that I struggled with honesty all those 9 months. From the first day, I struggled being honest. Through meeting all the new people to starting my internship to going to classes, I was smiling (sometimes) on the outside, but truly dying on the inside.

I’ll never forget one day at my internship, about a month into the program and my life-after-college. I had spent the last month smiling and being brave and learning street names and deciding to be strong through it all, and that morning at my desk at work I finally quieted down and realized I had never been so numb in my life. I wrote my name on an email and it scared me to realize I hardly even recognized my own name. I had spent so much time putting on a face for everyone in this town that when it finally settled down a bit I realized I had absolutely no idea how to talk to myself. I hadn’t been honest with myself in months. I didn’t even recognize the sound of my own voice or my own name or my own face in the mirror.

That’s a core memory, me sitting in that office feeling that way. And it began the rocky relationship I’ve had with myself and God ever since. I knew I had a choice that day. Do I break down and show honesty about how I really felt living in a new city and doing this fellowship program? Which probably would have included calling a sick day and going to my car and dialing my mom and breaking down in sobs because of how deeply overwhelmed I was. Or, the other option, which I took, do I just suck it up and move forward?

I wish I had called in sick and scheduled a counselor and not numbed myself out during that first year in South Carolina. But I know why I didn’t. It’s because that is so hard to do. It is so much “easier” to numb out and move forward. You feel stronger and braver and more capable to do the overwhelming task in front of you.

And so that’s why that day at work I wasn’t honest. Honesty was the scariest option I had. But because I wasn’t honest, I created a core memory that is ambiguous and lonely and numb. And now, 15 months later, I’m trying to breathe life into it.

Maybe you’re not like me and you read that and think I’m the most dramatic person on the planet. That’s fine, because I know that everyone has different levels of emotions hardwired into them.

But maybe you are like me, and maybe you also have the kind of emotions that demand to be felt. I have learned that I was simply made that way, and it means I need to tend to those emotions because I become sick when I don’t. I would encourage you to practice raw honesty and lean into the pain when it’s real and happening right in front of you, like I’m trying to do now.

That’s exactly what counseling is for. I’m sure I’ll write more about my time in Sarah’s office because right now it’s the tool that God is using to bring health back into my mental, emotional and spiritual life.

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

18 months ago, my horse hit a wall.

A metaphorical wall, of course, and the horse: also a metaphor. This is one of those “metaphorical posts”, and if you hate metaphors, feel free to back out now. But I just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, emphasis in counseling.

Home girl loves metaphors.

 

This is about the day I realized I was changed for good.

 

18 months ago, the same month my precious horse met her doom, I sat in a downtown, upper level office building turned counseling office. Feeling crazed and substantially lopsided, as going to counseling often makes one feel, I tread a skinny stairwell, shed my mom in the lobby, and took a seat on a ridiculously comfortable couch. (Note to the reader: counselors own REALLY comfortable couches. Seriously. Go set up an appointment JUST to sit on the couch.)

Although, to be fair, I don’t remember sparing much thought on the furniture the first day I visited that office. I was grieving, hard.

My horse…

I couldn’t believe she was gone. For 21 years… 21 years of her companionship, of her steady walk, the way her leg muscles leaned and stretched into bumps along the way, keeping me upright. I felt naked.

If I’m honest, I was there to bring her back. She hit a wall but she wasn’t gone. Surely. She was just hurt, ready to be repaired, ready to be mine again.

I needed her to be mine again. 

My crazed eyes glanced up to sound. The counselor walked into the office. 5’8″, salt and pepper, with a kind face. Greetings, then he took a seat across from me, yellow legal pad in hand.

“So, Maddie.” Crows feet aside gentle eyes met me, telling me it’s ok. “What’s going on?”

My eyes met my hands, gripping each other, hot tears stretching forward. Ugh, not yet. Why can’t I get through the story in one piece? Where was I supposed to begin? The first day I felt the cold fear? The hospital visit, so fresh I could still smell the stale sheets?

Really, though, I knew it began long ago, and must begin there again. Blonde curly hair, hand in mom’s, the day I first met her, the day I first rode her.

My horse…

I began to talk, rambling about childhood, about what I believed, about what was mine. About what was lost. Trying to put into words what is invisible but so, so real. In my heart, I knew that she was seen only by me, and my words pleaded with him to understand that it didn’t make her any less real.

His eyes coaxed me on. He was beginning to see her too.

I cried under that gaze, allowed myself to feel what had been chained, scared to exist.

Finally, from between swollen eye lids, I saw him lean back into his counselor-chair, eyes on me. Letting me be a little crazy. I couldn’t believe how good it felt.

“What was her name?”

A clock ticked somewhere, counted down the money filled seconds, time to put my life back together even a little bit.

“What?”

“Your horse. What was her name?”

Her name. How could I never have given her a name? He stood up, began writing on a board. My eyes searched the room for some answer. It was like trying to recognize yourself in a picture, but you can’t.

Her name… 

I didn’t know.

My head raised as he stepped away from the word he had penned.

Control”. I stared at it. Inky black on the once white canvas. It seemed foreign. I didn’t understand.

He took my silence as reason to explain. “I think that’s her name. Control.” He sat back down, shifted his legs. “That is your loss. That is what died. A sense of control.”

I stared at him.

“You rode her for 21 years.” He went on. “She was like a horse, a steady one. Every time the road got rough, she was there. You may have suffered losses here and there, yet still you rode on, holding tightly to Control.”

My eyes itched from dried, salty tears. The road seemed so long.

“And now, you have watched her die.” I glance at the word on the board, distinctly aware of his words. “She finally broke, she finally fell. And this… well, this is the first mountain you have to climb without her.”

the first mountain you have to climb without her…

 

I didn’t lose control of my life that day, not really, for now I know that all I lost was an illusion. Sometimes we live under those, though. And one day bandaids are torn off and skin is exposed – scared, vulnerable skin that has never breathed.

My invisible horse was a worldview, a way of thinking, a trust. The story can come later, how I was thrown off, how that worldview hit a boulder and never got back up.

I learned that day that I never actually had control of my life. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Sometimes things happen to us that change us completely, irreversibly, and we find our selves sinking into counseling office couches trying to figure it all out.

 

16 months later, I sat in a different chair. Not as plush, but just as welcoming, and just as important.

A mentor of mine sat across a large desk, papers pushed to the side, letting me invade an hour of her busy day. My tears reminded me of that day in that downtown office, and in a way my grief was the same.

I had come a long way since I first hit the gravel. I painstakingly buried that horse, though it took much longer than I had hoped. Things in my life began to take a ground-up attitude, broken to whole, and I had learned to walk on my own, without Control leading me.

Or, without needing it tucked under me.

I know now that God has always had control, and I never have, and I don’t need it to drive me as long as the reigns are in the right hands.

But it was finally time to buy a new horse.

And I want to leave you with the words that were spoken to me that day, because they were good ones:

“Stop reaching back for her, Maddie. Stop reaching back to the girl you were on that horse. You’re not her anymore. You’re someone else, and that’s ok.”

Yeah, it is.