"Because sometimes that's what has to be done. You have to lay down with it. The hurt. Or the heartache or even the hate. Whatever is inside. Sometimes you have to get close to it. Taste it and understand it so you can define it, before it defines you." - JmStorm
I used to be a therapist. It was my first job in my Social Work career. It’s a common statement that all therapists should have therapists, but I had no idea how to be on the other side. It completely stumped me. I realized that, even though I tried with all my might to get my teenagers to open up about their feelings, I had no idea how to express my own. So, I didn’t. And I thought that would be OK. I thought that not expressing emotions even made me a better therapist because I could listen to someone’s intense pain without breaking down. I created a rock-solid wall around myself because I was so afraid of getting my heart broken. And I thought that made me strong. But instead, I was so very weak. You cannot simply avoid pain. It has to go somewhere. And, even though I told myself I wasn’t affected (ha!), the pain piled up inside my fortress started to leak over the walls. It had to go somewhere, and because I had long-since been unable to let myself release the pain in a healthy way, it turned into panic attacks. As a therapist, I knew that meant it was past time to ask for help.
I’m not sure how I thought I would get any better by simply going to therapy without actually engaging in therapy, but I sure tried! I went to a few sessions but I was completely unwilling to explore the pain pile-up. In fact, attending therapy actually increased my panic attacks. I now know that was because I had a deep-seated fear of my fortress being attacked and leaving me vulnerable to the pain. I wanted to just ignore it, and hoped that by doing so, it would magically disappear. It doesn’t work that way…
I made the excuse to myself that the therapist was looking down on me (I still really think she may have been), I told myself I was fine and didn’t need her anyway. Change of scenery. I thought when I stopped being a therapist and got a job that I loved, all would be well. Instead, my panic attacks followed me. So, I gave it a good four years before I tried again. You know, just to make sure! This time I found a therapist about my age who was still in the licensure process and inexperienced. I thought maybe I could open up to someone who was less likely to look down on me. Yes, my brain has an interesting logic sometimes. I am not knocking this therapist at all. In fact, I really liked her. I could sort of think of her as a friend instead of a therapist. The problem was, I wasn’t opening up to any of my friends either. This therapist tried, but she was just so inexperienced. I was able, with very little effort, to evade her attempts at cracking my walls. I told myself she helped me heal but really, I just WANTED to believe that I was healed. I wanted it to be over. I’m not saying she didn’t help, but the way she helped was to encourage me to write in a journal about my experiences on my own. So, I did. I wrote about each and every kid and my experiences working with them. I wrote about each painful experience in my recent life. One after the other, I wrote and I prayed. I prayed for each teenager and I prayed for my own heart, thinking that by writing I was releasing the pain. I told myself and my therapist that I was healed. I believed I was healed because that’s what I wanted to believe. But, that’s not how it works either…
In all fairness, I would have kept seeing her but, by that time, my health had taken a disastrous turn. I kept having to cancel on her at the last minute, which wasn’t fair to her and technically against policy. So, I told her I needed to get my physical health under control before I could continue working on my mental health. But, that’s not now it works either…
So, I gave it just a year this time. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you already know that during that year, my life had pretty much fallen apart. I lost my health, my career, our financial stability, friends, my sanity (well, almost). The thought had been nagging me that I really needed help getting through this but I dismissed it due to finances and, if I’m honest, being completely terrified. See, I knew deep down that my walls were crumbling under the weight of the pain I told myself I was getting rid of, when I was really just shoving it down to make room for more. You can only do that for so long before you start to break and I knew it. And it terrified me. The thought of someone finally seeing all the garbage inside of me, and forcing me to rifle through it, was completely revolting and horrifying. I knew that this time I wasn’t going to be strong enough to fake a healing. I knew I was actually going to have to let myself feel all the pain if I was going to heal. Oh, I craved healing! I longed to finally be me to the world even though it simultaneously filled me with fear, and still does.
So, I started praying. My husband and I started asking God that if this was in his plan for me that he would provide the funds for it. Right about that time, insurance sent me an unexpected check from some treatment I didn’t think they would cover, and my husband got a great second job. That’s when we knew that since God was being faithful on his end, I had to follow through on mine. I was still too afraid to pick up the phone. The final straw was a stress that God was using to bring up all kinds of unhealed memories and I knew I couldn’t go through those memories again without help. I considered going back to my last therapist because it was the safest way to go. But, healing is not safe.
I felt myself being led to Christian Counseling instead. My two previous therapists were Christians and they were counselors, but they weren’t Christian Counselors. By code of ethics, they were not allowed to discuss God or lead prayers unless I brought it up. I really felt I needed to be led to and through God’s truths instead. I began to truly believe in my heart that my healing could not fully happen unless God was the Healer, standing at the very center of it all. I needed the real Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). I needed my counseling to be absolutely saturated with him. So, I scheduled an appointment with a Christian Counselor and I prayed. I simultaneously feared that this would be like all of the other attempts at healing and that it would not. I told exactly three people that I was going to this appointment and needed them to pray that I would have the strength to walk through the door. I shook the whole way, but I walked in.
And what I found were the arms of God, wide open and waiting for me to explore the truth. My counselor prays with me and for me before and after the session. She reads Scripture to me and proclaims God’s truths over my life. She constantly invites the Holy Spirit to guide us in the healing process. And that’s certainly what it is, a process. It is not all hearts and flowers. In fact, it’s incredibly painful. Now that I am finally exploring and trying to allow myself to feel the hurt, at least 20 years of pain is hitting me all at once. I hate it. I want to quit. I’m not kidding. It is a struggle every week for me to go. But, here’s how God works. The very next Sunday after my first session, my counselor started attending our church, and sitting in the same vicinity as us. I know that if I quit going to counseling, I still cannot hide from her. Hilarious, God. Hilarious!
I want to, and sometimes still desperately try to, collect and patch up the bricks that are tumbling out of my crumbling fortress. But they’re falling too fast and I am broken. So broken. And God is showing me that perhaps I need to stay broken for awhile. After all, moving past all of the pain is what caused my problems in the first place. Oh, how it hurts! But, every week God gently picks me up off the floor and carries me through the door again. He is revealing things to me that I didn’t even know were there and he sits with me in the pain. He holds me when I cry and takes the punches when I get angry. He listens when I talk and he hears my heart when I can’t find the words. He is trying desperately to teach me who I am. He is introducing me to myself! I am not made for fear. I am not on this earth to constantly beat myself up. I am God’s child, created in his image. He did not make me flawed. And if I finally let it, his perfect love will cast out my fear. I am learning that I have to feel pain before I can heal. It is possible to ignore pain for 20 years. But it will eventually eat me alive. It’s already taken a big bite.
So, here I sit with my God, his Word, and his love, watching as piles of pain flow out and through my walls and through me. Sometimes I think it’s too much and I want to push it back in but it’s too late. The avalanche has already begun and there’s nothing I can do but feel it. And the whole time I know God’s heart feels it with me. His heart holds mine. Even when I throw tantrums, even when I grow numb, especially when I cry, he holds his child. It is my opportunity to feel well-loved by God. And what better love could be possible? THAT’S how it works.
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he that listens to counsel is wise." - Proverbs 12:15
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