The first time someone said, “Hey, maybe you should go talk to someone” I was offended. Me? “Talk to someone?” I know what that was code for and that was not me.
Isn’t it great when we get to eat our words?
It is weird that when you start therapy, especially if you tell a few close friends, people that you never expected start to tell you about their experiences. People that come across to you as so strong or put together or just with it… wow, wow! It is not so much the badge of honor too many people in cities like LA and NYC wear with a false sense of pride, but more of a… hey, this thing happened, or these things happened, to all of us, and it’s cool.
It’s cool, you know, to go talk to someone. It will help.
And then, you get into therapy, really get into it, and it is not cool at all!
You see, there is a false idea that I think many of us have in the backs of our minds that therapy is going to provide a cure. It is going to take this “thing” or this series of “things” that have happened, there will be a prescription provided (sometimes, there actually is if you’re seeing a psychiatrist), you will take the pills and/or follow the given instructions, and bam! you will be better.
Therapy is not like taking a 5-day course of antibiotics. Therapy is not a cast over your broken leg, a couple of weeks of healing and then physical therapy, and you’re skiing down the slopes again. Therapy is not a cure.
Why? Because there is no cure for being human.
Therapy is coming face to face with who are you. That is not to say that who you are is not necessarily a static thing, but some parts of you are far more sticky than others. And, more challenging, who you are, even if you are a malignant narcissist or a empathy-lacking psychopath, is neither right or wrong. It just is. It just is and the goal of therapy is a) to help you figure that out, and b) learn how to tweak what you may, but mainly c) to figure out how to deal with it and deal with others in the most positive / non-society-destroying way possible.
You may end up in therapy because some sort of trauma hit your life. There is no value in listing what some of those traumas are because it can be different for everyone, and what is a paper-cut for one person is the severing of a limb for another, but the path tends to be this:
- A thing happened. (Could be good or bad, doesn’t matter)
- You tried to manage / recover from that thing.
- You failed. Or, rather, your existing coping mechanisms for handling things, failed.
- Uh oh, out of ideas… maybe you should go talk to someone?
So, let’s get back to it, you are now here, in therapy, talking to someone. Talking. And talking. And whining. Maybe there is a good cry or two that happens. Maybe a stoic tear. Lots of stoicism. Lots of unraveling. Lots of encountering the fact that the “world ain’t level” and that this is unfair. It is always unfair. Always, always unfair.
Doctor, what’s the cure? When does it stop? What’s the point to all of this? How long do I need to do this? How long until it stops? What do I do? How do I avoid this happening again? What is the fix? What’s the cure?
Depending on who you are all of those answers are different, except for this one: there is no cure.
Some of us got lucky, and lucky could mean good parents or great parents or great teachers or phenomenal grandparents or special talents or a perfect environment or all of those things were terrible and you just happened to fall into that happy middle of mostly being okay. You are mostly okay and you meet mostly okay people and that is grand. Not fair, ha!, but still a fortunate outcome.
And then there is everybody else. Also, for those mostly okay people, sometimes, even to them, a thing happens, or a series of things happen, and then–
The reality is that the act of living, in almost all cases, comes with experiences that will overwhelm us all, at some point. The ultimate goal of therapy is not to stop living; it is not to produce a set of rules which will guarantee a perfect set of outcomes; it is not to provide certainty because life is uncertain, fundamentally and irrevocably.
The goal of therapy is to teach you how to deal with it. That’s it. It’s not a cure, but it’s something. It teaches you:
- When your strength may have somehow become a weakness; reign it in
- When you need to take on a little more risk; venture out
- When you need to speak up; be assertive
- When you need to keep quiet; listen, really listen
- When you need to change your circumstances; take control
- When you need to let things unfold; be patient
- When to ask for help; reach out to people who care
- When to figure it out on your own; don’t let other people’s voices subsume yours
Therapy teaches you that life is hard and not every day will be a great day, some in fact will be really bad ones, and feelings can hurt, but they pass. All of these things, good or bad, are constantly in motion, and so it will pass. While some of it is in your control, much of it is not, but what is in your control is how you choose to react to it, how you choose to manage it after the fact, and how you choose to live.
There is a tiny part of me that hates the fact that there is no cure for what ails me because what ails me is just being me. Do I wish I were quicker to listen? Yes. Do I wish that I didn’t need to sit on my hands to exercise patience? Yes. Do I wish I weren’t so prone towards being an obdurate Viking blockhead versus a more compromise-oriented gentle soul? Sure, I guess.
But who I am got me where I am today and I wouldn’t trade that because I like my life. I like me. So, that just means I need to put a extra time and elbow grease into the areas that don’t come as naturally to me. Is that easy every day? No. Do I slip up? Oh yea! But, if I keep working at it, do I get to have the friendships and relationships, the family and the work – really, do I get to have the life that I want?
There are no guarantees in this life, nothing is certain, and there are no miracle cures, but if you work a little harder, you try a bit more, and you go into all things with just a tad more awareness, do you get to have what you want?