A Wish Come Clear

Choosing Love, Losing Fear, & Finding Home

Why I Go to Counseling: My Messy Beautiful

I’ve never shared this in a public forum before, but here goes: I go to counseling twice a month.

The stigma of seeking support is lifting – in fact, April is Counseling Awareness month – but it still takes courage to admit it. Why? Because when you say you’re going to counseling, what you’re really saying is, “I am someone who needs a little help. And that can be a very uncomfortable statement to make.

Personally, I prefer to pretend that I have it all together, that I can handle this crazy thing called life just fine. But there are times in which I reach the limits of my own capacity. In such times, I’m blind to possibility; I need someone trustworthy to point out vistas I could never have seen on my own.

“Improving decision making” at Harvard, pondering whether or not to go to Princeton.

I didn’t always recognize this, though. You see, back in the day, I liked the idea of being a counselor, but I wasn’t sure about seeing one. When I was accepted to Princeton Theological Seminary (with a focus in pastoral counseling), I saw the depth of my own hypocrisy.

I thought, “I cannot commit to attend grad school for counseling – even an Ivy League school! – when I’ve never even met with a counselor.”

So I took a deep breath and made an appointment.

***

At the time of that first appointment, I was a program director for L’Arche, an amazing caregiving non-profit. I was doing good work … and I was struggling with exhaustion and fear. I wanted to transition into working for myself and writing full-time, but I couldn’t give myself permission to try.

I felt guilty, because people needed me and loved me right where I was. Even though my role wasn’t a good fit, how could I leave my beautiful people?

So I bore the weight of guilt for wanting to leave … while simultaneously criticizing myself for not being brave enough to follow my dream. It was exhausting.

I needed someone to intervene. I needed someone to say, both in words and in silences: “It’s okay to want what you want. Making a positive change for yourself, moving toward freedom … that’s not a betrayal of those you love. On the contrary, they don’t want to be your reason for staying bound.”

In the end, I said goodbye to the program director role, and I deferred the Princeton acceptance too. Counseling pointed me to the path that felt most like freedom, most like me: writing.

***

skateThis year, I started going to counseling again because of what I call the slippery patches. It’s like this: being in my mind is like walking on an icy sidewalk.

I used to figure skate, so mostly I get along okay. But every once in a while, I feel my (proverbial) feet start slipping. I lose my balance, and I feel a lurch of fear that next time, I won’t be strong enough to stand.

I thought I’d go to counseling to get some lessons in staying upright. But after a few sessions, though, I realized that that was just the beginning.

Counseling wasn’t about how to slip and stumble along. Instead, it was about learning to fly, about lacing up some skates.

When I go to those bi-weekly appointments, I bring a list of topics that trigger fear or anxiety (that is, ‘slipping’). One week, I’ll struggle to set boundaries with work. Two weeks later, I’ll feel intensely lonely. (Heads up: that’s what happens when you stop working long enough to feel your feelings.)

The issues change, but the goal – to be present, honest, and loving in my relationships – remains the same.

These days, I’m learning so much. I’m learning to recognize when I’m being mean to myself. I’m experiencing the connection between harshly judging others and harshly judging myself.

I’m figuring out how to tell my truth with love, and let other people be free to tell theirs too. I’m learning that I have more options, more strength, and more courage than I thought I did.

***

When I skated competitively, I learned that I wouldn’t get far if I stubbornly avoided risk. Skating is about training and preparation, then lifting off and testing your wings. When I was on the ice, I took my share of messy falls, but I also embraced the possibility of doing something beautiful.

And isn’t that exactly like life?

Today, I’m so thankful for the counselors who have helped me to risk, to dare, to tell the truth. To say … I am a teacher and I am a student.

I am a helper and I need help.

I am brave and I am scared.

I am human, and that is enough.

***

Ever been to counseling, or considered going? Join the conversation in the comments!

MBW-285

This essay and I are part of Momastery’s Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. When I met creator Glennon Melton last year, I knew I’d found a kindred spirit. (If we’d met in middle school, interlocking necklaces would have been involved.) Sharing a guest post on Momastery was a Big. Dream. Come. True. Be sure to check out G’s NYT Bestseller Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life.

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24 Replies

  1. Alicia

    Beautiful! Gratitude for Your Courage! I am a therapist and I believe we are only as good as we are when we have experienced being on both sides of the couch.

    1. Much appreciated, Alicia! It’s great to have your perspective here – thank you for sharing!

  2. I too go to counseling. I recently returned to it as I have been in and out of it since I was 13. Like you writing is one of my outlets. I have had some horrible counselors and some good ones. The one currently I like. Right now I am weekly and I see a Psychiatrist as well because I have Borderline personality, PTSD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder with Panic attacks, Adult ADD with sensory integration dysfunction. I am a self harmer (although it’s been nearly 2 years since my last episode. Most people just don’t get me or who I am, family, friends etc. I have the worst self-esteem yet strive for perfection and to help everyone. These past two months with a very sick child and many deaths and little help I had to do something. So I set up appointment and started going again. It gives me an outlet that I can not say to anyone else because of the stigma against it. The way people treat you etc. Through it all I take care of a disabled child, which I know you can relate to and if you would like to see his page it is: https://www.facebook.com/amiraclenamedalex I have been doing it as a single mother since birth. On my personal face book page (which I prefer not to give in here where it can be seen by all) I have been fighting to break the stigma, change my way of thought. Learn to say NO to folks once in a while and learn to take care of me, for Alex.

    This post really touched me. Because of the stigma and you weren’t ashamed to post it. THANK YOU for that.

    Marlana

    1. Marlana, what courage you have — thank you for offering the gift of your story. You’ve been through so much, yet you’re still standing, still learning, still loving. I’m glad this post was an encouragement to you in your journey. Carry on, fellow warrior!

  3. Camille

    Yes I have been to counseling…quite a few times. Thank you for this beautiful reminder…I need to say I am brave but I am scared more often because it is the truth!

    1. You’re most welcome, my dear friend …thank you for being you and encouraging me to come out of my shell and DANCE. :)

  4. I also see a therapist every other week. I started going because I was starting the divorce process, and I have been going for the last two years (with no intention to stop) because that was just the tip of the iceberg. I am pretty open about it because I know that there is nothing wrong with needing a little help, although I agree that there is still some stigma out there. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Mary, thank you for that affirmation, and brava to you for carrying on with your own inner work. Not easy, but so worthwhile!

  5. Sarah

    Yes! Counseling is wonderful. I spent years not feeling feelings and working and achieving my way to self-acceptance until that didn’t work anymore. I finally asked my pastor for a counseling referral “for a friend” because I was that ashamed to need help. He gave me a name and said that “half our congregation” saw this person. I was shocked. Were we just a super messy group of people? Yes, we are messy but we we are beautiful.

    Counseling was so incredibly helpful. I learned to *notice* my feelings, name them and sit with them. I began to see just how harshly I judge myself and then learn some tools to extend grace and kindness inward. I learned to tell my story and to be vulnerable with others. I learned that it’s strong to ask for help sometimes and I don’t have to do everything on my own. Basically, counseling helped me to become more human and FREE. Best ever. Thank your for your messy beautiful post!

    1. Wow, Sarah — I can SO relate to what you’ve shared here. It sounds like we’ve been learning similar lessons on “how to become more human and free” … glad to know I’m not alone. Thank you! :)

  6. I’d go to counseling every day if I could! Love having a captive audience ;) Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. ;) Jana, I know the feeling! I always get to this point (around 1.5 weeks between appointments) in which I say, “I just can’t wait for the appointment – there’s so much to say!” Thanks for your comment!

  7. Randy

    Hi, Caroline! Another fine post! I, too, go to counseling, but on a more irregular basis. I’ve reached a point at which I can feel when the rhythms of my life dictate my need to seek out counseling. And my counselor is just like you said–someone who can toss back to me what I’m saying and give me permission to see it in a different light. Definitely a must! Thank you for writing this, Lady!

    1. You’re most welcome, Randy! I really like how you describe listening to the rhythms of your life and reaching out accordingly – I feel like I’m on track for learning that, slowly but surely. ;)

  8. Hi! Thanx for this post…found you through the Momastery project…love it and posted it on my Facebook page! Loved how you told us of your courage to begin counselling and the value you gained from it!

    1. Carolyn, welcome! So glad you’re here, and thank you very much for the share – I appreciate it!

  9. What a beautiful essay. I understand exactly what you mean. Sometimes I feel like I have lost my navigational True North; that’s when I know it’s time to check everything out. You have slipper patches. Lovely metaphor and thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Helen, for those kind, affirming words! So glad to hear that the post spoke to you.

  10. Jean

    I went to counseling yeeaarrss ago! I was having a bad time in marriage, actually contemplating divorce, but thought I should have someone help me navigate through all the unknowns. I don’t know how long it took, but I eventually got divorced after the counselor spoke about starting over. Like going back to the dating phase and learn each other all over again. When the though of that horrified me, that’s when I knew. But I never would have had that insight and gotten to that point without someone talking me through it.

    Yes, when I was going through it, I would not have admitted to many if any people that I was in therapy. I continued for a number of years until there was no more to say. Now, its probably close to 25 years since I stopped and 30 years since I started, maybe. I have encouraged people to go to therapy for a season, although I don’t know if I would go back. I am in a different place, mostly because of my faith. And since I am no where near that therapist, I’d have to hunt to find one! That is as bad as dating again!!! But if I really thought it would be beneficial, I’d go.

    1. Jean, that’s a great story of how valuable it can be to have a counselor / therapist to help during a tough time – there are some major changes we just can’t contemplate on our own. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Beautifully said. I started going to counseling again just recently after a “slip” and realizing my hives weren’t from allergies, but stress. I’m feeling more balanced and tempted to stop going and this encourages me to stay with it so that if I start to “slip” again I have somebody helping me back up.

    1. Heather, thank you for sharing – I congratulate you on the steps you’ve taken to help lower your stress and restore your health. Like you, I’m in the process of discerning how long to continue with counseling, and at what frequency … guess it’s something we’ll figure out as we go, as we notice fewer “slips” and greater capability. Cheers!

  12. Thanks so much for sharing this post- I find a comfort somehow in knowing that the people who help sometimes need help, too. It levels the playing field a bit. Going in to speak to the person that you are hoping will guide you to ALL THE RIGHT THINGS can be daunting. Speaking to a human feels better than speaking to a deity.

    1. Brie, you’re most welcome … glad to hear that the post resonated and offered reassurance. And I can relate… it’s so easy to put ‘helpers’ on a pedestal and forget that they’re people too. It’s so freeing when we realize that everyone is figuring it out as they go along! :)