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.
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.
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!
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.
Upcoming Speaking Engagements:
April 23-24: Keynote Speaker at Arc of Illinois Convention, Lisle, IL
Stories around the Web, April 2014:
In Your Rush to Encourage, Are You Missing this Life-Changing Step? NEW! Guest Post at The Change Blog
Leaving Normal: Weekly Column at Autism After 16