For the record, I hate therapy. Or rather, I did hate therapy. My whole life I’ve discounted the validity of it because I thought it was so predictable. Oh, what? We’re going to talk about my childhood now, huh? HOW ORIGINAL. Can we not do the childhood bullshit, please? Oh, you want to talk about my parents’ divorce…SHOCKER. I considered my best girlfriends, a bottle of wine, and the occasional yoga class to be my therapy. I didn’t need a shrink. I was fine.
Turns out when you say you’re “fine,” that word is the biggest myth of all. Fine is what you say when you are so not fine.
I was a functioning adult and had moved on from my so-called childhood trauma years ago. That was old news. Or so I thought. I never connected the dots. Trauma follows you. It stays in your bones, your DNA, and it drives your behavior. It impacts your parenting, and not in a good way. Being a “functioning adult” doesn’t mean shit. It means you’re still fucked up, but you hide it better than others.
I should’ve sought out therapy years ago. I should’ve done it when I was angry and sad after the birth of my kids. I should’ve sought it when my marriage was in shambles…the first time. And the second time. I should’ve sought it when I was being a volcanic asshole to everyone in my life. When I was blowing up at my toddler-age kids, expecting them to act and think like adults, and berating them when they acted like the children that they were. That part pains me and makes my cry just typing it. But I didn’t seek help. And I don’t know why. Until I hit the bottom.
After a one-week booze bender that ended with me in tears, my husband pouring bottles of champagne and vodka down the kitchen sink, and my boss giving me a blunt reprimand that I desperately needed, I put my pride aside and made a call to a therapist. It was clear I was losing my mind, my sanity, my marriage, and almost my job. I was losing myself. My grip. And it was terrifying to spiral out of control without any tools to fix it or stop it.
My therapist was recommended to me by a friend. The second I got on the phone, my ego melted and I felt vulnerable — which was awful and uncomfortable, but relieving. I didn’t have to carry all of this suffering and turmoil alone anymore.
I could never talk about my suffering to my husband because he had a really happy childhood. He could never understand what it was like to go through some of the shit I’ve gone through. I could never talk to my parents because they were embedded in some of these awful memories with me. They were too close to the damage. They claimed not to remember much of it, which must be some type of coping mechanism. They come from the generation of sweeping everything under the rug, even the really hard stuff.
I was lucky to connect with my therapist in the first session. She was the therapist I probably needed in my childhood. I would’ve loved her as an angst-filled, destructive teenager. I could’ve used her after the birth of my babies. I’m pretty sure I had postpartum depression that went undiagnosed. I could’ve used a therapist when my husband and I tried to figure out if we could conceal our misery toward each other for long enough to see our kids off to college.
The first session was a total sob fest. I felt embarrassed by this. I had never cried uncontrollably to a complete stranger in my life. She validated everything I was feeling without judgment. She looked for the themes. She helped me understand that everything in my past, including generations of family members and their traumas, some of whom I’ve never met, have been passed on to me. It wasn’t my fault, but it was my fault if I continued these behaviors and didn’t start trying to break the cycle.
Immediately, our sessions became part of my self-care routine. Along with exercise, healthy eating, trendy charcoal face masks, monthly pedicures, and nightly book reading, this therapy helped me take care of myself. It helped me take care of my kids better. It helped me be a better human in the world.
I often feel like my trauma is woefully inadequate compared to some of the other people in my life and compared to the people I read books about and see on TV. But I have to remember that a person doesn’t need to have severe trauma to go to therapy and become a better human, parent, spouse, sibling, or friend. And it’s not just a single traumatic event that can break a person down. It can be a series of little traumas, repeatedly. It’s even trauma from your ancestors.
The worst part is you pass your traumas on to your kids. It’s inevitable. Unless you get help.
I was no longer willing to hurt my kids and keep them in a trauma cycle. I couldn’t keep immersing myself in my work, or housework, or booze, or whatever I used to keep myself distanced or distracted from them — it needed to end. Some people use other things like shopping, sex, drugs, whatever. You can literally make anything an addiction, amirite? But once I realized that my kids were the key to filling myself back up, and I to them, the effort to connect came naturally, beautifully, and hopefully…not too late.
I always worry about that. Was I too late? Did I mess them up irreversibly? I can’t know the future — all I can know is that I’m taking care of myself and them now. And I’m trying now. I won’t ever stop trying.