I’ll spare you the sordid details here’s the short version; I came from a home chock full of dysfunction, alcoholism, prescription drug abuse, unaddressed mental illness, emotional abuse, yada, yada, yada, you get the picture I’m sure. When not quite of the age of consent yet, I was victimized in a way that had life long implications and left me a shattered shell of a being.
I was not yet old enough to drink and facing life already so bent and warped I thought I should surely just throw myself off a roof and be done with it. Whichever way I looked I appeared to be right royally f**ked, psychologically, emotionally, mentally, you name it, there seemed little hope for me to come out the other side as a well balanced human being with hopes for a happy life.
I was desperately trying to reconstruct a person out of the shards that were left, one day at a time. I was all up inside my head, searching and searching for anything that would help me through. I somehow mastered walking through the days, one foot in front of the other, but the nights were truly killer. There seemed to be no hope for me, to come out of it, to get better, to be, one day, well. I read everything I could get my hands on but it only seemed to confirm my suspicions that I was hopeless.
Talking with my peer group was pointless, I was already 10 yrs more mature than them, forced by circumstance to grow up way too soon to the trial that life could be. Trying to talk to adults was just as fruitless. “Try to keep a positive attitude.” Really? That’s all ya got? “It will get better, with time.” Really? And you base this on what? Are you even listening to what I’m telling you? Time, it seemed to me, was more likely to make it all worse than all better. Platitudes and pity weren’t helping me and I could feel it in my bones.
Alone with my thoughts at night I thought I would surely become unhinged. I decided I would seek out whatever meager resources, therapy wise, that were available to a teenager with no income. Meager indeed. But I kept trying, surely someone would listen. Surely someone could hear.
I started reading deeper books, that helped, because it engaged by brain and I soon came to realize that all the thinking might very well prove my undoing, but it was all I had. I read the entire psychology section of the local library, I swear, before I was 19 yrs old. Whenever I would hit a particularly rough patch I would seek out someone to speak with. As the years passed I became more open to who I would seek counseling from.
Eventually someone hooked me up with a clergyman willing to listen to my concerns. I’m not even a Christian so to say I was skeptical would be a huge understatement. But this guy really seemed to get me, to truly understand where I was coming from and what I was so afraid of, that history determined outcome. He was also clever enough to know I wasn’t likely to undergo years of extensive therapy. I guess he could tell I was a horse of a different colour.
I was all about how screwed I was then, and I’d used my intellect to create an airtight argument that I was truly without hope. This man listened attentively and then presented me with a simple challenge. For one week, whenever I said the words, “I am…”, they had to be followed with something kind and gentle. I was, of course, resistant to the whole stupid idea. When I pointed out that I was, indeed, screwed up and anything else was a lie, [and the one thing I wasn’t prepared to do was lie], he pointed out that the truth was actually that I was hoping to one day ‘be less’ screwed up. The ‘be less’, he assured me, for all my skepticism, was enormously important. He looked me straight in the eye and dared me to go one week, only one week, referencing myself and my perceived shortcomings in only the kindest and gentlest terms. As I was making that ‘pft’ noise, he told me if I found it easy not to come back, but if I found it hard to come back and see him in one week.
I was back a week later. Because it was remarkably difficult to do, for me. Now it’s a snap, but then, not so much. We didn’t meet regularly, just from time to time when I felt the need. He was a wonderfully insightful man who taught me many wonderful tricks for getting the hell out of my own way and find my way to mental health and stability, a place I honestly thought I’d never reach. And, to his credit, never once did he try to make me one of his flock, he had not the slightest interest in my immortal soul, as it were. Perhaps he sensed that would end it for me.
Each time I met with him he’d set some silly challenge for me, and I’d leave his office thinking it would be a snap. It never was. But they were all tiny little tricks like the ones I’ve shared with you. But they worked. He always told me, that if it’s not easy, it means it’s working. It took a whole host of people, each contributing a little to get me through it, but this man really changed everything.
He also hooked me up with a book that I still treasure. I think it’s out of print now but you might find it in a used book store. It was called ‘The Portable Therapist’, by Susanna McMahon Phd, the most asked questions by people in therapy. A great book, in my opinion. The answers to each question is right there, in a couple of pages. Of course, it’s not that easy, sometimes you have to go back and reread it, again and again, until you get it. (That’s where the therapy comes in.)
On review, aren’t you glad I went with the short version, damn, sorry to have run on so. But there you have it.