I’m starting this about an hour before I head to my biweekly therapy session and it occurred to me that I’ve never really written at any length about the role it has played in my life during my addictive phase or the major piece it has been on my journey in recovery.
I first went to a therapist when I was 20. In late August that year, my close friend Mark was killed by a drunk driver and it sent me into a tail spin I had never experienced. After two months of barely being able to get off the couch, I finally went to therapy. While the therapist and I didn’t click, the five or six sessions I had helped me get things back on track.
A couple of years later, when I was (I think) 24, the first long-term relationship of my life ended with my live-in girlfriend. I was not mature enough to be in the kind of grown-up relationship she wanted, but her leaving was much like a death and I spiraled again.
I sought help again and finally clicked with a therapist, but it was when I created my first major misconception about therapy. I was waiting for a magic bullet statement that would put life into perspective. I was waiting for the one directive, the one instruction that would suddenly make sense of everything.
After about 18 months, we stopped with the sessions. I felt like I’d evolved to a good point mentally. Over the next 12 years or so, as I got married, built a family and career, I’d periodically check back in with him and eventually saw a couple of other therapists for small 4-6 week chunks for a tune-up, but never clicked with any of them.
The reality was that I was never 100% honest with them. I downplayed my alcoholism and never mentioned my porn addiction. I was just waiting for the secret and thought it was taking a very long time and an awful lot of therapists and I still had nothing. Talking to someone always helped, but they weren’t FIXING me.
Going into therapy for real
Then, the police showed up at my door and life as I knew it came to a grinding halt. I hadn’t seen a therapist in probably five years at that point. I was riding too high on my own BS to notice what was happening and dearly paid the price.
One of the first things I did was to go see my doctor and get a referral to a new therapist. This was within 48 hours of being arrested and while I was a little uncomfortable with the fact I was being referred to a woman for the first time, beggars couldn’t be choosers at that point.
I don’t remember much of our first two sessions prior to leaving for 10 weeks for alcohol rehab on the other side of the country. The one thing I do remember she said was, “Don’t just play along. Give it a chance and see if you can get something out of it.”
Thankfully, after about a week, I heeded her advice and came to accept I was as textbook alcoholic as they make them.
When I returned, I continued our sessions, usually twice a week, for about nine months. We talked a lot about my anxiety concerning the legal situation swirling around me, but we also about things I had begun uncovering at rehab including abuse from a babysitter, how I viewed sexuality, what drove me to drink, and how someone like me who defined himself based on his professional endeavors was going to exist in a world where I’d never have another white-collar job.
Maybe the rehab helped jumpstart the process, maybe I was just sick and tired of the life I led for so long or maybe it was the fact that it was a woman in my age bracket, but therapy was different this time around. She understood my strange sense of humor. She actually gave me advice. She helped me understand I wasn’t a monster, a pedophile, a scourge on society…but that I did have issues when it came to pornography. If not for her, I never would have attended my second rehab for porn addiction.
I also came to recognize that a therapist is not there the way a doctor who prescribes medication is there. She can’t tell me some magic statement to change everything. It’s called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for a reason. I had to train myself to stop my thought processes dead in their tracks and analyze why I made certain decisions or held certain beliefs. It’s a bit grueling, but it provided more insight into who I was than anything else in the recovery process.
Once you understand who you are, that’s when you can start making changes. Too many people – including me for years – just wanted to skip to the changes part. Therapy doesn’t work that way.
A lifelong journey in therapy
I continued to see her after the second rehab and she testified at my sentencing, which I think helped give me reduced time. She visited me in jail and I resumed seeing her regular when I got out six months later and continue to see her to this day, more than four years after I first met her.
We got through the porn and alcohol stuff a while ago, although we do revisit it. Those are really symptoms and we talk about causes.
Now, we’re getting into some of the primordial ooze that is at my deep, deep core. It’s the stuff that is the building blocks of my mind and wired into my DNA. It’s why we’ve gone from weekly one-hour appointments to biweekly two-hour ones. Sometimes I just need to babble for 75 minutes before making some massive breakthrough that I needed four years and (when including the other therapy and rehabs) thousands of hours to get at. Some days, it’s absolutely exhausting and takes so much out of me, but it’s a necessary thing to evolve as a person.
I spend a lot of time on message boards and answering email from addicts and their loved ones. As many of you know, I actually started my own little advising side gig because of the time I spend doing this. While it’s far from professional therapy, I can at least ask a few new questions and raise a couple of issues that the person I’m working with hasn’t considered before. Then, I try to steer them toward professional therapy.
I don’t think it really matters who you are or what your story is. Having somebody who is rooting for you and on your side, yet detached from the ongoing saga of your life, is extremely helpful. I’ve learned that you have to click with the person and they aren’t going to reveal the secret to life to you, but they can guide you to the far reaches of your mind.
That’s a scary place for some people. It was for me and if you told me in the beginning how much work it would be, I wouldn’t be able to fathom the mountain I was going to have to climb. At some point, we may go to monthly one-hour sessions for check-in purposes, but I know therapy will always have a role in my life.
Even if you think you’re the healthiest person in the world, I urge, urge, urge you to consider seeing a therapist. I’m proof that they work and can exponentially make your life a better experience.