I just came back from my therapist’s office after our first meeting in nearly a month. We had to cancel an appointment from two weeks ago for whatever reason, and I think it’s been the longest gap between appointments we’ve had since I started seeing her in late March 2014.
She’s not the first therapist I’ve ever had, but she’s the best and I know that I would not have been able to process the boatload of mental health and experiential baggage I brought to the table following my arrest with just anybody else.
The first time I was seen in a formal therapy setting was in 1996, shortly after one of my best friends was killed by a drunk driver. The therapist let me ramble for a few weeks, wrote some stuff down, but after a month or so of grieving, I recognized this guy, at least 30 years my senior, was no help at all. I could have been talking to a cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan and got the same feedback.
In 2000, I went back to therapy, with an overall feeling something was wrong. He diagnosed me with generalized anxiety disorder, which was just the tip of the iceberg of diagnoses to come, but I connected with him in a weird way. He was always telling me about his problems, which were way worse than mine. I was 24 at the time and he was probably 15 years older. It seemed like he made many choices in life he wished he could backtrack on, but didn’t have the courage. I saw him for about a year, took about six months off, then saw him for another year. This was around the time I was put on medication for bipolar disorder.
I had another 6-week stint with a therapist around 2005. He mostly wanted to talk about football and I probably wasn’t completely into it either, complaining of general malaise, but unsure what the real issues were and not in a place to delve too deeply.
And while I mostly stayed on my meds, I went almost the next 10 years without seeing a therapist. I had determined that my problems where chemical, not emotional. While the second guy was some help, I told myself that I’d never received that “magic bullet” piece of advice that would turn my life completely around, so clearly therapists didn’t “get me” and it was a waste of time.
I was referred to my current therapist immediately after I was arrested by the nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. I learned years later that I wasn’t supposed to end up with her, as I was referred to someone else in her office. As the owner of the practice, she seemed interested in the brief bit she heard of my story and took me on.
I only saw her twice before I went off to rehab for alcoholism. The last thing she said to me was “Do me a favor and give it a chance.” Those words stuck with me and I don’t know if I would have come to terms with being an alcoholic as quickly without that advice.
Early on, the work was intense. I’d see her either twice a week for an hour, or once for two hours. There are benefits and drawbacks to each set-up. We’d talk about things I learned at my two rehabs, go over my mental health history, and talk about how my experiences in life led me to where I was at the time. It was very tough work a lot of the time. I think she’s seen me cry more than anybody else in the last 35 years. Two years after first meeting her, when it was time to do my six months in jail, I was a healthier version of myself than I’d ever been, with her deserving a lot of the credit.
She testified in my favor at the sentencing and visited me in jail. I resumed a steady schedule of therapy upon release and although it was part of my probation conditions, it’s not like I would have stopped seeing her. Off probation now, I’m still not quitting.
As I’ve continued to move in healthier directions, writing books and trying to educate about porn addiction, she’s been one of my biggest cheerleaders and I don’t know that I’d have the confidence to keep going if she didn’t boost me up from time to time.
I read so much about people who are just not connecting with their therapist. I have to admit, I was not always 100% open and honest about everything with my former therapists, so some of the problem was likely me. With my current therapist, I can tell her anything, even things that are uncomfortable and shameful.
I wouldn’t have ever thought a woman who’s only three or four years older than me would be the one I clicked with, but she was the one. Her practice has expanded mightily to several offices over the last few years and despite transitioning most of her client load, she was gracious enough to continue seeing me. That meant a lot as I can’t imagine the time it would take to not only get up to speed with another therapist, but also be lucky enough to make that connection.
If you’re not connecting with your therapist, and you’ve given it four or five sessions, stop wasting your time. Just because they have some letters after their name does not mean they are instantly the perfect one for you. I needed someone who asked a lot of questions and who understands my strange sense of humor. I needed someone who shared a bit about her life, but didn’t make it about her. I didn’t want someone who ended every session with “homework.” I didn’t do my homework in high school, what makes you think I’m going to do it now?
She’s never given me the “magic bullet” piece of advice to change everything for the better. She helped me learn it doesn’t exist. While I don’t need the intense therapy I had early in recovery, it’s reassuring to know we can check-in every 2 or 3 weeks, even if it’s just for chit-chat. Hopefully that will continue for many years to come.
Find a therapist you connect with because it will make a world of difference. It did for me.