I was halfway through my third therapy session when it all began to unravel.
I’d recently separated from my partner, and with a small child, life had become hard to manage. I started therapy for one reason only—for validation that the sideways turn my life had taken was not my fault. I had no interest in getting caught up in irrelevant details of my childhood or mother wounds.
After two sessions of venting my anger and frustration, I was feeling better about myself and the direction my life was heading. I was enjoying the process more than I’d thought.
During the third session, the warm feelings soon evaporated when she asked, “Have you considered taking anything for your anxiety?”
I suddenly felt like I did when I fell off my swing at 10 years old and had the wind knocked out of me. I couldn’t breathe, and only got one word out: “Anxiety?”
Sh*t! I don’t have f*cking anxiety. Why is she asking me about this? Can she not clearly see that I am strong, not anxious?
“Well, I never really had anxiety, so I don’t need to take anything.”
She picked up a pen and scribbled in a small notebook. She was quiet, deep in thought, and the warm expression had drained from her face, replaced by a more serious one.
This moment caught me by surprise, and a deafening silence quickly filled the room—my uneasy brain felt like Edvard Munch’s Scream.
I panicked—squirmed in my seat, unable to sit still while rubbing my moist palms together. During this short bout with irony, I’d forgotten to breathe.
“What’s going on for you right now?” she asked.
“Nothing. Just thinking,” I said, praying for this tortured moment to pass.
We moved on to a lighter topic as our time was almost done, but my reprieve is short-lived. Her next question rocked me.
“It must have been hard growing up in an alcoholic household. How was that for you?”
A missile made of words had blown up the walls separating me from my true self.
My heart threatened to explode from my chest. My vision momentarily blurred, and I realized I wasn’t breathing again. With alarm bells blaring in my head, I was afraid that my carefully controlled world as I knew it was collapsing.
“Umm, it wasn’t too bad. I pretty much escaped unscathed.” I forced the lie past the large lump in my throat. I was drowning in anxiety.
She stared blankly at me for what seemed an eternity, then scribbled more notes. She and I both knew my reaction to her question was an admission of my lifelong denial with issues related to Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACAs) and Codependency—a moment that would change my life.
She placed the pen down, “What are you feeling right now?”
Surrendering to the overwhelming emotions I was feeling, I took my first step toward healing.
“I don’t know—I guess maybe I’m more affected than I thought. I’ve struggled with life.” And with that, our session ended.
“Great work today. See you next week.”
Therapy isn’t the only way to heal and improve our lives, but it’s a damn good one.
Whether you’re well into your journey or just starting out, here are some of the most important things to remember:
1. Find a therapist who’s a good match.
It’s impossible to predict if you and your therapist will build a good rapport. It’s important to find someone we feel comfortable with because we’ll be doing a lot of deep and personal work.
Also, be aware that therapists have different areas of expertise. If your history includes childhood trauma and addiction issues, make sure you find someone with a background in those areas—it makes a big difference.
2. Expect to be uncomfortable and anxious. Often.
Therapy is f*cking hard—and that’s the point. We’ve got to tear down years of walls and unhealthy coping mechanisms that are woven into the fabric of our daily lives. That doesn’t happen easily or overnight.
A skilled therapist knows exactly when to push us into difficult territory. It’s uncomfortable at times, filled with tears, anxiety, breakdowns—and breakthroughs. If we’re willing to get dirty in the messy, uncomfortable parts of ourselves, we have a real chance to heal and build the lives we’ve always wanted.
3. Things usually get worse before they get better.
Facing our lifelong issues—daring to tear off the lid that’s kept our pain and shame hidden from even ourselves—is scary. And early on, it comes at a time when we haven’t yet learned the skills we need to deal with what comes up.
Hang in there—with a skilled therapist by your side you will never be alone. The only way out of it all is through it, and down the road, you’ll be grateful you stuck it out.
4. Learn to lean into resistance.
I’ll confess—after spending my life running from resistance, “leaning into it” is a challenge. But the truth is, most breakthroughs and progress we make happen when we stop running—when we sit with our scary, messy, uncomfortable feelings—face them, and embrace them.
There’s huge growth in those moments if we’re brave enough to grab them.
5. Don’t expect progress to happen in a straight line.
It’s important to have reasonable expectations. More often than not, breakthroughs are the beginning of a healing process, not the end. And along the way, we may feel like we’ve plateaued, or even regressed. We might even question the entire process.
But if we’re willing to accept that temporary setbacks and stagnation are a normal part of the healing process, they’ll be much easier to navigate.
6. Celebrate the moments that change everything.
There will be moments that transform our lives when we take what we learn in therapy into our daily lives and feel ourselves begin to heal and grow.
These are the rewards for all our hard work—for laying our tender, broken hearts on the line, and finding the courage to face the issues we’ve always avoided.
These are the moments we work so hard for—when we realize that possibilities we’ve never dreamed of have opened for us.