“I don’t know if I should congratulate you or console you.” - Craig
“How about both?” - Me
This was a conversation in our kitchen earlier this week.
After a year and a half of weekly therapy, I had my last session with my therapist Tuesday. Not because I was over it or because it wasn’t working or because he retired. Nope. Because we got to a place where we could both say I’ve got the tools I need to move on.
I have to say that there is no timeline for therapy and every situation is unique. I moved on from intensive therapy with my therapist because that it was worked for ME. I am certainly no expert and I have a feeling this isn’t the end of my therapy forever, but I do know that my experience with the right person allowed me to heal in ways I literally never thought possible. And it gave me the experience of a healthy “goodbye”.
I was never prepared for that, so when we set an end date (not-so-coincidentally my Nanna’s birthday), it was hard to process. No one talks about ending therapy near enough. WHY?! In life, we don’t often get to say goodbye on a good note. And we surely don’t get to do it with a therapist…at least not often. And if we do, it sure is hard to find on the internet.
So, I want to share this. Not just to celebrate it, but perhaps it will help people understand that finding the right therapist and working through the shit that you NEVER imagined being able to work through is possible.
It feels like finding a therapist is a lot like dating…you meet some nice people and maybe not nice people, and they just aren’t right. It can take time to find the right person. It’s discouraging, especially when you’re talking about mental health. I got to a point where I just wanted to put a fucking flow chart of trauma together or some cliff’s notes version of my past to skip to the meat of what was going on. But I needed help and I found him.
Turns out, a flowchart wouldn’t have done shit because it took months after we got through the family-of-origin stuff for me to be open enough to this person to get to the hard parts. It took time and trust and feeling safe…with a person I never met in person once.
Yup. My entire experience was through a computer screen. I have never been in the same room as my therapist, short of the one time I ran into him at a coffee shop which was basically just my not knowing what to do with my hands. Do I wave? Do I not wave? High fives?
I spent the better part of a year and a half with this person, almost every Tuesday afternoon. He became a trusted, kind, understanding guide through some heavy shit. And when we got to the point where I realized patterns had changed and that people that love me started to see a difference, he suggested setting an end date. Also known as “therapy termination” which is a phrase I am not fond of.
It was unexpected and a lot to process.
As I reflect, I realize that this “termination” was another opportunity to heal. It brought up some of those feelings of abandonment and being left. I couldn’t think about it or talk about it without bawling. Turns out, not only had I not realized I was in a good place or that I had never considered NOT seeing him, but it was a lesson in actually getting to say goodbye…on good terms! For a girl who has experienced a great deal of loss in relationships, especially in the last 18 months, this was the time and the place to understand a kind and loving goodbye.
I was, and am still, scared, and excited, and fucking PROUD. We have… *I* have come SO far.
I’ve learned I’m not broken. Or something that needs to be fixed. I’m a product of some tough shit.
I started therapy wanting to heal the younger versions of myself. To metaphorically hug Helen at 6 and 16… I wanted to find a way to make it up to the younger versions of myself. Like so many people in tough situations, as I grew up, I learned how to process my environment and coped the best way I knew how which worked as a child. Kids are resilient and remarkable that way. Therapy brought me to understand that those coping skills were no longer needed as an adult. I am in a safe and loving relationship and it’s time to move on from the habits that no longer serve me. I slowly realized in therapy that instead of trying to heal or hug younger me, that the best thing I can do for her is to give her a break.
If I could say anything to little Helen it would be, “You did such a great job and were strong and brave, but you don’t have to be anymore. It’s OK. I can take it from here.”
The lessons I’ve learned in therapy weren’t a “fix” to my learned behavior and coping mechanisms, rather, I have tools I can take with me when those moments of doubt and old habits try to creep back in.
Because they sure fucking do, y’all. Like when my therapist suggests it’s time to end our relationship.
I have always loved the analogy that life is like a big book full of chapters waiting to be written. My book is full of them. From a hard childhood, to marriage, to divorce, to moving across the country, to finding love, to healing. While not the biggest chapter in my book therapy, perhaps, is one of the most profound. If I were to end this chapter with an acknowledgment, it would be this:
Thank you for being a consistent positive in my life. For a person who loves words, you made me so much more aware of the words I use to describe myself. You never put things into a box and never gave me the answers even when I wanted them. I knew in those moments of silence and sometimes frustration that you were guiding me where I needed to go. You taught me how to be kinder to myself and to give myself space. You taught me that just being and letting go of the need for answers is not only freeing but healing. You gave me the experience of saying goodbye and letting go on good terms.
I will miss our Tuesday chats, but I’m looking forward to focusing the energy I’ve put into our hard work together into something else. We did such a great job.
Thank you for being the right person for me in this chapter of my life.