Sunday, January 27, 2019

The hardest best thing

There was a time in my life when weeks like this one would have slayed me. Riding the roller coaster of therapy is brutal. Author Glennan Doyle writes about life being “freaking brutiful,” an intertwining of brutal and beautiful. That’s about how I would describe wading through the process of therapy. It’s freaking brutiful.

I used to think those in therapy were the ones most broken. Now, with three consecutive years of the stuff securely under my belt (plus all the “bonus” sessions with my kids), I realize how incredibly wrong I was. Therapy may be for the broken, simply because brokenness is synonymous with being human, but I believe it's those who face their brokenness head on, they are the some of the world's strongest. They are the bravest, the ones with the grit and endurance, the ones not just longing for healing, but going after it. They are willing to get down into the thick of the mess and do the hard and dirty work, the work that is brutiful.

They are the ones who are unwilling to stay the way they are.

And that, my friends, is beautiful. 

To those of who have gone before, I commend you. You are the definition of hardcore. To those of you currently in the trenches, solidarity! Stay in it. I'm (pretty) sure the "other side" of all this tough business is worth the work of getting there (if you get there before me, please confirm). And for anyone wondering if perhaps maybe it's time to do some work with a counselor, the answer is almost undoubtedly yes. 

It’s no secret that our family has been forking over a huge portion of our income toward this business of “addressing our crap” (also known more eloquently by most as “going to therapy”). It’s been one of THE hardest best things I personally have ever done, third only to marriage and parenting...which are two of the reason I’m in therapy…but I digress. 

Perhaps you remember back in the fall when I wrote about the struggles we were facing with two of our offspring? And then I boldly (stupidly?) stated we were “just waiting for kid three to show his cards” and then we’d get him enrolled in whatever form of therapy he needed? Why do I open my Big. Fat. Mouth? 

So we are 5 for 5 over here when it comes to therapy needs now...which is a perfect score, if anyone is keeping track (where do I pick up my prize??) When our third kid received his diagnosis, our pediatrician kindly made an attempt at consoling me by highlighting the hereditary nature of the various players in our household (OCD, anxiety, ADHD). 

“They are just like eye color," she told me. "No one is to blame. These things are inherited in the genes, just like tall stature or brown hair.” 


“Sorry kids,” are the only words of comfort I can offer the offspring. The genes be STRONG in this clan.

Though at times, addressing each of our specific needs has been challenging and overwhelming, I’m so grateful for the massive number of tools “doing our work” together has equipped our family with along the way. In fact, we now have so many tools, we had to trade in our tool belt for a full blown tool shed in which to store all these dang tools we-never-knew-we-needed-but-now-we-can’t-seem-to-live-without. And we are all the better for it. I'm super proud of us. I stand witness to some really amazing change and powerful areas of growth. 

Technically, as the mother and in-house transportation and sit-in supervisor for all the these appointments, I have been the “lucky recipient” of all sorts of extra, “free” kid-sized therapy sessions to supplement my own. Quite honestly, sometimes there are more take-home nuggets when they are presented at a grade school-aged cognitive level. We have a vast supply of amazing resources available to us that are helping our kids conquer their struggles at such young ages. What a gift that they get to obliterate their mental beasts when they are still tiny, before they grow and invade and take over their minds and tell them all sorts of lies, reinforced over decades. It makes me teary just to think that they might not have wrestle with their struggles to the degree their dad and I have. 

The kids' progress is easy for me to see since I'm one step removed as the observer. But my own progress? Though sometimes it's harder to identify, I know I am changing too. So, as this new year launches, it felt like a valuable exercise for me to take a minute and identify just a few of the many things this brutiful process has been teaching me. I also know that vulnerability can work as a powerful adhesive to bind us together. I am not alone in my struggles and so I'm calling them out aloud in case one of you whispers "me too." 

I will start first with the things that therapy has revealed that have been more painful, the things that perhaps, at first blush, I would rather not have known: 

I struggle with extreme rigidity.

I am a very black and white thinker. There is always a right and a wrong. Your side and my side. The blameless and the one at fault. (And for the record, usually he is the problem, not me, of course).

I continue to struggle with a list of OCD tendencies longer than my daughter’s (who has been in intense treatment for her OCD for 5 months and counting).

I have anxiety. Not a heart-racing, panic-attack or scared-of-heights form that we often think of. But more of the crippling thoughts kind where I am perpetually worried I’m not doing enough, saying enough, being enough. My mind often torments me.

Since I seem to be feeling particularly open, I’ll throw this one out there: I have a lot of sexual baggage. Like a lot a lot. To this day, I am still fighting against the sex-negative messaging of my past. This is originally why therapy was initiated. But, as I’m told is common in therapy, one thing led to another and we’ve had to peel back layer after layer after layer after layer to work on adjusting the faulty foundation before we’ve been able to do more focused work in this area. 

I struggle with anger. I identify wholeheartedly as a “Type One - Reformer” (and perfectionist!) on the Enneagram but it always made me frown a little to read that one of my bigger struggles as a “Type One” was anger. I’m not really a yeller, I thought. I don’t really feel like an angry person. Sure, sometimes I certainly lose it with the kids but I don’t rage like some people I hear about. Very recently, I have realized there are other forms of anger, not just the explosive, yelling variety most of us picture. There is also the slow boiler, the one who gradually and quietly comes to a simmer. She doesn’t even realize it has happened until she is so seeped in bitterness and resentment she could swim in it. This is the kind of anger I identify with. 

I keep tally. Of everything. Tit for tat. I’m gung ho about fairness and equality, when the scale isn’t tipping in my favor.

I do much better “coming to realize” my faults on my own than when someone else calls me out on them. When I am critiqued, I’m prone to deflection and blame-shifting.

I work with a distinct ceiling above me. I only take on what I know I am capable of (and typically only the things I know I will also be successful in). My husband has no such ceiling. The sky’s the limit! Rarely does he take on something within his current capabilities. He is ever game to phone a friend and call in for reinforcements when he wants something done and doesn’t know how to do it. This makes doing remodeling projects together impossible (so far). I always have to bow out because his process is so different from mine. But we are working on this! Let’s just take a moment of silence in honor of the fact that WE NOW AT LEAST ARE AWARE THAT THIS IS HAPPENING. This is big, y’all. Stay tuned...we might have a little endeavour coming down the pipes.

This is the just the short list of some pretty tough, hard-to-swallow realities that therapy has brought to my attention. But it most certainly hasn’t all been hard. There’s the beautiful too. 

My time in (all the) therapies has also revealed an entire host of things that I’m incredibly grateful for like that: 

I married a really amazing person. 

I am capable. 

I am resilient. 

People enjoy my company (I really want to delete this one because it feels conceited to say so aloud but after a lifetime of battling insecurities and wondering if I was accepted and desired anywhere, it feels significant to name. Perhaps my next step will be to name it sans disclaimer?)

I can do hard things. 

I can change. 

I am so much stronger than I ever realized.

I freaking don’t give up. 

I can sit in discomfort. And it gets easier the more times I do it. 

I am a good enough mom. 

My kids know I love them.

I deserve pleasure. 

It is OK for me to take breaks.

Self-care is not selfish. It is exactly as it reads - the act of caring for ourselves. I am a mess without it. 

I can have an area that I need to work on and it doesn’t make all of me a failure. (This one is still a challenge but I’m working on it).

Sometimes “doing the work” looks like sitting on the porch in the sunshine, reading a novel. Seriously!

I have a right to everything I feel.

I have a voice. And it matters. 

I think I might be a bit of a feminist - who knew?!

I have HOPE!!!!!

There is power in naming and recording, seeing where one once was, and how far one has come. Especially when things feel slow and arduous, and you can't tell if the needle is inching up the scale. Even when prone to despair, the exercise of making a list like this of “things learned” serves as a reminder of all the movement, no matter how subtle. 

This process, it's freaking brutiful.  


  1. I freaking love you. Thank you for saying all these amazing wonderful things, and for reminding me I need to get back in the "trenches" too. Sending love and hugs and prayers! :)

    1. Awww! Thanks for saying this. :) Solidarity in the trenches!


posted by kelsie