On Therapy 1/25/23

Recollections with Richard Bleil

Assuming that it published according to schedule, you may have noticed in yesterday’s blog that, yes, I have been to therapy.  Now, I was raised in a highly opinionated and stubborn family, attitudes easily picked up by children.  So, yes, indeed, in my young adult years, I continued to believe that the only people that need therapy are crazy people, and strong people, like me, never need help.  I dealt with staggering depression since I was a child, although at the time I certainly didn’t understand that. 

Fortunately, a friend of mine convinced me, after several very expensive self-help programs failed, to just go see a therapist.  I ended up in a teaching hospital, and since I was a graduate student (meaning that I barely made enough money to survive), I qualified for free therapy with the provision that I accept a therapist in training.  Well, therapy is nonsense anyway, so why not?

Or is it.

All we did was talk.  And, frankly, she didn’t speak much, but when she did it was with weight, such as her comment about my equivalent trauma.  In my life, I’ve been dead at least three times, the first time in a car crash that honestly should have killed me.  I was having lunch when somebody walked in and started shooting, not to kill but to cause confusion as he grabbed money out of a cash register.  I found myself facing a gang in an alley in Boston in the middle of the night.  My life is blessed, as I’ve survived being rolled and accosted and shootings and car crashes, but the only time I’ve truly been frightened was sitting in the waiting room to speak with my therapist.

I came to realize that courage isn’t avoiding therapy.  True courage is seeking therapy and facing your own darkness.  The process was an interesting one.  I found that most of our sessions were useless.  Then I realized why.  When you give a “truth” to your therapist, you’re vulnerable.  You’ve given (in my case) her a weapon that she can use to absolutely slaughter you emotionally.  The reality is that you cannot give your trust to anybody.  Instead, they have to earn it.  I realized, eventually, that what I was doing was dragging my feet, growing my faith.  On the days that I most wanted to skip were the days that I needed to go the most.  The more I wanted to skip, the more I realized that I had to force myself to go, and on those days, I would give to her a new weapon.  Then, I would wait to see what she does with it. 

This wasn’t a conscious act.  It was the way things worked.  I went to therapy for about three years, for a while twice a week.  I’ve tried other therapists after I moved away, but they were never as good.  More than anything else, I learned about myself.  I’ve come to see at least some of my triggers, my walls, and my defenses.  Perhaps more importantly, I came to recognize when I was being triggered.  I came to recognize the signs that my defenses were going up, which allows me, at least to some extent, modulate my behavior and response.  I can still be pushed over the edge, but it takes more now than it used to, and sometimes I will even forewarn my friends or people around me when I’m feeling particularly vulnerable, as I am today. 

If you read yesterday’s blog, you’ll realize that I’m still learning from my time in therapy.  She pointed out to me that I’m a protector, which helped me accept my behaviors and thought.  As I’ve said before, one of my favorite sexual fantasies is that of rape, and I spent many years in anguish over this.  I cannot imagine a worse crime to force upon another human being, and as such, to have sexual fantasies about it scared the hell out of me.  My therapist was the one who helped me to accept that there is a distinct difference between fantasy and reality.  Fantasizing about something is not a problem unless you act on it, but because I’m such a protector, she told me that she cannot believe that I would ever cross that line.  Our sessions moved one day from our usual space to a much smaller office.  I asked her if she was concerned being in such a small room with me, especially since I was sitting between her and the door.  She told me that she felt completely safe with me because what for me, my “violent” side lives in my fantasies, not in reality. 

If there is a moral to this story, if it needs a moral, is to seek therapy.  It’s astounding how much you learn about yourself, and how much it can help.  I should mention, though, that it doesn’t help everybody.  A friend of mine had been repeatedly raped, in reality, by her father as a child.  When she tried therapy, it brought repressed memories to the surface and made her worse.  I’m told the ratio is roughly one to one to one.  For everybody, like me, that therapy helps, there is somebody who gets worse, and there is another who gets little or nothing out of it.  But it’s definitely worth giving therapy a try.  If you have the courage and strength.

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