I am sitting in a social workers office without any inkling of what I am in for. I know why I am here, I am here for my first therapy session, with someone who is a qualified social worker. I don’t know what I will tell him or even what I will say. All I know is that I will say quite a bit of things I’ve never wanted to tell people.
When other people talk of therapy, and when people mix up the terms like psychologist and psychiatrist, it comes out as if it’s a finality. You will go to therapy to get fixed, to mend those broken shards inside of you. that’s what a therapist does, many people will assert, that they are on this earth to fix you.
I am wondering, exactly, just how I will be fixed when I start talking. Books and movies tell me that I am supposed to be told by the professional how I should feel and why I should feel the way that I feel, so I am extremely nervous, because I’ve never opened up to a professional. I can spill my diary to an online journal, as if I am in a circle of a gossip primps, but telling a professional how I feel is utterly foreign to me.
Chris comes into the office and sits down, opposite from me. He’s very calm, whereas I am not. I don’t know how this works. I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know how to feel. I don’t know how to stop believing the incorrect portrayals of therapy from TV and books. I really want to have some chocolate because chocolate, of any size, makes everything and anything better.
“So,” Chris says, thank you for coming in!”
“Thank you for having me! I’m just going to be frank, because, well, I don’t know where to begin, but I want to tell you about a feeling I am having regarding, well, all of this stuff that’s been happening these past few days.” Chris leans forward, immediately intent on what I have to say, and I begin, not even sure where this will lead.
When you’re a survivor of a kind of abuse, it allows you to be very insightful. We have to be. We have to learn to develop this hard skill set so we can predict the level of abuse we will get whenever it happens to us. It isn’t something we would put on our resume but it can serve us well in a number of situations.
Because I’ve been beaten cursed at, cut, burnt, scratched, screaming into the night as I become a flimsy punching bag, I’ve learned to try and predict how others will react to what I say and or do. Most of the time, I am right. Today, I am so nervous, that my ESP is slightly off and my nerves are straining to be rational. To top it off, I don’t know where to begin. I don’t know what I need to clear up first.
I start off by telling him something very personal.
“There’s a resident here,” I begin, and he leans in even closer, his silent eyes locked on my face like a vise. “And, well, I want to tell you something.”
“I’M here to listen.” he urges as I lean in closer, my hands twitching on the table. Being a rape victim has also taught me to try and judge people, and how they will react. My feelings try and clog my mind up, but I take a deep breath as my fingers continue to twist around one another and begin.
“Well, there’s this resident who I love, but it’s not a gay love or whatever. It’s a father kind of love. His name is John. Do you know John?” he nods, so I continue. I’ve never seen him this intense.
“I feel like I shouldn’t have these feelings, like I am too old to have these feelings for someone who isn’t even gay, and someone who is triple times my age. See, this is how it all started, really.”
“One day, my eye was really hurting, bleeding, in fact, and I called him because I was very scared and I didn’t know what else to do, because the CNA’s didn’t answer the emergency call right away. When he arrived to look after me and comfort me, and make sure I am OK, he told me something I will never forget. He told me that I was like a son to him. I’ve never had a mom. I’ve never had a home, I’ve never had a dad. What’s a home, anyway? Is it a place where people go and the owners HAVE to take you in? He struck a cord inside of me, so now I want to show him my accomplishments, get advice from him, even though I know it’s not always going to be good advice. I want to have him say he’s proud of me… and, well, I do like his company. Outside of certain things like the Resident Board, he’s a really nice guy. We don’t agree on everything, but now I just want to have what I’ve never had.”
“Like, the other day, when another resident heard that I was going to go to a restaurant with him, this other resident asked if he could go too, when it was supposed to be like a father’s day special. He even told John that I just wanted to go out to have a free dinner. Also, I keep doing this thing, when I am in trouble, I apologize for calling people for help.”
We speculate about some of the feelings I have and why I feel the way that I feel. He tells me that my father need isn’t wrong at all. That I am free to need whatever I want to need. He explains it as if it were just something I had been lacking, love, in any form. He then told me a LOT about himself.
I listen as he explains about him and his brothers. Being Latino, he grew up in a part of Chicago that’s usually seen as the ghetto. I listen to him describe him and his brothers. Before I know it, I realize something about myself and why I am here, and, what I am doing.
“In John’s case,” Chris says, “have you ever considered that you may be helping him just as much as he’s helping you?” this genuinely shocks me. I shake my head, and he leans in closer, speaking with an even softer tone, as if I am made of glass and will shatter if he speaks above a certain octave.
“Sometimes, when people get old, their kids abandon them. They dump their elders here and think, I don’t have to see them again. Sure, they still love him, but, grandpa is old. He’s blind. He’s in this place. We don’t have to pay as much attention. Then, here you come, this survivor, who’s just brimming with love to give. Even though he may not say it, you are healing him, slowly.”
“Military types learn to hide their emotions, which is not healthy. You are changing him for the better, because you have so much love to give, it is refreshing, and something he needs to explore. He may not understand why you feel so strongly about spending time with him, and the like, but he needs to do some exploring and opening up of his own.”
We talk for a good while more, with me telling him everything. About how, even now, sometimes I worry how people will react if I say something. Sometimes, I avoid doing something because I think that the person will get mad at me. When I hear shouting, I want to hide in a corner and sink to the floor and curl up in a ball.
“I think it’s telling that you feel sorry for asking people to help you.” he says.
“Yeah,” I hedge, I don’t know what I want to say next so I blurt out, “I don’t know why.”
He tells me that he thinks that, deep down, I need to hear some validation that people really do want to help me for who I am. I don’t understand what he’s saying at all, so I ask him even more questions, and realize what I am doing.
I am not fixing myself. That part is clear. I am exploring my feelings and thoughts along with him. My new kind of therapist. Sure, I’ve explored these thoughts and feelings before inside of my head but it’s very different when you explore them out loud. It’s almost as if you are telling someone that you don’t have the answers and they say, OK, let’s figure this out together.
People say the first step in therapy is to accept. I don’t know what step I am even taking, but I believe this exploration is helping me more than I am aware. I feel like I can think about things and I feel much better because I know I’ve thought about them. While I didn’t get an answer, I feel as if I am closer to something. I don’t know what that is quite yet, but I do know that I have to think about a lot of things before the next meeting.
Before I know it, two hours have passed and I have to head to dinner. With each step I take to the dining room, I explore what I am thinking at this minute. The first is that TV gets it wrong. The second is, anyone who says therapy is supposed to outright fix you, well, obviously, that’s just as slippery as a banana. People take steps to get where they want to go. I can’t speak for others, but I’ve started taking my steps. It’s OK if you want to take yours. Trust me, it really does feel good.