The thought of booking a therapist was emotionally overwhelming. Just the thought alone. Let alone the act. I knew I needed to, but I was already so tired. It felt as if I was being dragged down. I tried to use logic to reason with myself, but it was an illogical predicament. I was too emotionally drained to call a therapist, but I’d never feel better if I didn’t call a therapist. It came down to one thing: I wanted change more than I wanted to stay the same. So, I sat down and went on my insurance portal. I printed out all of the therapists accepting new patients within a 20-mile radius.
I started calling. I wanted a therapist immediately. I had many people call me back to tell me my schedule didn’t work with theirs’. Some told me they couldn’t help me. I spent a fair amount of time crying in my car because of the rejection. I was frustrated with our healthcare system. I needed help. I thought calling would get me help in a timely manner. I was wrong. The appointment I booked was three weeks out. When you’re trying not to drown, three weeks feels like an awfully long time to try and stay afloat.
In the time before therapy, I focused on caring for myself in ways I could. I had depleted so much of myself trying to care for my partner that I didn’t know where to start. My partner and I separated. I guess, that was a starting point. I figured there had to be a book about my situation. Someone must have had a similar experience to me. Combing the internet, I found many books, but I wanted something that had self-reflective exercises. I started reading Melody Beattie’s Codependency No More and How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics.
During this time, I forced myself to read and complete the exercises in Codependency No More. It was hard. It was scary. But it was helpful. I often found myself shutting down during exercises because of the pain. Sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe. In one of the exercises I was asked to examine how I feel about change. Below is what I wrote, unedited (except I removed the name of my partner):
“I’m really nervous about changing, but I would really like to. As of right now, I promised myself I would stay separated from [my partner] for 1 month to try and figure out what I want and what I’m going to do. I struggle with keeping this commitment because I miss having someone pay attention to me. I’m also extremely worried that I’m going to want a divorce and that’s really difficult for me.
I’m committed to changing so I’ll become a better more open person. I want to be in a healthy relationship with myself where I can trust myself. In order to do that I need to stay committed to change even though I’m scared. I have everything to lose by not changing. I’m not pleased with how out of control I feel a lot of the time which leads to bad behaviors.”
I wrote this for myself. It’s not well written, but it’s honest. This helped me realize that therapy was the only way I was going to get better. What I was doing wasn’t working and I didn’t have the tools to change. So, I needed to do something different. I needed someone to give me the tools to change in the ways I wanted. If a construction site didn’t have the equipment needed to complete a job, the foreman would go out and get the equipment. I was basically a foreman, but also the construction site… and a mess of one too. I didn’t want to look like a demolished 1970’s kitchen anymore with drab mustard yellow wallpaper and broken appliances.
I didn’t know how to give myself what I needed because I had lost track of my voice. The voice I heard in my head was destructive. It often told me that wanting, and needing were the same. I wanted to be with my partner, but that’s certainly not what I needed. I wanted to eat 1,000 peanut butter cups, but again, that’s definitely not what I needed. Although, I think I could have made a pretty convincing argument for the latter.
Eventually, the day of the appointment came. Fortuitously, I was placed with a therapist who specialized in addiction, trauma, and helping spouses of addicts. Many of my initial appointments were filled with frustration. I would babble on about all of my partner’s wrongdoings. At the time, I needed this. Everything felt confusing. I didn’t know what role I had played, I felt responsible for my partner’s addiction, and I didn’t know what the future would look like. Slowly, with each session, I began having small breakthroughs. Things began to shift and to become clear. I kept track of a few of those breakthroughs on a doc:
- I have no control over whether [my partner] does the things I need [my partner] to do to be in a relationship. I can only control what I need to do on my end.
- Until [my partner] is in therapy trying to have a discussion with [my partner] will result in the same end.
- I feel uncomfortable for large parts of the day. I have an urge to seek out immediate comfort like calling [my partner] or going on YouTube. I have fantasies of [my partner] giving me a hug
- I think a large part of my codependency comes from my childhood.
My brain felt so hazy that it was often difficult for me to see the ways in which I had grown. However, this practice of tracking my realizations allowed me to see growth in concrete ways. When I would have a hazy day, I’d look back at this word doc and feel a sense purpose. At the time, I didn’t realize I’d be taking a deep dive into my childhood…that I’d be committing future appointments to healing traumas that had existed since childhood. Fun right?
I won’t lie and say that therapy is easy because it’s not. It has never been easy for me to allow myself to feel my emotions. They have always been scary to me and overwhelming. However, I look forward to a day when I know it’s safe to feel without being told I’m wrong. To having the strength to know my feelings are valid and so is my viewpoint. Lately, this seems less farfetched.
Next week on Better Bertie:
- Will I get just a little bit better?
- Will there be another adorable picture of Bertie?
Tune in to find out…