Thirty Minute Therapy

I’ve been in and out of therapy since high school and with the extensive internal work I’ve done, I recognize pretty quickly when it’s time to go back. I feel my irritability rising and my joy plummeting. I hear my self-talk turning against me. I see my days through a shadowed lense and I know it’s time. I identified these patterns a few months back, but had to put off making an appointment due to extensive work travel and financial shifts in our household.

I finally made an appointment two weeks ago with a brand new therapist and yesterday was the day. I woke up expectant. I felt energized knowing that I was about to pursue something that would lead to personal growth, self-reflection, forward progress, and overall evolvement. I love therapy!

The day had come and I was prepared for my appointment. As I ran out the door, I shoved a little yellow sticky note into my purse with a list of things I wanted to address while in therapy:

  • Grief and anxiety triggers
  • Career path and purpose for my life
  • Relationship with my son
  • Self-esteem and confidence
  • People pleasing

As a full-time working mom, I give myself enthusiastic mental hi-fives when I arrive anywhere on time. I was 2 minutes early! Yay me! I walked into the office at 10:28am feeling confident that I was about to begin a journey of self-discovery and healing. Just moments after I reached the front desk, the therapist came around the corner. I eagerly introduced myself, but immediately felt hesitation from her. She shook my hand, while studying me quizzically and said, “weeelllll, it’s going to be a veeerrry short session because your appointment was at 10am.” And that, ladies and gentleman, is when everything shifted.

The air was sucked out of the room, I instantly felt heat travel from the tips of my toes to the top of my head, color flooded my cheeks, and I began to sweat. I was frantically searching for words that would explain this mishap and convince her that I’m not irresponsible and undependable. I immediately convinced myself that I was being deservedly judged and that this woman disliked me before we even met. As we walked back to her office I was still stuttering through apologies and promises that it would never happen again. I even declared obvious untruths such as, “this never happens!” and “I never do this!” Obviously, it does happen! Obviously, I do this! My hope and excitement for transformation just minutes earlier were completely replaced with self-loathing and shame.

For the first 15 minutes of our session she explained Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy and what I could expect as we move through the process. I did not hear one word! As she was explaining how we would address my grief triggers, my inner dialogue was shouting loud and fast. The monologue inside my head was saying with disgust, “she already doesn’t respect you, you’re going to have to find another therapist, there’s no way this is going to work, she’s judging you and thinks you’re irresponsible, obviously you ARE irresponsible, how could you get this wrong?, what is wrong with you?, if you can’t even get a time right on your calendar she must think you’re an idiot, it’s your fault this isn’t going to work, now you’re going to have to find another therapist and start this entire process over, you are such a disappointment, you let others down, you let yourself down!!!!” and on and on and on. I could see her lips moving, and catch a few words here and there, but for the life of me I could not focus on what she was saying. Her voice had no chance of drowning out the self-shaming roar inside my head.

And then (thank the Good Lord), I had a moment of clarity!

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of my little yellow sticky note sitting in my purse, and I remembered that 2 of the items listed were to address my self-esteem/confidence and people pleasing.

That brief visual prompted me to consider: What if this is the beginning of my therapy? What if this is my opportunity to grow? What if I choose the hard thing and stay with this therapist instead of running away because my pride is injured and I’ve decided she hates me? What if I silence that lying voice set on repeat by breaking the script and deciding that I am allowed to make mistakes without beating myself up? That I am allowed to be human. Allowed to disappoint someone and still be respected. Allowed to confidently pursue friendships and professional relationships even with all my flaws fully in tact. Allowed to move forward after a failure without shame digging it’s nails in. Allowed to be imperfect. Allowed to be me even if it means I can’t please all people all the time. What if this veerrry short session ended in a verrry valuable lesson? What if I decided to lean into the idea that I am likable, I am loveable, I am worthy, and simultaneously, I am a flawed human!

I decided right then and there that I was not going to look for another therapist. I decided right then and there that this was simply an eye-opening example of how often I’m controlled by the intense desire to please other people. I decided right then and there that moving forward with this therapist would mean I would have to forgive myself and begin embracing the idea that relationships can and do move forward even after I’ve disappointed someone. 

After I made this decision I was instantly able to tune into what she was saying. I became present and engaged. Soon, I left the office feeling like I had quietly conquered something inside me that had attempted to sabotage my efforts to move towards health and healing, growth and transformation, hope and joy. I left feeling proud that I didn’t allow shame to chase me away from something I knew my heart and soul needed.

I want to encourage everyone reading this to join me in paying attention to what that critical voice is saying and how it may be holding you back. Let us acknowledge that this voice developed somewhere in our past as a way to protect us, therefore there is no need to criticize or judge ourselves for its existence. Next, let us make bold new choices based on the present moment to move forward with self-love, confidence, and freedom.

We are wonderfully and beautifully made. We are flawed, we are human, we are loved. 

“$h*!-hole!” The Day I Cussed at My Parents

The President said some bad words this week. I said some bad words once…

I was 11. I walked through our front door after school and there was no mistaking that something was about to go down. Both of my parents were sitting on the couch staring at me. They invited me to sit with them and I knew this was not a friendly offer, but rather the beginning of the end. I had no way of predicting that what was about to occur would change the way I spoke forever.

My parents explained that someone (who I will refer to as a tattle-tale) had shared with them the “choice” words I had learned and begun using at school. They claimed to know every obscene word I had spoken and their disappointment was palpable. Then, befell the most humiliating punishment I have ever received. They required that I say out loud every swear word I had ever uttered.

I thought I would throw up.

I had never heard anyone in my home swear. My dad was a pastor of a small home church with strict rules around taking the Lord’s name in vain and my mom is quite literally the most wholesome woman you’ve ever met. I think it’s possible that the only time my mother has used foul language is when she didn’t know it was foul language.  

I cried and cried.

They waited.

After what felt like an eternity I started with things like, “A-hole” and “the S-word.” My dad responded by asking me if I had only used the abbreviated versions or if I had said the whole word? He reminded me that the expectation was to say to them exactly what I had said outside our home. No cheating. They were not about to make this easy on me.

I don’t know how much time passed while I sobbed and choked on the ugly words I had so flippantly used on the 6th grade playground, but I know that in those moments I realized that the people I respected and admired most in my life deserved better than a daughter who resorted to 4-letter words just to fit in at school. I realized that to be true to myself I needed to speak in a way that represented my heart and who I was regardless of my surroundings. I realized there was a reason I could barely cough up these words in front of my parents…because this language was unlovely and they were the most loving people I knew….because this language was base and I held them in high regard…because this language was dishonorable and I wanted nothing more than to honor my parents…because this language brought no beauty, no peace, no joy and I wanted all of those things for my family, my friends, and myself.  

To this day I don’t know how, but I made it through the embarrassing list. My parents forgave me and then, my dad added a lesson that sticks with me today. He said, “If the only way you can describe something is by using profanity, then others might come to conclude that your vocabulary and intelligence are limited.” Such a big dose of truth for a pre-adolescent!

The lesson I learned that day changed the way I spoke.  An expletive didn’t escape my lips for years! At 11 years old I stopped using this language because it didn’t line up with my heart or my parent’s rules. Naturally, as I grew older I also began to see the importance of context and tone. It didn’t take long for me to realize that how I used my words was more important than the words themselves. The truth is that every now and then I break my parent’s rules (sorry mom and dad). In fact I burned my finger on a casserole dish this morning and was relieved that the kids were at school when the physical pain expressed itself through my mouth as an unfiltered exclamation point. However, that sour word I used to describe the pyrex dish is not a word I would use in a context that requires sensitivity and love. Because of that lesson 27 years ago, I strive to hold a standard of language that represents who I am, who I want to be, and what lives in my heart. I strive to use words that emphasize love and beauty. I strive to honor those around me and the Lord I serve. I strive to consider how my words affect those around me. I strive to use words that bring life and build relationship, give respect and bring value, lift up and include. And of course I strive to make my parents proud.    

If an 11 year-old was capable of learning this, certainly the President of the United States could as well?

Discovering Perspective

I’ve been obsessively listening to Pantsuit Politics, a thought-provoking podcast with two bright young female lawyers with different worldviews who respectfully (yes, respectfully) discuss politics. Their tagline is, “keep it nuanced y’all.” I love this because it reminds me to consider how many distinct ways a situation can be interpreted as we all witness the world around us with an individual set of lenses. I used to be someone who lived in a world with very little room for grey, but as I’ve grown both personally and professionally I’ve come to realize that there are different shades, different meanings, different degrees of understanding with every story told and every story heard. I feel a freedom when I’m able to disengage from the idea that everyone who doesn’t see the world as I see it has been misguided. Until today, I thought I had made great progress in my ability to step back from my firmly held beliefs and step into another’s shoes in an effort to cross the divides of dissimilarity.

This morning I was surprised to have a conversation about a news headline that I had no idea could even be nuanced. The story of the doctor dragged from the United Airlines flight came up in conversation and I honestly and ignorantly assumed everyone would be as disturbed by the images as I was. Maybe my naivete was based on the fact that it was a non-political story, but regardless of the reason, I mistakenly assumed everyone had been affected in the same way. As we began to discuss the incident I made it abundantly clear how disgusted I was with the policeman’s force and inability to de-escalate the situation. I asked incredulously, “what is wrong with people? Where is common decency?” It was at this point that my dear friend responded, “he was resisting.” It took me a moment to recover from this comment as I can honestly admit that I did not expect anyone to have a deviating perspective. I realize now how arrogant it was of me to assume everyone would see this situation (or any situation for that matter) as I did. As we travelled deeper into the conversation, it was additionally pointed out that the “fine print on airline tickets explicitly states that you may not actually get a seat on the flight,” and that the passenger “resisted and was belligerent with police” saying, “you will have to drag me off. I would rather be arrested,” AND that “he ran back onto the plane even after he was dragged off by security.” The longer these different angles were discussed, the more insistent I became that my view of the police officer’s short-sighted behavior was the correct view and that there was no other way of examining this situation than the way I already had. I dug my heels in. I couldn’t for the life of me comprehend how anyone could determine what had happened as fair or appropriate. The passenger was the victim and I couldn’t wrap my head around anyone arguing the contrary. Then my friend said something that hurled me over the empathy wall, where I could undoubtedly witness her landscape.

She said, “I guess I give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement officers because my dad is a retired police detective and my husband was an air Marshall.”

Boom! Perspective bomb!

Once we said our goodbyes, I began internally berating myself and questioning my ability to see both sides. I had failed miserably at my devoted practice of denying the need to “be right!” I spent the rest of the day considering how many stories my friend must’ve heard about simple law enforcement situations escalating to dangerous, scary, life-threatening moments. I spent the rest of the day acknowledging how many times she must have worried about her father as he faced unknown scenarios and unknown personalities while putting his life at risk every day to keep people safe…people he didn’t even know. I spent the rest of the day imagining the times her father and her husband thought a moment was safer than it actually was and how everything can change in the blink of an eye. I spent the rest of the day admitting that I wasn’t as skilled as I had hoped at recognizing the delicate shadings in our individual interpretations of every piece of news we absorb…every narrative we discover.

Recognizing that there was an alternative way to hear and see this story didn’t change my mind about it being handled poorly, but it did help me conclude that our past experiences, our history, our environment, our culture, our family, and all that we’re acquainted with casts a filter on the lenses we wear every day to perceive our world. Having this open and honest conversation with my friend helped me grasp that we may never see the colorful world that lies beyond our familiarity until someone illuminated by a different world shares their vision, their tone, their saturation, their space their hue with us.

That night I texted my friend and apologized for the lack of understanding and for my insistence that I was right. I’ve always thought that I was open to seeing the “other side” but now I realize that there are times I don’t even realize there IS another side. I consider myself blessed to have friends in my life that will help me see the hill ahead and then guide me up and over to the other side for a fresh frame of reference. I am thankful for friends who aren’t afraid to disagree with what I’ve deemed “right.” Friends who love me enough and respect themselves enough to be vulnerable and authentic. Thank you to my friend (you know who you are) for being you even when we’re not aligned. You make my life increasingly more colorful and you make me a better person who continues to grow in shades and hues!