Sitting in my car, I look up at the driveway. The front door is as average as the next house, but to me it feels like the biggest door in the world. What made me think I could do this? The stigma that goes with seeing a psychotherapist and telling someone I have never met all my worst fears and vulnerable thoughts makes me anxious.
“I can back out of this driveway, go home and no one will know,” I think to myself. But I made the appointment and am here because I know I need it. Sighing, I put on a brave face, open the car door and get out.
For a long time already, I have been unhappy with my self-talk and feelings of confusion and sadness. I just broke up with my abusive boyfriend who manipulated and cheated on me. He enjoyed making me fight for his attention while telling me it was my control issues that made him leave me for someone who could let him be “himself.” All the while, he would hit me when I would scream about his terrible behavior. In the end, I was so mad at myself for playing into his games and not being able to stop the cycle.
On top of that destructive relationship, my family life wasn’t that much better. My father is a violent alcoholic whose attention I have always had to work too hard for. My mother thinks I am worthless and has no problem telling me this. I have always been desperate for the approval of two people who will never give it to me. When my parents divorced years ago, I thought that the abuse from them would finally stop and I would feel safer at home. But I was wrong. My mother's screaming rages only got worse and I became a chronic runaway, constantly staying over at my friends’ places and getting high.
All of this brought me up to be an adult with no self-esteem, participating in my own volatile relationships. I didn't want to repeat the past and get beat up all the time or pulled into crazy mind games anymore. I had to stop.
The first time I called the therapist, I hung up before anyone could answer. After two more times of this, I finally left my name and number on his voicemail, hoping he would not call me back. But he did. He asked a few simple questions: my name, what would be a good time to set up the appointment, and—then the tough one—why I wanted to see him. Embarrassed, I stammered that I had broken up with my boyfriend and wanted to stop getting into these types of relationships. He told me that it was a good thing that I called and that he would see me Friday evening after work. That was it! Relieved that it was so easy, I felt optimistic that maybe I could find a way out of this mess after all.
I shut the door and and walk up the steps towards the house. I push the doorbell and the door opens. A gentle-looking man in a sweater smiles and welcomes me in. Though my knees are shaking and I can hardly breathe, I am relieved at his calming demeanor. Inside, I look around. To my surprise, there’s nothing sterile about his home office. There’s no long couch bed to lay down on like I've seen on TV. It’s just a regular room with a couch and a chair and some knick knacks.
Sitting down on the couch across from me, he smiles again and asks me about myself. Do I live nearby? How did I find out about him? What kind of work do I do? I answer slowly and carefully, trying to be brave. I listen as he tells me about himself. After about 10 minutes, my knees relax and my breathing returns to normal.
He picks up on this and says, "Now that you have relaxed a bit, tell me why you are here. Other than the break up with your boyfriend. Tell me what you need from me. He isn't the one trying to help himself."
My mouth falls open and nothing comes out. I am vulnerable and afraid to admit I need help. Wanting to run out of the room, I instead drop my eyes to my lap.
"I don't know exactly. I feel sad all the time. I want to make better choices and, I guess, be happy?" My voice is barely more than a whisper and I can feel the heat of my cheeks turning red.
He says nothing for a moment but his eyes light up and he slowly grins.
"That is wonderful! I want to help you do that. I'm going to ask you some personal questions now and I want you to only answer with what you are comfortable with. Okay?"
"Okay." My whole body sighs and relaxes at this open invitation.
This person is not judging me for the mistakes I think I have made. He doesn't think I'm ridiculous for feeling the way I do or the self-image I have been struggling with. This is actually a safe place!
As hard as I try not to, I begin to cry. Finally—I am accepted, scars and all. Without missing a beat or doling out an interrogation as to what is wrong with me, I am handed a box of tissues.
Before I know it, the hour is up and I have shared some very personal demons with this person. When asked if I would like to make another appointment, because he is sure we can do this together, I agree with a big smile. He shakes my hand and tells me to have a great week until the next time.
Heading back to my car, I feel like a kid at a carnival. There is hope! Sure, this whole thing is going to take time and, like anything worthwhile, it might not always be easy. As I turn on the ignition, my heart is full at the prospect that there is a “me” inside that I have yet to discover. Moreover, there is someone who wants to go through the muck with me in order to find her. With this knowledge, I no longer have to be afraid of doors—no matter how big they are—because I know that I have the strength to open and walk through them, one foot in front of the other.