I love my new therapist. For those of you who are in therapy, I highly suggest switching therapists at least every 3 years. A lot of growth and discovery can happen in three years when you’re committed but after that time, it is necessary to have someone else’s strategies, if for no other reason than to shake you out of your comfort zone. I have reluctantly changed therapists three times (and by therapists, I mean the 3 good ones I’ve had). This time, I took a year off and then finally realized that it was time to bite the bullet and “start over.” That is why it took me so long to see someone else – I just could not bear the thought of rehashing my entire life for someone new. I even thought it may be unhealthy for me to do so. Not so! She has an entirely new approach and expertise in areas I didn’t even realize would be relevant for me, such as post traumatic stress. I’ve learned extremely valuable lessons from each of my therapists – but there’s something different about the one I have now. She questions me, which means she’s really listening. She challenges my thinking, which means she’s not afraid to call me on my shit – who doesn’t need to be called on their shit!? NO ONE. The most important thing she has done so far, though, is to validate me in very specific and important ways.
I have come to a place where I tell “my story” as if I’m reading from a script to anyone who will listen. I almost don’t even thing about the events of my life, I just explain them and then ask, “Why am I not over it?” I didn’t have my records transferred to my new therapist because I wanted to start anew, and this was a wise choice. As I am explaining matter-of-factly the huge decision my parents made when I was 15 that I’ve always said forever changed my life, she stopped me and reminded me, “You realize that a decision means they had a choice, don’t you?” My immediate response was “Well, they didn’t really have a choice… my dad would have lost his job if…” She stopped me. “What may or may not have happened with your dad’s job is part of what they had to weigh when making the decision. But regardless of the factors that played into their decision, it was still a choice.” I was somewhat speechless and shocked that I’d never actually believed it was, which had allowed me to pity them and feel guilty for being angry at their decision for so many years. I had to think about it for a few weeks before I could make sense of it. And it seems so simple, doesn’t it?
I started to realize how often my parents, and my entire family for that matter, present scenarios to me as if another choice other than the one they are choosing is just not possible. In fact, every one of these circumstances absolutely do involve the option of a more respectful, less hurtful choice. So, I started to ponder the concept of choice in general. This realization has freed me in a way 200 more therapy sessions of hearing myself talk never ever could have. I’ve told that particular story my therapist heard at least 20 times to various people in my life, therapists and friends alike. Every time I have presented it as a tough situation for my parents in which they had no other choice. Just changing the beginning of the story will now change the way I tell the rest of it. This particular epiphany is quite monumental.
Since I have decided that this new therapy journey I’ve just embarked upon will be the one that heals me apart from my family as well, I have been pushing myself to challenge my self-talk. And, what do you know? I do it too. I make decisions and remain in circumstances as if another choice is simply not an option. “I hate my job but I can’t do anything about it because I have to stay here so my husband has the freedom to change jobs as he wishes because he’s hated his job longer than I have and our benefits are with my job.” Now, it may seem noble of me to make that decision. But I’ve been making that decision A LOT, practically for our entire marriage. I just figured out part of the reason I have such resentment for my husband – because of CHOICES that I have made. It is a choice for me to stay in my job. I have potential that far outreach my day-to-day “duties” and yet I accept that doing anything but collecting that paycheck and those benefits is “impossible.” It’s not impossible. The resentment plays in when I don’t see my husband actively applying himself to looking for a new job as I feel he should. So, he doesn’t spend every waking hour looking for a new job – the longer he spends procrastinating the longer I have to stay in my job, and you see how the tension in my house remains fairly high. What I really need to do is to make a different choice.
A wise friend once told me that taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do, because if you don’t do that, you can’t take care of anyone else. I used to think that was selfish way of thinking – and the reason I felt that was a selfish way to think is in part because I have been surrounded by people who did not take care of themselves my entire life. I was also taught that any attempt to take care of self was, in fact, selfish. I am still being taught that looking out for myself is selfish.
And, here we arrive at the title of this post. This weekend, my parents were to come to town – for their usual 24 hour visit. The details of what occurred aren’t really relevant. My parents made another hurtful and extremely selfish decision. Considering many recent events in my and my sister’s lives, we were both extra bothered by this decision. My sister has always been the peace maker and regardless of how upset she is, she will never stand up and say why. I usually don’t either, but I’ve been closer and closer to the end of my rope in the last two years and I finally couldn’t take it any more. I refuse to enable their behavior, and that is a choice that I’ve been making for my entire life now – mostly subconsciously but now that I realize there are other choices, I’m going to start making them. I called my mother and explained to her that her decision had caused unnecessary confusion, energy, and hurt. I was respectful, calm, and very direct. I am not normally direct. 10 minutes after I got of the phone with my mom, my dad called. I let it go to voicemail because I knew exactly what had happened in the last 10 minutes. My mom called my dad and told him that I was mean. My dad called me to “punish” me. His voicemail essentially said that he didn’t like my “attitude” and that I could call him if I wanted to discuss the situation. Let’s be clear… by “discuss” he meant lecture. I was not interested in being lectured, so I made a choice to save myself the pain that would have come from taking his verbal abuse in that moment. The voicemail was enough.
So, blogger friends, this is a giant step in the right direction for me. I like this study on the power of choice. I like the perspective it’s given me. The realization that my parents have had a choice in how they treated me and still treat me gives me the freedom to take back the power of my own choices. And I choose not to sit by and let their choices affect my daily life any longer. It will be and has been a long journey, but I am getting there. The first step was today, when I made the choice to SPEAK. And I think I’ll be doing that much more often.