My Turn

This week I visited my old undergraduate college. I decided to go see my little cousin who attends that school now; at one point I promised her I would, and I figured better to do it now than when I live a ten hour drive away in the Boston area. About a week prior visiting I reached out to my former therapist L to see if we could meet to catch up and talk a bit about our therapy work together.

I had talked with my current therapist about whether I should reach out to L. Some of my old concerns about L and I emerged – would this come across as too needy, will he think of me as annoying – though I also felt that as a 26-year-old with almost 900 clinical hours under my belt, I was more prepared than ever before to talk about our therapeutic relationship and to address some of my unresolved questions about it. When I reached out, he replied soon after and said that it was good to hear from me and that he would be happy to talk.

It felt surreal stepping into L’s office, the same office I had seen him in five years ago. I saw the same rug I had lied down on once, the same painting above his couch that pictured a splash of colors, and the same computer where we watched Ariana Grande music videos together. These familiar features at first clashed, and then coexisted with my internal growth over the past several years since I last saw L, such as gaining even more ease with coping with my strong emotions, recognizing and letting go of some of my control issues, and developing firmer and more values-aligned friendships.

This isn’t the exact image above L’s couch, though it looked somewhat similar to this! Gives me psychodynamic vibes which aligns with one of his primary theoretical orientations.

Our conversation felt different too. When I saw him as my therapist from 2015 to 2017, I felt way more submerged in my emotions. My PTSD flooded me and for the first few months I spent the majority of our sessions dysregulating and hiding behind my hands, followed by several more months of me questioning whether he cared about me or not. In our conversation this week though, I felt so much more calm, centered, and self-aware. I asked him questions like, what did you make of how I could barely even look at you for the first few months of therapy? And, how did you conceptualize my struggle to believe that you cared about me? We talked about what went well in our work together, what could have been improved, and our general feelings of positive regard for one another. At the end of the conversation, we both agreed that it felt like a gift to reconnect in this way, to wrap up some loose ends and witness my growth and healing in the years after we stopped seeing one another.

On my drive back to my hotel I listened to “Feel Special” by Twice, which I had also sat in my car and listened to prior to seeing L while parked outside his office. When I entered my hotel room I burst into tears. I cried first because of my pride in myself, that I had been abused as a child and developed severe PTSD and had worked the fuck through it and now have healthy relationships with myself and with others.

I also cried because I felt so lucky and privileged. How did I end up with such an amazing therapist all those years ago who, while imperfect in his own ways, supported me through the worst mental health crisis of my life? Beyond him, how did I manage to cultivate relationships with amazing mentors at my undergrad institution who role-modeled to me compassion, self-awareness, and intelligence without ego? Even though my bio mom sucked, what force in the universe gave me the gift of my grandmother, who taught me the power of nurturance since the day I had been born?

“Thank you so much for helping me,” I said to L toward the end of our conversation. I told him about how overcoming PTSD felt like the most difficult experience of my life, even more so than growing up with my abusive mother.

“You chose this,” he said, referring to how while I did not choose to grow up in my childhood household, I did choose to come to our sessions together, despite the pain from my PTSD that emerged and occupied many of our sessions. His statement reminded me of what he said in our last session together in 2017 – when he thanked me for sticking with the work, even when it felt hard.

I went on a walk after writing an outline of this blog post and reflected on a time in my childhood where my mom had yelled at me. Back then as an elementary school student, I remember pulling up a word document and writing something along the lines of, I will be different than her, and I will do something with my life to help others who’ve been through similar hardships as myself. At that age I had been young, idealistic, and emotional, though even then I tried to create some agency in a situation where I felt powerless.

Now, walking along the side of the road with cars whizzing past me, at a crisp and comfortable 45 degrees Fahrenheit, I thought to myself: it’s my turn. L, my various mentors, my grandmother, Caroline Knapp, and others gave me support and wisdom that saved my life, or at least made it so much richer and self-aware and joyous. Now, it’s my turn to give that back to my own clients and students. Despite the parts of my life that have felt entirely out of my control, for better or for worse, I still have some choices to make. I’m going to make every one count.

You know, all my posts on this blog feel at least somewhat vulnerable to share, though this one particularly so. With that said, I’m dedicating this post to any fellow survivors of childhood abuse and PTSD, because damn, we’re strong as fuck. Also to anyone who’s stuck it out in therapy even when it felt hard. Would love to read any reactions and vibes and until next post!

12 Comments

Filed under Personal

12 responses to “My Turn

  1. Kartavya Ratate

    I deeply appreciate you being so vulnerable in this post, and the retrospection hit me in an almost comfortingly surreal way in that you write about your recent actual (!!!) meeting with your former therapist and how together you reflect on your journey towards healing. I’m so glad you got to meet L and that now you feel more empowered to direct your efforts towards helping others with the same level of care and understanding with which you were helped while you struggled working through PTSD. Love this commitment which is reflective of your values. Sending my good wishes to you for this work!

    And I hope you’re taking care, Thomas. 🙂

    • Awwww this comment does such a nice job of reflecting what I shared in this post thank you! Your phrasing of the retrospection being comfortingly surreal made me pause and appreciate the vibe of the comment, the post, and the experience even more. I hope you are taking care as well and thanks for your time in reading and commenting!

  2. e

    I really love this post and the image of you returning to a place stronger than you were before and armed with new experiences. I’m happy you got to experience that and reconnect with him, especially after reading your blog for so long and knowing about that relationship. Kudos to you! And feel special always gets me fucking pumped

    • Awww thanks so much for this comment, it’s especially cool and helpful for me to hear that my writing about my relationship with L means something to folks who’ve read this blog for awhile (people have read this blog for awhile? really??) So appreciate your kindness and your time in reading and commenting, as well as your fellow high quality taste in stanning Feel Special! (:

  3. I love this entry Thomas, I really do. You’re right, this is better than sending him a card.

    I wish I could come over and give you a hug. It’s great that you and L somehow found each other. More importantly, as L says, you chose this. You stuck through this process. I know somewhere up there, your grandmother is doing fist pumps and telling herself “That’s my Thomas!”.

    While I’m older than you, I think you’ve accomplished a lot more in your young life than I have – and you certainly have a lot more wisdom.

    Have a great weekend.

    • Awww this comment means so much to me as because I know you’ve read my blog for awhile now (don’t know how you do it though I appreciate it all the same (: ). Honestly Matt I’m grateful for your kind words though the age comparison feels unnecessary to me – as long as we’re doing our best to grow and recognize our values and act in alignment with them that’s what matters. I hope this past week has been great or at least meaningful for you.

  4. priya

    such happy, positive vibes in this post! it’s really good that you got to reconnect with L and glad to hear how you both enjoyed that experience. i’m proud that you recognise how much you’ve healed since you started seeing L and put in a lot of effort over so many years to get to where you are now!

    • thanks so much Priya! the encouragement and space to share on this blog has been a helpful component of my social support and self-reflection, including your comments and dropping by when you can (: appreciate you and hope your week is going as well as possible!

  5. This is such a moving story and I love how authentic it feels, all the complexity of emotions that emerge through the telling. Like NT above, I found the statement “You chose this” so powerful–it made me all teary just thinking about how often we humans face these choices in life, and how much daily effort we invest when we insist on remaking our own safe and nourishing spaces and in widening those spaces to make the world around us a safer, nourishing space for others too. I know I’ve said it before but I am sure your blog posts bring comfort and security to many readers.

    • Omg this comment brought tears to my eyes! Thanks so much for sharing this. While I know I can’t control the outcomes of my posts or this blog I do hope it can encourage self-compassion, help-seeking, etc. from others or that it’s helpful in some way. This experience with L felt like and continues to feel like such a profound element of my life and I’m grateful for folks like you who sit in that profoundness with me.

  6. How wonderful to read this! I am so behind on my blog reading, and I hope you didn’t think I didn’t care about this post as I’m usually more on it. You know I understand cPTSD very well myself and how proud of you I am. What a wonderful example you are of a decent and humane human being who has turned what they experienced into learning and a way to help others. I am proud of what I’ve managed, too. Struggling through having lost a friend to violence last year I was able to identify that I was ruminating and visualising a bit too much due to the cPTSD and make the process calmer (with the help of an instant message conversation with a specialist from a bereavement charity) and that felt like a positive step for me. Onwards and upwards!

    • Liz, I definitely didn’t think that at all and always appreciate your compassion and understanding in your comments though it’s not like I’m expecting you to provide that! Yes, I’m definitely imperfect and trying my best to be someone compassionate and self-aware and aligned with social justice. I’m proud of you too and ugh that’s awful, the passing of your friend to violence 😦 Glad you were able to identify your rumination and take proactive steps to cope. Love that we’re out here doing our best despite life’s various struggles!

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