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.
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!