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April 10, 2021

An Ode to Therapy: Finding the Balance between Accountability, Acceptance & Boundaries.

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I “graduated” from therapy last week.

My therapist and I agreed that I had grown exponentially over the last four years. I by no means believe this to be the end-all, be-all to my growth as a human, but rather a stepping stone to the next phase of my life.

I have conquered what I have needed to in order to obtain the level of self-assured peace that I dwell in today. That is something to be proud of. This is not a piece about trauma; I have written that already. I am highlighting the beauty in the work of therapy and the fruit it can bear.

Four years ago, I prayed for this version of myself. I was unclear of exactly what this version of me was going to look like; however, I understood that it was going to take work to get here. I also did not know what that work would look like, so seeking out a therapist was a must for me.

Therapy has never been negatively stigmatized in my world as it has been in greater society. It was never a sign of weakness to me. I suppose that is because I have always been curious about myself and others. I wanted the patterns and thoughts I had, and those of people closest to me, to be defined and explained by someone who understood human behavior from a professionally studied perspective. The curiosity always existed in me to be more aware of myself and others.

For a time, that curiosity was geared toward others. I wanted to understand human cruelty and learn how to navigate it in my relationships. I took so much time concerning myself with others that it bred a lack of care for myself. I came to learn that caring for myself was secondary, even harmful in the extremes I would sometimes operate in.

The contradictions of who I was—self-absorbed but not self-loving—created the internal conflict that bred my depression. Additionally, worrying incessantly about the future and other’s approval of me contributed to struggles with anxiety.

With the help of each of the therapists I have worked with over the years, I have learned to process trauma and disordered thinking with useful tools, some basic and obvious others more complex and even fun. The point of it all was to learn and unlearn things that were a detriment to who I wanted to become. Evolution could not come without deliberate work.

An emotionally intelligent person understands that they are only as resilient as their ability to redirect themselves. I have found that it is much easier to look outward for the origin of pain. I see how some people get stuck there. Because looking inward for the “why” of a situation is much more difficult than villainizing the perceived source of emotional discomfort.

We can cycle through unhealthy thinking and interacting when we blame. It is a reactionary response. Don’t get me wrong; other humans can be trash and do things to harm others seemingly effortlessly. The work is in finding the balance between accountability, acceptance, and boundaries (for yourself and others).

The challenge is not to operate in extremes when triggered, as tempting as that may be. And the reward is the confidence to take life head-on with an unshakeable peace in the face of adversity. The pursuit of peace within will never be perfect, but I promise it is beautiful to watch understanding unfold.

Redirection takes patience, it takes practice, and if need be, it takes assistance. It may not take everyone four years to achieve therapy graduate status or any therapy at all. I know of well-rounded individuals who rely on their faith alone to maintain a tranquil life. We are not powerless in crafting the very best versions of ourselves, whatever our vehicle to get there. The point is that shedding ego or shame in order to navigate life’s inevitable pitfalls with assistance is never a bad idea.

Life gives us all lemons, and the greatness in that is we get to decide the bitterness of the lemonade we make. You get to adjust, sip, and be satisfied, or simply add the lemon to water and hate what you get. The sting of that bitterness can send you reeling over your disdain for a sour lemon, or you can learn from it, adjust—and continue adjusting—until the lemonade you sip is satisfying.

Sometimes it takes that zing of bitterness to snatch you into the reality that something about your recipe is not working. Whether or not you take pause to truly consider what it was about that formula did not work is the difference between creating a palatable sip of life or yet another bitter one. Thoughtful consideration matters.

Fortunately, and unfortunately, I have had a number of trials that have forced me to reevaluate my motives and thinking. I have swallowed some bitter stuff and must admit that had I not known the extremes of bitterness, I would never have learned how to accept the tart that tempers the sweetness of my lemonade-like life. Remaining open to exploring the things that trigger strong emotion is a process that takes practice, but the reward is priceless.

Therapy introduced me to new ways of responding to myself and others.

I have the tools to check myself, the strength to set and maintain boundaries, and the confidence to operate in this world as exactly who I was created to be.

Trigger by trigger, I took my life back, and there is infinite power in that.

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