I think counselors have to be crazier than anyone to do what we do. I don’t mean crazy in the pejorative sense of the word, but crazy in the sense of “out-of-the-box” or willing to do what is awkward and uncomfortable way. That said, most people who become counselors and therapists have struggled with their own demons in life, which inspires them to want to help others. At least, that’s my story.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my own health as a large factor in my ability to help others. This lead me to a point where I realized I needed to be back on the couch, in need of some counseling myself. One of the hard parts of being a counselor, though, is that most of my friends are counselors and I can’t go to a friend for counseling because they won’t be objective. I don’t want to go to a friend of a friend for counseling either because the lines start to get muddled. As my options were thinning, I decided to ask someone I have come to know and respect who he would recommend for counseling. This man, who works for an international NGO, has been kind of enough to sit with me through a tough period of transition and questioning in all areas of life. He is honest, vulnerable, and very witty. He earned my trust and respect quickly, so I knew if he could recommend a counselor, that I would probably be in good shape.
He recommended his own counselor, and told me to give the guy a call. So I did, and three weeks ago I found myself on the other side of the therapist’s chair, across from a 72 year old man named Bob who was one of the first counselors in town back in the early 1980’s. He’s a quiet man who has seen a lot in his life. I didn’t know much about him, so I sat down in his office ready to spill my guts and give him the proper rundown of things. I had my opening speech all prepared. I was going to tell him what I do every day, which therapists I have seen in the past, what therapeutic methods and interventions I have experienced myself, what I have learned, and where I needed to do some work. I even had an argument made up in my head on the benefits of Gestalt methodology verses a more psychoanalytic approach. In short, I was ready to tell this man what I needed and how to do his job.
And, as usually happens when I think I know what I am doing, this man sweetly disarmed me and all of my speeches. No sooner had he closed the door than he looked at me with soft eyes and said, “So how did you get here?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant. Did he want me to tell him that I drive a 20 year old Honda CrV? Did he want me to tell him that I took University to Hall to 436 to get to his office? So I cocked my head, and asked for clarification. “How did you get to where you are today in life?” And that was all that it took to turn me to a puddle of emotive mush, melting into my tears on his aged, leather sofa.
For the next hour, I poured my heart out. I said things I didn’t even know I felt. I realized I had been trying to “hold it together” for so many people for so long, I had forgotten how to be aware of my own feelings. He said he heard pain in my words, and he walked over to this large bookshelf and stuck out his left arm. He placed one large book in his open palm and said, “My arm can handle this.” He added another book. “My arm can even handle this.” He added a third book and said, “My arm is starting to get shaky.” He added a fourth book, and his arm fell to his side as the books tumbled to the floor.
“Lindsey, do you know why I dropped the books? Because I was in pain. The pain reminded me that my arm can only hold so much weight, and under too much weight, it buckled and gave way to gravity. Lindsey, pain isn’t your enemy. Pain tells you something very important. It tells you when something is broken, and reminds you when you’ve reached your limit.”
It was what I was dreading to hear, yet it was exactly what I needed to hear. I needed someone to validate my pain, but I also needed someone to remind me that I am not, in fact, Wonder Woman. (Apparently adopting the motto WWDPD – What Would Diana Prince Do – doesn’t make one immortal or impenetrable. Huh. Go figure.)
So for the last three weeks, Bob and I have been naming and wrestling with pain and fear, fear and pain. And I hate it. But I love it. Because I need it. Just when I think I can pull one over on Bob, he looks me in the eye and says, “What’s going on in there?” and I am caught. And we talk about the fact that I am watching the clock as if I am the therapist, or trying to control the conversation. Sometimes I make Bob chuckle. I will say something he’s never heard before, or say something less-than-kosher and he can’t help but laugh. But he always brings me back to center.
Sometimes Bob says “Thank you” in the middle of a conversation, and, at first, I wasn’t sure who he was thanking. I finally realized that sometimes, Bob stops to thank God for the conversation we are having and for our time together. Normally I would write this off as a hyper-spiritual act and roll my eyes, but it is one of the things I really admire about Bob. He just is who he is. He doesn’t try to be anyone else. And he is good at it. He is good at tempering this feisty, stubborn, overwhelmed woman who is deathly afraid of fear and pain.
I am thankful that there are people like Bob who are willing to sit with people like me – people who have patience beyond my understanding, and a wealth of experience from which to draw life’s wisdom. Today, I am thankful.