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How Therapy Saved My Life and Gave Me Purpose

One man's journey from addicted trauma patient to connected therapist

Brokenness is a human state of being. We all experience it, we all have to survive it. If we are taught resilience by parents who have learned it themselves then we are among the lucky few who manage to move forward, through the brokenness and into a life that is connected and full. This is a rarity. Often the brokenness pushes us deeper into fear and what Brene’ Brown refers to as the “Myths of Scarcity”, which she speaks eloquently about in her Ted Talk on Shame. They are the voices of not good enough, or smart enough or rich enough or skinny enough. The ones that are always there to tell us how we don’t measure up and why we cannot succeed.  The voices that ultimately result in anxiety, depression, addiction and often more serious mental illness.  But brokenness is also where our beauty is birthed. Where our purpose becomes more clear.

In my own life, my purpose has been much delayed.  It was not until the age of fifty that I completed my master’s degree in counseling and opened a private practice specializing in trauma, addictions, and autism.  It was a long path, that began with my own brokenness and addiction.  My childhood was traumatic.  It was not the trauma of constant sexual or physical abuse.  It was the trauma of emotional disconnection…of living with parents who did not know how to be connected or happy because of their own trauma and blamed their children for that.  It was the occasional physical abuse, constant emotional abuse and the neglect of disconnection that created the wound.  It was the wound that drove me into numbing through addictions, and it was the end of my own heartbeat that finally led me to recovery.

Oddly, at the age of 24, my heart simply quit briefly and that would be the clanging symbol that woke me up.  Once awake it was counseling that saved me.  Connection really, but the counseling taught me to trust the connection.  Taught me to see my own worth.  

Connection solidifies the idea that we are worthy, warts and all.

 It is the state of connection with another that makes the chemistry in our brains flow at their absolute peak.  This is the power of counseling.  It teaches us that connection can be safe and wonderful.

As a mental health therapist now I treat trauma and I tell my patients that the process recovery will not be fun.  It’s really not.  But it is freeing and it is worth it and on the other side, we find connection.  I relate to them the story of how butterflies form.  The caterpillar crawls into the cocoon and actually liquifies.  Only a few neural cells remain to tell it what the goo will become.  The pain of that process seems a lot like the pain my patients often go through.  

Their wings await them, but I suspect if the caterpillars knew what was waiting for them in the cocoon, we would have a lot fewer butterflies in the world.

To trust enough to begin connecting often requires professional help. The brain is simply not regulated enough to handle that space alone and has often been physically changed by trauma. This is the power of counseling and mental health care.  The counselor becomes the other who tells us that we are worthy, enough, the regulated and regulating voice that has been missing.  One seriously and profoundly good therapist made that possible for me. I drove 3 hours one way to see her for two hours nearly every week for many years. 

Counseling allowed me to begin to see myself through the adjusted eyes of another, outside of the system of trauma I came from.  It allowed me to begin to believe, in small ways initially, that there was a core worth to my humanity.  From there it becomes possible to believe that when someone says “I like being with you” or, even more terrifying, “I love you”, they actually mean it.  

My growth had begun in earnest and after twenty years of on and off therapy I felt the call to become a therapist…to make the kind of difference in other’s lives that had been made in mine. 

At my best, I hope to be as good as my therapists were.  I believe I often am.  Recently I have contracted other therapists to work for my new company and we now have a trauma treatment center in rural Missouri.  We are trying to overcome the stigma of counseling in those rural communities.  Trying to be the change we want to see in the world.  Convincing caterpillars that they can grow wings.

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