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The Brutal and Beautiful Way I Learned to Ask for Help.

A kindly therapist tried to kill me once by asking me to begin asking for help.

It was just another day of trying not to throw up everything I ate.  I was sitting in group therapy during my month-long rehab and just as every good therapist does, our leader found a wound in need of healing.  I have zero recollection of how I revealed my distaste, disgust and pure terror of asking for help, but alas, I was exposed.

She gave me a horrifying assignment just as easily and chipper as if she had asked me to, “pass the salt.”  “Elizabeth, I want you to do nothing for yourself the rest of the day.”  I can only imagine my look of horror, but all I could see was the absolute glee on the faces of the other group therapy members – my fellow addicts.  They were beyond excited to avoid their own disturbing task and to watch me squirm for the rest of the day.  To be fair, I had that same delight when it was someone else’s turn to do a recovery assignment.  The compete joy of witnessing another group member suffering in the name of healing was a surprising perk of rehab.  But that day, it was going to be my pain providing the entertainment.

Group ended and I collected my things and then I hear the leader gently remind me that I needed to ask for help carrying my purse and books.  As all the blood drained from my body, I softly asked someone to help me and I immediately felt the tears well up in me because asking for help left me completely vulnerable, open, unprotected and worst of all, visible.  It felt like asking for help would literally killing me. 

Asking for help does feel like death to those of us with childhood trauma because we learned early that self-sufficiency WAS survival.  Asking for help was not only not okay, but dangerous. As children, we learned to shut the asking for help part of us down.  In rehab, I was asked to retrieve it and it really hurt.  A lot.  But I was in a safe environment and the horrible – I mean wonderful – group leader knew it was what needed to happen next to arrest my bulimia and to become whole. 

And now, it’s your turn.  Yes, that’s right.  I have become that horrible/wonderful therapist and I’m letting YOU know that your inability to ask for help is a wound that needs to be healed and that you won’t be able to become the person you want to be if you don’t learn the advanced skill of asking for help.  And, I am so, so sorry, but the only way to learn to ask for help is to start asking for help (also, I’m not sorry – don’t forget about my subversive excitement of the thought of someone else doing hard things in the name of personal growth).

But here is the most important aspect of your asking for help experiments – only ask SAFE people.  Ask for help from people that you can be vulnerable and Real with and who would be excited to help you.  What I learned that day in rehab is that the act of asking for help and then receiving it is love in action.  You want that life.  Begin today. 

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