If there’s one thing I can say about treatment, it’s that you meet people who will change your life. Or at least the way you look at it. Whether you just share the air in the art room or become lifelong friends, there’s something that binds you together. There is no small talk. Everything is deep. Whether they drive you crazy or make you laugh hysterically, every person you encounter in treatment teaches you something about the world or yourself. They each leave their footprints on your heart.
We don’t have to like where we are or who we’re with in order to appreciate it. In fact sometimes it’s better that we don’t. If we liked it, we’d grow too comfortable. Too content. There’d be no reason to pursue more. To take the next step on the journey.
Treatment has taught me how to have compassion on those with whom I don’t get along. It sounds simple, but it isn’t. The ability to look at someone you don’t like, yet love them and want to comfort them. Take away their pain, even for a moment. That is not something that comes easily to us humans. It’s not taught in the classroom or the workplace. But it happens in treatment.
I was sitting in a group a few days ago and one of my peers was in great distress. It was clear that she was experiencing a deep depression. She was frightened. Sad. Hopeless.
The group leader asked us to provide her with suggestions of how to distract or create opposite emotions. We bounced around a few ideas. The group leader pushed for more. I saw her point. I saw her trying to get us to relate to this girl’s pain, and I did. We got it. But it was so wrong.
Forget CBT, DBT, IPT. Those stupid Ts, gosh darn it. Distract, dissect, discuss. I’m sick of it all. She kept pushing.
I stopped her. “Nothing we say is going to help her,” I said. “She is in pain. We could make the best suggestions. Tell her how to self-sooth or use her senses to distract herself from the reality that is her life. But that’s not helping her. It’s trivializing her pain. That’s what it is. It’s reducing it to something that can be managed, when in her heart she believes it is unmanageable. That doesn’t help.”
The truth of the matter is that I didn’t say it quite so eloquently. I don’t think I made my point very well. I stumbled over my words as I pulled apart my thinking putty. I hope I didn’t make things worse in the process.
But it’s true. I know that CBT, DBT, and IPT work. They wouldn’t spend so much time on it if there wasn’t any scientific proof. Therapy works. But sometimes the best kind of therapy is the kind that makes you realize that you need it. Sometimes you just have to sit in your crap. Sometimes you just need to have someone say “Yeah, that’s crappy. There’s nothing that can fix it.” Even though there really is. Sometimes it’s better when people don’t try to convince you that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes you just need to feel the darkness, but know that there are other people sitting in it with you. That you’re safe.
That’s what treatment is. A safe environment to experience your pain until you come to a place that you can work through it. I’ve said it in past posts and I’ll say it again. Therapy takes on many shapes and sizes.
One of the things that the girl said was something we could all relate to. I saw a lot of heads nodding in the room. “Everyone keeps telling me it’s going to get better. Well its not. I want to know. When is it going to get better?”
It’s true. They say it will get better. Depression. Recovery. Relationships. Life. They say it will get easier.
But none of us have seen it. Few of us believe it. Many of us have been fighting for months or years and it hasn’t gotten any easier. In fact, it’s often gotten harder. So what’s the point? It makes me think that the whole thing is crap.
But that’s when the group leader was able to articulate what kept getting jumbled in the space between my brain and my mouth.
“A lot of what we do here is just trying to survive and get through it and come out on the other side–whenever that may be.”
Finally a professional was willing to say what we all know is true. That no one knows when it’s going to get better or easier. There are no guarantees, except that it will. The therapy isn’t designed to fix us, it’s designed as a tool to help us survive these moments so that we come out on the other side. Stronger. Vibrant. Hopeful.