How therapy helped me move on from a toxic relationship

I’m walking to the center where I’m supposed to have my first therapy session, I’m supposed to get Estes Therapy couples counseling tips. My legs wobble, and I want to turn and run. The location looks somewhat familiar. I realize with a sinking thud, I’d come here for my first and last Al-Anon meeting a year ago. It was a cold, dark, and desperate evening, when I needed to speak to other people affected by the alcoholics in their lives. Today I’m here again because I don’t know what to do with the alcoholic in my life.

Places can evoke visceral memories, and I feel like throwing up — just like the last time. I eventually walk in, determined to see it through.

This is my first lesson — to show up for ourselves is the hardest thing.
Even though I always tell my clients, “Thank you for coming, it’s a big step,” today adds a new dimension for me.

If there’s a word to describe my life right now, it’d be “confused.” Why is he getting more controlling and paranoid? What did I do? I’ve put my work as a psychologist on pause — to me, it’s unethical to work in my present state. I read exposés by psychologists and other mental health professionals about working while depressed, suicidal, and anxious. But my choice right now is to heal, so I can show up fully for myself and my clients.

My therapist is a warm and wise woman. Of course, I don’t tell her everything. I’m not ready to. You see, I’m in denial at this point — I’d rather believe that everything he does, from dragging me out of bed at 2 a.m. by my ankles to stealing my possessions, is a result of his alcohol and cocaine abuse. It’s the same when he vacillates between “I need to stop; I’m sorry” and “Why are you such a snob? You’ve changed.” To admit to being abused is a bitter pill to swallow. I can hear everyone saying, “Just leave. Only a stupid woman would stay. Why are you so weak?” I can’t bear that.

As domestic abuse expert Lundy Bancroft says, the abuser is like a magician. He’ll use smoke and mirrors, distort reality, and pull out every single reason and excuse to distract you away from the real reason he abuses — because he wants to.

Whatever the reason, I start to tell my therapist some things, while trying not to blame him.

Here’s lesson two: Opening up takes a big leap of faith.
There are many things we lie to ourselves about because we’re scared of being judged.

I downplay my current predicament so both my therapist and my deluded self don’t know just how bad things are. But she knows that these feelings and thoughts come from an old wound. She tells me to trust myself and dive deep. I feel safe with her. Themes from my childhood emerge. She draws out the stories of exclusion and confusion. You see, I had a childhood nickname, “Abigail,” foisted on me by classmates who named me after a weepy cross-dresser actor on TV.

Abigail encapsulated all the nasty things they called me — “the ugliest girl in the room,” “the nerd,” and “the hairy gorilla.” I never feel good enough. That, coupled with my ambitious personality, set me on a journey toward the best credentials and most exotic experiences abroad.

I may have grown into my own skin, but push the right buttons, and I’ll revert to the rejected, insecure Abigail, always feeling different, inadequate, and terrified that to be locked up in the Science Garden. No wonder there’s always a backdrop of dissatisfaction in my life, despite the steps I’d taken toward recovering from my perfectionism.

I believe these ghosts of my earlier years are my cross to bear.

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