Therapy: Why Doing All The Right Things Wasn't Enough

I have spent the last seven years or so working to figuring myself out. I knew I was holding on to some pain and I wasn’t feeling enjoyment to the same extent as before. I wanted to become a healthy, happy person so I started seeing a therapist. When I first started therapy it was just to get drugs. I wanted Adderal to give me the energy to do a job that I hated. When that wasn’t enough I wanted Xanax and antidepressants to make me forget that I was living a life that didn’t make me happy. I wanted all the good feelings without giving up anything toxic. I often said, “I can’t quit this”. The idea of losing a job or lifestyle that provided what I believed would eventually bring me happiness was not an option. I thought if I left I would still feel the same I would just also be broke. My addiction and allegiance were to all the things that built me up just to give me a greater fall. Those little bits of gratification like buying something, partying, eating at a fancy restaurant, or having more money in the bank were holding me back from finding what truly made me happy. In 11 years it hadn’t brought me joy but I still believed if I just had more then I would finally feel ok.

I was seeing a psychologist and a psychiatrist. Every week I would talk to the psychologist about what was happening in my life, past experiences, and what I was feeling. We would bring up things from my childhood and discuss current events. It was what I understood and believed therapy was supposed to be. I would tell her all my problems and she would ask how it made me feel. Over time I began to feel worse and would dread going to these appointments. It felt like I was just dragging myself back through old traumas and reliving painful moments without coming to any resolution. I would go home feeling like these wounds were opened back up. The more I exposed the more damaged I believed I was. I eventually became exhausted.

I would also see the psychiatrist every other week when I would come back on land from working offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. She would ask me how my depression, anxiety, and energy was. It felt as if she was just listening for trigger words. Sad, exhausted, anxious, and unable to focus. She would have a pill for everything. At times she would even ask me if there was anything I wanted to try. We would start relatively low and if it didn’t work they would just up the dose. Before I knew it I had mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, Adderall, and Xanax. On top of that my body was in so much pain that I had muscle relaxers, pain medicine, and anti-inflammatories. There were so many chemicals in my body I didn’t know what was pulling the strings. I didn’t feel better, I just felt different. It wasn’t good but it wasn’t what I was used to so I was content with it.

At times we would try something new and it would react terribly in my body. I would be an emotional wreck. I would have panic attacks and feel like I was dying. I would feel crazy but until I was able to go in and see her I could not get off the medication for fear of withdrawals. When I would get on land I would get an appointment and we would have to work to remove myself off of that drug and start something new. This constant chemical fluctuation combined with reopening emotional traumas in therapy left me feeling broken and more drawn to the bottle.

This went on for years. I believed if I kept talking with therapists, worked harder, made more, and found the right combination and dose of drugs that one day it would all click. I would break through to this level of security and everything would be ok. I gradually got worse and worse. The depression took over me. I was absolutely exhausted all the time. I could put on the strong face but I didn’t feel enjoyment unless I was so fucked up that I didn’t feel even remotely feel like myself. If you were to ask the people closest to me they would tell you I was happy and the life of the party. I was very good at keeping it hidden. Then cancer came and the bottom fell out.

When the first treatment plan did not work I decided it’s time to reevaluate everything I thought, believed, and did. Everything was on the table and nothing was immune from scrutiny. I began trying everything that sounded hopeful. I got a new therapist, started doing EMDR, worked to get off my medications, tried meditation and breathwork, got more serious about my diet, and changed my mindset. This was just the start, as I continued my growth and education in Thailand and across Asia after I went into remission. I’ve done yoga retreats, 10-day silent meditation retreats, gone to countless group classes for a wide array of topics, worked with psychedelics and other plant medicines, talked and talked and cried and talked and screamed and wrote and fell a thousand times, and picked myself back up. In that process of trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t, I’ve had enormous breakthroughs and I’ve felt more alone and confused than when I started. I’ve had enormous amounts of inspiration and deep valleys of confusion.

It has been quite an experiment. With each class, lesson, conversation, mistake, and experience I grew and learned. I became more aware of myself and what I wanted. In these years of self-exploration, I have become aware that some very basic principles helped me along the way. Certain habits and beliefs allowed the work I was doing to make a change. I understood why my years in therapy alone did not help me. I believe that my depression, anxiety, and ultimately cancer was primarily from my mindset and holding on to resentments until they turned into sickness. I could take every class, try every medication, talk about my pain a million times but if I didn’t change the way I thought and processed my experiences then none of them would make a lasting difference. This is the basis of It’s In Your Head.

“I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name is grief” C.S. Lewis

Before I could work to heal any aspect of my life: my relationships, my diet, my health, my anxieties, my depression, my fitness, my drinking, or anything else that I felt was holding me back from being truly happy I first had to heal the way I thought of myself and my situation. The life we live is ultimately a culmination of our experiences, thoughts, and habits. The things that we go through, what we focus on, our opinions of those thoughts, and how we spend our day creates the world we live in. To try and heal any aspect of our lives without first correcting and healing the way we look at it would be working against ourselves.

If you want to get in shape without first understanding and accepting our impossible body standards, you will always feel fat. If you want to work on becoming more financially stable without learning that money will never buy happiness, you will always feel like you don’t have enough. If you want a relationship without understanding that it is your own responsibility, not your partner’s to be happy, you will always feel like that person is not good enough. Real happiness truly comes from within.

This shift in mindset opened up the doors for my healing. It allowed all the puzzle pieces to come together to get a clearer image of what I wanted and needed. Instead of trying to fix every issue I was having, I worked on the way I viewed and responded to my issues. This allowed me to take a step back and begin to learn from these experiences. I didn’t need to run from them, I needed to be still. Instead of hiding or masking my pain with drugs and alcohol, I’ve learned to listen to it. My happiness is no longer at the mercy of what is happening in my life at that moment. I’ve learned to avoid battles instead of fighting them. I have become more gentle with myself. I don’t expect perfection but I hold myself accountable to do better each time. As I shifted these experiences from being unnecessary suffering to lessons in my mind I was able to forgive and let go.

There is no telling what the future holds but without a doubt this life will continue to throw shit at us. It will continue to be difficult and challenging and painful. We will have plans fail, people disappoint, time wasted and energy stolen. At the same time, we will have times where something unexpected comes into our lives that is more beautiful than we could have imagined, roadblocks that lead us on a better path, losses that free up space and allow us to be lighter. It is how we process and adapt that makes the difference.

It is our decision what we do with this shit. Do we let it pile up, ruin our views, sicken us with its stench, and pollute? Or do we put it to use, enrich our soil, and allow it to strengthen our growth? That decision is ours.

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