I have spent the majority of my life trying to get ahead. Self worth was found in grades, athletic performance, and accomplishments. I loved when people would tell me they couldn’t believe I am still in my twenties because I act so “mature.” Little did people know I often felt like my world was falling apart. How could they? I am a therapist working with children while completing a doctoral program. My mask was perfectly in place.
When I was fourteen years old I fell about eight feet and landed on my back directly on a tree root. Being a short- sighted teenager, I did not tell anyone about my injury out of fear of missing the soccer season. This injury was compounded by unresolved trauma and developed into chronic pain that has followed me the rest of my life.
I am not sure when I lost hope of ever being pain free. Last February I decided that I was tired of the way my pain was being handled, which was primarily with opiates and muscle relaxers. After my doctor recommended surgically implanting a pain pump into my spine to deliver dilaudid directly to the source of the pain, I decided something needed to change. I chose to instead enter into a treatment program to get off of the pain medications and find alternative ways to manage the pain. What began as a three -week stay turned into six months of intense self- reflection and physical therapy.
I found myself in the frightening role of the client rather than the healer. Since I preferred being the “expert” in the situation I had a difficult time allowing myself to be vulnerable. At the same time, I was acutely aware of the fact that I was no longer in control of my pain. Something had to change. As they say in AA, I had become powerless over my pain and trauma and my life had become unmanageable. The therapist in me wanted to focus on others and avoid my own needs. In the beginning, I mostly spoke up in groups to support others rather than to seek support for myself. It was not until other clients brought this to my attention that I began to realize what a wonderful opportunity for self -care this was. I had the chance to focus on my own needs and allow others to care for me. This was a foreign concept to me and took time to sink in. I was deeply struggling with feelings of guilt for leaving my clients behind and felt as if I had let my supervisors and co-workers down. It was hard to believe that I actually needed to be there. I was not an addict like most of the other clients and was relatively successful. So what if I had chronic pain and depression? I knew how to hide that. Until stuffing them down no longer worked. Until dissociating from my body in order to continue moving forward no longer served me. It was not until I recognized my own powerlessness and hurt that I was able to begin to heal. I no longer had to hide behind accomplishment because I learned it was okay to just be me. I do not have to hide the icky parts of my story because they are part of who I am. I believe my six months in treatment will serve to make me a better clinician because I learned the importance of authenticity. It was mirrored by the many staff members and contract therapists who bravely said “me too” in the face of clients’ stories of trauma and addiction. Their openness to share their own experiences allowed me to feel more comfortable voicing mine. From this time I hope to bring the same level of authenticity to my clients as I come alongside them in this walk through life.