Roughly 25 years. That's how long it's been since I first stepped into a therapist's office. And today was the day that it dawned on me how well it's worked.
I cashed in on a gift certificate for a massage my husband gifted me for my birthday. Massages became my favorite indulgence the moment I discovered them, which is a shame, because they're tough to afford on a teacher's salary. So I usually only get one once (at the most twice) a year.
And while I always try my very best to turn OFF my internal monologue and relax, my internal monologue won't have any of that. She's got a lot to say, and she's not going to let some aromatherapy and acupressure slow her down.
So, I just let my thoughts flow today, and at some point it dawned on me how nice my internal voice was.
She was very complimentary about the massage and the massage therapist, of course.
Yes, thank you. Get that knot. Knock it right out of there. Lord, you're gifted. Do people ever tell you that? Thank you, yes, a hot pack on my forehead absolutely makes me want to propose marriage to you, which I'll just keep to myself.
But the crazy part was how nice she was to me!
At this point, I need to back up her and give you an idea of what my internal monologue used to sound like, back when I first started getting massages, just so you can understand the drastic shift.
Ugh, I should have washed my feet before I came in here. She's going to be grossed out by the smell. CRAP! I didn't shave my legs! She's going to cut her hand on my stubble. She's going to be disgusted out by how fat I am. How will she ever even get to the muscle, with all this fat on top? I want to leave. I'm so embarrassed. Why can't you just lose weight and be normal, you idiot? What right do you think you have to get a massage, when you're so big. I'm never doing this again.
It's awful, I know. But this mean little voice in my head was constant. Every thing I tried to do, she was there to tell me I was going to fail. She constantly told me that nobody loved me, and when friends and family tried to prove otherwise, she'd tell me they were lying. She told me I'd be fired from my job, that I would die alone, that my writing sucked, that I looked stupid on stage and should stop performing, that my life was a waste. Even when I looked confident and happy on the outside, she sulked inside my brain, reminding me that none of the stuff in my life that seemed good would last, that I simply didn't deserve any of it.
The first time I went to therapy, it was court-ordered. My dad had beaten my mom up so badly that he could have killed her, and the court decided (wisely) that my sister and I might need to talk to someone. Instantly, I loved it. It unburdened me, it helped me feel less alone. But when my dad and mom reconciled, Dad cancelled therapy, thinking it was some vast conspiracy against him.
The second time I went to therapy, it was because my angel of a college roommate made the appointment for me. My first love had just revealed he was gay, my sister fell pregnant at 16, and my mom had had a heart attack - all within a few months. I kept pretending everything was fine outside of our tiny room, but Katie watched me cry my eyes out night after night, drink too much at frat parties, and say horrible, horrible things about myself. I was so embarrassed that she thought I needed help, but instantly, it made me feel better. Honestly, it saved my life, as I'd begun to formulate serious suicide plans right around that time.
I can't count how many therapists I've seen in my life. They haven't all been winners (like the animal hoarder I visited in Brooklyn who complained incessantly about her neighbor and told me I should leave Dave because he wasn't doing his fair share of the dishes), but I can assure you I wouldn't be here without them.
And the three I've had since we moved to Louisville have had the largest effect, probably because I've been diligent about going since we arrived. They've helped me face my troubled past, helped me reprogram my knee-jerk reactions, help me learn to experience emotions less dangerously, helped me to truly love and value myself.
And so, today, as the massage therapist worked wonders on my body, my internal monologue was like a sweet girlfriend, sharing a glass of wine with me.
Honey, you deserve this. Yes, relax, breathe deeply. You've got so much going on, but you're doing so well with it all! Look at you, parenting and teaching and storytelling and writing and still taking a little time for yourself. Mmm...that lavender and rosemary is just delicious, isn't it? Helps all that stress just melt away. Feel her work those knots out of your legs - your strong legs that walk miles around your classroom daily. Feel her rub away the tension of a back that lifts up a three year old for a kiss each night. You deserve this. Enjoy it.
OK, yeah, she's a bit cheesy. But I'll take a cheesy internal voice over a bully any day.