Saturday, August 19, 2017

Why I Want to Be a Therapist

It's August 18th and the year is 2017.

This week, I pep-talked my way through the morning drive to my second year clinical internship. It's starting. I am now a registered psychotherapist with the state of Colorado. This is the year where I become a therapist. I will conduct intakes and assessments for potential clients at our sliding-scale and Medicaid-friendly counseling center. Because you know, behavioral health should be a basic human right. Right? I will have a case load of my own. People will come to me for help. And then, I suppose, I should have something to offer them in return.

But as I drove there this week, I needed more consoling that I expected. This feels huge. This feels important. This feels like the culmination of ten years of experiences that made me want to become a therapist to begin with.

Ten years ago. 
It was August 18th and the year was 2007.

On this day exactly ten years ago, a little 19-year-old-120-pound-anorexic-Christian me climbed on a plane and flew to Cambodia. What followed was the absolute hardest year of my life (I wrote a book about it if you haven't heard...).
I thought that the problem was Cambodia.
It was that guy who sexually assaulted me.
It was the driver who hit me with his car.
It was the God that deserted me.
It was the religious community I grew up in.
Or something.

Either way, I made it through the year and waited in the Phnom Penh International Airport for my flight home. I bought a smoothie. I sat down. A young, white woman with red hair started talking to me about her travel plans. She asked how long I'd been in Cambodia and I told her.
"A whole year?" she exclaimed. "You're so lucky. I love Cambodia. I wish I could stay longer."
And then, she asked me questions about my time there and she wanted to hear stories about this "wonderful" place that I'd been so "lucky" to experience. But I didn't have anything to say to her, because I didn't know what she was talking about.

I returned home a 20-year-old-150-pound-bulimic-agnostic me. Apparently, the same person, though completely unrecognizable in the mirror. I bought new clothes. I got new friends. I didn't go back to church. I returned to college. I moved on.

My life has been divided into two parts ever since: B.C. (Before Cambodia) and A.C. (After Cambodia). Everything else finds its place in one of those two categories. And while I would never re-live that year, I've had the honor of returning to the country (twice!) and realizing that the fault of that difficult year was drastically misplaced.
The problem wasn't Cambodia.
The problem wasn't even me.
The problem was the mental illness that moved in and took control of my ability to see clearly, to live fully, to feel anything other than depression, anxiety, and despair. That eating disorder changed the way I saw everything. And it took five more years before I could call myself truly "recovered" (whatever that means in a society where I've never really encountered a woman with a healthy self-image).

I used to think Cambodia was the villain in this story, but it turns out she was the mother who nourished me back to health. Thirty-pounds of health. It felt like force-feeding. It was. I'd never been this size before. Around the time that anorexia moved in (18), my body was trying to grow bigger and stronger. So it was actually Cambodia that brought me to the healthy weight that I've maintained ever since.

Thank God for that nourishment and the six mental health therapists who have brought me back to life.

I want to be a therapist more than I've ever wanted anything (besides recovery). This is exactly where I need to be and exactly the program that will get me there. If that's not pressure, I don't know what is. And yet, as I drove to my internship where I will receive the training to become half the therapist that those women were to me, I repeated again and again out loud to myself,
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."
"I did Cambodia. I can do this."

I don't know what your "Cambodia" is. But take heart, that we can do hard things. Because we've done them before. And we will do them again.

In November, I will turn 30 years-old.

I will leave my 20s behind. A decade that has brought trauma in Cambodia, mental illness, recovery, college graduation, marriage, South Korea, and this awkward stumbling into adulthood one-damn-day-at-a-time. I don't have kids. I don't have a house. I don't have an established career or a salary of any kind. The tangible milestones I thought I would've reached by now, are still miles ahead of me (if I ever get there at all). But the understated, more delicate milestones like wisdom and discernment are things that make me older than my years and I carry them with me always. Things I have earned. I have miles and pounds that prove the rigor of this journey that took me around the world and back again.

I think I'm supposed to be sad about turning 30.
About being called "ma'am".
About being overlooked by the lascivious male-gaze on the street. Oh shucks.
This dread over "being 30" makes me feel like I'm supposed to be sad that I'm still here.
Bummed about continuing with this business of being alive.
Which I am not.
I'm so relieved to still be here.

We get to be here.

I get to be "recovered"
and healthy
and married
and well-traveled
and a student in graduate school
and a therapist in-training
and almost-thirty.

But still here.


KendraKay at said...

Preach! It's a privilege to age, especially if you're recovered and evolving still. You're an inspiring soul on this road we seekers walk together. It blesses me to glance up sometimes and see you, still walking. ❤️

laSonya said...

Go you! Proud of the milestones! 30 is a great age too :)

I'm reading this from Cambodia. I love it here but I too have my own "Cambodia" while being here. Today was one of those days. Thanks for the encouragement.