Therapy, and the pursuit of happiness.
Last week I made my return to therapy. Although the circumstances between my husband and I demand it, the mere thought of being back in counseling makes me twitch. I am no stranger to the therapist's couch. I started going as a teenager, when my parents were proceeding with their own divorce and signs of my eating disorder started to crank up. My early experiences weren't exactly positive. I was belligerent, and caustic, and occasionally hostile. I answered questions monosyllabically. I watched the clock and counted the ceiling tiles and made grandiose bargains with my mom that I would do anything, ANYTHING, instead of going to the therapist, such as all household chores - including cleaning my brother's room, which smelled like sweat socks and hormones and stale Dr. Pepper festering in Big Gulp cups.
I remember my first therapist. She had bad hair. Really, really bad hair, the kind bleached to a jaundiced shade of yellow and shellacked into place with Aqua Net. She wore a lot of scarves and her office smelled like patchouli. I called her Herr Doktor.
We sat. She took notes.
"What are you writing?"I asked.
"Well, thank you," I said, voice dripping with disdain. "Notes on what?"
"Observations of me?" I screeched.
She stopped writing and looked at me.
"Is it important to you, how people observe you?"
"Not particularly," I said, which was a bald-faced lie.
"Elise," she began.
"MY NAME IS ELISSA. ELISSA. GET IT RIGHT, YOU MORON."
"Does is upset you that I mispronounced your name?"
I started at her blankly.
She kept writing.
I studied my cuticles.
It wasn't until I was in treatment for anorexia that I warmed up to therapy. In the beginning of my stay I didn't have the strength to avoid communicating with my assigned therapist. In treatment, you see a therapist four to five times a week, whether you like it or not. You sit in endless group therapy sessions. You do "homework," assignments dictated by your therapist on subjects such as what staying in your eating disorder causes you to lose. You cry a lot, and journal, and get good and angry, and make bargains to get out, and occasionally toss your dinner across the dining room table. But eventually you relent, either because you'll do anything to get out or genuinely want to get better.
I wanted to get better.
So I talked. And talked, and talked, and talked. I talked about my mother. I talked about my husband. I talked about my father. I talked about my dreams. I talked about food, and how I hated it. I talked about my body, and how I hated it. I talked until my throat was sore and didn't think I had anything else to talk about, until I went to my next session and discovered I had a lot more to talk about.
After I left treatment I saw a therapist for awhile, until I relocated from Des Moines to Dallas and decided I had "graduated" from therapy. Mind you, I came to this decision completely on my own. I crowed to my husband that I was cured. I didn't need therapy anymore. I was Over It.
And now I find myself clutching a Kleenex box on a therapist's couch. Even worse, I'm being given eerily similar homework assignments to the ones I had in treatment. This week I had to make a list of things that I want, that will make me happy, with no regard to the wants of my husband, family and friends. I'm finding this to be a lot harder to do than it sounds. Perhaps it's because I can't even ask my husband to change the station on the radio without worrying that he won't like the music I select, and then get angry at me, and then stop speaking to me. So I say nothing, and sit there feeling guilty for even thinking about changing the station in the first place.
How can I figure out what makes me happy when I can't even change the radio station?
I wonder if I'm the only one struggling to determine what I want. A simple Google search on the pursuit of happiness reveals over nineteen million results. That means millions of people are offering advice and asking the same questions I am. Honestly, it isn't realistic for me to even consider a life path without regard to the needs of my children. But really, what do I want for my own happiness? If I could do anything, and live anywhere, and make my home look exactly as I dream it to, and work anywhere, and do anything for fun? What the hell do I want, anyway?
It's a little daunting to think about.
For today, I'm not thinking about the big things. I've decided on sushi for lunch. And new green capris with a chambray shirt for tomorrow's outfit. And New Girl on TV tonight. Because, for now, those are the things that I know will make me happy.
It's a start.