Therapy Changed Everything

Image by Adam McVicker via Flickr

Deciding to go into therapy is a choice that often comes as a last resort. For black men, we avoid it until it becomes a self-imposed ultimatum. In my case, it was a desire. I wanted to talk to someone who held no judgement of my past. I wanted to confide in someone who held no personal stake in my future. Therapy was a necessity; the bridge to help me get over the troubled waters that were sure to drown me.

At first, I was looking for answers. I’d sit in this fancy, ergonomic IKEA chair and talk for a few minutes about my week, the weather; it was an awkward exchange for a long time. I was often tense in the therapist’s office because asking for help isn’t what “real men” do. We figure it out, right? In the beginning, I never ended a session full. Many times, I left with more questions. However, this past summer, a few of my sessions were distinctly different.

Through journaling and talking out loud, I began connecting certain dots. There were holes, large voids in my life, that needed to be filled with truth and understanding. I needed to understand the reasons why certain parts of me were off-limits. I needed to accept the genesis of the insecurities that I never let anyone see. Then, one day, it all made sense. My therapist said one thing that finally made me comfortable under the spotlight:

“You became the person who hurt you. Now, you need to become the person you wish you could’ve relied on.”

We all have someone in our past that hurt us. Their impact is woven into the fabric of who you are. That person, while they may have failed in breaking you, contributed to periods in your life when you thought yourself to be a lost cause. And as the saying goes, hurt people hurt people. You might not have meant to cause pain to those who saw the best in you, but you did. I think on this and wanted to tend to the boy I was before I became the man who’d caused so much damage.

On that path, I was lied to and abandoned. I grew up to be the very things I despised. I did lie. I abandoned people who put their trust in me. I had developed this warped definition of manhood and masculinity. Therefore, my dealings with people were often immature and distant. Without ever noticing, I had taken on the characteristics of someone who I once thought could do no wrong.

“You became the person who hurt you. Now, you need to become the person you wish you could’ve relied on.”

We don’t always see the errors of our parents’ ways when we’re children. Parents have a manner of explaining their behavior away as being good for us, even though the proof is contrary. I look back at certain points in my life where I was told what I experienced wasn’t that bad. It was so ingrained in me that even now when I talk about it, I say “some had it much worse than I did.” Nothing about deprivation is normal. I wasn’t given the benefits of “better” and the explanation to “why?” stopped being enough once I got into young adulthood.

As a result of confronting the truths about my demons, therapy gave me the freedom to express my anger in a healthy way. I wasn’t using alcohol or women to suppress those feelings any more. I stopped using excuses as a crutch. I was no longer relying on someone to save me. Because I want to save myself. I have to. My future depends on it.

That one therapy session helped me better understand my purpose. It also helped me to break very dangerous habits. I had to be the person I wish I’d had in my formative years. I had to stop avoiding confrontation and responsibility. I had to stop lying so people could see me for who I was and decide whether I was still valuable to them. And if they chose the latter, I’d still know my own value. I had to stop justifying my anger towards people who meant me no harm. I had to stop thinking that one type of person is capable of loving. I had to stop being so scared to give love. But most importantly, I had to be there. Being present and being dependable are required characteristics of “real men.” I know the ramifications of those two qualities lacking in relationships. It’s important to make them a priority in my future.

For all the frustration, embarrassment, and resistance I had about therapy in the first place, its impact is shaping me to be the father that, for most of my childhood, only existed in dreams.

By James Woodruff

James Woodruff is a grad school student and a struggling Christian trying to make smarter mistakes. His writing has appeared at The Good Men Project and Medium, and on his own blog, 30 and Beyond.