I have grown in ways I never expected in the last years. Experienced things I never thought to experience. But isn’t that the way for everyone? We may plan out our lives to the best of our ability, but we never know where life will take us. My plan has changed several times due to unexpected life events setting me on new paths. Currently, I am feeling strong in mind, body and spirit despite some challenges still to face. And unexpectedly, my understandings that are helping me through it, helping me cope, are not coming to me in the way I usually find understanding and healing. This time, my biggest teacher is my work at my gym. Not just any gym, but one that has changed my life, and my deepest held concepts of who I am.
Last year I took the exam to become re-certified in the state of Washington as a counselor. The criteria and certification had changed. Prior to this I was “registered” as a counselor which was a simple application and small fee. That’s changed now and the process now includes – and rightfully so – more regulations including an exam to make sure potential counselors and therapists know the state laws regarding mental health care, suicide statistics, domestic violence statistics, etc. I studied a little, but thought I had it in the bag since the RCW’s in the state didn’t seem to be very different than those in British Columbia where I’d most recently worked as a therapist/counselor, or California where I’d earned my degree. Most of them were common sense.
I failed the exam. It cost me a bit over $200 to apply and take the exam and I failed it. It was 50 multiple choice questions. I wasn’t able to get information about how badly I failed, or if it was simply one section I didn’t study fully. Either way, I was humiliated. This on the heels of wrestling with the feelings evoked after a spiteful and false complaint was filed with the state against me the previous year, accusing me of malpractice: Boundary violations of a sexual nature. This was quickly investigated at the time and found to be false so no action was taken, but in the two days the investigation took place and the weekend prior when I had no idea who wrote the complaint or what it was about, thinking some former client of mine thought I had hurt them in some way, my heart was blown open and broken. I don’t think I stopped crying for more than an hour for two days. The fear turned to anger when I found out the nature of the complaint, and I was just getting the courage up to practice again, and renew my certification, when I failed the exam.
I came away with the thought – and it felt very real and true – “I don’t want to be a therapist anymore anyway.” It was a big F-you to my chosen career. Added on to all of that the challenge getting my transcripts from my school, finding out they listed my degree incorrectly, trying to get my diploma and then it came and it wasn’t signed so had to be corrected and signed and sent again…I really felt that perhaps I wasn’t meant for this work. There were roadblocks seemingly everywhere.
Really, one thing after another kept me from my work as a counselor/therapist since I graduated anyway: A move to Canada where I wasn’t legal to work for two years, a relationship so fraught with stress that there was no room to grow myself or a practice with any kind of support or encouragement, the death of my nephew followed within weeks of my mother’s femur breaking, my temporary move to Wenatchee to help my mom while she recovered only to find that her femur broke due to her cancer moving to stage three and a prognosis of three to five years left. My temporary move became permanent and that came with its own host of issues including living in a place I never expected or wanted to live, watching my mother gradually lose her independence and finally lose her fight to cancer, trying to support a very unhappy young teenager…No, I didn’t want to be a counselor any more. I could barely take care of myself let alone my daughter, my mother and anyone else.
I felt my soul was ripped apart. Shredded. My ability to see clearly and know myself – something of a character strength I’ve always had – was gone and I lacked any kind of confidence in myself as a healer.
Fast forward through two jobs and another misguided relationship and into insights that helped me find my feet again, and a relationship that is whole and loving and giving, and I land here, unemployed and a house and pets to support.
Last week I had the perfect storm of emotional stress: No job in sight, only one room rented for September (both need to be rented for me to meet my mortgage payment), and my pool pump broken, adding to my financial stress. I had been applying for every job I could find if I thought I could do it, and getting no responses. I was rationalizing that I could be happy almost anywhere, doing a job that was enjoyable, no matter what it was. I didn’t need to be working in my field and hadn’t been for five years anyway. The further I got from it, the less important it was, I kept telling myself. I’d come to the conclusion that my Masters degree was something I got for my personal benefit, but nothing I needed pursue in my career. I still struggled internally with myself though, wondering if I was ever going to be happy and feel successful unless I was using my Masters degree, my unique knowledge and my gifts as a healer. However, I told myself I was comfortable letting that dream go. I told myself this almost daily.
Now, looking at a wide open future, I was afraid. Near panic thinking about the coming months. Unemployment wasn’t going to be enough to meet my needs, but it would be something and I needed to prepare for the possibility of applying for government assistance. I was getting a lot of advice, suggestions, job applications, and I realized I couldn’t think clearly. Something was niggling at my brain, and in my heart and I couldn’t hear it.
I needed space, so deactivated my Facebook for as long as I needed (only four days, as it turns out) so that I could hear my inner-voice, listen, and find out what I was to do next.
Thy Will Not Mine Be Done I said to myself. Over and over.
I prayed, “Please, if it is Your Will, let me know what I am to do next.”
My answer? “Surrender. You are well cared for. All is well.”
So I got quiet. I rested in my heart, and repeated to myself, “Surrender, I am well cared for. All is well.” And then I had the idea that I could somehow convert my rec room to a play therapy space. Fix up my yard to present a professional image to clients. Could I get a small business loan to do these things? I had no idea, but it was worth looking into. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. In the silence I surrounded myself with, I was able to admit I had been running from my calling. Running scared. So many what-if’s screaming so loud in my head that I turned them away and told myself, my chosen career, my PASSION, “I don’t care about you.”
Realizing the truth, I wept. It was like I had turned my back on a child in need. How could I be so neglectful? How could I have been so disrespectful to a gift I have been given? I apologized to myself for listening to Fear more than to Truth. For giving up and quitting. Yes, I still have fear. I’m going to need to take that stupid state exam yet. I am going to probably have to get very creative and figure out how to meet my expenses on very little money for a while, and most of all, I’m going to trust that I CAN be a therapist in this valley. I can and will attract ideal clients that I can help, and I can make a successful living doing it. I can trust myself, my gifts, my desire to help. I will figure out a way to finance the start up of my practice.
Through all of this, I have had the support of those that love me. But something else, wholly unexpected, from what I’m learning from growing my physical strength in my gym – not like other gyms – that teaches more than how to correctly lift a barbell, but teaches how to apply concepts such as, “Don’t give up,” and “Strength is not about avoiding being knocked down, its about getting knocked down and getting up again.” I am developing courage to try what I think I can’t do, and then doing it. Achieving goals step by step, over time, by persevering. These are concepts I didn’t have solid in myself. Being a perfectionist, I tend to back off when I think I might fail. Or if I do fail, I rationalize so I don’t have to face it.
But what I know now, what my gym and my coaches and trainers, and my fellow athletes are teaching and showing me, is that I haven’t failed unless I quit trying.
My first workout after these realizations was one involving swimming in the river near my house. It was the first time a workout included swimming – my strength and my sport. I pulled through the water, watching the seaweed pass beneath me and passing my fellow athletes as I cruised the 400m and I felt light, and graceful, as I always do in the water. Old beliefs were washing away too, and as I waded out, and my coach snapped a picture of me, early morning light silhouetting my dripping form, I believe it was not a coincidence. It was a validation of Who I Am. It was reward for returning to myself, this acknowledgement of my strength in the water reflecting my claiming of my passion and my soul’s work. “Yes, Dylan, This is Who You Are. When you deny what I am asking you to do, you will struggle as if swimming against a current. Accept it, and the challenges and obstacles to overcome, and you will be swimming with the current, flowing in the direction that was meant for you.”
Thy Will Not Mine Be Done.
So, Bless It All, I am a therapist. I work with parents and children. I have a gift for understanding young children, preverbal children, and I have an uncanny ability to correctly translate their communication to their parents.
I need to do this work. It is my calling. And I won’t give up.
September 6, 2012.
Postscript: Within a few days of writing this, a friend of mine alerted me to a part-time job opening at a domestic and sexual violence service agency. I was hired yesterday to be the sexual assault and abuse therapist, and working 3 days a week I will be earning enough to live on, leaving me with time to build my practice on the other two days a week. The job is working with children and adults, and gives me the freedom to practice therapy in my own style, and I also have the opportunity to develop a program for pregnant and parenting teens, which has been a dream of mine for a decade.
I feel settled and grateful and amazed at how everything shifted and started becoming easier as soon as I Listened, and faced my fears gently, and claimed the path that was meant for me.