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The Most Important Thing I've Learned in Therapy So Far

After years of avoiding therapy, I started seeing a therapist right around the same time Serge and I separated. Sitting (lying?!) on a couch, bemoaning my fucked-up childhood, held no appeal to me as I’ve seen far too many people use crappy childhoods as an excuse to behave badly. What’s done is done, I reasoned. I've got enough brains to sort through the fallout resulting from the stereotypical smorgasbord of issues I’ve been jamming into the tattered suitcase that is my proverbial baggage. Why go back and—like tonguing a sore tooth—revisit pain?

Except at this point my suitcase is heavy as hell and it’s an older model—no wheels.

Turns out, while managing to be astoundingly insecure, I was simultaneously wildly egotistical. Because, as you may have already guessed, when it comes to attempting to sort out why we do what we do on our own our brains are tainted by the fact that they’re in our heads which renders us generally unable to view certain situations with the proper perspective. Like someone facing options after a cancer diagnosis, we are in desperate need of a second opinion.

Utilizing the brains of my very excellent therapist has been life-changing. Yes, yes, you told me so and you told me so and he told me so and she told me so, but what am I gonna do? Like a lot of things in this life, it’s something I had to come to on my own and not at the behest of any valedictorian of therapy smugly proclaiming the amazingness of therapy. Ironically, I’m about to proclaim the amazingness of therapy.

Therapy has been one of the best things I’ve done even if every session still begins with me feeling like an awkward, hugely self-indulgent asshole for talking about my nonsense for an hour straight, regardless of the fact that my captive audience is just that: captive, as a result of being paid handsomely. Because while it begins that way each session almost always ends with some kind of startling new comprehension that allows me to unpack a few things from that suitcase I’ve tiredly dragged around for decades.

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The one thing that has hit the hardest has changed my life and, like most of these kinds of realizations, it’s a simple concept but, for whatever reason, I had traveled a different path, not understanding how much harder I was making my life. You ready for my words of wisdom? Stuff you probably had a handle on in third grade?

I am in control of my reaction to every single circumstance. My reaction is my choice.

Sound obvious? It might. But let me break it down for you. Let’s say I got in a fight with a boyfriend at age 25. I’d spiral into a vortex of analyzing, making myself more upset, projecting emotions onto him that never existed, the whole stereotypical "psycho girl" response. Add to that the fact that I was insecure to begin with, and insecurity taints every interaction you have with another human being, and you have the makings of an episode of "Dateline" wherein someone ends up dead and somebody else is in the clink facing manslaughter charges.

Aside from parenting my kids, the thing I’m most proud of in this world is how Serge and I are conducting ourselves during this divorce.

Basically, I became a victim of my reaction to any given situation. I just assumed that my natural impulse was what it was. It simply did not occur to me to moderate or control my response. As a result, I was what you might call—and some have—an emotional hurricane. Then I went ahead and married someone with the very same responses to life.

“It’s part of my DNA, I come from a long line of angry alcoholics,” he once said to me when I called him out for acting like a pissed-off gorilla over some trivial occurrence. I remember rolling my eyes and telling him that was such bullshit, that how he responded to the different scenarios life throws at us was completely within his control and he was just passing the buck. Ha! What a hypocritical asshole! I was able to point it out for other people but when it came to myself, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. Until now. It took divorce for me to realize my own problem.

Aside from parenting my kids, the thing I’m most proud of in this world is how Serge and I are conducting ourselves during this divorce. It’s a straight-up miracle from two dysfunctional saddies who endured what could easily be called two of the worst divorces on the planet as kids and were subsequently raised by single moms. The mood of our divorce almost makes up for the assholes we became while married. It’s been empowering to realize that we don’t need to let any situation spiral into an episode of "Cops." Such an eye-opener for both of us, as we’ve been able to apply this new way of living to everything in our lives, not just our desire for a positive divorce.

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I am no longer a helpless victim of my reactions. I control my response. It seems so easy, something I should’ve intuited all along, but for some reason it felt inauthentic to me to quell anger or any other intense emotions. This is how I feel and how I feel is how I feel so deal with it and if you can’t deal with it you don’t really love me, was my general approach. Reacting in that way felt natural for 37 years. But, not anymore. I’ve reached a point where, when I feel intense emotion, I immediately step back from it and assess what’s happening and why. I give it some time—whereas before, I was too emotional and impatient to allow that to happen. Only after I’ve rolled it around in a calm, open mind for a while, in an attempt to get a full understanding of what’s taking place, do I respond. Nine times out of ten, my initial response was a gross overreaction at best and a complete misunderstanding or misappropriation of emotions at worst. By moderating my reaction, I’ve likely saved myself hours of unnecessary drama and, when in the thick of divorce, any avoided drama is a bigger score than finding a crisp hundred blowing down the sidewalk.

Believe it.

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