“To be tested is good. The challenged life may be the best therapist.” – Gail Sheehy
– by Angela Gunn, LCSW / Talkspace Therapist
The devastation from Nepal’s recent earthquake naturally stirred compassion within me, but also a strong emotional reaction of a different kind. It compelled me to share my own story of self-destruction and healing with you – a chronicling of events that ultimately led me to become a therapist. While I can’t imagine what the Nepalese people are going through right now, I would like to remind the rest of us that our personal turmoil and painful experiences are still valid and worthy of being heard. And so, I am going to share mine with you now.
Pema Chodron writes, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” These words are so much more than encouragement to persevere. They convey a powerful message of hope; if we perpetually seek out and confront what scares and could possibly annihilate us, we will find the strongest parts of ourselves. And, when given the opportunity, we should choose and embrace these experiences, while savoring the process of dealing with them without having knowledge of the end result. This is how we can blossom into beautiful beings.
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anais Nin
My destruction began slowly. Long before I was a therapist, I struggled with who I was and what I was doing in an abusive relationship. I was thinking about why I was attending a church that oppressed, suppressed, and controlled my very being? And what made me live in accordance with the expectations, guilt, and pressure coming from countless real and imagined forces? I was slowly imploding, losing my passion for life. The foundations on which I built it continued to crumble. I was becoming darker, my pain was more difficult to hide and eventually impossible to avoid.
I needed to make drastic changes. So, I left my church, partner, suburban home, social circle and career, and pressed ahead through the wake of my pain and the rubble of what was once my life. I moved cross country, dove into learning healing and how to be an effective therapist, and found new communities where I made lasting connections. Talkspace is one of these. It has provided me with an incredible outlet for reaching individuals at every stage of destruction, allowing me to hold their hand while setting them on the path to a better life. At the same time, I have an outstanding team of other therapists, each on their own path, to hold a reflective mirror to my own experiences.
Little did I know that therapy would open me up to daily introspection and help me evolve as a person. For that, I am extremely grateful.
I am still building up the foundations of my current life. But my personal journey allowed me to expand my capacity for empathy, helped me gain insight into how to engage with others, and taught me how to stay in the moment as I face all that life has to offer. The “annihilation” didn’t destroy me – it allowed me to rebuild my life. And after coming to grips with it, I was able to be alone with myself for the first time, accept the person that I am, and regain hope for a better future. Yes, even through the bothersome roach infestation, non-working stove, and the unfortunate location of a nightclub right below my little studio.
Destruction, like Nepal’s earthquake, is unavoidable. It prompts a worldwide reaction and mobilization to care for the injured and rebuild what has been destroyed. But the most meaningful and impactful destruction possible is the kind we freely choose for ourselves.