This post is part of our #TherapyHelpedMe series for Mental Health Awareness Month. Talkspace shares stories of how therapy helps people of all backgrounds work through the daily challenges of modern life.
My therapist sits next to me on the couch, my eyes red rimmed. We’re both staring at the phone face up in my palm, my right index finger hovering over the call button. I’ve already protested about making this phone call, but my therapist insists. I look at her one more time and then hit the call button. My mom’s phone starts ringing.
Fifteen years earlier, this was the scene…
Finding My Identity
My friend gifted me with a CD for my birthday. I wanted nothing more than to listen to a song called “Blue Monday” on repeat, and now the music is in my hands. Only one problem. The band name is Orgy, and the album title Candyass. The minute my parents get wind of this, they confiscate the CD, and immediately return it. “It’s not appropriate,” they tell my friend’s mom to my great humiliation and anger.
I don’t remember exactly how it started, but by 13 I was a mean firecracker, and all the sparks landed on my mom. She didn’t like my friends and they weren’t allowed to visit. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV. There was always an argument over the clothing I wore. These injustices felt like an attack on my burgeoning identity, and I would have none of it.
As my teen years stretched on, our relationship became more complicated. My mom and I were constantly at odds about how much time I spent after school, which was mostly due to my abusive relationship with a predatory high school teacher. While my mom had deep suspicions, I wouldn’t admit anything because my teacher positioned himself as the only person who truly understood me.
A Familial Rift
The abuse pushed me farther away from my mom because it also systematically broke down my psyche. The sense of disempowerment was total and complete, and my high school teacher further manipulated the situation. I went to school and I was my teacher’s toy. I went home and I was always at odds with my mom, who kept such a close eye on me I lost any sense of autonomy. Meanwhile, she was trying to protect me in every way she knew how.
I couldn’t wait to go to college, but my abusive teacher followed me. When I finally reported him, the decision led to years’ worth of interviews with police, lawyers, and social workers, followed by testimony at hearings.
Every time I needed to show up to an “event,” my parents would be called and they ushered me to every appointment. I felt like a puppet. My anger simmered and I banished my parents from every room I ever interviewed or testified in. They were trying to support me and all I could do was push away, not realizing I was pushing away the wrong people.
Digging Up the Roots
Flash forward nearly a decade. The legacy of abuse and trauma included a lot of anger at my mom — both my parents, really. This frustration followed me across the country and into the office of yet another therapist. Our work focused on the source of that anger — my loss of personal power throughout my teen and college years, was no fault to my parents.
For the first time, I could clearly see my mom wanted to protect me during those years Though, at the time, it felt just like another person threatening to control me. Through my work in therapy, I learned that my anger was misdirected. The negative credit belonged to the abusive teacher, not my parents.
The anger toward my mom gradually fell away and I found a path to forgiveness. It turns out I was the one who had work to do, not my mom. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to hand over all my trust yet — showing vulnerability with anybody felt like too much of a risk.
And here we are, back at that phone call with my current therapist.
Making the Right Call
Moments before pressing “call,” I had collapsed in tears, telling my therapist I wasn’t going to make it. I had a suicide plan, and since my parents happened to be in town that week, I would say goodbye, and that would be it. It was the culmination of weeks teetering on the edge of suicidality, and I had finally crossed a line my therapist felt required an elevated level of assistance.
So the deal was my mom would come get me so I wouldn’t be alone, or I could go to the hospital. My therapist, in all her wisdom, seemed to intuit that calling my mom was indeed the right choice. I, however, didn’t want my mom to know anything about the real state of my mental health. I knew she would worry and I still felt safest keeping her at arm’s length. But I wanted to go to the hospital far less.
My mom showed up at my therapist’s office 45 minutes later, her small suitcase in tow. My therapist sat her down, and while I tried to play the whole thing off as no big deal, my therapist pushed me to be real with my mom for the first time in years. It was painful, anxiety-provoking, and uncomfortable. It also turned out to be an important moment.
After we went home, when it was just me and my mom alone in my apartment, I kept trying to put on a good face like nothing was wrong. But the dynamic had changed. To my surprise, not only did I feel safe, I felt comforted and supported. The last barrier in the relationship with my mom had been broken in therapy that night.
Therapy’s Role in My Healing
Therapy helped me see that my perspective had always been wrong. I was blaming my mom but that blame was completely misdirected from the start. My mom, who saw this scenario differently, always had my best interests at heart. I just couldn’t see it as clearly.
The process of forgiving my mom wasn’t about anything she had done wrong — quite the opposite in most cases — but of me seeing things as they are clearly for the first time. I needed to untangle my own issues enough to see that my mom has always been on my side no matter what.
Nowadays, you can find my mom and I trying to get into an author meet-and-greet as the “Long Distance Book Clubbers.” We spend hours in every dollar store on any coast, shop together online for the funniest gifts every Christmas, talk for hours on the phone each week, and yes, occasionally argue about politics. My mom has become one of my greatest supporters, and one of the first people I call when anything happens in my life, good or bad.
Given how much I cherish our time together — and how many can’t-miss shenanigans we get up to — one of the greatest gifts therapy has given me is a relationship with my mom. I can never make up for the time we have lost, nor can I ever pay back the patience, understanding, self-sacrifice, support, inspiration, and unconditional love she has given me, even when I couldn’t see it. We may live a literal 3,000 miles apart, but we have never been closer. I don’t want to miss another minute.