I love my therapist. On Friday, the close of one of the worst weeks I can remember, I sat across from her and tried to put my feelings into words while my tears mixed with snot and she looked at me with that loving expression she wears. “You’ve had it rough,” she sighs and shakes her head, “You’ve had it rougher than most women.”
“I can’t help but feel like even when nothing bad is happening, there’s always SOMETHING — some sort of pain or sadness,” my words lingered in the air between us. “You are healing and overcoming a lot,” she stated, “It stings to clean and heal wounds that are cut that deep.”
Healing is often viewed as gentle and therapy as therapeutic.
The image we see in our minds is a process that lessens the pain more and more or a journey that gets easier and easier, but I’ve found that this isn’t really the case. I used to think that when I did everything by the book, showing up for therapy once a week and reading the books and completing the workbook exercises and putting the advice into practice, I’d start to see the results of my healing process. What if healing is less of a consistent upward trend and looks more like a doodling full of circles and squiggles that once in awhile plummet to rock-bottom where you have to start all over? And what if sometimes, the healing process seems to hurt even more than whatever it is that messed us up this badly in the first place?
I started this process two years ago and I still can’t forget the way he felt. Rough hands, aggressive mouth. A wall with a green coat of peeling paint that I was shoved up against; the canvas I stared at for five minutes. I was convinced that if I were to just do everything “right” — therapy once a week, reading the books, completing the workbook exercises, putting into action the tips — I’d be healed. Yet, two years later, I still feel his hands on me when I’m lying alone at night, and in my dreams, I still see that stupid wall.
When we truly own our stories, they lose their power over us. However, it sometimes feels less painful to just pretend they don’t exist.
Healing IS painful. And it’s messy, too.
It doesn’t often come with the closure we crave for a situation and will instead require us to become okay with not having everything wrapped up tidily with a neat, grosgrain ribbon.
I recently wrote that healing, “requires us to lean in. To lean into the discomfort and the pain and the vulnerability. It requires allowing ourselves to get uncomfortable.” Healing is messy because it’s never clean-cut and ending with a perfect Hollywood fadeout. It involves reaching and climbing and stumbling. It means receiving the fact that God sees all of it — our striving and our failing — and He chooses us anyway.
During one of my recent therapy sessions, I told her my realization about the entire process. “I feel like I might never be truly healed because perhaps healing is a lifelong journey more than it is a goal or a destination,” I said to her, “I think I can consider myself healed right now just because I am okay with that fact. I am okay with who I am and where I am. I am okay with healing being hard, lifelong work that I have to practice over and over.”
A man I dated, Lyosha, once told me, “You’re not supposed to have it all figured out. I’m seven years older than you are and I still don’t have my life totally figured out. Life is meant to be a messy, ongoing project. Be brave with your wild, work-in-progress life.”
Healing is supposed to be messy. Who cares if it looks more like squiggles and doodles than a steady upward trend make through Microsoft Excel?
Healing is supposed to be an ongoing project. Maybe you’ll have to forgive the person who hurt you over and over again.
Healing is supposed to be wild. It should surprise you with its sharp turns and take your breath away with its spontaneous detours.
Take heart when I say to you that your healing was never meant to be straightforward and pain-free like driving down a long, stretch of highway. It was meant to be a road trip over desert plains and on roads hugging mountain tops and through thick forests. It was meant to be difficult and challenging. It was meant to be painful and uncomfortable.
Anything that changes you and heals you will sting and cause some bruises. But take heart and look into my eyes when I say this: It will be worth it.
My story’s proof.