I remember the room well. It was somewhat outdated with older speckled carpet and ten to twelve cushioned metal chairs lined up along the exterior of the space. A padded divider separated the area from a little kitchenette. The receptionist’s desk was visible through the narrow opening in the wall on the far side. It was flanked by individual cards describing the specialties of the office caregivers—anxiety, blended family, depression, addictions to name a few. My own aims at perfection, independence, and control were strong, and I didn’t want to be associated with any of those maladies. Somewhere I had picked up the notion that asking for help and needing others was a sign of weakness that made me vulnerable. I looked down at my magazine hoping that no one I knew would see me as I waited.
After a few minutes Rebekah, my new guide, welcomed me into her corner room and closed the door behind us. Her kind smile helped me breath a little easier. She offered me a spot on her cozy couch and sat a few feet away from me in a roller chair, clipboard in her hand. We began to talk about my general reason for making an appointment when she inserted herself.
“I am so glad you have come,” she said gently. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to cover some basic guidelines and get some of your background before we go any further. This will help us to make a good plan for your care.”
“Of course!” I said enthusiastically; a compliant peacemaker.
“Tell me about your family,” she asked curiously.
I responded, “I grew up in a really close family; my mom and I were especially close. My dad died when I was in high school.” I sensed a bit of internal disruption as I named the loss. “I have two brothers and a sister; I am the ‘baby’ of the family. We are all close except, I guess, my brothers don’t really talk much.” There was a crack in my “close family” account that she noticed, but I didn’t.
We continued with the family history as I wondered when we would get to the “real issues”—the here-and-now issues that plunged me into this uncomfortable arena in the first place. I felt annoyed. “I cannot believe it is taking this long!” I thought. I was ready to get these appointments done and move on with life. I figured that I had about six weeks time and budget to get this tidied up. “Let’s get’s on with it; time’s a fleeting!” I mused.
There were diverse things that were tearing me apart: the pedophile who had devastated our family; our church and ministry blowup; the suicide of my father-in-law; and, in the midst of it all, my struggling marriage. I had no idea that my family of origin might have anything to do with how my past might be impacting my present. I had entered into the desperation of grief, and I couldn’t climb out.
I recalled laying on the chaise lounge next to the beach, believing I couldn’t make it through another day and it wouldn’t matter to anyone if I did.
I recalled the night I was so angry at my littles that I threw a spoon against the wall and terrified them to tears.
I recalled the constant shame that told me I was never enough.
What was the impetus to actually pick up the phone and make the appointment?
I suspected that the last straw was the irritation I felt after I had “failed” a questionnaire in the book, The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazerro. Apparently, I had not covered up my crumbling, and it hinted that I needed some help. Quickly!
A still, small voice propelled me to believe that I didn’t have to be tortured forever, so there I sat in the distressing office with a complete stranger and began to tell her the truth about my life.
Our weekly sessions were a mix of bitter movements to the depths of pain and grief. My six weeks turned into years and seasons. Somewhere along the way, I began to welcome my need for others and bless my desire for transparent vulnerability. I came to crave it.
God met me in places I never would have imagined and began to knit my broken heart back together.
My honesty and pain were witnessed and my beliefs transformed by the close presence of another. That clinic became my safest place. A lifeline, a holy sanctuary, a healing clinic. A place of hope, life, and freedom.
I am so grateful for the goodness in getting to the end of myself.
Maryhelen Martens has been gathering and connecting with others since she was a young girl growing up in rural Wisconsin. She is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. While her emotions and voice were shut down for decades, she is finding them again and using them in healing groups, story coaching, and writing. She’s always been drawn to water and sunsets and more recently to the desert and sunrises. She’s curious about that. Mother to three authentic adults, Maryhelen lives with her steadfast husband Keith on the shore of Lake Michigan.