A week after graduating from college, I sat in the waiting room listening to classical music drowning out all other noises. I was extremely anxious and did not know what to expect. My stomach was in knots. When the door opened, a tall, professor-like man walked out and greeted me. He introduced himself, “Hi, I am Joe Bauserman,” and he shook my hand. As I walked into his office, I was scared, desperate, and longing for hope.
In the corner of his office sat an uncomfortable looking striped armchair. It was clear to me that most people chose the couch, but I was not going to be like most people. The couch felt too big for me. At that moment, I wanted to be small and to feel surrounded by the arms of the chair. I wanted to see if I could slip into the striped fabric and not divulge all the places inside me that feel raw, wounded, and bleeding.
At the end of our first therapy session, his parting words were, “If we are going to do this, then you need to learn how to get angry.” As I walked away, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. What was I doing and how was getting angry going to help? But I was sure he was my guide for the season. I needed his expertise, his understanding of the journey, and his ability to pace (and outpace) me.
Therapists can be odd guides. In therapy, you reveal intimate information to someone you barely know. And yet, that person becomes significant to you. It is a relationship built on bringing up and replaying old wounds; it is a place to work out vulnerabilities; and it is often a needed part of the journey of living more fully into who one is made to be.
Early on in my work with Joe, we were going around and around in a session about truth. He was challenging me to see and name truth—not part truth, not a piece of truth, but full-frontal naked truth. I was fighting to keep some semblance of untruth in my story. At the end of the session, I asked Joe, “What is the point of all of this anyway?” He looked at me over his reading glasses and said, “Truth.” Ugh! He got me on that one. Point for him.
Soon after this, I had a dream wherein I realized that it was moving day, and I was pulling things out of my duffle bag, saying, “I need to get it out. I need to get it out.” As I recounted this dream to Joe, he said matter-of-factly, “What do you need to get out?” His question struck me as brilliant, but more importantly, just what I needed. At that moment I realized there were stories I needed to get out. Many secrets that were begging to be told.
Would I have the courage to speak the truth of these stories?
This was my path: to tell my story in exchange for more freedom to be myself. Joe was my sherpa. He pointed in the direction, and I swallowed hard and found the courage to follow.
Recently, I have been visited by a less-than-welcome guide.
A health diagnosis seemed to fall from the sky onto my path. I did not see it coming. One minute I believed myself to be healthy, and the next minute my heart raced as I clicked through those damn lab results. My life was irrevocably altered with each new click.
My body holds my life story, and when it could hold no more, it shouted loudly enough for my naturopath to listen. I didn’t know enough to listen to the signs that my body has been sick for thirty years. I had dismissed, dodged, and misdiagnosed the signs, but at last, I am listening. Crohn’s Disease has become my guide on this leg of my journey.
This guide holds out her hand and asks me to trust that she has something to offer me. Rather than seeing this diagnosis and pain as only what it takes from me, I am offering it an honored seat at my table and a voice to speak about the poison in my gut that needs to get out in this season. I am learning to speak her language and hear her call into deeper waters.
Somedays, I would rather fire my new guide. Other days, I believe I can learn from her. There is goodness for me on this path, and there is difficulty. This is the truth of life: beauty and darkness are alway hand in hand. We love the light because we know the night. We love the warmth because we have known cold.
Guides come and go in our lives. Some are long-time companions, and some are only there for a short stint. My spiritual guides have trudged through some deep water with me, and they continue to invite me to more. Who or what is on your path, asking to walk a few miles with you?
Laura Wade Shirley is a wife, mother of three boys, therapist, and teacher. She lives in Seattle where she has a counseling practice and is a Holistic Pelvic Care practitioner. During summer she enjoys camping with her family, hiking, and gardening. She loves being outside, though sitting in a quiet house reading a book sounds delightful too.