One of the interesting things about moving to the mid-west is the reaction people have to the word "therapy." Suspicion (what's wrong with you?), accounts of how unhelpful therapy was for X situation, skepticism (does it really make any difference anyway?), concerns about the money it costs, fears of quackery, and so on. Meanwhile in California, even the therapists have therapists! So yeah, I grew up assuming therapy was for the regular person wanting help, not just those at the edge of despair.
However, I have been to that edge. And therapy definitely helped.
I paged through some old journals of mine last week. An interesting passage jumped out at me. At a particularly dark period in our early marriage (when the ghosts of poor parenting past were rearing their heads in my marriage with Jon), both Jon and I went to therapy every week, individually, to the same therapist. At that time, we were missionaries, returned from the field for intervention. We came crawling home to California with bruises and skinned knees sure that something had to change for me to go back.
I wrote after about nine months into this program of therapeutic support and nurture that I couldn't figure out how Christianity helped hurting people like me, like Jon. It seemed to me that prayer, accountability, reading the Bible, going to church, taking classes about marriage, trying hard to follow the Bible's principles (however I understood them at the time), didn't add up to much in the way of real change in our habits of behavior, nor did any of these address the core dysfunctions that painfully played themselves out between us. In fact, I concluded, therapy seemed far more effective than anything I had encountered in my faith to that point. I admitted on those pages: I don't see how an ideology or spiritual practices actually create change in people. I couldn't see that the Holy Spirit did much of anything and yet we were attending a charismatic church, fully believing in that transforming power.
Perhaps due to my shock at having written such faithless words, I followed up those honest thoughts with, "But I'm sure that it is God behind the therapy that must be healing me."
Still, it felt eerie to read those words last week, over 20 years later.
I'm in therapy again. I call it a "mid-life tune up." It's not exactly that there are such huge obstacles to overcome. Nothing nearly as dire as my twenties when I felt like my world was caving in and taking me with it. Rather, I'm just stunned by the ship-wrecking marriages around me. I'm not stunned as in, "I don't understand." On the contrary, I totally get it! Marriages of 20+ years develop habits and patterns that become wearying burdens, deeply debilitating in ways unanticipated in the 20's and 30's. A feeling of futility sets in, a wondering at the future (how much longer can I do this? why would I keep doing this? I only get one life... is this how I want it to be? can I really forgive him or her for unfaithfulness? and so on).
The prospect of children moving out, leaving husband and wife home alone... well that leads many to the brink too. There's also the sudden awareness of self - like who am I? What did I want? Did I get it? What do I want now?
After my trip to California, it became clear to me that mid-life needs more than energy drinks, trips to the gym and hobbies. I want to be conscientious about the next 20 years... to imagine what it is to thrive, to watch the kids grow up and leave, to pay attention to my choices now so that I'm not unhappy about them later, to keep the relationship between Jon and me healthy and on track.
I've been going for a couple of months now. And I just have to say: I love it. Well, I love it the way you love teeth filling or weeding the yard or throwing up when you're sick. I love the effect more than the process... but I find that the process helps too.
I've begun journaling again (which is why you see less blogging). I've been paying more attention to what I think about and why. I'm 46. Mid-life is real. Mid-life crisis - I want to avert it if at all possible.