Admitting that I needed help to organise that box of emotions I'd pushed to the back of my mind for so long was a huge milestone for me. Going from an abusive relationship, to escaping and feeling strong and empowered, to finally coming to terms with the fact that I can't deal with it on my own, is one hell of a realisation. All of a sudden you're thinking 'I'm not really dealing with this at all am I?' Even more emotions to add to that already overflowing box that desperately needs to be compartmentalised, validated and understood.
I started to look for a counsellor following my year long period of travelling. During that time I had a lot of thoughts weighing heavy on my mind, and they were only getting heavier. These thoughts were based around using my travelling experiences as an 'escape'. That I ran away from my problems and pushed it all to the back of my mind, and used this as one big expensive distraction. In a way this is kind of what it was, it served a purpose as a distraction. However travelling is something I have wanted to do for nearly 10 years. It's something I knew I was always going to do, I just didn't know when. I strongly believe that everyone has their time, like I explained in my previous blog, your time is personal to you, and this just happened to be the right time for me.
I approached my search for a counsellor with this in mind, I wanted to change my way of thinking. I wanted someone to listen to what I had to say and truly understand what happened, and recognise it for what it was, psychological and emotional abuse. I wanted to talk to someone with the knowledge that this has happened to other people, and it is not something that can be taken lightly, and certainly not something you can easily walk away from. If others ask me about it, like friends or family, I can comfortably talk about it and tell them whatever they want to know, but domestic abuse isn't an easy topic to have a general conversation about, especially with people close to you. I can sense it is an uncomfortable and unfamiliar topic, and for me to be completely truthful and open about it is difficult, as I know it's not an easy thing to listen to, let alone talk about.
This is why I feel it is essential as part of the process to be able to accept this as part of your life, to talk this through with a counsellor. Even if it is just the once, to tell someone everything, completely uninhibited, is a welcome and much needed release.
I don't really know the standard procedure for finding a counsellor, I guess it needs to be someone you can be comfortable with, who you can feel vulnerable around but still feel able to talk. I approached this the best way I knew how, through the power of Google. I searched for counsellors in my area, narrowed it down to ones that have experience in domestic abuse situations, and found a friendly face. I sent an email and briefly explained my reason for getting in touch, after a short exchange of messages I had booked my first session.
I had no idea how this would pan out, and on my way to the session, I was wondering what the hell I was going to say. Where would I start? Would she ask any questions or just let me talk? My fear of talking about myself and my emotions took hold. I wanted to turn around and go home, keeping that box of emotions firmly closed. As much as I wanted to walk away, I found myself sat in an armchair facing my counsellor, and facing my fears. She asked me to start my story from the beginning, and so I did. Almost immediately I felt a sense of relief, knowing that she would understand, and would have sadly heard all of this before, and I was right. I managed to get through everything that happened, amongst periodical sobbing and grabbing handfuls of tissues conveniently placed on the table in front of me.
The first session of any period of counselling is about telling your 'story'; unravel that big ball of thoughts in your head and just get it all out, don't worry if you don't feel like you got much feedback, or a clear indication of what to do next. For me it was just a relief to get it all off my chest, completely uninhibited, to a complete stranger, which sounds terrifying, but that is key. This way I didn't hold back, things that I hadn't told anyone through fear of them not believing me or thinking I was exaggerating or overreacting.
I scheduled my next session, mopped up any remaining tears and went back out into the world. My plan was to go for a walk to clear my head, so I drove to a nearby park. It was a nice day and so an ideal time for a walk. It was a brief stroll and I was back in my car. For some reason the cliché thing of 'going for a walk to clear your head', wasn't really working. I think this is down to a combination of two things, the first being that after I had spilled my deepest darkest stories to a counsellor, what do I do now? What's next? Who else will listen? And the second being that I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted from these sessions, yes I wanted someone to listen and truly understand what I was saying on a whole new level that anyone ever has, but how did I want to improve myself?
I think that is one of the most important things to think about when approaching counselling. Whatever you have been through, and whatever has happened in your life, your life now is the most precious. What do you want from counselling that will improve your life? For me it's help with anxiety, with that comes with crippling overthinking and self doubt, which is often a result of an abusive relationship.
Right now I'm at a point where I can identify my anxiety, how it manifests itself, and sometimes how to manage it. I can identify my overthinking and qualify it as ridiculous, but can't rid it from my mind just yet, and I suppose hand in hand with that comes the self doubt. I'm not quite there yet but I will be, after regular sessions since October I can see a big improvement. I have my counsellor to thank for this, words cannot express how thankful I am for having someone there to listen, and ask the questions that I'm too afraid to ask myself. Ultimately I have one other special person to thank for this, the person that suggested counselling to me in the first place, another person who is always there to listen and of course ask questions, we all need those people in our lives, and honestly I'm not sure where my head would be at right now if it weren't for these people.
Self love, care and improvement are hard to keep up with sometimes, but keep going, you'll be where you need to be in your own time.