Healing From An Emotional Relapse

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August 25, 2021

Going to Therapy

In South Platte Counseling’s ongoing blog series, “Mental Health and Me,” we invite one of our clients to write openly and anonymously about their mental health journey on a topic they’ve personally experienced.  We are showcasing this series to help de-stigmatize the conversation around mental health.  We want to let people know mental health is an individual journey and a ubiquitous life experience.  With that being said, let’s read about one person’s experience with this week’s topic: relapsing emotionally during the time in therapy.

Editor’s note: This blog touches on the triggers of emotional abuse.  Please take care while reading.

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I started going to therapy after ending years in an emotionally abusive relationship.  My life was shattered, and I was lost.  I put myself into therapy because I didn’t know what else to do.  

I appreciate that society is talking about mental health more, but honestly, I was just desperate to stop feeling like I was drowning while on dry land.  I put myself into therapy not because I wanted to go but because I knew it’s where I needed to be.

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Going to therapy for a new and critical issue is difficult enough.  All I want to do is be “better,” to “move on,” and have it be in my past as quickly as possible.

Let’s fast-track this thing so I can get back to living my life. But unfortunately, no matter how much we desire genuine and meaningful healing – there is no fast way through it.  It takes time, and yeah, it does suck some days.  But, I kept going because I felt at least trying to move forward was better than staying in emotional stagnation.

And wouldn’t you know it, over time in therapy, I did start to feel better and handle myself differently.  I showed up for myself in new and positive ways, and I liked how I felt.  The profound emotional pain I felt started to dissipate and transform into something else, something more manageable.

Even though it didn’t happen overnight (much to my chagrin), I could tell that my heart and head started to change with the help of my therapist, and I began to see things differently.   It took a while, but I made progress I was proud of. 

So here we are, a few years later, and I honestly feel like I’m doing pretty well.  I see my therapist every two weeks for ongoing mental-health maintenance, and I feel like I’ve built emotional intelligence, skills, and strength to check in with myself when needed.

And then, it happened.  I was moving into my new apartment, and I was very excited about this new chapter of my life.  Then, I came across a box of old stuff with photos and mementos of this emotionally caustic relationship that I had forgotten about buried deep in the back of the closet.

I was reminded of that time in my life right before I decided to go to therapy – that moment when I was at my lowest of lows, back into the most profound part of my depression and my non-existent self-esteem.  I had been triggered… badly.

Then, the dam broke, and the emotions came pouring out of me like a frenzied tidal wave.  All the anger and heartbreak was spilling out from a place I didn’t know still existed inside of me.  

I was grieving a real part of my life.  I mourned for everything that had been lost – the years I spent in a traumatizing place, the love I had once had for this person.  I had come undone.

Haven’t I dealt with this?  Is that not what all the therapy was for?  To get me to the point where I wasn’t sobbing miserably on the floor about this situation?  

I had gotten to a point in my life where I legitimately felt good about myself and my journey.  In therapy, I had rebuilt myself into someone I could respect and be proud of. So what was I doing back here?  Wasn’t I better than this?

Thinking that all my “progress” was a lie I was telling myself, and I was still that deeply broken person.  If time heals all wounds, was it just the passage of time that made me feel better?  Was the farther I have removed myself from the situation the only reason why I improved?  Was “growing as a person” just a lie I was telling myself?

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No.  I knew I didn’t really believe that.  Just because I had cheap and demoralizing thoughts about myself did not make them true.  

Thoughts are just that – thoughts.  They aren’t facts.  And the fact was I knew I had done real, significant, and challenging work to pull myself out of that dismal abyss, and there was no way I was going back.  I didn’t come this far to only come this far – even if I was bawling on the floor like it was yesterday.  

But that’s the thing about healing – I very much realize emotional recovery is far from linear, and it’s not about just getting stuck in place and becoming stagnant along the way, either.  Sometimes, at least for me, it is taking two steps forward and one step back.  And that day, I had a very big step back.  But once I (eventually) collected myself and had some space to breathe and reflect, I thought about where I was (emotionally and mentally) and who I felt I really was now.  

Had I relapsed momentarily to mirror who I once had been?  Hard yes.  But, that didn’t change who I am now.  That interruption in my personal evolution didn’t negate or erase my progress.  

I had done the work and accomplished those personal mental health milestones, and nothing could take that away from me.  I am not the same person now as I was back then.  

It’s because of therapy that I could pick myself up from the floor, and it’s because of therapy, I knew I would be alright after I had exhausted myself from crying.  I learned a precious lesson that day; it’s ok not to be ok, and sometimes, we’re not always ok (even if we thought we were).  

What happened in the past was a big deal to me – if it weren’t, I wouldn’t be in therapy about it.  I would be doing myself a massive disservice to chalk it up as something that could be dismissed and healed so quickly.  

Through this experience and my time in counseling, I’ve learned to give myself a bit of grace and a wide breadth to handle things in my own time.

There’s no “right” timeline to be “over” something.  Just because I felt that I’ve “dealt” with an issue doesn’t mean it’s not still a part of me – it always will be, and I accept that.  It’s an experience that has helped shape who I am.  But I also get to choose now what shapes me, and I decided to get off the floor and keep working towards my emotional healing.  

Here’s to another step forward.

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