Cars, Camdens, & Clutter: Some Thoughts on Counseling

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“Perfectionism means that you try desperately not to leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived. Clutter is wonderfully fertile ground—you can still discover new treasures under all those piles, clean things up, edit things out, fix things, get a grip. Tidiness suggests that something is as good as it’s going to get. Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing needs to breathe and move.” -Anne Lamott

My car is disgusting. I clean it once a month, and yet it still becomes just a giant moving trash can trekking along Colonial Drive. Which is odd because I like to keep a pretty clean home. I get a weird joy out of doing the dishes, and as long as I’m keeping up with laundry, my room stays relatively clean. But my car is grotesque. Seriously.

I don’t think, as a kid, anyone ever put it into my head that perfection was accessible, let alone necessary. I’m grateful for that. Yet somewhere along the way it became something I desperately craved. I’m inclined to blame 7th Heaven. Something about the early seasons of that show really weirded me out. It always seemed like the Camden kids were perfect, they just had really crazy friends. THEY were good—such familial bonds! But the outside world in which they inhabited—man, those people had DRA-MA. And I know eventually that changed over the years (still in shock that Mary VANDALIZED THAT GYM) but it made a weird impact on me as a kid. I wasn’t as perfect as the Camdens and I wasn’t as dramatic as those close to the Camdens. I was some sort of weird middle ground that wasn’t being addressed by 7th Heaven, so therefore what in the world was I?

Normal. And I hesitate to assume that you are too, but I’m going to anyway—you’re probably pretty normal.

Sure, your childhood wasn’t perfect. You’ve probably experienced loss. Maybe even lots of it. You’ve struggled something fierce just to get out of bed some days. You’ve also had days you were so excited that you woke up before your alarm clock went off. You’ve likely, at some point, commented on how time is passing faster than ever. You have hit (or will hit) a point where fast food hurts your stomach. I don’t doubt that you went through a phase in your adolescence that was real weird (mine was punk rock, but I KNOW some of you wore two Hollister collared shirts at some point in your life. Sit in that.) Life has been good to you. Life has been hard on you. You’ve experienced extreme ups and extreme downs and yet you keep on taking hits and moving along. Good for you. Really. This stuff is hard. Most people know that. You know that, right? That life is hard isn’t brand new information.

But honestly, most days it kind of feels like we’re supposed to pretend otherwise. And I cannot begin to understand why.

I’ve been in counseling three times. Well, I’m in my third time now. And for some reason that feels like something I’m not supposed to say. Like it somehow implies that my parents did something wrong or I had horrible friends or some sort of chemical imbalance because of all that butter on pop-tarts I was eating.

Let me clear something up. Being in counseling is in no way an indicator that anybody in my life is anything less than what they’re expected to be—imperfect.

Being in counseling is an indicator that the world is flawed. That things are not as ideal as they could be. And that maybe yours and mine individual and unique stories of imperfection are worth talking about and growing from.

Because of counseling, I stopped years of skipping school out of fear of a shooting.

Because of counseling, I stopped years of lying out of a need for attention.

Fears and needs are so commonplace. You have them too. They’re normal. It’s the crippling, all-consuming ones, that I’d bet money you have at least one of, that deserve some attention. Just because your life never felt all that dramatic—or even if it did but you’ve shrugged it off—that is not an excuse to shy away from the possibility that you could benefit from some time processing it all.

I am a walking, talking, breathing advertisement for the counseling experience because I wholeheartedly believe in it. Because I don’t think you’ve had a Camden-like life. I think most people have done what they could to love you well, but their human-ness got in the way a time or two. I think that affects the way you perceive things today; how you manage expectations and receive affirmation and what you build your beliefs about the world on. I think that’s worth talking about in an honest and raw way.

In the wake of the FSU shooting, I saw a post from another school with a link to the counseling services they offer their students. I hope the tide is finally moving on this stuff. I hope people are realizing that starting counseling or therapy isn’t a way to subtly tell your family and friends “You’ve done me wrong. Look what you’ve done.” and then send them the bill for how messed up you are “because of them.” That’s such a narrow-minded assumption. That’s such a simple view of it all. I gotta believe this world is more complex than that. That daily we’re subtly and un-consciously intercepting positivity, negativity, love, hate, kindness and malice and we can only take so much of that hugging us warmly and then slapping us coldly from thousands of different directions multiple times a day before we need a minute to sit down and sift through it all and decide what’s real, what matters, what sucked, and what ruled.

Being in counseling is my way of doing a favor to those who love me and whom I love. It’s my way of getting a grip on myself and my story long enough so that maybe, just maybe, my brokenness will get in the way a little bit less and I can love the people entrusted to me the best way I know how.

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