The Number One Lesson I've Learned in Nearly 3 Years of Therapy

I have a habit of waiting for epiphanies—aha moments. The notion that enlightenment will hit me like a bolt of lightning is certainly seductive, if not, perhaps, a misguided reflection of my creative process as a writer. Great ideas come to me in the shower; is it so crazy to also expect some clarity about my emotional wellness and place in the world as I reach for the shampoo?

My rational mind knows it's not so simple. Yet still I wait, often under the fragile guise of self-awareness. There's a lesson here, I wrote, zen-like, in my journal after a recent non-breakup breakup. Weeks later: Why can't I fucking see it yet? "I've overcome so much worse," I groaned to my therapist—we'll call her Amy—exasperated by my own stagnancy in the wake of a situation that didn't seem to warrant as much hurt as I felt. "Why is it so hard for me to move past this?"

Her rebuttal: "Because maybe the circumstances don't actually matter." It was the closest thing to the concrete answer I had been looking for, and still the wisdom drifted away from me as I left her office, like water trickling through cupped hands. It felt messy—because it was.

I've seen my therapist every week for nearly three years. I never anticipated this kind of consistency. In fact, when I first started meeting with Amy, it was with an expiration date in mind, even after realizing that I liked her more than anyone I had ever worked with before. I had just overhauled my life and moved to L.A., was dealing with persistent anxiety and residual body issues, and knew that it would be wise to have an objective person to help me negotiate this transitional period. I figured that once I felt more settled, we would part ways—especially since my past experiences with therapy had always been very short-lived.

Many, many months later, I feel more secure in my life than I ever imagined I would. The contentedness that had eluded me for so long—the kind that seemed only to belong to other, worthier people—has finally found me; or rather, I have worked tirelessly to let it in. I empathize deeply with the heartbroken, terrified young woman who moved to a new city in search of a fresh start, but I'm not sure that I totally recognize her anymore. I am different. I have grown. Certain areas of my life have fallen into place the way I'd hoped they would, for now. And still, I meet with Amy every Friday. Because for worse and mostly for better, "maybe the circumstances don't actually matter."

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Stocksy

Blooming friendships and fading relationships. Successes and pressures at work. An argument with one family member and a breakthrough with another. These are things my therapist and I regularly talk about, yet they are largely unimportant, at least in the context of the real work we do. Frankly, it wouldn't make sense if our sessions revolved around these plot points of my life, which only matter until they don't. Instead, Amy has gently guided my focus from these external details to find some semblance of validation within.

Our goal isn't to ignore the outward circumstances entirely—only to dwell on it all a little less. To not let it all completely swallow me. To observe, understand, and ultimately reject any false narratives about my self-worth. To know that my feelings are valid but complicated, that they hold wisdom that often escapes tidy synopsis. To embrace the messiness of it all and really dig in because this is where the answers are buried.

It's definitely not easy. It's human nature to want validation from others, especially when it seems as though our feelings and ego are on the line. In fact, society tells us to check your feelings at the door, or else we relinquish our own autonomy.

"By elevating reason over emotion, we create a false sense of control by convincing ourselves that we can, with enough strength and composure, gate-keep our emotional landscape," New York–based psychologist Heather Silvestri once told me during a conversation about letting go. The irony is that there are few things more nourishing or self-aware than honoring the complexity and intelligence of our emotions. It's a sign of incredible strength to be willing to explore those unruly parts of yourself.

But that's not what we're taught, so it's not a coincidence that I find myself seeking reason from Amy when my emotions are heightened and certain elements in my life don't feel totally aligned to my ideals. When I'm struggling with writer's block, for example, or I'm stressed about my finances, or I still haven't found the clarity I'm looking for after that breakup. I beg her for that epiphany, and she gently refuses. She tells me to roll up my sleeves and dig a little deeper.

There's a lesson here, I wrote, and I wasn't wrong. Another one of my writerly instincts is to wrap things up in a poignant conclusion with all the relevant answers. But the truth is that I don't really have any—only this distinctly peaceful feeling that I am and always will be okay. And finally, that feels like enough.