Almost a decade ago now, I wrote about how you can Save $20,000 on Therapy by Buying a $20 Journal. To this day, I still hold the same position as I did back then in how journaling can help you reduce mental clutter, increase your self-knowledge, and potentially make you a whole lot happier with yourself. Especially if you’re upfront and honest in what you write in your journal.
Despite the tongue in cheek title of that blog post, though, I wasn’t actually arguing that you can replace therapy entirely solely by journaling. It was more so clickbait for a simpler lesson: that there are cost effective alternatives to therapy if you’re tight on money like I was back then. Hence, buying a journal and doing the work all by yourself!
So after several jobs, a few entrepreneurial attempts, and many dollars later, I have given myself the honour and privilege of going to therapy—just like I’ve been wanting to since around the time of that original post (2014)—and I’ve got some insights I’d like to share with all of you.
There’s No Better Therapy Than Therapy
No amount of drugs, alcohol, or any other distractions will ever cure you from whatever pain and trauma you may hold within you. If you are wrought with grief, sadness, and despair, these are things you need to confront head on or they will persist in the background, pervading your very existence at every turn. You can mask the symptoms of these things, but like the nine headed hydra, you cut one head off, another will regrow in its place. Your pain needs to be confronted at the root, not the surface.
Even if you have good friends and family who ask you the right questions, and even give you all the unconditional empathy you need to feel validated, it will not rival the benefits that therapy can provide. I had the misconception that that’s all that therapy would be: I sit down and cry about my problems, then my therapist will pat me on the back and say “sorry to hear that,” ask me about my childhood to link a trauma from my past with a certain behaviour in the present, then it’s, “see you next week!”
On the contrary, a good therapist should also challenge your thoughts and beliefs about yourself, as well as your life circumstances so that you can cognitively reframe all these things in a healthy way. One that is as free as from your emotional bias as possible with some sense of objectivity that doesn’t weigh you down.
Sure, the empathetic moments are still there from time to time, but in my experience with therapy the past five months, I’ve found that the best sessions are the ones that challenged me to rethink my positions on love, life, and relationships so that I am better equipped at seeing how things actually are. Or at best, how things might actually be, since there’s no way to achieve true objectivity on a situation. This way, I can emotionally detach, healthily I must add, from certain situations that were causing me grief, and learn how not to get so attached to my own emotional bias.
A good therapist challenges you in a fair and helpful way. A way that is meant to guide you and question yourself without being judged or shamed for whatever dark deep secrets you may admit to in any of your sessions.
Not in that toxic way I have experienced from people who I thought were my friends, who I later realized were just be a bunch of concern trolls. You know the kind. They put on the air of “helping” you by challenging your perceptions, using your past history as a way to explain away why you’re so deficient now, but really they’re just finding a roundabout way to blame you for all your problems.
Even if it’s true, that you are the root of your own problems, that should never be thrown in your face to humiliate you. If you haven’t experienced this before, then count your lucky stars.
Offloading the Emotional Weight Off Your Shoulders
I started going to therapy at a time in my life where I felt drained from sacrificing myself for other people’s benefit. So many of my conversations would start with people crying to me about whatever problems they were facing and I would lend an empathetic ear, ask a few open ended questions, and just be there for these people. On the inverse, there were others who I also occasionally came to for emotional comfort on the offbeat chance I remembered to take care of myself and needed a helping hand with that.
In fact, for a lot of my adult life, I have spent in trying to form deep connections through this practice of shared pain and giving and getting as much unconditional empathy as I could. While this approach is still admirable even in hindsight, I’ve been woken up to the harsh reality that unloading your darkest deepest secrets with people, and expecting them to do the same, can lead to a lot of unhealthy relationships if not monitored correctly.
This doesn’t mean keep to yourself completely or never care about anyone else again, but learn to respect other people’s boundaries and set your own while you’re at it because not everyone should be an open book like this. There’s a time to share dark and deep secrets, but it sure as hell isn’t all day everyday because at some point, these kinds of friendships become unstable and too dependent on whether or not someone is troubled enough to help, let alone keep around.
Yep. That can happen sometimes. Friendships can definitely be formed in shared pain, as can romantic relationships, but that should not be the entire basis for any of these relationships since the whole point of unloading your pain is to eventually live a happy and fulfilling life. You can’t do that if there’s no measure for improvement and all you’re doing is using each other for free therapy that only ends up being a parody of the real thing.
So now that I’ve invested in an objective party to listen to me talk about my problems for an allotted amount of time every couple weeks, I no longer feel the need to burden other people with my problems unless it directly involved them or I know they have some experience in something similar and can actually help me. It’s very rare, but I will occasionally seek help from others outside of my therapist and myself when I really need it, which thankfully is not too often anymore.
Likewise, when it comes to people coming to me with their problems, as per my therapist’s suggestion, I should only do it if I’m happy enough to listen, which means I have to have had ample time to nurture myself properly before I can help anybody else.
Think of an airplane during extreme turbulence: you need to put on your own oxygen mask on first before you try and save anybody else. It’s like this in life because you cannot give what you do not have. So if you do not have self love, you’ll have no love to give to others, only a cheap imitation of it because you’re too drained to be authentic.
Such was my life last year in 2021.
So go to therapy, folks, as to help reduce the emotional baggage in which you might be coming into social interactions with, as well as become better able to handle the emotional baggage of others if you happen to be in the crossfire of it. But for the most part, try your best to seek healthy relationships based on fun, encouragement, and inspiration rather than the endless sharing of pain. There are groups for that.
Shedding Emotional Crutches
On top of over sharing my problems with people, and them doing the same for me, there were other things I used to use to distract myself from my problems. So while I did use other people to distract me from myself, I’ve also used alcohol and marijuana to cope with my emotions. Hell, I’ve even used work as an emotional crutch, both conventional work and my own business.
And while it’s not bad to partake in any substances in moderation, engaged empathetic relationships cautiously, or work hard at your job, using any of these things to cope with your emotions can have disastrous results. These can all be wonderful things to experience if engaged with when you’re free of emotional turbulence, because otherwise you can grow dependent on them to make you feel better in the short term rather than solving your problems for the long term benefit.
In fact, my dependence on marijuana is something my therapist challenged me on. Even if it is legal here in Ontario, it doesn’t make it not dangerous. I’m not trying to make a case about whether it should be legal or illegal, or even why you should or shouldn’t partake in marijuana. Just speaking from my own experience, I did grow dependent on it whenever I felt stressed in life, especially when I had a very under-stimulating office job between 2019 and 2020 before the pandemic hit, but that’s a story for another time.
Another story within a story I’d like to share is that there was a day where my dad had severe back pain and wanted me to go buy some back pain medicine for him. The problem was that I was high as hell, and as much of a rebel as I am, I’m not going to drive under the influence of marijuana, especially in the blistering cold and rain. All the while I was trying to get my dad to just do yoga, it’s natural after all, rather than hopping himself up with drugs. See where I’m going with this yet?
I shared this story with my therapist saying that I eventually got tired of my dad’s complaining and need for a quick fix, and walked to a pharmacy in the blistering cold with harsh winds nearly shoving me ever which way. I got up in arms about how my dad always just wants the quick fix, but then my therapist called me out on using marijuana as a quick fix for my problems. She asked me why I even go to therapy if I have this thing to cope with my emotions.
As I’ve always done, I made my excuses about how it helps me stop stressing quicker and makes media consumption, as well as therapy, a lot more fun and easier to engage in. And then she pointed out that I can definitely be doing both like I was saying I wanted to. You know, having my cake and eating it too. But then said that toking up would only solve things for me in the short term whereas therapy is more about long term healing.
Sixty minutes in therapy is a whole lot more work and requires a whole lot more time than packing my vape and toking up for about three minutes, but that only speaks to its superiority to a habit I had grown comfortable with in my adult life.
While I’m not perfect at it just yet, I can already feel my need for emotional crutches get left by the wayside thanks to the coping mechanisms and cognitive reframing strategies I’ve learned from therapy.
As of earlier this year of 2022, I have quit consuming marijuana and I’ve also stopped seeking out co-dependent relationships to ease any of my suffering, and that of others. There are still some individuals I keep in touch with and care for genuinely, but shared pain is no longer the central focus of our relationships. I’m also beginning to work on my business for its own sake rather than using it as a an angry response to an unfulfilling day job, a distraction from unhealthy relationships, or even just outright boredom and loneliness.
“And that’s how the cookie crumbles…”
Which cookie, you ask?
My mental health, of course.
Nah, I’m just kidding.
It has been a while since I’ve shared about my personal life here at Your Write to Live, so if you’ve made it this far into the post, I want to sincerely thank you for reading and possibly relating to what I’ve written. I hope you’ve also gleaned some value out of it as is my mission here in seeking to help other writers develop a better relationship with themselves in order to express themselves more freely in their creative endeavours.
That’s it for today’s Meaningful Monday, stick around for Therapeutic Journaling Part 2 for this week’s Workshop Wednesday where I will delve even deeper as to how to journal effectively.