Spiritual Autobiography – Unprocessed Grief

I started at AGSC (Alliance Graduate School of Counseling) the Fall Semester of 2015 and decided to do my required 15 sessions of Individual Counseling that first semester of the program since I was planning on doing the required 12 Group Therapy sessions during the Spring semester. It was difficult as I began uncovering years of unprocessed grief. My therapist noted that I spoke about very painful events in my life with a sense of detachment, almost as though I was narrating someone else’s story. She continued to challenge me to get at my feelings, not just thoughts about events and circumstances. I remember doing an exercise with my therapist that my Theories professor had suggested in class – going back to my childhood home to sit on the edge of my childhood bed and talk to my 10-year old self. I sobbed for about ten minutes straight as I talked to that little girl who had lost her mother, remembering that no one asked her about her feelings ever, no one asked her how she was doing, what she needed, what she missed about her mom.

I thought I had cleared the emotional decks and was ready to jump into group therapy the next semester, but I had no idea how intense that would be, particularly in the midst of an incredibly stressful semester of classes. I was so confused. I didn’t understand what the value was of people confronting each other. It was so unfamiliar to me to be able to speak your truth without risking the love and acceptance and support of the other person. I was getting in touch with my feelings but it was so hard to go on with the rest of life – it seemed like there was never enough time to process all the emotion I was experiencing before the next round. I felt attacked instead of encouraged when I confessed my realization that I loved the relationships I had with some of my younger classmates because they invited my influence whereas my son had always pushed me away in his younger years, and even then rarely accepted my influence. Group members challenged me and it felt harsh.

In The Rest of God Mark Buchanan writes about how we can go on in our lives without healing, becoming quite content with our pain. He says “Restoration meddles with what we’ve learned to handle, removes what we’ve learned to live with, bestows what we’ve learned to live without”. In short, we become adept at living with a gaping wound. It’s our comfortable place and what we embrace as our lot in life, our cross to bear. That painful truth – that I had become skilled at living with a gaping wound, was exposed for me in the course of Group Therapy.

When it became time to look for a Practicum site, I was really bothered that I didn’t get an interview at a Christian health care center and psychiatric hospital when I should have. I had been leading a monthly Parents of Suicide Loss Support Group there and had a relationship with the gentleman accepting internship applications. Other students had interviews set up, and even after the clinical supervisor emailed me to say apologetically that there were no openings for intern slots in the summer, he continued to schedule interviews of classmates I knew and offered them intern positions.

Again, I had to wrestle with the question of having a voice, feeling dismissed … should I call the gentleman to question it or believe God had something different or better for me?  I decided to apply to The Renfrew Center in Ridgewood, but when I disclosed that I had been in treatment for an eating disorder there in 2008, the Clinical Supervisor told me it was against policy to hire a former client as staff or intern.

As I prayed over the list of internship sites, I felt drawn to Daytop Village – an Outpatient Substance Abuse Center for some reason, but I didn’t really want to do substance abuse. I left my corporate job because I thought God was calling me to help adolescents deal with anxiety and depression, not venture into substance abuse counseling.  The nagging draw to Daytop did not go away so I consulted with a former clinical supervisor at the facility who was also an AGSC graduate to ask her about it.

She pretty  much told me I had to decide if I wanted to do substance abuse OR mental health counseling … because they were very different. And I wouldn’t be asking a client at Daytop how they were feeling about something, but more than likely I’d be calling them out about their lies and cover-up of substance use. She suggested that I go for an interview to check it out and see how I felt about it, obviously sage advice before ruling anything out.  Surprisingly, from the moment I walked into Samaritan Daytop Village to interview for an intern position, I felt comfortable, and at ease about the fit for me. But I was still confused about why I landed at this site, working with this population. I started doubting God’s leading just a little bit, and doubting myself too, wondering if I had not heard God clearly about my call to work with anxious, depressed, and suicidal adolescents, if I misunderstood, if my discernment had been way off.