When forced to interact with others in group settings, I typically have two speeds: Anxious over-talking, and total shutdown silence. My brain fires off frantic messages as I vacillate between modes, and more often than not, the result is cringey awkwardness.
This is why I’ve always sidestepped social situations when presented with a choice. Alas, avoidance is impossible at this counseling job I’ve been scrambling to get a handle on since late January.
Each day, I’m tasked with navigating the tricky dynamics of vastly different client and coworker personalities, while trying to practice a craft I only started studying 18 months ago and stay on top of an ever-growing list of administrative duties — I’m starting to get calls from probation officers, y’all! 😳 Meanwhile, I’m replaying past sessions over and over in my head, certain that I totally f*cked everything up.
It’s been a battle trying to manage the hurricane upstairs and function as a professional, much less present in public as my authentic self. I go from “fight-or-flight” around the office to “freeze” in mandatory staff meetings, then “fawn” like a mother#%^*er at team outings.
I forced myself to go to lunch last week with my department, not wanting to crawl even further into the alienating hole of nervous intern/new girl (who actually happens to be older than nearly everyone in the building 🤷🏼♀️). Sitting — on one butt cheek 🤣 — at the restaurant, sandwiched between my supervisor and one of the more experienced therapists, I listened in horror as inane chatter barreled out of my mouth like a runaway train that could only be stopped by stuffing the “tunnel” full of food.
It isn’t until I get home, close the door to our cozy little townhouse, hang up my keys and strip off my jeans (and bra!) that I remember who my authentic self even is. In comfy clothes, cuddling up to the hubby, my hyper-vigilant defenses drop, my rigid shell softens, my sense of humor comes out of hiding…and it’s like my entire personality, amputated each morning as I steel myself to survive the work day, magically grows back!
I never thought that pursuing a career as a therapist would be easy; as they say, nothing worthwhile ever is. And I guess it makes sense to feel a little overwhelmed and confused when you jump from a decades-long writing career into the deep end of addiction counseling in the midst of an opiate crisis. Who wouldn’t lose their sense of identity when they’re being bombarded with new information while helping to others to process traumatic experiences and heavy emotions? It’s hard to settle into a groove when the ground is constantly shifting and you’re sitting in a hot seat where you might, without warning, need to put out some fires.
I feel like this calls for another sitcom GIF, don’t you agree?
It’s kinda crazy to think that four years ago at this time, I was in a very similar position, trying to weather the culture-shock transition from journalism to marketing as I started an entry level job at a content mill.
Back then, coming “back to life” after work involved guzzling tequila from the moment I crossed the threshold until I passed out, and I thought I needed alcohol to wash away the stress and tension of the day.
At least I don’t have to live like that anymore! 🙏🏻
At 44+ months sober, I find lovely moments of clarity, peace, and even joy, lounging on my living room couch in my shabby old housecoat or chilling on the tailgate of my Jeep after a run on the canal (it’s goose mating season, y’all, so I’m switching over to Tyler State, toot suite! 😬)
I truly enjoy spending hours of leisure (read: should-be-doing-homework) time reflecting on the trials and triumphs of recovery here in this blog. Finding creative ways to share my experience, strength and hope and weave together 12-step principles with my playful personality helps me to appreciate the richness of sober life. It helps me learn about myself, which I think will help me serve my clients — if it hasn’t already.
No, I never fully get work shit out of my head when I’m off the clock, as I’m sure is common for therapists of all experience levels. However, no matter where I am, my mind is blissfully clear of the shame, guilt and regret that held it in a vise grip when alcohol was my go-to coping “skill.”
If I have no other concrete evidence that I’ve made progress in life, or that my train is on the right track and not heading toward a fiery wreck, I feel like that’s enough for now. Dealing with hard shit without turning to alcohol to numb/check out…I mean, when you think about it, that’s actually pretty badass! There was a time not too long ago when I didn’t think this was even possible, and here we are!
So, yeah, even if my personality these days seems like a frightened turtle with retracted head…
…when she does feel safe enough to come out, she’s 100% raw, naked (well, at least braless) reality. She’s more “the real me” than she’s ever been before. And now that I’ve freed her from the prison of active addiction, I can honestly say I’m optimistic about what she can become.
1 thought on “Personality”
Thanks Jen. I took an institution commitment at Friends Hospital on Thursday night. Therapists are vital! I have mad respect for you and what you’re trying to do. I have NO doubt that you’re going to impact lives in meaningful ways in your work.
You’re very brave to marshall on, despite your conflicts. It’s inspiring. Thanks for bringing us along here.
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