When someone dies unexpectedly, it’s a shock. You walk around aimlessly for hours, wondering what just happened? Surely, they will walk back through the door at any moment. You tell yourself a list of things hoping one of them is true – anything but what you know to be true – they aren’t coming back. And six months later, someone close to you says the words you never want to hear – “You need to go to counseling.”
Counseling. I remember my first session with a counselor when I was 22. It was a few months after my best friend died in a DUI accident. Some dear friends of mine knew I was struggling with her death and suggested I see a counselor.
I didn’t know much about counselors. Television shows depict them as having long couches you lay on. As you lay there staring at the ceiling, you answer deep, thought-provoking questions while the counselor takes notes. An hour later, you walk out of their office, sometimes better, sometimes not.
In my case, I walked out of my first ever counseling session after 20 minutes.
“What brings you here today?”
“A few months ago, my best friend was killed in a DUI accident. I’m struggling with her death.”
“Tell me a little bit more. How did it happen?”
“She and her new boyfriend spent all day together. They went to the beach, dinner, and then drinks and dancing at her favorite bar. It’s thought around 3 am; they left the bar. He was driving her back to his house and fell asleep at the wheel and hit a concrete post going about 55 mph. She died from internal injuries, and he suffered a broken wrist.”
The counselor replied, “Your friend was stupid, and that’s why she is dead.”
I sat there, stunned. After I collected my thoughts in my head, I abruptly ended the counseling session. As I walked out the door, I turned around and said, “My friend was not stupid,” and I left.
My friends were waiting in the car for me and were surprised to see that I had finished so soon. Obviously, something happened there, and when I told them, they were sad, and I was mad. I was never going back to that counselor or any counselor. And I didn’t for over twenty years.
My new best friend and I were talking one day about the same old thing that had been bothering me for a long time. She finally looked at me and said, “You need to go to counseling.”
“Oh, no! Been there done that, and it wasn’t a good experience.”
“Listen to me. You need to go to counseling and get this resolved because I am not willing to listen to you talk about that anymore. You need someone to help you work through it. I love you, but that subject is now off-limits until you go to counseling.”
Counseling. Here we go again – another friend recommending I see a counselor. Didn’t she know I dreaded those people? The other one called my deceased friend stupid. What’s another one going to say about the issues I’m dealing with today?
After rejecting the idea for almost a year, I finally buckled. My best friend referred me to a woman counselor she was seeing. She had a ton of experience, glowing credentials, and specialized in the areas I needed help with. Very reluctantly, I made an appointment.
Her office didn’t have a couch. It was small, with a couple of chairs and a small desk.
“What brings you here today?”
Here we go again—the “What brings you here today?” question.
Two years later, my counselor closed the book on my sessions. She determined we had worked through everything from my childhood, the molestation, my failed marriage, the loss of my best friend, father, grandmother, and issues with my family. We ripped the bandage off of everything and cleaned out all the festered wounds.
I will always remember her words, “There will be days when I make you bleed. You better have someone who can apply a bandaid.”
My best friend was my “bandaid” person. She also put a boundary in place when it came to discussing the sessions. I was not allowed to discuss them with her that day. She wanted me to think about what the counselor said, and then we could chat about it a few days later.
Going to counseling, this counselor, was the best thing for me and I am still so grateful to my best friend for suggesting I go and ultimately pushing me to go. She cared enough about me to put a boundary in place when it came to certain subjects. She knew she didn’t have the proper tools to help me and so she did what was in my best interest.
I went to counseling for two years almost every Thursday evening after work. No one knew I was going except my best friend and my bank account. But I can attest to the fact that it was worth every penny I spent.
The counselor was right. I left there some evenings bloodied up and beaten. It is painful to go back to memories you would just as soon forget, but when they are part of the foundation for why you have bigger problems, they need to be addressed. This counselor was very tender, patient, and understanding, yet firm. She didn’t allow me to dance around topics and I appreciated her forthrightness and her prayers.
Many counselors get a bad wrap. Some people experience what I did the first time I saw one and they don’t go back – ever. But there are a lot of good counselors out there. The trick is finding the right one. It’s a little like hamburgers. There are tons of hamburger joints out there, but you have to try them to find the best one to satisfy your tastebuds.
Going to counseling and spending the time and effort to work through years of pain was one of the best things I did for myself. I liken it to getting the key, putting it in the lock, unlocking it, and taking the chains off for good. Working through the baggage has allowed me to be free from the pain. I no longer have to carry it around like a 50lb weight on my back. I’m free to experience life and take in all that the Lord has for me.
I can’t undo anything that happened to me back then. And I won’t allow those things to steal any more of my future. Those things took enough. They aren’t getting any more.
Maybe today you are reading this, and you know you need a counselor. You have been putting it off for months, and even years like I did. Let me encourage you to find a good counselor and start unpacking “the junk in your trunk,” as some of my friends like to say. I’m not going to lie – it’s hard work, but it’s worth it when you’re all done.
I am doing things in my life I never thought I would do, and it’s because I left all that baggage at the curb, and I have room to live and love. I can serve the Lord wholeheartedly.
Leave your baggage at the curb. Quit carrying around that 50lb weight. It would help if you went to counseling. Counseling can change your life for the better. It did mine.