Life is a series of small steps. In 2010, I took a small step into a therapist's office, a tentative conversation that led to four years of the most intense emotional healing I've ever experienced. Seeing my therapist and the rope - hope - was another small step. Each step carried me further away from the precipice of suicide and onto ground more solid than I'd believed possible. I wasn't able to do much other than hold on to the rope, hanging on it while the waves continued to pummel me. It was my anchor to a sense of direction in the endless gray seascape of emotion, chaos, trauma. It was what kept me afloat. My therapist stood patiently for 4 years, urging me to climb up the rope to the shore. But all I could do was hold on.
I held up a knife made out of lies. Lies told to protect myself from the x-ray vision of a trained professional. In my tears and my tormented monologues in the office once a week, I was shouting, "Pull me in!" with new desperation. But my therapist kept up her calm encouragement, "Pull yourself in. You can do it. You are stronger than you think."
The rope was cut without either of us realizing it at first. It was only when she pulled in a frayed length, the weight on the end gone, that she looked and realized how far I'd drifted from shore on a tide of those lies. I hadn't shown her myself for weeks, buried as I was under a mound of deception, a maze constructed subconsciously to lead people away from the rawness of my innermost self. She walked away, unable to help any longer. She left a sign on the beach for me, "I'll send someone back to help you."
For a while, I was angry and grief-stricken. I had become so used to looking at shore and seeing her comforting presence, still holding the rope through every storm. Now I was left to my own devices and adrift once again. What I discovered is that I became more buoyant during those years she supported me in my swimming. I'm more athletic - I can cross great swaths of ocean using only the power of my own body and mind.
Taking ownership of your own recovery is another small step. I still need a therapist every week. Sometimes I still call out for her to toss me some rope. But with each extra hour spent treading water all by myself, I am building the strength to heal myself, to love myself, to navigate without someone on the other end of a rope.
Someday I might even make that swim to shore.