Counseling the Writer

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What I really wanted to be was a writer.

When I first met with a new counselor almost five years ago, I didn’t start with that. What was on my mind at the time was family drama, being gay, social anxiety, and my decades-long failure at finishing my undergraduate education. In the weeks that followed, we began to address what was underneath all my frustration, confusion, and fear. To tell you the awful truth, my issues stemmed from a cliché: an unhappy childhood.

The kind of rotten childhood that invades an adult is best uncovered, I think, by an impartial third party, and best addressed by a resolution to listen to them and try what they suggest. I had tried before. The first time was when I went away to college, eighteen years old and on the other side of the country from my family. In a Catholic campus group and then in group counseling provided by campus health and a counselor, I lost my religion and any hope that counseling would help.

Mostly. Friends can be pretty good counselors. Siblings who experienced the same physical and emotional abuse, though they are often angry at you, too. A parent who years later leaves the other and acknowledges that, yes, none of that was any good. They’re not professional counselors, though. They’re not impartial. They’re not willing to dive into the tangle of your mind week after week. Going into my forties, what I really wanted was to confront my past once and for all and move on to who I really wanted to be. That demanded the right counselor, someone I had never met before, someone with the right tools to help me figure out what was going on inside of me and in a positive and productive and caring way help me to confront, adapt, and change. Tall order.

If you seek a counselor—sometimes I think all of us should have our own personal counselor to help guide us—I suggest you find the right one for you, even if that means meeting with several until you do. In fact, I went to two that first week. I thought one counselor would help me with my family, anxiety, and school, and the other, preferable gay themselves, would help me with being gay. The gay counselor suggested I pick one. He said if things didn’t work out with the other counselor or if I really thought it was necessary to have two, then I could contact him again later.

I didn’t have to. The straight one, quite unrelated to sexuality at all, turned out to be the right counselor for me. He helped me reexamine my past and uncover the ways it had shaped me, for better or worse. He also helped me to reshape myself, for the better, with a new perspective on my painful childhood that didn’t ignore it but allowed me to rise above it and move forward.

The results? I have better relationships with several of my immediate family members, and no relationship with others, which is actually for the best. I have set clear boundaries, avoided a lot of drama, and prioritized my own wellbeing while better managing the demands of being a member of a family with an unhappy past.

My counselor’s acceptance and engagement with my sexuality helped me to better embrace and integrate that side of myself. Being gay has become both a nonissue and a integral part of who I am. My sexuality, like my hazel eyes, my average height, my aging, my interest in robots and emerging technologies, my love of superheroes, and my writing, is, well, me, in all due complexity and stark simplicity.

My counselor’s work with me on social anxiety took me off a brief experiment with Paxil and led me toward comfort and ease with being the way I am instead of turning me into a sudden extrovert. I’m simply more comfortable in social situations now, whether or not I’m being particularly talkative or demonstrative. The spotlight of attention that always seemed to shine on me and left me feeling excessively self-conscious and prone to embarrassment and fear is much, much dimmer now.

And my writing? That’s the awesome outcome of this entire journey. It was clear from the beginning that what I really wanted to be was a writer, a writer who writes, a writer who writes and revises and frequently submits finished works. Within a year of starting counseling I had completed the first draft of an entire novel. Soon after, another. And another. Within three and a half years I had gone back to school and finally finish my undergraduate degree, this time in English and Creative Writing. Nearly five years later, I’m writing regularly, I’m committed to writing, I’m building my writing process, I’m finishing projects, and I’m sending them out to potential markets.

Counseling, when you find the right counselor and when you engage with them honestly and with a willingness to do what they suggest, can work wonders and reshape your entire life. Perhaps the most shocking result of these past few years in counseling has been how much simpler my life has become. When I first met with my counselor, there were just too many things I was trying to do, trying to be, trying to hold on to or understand or ignore. What rose to the top with guidance was me, and I’m now the person I want to be.

I also think I don’t need to see my counselor any more. Someday I’m going to mention that to him and see what happens.

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