December 9th, 2009


Closing Out The Year

At the beginning of 2008, I posted that I expected it to be an interesting year, and it was. 2009, in contrast, was much more sedate; my engagement had ended so I was back to living alone, my traineeship placement ended in July so I had no more work as a therapist, and I graduated in October so I had no more school. Most of 2009 was spent in my apartment by myself, job-hunting, watching my finances dwindle with a nervous eye, and doing a great deal of thinking.

Now I'm preparing for this time in my life to end, and a new one to begin. In a little more than a week I'll be headed back to Illinois to visit my friends and family there for the holidays. It'll be a good, long trip, and I'm greatly looking forward to it. And as soon as I get back (literally, the day after I come home) I'll be starting a new job. I've been offered a position as a residential counselor in San Francisco--a position I have basically no training for, something completely different from anything I've done yet. It's also a full-time position that pays more than enough money for me to live on, as well as providing medical benefits and a plethora of internship hours that I can put towards earning my MFT license.

Needless to say, I'm both excited and frightened by this opportunity. The possibility exists that I will prove myself totally unable to keep up with the demands of the position, either because of lack of talent or lack of training or simply because I fold under the pressure when things get difficult. On the other hand, the possibility also exists that I become stronger under this pressure, that I learn and grow and expand my boundaries as they are tested, and that this experience becomes part of my development as a clinician. I'm confident in my skills as a theoretician; I may not have studied the written record of psychology as much as some, but I feel certain that I have the capacity to grasp and utilize any conceptual model of the human psyche that could be developed, and that my own theories about the function of the mind hold true under testing. On the other hand, all the theoretical expertise in the world won't help me when it comes to dealing with actual humans and their actual problems. The residential work I'll be doing in San Francisco will put me in contact with individuals who have experiences very different from mine, people who have experienced crushing poverty, all kinds of discrimination (often at the hands of people who look, sound and act just like me), relentless trauma, and imprisoning substance abuse. I can't imagine they'll care much about my elegant theories of psychic development; they'll want to know what I can do to solve their problems right now, in the moment, and no conceptual model can offer that solution.

So if I am to survive and succeed in this field I will have to become something I am not. I mentioned before that this past year has afforded me plenty of time to think long and hard about myself, and I don't feel like that time has been wasted. I'm now able to confront some aspects of myself and my history that I had previous tried to avoid: the truth is, I've always retreated to the realm of the intellect and the dispassionate whenever I feel threatened by difficult emotions, and I don't allow myself to expose my emotional vulnerability whenever potential conflict is in the air. It's a survival technique developed, like any other, by my early experiences, but while I have been content to largely ignore the problems with this strategy (or blame them on other things) up until now, I can't afford to turn a blind eye any longer. To do this work I will have to engage, emotionally, authentically, and have the confidence that I can survive conflict even if it strikes me where I am most vulnerable. I cannot shield myself and still expect to connect with my clients in the way that they need me to. I cannot be passive and wait for others to make decisions so that I can't be blamed if things go wrong. I have to take the initiative, and trust myself. I have to be willing to take actions even if I have no assurance that the consequences will be what I want. I have to stop being afraid.

If I had dealt with these fears earlier in my life, I'm certain things would have gone differently. My leaving Illinois. My engagement. My work as a trainee. But I can't go back and change anything now. There is an opportunity in front of me right now, a chance to change myself for the better, and no matter how frightening or how painful it seems I can't back away from it. 2010 begins a new decade, the 2000-teens rather than the 2000-aughts, and it will be a year of transition, a year of new things. It will be the first year of my new self.

I have a long way to go, I know. A year spent gazing into my own navel and doing little else is not nearly enough to answer all of my questions or solve all of my problems. In all likelihood, even if I live to be one hundred, I will never have enough time to answer every question. But I've come a long way from this time a year ago, and in another year I will look back on this time and be amazed at what I thought I knew and how much I had to learn. I look forward to it, I suppose, though getting there will no doubt be a trial. I look forward to seeing who I will become.

I still have a little time before the changing begins in earnest. This holiday trip comes at the perfect time, in a way, giving me one last chance to relax in familiar surroundings before I embark onto a new way of life. I'm eternally grateful to all of my old friends and loved ones back home, as well as my new friends and loved ones out in California, for the limitless support and affection they have given me during this past year. Though I have often felt lonely during my life, I know that I have never been alone, and that knowledge gives me great hope and optimism for this coming year. Thanks to everyone who has been there for me. My gratitude knows no bounds, and I hope I will be able to repay all of your support in some way.

Now the year is coming to a close, and when I am done looking backwards I will look forwards towards whatever comes next. I'm frightened, as perhaps I will always be frightened by new things, but I won't let my fear be all of who I am. Behind the fear I am also a human being capable of adapting to new circumstances, just like any of our kind. What I hope to learn will more than make up for the fear I feel now. I promise I'll share that knowledge, whatever it is, dear readers. I hope it will help you as I expect it to help me.

I hope 2009 has served you all well. I hope 2010 serves us all well. Let's find out.