How to find a therapist?

I'm in recovery and scary memories are coming up. How do I find a professional?

By Cary Tennis
November 2, 2012 4:00AM (UTC)
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(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I'm 46. I need help or advice on how to find a therapist. I have been in recovery since July 5, 2010. I have been working the AA program, with a sponsor, working the steps. My life is much better than it was when I was drinking -- so much better. If I try to stand outside of myself, I am awed at how it is better, in all ways, except ... I still don't have a desire to succeed in life. I don't really even have an active desire to be alive at all. I am not obsessed with thoughts of ending my life, but the thought is always there. It is not urgent, and it's not something I feel I want to act upon, but the thought is always there. I need assistance finding my way out of this thicket of thorns, and I am afraid and ashamed to ask for it.


My fingers hesitate to write more. My mother inflicted much physical pain on me from the time I was an infant. She slapped me in the face regularly, from the time I was an infant. People around knew of this and I don't know what they were expected to do but they did nothing. Well, an aunt walked out once, rather than witness it anymore. She speaks today of this action with pride. Way to go, aunt. Good for you. This abuse eventually became almost ritualistic in nature: I would have to kneel in front of my mother and she would raise her hand as high as she could and slap me as hard as she could. If I flinched, this fed her evil nature, and she'd repeat the action until I stopped flinching. I feel like I'm in a basement room full of dirt.

I see other people around me who have things like houses, and families, and careers, and all I can do is take little maintenance steps. I want to take bigger steps, but I don't know what to do with the anger I have toward my mother, and toward people in general. It's so much better than it used to be, but there's still a place at which I just ... stop. And I am ashamed for having endured the abuse, because I know that, while other people didn't deserve it when this kind of thing happened to them, I am different. I did deserve it. I deserved to be the receptacle of her anger. I know, I know, "I didn't deserve it." But I did. There was something different and wrong about me. I still don't feel that I completely exist in this world. I know I'm not the only person who feels this way, and I know that there's a reason for it, and I know I can do something with it. I am a writer, but I'm so locked up and clenched inside that I can't get anything out, at least not anything that makes any sense to anyone.

I'm writing to you because ... because I've been reading your column since it first appeared. I even had a letter published in your column once; your advice was, basically, stop drinking. It took me several years to do so, but I have embraced life enough that I got sober. And life is so much better now, but it's not enough. There's still this thing hanging on my back, and digging into my flesh. I'm not writing to you because I hope to see my letter in print, but because I know what you're talking about, and I know you understand something about living. I'm writing to you because I just read your response to the gay Muslim, and it really touched me what you said about life, and being alive, and clinging to life. Somehow, you defined what life is and what it means to be alive. I guess I'm writing to say I'm alive. But I don't feel like I am.


So how do I find a therapist? Specifically, one who knows about how the abused child makes a broken adult? And ... I just feel broken, fundamentally. I can't heal on my own, and AA has brought me to an understanding and awareness of my desire for a spiritual awareness. But it's just not enough.

Thanks for listening, I really think you make the world a better place, at least my world. Any advice on how to find a therapist?



What's My Next Step?

Dear What's My Next Step,

First, ask your AA group for help. Raise your hand and say you are looking for low-cost psychotherapy. Ask anyone who has a good recommendation to see you after the meeting. There may be low-cost counseling available nearby.


Talk to your sponsor about this. Your sponsor may have recommendations. You can also search for a certified addiction specialist through the American Academy of Health Care Providers in the Addictive Disorders.

In searching for therapy, you do not have to explain to anyone why you want it, any more than you would have to explain why you want a vacation or a loaf of bread. All you need to say is that you are looking for names and contact information for therapists. You might ask if he or she specializes in addictive disorders, but the therapist you settle on does not have to be a specialist in addictions. A good match may appear in unexpected ways. Once you spring into action, serendipity may put the perfect person in your path.

There is a certain beauty to how this works. It's simple but profound. When you raise your hand and ask for help, you start a cycle of help that may continue for generations, one personal connection to the next. Theoretically, this chain of personal help could continue for hundreds or thousands of years, one alcoholic to the next, as long as human culture continues. So it is not a trivial thing to ask for help, nor is it self-serving. It is part of a great chain. By asking for help, we increase our store of useful knowledge. We then pass that on to others. Nothing we do when interacting with a fellow addict or alcoholic is trivial; every action has reverberations which continue throughout time. That's what people mean when they say, Pass it on.


So ask for help. Then pass it on. Happy trails.

p.s. May I just say, too, that although I have been straightforward and practical in my suggestions, your words touched me deeply. You have been through a lot. Naturally, you will experience powerful, sometimes nearly overwhelming feelings. That will change. You will come through this. Many of us have found that over the years, no matter how much we have endured, as we learn to love ourselves and trust others and clean up the wreckage of the past, things get better. They do -- sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but things do get better.--ct

Cary Tennis

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