My Journey To Becoming A Counsellor
I came to a career in counselling as part of a long, arduous struggle with my own mental health. I want to share my journey with you as a way to show you that whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone, things can get better, and we’re in this together.
My story toward healing really begins at 20 years old, when I hit the lowest low and far more psychological pain than I could have ever predicted. Laying on the bathroom floor of the courthouse after a two-year court battle against the person who sexually assaulted me, I remember thinking this is it, I can’t imagine continuing to live at this point, how can I possibly keep going? Unfortunately, like many of us, I had been through a lot of sexual assault in my early years. I had always felt immense shame about everything that happened to me, believing it was my fault and so I never told anyone how I felt, kept it inside and instead coped with eating disorders, self-harm, and substance use. This last incident in my late teens was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t keep going like this, something had to change or I didn’t think I’d survive.
I wrestled a lot with the urge to give up and give in to self-destructive impulses. One part of me wanted to survive and get better, a second part wanted to give up, and a third part of me wanted desperately to change the world for other women like me. Frankly, that part kind of wanted revenge (or at least justice) too. I think that third part of me is the one that started to carry me toward healing. At this time in my life, I was learning about feminism, and while it made me confront some very difficult truths about myself and what had happened to me and what I was also complicit in, it made me get in touch with all the rage I felt, and my rage (though sometimes overwhelming) motivated me toward change.
It wasn’t – and still isn’t – a straight line. I remember sitting in my very first counsellor’s office week after week and refusing to speak. She was kind enough, she would recommend interesting female empowerment movies and give me little snacks. I liked her, I just wasn’t ready to talk, and I’d had years of learning to push all of my emotions way down and disconnecting from my body and myself. I wasn’t ready for her to change that. She gave me the notes I needed for extensions on my university assignments that I couldn’t write because the flashbacks were so overwhelming, and I was grateful for that. I don’t think I’d have graduated without her. At that time I also started kickboxing at a small gym that quickly started to feel like a family. I didn’t have to talk, which was important to me back then, but I could punch and kick and secretly cry my heart out. It was everything; I started to feel what powerful could feel like.
But as life goes, more devastations occurred that set me off balance and back into my self-destructive behaviours. I left kickboxing and withdrew into my own world ruled by fear and dissociation. My social anxiety got to the worst point it had ever been, and I lost the majority of my friends. This was another point where I could have lost myself completely, but I had managed to retain one friend who wouldn’t let me go despite the many times I disappeared and definitely let her down. During this time I had started to realize that my self-destructive behaviours needed to stop, but I was still unable to ask for help or admit that I had a problem. I got lucky though, one night at about 2am this friend of mine texted me asking if I’d want to go and travel South America for a year by bicycle. I wanted to get as far away from the place where I grew up as possible, so I didn’t even hesitate, I immediately said yes and with very little planning we got out bikes and just went.
The Ride That Changed My Life
Since that time I’ve tried to put my finger on just what it was about that year on my bike that was so healing. I think it was a combination of things. I finally really felt like I had a friend who loved me unconditionally (she also had no choice because we depended on each other for survival, traveling by bike with almost no money). I also started to feel powerful and connected to my body for what it could do for me for the first time, instead of focusing on what it looked like or what other people wanted from it. For the first time my body was mine and it was carrying me thousands and thousands of kilometres just by sheer force and will. I also learned to get in touch with my intuition and figure out which situations felt safe and which ones I needed to get out of right away. I experienced some luck, and happened to meet incredible people in every place I went who reminded me that people actually are fundamentally good and that those few who did some bad things to me are not an indicator of all of humanity. And bonus: I didn’t have access to my unhealthy coping means of choice, so my addictions started to fizzle away.
I met so many people from so many backgrounds, and heard their stories of devastation and transcendence, and slowly I started to share mine too. Hearing about the ways people make meaning from tragedy and find ways to survive and make life beautiful again after being in the absolute gutter of life was healing beyond belief. I learned that suffering is part of living and that it actually connects us to others. We suffer tragedies and then we find each other and we heal together. After hearing from these beautiful people in various towns, I’d always have a day or a few of riding my bike to the next place, getting in touch with my body and mind and processing everything I’d heard. It was in one of these in-between cycling times that I realized I wanted to become a counsellor. It was actually a need. I was in awe of how incredible humans are, and their innate urge to move toward growth and healing, and I wanted to be a part of that for myself and for others.
The Journey Is Ongoing
When I moved back to Canada, I spent several years in personal counselling before going back to school to become a counsellor. I was finally ready to talk and ready to continue the healing that had started on my trip. I knew I couldn’t do it alone, and I knew the triggers would come back now that the excitement of cycling from country to country was over. I’m endlessly grateful for the counsellors who helped me. I started in CBT to rework my self-shaming thoughts and my social anxiety, then I moved into somatic trauma counselling to learn how to heal psychologically through the power of my body, and then I continued the trauma processing work through EMDR. I still have sleepless nights with flashbacks but they’re few and far between now, and when they happen, I know how to ground myself, breathe through it, and look for my body’s wisdom to heal and do what it needs to. I still sometimes get urges to go back into those self-destructive behaviours, but I now know what to do with those urges rather than giving in to them. I’ve developed great friendships, thanks to my counsellors who helped me get out of my own way and soothe my social anxiety. And every day I get the massive privilege of walking with my clients on their journeys toward healing. I’m still a work in progress and know I will always be, and so I continue to work on myself, see my counsellor, and challenge myself to talk to friends and my partner when I need to. I’m endlessly grateful to the people who have helped me along the way, and continue to help me. We’re all in this together and we all have the capacity to grow and heal even if it sometimes really doesn’t feel like it.