I've mentioned a few times on here that I went to therapy for a while. Actually, I went to therapy on and off for over the course of ten years. I knew that I wasn't really happy and was seeking a way to change my behavior. So I got a recommendation from someone and went to see what I could do.
The first psychiatrist that I went to was a kind old gentleman, Dr. W. But he didn't really probe much, and I never had a sense of any kind of satisfaction after our sessions. It was as if he was skimming the surface but what I had was buried very deep. And I wanted to hide it. Interestingly enough, my mother was also seeing him for her depression. He wasn't able to discern the depth of her mental illness though, did not prescribe any medications, so her depression worsened. One traumatic day, after she had a major depressive episode, I took her to the shrink on call. He said that my mother needed to be hospitalized and indicated severe "textbook" biological depression. I never made any more appointments with Dr. W. after that.
My next psychiatrist, Dr. D., was a tough fellow who didn't suffer fools gladly. He was physically imposing. We were about the same height but he had me by a good 30 pounds. He had shaggy white hair and a white beard. He liked to wear jeans and old sweaters. I remember the first sessions alone with him and how we would sit and stare at each other. He was good at waiting me out. I would cave, and when I did speak it seemed I wanted his approval.
He was definitely a father figure for me. He could fix his eyes on me and know that I was faking a lot. The group sessions were particularly difficult because I didn't want to talk at first in front of strangers. But the more that I did, the better I got at not being afraid to speak. He taught me about asking for what I needed, rather than leaving it for the other person to intuit. I remember Dr. D. talking to me about how depleting it was to stuff my anger, how it was okay to let it flow in productive ways such as humor, fantasies, but not through acting it out. He was the one who told me that I had choices when dealing with difficult people: I could try to "out crazy" them, or I could decide to "leave the field of battle". He said that if I chose the former then I had best be prepared to spit my anger out in such a way that they would be crushed, and that would be at great emotional cost to me and the other person. He thought that I would fully "graduate" when I could not flinch and look him in the eye and tell him to "go fuck yourself". I finally did that, he laughed uproariously, and I felt better.....for a time.
After a number of years though, the same old me was still there and the lessons of humor, asking for what I needed, and choices about how to deal with my anger became a distant memory. I was back to being simply miserable. I started going to Dr. D's wife, Dr. D-S, because Dr. D. had died a few years earlier. She was a gentle woman who was very spiritual. She was also seeing my wife in separate appointments.
I would talk to Dr. D-S. about my emptiness, my feelings of dissatisfaction with myself and my marriage, and she would make some suggestions. But I can't remember today what the take away message was--maybe just that I needed to try to communicate better with my wife, or that I needed to pursue some hobbies which I didn't really have at the time. I know that many times I talked about my feelings around my wife's drinking. Dr. D-S. actually thought that I might have PTSD as a result of living around alcoholism for much of my life. However, she never suggested that I go to Al-Anon.
While seeing Dr. D-S., a friend suggested that I needed to go to Al-Anon. I talked with Dr. D-S. about it, and she seemed to think that it would be good for me. My wife started going to AA at the same time. For some reason, Dr. D-S. became uncomfortable with seeing both of us in separate sessions and suggested that it might be better for me to seek help from her therapist. (There is a bit of irony here). So off I went to see Dr. H.
Dr. H. is a psychologist. She shared a lot of knowledge about alcoholism with me. She had worked as a counselor at a rehab facility. She talked to me about co-dependency. I learned that I had poor coping skills for dealing with conflict, anger, and anxiety (see diagram at left taken from Joe's blog Just for Today-Leveraging the Tools of Al-Anon). We did some role playing so that I could begin to develop ways to take care of myself. And she was the one who suggested that I develop hobbies and learn to entertain myself, rather than having expectations of others to do that with me or for me. I really believe that I was at last beginning to comprehend (or at least hear) that I could not control what others did.
As I got further into Al-Anon, I began to see that much of what I was hearing in meetings was similar to what Dr. H. was telling me. And after a mutual agreement, I decided that it was time for me to move away from therapy.
In retrospect, I can see that therapy prepared me to more fully comprehend Al-Anon. I was not afraid to share, to open up, to inventory my feelings, or to seek a guide (i.e. sponsor). And for a minimal voluntary contribution at every meeting, I have learned some of the best coping skills that anyone could offer--the 12 steps.