I cleaned my shower drain today. It wasn’t easy, and it took several tries to fully complete the task and then clean the shower and tub following. But, I did it! Sometimes, when I’m cleaning, my mind wanders, sometimes to places I don’t want to go and others to places that help. Today, with Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone ironically showing up on Spotify at just the right time for the last major efforts, I realized how much tackling my drain is like tackling therapy. During training to recognize Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs for short, in my own students, I realized that I scored relatively high on the basic screener. The class instructor shared with us that kids with higher levels of ACEs were more likely to develop anxiety and depression, to have issues with inappropriate attachment and trust, and to develop physical issues brought on by the lifelong consequences of higher levels of stress. Teaching doesn’t allow much time for counseling or the finances to pay for it long-term. Teachers with their own ACEs are likely to be triggered by the ACEs of their students. The same experiences that can make some teachers, like myself, more relatable and accessible to students, are the same experiences that can make teaching a form of daily trauma. We are good at understanding students, because we legitimately understand, but that means we feel that grief repeatedly. Plus, I’m a people-pleaser, so choosing to seek help over taking care of my kids led to a place of shame and guilt. I didn’t seek help until it was almost too late. When I did, my sessions were more about me learning to control the anxiety and manage my days. I wasn’t ready for anything bigger than “let’s try to figure out what to do when you can’t stop crying.” The pandemic brought lots of changes to my life, such as losing a job, teaching my kids and their friends virtually at home, officially joining our new church, and getting a new counselor. This time, I carefully chose a counselor who specialized in adults with ACEs. After our first two or three sessions, a friend would call to check in and make sure I was ok and was ready to come play at the park with our kids if I needed a distraction or to not be alone. Like cleaning a tub drain, you really don’t know what will come up and out when you snake your way into the pipes of your brain. You do know it probably won’t be good at first, but you also know your tub won’t drain and your mind will continue to be a trap of sorts, just catching more goop and hair, emotions and events—with no real way to get rid of any of it, no way to separate the good from the bad, the healthy reactions from the irrational ones. I used a plastic drain snake,* because I knew I would not have the energy to clean a reusable metal one. After multiple disgusting pulls, I emptied an entire box of baking soda into the drain and poured a half gallon of vinegar down the drain. After about half an hour, I turned the hot water on and let it run into the pipe for another twenty minutes. After resting for a bit, I came back and scrubbed down the shower walls, the tub itself, and rinsed it all down. I screwed the drain cap back on and took a shower with no water pooling by my toes. It’s a feeling I detest. I like my showers to be showers and my baths to be baths, not halfway between both. I didn’t know how to do this originally, snaking a drain. The same friend who called me after my first sessions with the new therapist helped me learn to look at drains as treasure hunts. When you pull the bad stuff out, you know you did your job right. A glob of muck meant you had found the X and dug down to cathartic glory. When she taught me how to do a drain the first time, she tackled our downstairs bathroom sink. I didn’t even know you could pull the stopper out, much less that you could treat a clog with something other than Draino. Our bathroom sink hadn’t been excavated since before we bought the house. She found an entire toothbrush down the drain and we laughed hysterically about it. How else do you deal with that degree of ick? No wonder my drain wasn’t working! That wasn’t an easy clean, just as today’s tub wasn’t either. Getting down into the dirty places is important work, whether it be in your home or your brain. For all I know, our sink did have an adverse experience in the form of a child shoving a toothbrush down it years before. It needed us to help it, just as we need other people to help us. With careful work, multiple tries, that toothbrush went in the trash where it was supposed to go. Therapy is never easy. Finding toothbrushes and wiping sludge up from tile is time-consuming, gross, and unbelievably necessary, but also never easy. We all need to be patient with ourselves. Doing the hard work can leave nothing left for the day. I may clean nothing else for the rest of the day, because I don’t have much left to give. It’s also why I try not to schedule meetings the same day I have therapy sessions, if I can help it. I usually have coffee ready, try to walk my dog, and get some sun on those days, because I need the right tools to manage the hard task of counseling, just like I needed a disposable drain snake and a lot of paper towels to manage my tub today. Like running races, to be able to run consistently without burning out, you need to compare yourself against yourself, not anyone else. I couldn’t clean a tub drain, and now I can. I couldn’t talk about some of my memories before, and now I can. There really isn’t a time when everything I’d like to accomplish is finished. There isn’t a point when my to do list is all checked off. Thinking about all the things I haven’t done in a day isn’t helpful, but looking at what I have done is. Thinking about all the ways I wish my brain was different isn’t helpful, but looking at the ways I’ve learned to adapt and grow is. Years ago, a church leader shared that he was sorry about some aspects of my childhood and that he wished it had been different. My husband countered with something along the lines of “I don’t wish that, because then she wouldn’t be who I love.” It’s ok that my shower drain gets disgusting, and it’s ok that I work differently because experiences caused changes in my brain that others don’t have. My shower shows the life of a lived-in, busy home and my brain shows the life of a busy, lived-in human, and I’m learning to be proud of that.
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