When you can’t do it alone
Special to The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center
By Carol Bodensteiner
If you’re at all like me, you feel you should be able to handle what life throws your way. Sure we know we’re going to hit bumps in the road, but even when we go down, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, as the song goes, and start all over again.
My sense of how to handle life comes from my German and English heritage. From my mother’s side, I inherited the well known English traits of ‘stiff upper lip,’ and ‘keep calm and carry on.’ From my father’s side, I acquired the German ability to work hard and solve my own problems.
These traits served me well throughout my life. Successful career. Raising a son. Marriage – divorce – marriage. No challenge I couldn’t tackle. If I just put my head down and kept moving forward, all would be fine.
Until it wasn’t.
When my mother died in August 2007, it was a shock because she was healthy. Even though Mom was 91, her death seemed in the order of things. But when my sister died by suicide less than nine months later, I was knocked off balance. Within the following 18 months, two close cousins and my mother’s sister also passed away. Then my husband and I hit a rough spot in our marriage.
The magnitude of such significant losses in such a short time, as well as the threat to my marriage, shook the earth I stood on. Who was I without those people who raised and shaped me? How would I manage if my second marriage crumbled? I questioned everything and everyone, from my church, to the values I was raised with, to who I was and who I wanted to be.
Believe it or not, I thought I could still manage on my own. One foot in front of the other. Keep moving ahead. After all, what else can you do?
Except I wasn’t okay. When my husband lost his footing on a ladder and wound up in the emergency room with a broken ankle, I realized I was done. Life was ‘piling on,’ and I couldn’t take it anymore.
In a rare moment of open sharing, I unloaded my anxiety on a friend. She recommended the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. Even though I’d known about the Center for years, counseling is never my first thought. It’s not the way I was raised.
Yet I had nothing left and I knew it. I made an appointment. Then another and another.
Soft spoken and caring, my counselor helped me walk through the present-day trials, even as she teased out relevant factors from my childhood, my relationship with my parents, and my first marriage that contributed to the pit I found myself in.
As a writer, I process things by writing about them. I approached the counseling sessions the same way. Notebook on my lap, pen in hand, I recorded thoughts and words to consider later.
It is difficult to hear, to think, to talk, to write when you’re crying, which is what I did throughout most sessions. I needed to let it all go, and my counselor let me. Without judgment. Mostly she asked questions, forcing me to examine my own self. Periodically she suggested ways to think about a point and possible ways to move forward.
Above all, she gave me an unbiased, non-judgmental perspective, which I desperately needed. Over time I arrived in a better place.
I am grateful to the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center for offering a safe haven with talented counselors to help me and others through the rough spots, those times when even the most independent of us, in spite of our training and will, can’t go it alone.