The First Devil

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Bethany Suckrow -The First Devil3

I finally made an appointment to go back to therapy. I’m not even sure what it was about this particular day that made me do it. It was not my lowest moment. It was definitely not my highest. It was just another day, and I was tired. I was just done with all of the imaginary conversations I keep having with myself and an imaginary therapist; the one where I say,

“Yes, I know I’m doing this thing and acting this way, but here’s what I really think.”

I got tired of being both patient and therapist to myself.

So I started Googling. It took hours, and there were a couple of frustrating phone conversations with a counseling organization whose “sliding scale” payment plan was not quite what they had advertised online.

And then I found her: a kind-looking woman, probably in her 50’s, with specialties and certifications longer than my arm and a short bio on psychologytoday.com that comforted me. I don’t know if it will work out or we’ll even like each other, but at least I tried. I felt lighter, just by emailing her and asking for help.

//

There’s a poem right now that I really love, Marie Howe’s “Magdalene—The Seven Devils.” It’s such a strange poem, and quite long, but I find it magnetic; I keep coming back to it again and again. I first heard it a few years ago when Howe read it aloud for her “On Being” interview and I listen to it regularly. She’s writing in the voice of Mary Magdalene, and the “seven devils” (as noted in Luke 8:2) are all the particular quirks and phobias and insecurities that keep her from being vulnerable with people, the things that make her feel out of her mind. I find the poem’s ending is so disarming,

“…the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.
The underneath. That was the first devil. It was always with me
And that I didn’t think you—if I told you—would understand any of this—“

If I could, I would read it aloud at my first therapy appointment. It would be easier than facing and naming my own devils, wouldn’t it?

Look at Mary Magdalene, mislabeled as a prostituted woman and an outcast for two millennia. Is it any wonder that women struggle their whole lives to name their fears and desires?

(The underneath. That’s my first devil.)

//

The “underneath” that keeps pushing itself up to the surface to make itself known is messy, moody, not-in-therapy me. All of my feelings and fears and grief that I can no longer keep a tight lid on. Why was I even trying? I didn’t think the people close to me would understand. And maybe they won’t.

Maybe that’s my second devil: my fear of being a burden to others, of not having things figured out or being able to clean up after myself, even emotionally.

And my third: being afraid to acknowledge a problem if I don’t already have a solution.

I’m sure I’ll unpack a dozen more with my therapist.

But what I hope here, as I write about all the things I’ve been unable to face in the past several months, is that each of us find the strength to take care of ourselves. That we are finally able to acknowledge the “underneath”–that first devil that dogs us, the Big Truth we are afraid to feel and name.

Do you need to go back to therapy, too?

Do you need to sit down with someone and uncover something that has been ailing your spirit?

Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone in this. You have a whole sisterhood of women who are learning to take care of themselves, too. You might find that when you finally name it, you will feel lighter just for having said it out loud.

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Bethany Suckrow
I’m a writer and blogger at at bethanysuckrow.com, where I shares both prose and poetry on faith, grace, grief and hope. I am currently working on my first book, a memoir about losing my mother to cancer. My musician-husband, Matt, and I live in transition as we move our life from the Chicago suburbs to Nashville.
Bethany Suckrow
Bethany Suckrow

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  • Can’t wait to check out that On Being interview!
    Thanks for the recommendation, Bethany.

    • It is wonderful, Michele. I’m sure you’ll love it. Marie Howe is wonderful and I love her voice.

  • Lynn Morrissey

    Bethany I wish you wellbeing in your explorations. There is so much complexity in all of us beneath the surface of our lives. Sometimes we need assistance in sorting it all out. I think too another thing that helps is transparency generally among friends . . . sadly not the kind I’m seeing online in many FB posts . . . this kind of uninhibited laundry-airing and name-calling is destructive. We need to purge ourselves of this vitriol, but privately. But I’m talking about the kind of openness that encourages the expressoin of deep feelings shared with a trusted friend or confidante who will listen compassionately and try to understand. I pray that you have these kinds of friends in your life, and I also pray that your therapist will listen to your heart and hold it tenderly.
    Love
    Lynn

  • Joy Howard

    This piece is so needed. I’ve been encouraging writers and activists I work with to use therapy if they have it available to them because if we don’t first take care of ourselves, there is no way we can serve others and bring justice to the world. Thank you for writing this. I have saved it and there are three people I’ll be sharing it with.

    • That’s so wonderful to hear, Joy. I know that personally it was the testimonies of others who went to therapy and had good experiences that made me want to go in the first place. I went for five years, and only when I moved to a new city and didn’t have the money did I stop going. Let’s just say, I can tell the difference between in-therapy me and not-in-therapy me. I hope my piece resonates with your friends. Thanks for reading!