Karen Hoving, Ph.D.
Karen Hoving, Ph.D.
I recently saw this on an UpWorthy site and was very touched by it. In a narrow sense it is about a woman who is a stand up comedian named Ash Beckham that was in Boulder in October 2013. She begins talking about being gay and the process of coming out of the closet. But she goes so much further.
Her point, which I very much agree with, is that many of us are in closets. I hear this all day long. When people crawl out of their closet into my office they put down their shame (not at all an easy thing to do) and begin to tell their “secret.” Whether that is that they were abused as a child, they are a 35-year-old virgin, they are struggling with chronic pain/chronic illness and they are tired of lying to friends and family and saying they are fine, when they are in pain and irritable, more days than not. But everyone is tired of hearing that…so they put their pain, their “secrets”, stuff them back into their closet and say they are having a great day.Because the fear of being misunderstood is more than they can bare on top of fighting a disease and spending every free dime on medical bills.
Everyone has a closet, not just gays. And many of us are just as afraid to come out of that closet. And like Ash Beckham, after years of being in a tiny dark closet, they are armed to the teeth with psychological bombs to throw at people who would feel more comfortable if you would just stay in the closet than drag someone else in…even if you put in a light so they can see that we all have problems, some are really hard, some are just hard.
As she explained, a closet is simply a metaphor for having a hard discussion that you would rather not leap into. A discussion that could cost you friendships, family relationships or your job.
How many hard discussions have we all attempted in our lives? Or, in many cases, avoided in our lives. All day I hear people’s stories. They cry, they express anger and mostly they experience fear. Yes, they can fly out of their closet in the safety of my office, where I won’t judge or say something stupid. I will just accept, understand, and help them begin to work through what they need to do to work through to destroy or break out of their closet. Telling me that they no longer love their partner, want a divorce, have an STD or some days hate their hormonal adolescent, is a walk in the park compared to telling people in their life that may judge or abandon them. Sometimes it’s hard to crawl out of the closet to tell tell your mother that you are gay, or were molested by her brother,your closest uncle when you were 7 and why didn’t she know?. Remember that some people’s closets are easier to deal with than others and it’s important not to judge. Some people are open about everything, others have been so bullied by society that to fly out of their closet and announce their biggest, scariest closet-hiding secret to the world, can be beyond overwhelming.
After I saw this video I smiled to myself. So often to new patients I have referred to therapy as going into a small dark closet. As they make their way through, they step on things, hear strange noises and perhaps hear what might be a HUGE fire breathing dragon snarling in the back of the room. As I have explained countless times, therapy is just turning on the light. The stuff under your feet is still there. It’s still the same size, the same amount. But what is different is that with the light on you can see! Maybe that dragon was bigger in your mind than when you stare him down with the lights on. Often he’s only 3 feet high and next to you is a magical sword that you can pick up, and perhaps notice where there is a weak spot to whack him up side the head and quiet him down and shove him through that dragon sized hole right next to him in the closet! Something you never would have seen without a flashlight or the light on.
Or perhaps we decide that leaving the closet today isn’t a great idea. That isn’t being a “scaredy cat” but being brave. It’s your closet. You can control when to get out, when to tell, when to go back in.
So often the thing that most women who see me haven’t had permission to do is 1)Say STOP 2) Say NO or 3) Say WHEN! So that is the first rule they all get. If they need to hide under that big sofa they just discovered when we turned the light on in their closet, and the word won’t come out, all they have to do is raise their hand. The conversation stops. The kleenex, and the tears, often flow. But I’m not here to evict them from their closet. They are in complete control. I’m here to support them from the pain that put them in the closet. And to hopefully be the person that will care for them unconditionally, in the closet or out, no matter why they have a closet, and to be there if they decide to burn it down or throw a grenade at it.
Therapy isn’t easy or fun, or they would call it picnic.
But it is survivable. Remember, the reason you are in the closet is because something in the past hurled you in there, or you built it as a method of survival. Sane survival. But the good news is that it happened in the past. You have survived it. Although it doesn’t feel like it, you got through the very worst, and lived to tell. And as you slowly and bravely tell your story, know that I am here to gently listen, care, and alway, always be there for you, when anyone or everyone else runs away.
Psychotherapist in Aurora, CO