My husband and I always knew we would settle in Newtown, Connecticut. After our years spent savoring every second of our overpriced New York City lifestyle, complete with a tiny shoebox apartment, we knew it was time to invest and make a commitment. Our future, if we were lucky enough to acquire it, always included a house with a big yard, marriage, and kids. My future also always included starting a private therapy practice. In our minds this future was always pulling us in the direction of Newtown. The choice was easy as my husband graduated from Newtown High School and his parents, my in-laws, still reside here. We were drawn in by the beautiful colonial houses, the iconic flagpole, the General Store sandwiches, friendliness of the residents, and the peace and quiet that comes with settling here. Three months before officially beginning our house hunt, December 14, 2012 happened. The world came to a screeching halt. I’ll never forget reading my husband’s text message multiple times and not believing his words to be true: “There was a school shooting in Newtown.” Suddenly the town that had provided us with a peaceful escape from our NYC life, and that we had come to call home before even having a permanent address here, was all over the news. Just as it was for everyone and anyone who knows this town, it was completely surreal and horrifying.
What shocked us in the months following that day was that we were asked more than once if we were still planning on moving to Newtown. Our answer was always the same, “of course.” Where else would we go? While there was no denying that there was a heaviness that had washed over the town, what was more palpable was the incredible outpouring of love. It came from within, but it also came from all over the world. Love is louder than hate. People all over the world proved that and are still proving that every day. Of course we were still moving to Newtown. In the face of this great tragedy all of the reasons we loved this town were reaffirmed. When I envisioned opening my private practice did I dream of it being in a town shattered by such indescribable trauma? No, of course not. How can anyone imagine the unimaginable? But again, when asked if this was still my plan after having my son in 2014 and leaving my job at an inpatient treatment center for those suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues, the answer was always, “yes, of course.”
The need for quality mental health services is greater than it ever has been in our country. That is the conversation that needs to be had and heard in every fabric of our lives. The conversation needs to move from one of “mental illness” to one of “mental health”. The term I always saw at the core of my practice was “wellness”—wellness in mind, wellness in body, and wellness in spirit. After having a baby and realizing my life was in the greatest transitional shift I’ve ever experienced, I was further drawn to this practice rather than pushed away from it.
Becoming a mom doesn’t happen gradually as any mom will tell you. It happens in an instant and all at once. While what being a mom means to us changes and evolves throughout our lives, the instinctive feeling of unconditional love comes the minute your children are born. Becoming a mom has made me more passionate about everything I already felt deeply for. Our children are our future. While this seems obvious, it also seems to be the one true innocence in our culture that is suddenly being taken advantage of. Our children are in danger—and it’s not the kind of danger one normally fears. It’s the kind that grows in the mind of an unhealthy person and knows no boundaries. It’s the kind of danger that lies in the ignorance of what mental health is and how we can care for those struggling to find it and hold onto it. It’s the kind of danger that sits quietly in the house down the street or next to us in the grocery store, alone and afraid. In protecting our children we need to be open to looking at ourselves and recognizing when we need a tune up. We need to be role models of mental health so that generations to come watch as we change the conversation. This needs to happen in every facet of our lives, in our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
Making the decision to seek therapy is an incredibly humbling decision and takes immense courage. Psychotherapy has gotten a bad rap over the years, but we are in the midst of an incredibly altering era for mental health. The difference is in understanding what therapy is. It isn’t just about diagnosing someone, labeling them, or focusing on what is “wrong” with them. It is about building on strengths that are already present, uncovering coping mechanisms to allow a person to heal and thrive even in times of struggle. It is about connecting a person to the right resources to be successful in their lives. Therapy can support you in learning how your feelings affect everything you do. So many suffering and in pain are searching for an answer or a cure. Psychotherapy offers more than that. Psychotherapy is the key to unlocking all of the parts of ourselves that end up buried by everyday stress, trauma, pressure, and sorrow. Psychotherapy allows one to move past just surviving and encourages thriving.
The dream of starting a private practice wasn’t born when the Sandy Hook tragedy happened. It was born well before that as I sat completely entranced by my professors at NYU as they spoke of change, equality, and what happens in the absence of love and self-awareness. Newtown Family Therapy came to fruition in a similar fashion as did my becoming a mother—all at once and without a rulebook, backed by passion, commitment, hope, and love.