“Let’s start with an easy question. Why are you here, Sofie?”
“I don’t know, you tell me.” A young girl, Sofie, was balled up sitting on a couch in a small office. The office was painted two different shades of gray and was covered in motivational posters and inspirational quotes. There was a clock on a table near the door. It read 2:02. The couch Sofie sat on was directly across from a cushy chair, filled by a middle-aged woman. The woman had a yellow legal pad on the arm of the chair, and was looking at Sofie intently through small, squarish black glasses. She was wearing a gray sweater dress that made her blend into the walls.
Sofie, on the other hand, was wearing black leggings with a maroon Community High School crewneck. She had on muddied white converse, with wool socks sticking out of the tops of them. She was looking everywhere in the room, except at the woman across from her. Sofie’s eyes skirted back and forth between the bookshelf on the right side of the room and the bookshelf on the left, eyeing books with titles like Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life and The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.
“Those books probably don’t even help your patients. The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem? Sounds like a bullshit way to get money out of people who hate themselves.” Sofie glared at the floor as she spoke to the woman across from her. She noticed a yellowish stain in the white carpet on the floor. “Did someone piss themselves in your office? Wow, you must be pretty bad at your job.”
“Sofie, we aren’t here to talk about the books I have or the stains on the carpet. We are here to talk about you. So, let me ask you again, why are you here, Sofie?” The woman was getting slightly annoyed but disguised it with her sickeningly sweet tone of voice.
“I don’t know, doc. You tell me. You are the professional in the room. Unless we’re talking about drinking, then I’m the professional.” Sofie laughed at the joke she made at her own expense. It was a dry laugh, missing the happiness one would usually have.
“There we go, Sofie. We are here to talk about your drinking. And why do you think you needed to come to therapy to address this issue?”
“What’s your name again? I don’t remember. My parents told me about a hundred times but I just wasn’t paying that much attention ‘cause I don’t care.” Sofie was quite talented at switching subjects when it came to discussing issues she didn’t want to discuss.
“I’m Dr. Howard. You can call me Joy also, if you would be more comfortable with first names. Let’s try to focus on the issue at hand, though. What has been going on with your drinking?”
“I drink on weekends? I don’t really know why that’s a crisis situation. About a billion other teenagers across the world do the same thing as me. I don’t need a shrink to talk about it so I really don’t need to be here. That’s what has been going on with my drinking.” Sofie still wouldn’t look Dr. Howard in the eyes. She was focused on the stain on the floor, and her legs were bouncing up and down on the couch. She was relentlessly picking at her cuticles on her left thumb with her first finger. Dr. Howard realized there was not going to be an easy way to get information from Sofie, so she changed the subject this time.
“It says in your file that you were diagnosed with both generalized and social anxiety disorders when you were ten. Did you ever treat those disorders?”
“Well, I had a shrink back then. She was a cunt. We didn’t get along so I stopped seeing her. Then when I was 13, my parents made the executive decision to force me back into therapy but that lasted for about a month. I wasn’t really grooving on that lady either. So, that shrink wrote me a prescription and those pills have been dealing with those anxiety issues ever since the eighth grade.” Sofie let one leg fall out of her tight ball of limbs. She was becoming more comfortable in the office and even though she wasn’t going to admit it, her new sitting arrangement gave her away.
“Why didn’t you like either of your therapists?”
“Because they were dumb. They didn’t really do anything. They told me ways to cope when I was having a panic attack but that didn’t really do much for me. I mean, yeah, in theory, all of those breathing exercises and rational thinking exercises are going to be great but when I’m in the middle of a panic attack, not much can calm me down, you know? It just seemed like a waste of time for me. And with my meds I’m all good!”
“Okay. Do you think your anxiety is still an issue for you?” Dr. Howard was trying to casually take note of everything that was coming out of Sofie’s mouth. She thought she was doing a good job because Sofie was so focused on the ground, except Sofie wasn’t dumb and she noticed. She let Dr. Howard believe she was succeeding in taking secret notes.
“No. I still have panic attacks but that is never gonna go away. They aren’t even that bad anymore so I can handle them.”
“Have your attacks gotten any worse in recent months?”
“Why does that matter?” Sofie curled back up into the tight ball she had previously been in on the couch. She hugged her legs as tightly as she could to her body and she frantically tapped her fingers across her knees. Dr. Howard noticed this change in behavior and took note immediately. Obviously she had hit a sensitive spot, and Dr. Howard knew she had to dig deeper to see what the issue was.
“It matters because it could help us figure out why you are here right now, and it could make your time with me much shorter, which I know you would appreciate.” Sofie was tempted to tell Dr. Howard the truth about her anxiety. She opened her mouth, closed it, and then rested her head on her knees and shut her eyes.
“Yeah. My attacks have gotten worse. They’ve gotten way worse. And you knew that didn’t you? Of course you knew, Dr. Howard, or should I say Joy? It doesn’t really matter what I call you. You are the same as all the other people I’ve talked to. I am going to tell you that my attacks got worse, you’re going to tell me new techniques I can use when panicking, I’m not going to be able to use them and then we will stop seeing each other. You may up my prescription but that will be the last I hear of you and the last you hear of me.” She stopped talking and took a shaky breath. Her eyes remained closed but water had dripped out of them and trickled down her face sideways to land on her knee.
“It doesn’t have to end up like that. Even just saying those words out loud is making a lot of progress. Why do you think your attacks have gotten worse, Sofie?”
“Because I get nervous in social situations and I get drunk in social situations now, when I can, so if I can’t get drunk, I panic. And then, when I do get drunk, I always seem to end up passed out on the floor because I can never seem to sedate myself enough to stop panicking. And it fucking sucks.” Tears were streaming down her face. She sat up and rolled her shoulders back, stretched her arms and legs out before curling back up into a ball. She set her chin on her knees, staring blankly at the door to the room, face damp.
“Why do you think you can’t go into any of these social settings without panicking or getting drunk?” Dr. Howard spoke softly, genuinely asking this question, not just using a fake tone of voice to get answers out of her patient. She had set her pen and paper aside and crossed her hands in her lap. There was a look of concern plastered across her face.
“Because I’m used to one option or the other. And I’ve gotten into the habit of it. So that means I have to break the habit but that isn’t very realistic so.”
“Why is breaking that habit out of the realm of possibility for you?” Dr. Howard picked her pen back up, waiting in the stance of a therapist ready for a breakthrough with their patient. Sofie sat up again, wiped her tears away with her sleeves and looked at Dr. Howard for the first time the entire session.
“Because. Being drunk is fun. I love drinking. I love the feeling that I get when I’m drunk. Like I’m floating and warm and happy and no one can take me down from that place. When I’m not drunk, anyone can put me into a state of panic in a second. Why on earth would I want to stop getting drunk then?” Dr. Howard didn’t have an answer to this question. Sofie sniffled, rubbed her face with her hands and hopped off the couch. “The clock says it’s 2:59. This session is over in a minute so we might as well cut it short for today.” The sassy, uncaring tone was back into her voice.
“Okay. Same time next week. I will see you then, Sofie.”
“Alright. You can tell yourself that.” Sofie opened the door and walked straight out of the office without looking back.