Cindy Lauper’s ‘Time after time’ has just come on in the café I’m writing in- its the song I’ve sung to my therapist recently as our nine year analysis draws to an end. I’m bawling into my hot chocolate and wiping the tears as I write, thinking yes. He looked and he found me time after time. And I’ve fallen and he’s caught me time after time. A suitcase of memories… I’m a soppy, sentimental foolish girl but also the power ballad speaks to how I have experienced my therapist’s relentless search to find me. I was buried alive when I first entered his consulting room, crushed under the weight of my solipsistic self-recriminations, suffocated in apologies, mummified by inhibition. There was no way I was going to bust open the coffin by myself and scoop the earth out one fistful at a time till I reached the surface. When I first arrived on his couch all I could do was lay there, supine, helpless, entombed in embryonic silence without any hope he even knew I was down there. I think if I had died, they wouldn’t have found scratch marks on the lid of the coffin- I’d given up on anyone reaching me, any chance at human connection. I didn’t even know I was slowly asphyxiating. I’d gotten used to my shallow breaths that barely took in what I so desperately craved: attention, presence, kindness, compassion, the company of others.
Well folks, he found this zombie. Dead-then-undead. Here I am. Over three evenings a week, over and over again, time after time, he kept digging till he reached me. The reason I can weep in my therapy sessions over the last month is because he kept going till he made contact, till he clasped my hand and pulled me out: I emerged, shallow breaths, wobbly legs, blinded by the sun, stunned at the rhythm of my pulse, astonished at my capacity for heart.
I don’t know if everyone experiences therapy as sacred. I have grappled with how much he has meant to me, how much I owe him, how deeply I have loved him. I’m aware I pay him by the hour and he has been professionally trained- this is a weird paradox that I can’t untangle. For those of us who needed more than just a kind ear and a bit of compassion to heal our childhood wounds- for those of us who were left for dead psychically speaking- those of us who were hopelessly damaged in ways that would make even the most experienced therapist balk- enlivening us is a heroic act. I have used him in ways I could never use a friend or a partner. Partners and friends require reciprocity, some giving in addition to taking. I needed a deeply unequal relationship. The kind where one person was doing most of the heavy lifting for a long while, the way parents do for babies. I urgently needed someone to run and grab a shovel and start digging. I needed an intensely consistent, attuned relationship- the kind that, if you’re lucky, you get offered once as an infant and then never again- one far beyond the scope of what could be sanely asked for from the usual channels of relating. Sometimes I think it is even more than what I could ask of a therapist: it would have been very reasonable of him to throw up his hands and say, too hard. I can’t reach you, you are too wounded. Especially in those first few years when I didn’t turn up to my sessions or turned up drunk or turned up silently absorbed in my own internal thrashings, unable to ask for help. He spent allot of time waiting for me to turn up in every sense- and when Cindy sings ‘I will be waiting,’ I erupt into more sobbing. It gets me in the gut. What an extraordinary thing to do for another human.
I have never trusted anyone as much as I have this man, I have never leaned on anyone with all my weight in the way I have relied on him. No one has ever seen me so skinless. He holds my whole history, and by taking all of me in he has made it possible for me to claim my story. I am more alive with him than I am anyone else: I crackle with humour and intelligence in front of him. He was the first person to call me into being, to invite me to exist as I am. He was the first person to see who I am when I am unashamed and ‘unleashed’ as he calls it, the way I am now most of the time, the way I move through the world now.
I feel so tender at the moment. In the sense of being both a little bit sore and also with a staggering capacity to be affected by cheesy pop on the radio or something beautiful someone says. I am weepy and grateful and a little shambolic but alive. So alive. And I’ll say goodbye to him on Friday.
Copyright Diana Smith 2018