This weekend marked a year since my therapist DS (Deep Soul) and I parted ways. These 365 days offered a chance for reflection, regression and growth. Many a client before me, and many still to come, will be confronted with this situation. Each will react differently. I cannot claim my path was special. It is also not over. I chronicle the journey because of an instinctual need to record and preserve. My wish is that you not be triggered, but rather find comfort and hope. Alternatively, I hope you can learn something. It’s pretty long so grab a cuppa before settling in…
It took a while to grieve his departure for another country, and the loss of our weekly sessions. Old abandonment fears sparked up in a twisted knot of rage, loneliness and despair. “Why was he leaving when he had previously acted as though there was no basis for my fears of being abandoned?” “How could my greatest support system at the time also be the cause of my greatest emotional pain?” “What did this say about my worth and closest relationships?” My husband offered much-needed support. But the despair felt strongest when we were fighting and I didn’t have another safety net. On the days I was more emotionally centered, I felt happy for DS and all the opportunities that awaited him. Hope nestled like a tiny, scruffy Phoenix in a pile of ashes in my chest. I was wary…waiting…wondering how the days, weeks and months ahead would look. As always, vivid dreams offered a colorful, if somewhat cryptic, reflection of my internal landscape. DS featured every now and then. It became a source of amusement as to what form he would take. I found that though he was physically gone, our relationship and tete-a-tete continued and actually developed in my dreams. Obviously, I refer specifically to the part of DS I had incorporated into my own personality. Most would argue that the symbols and people in our dreams reflect different aspects of ourselves. In a dream a few months after he left, I had a Karate Kid moment that left me feeling more supported:
I went to visit the doctor. I entered the office and the doctor looked more like a monk. He had glasses, a beard and kind eyes. I noticed the sign on his door said ‘THERAPIST’. I was confused. We started chatting and he asked how I was. The conversation was stiff at first and I said I was doing well. He stared at me and I felt my defenses breaking down. I laughed and said: “Well, that is what I am supposed to say”. He smiled, nodded slowly, but kept quiet. His presence was zen-like. I started opening up to him. There were suddenly other people in the office and it felt like a playroom for adults. The session became group therapy.
Having initially entered therapy because of marital strife a few years ago, I found that my husband and I were progressively making leaps and bounds in our relationship. There was a renewed sense of playfulness, enjoyment in each other and increased ability to share our perceptions and feelings. I was overjoyed. Feeling more secure than I had ever felt in any relationship, I found myself blossoming. I took what I had learnt about intimacy and trust from DS into my marriage and friendships. Never before had I felt more loved and appreciated for who I was. If ever there was a time for an upbeat soundtrack and rolling credits, this was it. But occasionally, I felt fear rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. “How could this joy last?” I would cling to my husband and pray that he not be taken from me suddenly, through a car accident, illness or some other drama. I had rediscovered what was important to me. And with that brought a feeling of how fragile life was and quickly it could be taken away. This nightly toiling was somewhat of a premonition. A few months down the line, my husband and I were caught up in a drama concocted by a very sick and sad person, that thrust open past fault lines in our relationship.
While it is still very difficult to talk about, and actually makes me feel out of breath and sick to the stomach, I will give an overview of what took place. A woman I had never met before phoned my husband at his office one day. She claimed she was phoning on behalf of her friend, who apparently felt very uncomfortable with an alleged chat her husband and I had on Whatsapp. The husband was a colleague of mine who I had worked with a few times before but did not really know that well. I sometimes liked his work-related photos and once or twice swapped information for assignments. He worked in a different building. The anonymous caller refused to identify herself and asked that my husband not tell me about the phone call. This raised my suspicions. Understandably, he was very distressed when he phoned and relayed to me what she had said. I tried to comfort him and assured that no such thing happened. I wanted him to know he had my absolute loyalty. Confused and shocked, I felt like the world was swirling around me. It felt as though our secure base and growth were being snatched away. There is truly nothing more devastating than being accused of something terrible when you are innocent. I sunk into a familiar pit of emotional despair. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Those moments made me long for DS and his reassuring presence. He knew me. He would believe me.
Through this, I wondered why someone would blatantly lie. Why would they want to tear us apart? What person would willingly cause such chaos? My first step was to email the colleague in question, CC my husband, and tell him about the distressing phone call. I wanted him to clearly state to my husband that we were just colleagues. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about his personal circumstances to try hatch up theories about who might be behind this. He assured that he and his wife were very much together and in love still, and that someone had been harassing him for a while. He apologised that this person had dragged us into the mess . He asked for the number this woman had phoned from.
Using all my investigative skills, I eventually uncovered what I believed to be the truth. I linked the mobile number to a woman through a Google search and cross-referencing. This woman, who turned out to be a freelancer for our mother company, had friended me on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Seeing her work details, I figured we had had obviously met before or had seen each other in a professional setting. I accepted and thought no more of it. She then was able to see my husband, where he worked and his department. It would not take much to phone his company and ask to be out through to his landline. While I don’t know for sure, I guess she must have had feelings for my colleague. She may have seen that I asked about his work trip to Dubai. I found that she used to like every post of his. This stopped just before the phone call and I guess he may have spurned her attempts to be closer or have a relationship. They unfriended each other and I later found she unfriended me before all this unfolded. Why she chose us as a target of her fury I will never know. After speaking to colleagues who knew her, I established she was not mentally well and prone to strange behaviour. Her actions angered me but I had better insight and understanding. I blocked her on all social media channels and increased my privacy settings. I then shared these findings with my husband, hoping he would feel more at ease. The attack had brought up old issues. Every day was an ongoing struggle over trust. A budding self-confidence regressed to insecurity. Fear, and not faith, was my foundation. Pretty shaky. Around this time, I had a jarring dream:
I drove to a house and it belonged to an distant school friend. Photos lined her walls. A baby was in some of them and I found out it had died. The house was quite dark and gloomy. I went outside and her husband drove in. He was absolutely devastated, hunching over and crying as he got out the car. Their house was suddenly replaced by a warehouse. I walked over to him because I realised I was there as a therapist. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I held him up and slowly led him to the warehouse. DS stopped in the parking lot and got out. He saw me supporting this guy. I was pleased because I hoped he would see me more as an equal and fellow professional. It felt like he was there to give me a therapy session. We all walked inside and my office was two sets of chairs and a table with a book labelled ‘counsellling psychologist’. The set-up was in the middle of the big warehouse and DS felt close but out of sight. Her husband confided in me that he wanted to commit suicide. It felt very urgent and I tried to comfort, placate and reason with him but he got increasingly violent. He jumped up from his chair and stormed toward me. DS appeared, whipped out a gun and shot him to protect me. The man collapsed to the floor. I was shocked and woke up highly unsettled.
The end and beginning:
As the dust settled, it was possible to reflect on where I stood and what therapy had cracked open. I had been here before. There was only so much I could say and do. Others were responsible for their actions and reactions. Trying to convince someone and, in a sense control the outcome, was futile. Relationships, life and people were messy, unpredictable and not always fair. As an idealist, I saw the potential of “what could be” instead of what was staring at me. Relentlessly pursuing the unattainable had caused me a lot of unnecessary grief. While there was some merit in believing in others, nobody could live up to these expectations, least of all me. I could not hope to heal old wounds by transforming a so-called bad object into a good object. Martha Stark described this phenomenon clearly and sensitively in her book, Psychotherapeutic Moments: Putting the Words to Music (available from freepsychotherapybooks.org). She explained how relentless hope was a defence to which people clung to in order to avoid grieving and feeling the pain of disappointment in the ‘object’. For me, this was the pain of parents who were not always responsive or available to the infant me. Fairbairn said: “A bad object is infinitely better than no object at all.” Cue a repetitive compulsion and a cycle of disappointing and infuriating intense attachments. If I think about it, I had transferred early and unresolved attachment onto DS. I so desperately clung to the hope that he would return to the country or somehow complete the incomplete. All of this sounds rather intellectual. But it sunk in on an emotional level as I read Stark’s book on a bus. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks with every bump in the road and every paragraph I read. I allowed myself to start feeling the “unbearable” pain buried deep inside. A therapist’s role here was to alternatively challenge and support. Without DS, but with some of his internalised good, I try to do the same. This is a long journey, maybe a lifelong one to make peace with reality. Or, as Stark says, “transformation of the need to hold on into the capacity to let go”. I dreamt this on the anniversary of his departure:
I drove to DS for therapy. It was in a different house and there were quite s few cars parked in the front yard. It took some maneuvering to find a spot. Once parked, I sat still for a bit. Excitement rose at seeing him again. In my rear view mirror, I saw a family leaving his office and wondered what their situation was. It struck me that I hadn’t been in therapy for a year. Maybe it was not necessary for me to go back.