I’ve always loved that scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon walks into a therapy session with Robin Williams, claps his hands, and sarcastically exclaims, “Let the healing begin!”
That cinematic moment exemplifies my ongoing approach to therapy in general, except that I say it with sincerity. I always start going again for a reason (I can’t count how many times I’ve started and stopped therapy). Maybe I was lost in a haze of raging insomnia, focusing my anxiety on a tender, stinging molar, or haunted by the mental imagery of prior trauma. I always want to start fresh, because therapy never worked for me before. This time will be different; I can be perfect from now on.
Somewhere, outside of myself, there is an easy solution. There is someone out there waiting with the answers, ready and willing to save me.
The solution isn’t gin, or the army of tipsy, swoopy-haired men I counted on to be transformative. It’s not my husband, or daughter. Changing boroughs didn’t work, nor counties. I’m still looking for it: the 1-800 number on a late night informercial that offers salvation for 4 easy payments of $39.99 plus shipping, no CODs. I want the easy way out.
The routine I’ve repeated with more than a dozen therapists is always the same. At first, full tilt fervor. I walk in, say nice to meet you, take a seat on the brown pleather la-z-boy, and summarize my life story in 20 minutes, all gruesome details. I am thoughtful, unfazed. I interchangeably use SAT vocabulary and therapy-speak. I immediately want the therapist to know that I am amazing, and we are done here.
It doesn’t work.
Even if I could convince every therapist in the world to tell me I’m fine, I am not always fine. I can tell my story with vigor, all sweeping narrative and astute observation, but talking at someone who’s being paid by the hour doesn’t kill my ghosts. They’re waiting outside in the car, haunting the Honda, laughing at my refusal to be genuine.
I started therapy again when I was pregnant. My best friend, who’s spent the last decade delivering babies and nurturing new moms, told me it was important. Being pregnant and giving birth can be extra emotionally difficult for survivors of sexual trauma. (Something to do with abdicating control of your own body for a year, handing it over to a midget dictator who is not exactly sensitive to your whims and feelings).
I repeated my usual performance, nudging the therapist to say, “Why are you even here? You sound terrific.”
My next act, if I make it that far with a particular candidate, usually involves them asking me how I “feel” about certain events. This always stops me dead in my tracks. I hate this question.
The real answer is that I try not to, at all costs. What I do is think about my problems, not feel them. Thinking about them hurts less. I want to think my way into an easy solution, think myself into a place where the feelings fade into the atmosphere like hot breath in cold weather. I don’t want to pay someone to let me sit on their shit-colored couch for 45 minutes and then leave the office feeling like a gaping wound for the rest of the day, dysfunctional and dripping with blood.
That’s around the time I stop calling and booking appointments.
I stopped seeing the therapist I saw during my pregnancy because she, like all the others, didn’t understand me. Never mind that she didn’t understand me because I didn’t let her, a minor detail.
I’m seeing another new one now. A severe postpartum depression set me straight; I will take any measure possible to ensure that I am healthy enough to care for Lu. No amount of dignity is more important to me than being able to care for my daughter.
I’m trying to take it seriously, to let the healing begin, if you will. I want to learn how to feel stuff and not immediately try to arrest it, push it away, think over and through it.
Yesterday, while sitting on her brown couch (because what other color could it be), Lucy crawling around on the floor banging blocks together to make sound, I read her the narrative I wrote recently about my sexual assault (A+ student!). This is ripe stuff, the work of someone who is clearly dedicated to her emotional and spiritual journey, perhaps even someone who is really almost just fine. The paragraph that follows the description of events begins, “Being assaulted was not my fault.”
She looked at me for a minute. Finally, she said, “Ok, but that’s not really how you feel about it, is it?”
Shattered. That knocked the wind right out of me. She didn’t buy my textbook summary, my saying of the thing you’re supposed to say about this kind of thing.
She’s right. I don’t think it’s my fault, I feel it’s my fault. And thinking about it doesn’t change how it feels. It feels like shit. I spent the rest of the day mostly lying on Lucy’s floor, exhausted from feeling stuff, while my daughter amused herself with toys.
I made another appointment for next week, a scheduled sacrifice, 12:15pm Thursday my still-pumping ventricles will be ripped from my ribs and held up to the light.
What’s different this time? I’m more willing to do the work because there’s a new emotional frontier that I don’t want to be shielded from: the one that’s two feet tall and has the world’s most squeezable cheeks.
I want to go all in. I want to be the best possible version of myself, emotionally whole, so that there’s more of me to experience her. I don’t want to run away. I want to finally learn how to coexist with the messy stuff I’ve spent decades trying to outsmart and outrun.
Maybe she’s saving me after all.