Today marks six months since Zooey terminated therapy with us. I actually have session with the new therapist at 4pm – which is the exact time of that termination session. Weird.
I thought I would feel different about it at this point. Better? More resolved? Less consumed with grief and confusion and shame? I don’t know, exactly. Just…different.
I suppose I do feel better overall. But in other more subtle and pervasive ways, I feel worse. I think I understood that her actions would ripple in ways that might take a long time to even see. But I felt determined to master it.
Looking back, I think so much of what held me to therapy in the aftermath of her abandonment was the absolute determination I felt to not allow this woman to have any more impact on my life than she already did. She hurt me profoundly. I didn’t want to let her continue to do so.
Yet…somehow she does. I don’t see her. I don’t speak to her. I don’t even know her. She is a ghost now. But, like a ghost, she haunts me. I see and hear her everywhere – in the words and expressions of the people I work furiously to trust. The very moments of connection and attunement that I long for are the same moments that snap me back to her. Her words. Her expressions. The naïveté with which I embarked on that therapeutic journey.
I am reminded of the vast discrepancy between what she often said versus what she actually did. She betrayed my trust without intent or malice. I think that’s worse. I prefer to imagine she deliberately compromised my treatment and progress than to accept the harsh reality that she just didn’t know better.
How will anyone know better? How will I? How can I believe that anyone means what they say? How can I rely or depend on the safety and nurturing someone alleges to provide? How can I know what is real?
Just as these moments in the current day transport me back to all that hurts about Zooey, the moments with Zooey transport me back to a lifetime of hurt and betrayal and lies. I place all of this intensity around Zooey because it’s safer. It’s easier to talk about. It’s safer to explore. There’s less of an investment and thus less to lose.
I have this very short but incredibly clear memory of my biological mother. I am a teenager and I’m in severe distress. I don’t know what’s wrong, but I can feel the emotion. I am terrified and out of control. My mother stands in front of me, screaming about something. I feel myself break internally. A child part, maybe?
I stop her mid-scream and I just cry out for her: “Mommy, please! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry! Please love me! Please!”
She softens and I sense her calming a bit. She puts her arms out to me, ever so slightly. I sigh and imagine the warmth and safety of laying my ear on her chest, feeling the soothing sound of her heartbeat. I pause, skeptical, but then I lean into her.
She steps backwards and drops her arms. “Oh stop being such a baby!”
I fall to my knees and hold myself in a futile attempt to self-soothe. It feels like I’m dying. My heart is shattering into pieces and I’m trying to hold all of them inside so my heart doesn’t explode all over the living room.
I just stay there, rocking and sobbing until the world goes dark again.
It is so unbearably painful, this memory. I needed her. I was hurting. I begged for her to help and she allowed me to believe – even if only for a second – that she would be there for me. And I did believe her. Wholeheartedly. Naïvely. Stupidly.
But she didn’t want to help. She wanted to mock me and watch me suffer. She abandoned me in a moment of dire need for connection. I hate myself for trusting her and I hate myself for not predicting her betrayal.
Which brings me around to this day, six months ago, when I felt the same way. I know these are dramatically different contexts, but somehow the underlying emotion is so similar.
I trusted Zooey. She allowed me to trust her. She did all the right things to appear trustworthy and invested and caring. But, just like my mother – when I stood in front of her in extreme distress, begging for connection and begging for help – she put her arms down and took a step back.
How do I heal from this? How can I ever be okay? How could I ever truly believe that anyone will embrace me, rather than turn away?
And how can I ever forgive myself for letting these things happen?