She sat across from him, the man she’d known for nearly two years, the man she never addressed by name, the man who read her like a book before she’d said anything. She’d told herself (and everyone else) she would not see a male therapist; she felt more comfortable around women (although she could never identify an instance to explain why). Yet, when he suggested it, offered to take her on, to become an intimate part of her life, she agreed. Maybe it was his wry sense of humor, his awareness. Maybe the fact that he reminded her of her dad (if in nothing more than name, ethnicity and gender). Or maybe it was the sense of challenge, the knowledge that the time had come for her to question all of her past assumptions and beliefs, as, clearly, they had gotten her nowhere but in the psych ward with an ID band and a locked door. With a grateful, curious “yes,” she agreed, and their journey began….
Ups and downs, she’d had them all- and yet, not what she wanted. Session after session, she sat, trying to tell him anything and everything. Sometimes she cracked jokes and so did he, laughing at her thick-headedness in a gentle, yet incredulous manner. Sometimes, she’d grow dark, anger and frustration clouding her vision, and retreat into tense silence. Not once did she raise her voice to yell, throw anything (well, except for that shoe, but she preceded that with the announcement that she would do so), or storm out. And she never cried. She felt sad from time to time, reflecting on her losses and grief, and on her hurt soul, but she remained drier than the Kalahari. And here they were, yet again at an impasse, his eyes patient and questioning, her head down, as usual, lost in the frustration of her emotional drought.
“Can you look at me?,” he asked, knowing the challenge therein. She raised her head and caught his glance, but quickly averted her eyes. “I’ve already told you, it’s hard for me.” “I know. But don’t things get easier the more you do them?” Arrgh. No argument there. She knew she needed to try, to get past this feeling of awkwardness, this fear of breaking down, so that she could break down and truly feel what had been buried all these years. “Dammit!” she muttered. “What?” “Why do you always do this to me?” “Do what?” “You know. Challenge me when you know I can’t refuse, that it’s my nature to obey authority.” He chuckled. Some beliefs you couldn’t change that easily.
She took a deep breath, slowly filling her lungs, prolonging the moment, and then brought her eyes to meet his. Immediately, she felt the instinct to run, like a trapped animal, but she persisted, reassuring herself that she was in a safe place. At first, she took in his entire face, noting his gentleness, his peaceful expression, calmly waiting, allowing her to be. It overwhelmed her, the intensity of the experience, so she focused solely on his eyes, letting all else dissolve. This time, it wasn’t a staring contest of silence. She knew he’d be steady, keeping her gaze even if she started to falter. She saw in his eyes wisdom and patience, caring and friendship. She continued to look into his eyes, going ever deeper, until she saw someone else- someone both strong and weak, found and lost, a capable adult and a dependent child… herself… she was there, fully reflected in his eyes, no excuses, no pretensions… her soul, reflected in honesty and truth, ready to be reclaimed, honored, and loved. He knew it, her saw her a she was, and wanted her to see what he saw. But could she? Could she accept his gift?
As she continued to look, something loosened within. The vines of illusion and pain that had tightened around her heart eased their grip, allowing her to feel. She heard the voice of her lonely inner child, crying in the darkness, and it brought tears to her eyes. She was that lost little girl, all alone in her pain and confusion, and she wept for the first time. Quietly, at first, allowing the tears to fall to her lap. “What’s going on?” he asked gently. She sighed. “I feel so alone, so sad… I want my dad… I want him to give me a hug, to hold me in his arms and tell me everything’s going to be alright, that I’m doing what’s right for me and that he’s proud of me…” her voice trailed off. “I know he’s gone, and I know I’m the adult now who can comfort the little girl, but…” “But what?” he prompted. “Well, I know this goes against your practice, but…” He waited for her to finish; he knew what she was going to ask, but she had to admit it herself. “Um, will you come over here and give me a hug?” The words came out in a half whisper; she knew the answer had to be “no,” followed by “why do you want that?” or “what do you imagine would happen if I did that?,” but that answer didn’t come. As she sat, eyes closed, listening to her breathing, he got up from his chair and came around the desk to the empty seat beside her. She stiffened slightly, excited at the prospect of having her need met and yet afraid of the experience. He sat, allowing her the choice…. Slowly, she lowered her head, resting it on his shoulder. He gently placed one arm around her, reassuring her that it was ok, that he was here for her… like her dad…. A flood of emotions washed over her, as she realized she could never have her father back again, that her therapist would always be there for her as a trusted guide, but that he could not replace her father, nor could he give her the comfort she desperately craved. She had to give it to herself, her adult self taking her inner child in her arms and reassuring her that all would be ok, even in the pain. She cried harder at this realization, tears and sobs mingling with snot, a salty mixture reaching her lips.
She sat up, fumbling for a tissue, desperate to wipe it all away. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Nothing to be sorry for,” he replied. She blew her nose, laughing a bit at the jarring sound. “Thanks,” she said, as the tears subsided. “How’d that work for you?” he asked, teasingly. She smiled, a light, wistful expression. “Not like I’d hoped.”
“Oh? Do tell.” “I wanted that so badly.,.. but it felt…weird. I realized I could never have my dad back, and that I have to be the parent I’m looking for and comfort myself.” She sighed. “Don’t know how I’m going to do that…. There’s still a lot of work to do…”
“Same time, same station?” Their time was up.
“Guess so,” she exhaled, gathering her belongings.
“Bye.” And, holding hands, she and her inner child left, to figure things out.
Mariah Warren lives with her husband, their three year-old son, and their cat. She received her Bachelor’s degree in music (voice) and always has her hand in some creative project. Mariah spent her formative years striving for academic greatness, and is now attempting to ease up on the perfectionism that accompanied that quest! This attempt has included countless hours of therapy, of which she’s a big proponent. Mariah’s experiences with depression and anxiety, especially following the birth of her son, have inspired her to advocate for mental health awareness and the erasing of stigma.