Saying goodbye

DESHeadshotBS-1 ‘On the outside the emotions are being covered?’

‘Yep, there’s a terrible risk in saying “goodbye” that something on the inside will rupture out of me.’

‘Rupture?’

‘Yes, I remember standing on stage … in my mid-20s. I was addressing the audience and was about to thank a member of my band, someone I’d been really close to since I was a child who was emigrating to Australia after the gig. I was stopped in mid-sentence … a syllable more and I would enter the rupture. I turned my face from the audience. The silence on stage was horrific. I don’t remember what next.’

‘You say “rupture”.’

‘When my mother died, I was stuck. The complex grief of losing a mother that I’d only related with well for part of my life left this dark grey block in my chest and the back of my head. I knew I needed to cry but I couldn’t bear to hear the awful sound that wanted to exit me every time I started. Eventually, I turned the music up so loud I couldn’t hear myself cry. But it’s not what I did … not what it sounded like coming out of my body. My inner ears told me what my outer ones couldn’t.’ [Silence]

‘Rupture?’ [Silence]

‘Yes … rupture. The most guttural gasp and then, and then it vomits this sound. [Silence] I’ve heard it from other people. I think it’s the actual sound of loss?’

‘Is it fearful to lose then?’

‘Isn’t … isn’t it fundamental to loving? To connection? The only way to not experience it as far as I’m wired would be by dying so you couldn’t experience loss.’

‘Do I need to worry about that last sentence?’

‘No, no … God no. Nothing like that. It’s that saying goodbye is so fundamental.’

‘So, as it’s a patient that’s brought this up for you, what do you need from supervision today?’

‘I need to say that I have a daughter. A therapy daughter, you know that. It comes from the fact that she adopted me, as a therapy dad. She led, I followed. I had the space in my life to be that figure for a while.’

‘It’s been what? Four years?’

‘Yes, four. There’s been longer, much longer, but I was “therapy uncle”, “good person”, “repairing therapist”, “the first good guy”.’

‘Never therapy dad?’

‘Never “therapy dad”. You know that bit in the training film for therapists, Gloria … the bit where Rogers says, “Gee Gloria, right now, in the moment, I think I do love you like a father”? It kills trainees. They aren’t ready for how it can work in the room. They think it’s a no-no – like he’s made a mistake. But what’s therapy without love? Isn’t it about a form of love? Safe, ethical, non-erotic love?’

And then it hits.

‘Anny is my daughter. I love her as such because she needed me to. So that the therapy could work, so that she could let go of things, discover, rediscover and then let go.’

‘You have a daughter.’ [Silence] ‘You have a daughter.’ There is another pause as the listening therapist collects himself. ’Okay, so we know you understand the process. You know how to deliver safe, therapeutic love to women and men. It’s been a particular theme for you over the last five or six years. What’s different this time?

‘This is only just in my head but … I think it’s that I have to realise that therapy dad is a foster dad. He has to let go. Fully. No matter how much he loved. He has to have played the full role, a surrogate, but when the job is done … [there is a long silence; the room charges with emotion] … when the job is done he has to make space to receive the next therapy son, daughter [niece, nephew].’

‘It’s part of our work for some patients.’

‘Yes patients – from pati – one who suffers.’

‘Imagine that everyone demanded this from us each session!’

The supervision couple laugh together. Letting go of the tension.

‘We supply what our Ps need; it’s a privilege.’

‘Honour?’

‘Yes, honour.’

‘And I wouldn’t change a moment of it, not for all those projections and transferences we have to hold.’

‘But saying goodbye!’

‘I was once given a wonderful message in a card from an “Anny” of mine.’ The supervisor reaches into a tin that is on the side of the desk. ‘There’s a whole bit before this, but here’s the bit that really showed such deep understanding of saying goodbye for me.’

There are things in this world

that even when they live in the past

and can no longer grow into the future,

retain their beauty forever.

For a moment the therapists catch each other’s eyes and each sees in the other the familiar sparkle of light when it catches water.

Duncan recounts from a therapy daughter …

“I feel able to fly, but I am sad to leave”

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Plumbing the depths of creativity

3monkeyGlenn‘Um, I’m a bit embarrassed – urghhh – I think I’ve blocked your toilet … I’ll check it again before I leave,’ Karl offers as he enters the room.

‘Oh,’ I reply.

‘I know I’m full of shit, and you’d probably say I’m just really “anal”.’ Unlike the toilet, Karl’s humour flows with the same apparent ease with which his lithe body moves from the door and into the chair.

‘You’ve been saying that for some time,’ I reply.

‘I have?’

‘Yes, you complain how shit your life is, about how you dump here and on me, you apologise and then you do the same thing the next week. Blocking the toilet was inevitable.’

‘So you think your blocked toilet is a manifestation of my internal world?’

‘Sure,’ I reply. ‘You’ve brought together two key aspects of your life: writer’s block, and how shit your life is. The toilet is a beautiful embodiment of your perspective.’

Karl thinks for a moment, ‘So I’m a blocked toilet? And I thought I was the one who’s full of shit!’

‘Maybe I am, but you often say how you’ve lost your creativity – then when you do create something you devalue it.’

Adjusting his glasses as though to emphasise his incredulity Karl asks, ‘You’re seriously suggesting I value a blocked toilet?’

‘Yes. You say nothing much ever happens to you; well this is it – it’s happening right now. Writers write from experience – so write about this.’

‘Great, I can just see my editor’s face when she asks what I’m working on, and I say, “The time I blocked my therapist’s toilet – oh, and yes, my writing really has turned to shit.”’

‘See, that’s good; you just don’t see it, or you don’t value it.’

Karl pushes back, ‘Seriously? Come on …!’

‘Why not? You’re not writing anything else. Besides, whatever your stuckness is it’s forcing you to be with yourself; it’s confronting you with yourself.’

‘You’ve said that before; maybe it’s you who’s stuck.’ He has a point.

‘You don’t trust your process; you restrict yourself creatively – you don’t risk being spontaneous.’

I’m not sure if Karl’s lack of response is a grudging acknowledgement. After a brief pause a thought appears. ‘What’s brown and sticky?’ I ask.

Karl looks quizzically at me, ‘What, really?’

‘Yeah, what’s brown and sticky?’

Karl shrugs, ‘A stick?’

‘No, you are …’ Karl’s face is expressionless; I suddenly feel very exposed.

‘Are you serious? You think it’s okay to say that to a black man?’

The moment steals my breath. Karl’s eyes look pained, then almost imperceptibly, the corners of his mouth curl up as uncontained laughter ruptures his serious expression: ‘I gotcha! Ha … I’ve never seen anyone whiter than you!’

Lost for words and unable to laugh, I utter, ‘Wow … that wasn’t nice!’ He laughs louder still. I want to laugh but I first need to breathe, ‘I don’t know about you being brown and sticky, but I think I’ve soiled myself!’ With this the tightness in my abdomen releases as laughter bubbles up; we’re now laughing together and wiping the tears from our eyes.

‘I’m sorry, but you did challenge me to be more spontaneous!’ Karl pauses allowing me to take his words in. ‘You thought you’d offended me?’ His voice has a tenderness that often comes through in his playfulness. ‘You know your joke could have backfired.’

He is acknowledging the risk I’d taken; perhaps it’s testament to our relationship that we are able to connect in a place where we’re both potentially vulnerable; it was this that set the context for our exchange. I began wondering about other times when I may’ve got it wrong; there are probably more than I’m even aware of.

Karl interrupts my thought, ‘Don’t worry; your joke was racial, not racist; there is a distinction – they’re not synonymous.’ Karl’s sincerity gives way to giggling, ‘I am sorry, but your face; you looked like a ghost.’

As our laughter subsides we sit in silence for some time like a post-coital couple enjoying the warm afterglow of a brief and intense encounter.

‘So you really think I should write about this,’ Karl concludes.

‘Why not? Treat it as a writing exercise – it might unblock you, and it might not.’

‘Hmm,’ Karl ponders, ‘But who’d read it?’

‘Write it for yourself.’

Karl laughs at a private joke, ‘“Write for myself”; I’m a professional writer.’

‘Maybe that’s where you’re stuck; you only ever write for other people.’

‘I might as well just flush it all away,’ Karl replies as though he hadn’t heard me. His words belong to another ongoing conversation; rather than deflecting perhaps he’s making a connection.

Glancing at the clock and addressing himself, Karl declares, ‘Times up, and time to face the music.’

‘If it doesn’t work I’ll deal with it; I work with people’s shit all the time.’ My words follow him out of the room.

Karl disappears into the downstairs’ toilet. A loud swooshing sound accompanies Karl as he emerges triumphant, ‘All good.’ Then with irony he adds, ‘Well at least the toilet’s not blocked anymore.’

Rather than criticism, I take Karl’s comment as a reassurance to us both that our work is not yet done. He was right about me being stuck – we are, as it were, stuck in it together.

Glenn recommends …

If as a psychotherapist you ask someone to do something, you either first have to have done it yourself, or be willing to do so.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.