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.

In praise of being eaten

3monkeyGlennI recall, during my initial psychotherapy training at the Whittington Hospital in North London, the day I had to choose a supervisor. My tutor listed several candidates. He read out their names, many of them sounding exotic to me. He gave us little detail unless a group member enquired further. One name, in particular, struck me …

‘What about her?’ I asked.

He gave me an impish smile, laughed and cautioned: ‘She’ll eat you for breakfast!’

Something inside me said: ‘That’s the one!’ I didn’t know why, except I knew I didn’t want someone who wasn’t able to eat me. I wanted a supervisor who’d take no prisoners; I didn’t want to be spared. I thought only giants eat people for breakfast and, if there are giants, I want one as a supervisor.

I arrived for my first supervision session and pressed the doorbell of a beautifully coloured glass entrance to a large Victorian house. Only then, waiting for an answer, did I think: ‘What if she’s an ogre?!’ The door opened and a tiny woman revealed herself. I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment; I thought, ‘She’s not a giant.’

‘Oh God, you’re so young!’ she said. It was no compliment. Wow! I was being eaten even before I’d entered her house. I was both breakfast and delivery man. Her greeting had taken me by surprise. I stood rooted to the doormat not knowing how to respond.

‘Come in.’ It sounded more like an instruction than an invitation. Her tone was short; I hoped it was just her accent. Inside her consulting room we sat opposite each other. I stroked the hair on my chin. Goatees were fashionable at the time and I’d hoped it’d make me look a little older. It hadn’t worked; she’d seen straight through me. Now my stroking felt more like self-soothing. I imagined she was sizing up both me and her appetite at the same time. My tutor had warned me.

The memory of a green lizard I’d once seen in a glass tank flashed before my mind’s eye. Next to the lizard lay two flesh-pink, blind baby mice huddled together on a tea-plate, their short breaths in unison anticipating their fate. At the time, this scene unsettled me. Now, however, the image is empty of drama and emotional charge; with the clarity of calmness I see only two mice, a lizard and its lunch.

‘Did you notice you scanned me at the door?’ Her question woke me from my daydream, bringing me abruptly back into the room. I was more curious about the softness of her voice than her question. Then it struck me that I didn’t understand the question.

‘No,’ I replied.

‘You very quickly looked me up and down; you were scanning me. It’s good, it’s a good skill for a psychotherapist.’

Something lifted from my chest; with this she was saying: ‘I will work with you.’ I let out a deep breath as this began to sink in. At the time I couldn’t have predicted this would be the start of a long and rewarding collaboration.

I later discovered that supervisees can be eaten more than once. Perhaps the most memorable occasion came in our second year. I’d inadvertently caused something of a dilemma in an organisation where I was working, and one that my supervisor had ties with. We’d talked it through, I felt relieved; my supervisor would support me. At the end of the session, as I stepped outside she said, ‘I hate you, goodbye.’ With that the door closed and I stood glued to the doormat unable to leave or re-enter. Wow, what congruence! It turns out that two of my most valuable supervision experiences took place while standing on a doormat.

I imagined I was a cat that’d been put out for leaving an unwanted gift on the carpet. I told myself: ‘It’ll be okay, it is okay’; no one gets rid of a cat when it leaves you an unwelcome present, do they? I knew my supervisor well enough to know she’d meant what she’d said, and at the same time something in me was able to trust.

Walking to the underground I began to conceptualise her intervention. The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott would say that for fifty minutes you love your client and at the end of the session you hate them by showing them the door. I was experiencing object constancy with a powerful benevolent other. Hate needn’t kill off a relationship. With this insight I could tell something important inside me was knitting together.

I learned three invaluable lessons: first, being eaten by a giant can make you bigger not smaller; second, to become a giant you must dine with giants; and third, afterwards you have to shit it all out.

Glenn cautions …

Not all those who would eat you are benevolent. You can tell a giant from someone who thinks they’re a giant; they’ve not learned the third lesson, hence the odour of much that comes out of their mouth.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.