Meeting Eileen for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. I lost my previous, and up until then only, therapist to a better career; she went on to become a trauma therapist for veterans at the VA. Throughout our time together, I developed a deep bond and sense of trust with her, and I was sure she was going to be the one and only therapist in my life; to me, our relationship resembled a romantic destiny, minus the romance, but certainly one full of intimacy. It took me longer to open up than it did for her to leave; but, I knew it was best for her, thus being genuinely happy for her much deserved success. Yet, the sadness over her loss lingered for an extended period of time; it was a year in which I was sure that I would never enter treatment again. For someone who lost his father and his stepfather, losing another seminal figure was emotionally devastating; although, there was no aspect of me that would admit it.
But then, something significant happened, which was, to a kid marred by recurrent abandonment, improbable; a mentor of mine strongly suggested that I resume clinical supervision, and she had the perfect supervisor for me. I was highly skeptical initially; I didn’t need a supervisor, I thought, as I was near certain that I knew all that I needed to. However, after several attempts, I finally gave in, telling Nita, my mentor, that I would see her colleague Eileen for, at least, a consultation. And off I went, reminding myself that this wasn’t going to be therapy, and it wouldn’t evolve into anything more personal than our supervision work required. Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth, but I had to delude myself in order to take that first step. So, we met, and, as though she could see through my eyes into my soul, she asked if I preferred psychotherapy instead; telling her about my experience with my previous therapist, I politely declined. This was the beginning of our great adventure.
Over the next few weeks, I began to disclose more and more of my personal life to Eileen, focusing on the manifestations of my personal challenges in the context of my clinical work; I quickly realized that by being in supervision, I was already in treatment. We discussed my problem with accepting, and dealing with, being idealized by women, and the consequences of my unwillingness to discuss physical attraction when a patient confessed their infatuation with me; and, we discussed my fear of disappointing, warning others that idealization could only lead to disenchantment, which would devastate me in the process. So, I fought against my clients’ illusions, romantic or other, because I was terrified of exposure. And, this was where the real treatment began; Eileen became my fellow traveler.
With her inquisitive and penetrating style, Eileen dug deep, helping me focus on past sorrows which I had long ago repressed: the bullies, the grade-school teacher who told me that I was ugly, my abusive stepfather, an overprotective mother, and my terror of wanting in perfection, believing that the lack thereof implied inadequacy and shame. Little by little, and session by session, the mask was slowly peeled off, exposing the vulnerable boy who resided in a basement that was long forgotten and buried in the depths of a seemingly rational, adult mind.
Even as I write this article, I sense myself retreating into intellectualism, as I’ve always done. A product of my past, I’ve come to perceive my mind as my best defense against my emotions, in essence, a defense against myself; and, in some significant way, my life became impoverished. It’s often believed that one can suppress the negative feelings without harm to the positive ones, but in reality, both sides are inextricably intertwined. As I began to suppress my sorrows, my joys were numbed with them. Men and women tend to experience depression differently; for us, rather than sadness, we tend to experience persistent numbness, an inability to feel our feelings; I suppose that has a lot to do with the ways in which we were raised. And to begin to learn how to feel my feelings, and to expose and express my shame, I thought that I should undergo treatment with a female therapist, as I couldn’t imagine opening up to a man in that way; nope, that prideful and macho part of me would have never allowed it!
Eileen, like me, loved Irv Yalom; she told me that it was the relationship that healed, and it was our relationship which healed me. As a fellow traveler along my side, she went with me into that dark, and nearly deserted, basement, one that I’ve perpetually feared to enter. And, she helped me understand what happened to me while reinterpreting my experiences in more positive and, more importantly, more realistic forms. She helped me to see that I wasn’t unlovable and that those who harmed me were reacting to the harm which was done to them, not to me. But, although she took me there, it was there where our mutual journey ended. Eileen left me alone in my basement, signaling that a part of her would always be there with me. This time, it was different; this time, my heart didn’t ache from a memory of abandonment, as I knew that her spirit was there inside, and would help to carry me through.
In its depths, I discovered myself, the great saboteur, that inner demon which persuaded me that I was incapable of being loved. I learned of all of the ways in which he lived through me, the ways in which he operated my psyche. I recalled each significant failure, or rather the avoidance of it; I remembered dropping out of school for believing myself to be intellectually inferior; I ruminated over all of the girls I could have loved, but was afraid to; and, I finally acknowledged the role that my rage played in my isolation, and how I used it to push people away. I realized how much of my life was dictated by fear and the saboteur’s demands. The monster within succeeded in convincing me that no one would ever be good enough for me because he believed I wasn’t good enough for anyone else. In those depths, I found myself, the hurt and frightened child who created a monster to protect himself from being devoured by one.
Thus, I went to work on picking up the pieces, putting back together the parts of that shattered boy who remained chained in isolation, desolate and terrified. And so, as therapy neared its end, my work was complete. I looked at that little boy and smiled, telling him what I had never said before: I love you. With an expression of terror on his face, he looked back at me and asked if he’d ever been down there again. Staring peacefully into his innocent eyes, I responded that, from then on, he would always be a part of me, no matter where I went. I took his hand, with him holding onto mine, and together we went up those creaky stairs, taking one final look at a room that would never be occupied again.