Year-End Confessions: A Private Pain


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Nearly two years ago to the day, I picked up the phone and dialed a therapist. I was suicidal. My mom had called me three months before with news that my father had cheated on her…again. She was distraught. I was distraught. She called me at work, sobbing hysterically. Dad called me at home, moaning about the mess he had made of things. Meanwhile, my husband worked weekly rotating shifts for the Navy, often off when I was away, completely absent 2 or 3 days out of the week–falling asleep whenever we tried to talk to each other.

I was drowning.

I’m not sure what I expected when I walked into my therapist’s office, but it wasn’t the 60+ year-old Jewish man sitting across from me. The first word that came to mind was shabby. The second was eccentric. I was sure he hadn’t updated his wardrobe in 20 years—seemingly odd for someone making more than a dollar per minute. But his office was clean and cozy, so I settled in and told him why I was there.

I talked for about an hour. He sat and listened, taking notes on a laptop, not asking many–if any–questions. About halfway through, doubts began to nag me. What was I doing here? Had I come to the right place? Would he help me? By the end, I wasn’t sure I’d be coming back.

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
~ T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

Then he put the laptop aside, looked me in the eye, and—for the next five minutes—described nearly everything I had been thinking and feeling since I was about 5 years old.

You have to know what this meant to me.

I’m an extremely right-brained individual. I was reading at age 3 and writing poems at age 5. Growing up, my friends called me “the walking dictionary.” When I wasn’t brooding, I was daydreaming, and vice-versa. I struggled to fall asleep at night because my brain refused to shut off. I was compliant and reserved but emotionally very intense. When my emotions were stirred, I said and did things that were bizarre and socially awkward. I didn’t get excited about much, but when I did, I was practically manic.

I am still this way. Hence this blog post.

Beneath all this I’m carving a cathedral
of salt. I keep
the entrance hidden, no one seems to notice
the hours I’m missing  …    I’ll
bring you one night, it’s where
I go when I
hang up the phone  …
~ Nick Flynn, “Cathedral of Salt”

As you can imagine, I had trouble relating to my peers. They shied away from my intensity, shooting me weird looks whenever I started rambling on about some persistent thought clogging up my headspace. “Why do you even think about this stuff?” they asked. “Why do you even care?”

Because. I don’t know how to do anything else.

After several years of meeting different people, trying different friendships, even marrying the love of my life, I gave up hope that anyone would ever fully get me. I had determined that I would always live with a part of my soul unrecognized, untouched, unexplored by anyone else. And this resulted in a deep and pervasive sense of loneliness.

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”
~ Stephen Crane, “A Man Said to the Universe”

So when this man looked at me and said, “I get you,” it altered my existence.

I returned for the next session. And the next 20. And the next 50. We delved into the worst of my childhood—the abuse, the pain, the dysfunction. But we made time for other things, too: music, movies, books, writing. My favorite was discussing passages from the Old Testament. I loved his Jewish perspective. And he was very, very Jewish…and proud of it.

Gradually, he became my port in the storm. In his office, the stress of the week melted into the background as his warm brown eyes held mine. He once asked me to tell him what I saw in his eyes. I said, “I see that you care for me.” But I told a half-truth. The whole truth was, I saw love there. Love for me. A very affectionate love.

At home, I began to open up. My marriage improved. I parented better. I invested more in my friendships. I wrote like a motherf**ker. On days when I did deep trauma work, I came home distracted and washed out, feeling like I’d been hit by a bus. But, overall, I was happier.

I loved him and he loved me. His face lit up when he saw me in the waiting room. He made us cups of tea in the cold-weather months. He gave me a nickname. He relished my company and often said so, and I never disbelieved him on that point. The energy between us was palpable. He once looked at me, eyes beaming, and said, “I’m just so f**king proud of you.” I blushed deeply and replied, “I’m just so f**king in love with you.”

He smiled and touched his hand to his heart.

Look: I feel how I’m moving away,
how I’m shedding my old life, leaf by leaf.
Only your smile spreads like sheer stars
over you and, soon now, over me.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke, “Sacrifice”

Time passed. I gave birth to my second child, and the work continued. But after that, something shifted. The pain of being away from him during the rest of the week bled over into our sessions. I’d show up at his door riddled with anxiety, my heart pounding like a runaway train. I struggled to speak. When we were finished, I left in despair. Insecurity nagged me. Sometimes I’d wake up during the night sensing his profound absence, feeling like I might physically starve to death without his arms around me—though, in reality, we’d never even shaken hands. The loneliness returned. Keen. Piercing. My distraction grew; I became noticeably preoccupied and unfocused. I mostly pretended to work at my job. I was longing for something–and whatever it was, it was not forthcoming.

He said it was connected to the past. He said I was longing for things I had missed and would never have. I needed to grieve and let it go.

But I couldn’t grieve. I was stuck.

“What is going on behind this door?”
    “A book is shedding its leaves.”
    “What is the story of the book?”
    “Becoming aware of a scream.”
~ Edmond Jabes, “At the Threshold of the Book”

So I made the hardest decision of my life. I chose to walk away. But with that choice came a finality I wasn’t expecting: I couldn’t return. Not even for a last goodbye. I was devastated.

That was over three months ago.

A couple of weeks ago, at my job’s Christmas party, my boss passed around a vial of frankincense for everyone to sample. I dabbed a little on my wrist to get a better whiff, and…IT WAS HIM. It was like I had walked into his office and buried my face right in his shirt. I don’t know how. I never knew his scent, and I don’t recall where I would have experienced this fragrance before. But something in my brain clicked, and a cascade of emotions washed over me. It was my head on his shoulder, his hands in my hair, the two of us smiling, laughing, talking, kissing, blushing, radiating.

The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
~ Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”

I have a new therapist now. A woman. She says he gave me hope that I can have a connection like that again. It is possible to find someone who gets me.

It only took me 30 years to find it the first time.

Ah I don’t believe you’d like it,
You wouldn’t like it here.
There ain’t no entertainment
and the judgments are severe.
The Maestro says it’s Mozart
but it sounds like bubble gum
when you’re waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
~ Leonard Cohen, “Waiting for the Miracle”

My husband knows this story and my feelings for my first therapist. I hid nothing from him. On the day of my final session, he held me while I sobbed. He is still holding me while I continue to grieve this loss. My husband is a saint.

Why would I tell you this? Why would I tell anyone?

Because…real life is complicated. Relationships are complicated. Healing is complicated. Decisions are complicated. And there’s a lot of grace to be found in the chaos.

The truth is, my love for this man deepened the intimacy that I share with my husband. In the end he broke my heart, but he also saved my life and breathed vibrancy back into my existence. He reminded me of who I am and told me it was okay to be that person. He opened me to a deeper level of feeling. His Jewish faith strengthened my Christian faith.

In spite of the pain, I regret nothing.

None of this makes logical sense. None of this fits the narrative others have given me to explain the dynamics of life. When you’re married, you don’t fall in love with other people. When you’re a “true Christian,” you don’t allow people of other faiths to feed your soul. But it happened. It happened to me.

I miss him. I miss him like crazy. Yet I know if I went back, it wouldn’t be the same between us—perhaps a close approximation at best.

But my highly intense, highly emotional, right-brained self won’t accept that so easily. So I’ll cry a little while longer.

And write like a motherf**ker.


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