i don’t have to say anything.
For years, and years, I felt this intense need to share my pain. To process it. Examine it like some rare diamond. To figure it out.
I remember making a decision when she was comatose. I was not going to shut down like I did when I was six–if the worst happened. No. I would write. Mostly because writing was the one way I knew how to feel without holding anything back. And so I did. And sometimes, I still do.
I am sitting on the stairs outside of my therapist’s office. It’s a Victorian just off Colfax, converted into offices. The top floor houses private therapist offices and a masseuse’s treatment room. Downstairs, there’s a law firm. It always smells like coffee. I’m supposed to wait downstairs, but I hate the chairs, and I hate eavesdropping on the receptionist’s phone calls, so I sit at the top and look at the stained glass.
I’m always early. Sometimes, Emily is here–in session. Other times, she’s trying to find a spot to park on the street.
I’m dreading this session. It’s the big one. The one she was careful to introduce to me–to make sure I’d be prepared to do the hard work. So far, we’ve only done functional adult stuff and visualizations of lighthouses. Most sessions, I just catch her up on my silly life and recall things that contribute to whatever it is I’m feeling that day. Sometimes, we talk about Pia Mellody’s work and how some things ring true. Mostly, I never feel like there’s enough time. I want homework. She never gives it to me.
Emily is wearing a stunning, bright blue maxi dress that accentuates how insanely tall she is. She’s cut her hair into a bob. It lays flat, grazing her bare shoulders. She’s gotten too much sun.
“You ready?” The Oklahoma emerges in her voice as I half-wince and smile.
“Sure. Why not?”
I sit on the sofa with the awkward pillows. She offers me tea. I take some this time and carefully put it on the end table–worried there’s no coaster, careful not to spill. I notice I’m shaking. I can see my roommate sitting in the car out front. I feel bad that he’s waiting for me.
We catch up about the last two weeks. I can feel anxiety taking over my voice. It’s like I’m suffocating. Like someone is sitting on my chest. Like I can’t talk fast enough. Like my voice might disappear somewhere and never come back. My knee hurts. My back aches. I have a headache. I can feel my cheeks getting red.
So, we start breathing. I imagine oxygen moving to every nook and cranny of my body. She has me scan for anything I notice. I tell the story of all my everything. All the things asking for my attention. All the things I try to ignore. I tell her about my knee. She asks me to describe it.
“It’s like I’m a scarecrow, and I’m balancing myself on this one knee–nothing else. And it’s been weeks and weeks. And it aches and it’s just not strong enough.”
Each little thing disappears as I tell its story. Each thing is cleansed by breath. And every story is elaborate. As if every part of me is a character in a novel. Nothing is simple.
We move into functional adult stuff. Each time, I realize I am not that different from my functional self. That, on my best days, that is absolutely me–with better hair. And no rosacea. It’s surprising and healing.
She is there to support me. And then we bring out six year old me.
The whole thing is very odd, and I wonder if healing requires you to lose your mind a bit.
Little Alma is asked questions. I speak for her. I often feel protective of her. But most of the time, I really just want to hug her.
And then we bring out my Daddy and sit him on a chair in front of us. He is sober. And I am happy to see him. Little Alma isn’t so sure.
It’s not this weird confrontation like I thought it would be. It’s two adults talking. And one just happens to be my dead father. Only it’s not like any conversation I’ve ever had with him–or anyone. And I am smiling. I am relieved. And my eyes are full of tears. We catch up like old friends. And then I tell him all the things I never got a chance to say. And then she does, too. And then we take back our power.
By the end of the session, I put little me and my father back in my heart. I blow my nose and walk down the stairs–out to the car–the weight of an entire lifetime gone. I feel calm and free.
That was about a year ago. And if therapy did nothing else for me, that would be enough.
They say there isn’t any one way to grieve. That there is no right or wrong way to grieve someone. And that’s probably true. But there are ways to be gentler with yourself. There are ways to feel it more purely.
My father’s death ruined my life for a long time because I had no idea how to grieve well. How to feel pain and let it go.
When you keep these things to yourself, it becomes a cancer. Because one person just can’t bear it all. Death is a series of smaller deaths. You lose someone gradually–not all at once. Which is why grief is so good at the suckerpunch. Because–too often–you don’t even realize you’ve lost it until you go to find it and it’s not there.
I got really good at sealing off everything so that pain and emotion didn’t ever touch me. Except doing that tends to stockpile the pain and emotion into this thing that breaks your heart by numbing. And you don’t realize it until you fall off the cliff and break open.
Since I talked to my father in therapy, I feel like my grief was reset. Like I could just feel it and let it go. And that didn’t mean I didn’t have some major pain to deal with. I did–and I do–but it didn’t take over. It didn’t keep me stuck in a place I didn’t want to be. And oddly, it freed up joy for me. It gave me ways to connect.
Holidays often suck for me. That’s always going to be true. But today didn’t suck. Today was okay. And it allowed me to be there for others who aren’t where I am yet. I’m so grateful for that. I still have my bad moments. I had one–inexplicably–a few days ago. But I am no longer a slave to that feeling. I no longer feel a need to share every raw emotion I have–for me. This entry isn’t about me falling apart. It’s about me healing–and that’s what I want to share now.