After half a decade of therapy
a happy goodbye, a rarity
In the second week of 2024 the longest consistent relationship in my life came to a happy close. My very-pregnant therapist was taking a much-deserved maternity leave and couldn’t make any promises about when she’d be back in the chair, ending the almost-constant string of weekly sessions we’d had for almost five years. A lot had happened in my life over that half-a-decade, and through all the pains and joys I’d always had another session with her to look forward to. I was certainly sorry for that era to end, but it ended in a way that almost nothing in my life ever has - with the recognition that the original intention of the relationship had been fulfilled, that everyone involved was moving forward to an even-more-fulfilling future.
Most of the endings I’ve lived through haven’t been so warm. I’ve had many jobs and many intimate relationships, each of those concluding in painful conflict and then avoidance and silence. I’d explored many communities and made many acquaintances, most of which had quietly faded away without a formal fuck-off-forever conversation. I’d hated college and had skipped my graduation ceremony and had then gone on to drink my way out of the one graduate program I was accepted into, so I’ve never had any celebration of completing an adult accomplishment.
Concluding this round of therapy felt like an accomplishment, even though I didn’t wind up with any new titles or credentials. “Survived well past age 30” might be a plaque I could put on the wall, alongside “Survived every change that I’ve ever been deathly afraid of”. At the beginning of this therapy journey I was desperate to hold on to everything in my life that I was attached to, and almost all of it has since gone away. I’ve come to see that who I understand myself to be is deeply embedded in my human relationships and the world I share with others, and so every major change means an end to that version of myself. That’s why change has been so scary - to lose what I’m attached to is to lose this version of myself, which is a little experience of death.
But some part of me has lived through it, and lives through it still. To live means to learn the hard way what you can actually survive, which is everything that doesn’t actually kill you.
I’ve also learned that those old selves never completely go away. For me they lurk in the darkness as hungry ghosts, ever-ready to devour my peace and joy with incessant questions that can never be answered. They ask me: what would life be like if you’d done this, instead of that? If you’d left this romantic relationship and entered this other one? If you’d known what you’d wanted earlier? If you hadn’t made so many mistakes?
Those voices are loudest in moments of distress, haunting me long after the painful stimulus has passed. They echo deeply in some part of me that has hurt as far back as I can remember, that part of me that says:
I AM NOT WHO I AM SUPPOSED TO BE
I don’t know exactly who I’m supposed to be, but it isn’t this. It can’t be this. The person I was supposed to be would never have fucked things up so badly. I don’t even know what I should have done differently half the time, which is further evidence that I am not who I am supposed to be. The person I was supposed to be would have accomplished these things and had these amazing experiences and I never will, it’s too late for me. I’m miserable, which is proof that I’ve fucked things up, which is proof that I deserve to be miserable. The person I was supposed to be is somewhere out there in the ether of possibility, living a perfect life in a perfect world, made all the more better by knowing that they didn’t fuck it all up like me. Nothing I do will ever make me that person, so the only thing I can do is try to mitigate the damage caused by my disgusting failures. Things are really bad, and something even worse is about to happen, I don’t even know exactly what it is but I know it’s out there, I could stop it if I were stronger and more aware but I’m not, all I can do is watch and hate myself for my horrible weakness. I hate myself and I hate everything and every one that reminds me of me. I hate this world, I hate anything that thrives in this world, and that hatred makes me feel a little better since it makes me feel better than something. Even if that something is me. Hatred is how I hold on to that better self that I know I’m supposed to be. Hatred is proof of my sensitivity, my superiority. Hatred is my God.
It has been slow work to let go of that feeling, to stop worshiping that God. My ego wants me to be The Best, even if that means being The Best at feeling The Worst. It’s turned out that this nameless terror is something quite a lot of people encounter. The things that made me feel least worthy of love have turned out to be the things that people connect with the most.
I don’t know if that feeling is “universal”, something baked into human nature. I’m not really sure there’s anything I could usefully call human nature at all. I think the world is full of human beings grappling with the beautiful, mystical, terrible ordeal of human consciousness, some joyously, some miserably, some reflectively, some reactively. I don’t know if it’s Really True that everyone who’s ever hurt me and who’s ever defined me is actually just a fellow sufferer, but it makes it a lot easier to live with people when I see them that way.
Discovering self-love has meant discovering the possibility of actually building things with people, of committing fully to projects and relationships, of making better connections from a foundation of centeredness. Material wellness has been downstream of that - I’m much better off financially now that I’m not literally pissing all of my money away to try and feel a little bit better, and also being committed to myself has meant accumulating skills and becoming a better person to work with and contributing hard-to-replace value to organizations. Is it Really True that I can create all the wealth I want by creating 10x that for other people? I don’t know, but I know that my life is a lot better when I choose to look at things that way.
I’ve learned the hard way, or the fun way, that of course I’m going to end up becoming myself.
I get to know that I’ve learned that by looking back on the past five years of therapy, looking back at how far I’ve come and feeling grateful for the opportunity to be on life’s wild and beautiful ride, even just for a moment.
I got a list of referrals to other therapists - I requested ones that’ll really help me dig deep into difficult feelings, to help me get free of the subconscious certainty that yesterday’s pain will repeat itself. That’s what’s next for me, turning towards the limiting beliefs and undigested emotions that usually only become visible in moments of conflict and distress. Saying yes to everything, as much of it as I can, since before I know it I’ll be gone. Even this self that I know myself as now, one that I’m happy with, won’t be taken with me when I leave this world. Even if some part of me feels like it’ll die if I feel a certain feeling or make a certain change, it isn’t actually real - under the eyes of eternity, there’s no way anything in this world can actually threaten me.