A Letter to My Therapist at Christmas
The Christmas therapy break is already looming, but it feels like only yesterday I daily-tweeted my way through the forty-six days of our summer therapy break. There are things that happened during that break - dreams I had, feelings I felt - that I still haven’t spoken about, even though I want to. The last few months have felt disjointed, unsettled, and whereas we went into the summer break on a high, this time I feel anxious and scared.
The summer break always feels like a marathon, a test of endurance; while at the same time providing an opportunity for processing and consolidating the last few months in therapy. I understand (even if I resent a little) the fact that you need a break in order to regain your energy, so that I don’t find myself dealing with, as you put it, ‘a tired therapist’. (Though when I repeated this back to you I unconsciously said ‘retired’ rather than ‘tired’, and we had a little laugh in Freud’s honour and at my expense – my ultimate fears were slipping through).
It’s easy for the boundaries of therapy to feel like exclusion, and even painfully rejecting. Like many clients I wonder what you do in the 165 hours of the week when we’re not in session. During the summer break I imagined you walking along solitary beaches with your husband, yet I didn’t feel too left out. I’m used to his presence haunting the house while we talk in session – a benign poltergeist closing and opening doors and cupboards, and clinking crockery together. I hardly notice the vestiges of him then, and it’s equally easy to bear him hovering on the fringes of my imaginings of you when you are away.
But the Christmas therapy break is an endurance test of a different kind. It’s a time of year not for escape (even though I wish I could), but for family get-togethers. And so I try and endure time with a mother I don’t really want to be a daughter to, while envying the girls you are a mother to. We talk often about my pain at feeling excluded from your life and knowing that I can’t share in it in any substantial way. But at Christmas time the exclusion feels heightened because it is so much easier to make comparisons with others and I focus not just on what I can’t have, but on what others have instead. And you pointed out to me what I had barely realised – that the undertone of that comparison is a belief that I compare unfavourably with those who have what I desire. That somehow the reason for the insufficiency in what I have, is my insufficiency. That I am less worthy, less deserving. Whereas in fact, as you have also told me, difference – not being your daughter – is no barrier to being accepted or significant.
Yet still - when I imagine you drawing your girls close to you, it’s hard knowing I will never feel your arms around me. It’s hard that I can be known, but they can really know. Hard that they can only ever be beautiful, because of how they are seen; whereas I constantly fear that my ugliness will betray me. Hard that, save ultimately, you never have to be parted; whereas for me, parting is not just something that takes place over Christmas – it is the eventual end of therapy, that was there from the beginning and that haunts every hello and goodbye.
Last Christmas you gave me a gift. It was the gift of inclusion, and felt a little like adoption. It was a way of connecting with you and sharing – even at a distance - in your family traditions. You told me that on Christmas Eve you would be listening to ‘Carols from King’s’ on the radio. It felt like an invitation to join you, if I wanted to, and I did – excusing myself ‘for a nap’, I went upstairs to listen to it alone on my headphones, while at my parents’ house. I wondered, then (and since - but haven’t had the courage to ask) what you do as you listen, and who you listen with. I imagine you enjoying the carols while sitting on the sofa with an arm around each daughter, and I want to say - save a space for me, save me an internal space. You only have two arms but I know that your attention is like your mother-love – it is not finite, but expands to encompass those it is directed towards.
I’ll be listening again this year, trying once again not to feel excluded, but adopted. As you listen too, please save a space for me – and please hold me there until I see you again in the New Year.