So maybe this blog has been veering off course – or maybe it’s been knocked violently off its trajectory. An online psychotherapist’s journal filled with random musings about psychotherapy and its processes -helpful and validating for clients and therapists alike– its original mission now completely subverted by encounters with my own illness, disability, and mortality.
This may not be the place to read about psychotherapy for a while.
I may not understand what psychotherapy is any more.
I know for sure and certain that I am not a healer. That I never healed anything or anyone, that every person who was ever healed of anything in my presence healed themselves.
People needed to pretend it was me, my love, my patience, my abidingness – but I know now, for sure and certain, that I never had any of the powers attributed to me. Maybe I was fooled sometimes. And there were many times when insistent and grateful clients actively labored to persuade me that I had a hand in making things better.
We want to believe that others, more powerful, more wise, more knowing and magical than we are can tell us the way, can take away the pain, can kiss our boo boos and make what is senseless make sense.
And I could sometimes fall into this illusion (and this illusion seemed to offer comfort in and of itself). I could seemingly take on other people’s pain, immerse myself in it – let it flood my nervous system – and sift through the grief and feel the vicarious injury, straining it through my flesh and tissues, filtering it through my veins and glands – and find some way through (not always of course sometimes I would become lost in the pain-scape for weeks, months, years). And then I would offer this partially and vicariously metabolized traumata back to the client, like a mother pre-digesting their offspring’s meal.
It was impossible before.
It is still impossible.
My supervisor once interrupted me as I fretted over a new case:
“Wait a minute…” she said “ Do you think it is your job to help people?”
Umm, kinda? No? No.
It is my job to create a space for them to learn that they have the power to save themselves.
But that answer was a learned response, memorized by rote, a consciously determined position that was in no way organic to me. It was what I said to myself when I was exhausted, or resentful, or simply failed to rescue someone from their own shit. “Its not my job, anyway. I can’t work harder at someone’s life than they do! I can’t save anyone!”
And the “wounded healer” archetype, the desire to make our wounds of use, to transcend their damage and transform them into a strength, into prosperity, into a gift.
But now, I feel the costs and the impossibility of that task: a cancer in my spine so rare that I am the only known case in the world, that has left my nerves damaged, my right side numbed and deadend. A chronic condition and immunocompromise that I will live with for the rest of my days (fewer days than I would have had otherwise.) A slow and permanent cancer that will cost my family for as long as I do live – the expense of daily chemotherapy pills for life, an eventually uninsurable pre-existing condition, the accumulated annual medical bills that will keep escalating, hard financial realities that may cost us our home, that will change the trajectories of my husband’s and my children’s lives forever along with my own.
And the compounded lesson – about what it means to encounter my true brokenness in this time, in this era, at this point in history. To face sickness and mortality as our nation writhes in the throes of its own disease process, the eruption of rot and pathology, dormant for years, that is now making itself known and may lead to the death of a democracy that we assumed would outlive us. The unavoidable message that my life, (and the lives of others like and unlike me, the poor, immigrants and queer folk, people of color, the disabled and Jews and Muslims) is disposable. That none of us are valuable enough to have our civil rights protected, our medical conditions insured, our lives guarded or cherished or preserved. It is unfathomable to fall ill, now – and with the fears of what the future may hold for me alone, for my family and for every one of us -a life threatening disease looming on the micro and macro level – as our national/cultural sickness puts the entire world in a state of precarious alarm.
I am not a healer. I can’t keep anyone safe. I can’t alleviate anything. I am only wounded, mortal like all of humanity.
I have never healed anyone.
And I am not be foolish enough to attempt to ever again.
It has also cost those I sought to “help” who must now suddenly learn that the only savior that ever existed was themselves. They must now untangle themselves from the illusion that they need me specifically, that I had or have some magic, some powers, some special juice.
None. I’ve got no magic beans.
When I do eventually return to my office to sit in that chair – I will sit there in a wholly different way.
I will sit there broken, truthful with myself about the precariousness of life and knowing that nothing except death is ever certain. I will sit there knowing I cannot save anyone. I will sit there knowing that I don’t owe anyone anything, that I have nothing more or extra – that there is no “above and beyond.”
Those that came to me in search of healing, and transcendence- because I erroneously believed those were the processes I was courting – will now have to go elsewhere.
I can only sit in that chair with my own fears, my own unignorable needs, my own humanity and I accept myself and my limitations and the vagaries of this life with radical compassion and a visceral clarity about what is essential and life-giving and what is not.
That is the mandate.
I have been shown my parameters, and I accept them. I will live within that frame and I won’t disrespect the visceral reality of my own limits ever again.
I accept impossibility.
Is there some power there? Will my sitting grounded in that state be of any use to others? Does this hard knowledge have any therapeutic applications?
I don’t know. It’s not my business.
My job is only to live in relationship to my humanity.
Down to the bone.
No more transcendence. No more hubris.
Only acceptance – of myself, of others, and of all hard realities.