This isn’t even remotely a sexy post. My life is filled with less “sexy” these days and a lot more thinking. I can’t find anyone I’m attracted to, first of all, and secondly, no one seems worth my time. So I’m just going to write what’s in my heart instead.
I remember standing at the bus stop on my brand new college campus far away from home and feeling miserable. I felt raw and overwhelmed and I hadn’t yet acclimated to anything about this city. Not its culture, its heat, its weird streets and freeways, or its university with what seemed to me to be an atypical rabid loyalty from its students. (Turns out, all colleges are like that, but I had no idea.)
“I just have to work hard and get out of here,” I thought as I watched throngs of students walk by and buses lumber past. I’d been here for all of 2 months, but had already had a falling out with my father, and the mantra which got me out of California, painted on the wall of my room, didn’t really make sense. I was where I’d worked so hard to get to.
That was the moment I realized I needed help, because everywhere you go, there you are.
I booked an appointment at the Student Mental Health Clinic that same day. I want to say that I even walked there from the bus stop, but I can’t be certain.
For 16 weeks I met in one of the dark, windowless basement rooms with a beautiful PhD student whose name I can no longer recall. Every session was recorded so his professor could monitor our progress and his acuity and I remember surreptitiously glancing at the red recording light on the camera mounted in the corner.
In that stack of email printouts I found recently I’d written someone about my sessions with him. About how I struggled with feeling comfortable with his shockingly good looks and how much I cried about my dad and my friends from back home who never wrote. Sometimes it feels like my life started in that basement.
When the sessions ended (because 16 is plenty for a girl who’s been completely traumatized by her childhood and is on the brink of engaging in reckless drug and sexual activity) the center gave me a list of neighboring clinicians I could go to out of pocket. My mom agreed to pay and for $100/hour in 1996 I sat on Sigmund Freud’s couch while he slurped his fast food drink and finished his lunch and I angrily wore sheer white shirts with no bra to get back at him for his disrespect.
It lasted 6 months before I realized he didn’t really give a shit about anything I had to say. Besides, I felt better. I felt generally more competent and emboldened: it was ok to do what I wanted. I dated a girl, made lots of friends, drank and smoked weed with the honor students and smoked Benson and Hedges Menthol 100’s and requested them with a straight face.
By senior year my partying began to take its toll on me and my school work and I found myself back at the Mental Health Center, this time with a drug counselor of a sort who liked to draw me lots of diagrams and give me handouts.
She let my best friend come with me and we’d do a fun little couples session on how to set boundaries with our other friends and make better choices. Debbie never judged us and she encouraged moderation over a hard line of abstinence only. Obviously, we liked that. But then those sessions ran out too, college ended, and I was out on my own in the big world at 21.
Twenty-one. They say that’s a grown up adult with all the responsibilities and obligations of all the other adults, but when I think of that girl I think it’s a miracle she survived 22 more years.
I moved downtown and worked in a bar after graduation and snorted most of my piddly earnings and drunkenly fucked my way through my “industry” brothers. Sex and alcohol were like peas and carrots in my book and the attention I was getting from men was its own intoxication as I’d been largely ignored since arriving at school. What? Men liked me??
That life only lasted a year before we all moved out and on and by 24 I was more or less behaving myself. I’d gotten a cat and a dog, found steady work. I still partied a little on weekends, still had drunken sex, but I also fell in love for the first time and had a “grown up” relationship where I practiced saying No for the first time. I had varying degrees of success with that.
Therapy wasn’t a part of any of this. My life was like a hamster ball rolling and bouncing downhill – and I was obviously the hamster just hanging on for dear life. It worked just fine until my father crossed another line and I fell apart. I kicked him back out of my sister’s and my lives, but that didn’t stop him from traveling from Colorado to knock on my front door one Sunday morning.
Disheveled and hungover, wearing my white satin Victoria’s Secret shorts and top ensemble I looked through the peep hole. I should have pretended to not be home.
It was another traumatic visit which found me assailing him with my anger and him deflecting and blaming me. What did he want? Why was he there? Why wouldn’t he fucking listen to me??! It felt gross and needy and violating on every level and me being braless and in satin didn’t help.
Hours later he left and I crumpled into a hot mess of tears and blubbering. I called my mom and she insisted I start therapy again. I was 26 and – with the exception of the times I had a baby and toddler to care for – I have been in an office pouring my heart out ever since.
My last therapist was a father-figure in all ways. He shared a look with my dad, a similar build, but where my father was disgusting and titillated by the world, Rich was calm and detached. He was safe and encouraging. He helped guide me to graduate school and into my marriage and helped me begin to trust men, just a little. But when I left my husband, I lost him.
My wild sexual ways as Hy befuddled him. He thought I needed to go to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, he thought I was bipolar. I relentlessly fought both: No, I was exploring and loving and feeling alive. This wasn’t a manic episode, this was me! I ended our 10 year relationship abruptly one afternoon and I haven’t looked back.
I was without therapy for another year before I called my couples counselor, the wizened woman who had tried her very best to help me and my husband reconcile. Would she see me? Yes, she would.
I have spent thousands of dollars over the years on therapy. Thousands. That has meant I didn’t have money for travel, for fancy things, for a savings account. It has been a monetary sacrifice, to be sure, but how do I put a price on saving my own life? On having one person in this entire fucking world whom I can trust and be myself with? When I feel so lost and isolated 99% of the time I feel at home on a couch. I don’t even care that I’m paying her; I know she cares about me.
I cried yesterday on her sea-foam colored armchair because I miss Peter and his steady presence in my life, and where I am resolute in how I handled that situation, I feel less certain about The Golfer. I am rehashing our times together trying to figure out what I may have done to make him reject me. It’s a useless and silly exercise, a juvenile one like how little kids think they’re responsible for the terrible things their parents do to them, but I can’t help it.
And then I remember that one time in the very early days with The Neighbor when while walking up to a movie theater he grabbed my hand and I pulled it away. “Friends with benes don’t hold hands,” I’d told him. What if that one moment I rejected him shaped the entirety of the rest of our time together? What if I had just let him hold my hand?
With TG I think, “What if when he was clearly being vulnerable with me and sharing that I was his only lover this year I had lied and said he was my only one, too?” Perhaps my eluding the question hurt him deeply and that is why he is rejecting me now.
It’s embarrassing to admit such twisted logic. I am a strong, intelligent, powerful woman after all, with more to give than most. What is wrong with me?? But I don’t have to fear reprisal from my therapist. She likes to sit quietly most days and ponder, absorb my flood of emotion, then speak thoughtfully. Yesterday was no different.
“Hy,” she said at the end of the hour, “I shouldn’t be bringing this up right now [since we have to end], but I can’t help but think that both TN and TG are so similar for you. With TG everything fun is on his own terms – everything – just like with TN. He says when and where with no thought to your needs. TN did the same thing.”
And that is why I will keep sitting on that couch until the day I die – hopefully more than another 23 years – because therapy is, quite literally, life.