I met my therapist through work. I’d been having trouble in my family life because of long hours and taking on too much responsibility. I’d been put in charge of people who didn’t want to be led. I’d been asked to do more than someone really could without doing it myself. I’d become rigid and difficult. I’d stopped laughing at my problems before I went to sleep.
The thought about how nice it would be to have a drink to get some relief had crossed my mind at least once. It scared me.
Something had to change (me) and so, desperate, I called the EAP line and they assigned me a counsellor, E. I was surprised to learn she actually held sessions in the office two days a week. It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. She used a combination of mindful practices and CBT in her approach to patients. More importantly, and improbably, she specialized in substance abuse and had a deep knowledge of 12 step programs.
In the time I met with her, I learned a lot about myself. I came to value those weekly conversations as the place where I could actually be met by someone completely — in part because there was no “her” in the picture — and so the only thing that mattered was what I saying and feeling.
There was nothing I needed to take care of in her. No emotional requirement other than be as much myself as possible.
She was not a perfect blank slate, either. (Who could be?) In fact, her direct knowledge of the program impressed me on the one hand, but its depth occasionally had me wondering about its source.
That was one of the reasons why, when it came time to move off the EAP deal and the question came up about whether or not I would continue, I asked if she was taking patients.
I was glad she took me on, particularly at the prospect of not having to start over again again with someone new.
Nothing seemed unusual except that she still had office hours at the company and every once in a while I’d run into her in the lobby or around the building. The first time was a few blocks from the office. I was on my way to an edit and she ran by me in a blue jogging suit, earplugs in, absorbed in where she was going.
Another time, I saw her having trouble with her badge at the gates.
Then one day, I crossed paths with her on the way back from lunch. I said hello and we shared an elevator up. There was chit chat over the plastic container of salad she held. “How’s your day?” “Good. And yours?” “Good.” “Do you work in the building?” etc.
It was short. Nondescript. Unmemorable except that I was thinking: I wonder if she’s thinking about all the shit I tell her that no-one else in this building knows, and that I don’t want anybody to know.
Then there was the day in the cafe on 27. I was editing something in the studios on the floor around the corner and she was at the tech bar. I said hello. She said hello back. And I couldn’t help but feel she was rolling her eyes at me like, “Oh, no, not Malachy again.”
We talked about it in the session afterword. I got a short course on transference and counter-transference and an explanation that she’d only acknowledge me if I acknowledged her first.
It was very cut and dried, I was to understand, but the whole thing made me feel strange and curious about her. I started to really wonder about how she’d come to know the AA program so well. I wondered if she had a private practice in addition to the work at the company. Who else at the company did she see? What were their problems like? Did any of them mention me?
I wondered what she really thought. And I started to avoid places where I might see her outside of our appointments.
I was successful at that until one day, while taking the long way around the building to avoid the lobby where I might see her, she appeared walking down the sidewalk, badge in hand.
I looked the other way.
And even though we talked about it later (she is a very conscientious counselor, very hygienic when it comes to her practice), it is maybe the one singular thing I regret in my relationship with her: a public denial of who I really I am.