My therapist retires Wednesday. I wish I could say I’m her retiring easy and with all the grace that one would expect from someone who has been in therapy for half of her life, but I’m not. I feel such dread and fear. I am faced with the end of an era.
I feel so conflicted. I realize that Paula deserves to retire and that the world desperately needs her voice, yet the selfishness in me wants her to stay forever. A very unrealistic feeling, but feelings are just feelings neither good nor bad, realistic nor unrealistic. They just exist. I wouldn’t rob Paula of her freedom for even one moment, and I know she will continue to make a huge difference in the world so I need to get my claws unlatched and make a promise to myself that for her I will not end up back where I started. Not that I think doing so is even possible now. I have come a long, long, long way since the beginning of therapy. Allow me to elaborate.
In the beginning, almost 27 years ago, my life was hanging by a thread. I had a suicide pact with myself that on my thirtieth birthday I was going to die. I was in Paula’s office on that day and told her because I felt hope for the first time in my life I was going to live. A few years later I did try to end my life with an overdose but I still clung onto life as one of my alters refused to allow the end to come. Even when I lost Paula to that stupid bankruptcy her words echoed in my mind keeping me going until the magical day I was able to roll back into her office once more.
I have been so fortunate to have known her. I have been very fortunate indeed. I know several people who have bounced from Therapist to Therapist looking for that wondrous connection that Paula and I have had from the beginning. She has been my mentor and the mother I desperately needed growing up but never had. I have learned so much from her about life and living. She has asked me to write out the things I have learned from our time together that I will retain. I am going to try to do just that.
I have learned how to be at peace with my inner children and other selves. At one time I was afraid of them, fearing what they might do or say next. Yes, there were plenty of times they got me into hot water, but that was before Paula helped me to understand that I needed to be the ultimate leader of all of us. I am the Orchestra leader, the mother figure of all of us. I am the end of the line and the buck stops here. I will never allow anyone to harm any of my alters and I will also allow them not to harm others too. I give and take away what each of them needs such as Bianca’s spending money each month. She deserves that and I am giving it to her, but it can be rescinded anytime by me and me alone.
I am not going anywhere. This is a very important statement, especially facing Paula’s retirement. They and I must understand that although other people will come and go from our lives, I and they are going nowhere. We are one person whether it feels that way or not. I will always be here to take care of them because where I go they go and vise-versa.
Life is unpredictable but that’s the beauty of it! This lesson has been another very important one that Paula has taught me. I leave therapy understanding that life has its ups and downs but without them we would stagnate and die. Life is a beautiful experience to enjoy, not just a horrible ordeal to live through then die. What a lesson! Most people never come to this understanding. Thank you Paula.
I am so aware of everything. This also has its good points and bad. To be aware of the evils of the world can be daunting, but one cannot be aware of the beauty of their surroundings without seeing the ugliness too. One will contrast the other. Without one or the other we lose ourselves in the drabness of existence. So many people are unable to see the beauty all about them because they focus only on the evil or it is the other way around, they can’t see the evil because they have blinded themselves to the evil. I see both parts of the spectrum. What a lovely and complicated world we live in!
I have conquered fear. I used to be so afraid all of the time. I was terrified of the shower and that someone was going to get me. True, there is danger in the world, but I don’t have to live in terror of it. I now understand down deep inside where it counts that I am now safe from the people who harmed me so horribly in the past. They are either dead or I am too strong as an adult to be harmed by them anymore.
Most people are pretty nice. One of the things Paula has taught me is that most people are pretty nice. I know to some people this may be an obvious understanding, but not in my experience. I have been hurt by so many people down through the years that it took being challenged to pay attention to how nice people can be to convince me of the truth of that statement. Yep, people are for the most part pretty nice.
I look forward to the future. There was a time I had no future and still sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m going to do with the years I have left. Sometimes I get a clear picture, but most of the time like everyone else, my future is obscured by clouds of self-doubt. I’m not getting any younger but I’m not old yet either. Perhaps I’ll gain a PhD, who knows, perhaps.
I have learned to leave the idea of a relationship door opened. There was a time, recently in fact, when the idea of another relationship seemed almost obscene. I haven’t had much luck in this area but I am now opened to the idea of someone coming into my life that I could love unconditionally and they me. Will this happen? Who knows. I hope if it does come I am able to recognize it when I see it. I have a much better chance of this than in the past. Before I met Paula there was a man who loved me, but I was unable to see his love for what it was until it was too late. Providence? Perhaps. He wasn’t stable himself and we would have made a fiery pair, but I would have liked to have found that out through a love relationship. It’s too late for that person, but I do not intend to allow another relationship to pass me by out of fear or inhibitions passed to me by my grandfather. We’ll have to see what develops on this front.
My self-image has much improved. I once saw myself as butt-ugly. One time I was relating this to Paula and she challenged me to take off my clothes and take a good look with a mirror. To my surprise I found I wasn’t hideous as I had thought. I was large yes, but most American women are nowadays. I was just a woman, no more, no less. I was NOT an ugly ogre. Thank you for this realization Paula. Even now, with only one breast and a horrendous scar, I am NOT butt ugly.
Endings are a part of life, as are beginnings and the middle times. I learned from Paula that death and birth, and even the end of therapy are all parts of life. When Jimmy died I blamed God and was very angry because I felt He had let me down. Paula taught me that life and death are just parts of life we must all face and accept. I may not like the fact that my brothers are marching on toward the grave, as I am myself, but that’s part of the existence of life. It is for this reason that we must take on life with hope and excitement. It will end all too soon and to do any less is to allow ourselves to be cheated.
We can get bitter or get better. What a lesson this one is! We can allow the bad things that have happened to us to make us mean and unbearable or we can run with them and see them as things that have made us who we are today. I chose long ago to allow my past to not make me angry and bitter but to use it to make me strong and loving. I want to have it written in my epitaph that I lived and loved well, not that I died a bitter old hag with hate in my heart.
To live well is the best revenge. Paula once made the statement to me, “Do you want to allow the bastard to win?” She was talking to me about how memories of one of my abusers had caused me to feel suicidal. Those became fighting words for me. They stirred up in myself feelings of being a winner that have propelled me ever since into a stance of being an overcomer. Yes, living well is truly the best revenge!
I now recognize my intelligence and I relish in it. No, that’s not conceit, it’s self-awareness. Before therapy I knew I was smart, but during it especially these past few years, I became aware of just how smart I am. I got four 100% grades in college! Now, one does not do that well in college courses without some intelligence. Paula never told me to settle for less than what I am, she always reflected back to me the knowledge that I am smart and need to use this intelligence for my and the world’s good. What will that mean for my and the world’s future? Well, that’s the beauty of it, this question has come into my mind because of discussions I’ve had with Paula. I would like very much to gain a PhD in Psychology and work for NASA helping them to develop training for astronauts for long-term space travel. I’m leaving this door wide open too.
We are shaped by our experiences. I’ve touched on this a bit but allow me to elaborate. My experiences of severe neglect and abuse have made me who I am. Therefore, I am grateful for them. What? One might ask. How can you say you are grateful for such horrible experiences as you have had in your life? Easy, to be anything less would be to belittle myself and to rob me of so much! I mean to be a conqueror instead of a victim! You choose which you would rather be.
Not all my experiences were bad. My family wasn’t totally dysfunctional or I wouldn’t still be alive, true? I mean a totally dysfunctional situation would have ended my life either physically or mentally. We had some pretty rough times in the past, but man to live in hate and discomfort because of those times would be the real tragedy.
I can grieve forever over lost loved ones or I can focus on what wonderful things I have learned from knowing them. Take my cousin Mark for instance. He died of a broken heart and alcoholism. Should I dwell on the way he died and lose the memories he left me? No. To do so would dishonor his name and all he meant to me. I remember so many funny and good times. I loved him so dearly and he me. I will dwell on those times and allow his legacy to be one of love and acceptance on my part and his. The same goes with Paula. I can look at her retirement and grieve or I can dwell on all the lessons I am writing here and the funny and good times we had together. I think I’ll choose the latter.
Being a multiple is a blessing not a curse. Now a person may look at that statement and wonder. I’m telling you though that being able to separate myself from the events that were happening when I was a child was a blessing not a curse. True, it became a noose about my neck as I grew into adulthood and it was never a perfect solution in the past, but it was better than going insane.
The only things I owe Paula when she leaves is gratitude. This one is tough. I understand what she is saying, and this one goes along with another lesson, “I’m your Therapist not your friend.” I felt this one in my gut and still do. It was like being punched if you will. I want and wish I could have met Paula somewhere outside of a therapeutic setting and that we could have been friends. That, alas, is not possible. To be anything more than we are is to break taboos that are there for a reason. I am not dependent on her for my peace and that is the way it should be. I will be able to continue on remembering all the lessons I have learned from her without the chains that tie a person in friendship. She will always hold a special place in my heart, but I will always know she is a Therapist and NOT my mother or my friend. There are no apron strings tying me to her, no painful memories to keep me from moving forward. I need only to think of her wise words to help me from here.
My opinions and feelings are important. To some this may seem like an arbitrary thought, but believe me it is not. I hadn’t thought this until about two years ago when I was on my way to see Paula. I had been in an argument with my brother and always before I had felt his opinion was more important than mine. Suddenly I felt it, the feeling and knowledge that what I had to say and how I felt was just as important as someone else’s. It was a huge leap forward for me.
I now have inner-peace that most people can only dream about. At one time my life was a chaotic mess. I had so many alters running my life that I was lost in the shuffle. Things were pretty messy as one might expect. Now we run as a well-oiled machine working together for the greater good of the system. Being a multiple, as I have already stated, can be a toil-full thing, but there are many benefits. One is that I am never truly alone or lonely. I know, if you are what we term a “singleton” you will wonder what on earth I mean by that. That’s okay, we don’t understand how you cannot be lonely being in there all alone either.
I am not different from everyone else. In fact, I am more like everyone else than I care to admit sometimes. There is a kind of pride that accompanies surviving what I have in my past that I must give up when I make such statements as, “I am just like everyone else.” However, it is also very freeing to admit to myself that I am just a normal person who lived through extraordinary times in a most unusual way. I have all the feelings and emotions as everyone else, just a little more separated that’s all. I mean, what is “normal” anyway. Isn’t it just a description of what people do when they are met with hard situations? Then I am very “normal”.
Words can either build up or tear down. The things we say to others and to ourselves can make or break us. “Think before you speak” should be the mantra of every thinking and well-meaning person. Paula taught me this. She has been extremely careful with her words sometimes taking advantage of long silences to think her responses out carefully and not simply blurting out the first thing that pops into her head. God knows I could use some self-discipline in this area. I’m not saying that she has perfected this technique of communicating, just that she has taught me to measure my words carefully and try to not tear others or myself down.
Life is short so you had better enjoy it today or you’ll miss it. This philosophy developed not only from Paula but from one of my favorite movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It’s true, if you blink or at least don’t pay attention to the life going on all about you a person falls into a kind of stupor and can miss so much. I recently had a bit of a tumble with myself where I messed up using prescription drugs. I became overwhelmed by life and used them to escape. The only problem with this is that in my efforts to escape the unpleasantness I perceived in my life I was omitting the good things as well such as my nephew growing up. He went, rather suddenly from my point of view, from a babe in arms to a ten-month old toddler overnight. I suddenly realized I had missed out on part of his life. I do not intend to repeat the same mistake twice if I can manage it. I certainly advocate for myself and others to reach out and grab the brass ring. What I mean is take life by the balls and run with it! The only alternative is to live our lives inside boxes and prisons of our own making missing all the good things that come our way. Who wants that?
Don’t go to dry wells looking for water. Go instead to wells full of water. Here is a lesson I am still learning and probably, like all these lessons, will be learning the rest of my life. I once depended on people like my mother to be there for me when she simply could not do so. She was too wrapped up in her own mental prison to help me open the door to mine. After listening to me go on and on about my mom’s failing me again Paula once challenged me with the ominous question, “Why do you keep going to dry wells expecting to find water? Why not seek out wells full of water instead?” At first I was perplexed by what she meant but after I realized that I needed to get people in my life who could draw water from their inner wells of love and acceptance to help quench my thirst for these things. I’d like to say I do this perfectly now, but that would be a lie and ridiculous. After all, who does any of this perfect?
I am a work in progress. I am not aiming for perfection but reality based expectations. What a freeing lesson to learn! I mean, to allow myself to be flawed like everyone else is very freeing indeed! I am no better or worse than anyone else so I need to stop holding myself up to impossible expectations of perfection and allow myself to be simply human.
Step back and take stock. This is the last lesson I will learn from Paula in her office. There will be many things that will coalesce after I leave there but the last lesson, to step back and see what I have learned, is a very important step. I will continue this piece as I absorb all that has been said to me down through the years by Dr. Paula McNitt and I give myself room for praise here. I don’t think its conceit to say that I have grown so much because I became very willing to listen to Paula and to God as to what it is I will become. The natural curiosity I was born with has kept me alive and going all these years.
What is the ultimate aim of this writing? It is to say thank you and goodbye to someone who has been extremely instrumental in my life. She has helped a blind woman to see things that she never would have experienced had she not known her. Thank you Paula, I will miss you but I have a feeling we will meet again in some other venue in our endeavors to do great things for others.