Finding a Way Forward
— restoring the garden
I feel like someone punched me. I feel sad and deflated. Three days ago I was happy. Then we had that therapy session. What am I doing? Who would subject themselves to this on purpose? Help, Bob! Show me where I’ve gone wrong.
Bob: You wanted to find out what happened to you in Mr. McCormick’s house. You wanted to find out how it changed you.
me: Yes, I still do want that. But now I feel I’ve lost my support person, my therapist. Even though she says she won’t dismiss me as a client, I don’t feel like she likes me any more.
Bob: What you are experiencing is a memory. This is how you felt after you told your parents about Mr. McCormick. Nothing was ever the same again. You never felt like anyone loved you ever again.
me: So this is all just a therapeutic re-enactment? Not of the events, but of the emotional rift? My therapist still loves me?
Bob: You can’t feel love that you don’t believe is there.
me: So it was me who changed, not my therapist, not the people around me back then?
Bob: An event affects everyone involved. The way Mr. McCormick treated you affected the way you felt about yourself. He infected you, if you will, with the way he felt about himself. Children soak that kind of thing up. After you told your parents, your mother felt ashamed. She felt the whole family was shamed, that this kind of thing would not happen in a “good” family. She did not tell you that she felt this way until you were grown, but she infected you as a child with the way she felt about herself. Your father felt unmanly, ashamed that he had not been able to protect his child. Your behavior was affected by Mr. McCormick’s predation, and when your father saw evidence in you of the damage, he backed away. The sight of you made him feel bad, and he didn’t know what to do, he wanted his innocent happy little girl back, but she was gone, and he could not like this affected girl. His feelings also infected you.
me: So everything did change after that! I’m not mistaken in that feeling.
Bob: Of course not. Feelings are never mistaken, even if you don’t understand why you are having the feeling, there’s a reason, an explanation, at the bottom of every one of them.
me: People try to talk each other out of their feelings. They say, “You’re ok. You’re just feeling sorry for yourself. Focus on something else for a while — it will go away.”
But the sun died in those years with Mr. McCormick. My whole family died. My future career died, my future marriage died, my happy world died, my wholeness died. My life became tortured. And I was destined to become a wounded mother, infecting my innocent children with my dark feelings about myself.
Bob: Now you have a chance to loop back and change the course of history. A therapist is not your mother, and there’s a very good reason for that. She stands outside the story, reviewing it with you, even experiencing it with you. As you re-experience the trauma, and “trauma” does not mean what happened, it means how what happened changed the way you felt about yourself — as you re-experience that, this time telling your therapist instead of your parents about all of it, she will react differently from the way the people around you did back then. She will not be shamed herself, and if she is, if there’s any counter-transference going on, she will have ways of dealing with it.
me: So I’m expecting to lose her love now. I’m experiencing parts of myself that got cut off because the feelings were “unacceptable.” I’m expecting those parts and the feelings they hold to still be unacceptable. I’m expecting her to hate me. I’m interpreting everything she does in that light. Looking now for clues of disgust and revulsion and distancing, instead of for clues that she likes me.
Bob: That is not a new way of looking at her, it is only newly recognized. That subscript is running all the time, wherever you go, whoever you’re with. You are making it conscious, and feeling the feelings that go along with that script, and seeing your therapist through the lens of a very negative self-perception, which has been repressed or dissociated until now.
me: So she hasn’t changed. I have changed my perception of her, by switching into another part of myself. But I don’t feel like I can go back to the way it was before. The Curly Girl, Shirley Temple approach. I’ve seen the farce of it.
Bob: No, you have to go forward. The task is to work with both of these parts of yourself together, take down the wall between them.
me: Reminds me of the way the two parts of Germany re-integrated after the wall came down. East Germany had to work to catch up. West Germany had to slow down and throw its resources into mending the damage to its other half. So the Curly Girl part of me is not a sham, not a farce, is she? That part did its best to go on functioning with big pieces missing. Now I, as that more functional, more developed West Germany part, can reabsorb my war torn sister. She hated me I think, only because she felt excluded and left behind.
Bob: Why don’t you end this story with that quote you saved from the East German gardener you read about.
me: As a metaphor you mean, of what’s possible for me, in a post-childhood world?
“I am from Eastern Germany, and the landscapes of my childhood were a very dark and polluted place. My hometown was surrounded by soft coal mines that put incredible amounts of pollution into the air. Some of the mining fields they left behind looked like nature would never have a chance to return.
When I go back to exactly these same craters in our landscape now, they’re filled with crystal-clear water, and young forests are thriving right next to these lakes. So based on that experience, I have a deeply optimistic view of what we as gardeners and landscape professionals can achieve in really a very short lifetime.”