Love and Where We Find It, Including the Therapist’s Office

Our feelings are attached to places and dates, dates in both senses of the term. People with a good memory can even tell you the room or moment when particular words were spoken — when the mood or lighting altered because a relationship changed.

First meetings, last meetings, and relational drama become almost like a portion of the architecture and appearance of the place where they happened. The spot takes on an emotional resonance out of proportion to what a stranger would notice.

No wonder the counselor’s office becomes part of your alliance with him. Even your time slot in his schedule organizes your life and attaches to the experience of therapy. His consulting room is not just a place where memories are uncovered but where they are made.

If you’ve ever owned a home or lived anywhere for a long while, you may have returned soon after you left. Maybe your route from work put you on the old path without thinking.

Others go back consciously, though not sure what draws them. Some want to revisit an unforgotten ineffable quality associated with this material segment of their history. Or perhaps they still search for the events that happened there or the one or ones with whom they occurred.

The evoked sentiments loom larger than the manufactured creation. They make the edifice small by comparison.

—–

An older woman I know, someone I am close to, visited Chicago decades after leaving for the suburbs, then California, and finally Nebraska. When arriving her first time back, she wanted to see the old neighborhood we both inhabited and the “other house” where her teenage years transpired.

This charming lady’s youth and home life were troubled, but not so for the earliest years near my family. Her parents wished to rise in the world, motivating their departure from the north side of the “Windy City.”

The dad, in particular, had been marked by poverty. Adult ambition took them all to a posh Chicago suburb, where parental conflict, poor parenting, debt, and the father’s illness and early death damaged everyone. The best part of her life remained back in the old dwelling on Talman Avenue, the street where I knew her.

The status-driven designer house was supposed to make all their lives better, but when our tour stopped in front of it, the recollections embedded in the place bubbled up. A flood of tears followed. Once she caught her breath, she said, “For this.”

For this?

They’d moved from a location where she had friends and felt accepted and acceptable, where her parents got along with each other: a place where the idea of home meant safety.

The exit from West Rogers Park leading to the family’s new chapter became a loss, not the betterment expected. The ensuing unhappiness tied itself to the new site.

The finer set of walls, rooms, and a circular driveway brought no satisfaction, no lofty place in the world. This was the graveyard of hope, not its fulfillment.

The therapist sometimes enables people to feel they are worthy of love after a lifetime of believing they are broken, ugly, or stupid — “too sensitive,” disturbed, or weak. The fact of being valued can cause outsized affection, transference, perhaps love of the one who assisted in the process.

When the treatment ends, it isn’t uncommon for the client to wish to take something physical — a small piece of its contents, a “thing,” but one containing personal meaning.

This desire is similar to small children holding on to their blanket or a stuffed animal to calm them when the parent isn’t available. But saying goodbye to the counselor is different.

The article given by the clinician is a transitional object and also something more, intended to preserve indescribable emotions indefinitely. Mom and dad return, but from the healer, there is a parting.

Momentos needn’t be beautiful to carry the significance of the people and moments we retrieve from those inanimate creations, the sentiment they offer. We also remember places, sometimes unremarkable, because of those beside us when we were there — the beloved parents, partners, and pals of our lives.

—–

When the Madison and Wabash elevated train platform underwent deconstruction and remodeling, I could not look at it without recalling my dad. He and I stood on the now-discarded wooden planks many times and at many different ages.

I doubt I will ever see that station without thoughts of him, though the boards on which we trod have disappeared.

I imagine there are such locations in your life. They become part of us.

Are the things intended to catch lightning in a bottle — the electric charge of human contact?

The best possible “bottle” evokes emotion in touch with the heart. Perhaps, too, “sessions of sweet silent thought,” as Shakespeare would say.

When you are old and ridding yourself of worn-out objects and stuff of no value, I suspect you will keep those beyond price because they carry this special kind of magic.

====================

The photo of the old Madison and Wabash “L” (Elevated Train) Station is the work of David Wilson. The image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

For those who don’t know the Chicago “Loop,” the term first referred to the area within the “L” train’s loop-like route around the city’s downtown center.

19 thoughts on “Love and Where We Find It, Including the Therapist’s Office

  1. I remember the now demolished Randolph and Wabash station that way. How many times I stood on that platform! Loved it. This past week I was in Mpls and found the apartment building we lived in when our son was conceived. I had great fun going out of my way to find it and take photos to send to my son! He got a kick out of it.

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    • Nice you could share that with your son, Lois. As far as “L” stations go, I’ll bet you know that Latin phrase, “sic transit gloria mundi (so pass away the glories of the earth).” Particularly apt in this case, since it uses the word transit, as in “rapid transit.”

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  2. Recently, my brother took his children to the various houses where we lived growing up. They loved it. For me, it was never the places. It was the people. When I moved away, it seemed that all of my friends left too. So, my hometown seemed empty. But not empty of the memories. Those I can happily (or sometimes sadly) take everywhere.

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  3. A lovely way to put it, Joan. Thank you.

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  4. A beautiful and heartwarming post ❤ I hold dear a number of mementos of little or no value that are reminders of individuals now gone or far away.

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  5. On occasion I will return to the town where I grew up (15 minutes away) and revisit where we lived, the Catholic Church I attended, and the streets I walked (we had no car). I will stand there and observe these places and go deep within myself and recall memories both good and bad. Life is passing me by as I am now at the beginning of the last phase of my life.

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  6. Life doesn’t stop. That is certainly true, Nancy. It would be nice to capture and live within extended perfect moments, but I suppose if we could do that — make life stand still or speed up as we wished — the preciousness of life would be lost to us. As philosophers sometimes say, without an end to life, how would we value the time or the dear ones around us? If they and we lived forever, there would be no urgency, no importance to decisions we could endlessly do over or try again in another way? I hope there are still many good memories yet to be made in your life.

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  7. * When you are old and ridding yourself of worn-out objects and stuff of no value, I suspect you will keep those beyond price because they carry this special kind of magic.*

    This post unexpectedly tugged at my heartstrings!

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  8. I’m still trying to find safety. My dissociative disorder is about avoidance – about freezing in time and fleeing in the mind, since the body was not able to run. Revisiting old places is bittersweet at best, retraumatizing at worst – or perhaps healing, depending on who is with me on that journey, and how much of it I can process within and with other caring individuals.

    Ideally, I’d love to pay a therapist to take a trip with me to all of these places – not just one, but many. I grew up in many towns and went to many different schools. My father got us evicted most of the time, due to his violent drinking habits caused by untreated PTSD from WWII and his own childhood traumas (handed down generationally to me and my other siblings, unfortunately).

    I also wish for a do-over. If I could work safely in the military without experiencing military sexual trauma (MST), I would do that over again, and I would hope that my PTSD would be healed. Parts of me want to go back to Parris Island, SC, and do the confidence course and some other things – just for some sense of closure (not to actually train or enlist).

    Parts of me also wishes to travel back to every place I’ve ever lived – if I can even remember those places. I could ask my mother for records, which she probably has kept among the piles of papers that she’s stored over the years. I would love to take a journey and ask a few caring friends along with my therapist to hear the different parts of me speak, cry, scream, yell, and wish that it weren’t true. I see those things in my nightmares all the time, and now it’s making more sense.

    I wish I could get the apologies and acknowledgments of harms done to me, and I wish I could receive safe hugs and be allowed to cry and scream and ask, “Why?” I wish I could gain back all the years that I’ve wasted on disability stemming from past traumas. I wish I could receive comfort, love, wholeness, meaningful relationships, and the kind of connectedness that mends broken hearts. In my case, my heart is shattered – not just broken.

    My current therapist shows me some love and much understanding. She challenges me sometimes, but then she just lets me sob at other times. She accepts all parts of me – even the ugly, mean, angry parts. She shows me the kind of listening I’ve never had from even my closest friends. She shows me the kind of care that I haven’t received from family. Although her care is limited to her profession as a psychologist, I feel glimpses of what that could have extended to had I been raised with warmth and kindness. However, the more love I feel from my therapist, the more I sense betrayal from those who harmed me – especially my parents. Betrayal trauma shattered me to the point where I couldn’t recognize myself anymore. I was constantly changing, constantly avoiding, constantly freezing-and-fleeing in my mind – only, I wasn’t consciously aware of these things until years later, when my nightmares whispered historic truths into my ears. My therapist helps me to listen to myself, my varying parts that echo laments from the past.

    There is no closure. There’s only coping with this traumatic loss comprising longing, loneliness, lost dreams, lost time, lost health, lost me.

    My therapist truly helps me, but it’s a painful process. If only my therapist were my family or a best friend, then maybe I could keep that relationship forever – I shamefully tell myself. I know the boundaries, but my heart longs for more. My heart becomes that child who wants love and warmth and praise and empowerment and hope and belonging and purpose and closeness and parents and approval all over again. That’s who I am in therapy.

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    • Beautifully written and desperately sad, Dragonfly. Your bravery is evident. The triumph may come in the validation of all the injured parts of you — all took on, as they could, the task of survival. No matter what might appear as meanness or weakness, DID alter personalities needed each other. Yes, the loss of time and opportunity is immense, but your ultimate persistence and self-validation may yet achieve a state of confidence, self acceptance, and peace. All together and all little by little.

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      • Thank you so much, Dr. S! 🙂 We plan on actually sharing this (your blog and our response and your response) with our therapist. We were kind of scared, but we brought you up in therapy today. 🙂 And now my DID alters are really happy because you said that they need each other. Our therapist reminds us how much we need each other – almost in every session. She says it in a different way, and she asks if anyone inside can help out when one of the alters is struggling. She also said it is okay for us to revisit some traumas and to process them in small bits. That really helps. It is too painful to process even one traumatic memory in its entirety. There’s almost always multiple alters who handled the same trauma in different ways. I’m not sure how any of this is possible, but my alters know.

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      • Your therapist sounds terrific. I’m glad the system took kindly to what I wrote. “Small bits” is a good way to describe how therapy goes in dealing with most traumatic memories.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I miss Chicago! That video of the “L” brought back memories – mostly good. Thank you for sharing that video!

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