Not even as a baby suckling at her momma’s teat had Emma known what it felt to be safe. So when her therapist suggested that therapy required her trust, she first had to ask what that was and what it looked like.
Two years later, when her therapist slipped into discussing her own personal feelings Emma let it go. When her therapist hugged her a bit longer than she should have, when she rested her hand on her leg a little higher than she ought to, when she gave out her home number and they talked for hours every night … Emma again let it go. Who was she to say what therapy looked like? When her therapist encouraged her work and said she was beautiful and brilliant she simply felt good: wasn‘t this a part of therapy, too? After their first kiss, they discussed sexual transference and yet, her therapist still became her lover. They went over the power imbalance in their secret relationship and believed it could be navigated. In fact, over the years, Emma had come to implicitly trust that her therapist, this person who had heard all her terrible secrets, did indeed care for her and would certainly never hurt her. Emma finally felt safe.
She did not realize that her therapist/friend/lover/partner had fostered an unhealthy emotional dependence. So, when Emma ended the relationship, and her therapist/friend/lover/partner dived into a viciousness she had not witnessed before, it was too late to alter what became a free fall. A horrible depression settled into her bones. Feelings began to burst through the thin veneer of her existence. She was jolted out of deep sleeps as her world went out of control and she dropped a quarter of her weight within a few short weeks. Vodka softly spoke her name and slipped the ragged edges of her world out of focus while the anger, that had incessantly become self-recrimination, melted with the ice cubes in her glass.
Brutally alone and frightened, Emma reached back into her childhood to find something to rely on. All she found was sex and performing it became unemotional, uncomplicated and easy - like comfort food for the obese and self-mutilation for those who cut. She didn’t care how many she slept with or who. Fear had been scattering the bits she had broken into. And now the hands of these lovers rooted her body back into a reality (any reality) one stroke at a time.
Emma knew about sexual violence in childhood and abuse of power. She knew this cycle of booze and sex was dangerous and self-destructive. But survival screamed its necessity. When booze and sex no longer worked, she added Valium to interrupt the anxiety that crawled through her veins, then Baclofen to prevent the muscle spasms that rippled through her body, and then Rizatriptan to calm the pounding in her head. She should have been afraid of what she was using to cope. But her agony was all-encompassing and locating some small refuge from the horrendous trembling that sputtered out of her psyche was a daily imperative. And all of this - all of it - was simply the beginning.
Her therapist/friend/lover/partner’s scorn escalated into cruel bullying fueled with all her secrets from therapy. Emma crashed. Every trusted thought or pool of knowledge that she had once depended on disappeared. That trust in herself, her intuition and judgment that she had cultivated in therapy evaporated. The ground vanished and vacant air took up the spaces beneath her feet. Panic rose from a depth in her soul she did not recognize. Terror consumed every minuscule ounce of space around her enforcing a vacuum that she could neither breathe in nor move around. Her world tipped and those scales of balance that she had ruthlessly maintained toppled. She was certain that the state she was in required the assistance of a therapist. And, she was just as certain that that would never happen again. The very thought of allowing another person emotionally close caused air to be sucked out of her with such a force it pulled with it strange sounds from the bottom of her small soul. She was lost in her own life: a life that had suddenly lost any identifiable meaning. Had she been able to, she might have then become frightened of her condition.
Emma could recognize her rage over what her therapist had done. She could locate it and analyze it. But then it percolated inside until she was reduced to an anxious puddle. She wanted to speak up and speak out, but the only words that came forward fell, letter by letter, at her feet. Inside and out, everything spun about. All that stood out was the sound of her own brain ticking away into a silent oblivion and the realization that compared to that which had happened in her childhood - this trauma that had occurred when all her walls were down - was worse than them all. This betrayal had broken her in ways that she believed could never be fixed. And although, ultimately, she found her way past the fear, the booze and sex, as she tried to move about friendships and love, this same panic would rise up and air would be sucked out carrying small sounds of pain as terror compelled her to push those she loved, away.
So know this: regardless of who your therapist is, regardless of who you are, and regardless of what you hope: a therapist who becomes a friend is standing on dubious ground. A therapist who violates their role and becomes a lover or becomes a partner has surely transgressed from healer to one’s worst predator. The relationship does not evolve because one is healthier or special but because power is seductive to them. It will not offer healing and may just destroy what is left to trust.
And so with this tale, I caution you.