I call my therapist JPEG because his real name is Jeff, and I’m mad at someone named Jeff. I have been working with him in trauma therapy for almost a year now. To my dismay, he let me know four weeks ago that he accepted a new job offer and that our working relationship would be ending. Since one of the reasons I am in trauma therapy is my fear of abandonment and rejection, this news has not set well with me.
It’s brought up some of my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) triggers. To belabor the point, I am going through the grieving process face-to-face with him. It’s as if he’s dying slowly in front of me becoming a ghost that will remain a fond memory of the past. It’s allowed me to grieve the loss of someone in a healthy manner which I have never been able to afford. To be cliché, it has been a cathartic experience.
He’s been the best therapist I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of therapists. Seven to be exact; I’m like the Elizabeth Taylor of therapy patients. The first was court ordered to see my siblings and I during our parent’s divorce. The second was a reiki therapist who also saw almost everyone else in my family, which seems like a conflict of interest. Needless to say, I didn’t really open up to her out of fear she was telling all my secrets to another member of the family. The third was a graduate student doing their fellowship at my alma mater, Brooklyn College, who I adored but was torn away from at the end of the semester as he had to move on. The fourth was someone I only saw for eight sessions at the wonderful LGBT Center here in New York City. The fifth was named Richard (so we have our Richard Burton there, Liz), but he couldn’t remember basic details like my name and where I’m from: My name is Weston, not Wesley, and I am from Arkansas, not Alabama. I chose the sixth therapist solely on his name alone, James Dean. He couldn’t cut it. And finally, I have JPEG who is moving me onto someone named Kyle which I’ve already nicknamed KPOP (as in Korean Pop but Kyle isn’t Korean). It’s hard to let go knowing that everything I’ve ever let go of has had claw marks in it. I am not quick to say goodbye unless I choose flight instead of fight.
JPEG has taught me that I like to play rough. That I am a product of my upbringing where I go into Claire Danes mode, or Claire-Danesing, which has now turned into a verb in our therapy sessions. Claire-Danesing is reminiscent of her role on Homeland where she has a wall with pictures strewn about connected by pins and threads. Simple interactions with people feel like a war-zone at times. This is the way I deconstruct my life in my head which most certainly is a web of memories; often involving an ugly cry-face filled with tears. It’s hard Claire-Danesing all the time. JPEG has taught me to be mindful of it which I’ve learned to accept. With that, I can check myself before I wreck myself into a downward spiral.
Also, he has taught me that I recreate relationships from my past with current people in my life. I will place certain friends in mother and father roles. The girl at the coffee shop will become one of my older sisters. The deli guy will suddenly be the doppelganger of a former teacher. I’m not the only one who does this, to a degree we all do things like this. JPEG has just brought awareness to these kinds of relationships and how to set boundaries when needed.
I know what you’re all thinking; this guy has a thing for his therapist. That’s called transference and is totally healthy in therapeutic relationships. The relationship you create with your therapist can be a template for all your future relationships. At one time, I did have a crush on JPEG but that was in early days before I bared my soul to him, broke down and cried about past traumas, or created an inside joke that only him and I know all about. Each week, I think this has become a favorite moment for us both when I tell him, “See you next Tuesday.”
I have four sessions with JPEG left. These sessions will be the hardest knowing that he’s a mere few weeks from exiting my life for good. But the thing he has taught me most is to embrace change and see it as an opportunity for growth. For example, with KPOP I’ll be able to say, “See you Monday,” with a slight giggle. Now that is growth.