I was 35 the first time I learned to say goodbye.
After years of sitting alone with my books, I found friends in middle school. We built a bond. They all went to a different high school than me after graduation, and I remember my mom sitting with me on my bed as I sobbed into my pillow. They were gone, and no amount of “byes” and “TTYLs” and “stay in touches” were going to make that better. They were gone, and I was alone. I’d opened myself up to feelings and gotten hurt. What followed was a deep depression as I entered high school.
My ninth grade year is full of memories of headphones over my ears that blared Everclear while I pushed away all the emotion I could. If I didn’t get close to anyone, no one could ever hurt me again. I stayed that way until I met Juliet. Juliet saw this angry, sullen, brooding teenager and urged me into her friend group. It took a lot of reassurance, but over the course of the next three years I finally opened myself up to the love that emanated from these young women.
But when I graduated from high school and finally said goodbye, I closed up again. I went to college and drank away all my pain, latching onto my roommates and tallying up the notches on my bedpost.
I ended up in an abusive relationship, and when that finally ended, I was a shell.
But through it all, I had more friends. Miraculous friends. They saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself, and they loved me. That’s all it was, really. They loved me. But I couldn’t let them. And when I graduated and moved away to start my career, I considered running back to them. But no. I didn’t need them. I didn’t need anyone.
And so I drank, and I drank some more. I met my husband, and though he tried to get through to my heart, it was closed off. I said and did all the right things, but I couldn’t let anyone’s love touch me. Love meant pain. Love meant feelings. And I was done with those forever.
I did see a therapist throughout this, and she convinced me to stay with my husband. She told me, “It’s so hard to find a good guy. If you find him, don’t give him up.” Today I’m so thankful for those words. If she hadn’t said that, I would have turned my back on him too.
In 2013, when I was eight months pregnant with my daughter, a close friend passed away unexpectedly from pneumonia. It was a shock. I went to the funeral, but I felt safe crying there. I could blame it on the hormones.
I remember lying in bed next to my husband some weeks later. He had tears in his eyes. I, on the other hand, was mildly annoyed. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
I miss him,” he said. “I’m allowed to miss him.”
Grief, like feelings, always seemed like a waste of time. A sign of weakness.
I spent years of my life bottling up my emotions, drowning them in alcohol or food or sex. Anything to not have to feel, because feeling was the worst thing I could imagine.
After a postpartum mood disorder derailed me for two years, I struggled with my sense of identity. Who was I? I felt like a shitty mom and was convinced I was unlovable. I was connected to an organization that offered therapy, and that’s where I met Esin, the “inspiration.”
Esin worked with me and my then one-year-old son in attachment, but she did a lot more than that. She met with me once a week, knowing my insurance didn’t cover therapy and we couldn’t afford it on our own. She was always there, week after week, telling me all the things I couldn’t tell myself: that I was a good mother, a good person. That I was strong. I never believed her, shaking my head every time she tried to say anything positive.
But she never gave up. She became my confidante, and I began to look forward to meeting with her. She would sit quietly and respond to me in such a gentle, caring way. I always felt safe with her.
After medication finally tamed the imbalance in my brain, I began to see that what she said was true, and I began to form a bond with her.
It scared me. A bond with someone? And with a therapist? I’d spent my entire life pushing away all feelings and turning relationships into boundaries. Why stop now?
After a year of meeting with Esin, I was set up with another therapist for my daughter. Jo,“the curious,” was very into using slime in therapy, so much so that she seemed to have a new one every time we came. She was fun and funny, and she was never shy about sharing her thoughts with me. She got my family into the routine we’d lost when I’d gotten sick and went out of her way to teach me to advocate for myself.
I spent two years getting used to meeting with these women once a week, sharing everything with them, watching my children grow to love them. They taught me so many things, but the most important thing I learned from them is that although the dark feelings can be heavy and sometimes terrifying, I shouldn’t hide from them. They deserve to be acknowledged and nurtured. At long last, I was finally beginning to feel those feelings and to love myself.
And then, three months ago, we began our countdown to goodbye. They were on their way to being fully licensed, and they were leaving the organization. Esin sat across the table from me on a home visit. She said ending a therapeutic relationship is akin to death, and that ideally we would have a long process of saying goodbye. I nodded and smiled while I shrugged internally. No biggie. People say goodbye every day.
As the weeks wore on and our time together grew shorter and shorter, something changed. I began to feel things. It was terrifying.
One day, on a drive by myself, I was listening to a playlist I’d created on my phone. Somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Five for Fighting, the tears started. And they continued for weeks as the ending date tread closer and close. They were leaving. They were going to be gone. It was really happening.
I realized the importance of these women in my life, how much they brought me over the last two years, and how much I would miss them. I was finally truly experiencing a real goodbye, and it was heavy. It hurt. But I didn’t run this time. I won’t, because of what they’ve taught me.
Today was the day we shed our final tears together before I left the building. I felt their emotions as I walked away, and I know they care about me as much as I care about them. We’ve all found a special place in each other’s hearts, and that feeling, that ineffable emotion… it doesn’t go away. It lives forever in us, and it transfers to all those whose lives we touch.
Saying goodbye to them has opened me up to all the goodbyes I’ve hidden from in the past.
As those deeply pressed emotions swirl around me, I can’t help but feel happy. Because now, at 35, I finally feel what it means to let someone else see me cry. And I finally think to myself…it’s a beautiful thing, this ability to feel.
Maybe I’ll try it out for a while.