“But I have sometimes thought that a woman's nature is like a great house full of rooms: there is the hall, through which everyone passes, going in and out; the drawing-room, where one receives formal visits; the sitting-room, where the members of the family come and go as they list; but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead; and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes.”
― Edith Wharton, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
The first time I knew I needed to see a therapist I was seven years old. It’s a long and complicated story but somewhere during my second grade year I became terrified, obsessed actually, with the idea that I might kill myself. It might be by drinking bleach or swallowing rat poison, by drawing a razor blade across my wrists or neck, by throwing myself off a balcony or in front of a train, or perhaps by sticking my head in the oven or jamming a fork into a plugged in toaster. I was a sleepless, terrified mess. I requested help and was given it and I’m extremely grateful for that. I saw that therapist, Dr. X, for three years - ages 8 through 10 - and she very well may have saved me.
My next round with a head shrinker came when I was 25, shortly after my best friend had committed suicide. The night I heard about her death I made a massive pot of spaghetti, threw in a stick of butter, added half a container of grated cheese, a handful of salt, and then shoveled the entire thing, straight out of the pot, into my mouth. Afterwards, nauseous, shocked and surprised at my own actions, I promptly made myself vomit it all back up. Unable, I think now, to process my friend's sudden and shocking death, I became an almost-overnight bulimic. Several months into this binge and purge interlude I knew I needed help again. This time Dr. Y came to the rescue. We worked on the bulimia and I was able to stop that behavior, replacing it, so slowly and insidiously that I was honestly unaware of what was happening to me, with a steadily increasing alcohol consumption.
About 2 years after I started seeing Dr. Y she told me that although she was very proud of my hard work in overcoming the bulimia, if I continued drinking the way I was she would be unable to help me. I laughed out loud and then caught myself. Dr. Y asked what was so funny. What was so funny - to me anyway - is that I was reporting about half of my actual weekly alcohol consumption. So it was tragic (and yet darkly hilarious) that she felt she couldn't help me. If she thought I was an alcoholic at the pathetically lightweight consumption that I dutifully reported to her each week from my “drinking journal”, what would she say if she knew the truth? The casual nips and shots of vodka? The numerous glasses of wine before going out? The drugs when offered? And then the drugs when purchased? She didn't know the half of it and I certainly was not going to tell her.
So I thanked Dr. Y for her services and bid her adieu - until about two years later when I came crawling back, tail between my legs, begging for a session. This time I was thoroughly, completely and absolutely licked by alcohol. With my Higher Power, the weekly sessions with Dr. Y, a rigorous yoga practice and the rooms of A.A. I finally got sober.
A decade into sobriety, for a variety of seemingly valid reasons, I started to suffer extreme anxiety and quite scary intrusive thoughts once again. I asked around and was given the name of some shrink-to-the-stars on Park Avenue. I went to see him and had one of the most remarkable adventures in psychiatry that I could have imagined. This doctor was sitting behind a large wooden desk, his froggish face peering over it like a child at the grownups’ table. He had a large bag of very pungent Chinese takeout food delivered to his office about four minutes into our first session ever. As his toady eyes darted between me and his lunch, and while he assured me that “No, my lunch can wait” (as I urged him to eat) he pulled out his prescription pad and started scribbling furiously. “Xanax, Gabapentin, Prozac, Propranolol and maybe some Ambien should do the trick” he advised, without having listened to me at all. He shoved the scripts, like moist, filthy, crumpled bills from a stripper's thong, in my direction. I left the office furious, ripped up the prescriptions, and did not see another shrink for years.
I have done some therapy since then. I drift in and out of thinking it has any use, for me or for anyone else. Does anyone over the age of 25 really need to fork over their hard-earned cash to sit on an uncomfortable couch complaining that Mommy and Daddy were mean to them? The jury is still out on that one. I have, in the past, scheduled a few random visits here or there when my anxiety was off the charts. One or two phone sessions, with a promise to start going to therapy every week. Having made the call to get help, I’d feel better. Then I’d start to drift away, taking every single travel job that came my way so I would have an excuse to NOT go to therapy. “I’d love to see you but my schedule is crazy” was my favorite line. “But as a freelancer can’t you prioritize therapy over work?” a kind doctor once asked me. “No. I can’t” I responded. And that was that.
But this fall, against my own firm inclination not to, I have started therapy again. Because of those rooms. Those rooms where I am still stuck. The rooms that Edith Wharton wrote so beautifully about so many years ago.
“…but beyond that, far beyond, are other rooms, the handles of whose doors perhaps are never turned; no one knows the way to them, no one knows whither they lead.”
I know I have those rooms. And they haunt me at times. And I know that the handles of those doors need to be turned. My own personal hidden rooms so long forgotten need to be aired out, dusted, explored, examined, restored.
Because I have this idea, this sense that although I really don't want to go into those rooms, that I would prefer to leave them locked and closed for as long as I live and then long after I die, it is my work here, in this human life, to open them. Surprisingly, this new therapist, when I told her about the unopened rooms, smiled and said gently, “well that’s why you are here then. We can explore those rooms together. You won’t be alone in there.” That simple and kind sentence cut my trepidation by half. I have an ally now, a companion, a guide. I sense that if I am able to open those locked doors I might understand myself better. With this knowledge I might finally be able to stop behaving in ways that still, to this day, cause me regret. I could become a better person. A helpful person. Plus, I might finally understand what makes me tick.
And then, if I am lucky and have some real grace bestowed upon me, I hope to find the innermost room, the holy of holies, where my soul resides. Waiting for me to come find it.