Here We Go Again or Why My Life Can Never Be Rewritten

“So with the time we have left, tell me about your background, the key players in your life growing up.”

Fuck. Here we go.

It’s been 5 years since I stopped seeing an amazing therapist who I had seen for years. I wanted to start seeing someone again, someone new, someone who would concentrate on my here and now, the snapshot of my current life first and then perhaps go back to my childhood where the seeds are clearly planted for who we are. (Also, it was very clear when my old therapist had attended a conference that introduced new techniques and approaches to therapy, and I basically had to stop when she suggested my current me go back to talk to my younger me as if she were sitting next to me on the couch.)

I guess that I was deluded into thinking that I could somehow stave off my somewhat unusual upbringing for several sessions, kind of slipping it in after a few weeks or so—“Oh, and by the way, my mother died in a double-suicide.” I spent the first 30 minutes of my first session talking about my string of job losses and layoffs and how that made me feel like a failure that has lead to some pretty strong self-loathing. I talked about some really bad financial choices I’ve made along the way. I talked about my wonderful second marriage and how there was no way I could get through any of this without him. I talked about my very deliberate change in a career focus and how my work with female inmates and at-risk pre- and teenage girls has always brought out the best in me and how I can’t possibly do anything else at this point in my life, how any other administrative job in fundraising is just a set-up to fail and quite frankly something that I have no more zest for.

This woman is lovely, mid-60s I would guess, very gentle and astute. Her office is very comfortable and I was happy to see an abundance of pillows which I’ve always used to cover my stomach while I sit on the couch.

“Do you have siblings?” she asked, pen poised over pad.

I listed my two brothers and sister in birth order, giving a sentence or two about each of them, emphasizing as always my brother Mark who has been there for me throughout everything.

“What about your parents?”

I did the usual mother/father dog and pony show. When I got to my mother’s suicide, and threw in the “double” part, she put both hands over her heart and shook her head in sympathy. I’m not exactly sure what I said to lead her to ask a question a few minutes later that no one has asked before.

“Was she murdered?”

Whoa. I realized that maybe because we hear so much about someone killing someone and then killing themselves that this could have prompted the question. But, due to a lot of circumstances surrounding their deaths, it is entirely possible that the man she died with could have somehow forced her into something that she wasn’t intending to do. Is that murder? Would that make my “script” change? Double-suicides are dramatic enough. I don’t need to throw in the possibility of some sort of crime although there had been yellow police tape in an X across the door to our apartment. I’ve thought about going to the NYPD where a wild goose chase only about 2 years ago lead me to learn that that is where any police report would be kept, but I haven’t thought much about it since.

“I think it’s really interesting that you’ve chosen to work with teenage girls and women who are somehow suffering.” I thought about this for a second and realized that again, no one, including me had really made that connection.

“I’m not sure I ever really suffered,” I said pushing back a little bit.

“Well, at 13 you were left alone with a very sick woman while your father moved 3,000 miles away.” I didn’t really feel as if she were trying to convince me that I actually “suffered” but maybe, as almost everyone who knows my story, she was trying to give me credit for what I had been through.

We had to end at that point. I feel trapped, pigeonholed by my narrative. I’ve had a really happy life but I always seem to get pulled back to an unfathomable event that happened 26 years ago. In many ways this may seem hypocritical because I write a lot about this (and there is a lot more to come) but I want to believe that my present setbacks have nothing to do with my history, that they are somehow a character defect based on other things and not a rocky past.

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6 Comments

  1. Gayle, You are a beautiful human being. I've known you for a while now, have seen some of the hardship and struggle. Although your present situation may or may not be directly related to your past, it would seem reasonable — to me — that you are drawn, sucked, dragged back toward your past when current events trigger some deeply embedded internal paradigm of self. A current perceived failure, while possibly the result of a current mismatch, connects with your past in some indelible way. I don't say this because I some how magically know you so deeply and thoroughly, but because I too struggle with my long-ago formed sense of self that rears it's ugly head at every contemporary set-back.I know it to be very real and very possible that others do too.

  2. Hi, youmay want to find a therapist who specializes in Soution Focused Therapy at some point. It is newish (started in the 80s) and it doesn't really care that much about the why of the past. It focuses more on how to change the present to reach the goals for the future. I didn't know too much about it myself until I was asked to teach a course in it at Rutgers. It is really interesting. Message me if you want to know more about it.

  3. Duuude. I totally see where you're coming from on this. My sister and I have a totally opposite view on our childhood – she feels traumatized by stuff we dealt with, and I kind of shrug it off. I don't want to think it affects me. Of course it does though, even if I don't want to think of myself as a "victim." There are personality types who love that label, and those who resist it. I fight it. Maybe you do, too.

  4. I just wrote the world longest responses to this. Then erased it when I realized I could sum it up in one sentence:"It's not what happens to us that matters, but how we react to it."I love your blog.

  5. Gayle, I absolutely love reading your blog! It is so raw and honest…

  6. Dan

    I think that many of us who can trace our heritage back to the Holocaust can feel "pigeonholed," as you put it, when we face such a universally horrific event. To us it's not an abstract idea; it's real. That said, the image of you that comes to mind whenever I think about you is a smiling one. Joy is, after all, the flipside of pain, isn't it?

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