Clients teach me powerful lessons everyday. The best education has come from listening to their experiences and hopes. One particular example still leaves me all verklempt.
What should have been a quick kidney stone surgery with a few days of recovery became two surgeries, raging infection, and more than three weeks out of my mind and out of the office.
My amazing makes-everything-seem-easy assistant continued to cancel sessions as my situation escalated. I was distraught about the multiple cancellations. Not because I thought my clients couldn’t handle it or that somehow I believe myself more essential to them than I am, but I do know their stories.
I know their stories of betrayal and rejection, of shame and pain. I know the patterns in their early lives (and sometimes adult lives) of appalling abuse and neglect. They have bravely shared the frozen places of fear and pain with me over time. Many have come to know what it’s like to feel safe for the first time.
When new patterns of safety and connection have been created, not having protected space as scheduled can be difficult. Unexpected changes can trigger old feelings of….well, of all different sorts depending on the original wound.
Because of this, I take my role in their lives very seriously. After being back in the office and out of the narcotic induced haze, I expressed my apology for the extended, unexpected time away.
To the person, they were gracious and caring. They were gentle and understanding. The grace they showed amazed me. I expected pouting and manipulative withdrawal. My expectation wasn’t based on what I know of them, but rather my own history. My own story of abandonment.
The story being: If I don’t play my assigned role, I deserve to be rejected.
It wasn’t a conscious thought, but as their grace poured in, my previously unconscious expectations sprang to the surface. As I was expressing my apology, one women said, “Tara, it’s easy to be gracious to you. You are the one who taught me grace.”
Gulp. And, the client becomes the teacher.
The thing I most hope to bestow upon broken hearts is what was poured back upon me in that moment: grace, connection, and hope of healing.
The old distressing story line had been playing in the theater of my mind at such a low level I didn’t recognize it. Oh, but there is was! I was internally bracing to pay the fees for having been human.
I have the best clients in the world, no matter their reaction to my absence.
Truly. The most amazing, strong, insightful, generous, brilliant individuals I’ve ever met. I’m reminded of it every day. They fight for themselves and their families and friends with courage and hope. They love well when many were never given a template for doing so. They face life head on and say, “NO MORE! That shit stops here”.
To all the clients over the years who have found just enough hope to show up on the couch across from me, thank you for all you’ve taught me. Thank you for the grace you’ve shown this human therapist. I’m so honored to walk with you.