I remember the first time Nadja and I talked about loss. Actually, I think it’s fair to say we talked around that aspect. I mean, she talked around it. I let her talk around it in so far as I did not call her out on talking around the matter. The matter, as I call it, was her drinking, plus the fact that it brought negative consequences, like loss. Nadja thought the Board of Behavioral Science was being unfair in denying her an intern registration because of a DUI she’d picked up a year before. That was the event that had led her to me originally, though she didn’t come clean, so to speak, about that until six months into treatment. Anyway, the matter of loss was initially—perhaps originally and perennially—swamped under a defense of rage whose pedigree felt primal. See, the board was like her mother: an aloof, terse and judgmental object, denying validation, withholding approval, love. Why can’t she/they forgive, she might as well have been saying. Why can’t she look past imperfection, say that everything—that she—is okay.
The elephant in the room was her expectation that I’d be the same. After all, why else would she wait six months to stop burying the lede. It’s a good job that I’m nothing like aloof, terse, and judgmental such that projections like these would stick to me. I sort of recall the first time she coped with loss in the transference by dissociating, which in plainspeak meant that she’d go quiet, sport a look of dazed intoxication, and then begin swaying ever so slightly. “I can’t hear you right now”, she’d say, alerting me to a phenomenon that I’d simultaneously observe. At least, I think I recognized it on about the 3rd or 4th occasion, mostly because it looked roughly the same each time. Ah, you’re doing that thing, I will have thought—that thing you do when I’ve constructed an insight that hits on something, speaks some truth. What a waste of time it will have seemed as she tuned me out, making me feel what it’s like to be not listened to.
Over time I learned more about Nadja’s loss experiences: about her numerous losses in the realm of romantic love—oh how I paid the price for being a heterosexual male during those sessions; about the near loss of her toddler child in a swimming misadventure ten years ago. That incident brought accusations of parental neglect against her. Mortifying. Then there was the dual loss of her parents: first, her dad, to a medical misadventure, a botched cancer surgery. Then her mother: suicide. A year later. Nadja has reason to be mad. She’s known loss, I guess I’d say. Three years ago, I invited her to lay on the couch, be my first analytic case, though I never called it—her—that. She’d cut down on the dissociative gazing, I thought, was ready to deepen upon tolerating the critical transference in our sessions. Eventually, she took responsibility for her drinking, stopped blaming the board for holding her back. At some point, they stopped holding her back: they gave her a registration; more recently—finally—her therapist license. A big achievement, of course. I’d had her back all the way, she declared gratefully. I’d believed in her, implicitly. Good job, she thought. But she never became a control case. My loss, I think, and hers. I tried. She tried, sort of, but wouldn’t commit to coming more than two times per week. Now we’re terminating. Now that she doesn’t dissociate as much as she used to, she wants to replace me with a somatic therapist, a woman—not me. Only it’s taking a long time. I don’t know. Is nine months a long time to say goodbye? Seems this thing about losing, especially losing that which has been good and truthful, is really hard.