Finding Therapy in Writing and Gardening

It’s the same night each week. A different love seat, but the same night. A different city, but the same night. Maybe even a different me, but the same night. Twenty nights here on this white wicker loveseat in Hampton, VA writing my way to revelation, but more than eighty Tuesday nights I spent on Dr. Bogin’s office loveseat in Syracuse, NY talking my way to sanity in the wake of my divorce. I’d kick off my shoes and curl up Indian style the way I am right now, only I’d be looking at his black rimmed glasses instead of a laptop screen.

Sometimes I’d gaze out his window at Harrison Street traffic, though I much prefer the view of my garden now. Too many months of the year it snowed there as I talked. I much prefer the blue skies darkening through sunset as I write. And though I much prefer my life as it is today, it is quite likely I wouldn’t have found this loveseat perch so inviting had it not been for the awkward, toilsome sessions on Dr. Bogin’s loveseat.

After I left my home and husband in Nashville, I encountered a disquieted lack of passion that haunted every moment that should have held joy. I remember telling Dr. Bogin in our very first session in March of 2013 that I was more alive in my dreams than I was when I was awake… and he told me that was a good sign because it meant there was still life in my subconscious. Granted those might not have been his words, but that’s my take-away looking back more than two years.

This weekend, I went back to Syracuse for my little brother’s wife’s baby shower. I waited nearly ten minutes after pulling in the driveway at that white house with black shutters before stepping out of my little Honda Fit. I’d grown up in that house, washed cars in that driveway, mowed that lawn, played basketball out back, climbed trees in the yard in Polly Flinders dresses. Those memories I cherish. I’d also returned to that home after Nashville as a woman defeated by loss, failure, and disappointed. A shell of the girl who was raised there, I watched TV with my dad, drank coffee with my mom, read psychology books gifted by my brother, and tried to get past the sense that I was merely existing.

When I pulled in my driveway back in Virginia yesterday, my first action was not to unpack the car. Instead, I watered my thirsty plants who reminded me of that shell of a girl I was in Syracuse. They were wilting, defeated by heat and lack of water. When I left less than a week ago, my garden was thriving. I complained to my friend Kyle that I was worried all my efforts for its progress had been undone in my absence, but he assured me that the garden will bounce back.

And I believe him because of Dr. Bogin. He met me at my weakest. But he saw life in me, and though he may not have said it outright, my mind can string together a dozen disconnected comments he made during our sessions over a year and a half that assure me he knew I would bounce back. He taught me that going through a divorce was akin to losing a loved one. The death of the marriage spurned the same grief cycle. I was mourning the loss of the forever I had planned long before our vows were spoken at the altar, and I was mourning the breaking of those vows.

As I write, the scent of my nieces’ baby shampoo is on my hands from their bath time earlier tonight. At one point, Tessa scooted over and knocked Katarina head first into the tepid water. Though she righted herself, my heartbeat quickened. Fear does that. Grief does the opposite.

At my sister-in-law’s baby shower this weekend, my heart raced too. I busied myself in serving, organizing, and cataloguing gifts while I could not shake this disquieted anxiety that haunted a moment that should have held joy. I’m excited for the newest Palma to be added to the growing sea of nieces and nephews and simultaneously acutely aware that there are no sons or daughters of my own. Still, the disquieted anxiety of this weekend is much preferred to the disquieted lack of passion that haunted me before. Because it means, as Dr. Bogin said, that there is still life in me.

In retrospect, the physical effect I experienced at Katarina’s face plant in the water tonight and that of the shower this weekend is actually a good sign. During my season in Dr. Bogin’s office, I went from wanting nothing to wanting everything. From dying inside to living outright. From crying myself to sleep to longing for meaning and purpose. Loss nearly sucked the life out of me, but the function of the grieving process is a bridge from death to life. That’s the bridge I crossed on his loveseat in a winter I thought would never end. But it did end. And I ended up here.

After the baby shower on Sunday, I had the privilege of spending nearly an hour and a half, off the clock, in Dr. Bogin’s backyard. Same glasses. Different day. Same city. Certainly a different me. All those nights we met in his office, I never realized that he could see my parents’ driveway from his. It wasn’t a formal session, just an opportunity for a doctor and former patient to reconnect and reflect on the year since I moved away and stopped meeting with him. The peace of the trees and manicured walkways was much preferred to the traffic on Harrison Street.

Dr. Bogin mentioned that he can hear my voice when he reads my blog. And why wouldn’t he? It occurred to me this weekend that what I do now on my weekly writing nights is just another version of the therapy we did in his office. Is it just a coincidence that it’s every Tuesday night? To be honest, there are times when I’m writing that I imagine his responses. Maybe his steady voice found a way into my subconscious as he coached me back to sanity.

When he met me, I didn’t want kids anymore. Family didn’t make sense. Teaching didn’t make sense. Shopping and cooking and cleaning and playing didn’t make sense. All the efforts and striving of the human existence seemed futile. I recall that version of me with a deep sadness coupled by overwhelming joy that somehow, not in one moment or session, but over time as I talked my way through the grief process, I righted myself like Katarina in the bath tub.

The woman Dr. Bogin saw this weekend is full of passion and desire. She has been surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues and restored to vibrancy. When I look at my garden tonight, there is no grief or fear. I bounced back. It will too. Loss did not destroy me. I am stronger in spirit and hope than I was before I experienced the grief of my divorce.

My faith is still in recovery, but I never abandoned my belief in God. Could it be that the longing ache in my soul to be a wife and a mother was instilled in me by Him? I have a second date with my eHarmony nuclear engineer this week, and in our correspondence I told him that I longed for a family because I was ready to invest in lives beyond my own. And I told Dr. Bogin about my newfound love for gardening. It’s therapeutic, undoubtedly, but I don’t think that’s why I enjoy it. Tending my garden is an opportunity to invest in life beyond my own. It’s hope in practice.

On Dr. Bogin’s love seat, I saw winter and loss. On this love seat, I see summer and hope. I crossed the bridge of grief and found the promise of a new forever with a vow to myself that I will get it right… eventually. And until I sit on the porch of a home filled with a family of my own, I’ll find joy in caring for the seeds of life in the garden before me.

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