Weeks before the collective pandemic upheaval in March 2020, I found myself stepping off the Seattle-to-Bainbridge Island ferry. I am carrying a backpack chock-full of books. Some of the books are mine; others are not. Books are friends, holding words I want to remember. Piles of them are stacked in both my home and therapy office. I’ve just finished my last weekend of the Certificate Level Two training in Narrative Focused Trauma Care at The Allender Center, and because my upcoming week looks hectic, I asked to meet with my therapist. She agreed.
Her car sits alone in an empty parking lot, and I squeeze myself and my heavy backpack inside. Nestled among blankets, my therapist waits. She has agreed to meet me after a long training session on trauma. Her office is unexpectedly closed, so we sit in her car.
She is awaiting word on her kidney transplant. The transplant list is long. It’s uncharted. It’s a day-to-day reminder of mortality we hold between us. Her frame appears ailing, even though her smile, laugh, and engagement of me push through whatever pain and fatigue she holds. It becomes harder and harder to look in her eyes. I don’t have an imagination for her being gone.
She turns towards me and broaches the subject of “ending.” You see, I have been anticipating her departure for a kidney transplant and the unknown that will follow, but here is something different—more final, more formal. Resisting my need to scream, I sit still.
“What if?” I ponder.
In my therapeutic ethics classes, I’ve studied what it looks like to end therapy well. Words have spilled onto formal graduate class papers, yet those words are for another essay, so I’ll leave them there. Our anticipated ending has as much to do with her illness as my growth into spaces where our lives will most certainly intersect.
Yet here I am…raw, emotional, teary, enraged, struggling to hold breath in my lungs.
I drag words from my mouth, “Okay…”
Therapy is this weird and magical world of taking past chasms of pain from the depth of the soul and reimagining a newness in the present. It’s not like wizardry, but almost. It’s been me finding mind, body, spirit are connected and choosing to walk the journey in partnership with mind, body and spirit without shutting one of the three out of my being.
I am created to be integrated—feeling and thinking, sensing and learning, imagining and dreaming.
Trauma changes all of this—particularly childhood trauma and abuse, which rips parts of the mind apart, separates love from goodness, and intertwines the desire for goodness with betrayal, shame, and contempt. My young heart was frozen in the web of childhood trauma when I walked through my therapist’s door. Singed off pieces of me were still smoldering in my skin while I smiled and pretended.
Whatever therapist you choose, they become a guide, sort-of friend, mother figure, or perhaps the main attachment object that provides a sense of being seen and known. It was all of this for me. A place to start again. A do-over.
Something about our connection reached deep inside and pulled out living parts of me that I believed dead or killed in childhood. She offered words to internal darkness that soothed my heart. Both her presence and her belief in me planted and continue to plant seeds inside, growing.
I am afraid those seeds will shrivel and die when she goes—that somehow when she’s gone, the someone who believed I held deep goodness will slip into the unknown. I’ll be left marked by the loud world of doubters, haters, and the curses of my childhood. The fragments that found life will prove to be only an illusion of healing.
I look at this woman sitting next to me. She is kind, fierce, and loving. She has gone above and beyond the textbook and therapeutic practices to meet me where I am. She knows without knowing. Her care and kindness, failures and return are a cool balm for the deep chasms of wordless pain.
It’s been in this complex, imperfect relationship and in the realization of the existence of care that I have learned to love from more honest spaces. Because of this—although my heart hurts and I ache with deep pain—I am able to choose the next right thing.
Now, twelve months later, the pandemic relentlessly reminds me of relationships lost. Fragmented from my community, I reflect daily on what relationships—this relationship in particular—mean to me. The truth is those fragments that were named, loved, and pulled closer to me in the presence of my therapist continue to be wildly grieved yet found sturdier than I gave them credit. I’m in no rush to finish healing. It wouldn’t be honorable.
As I lean in to the living memories of good community, I find this is not the end.
Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identify, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Level 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, and she is enrolled in the Externship for the upcoming year. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at www.daniellescastillejo.com.