I Had to Quit Therapy to Finally Be Ready for It

Dr. S and I tried to work through the conflict. For me, she knew, dependency implied obligation and control — so I wouldn’t let her, or let myself, be close. I didn’t disagree, but how was I supposed to rescue my desire to be held from my fear of being crushed, my desire for love from my desire to please?

How was I supposed to find a way through that wasn’t out? I experienced my imminent departure like a fact in my body, and any effort to explain it further filled me with a saturating boredom. Dr. S was not a boring person, and I didn’t think I was, either, so the boredom provoked our mutual suspicion.

Still, I felt loyal to my malaise, like the child who refuses every doll, game or excursion — stubborn in the unhappy dignity of her disinterest.

Dr. S knew better than to pressure me to stay, but she did not fulfill my fantasy of a reparative final session. I thought I wanted her to bless my departure. Instead, she spoke wistfully of all the work we might do if I kept coming back, as if the work we’d done already was not enough. When I left her office, tears blurred my vision, and the clouds above Central Park looked like faces pushing against fabric. I’d been afraid of disappointing Dr. S — and then I did. But the disappointment I perceived in her was different from the disappointment I so chronically endeavored to avoid with others. Together we had created a situation that I could abandon in favor of my own desire, however primitive, without recrimination.

It must be strange, for the analyst, to exercise so little control over her patients: After years of tenderness, we might walk out the door without looking back. And yet, it is precisely this conscious renunciation of control that makes the analyst different from the other people in our lives, potentially transformatively so. Once I left, life quickly flooded the space where our sessions had been. I fell in love, I became a writer. I was waiting for a punishment, meanwhile, that never came, and the quietude diffused the guilt and shame of failure. I could feel, finally, the stirrings of an independence I did not have to justify by winning. Leaving Dr. S made it possible to imagine going back — both humbled and emboldened by our mutual capacity to abide the separation. To let it breathe.

I was gone only for a little more than a year, and when I went back to Dr. S, we saw each other once a week. Six years have passed, and our relationship is now one of the most reliable — and mysterious — in my life. I told her recently that I’m not sure what analysis is for, or how and how much it’s made me better. “You’re still so ambivalent about it,” Dr. S observed. But I don’t think that’s quite true. I’m not ambivalent about my time with her: I know I want to be there, in the suspended circle of her attention.

I’m just reluctant to articulate its purpose, especially in public, because analysis has become a refuge from the pervasive demand that I use my time productively, or render my life as a progress narrative for search committees, potential partners or the pages of a magazine. In analysis, I’m allowed to be uncertain and without the right words. This time, I haven’t decided how long it should last. I’m able to practice living without particular ends in mind — which is not the same, I’ve learned, as living without desire.

Lately I’ve been reading the Puerto Rican feminist Luisa Capetillo, especially her 1911 manifesto on free love, repeating one line like a mantra: “querer es poder.” The translation I have renders it as “wanting is doing.” But I keep lingering over other possibilities: “wanting is power,” or, more modestly, “to want is to be able to.” Desire is the minimum condition for any true transformation. But desire cannot be demanded from us by others, or by the voices of others we’ve internalized to discipline our own spirits. We all have to figure out how to want the help we need. The choices we make about how to get it matter less than how close we can feel to the force of our choosing.

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