Jenny Darmody is journalist and editor working and living in Ireland. She has previously been published in The Incubator and Microfiction Monday Magazine and is currently working on her first novel. She was also one of the Young Writer Delegates at the 2018 Dublin Book Festival.
The Therapy Journal
By Jenny Darmody
My name is Sam. I am an accountant. My therapist is making me write this. He insists I call him Martin. I don’t know what else to say.
This week, I had to talk about Sarah. Martin also suggested I write something about her this week. Valentine’s Day was strange without her this year. I don’t know what else to say.
I don’t know what the hell he wants from me.
We talked about my mother today. Martin asked me how I felt about her being gone and I said nothing, so he suggested I write about it later. I still feel nothing. I haven’t felt anything in a long time.
I lost it with him today. After a 12-hour day without a lunchbreak, he tells me I’m not trying hard enough in these sessions. And I’m not writing enough. I can give him something to read if he really wants it. I think he’s full of it. This is a complete waste of time. If it was going to stop Sarah from leaving, that would be something at least. Then there would be some point to it.
Why I missed last week’s session
I was busy.
I didn’t want to go.
I was scared. I had a bad week. I had weird dreams. I was scared.
Last night’s dream
I was lying in a bed I didn’t recognise. It looked like a hotel. The sheets were crisp and white. My arm scars were itchy and when I looked at them they started bleeding, but the blood was glowing in the dark. It covered the white sheets. Then more cuts appeared on the inside of my arms and the back of my legs.
Martin said we would talk about the scars more next week. He said I should write about how I feel about that. I feel scared. They hurt a bit right now.
Martin wasn’t surprised who created the scars. I was surprised by his lack of surprise. I thought they were textbook self-harm markings. I was waiting for him to ask me when I first decided to do it. But he just talked about my mother again. The big reveal didn’t phase him at all. I’m almost disappointed at how uninteresting I am.
Things that make me happy
John and Mark
My job when I’m actually doing
My new p
I didn’t talk much to Martin today. He didn’t seem to mind. He asked about my list of two happy things. I didn’t answer him. I don’t want to talk about John and Mark. I don’t want to drag them into this. Even if they don’t know. I just don’t want them in there, even metaphorically. Maybe he’ll read this and understand.
He gave me homework today. He told me to go to my mother’s grave and write today’s entry from there. It’s freezing. Shouldn’t it be summer now? I don’t know what to write. The grave is unremarkable. I almost had trouble picking it out, if it weren’t so near the big statue. I’m more interested in the other people that are here. I can see a tall woman holding a small child’s hand. They’re about five grave lines away from me, standing in front of a grand-looking white marble headstone. Off in the other distance, a wizened woman is laying flowers down at a much simpler grave. She touches her face a lot then, I presume to wipe away tears. For a perfect moment, none of us move. I’m staring back at my own mother’s headstone, still feeling nothing. No, actually, that’s not quite true. I’m jealous of the other people here. It’s not fair that they can grieve in peace. That they have nice people to mourn. People that were good to them. I bet none of the people they’re here to see hurt them the way my mother hurt me. I’m jealous that they’re able to come here and feel sad. The woman and child are leaving now, but the older woman is still there, unmoving. I think I’ll stay another while. But I have nothing else to write.
Today was weird. I thought he was going to make me talk about my mother again today, after the grave thing. But after he read my last entry, he just asked me about the other people at the graveyard. He wanted to know why I was so fascinated with them. I wasn’t. I only happened to notice them. He wanted to know who I thought they were visiting, how long their loved ones might have been gone. How would I know? I could tell Martin was hiding his frustrations with me. After trying to talk to me about the experience in the graveyard, he eventually gave up and told me to write about what I thought about today, as usual. Although, he also told me to have a go at answering the questions he had about those people. Even if they’re only imaginary, he said.
Well, I suppose if I absolutely had to guess, then maybe the old woman was a widow, visiting her husband. She still cries, and leaves flowers and stays for a long time, so maybe he hasn’t been gone that long. The woman and child were further away but from what I could tell, she didn’t seem too traumatised. Maybe she was a more distant relative, and the people beneath the white headstone were more important to the child. But the child couldn’t have been more than six or seven, so maybe he doesn’t remember the person as well as he should. Maybe it was a parent…
I don’t know.
Why I missed last week’s session
John and Mark had a football game. Sarah didn’t tell me, I only found out at the last minute. I miss enough of their lives these days. I wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to see them play.
Martin advised me not to write anything about my last session until a few days had passed and my anger had subsided. It hasn’t really. But screw it.
He pushed me. He was pissed because I missed the last session. So, once I’d written the reason – and I wasn’t a bit sorry – he snatched it, read it, and then demanded we talk about the boys.
I said no. But he pushed. He just kept at me and at me until I screamed. Literally screamed. I didn’t even scream words, I just screamed loudly. Into his face. Everyone looked at me when I left.
He told me to write my feelings down in this stupid diary when I’d calmed down. But how can I calm down? He said I was wasting his time if I refuse to talk about my sons. They have nothing to do with this, why should I have to talk about them?
It was an accident
I don’t know what to say
I don’t know why I’m here.
I know why I’m here. I feel like I’m back at square one. Sarah
I don’t know what to say.
Martin told me to talk today. About what happened to make me come back. I tried to avoid talking about it but he just sat there, waiting for me to talk.
I let the clock run out. He told me to work on my journal.
I don’t think he cares anymore.
Sarah wouldn’t even
I can’t do this anymo
I need to fix this.
He wasn’t exactly over the moon, but he was happy with my last entry. It’s a start, he said. I promised myself when I was going in that I would answer every question he put to me. Talk about whatever he wanted me to discuss.
He brought up Sarah and I asked him to come back to it, so then he asked me about the last few weeks.
I told him about the drinking. And the ‘sick days’ I took from work to do the drinking. And bumping into Sarah. And the fight.
He asked for more details about the fight. I told him that I wasn’t able to fill him in because of the drinking. He nodded and moved on.
He asked me how the boys got on in their football match last month. I talked about how proud I was of them. That I should have been better to them. I shouldn’t have hit them. But, they shouldn’t have
I shouldn’t have hit them. Ever.
I cried a lot today. Martin never saw me do that before. He wasn’t surprised though. It was like he was waiting for it to happen. He asked again about my mother. And the scars.
I said she was a harsh woman. I remember very little about my father, other than the fact that he was nicer than her. She didn’t suffer fools gladly and I was, by all accounts, a fool.
My scars still hurt.
The marks are itchy sometimes. I told him that. He just nodded. For the whole session I was frustrated with him. I wanted to hit
He asked about Sarah again. It’s still hard to talk about her but I did. A little.
I’m scared she might never talk to me again
What if I lost
I don’t think I could keep going
I’m done for today.
I couldn’t write yesterday. I just got straight into bed. Yesterday was hard. He told me I had to work through the pain. Allow myself to be upset. He said everything we talked about is connected. Even the people in the graveyard, he said. I find that hard to believe.
We talked about my mother again yesterday. And the lashings I got. Then he made me talk again about Mark and John the day they misbehaved the day of the incident the day I hit them.
I admitted I was worried that Sarah would never talk to me again.
What if she doesn’t, he said.
I thought about saying a lot of different things before eventually deciding that that was something I’d have to put up with because it would be my fault.
I have to keep going anyway. I have to get better for the boys.
I have to get better for me.
I cried less today. I still cried. But less. Martin asked me about my dad. I kept telling him I didn’t remember him, but he was insistent. I told him about the time he took me for ice-cream, the time we went for a walk through the lavender fields and the time he replaced the jumper I had ruined so that I didn’t get a lashing from my mother.
Sarah did that once for Mark. He lost his schoolbag – his whole schoolbag, books and all. They looked everywhere for it, all unbeknownst to me. Sarah frantically ran around the next day, replacing everything in it and finding an identical bag so that I wouldn’t know.
I only found out after she told me in a fit of rage while telling me that she was taking the boys and leaving. That was after the incid
After I hit them.
Martin said I need to keep saying the words. I can’t dance around it anymore.
I miss her so much
Today was a good session. Martin is happy with my progress. He said I’m ready to try and write Sarah a letter.
I don’t want to
I’m not ready
I thought he’d be fuming. I told him I hadn’t written anything yet. But he wasn’t mad at all. He didn’t even seem surprised. We talked some more about Sarah and the boys today. About happier times. Before I’d become so angry at everyone.
It was nice. It made me smile a lot. He told me to try once a day until our next session. Practise writing a letter in the journal. See if that prepares me.
I don’t know what to say
I can’t even begin to tell you
I want you to know.
I know you probably don’t want to hear from me, but I want you to know that I still love you.
I’m so incredibly sorry.
I’m in therapy, and
I miss you so much.
I wish I could take it back.
I don’t expect anything from you, not even forgiveness. But I want you to know how sorry I am. I also want you to know that I’m doing everything I can to be a better person, husband and father.
Even if I have ruined any chance of ever
Everything I’ve tried to write so far sounds so disingenuous. How can I even begin to write something that will help you to forgive me?
In a therapy session about a month ago, my therapist Martin asked me what I would do if I knew I’d lost you for good.
I wanted to say so many things. I thought I’d be devastated, furious, irreparably heartbroken, unable to go on with life. I thought there’d be no point in continuing therapy. Then I realised that that would be missing the point.
I realised that if I lost you for good, and I didn’t get to see John and Mark every day, my life would be significantly worse. Barely worth living. But I would still have to become a better person. I would still have to be the person you deserved to marry. Even if I didn’t get to be with the boys every day, I should still work towards being a better father. I should work hard every day to never be my mother.
So, I didn’t say any of the things I wanted to say. I said that I would have to keep going. So, there and then, I made peace with the fact that you might never want to see me again. And that even then, I should still keep coming to therapy.
And I did. Every week. I’ve never regretted something so much in my entire life as I do the way I treated you and the boys for the last two years. I was angry and bitter every day and you didn’t deserve it.
I will spend every day of the rest of my life regretting those actions, whether you forgive me or not, but it’s important to me that you know that I’m getting better.
I love you and miss you every day.
I always will. Even if you don’t anymore.
I feel sick. The letter has been posted. Martin said I was brave and honest. I just feel sick. But also, slightly light on my feet.
Today was a good day. It was good because nothing in particular happened. I was just happy in myself. I wasn’t angry or sad or frustrated at all. Not once. And I thought of Sarah and the boys a few times, but only in a loving way. I wasn’t worried or scared about the future or what might happen. I was just in a good mood.
Today was a good day.
Martin’s happy with me. He said it’s a big step to write in the journal of my own accord and write down happy thoughts. He asked if I had heard from Sarah, but I knew I wouldn’t. I don’t expect to. I just hope she didn’t tear it up without reading it.
Last week was a little tough. There was no big thing, just a lot of little things. But I got through them without anger. I was frustrated. I felt hot in work when things were going wrong. I felt my heart beating a little faster when I was stuck in major traffic. But I counted to ten like Martin told me to and got through it.
It’s Mark’s birthday this week. I’m a little anxious.
I wanted to write down everything I can think of about tonight before I forget.
Mark was so happy. He loved the bike I got him and John wanted to kick the football around with me all day. Sarah let him.
Sarah’s parents stared at me like I was poison all day. I took it and counted to ten a lot.
None of the adults talked to me much.
There were no men around that might be a new companion for Sarah. I’m guiltily happy about that.
Sarah didn’t look at me like I was poison. She was polite at the beginning.
When I was leaving she thanked me for coming and for Mark’s present.
She touched my arm for a few seconds. It made every hair on my body twitch with electricity. I miss her so much.
She said she hoped I was still getting better.
Still getting better.
She definitely read my letter.
I told her I was. Getting better.
Last night was the best sleep I’ve had since Christmas last year.
Martin says we’re nearly done. He said apart from a couple of weeks to make up for, I’ve been going to him for six months and he’s satisfied with my progress. I’m anxious about what happens next. But I know if he thinks I’ll be okay, I probably will be.
I will control my anger with counting and breathing
I will regularly check in with my own emotional state
I will put myself in someone else’s shoes at least once a day
I will continue to make amends as best I can
Martin said talking about the people at the graveyard when I visited my mother was about empathy. I asked him about how he said everything he asked me to talk about was connected including them, and he said it was about my empathy. My mother appeared to have none, only a lot of anger. I seemed to learn those traits from her, but he said I still had some empathy in me. I just needed to enhance it. Which is why he suggested putting myself in other people’s shoes would be a good commitment to make. I didn’t really understand it when I wrote it down. I do now.
I visited my mother’s grave again today. I spent the time wishing she was better. I found myself stroking the lines on my arms, wishing they weren’t there. Wishing they hadn’t marked my memories of my only parent. I left flowers all the same. I texted Sarah too. Just to let her know I loved her. No reply, but she definitely read it. And that’s what’s important.
Next week is my last session. Martin said I’ve done really well, and whatever happens, I’ll be okay. He said I can come back if I’m feeling bad. All I can think about is that Sarah called to invite me to bring the boys to their first day back at school. I’ve spend the evening trying to come up with anything in my life that has made me happier than that.
I can’t think of anything.
Things that make me happy
John and Mark
Not drinking anymore
Martin said I should keep this journal to write in when I feel angry or frustrated or bitter in any way. I’m hoping not to need it. I got choked up telling him thanks. He’s done more for me than I ever thought I needed. I almost destroyed my life. But Sarah is talking to me again. She agreed to go on a date with me next week. Like old times. Maybe I can win her over again.
For now, this will live under my bed. Hopefully, gathering dust.