Merlot was easy. Not cold. Not hot. Not sweet. Not something she had to think about. Not something she had to remember. The first glass was fast. The second, she drank as slowly as she could manage, thinking about every sip. Still fifteen minutes before her therapy appointment. She couldn’t wait any longer. Gretchen gulped the last of the wine in one sip and paid the bill. At least it was happy hour.
Rachel didn’t call her back into her office until 6:02.
“How’s the week been?” Rachel started.
Gretchen’s eyes filled with tears when she answered. “Same.”
“That’s okay,” Rachel said. “Remember what we talked about last time. You’ve had a loss. And you’re grieving. The feelings that you are experiencing, that are making things difficult for you, are normal. And expected.”
“Still?” Gretchen asked.
“There’s no timeline on sadness. I think you’re doing fine.”
“I don’t feel fine. I feel like I’m dying.”
“Is that a reasonable description of what you’re feeling?”
“I don’t know,” Gretchen said.
“Do you think it’s possible that you might be mis-naming this continued discomfort? Calling the feeling something a little unreasonable? That while you may be hurting, that you know you’re not actually dying?”
“This isn’t helping,” Gretchen said.
“Why do you think that?”
“I know what you’re looking for. Yes. I brushed my teeth today. Yes. I went to work. I slept. More or less. I ate. More or less.”
“And you don’t think that’s doing well?”
“I also cry every day. I think about him every day. I hurt every day.”
“That’s absolutely expected.”
“Maybe I should hurt. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I deserve it.”
“That’s a false thought.”
“That’s all I have.”
“Gretchen,” Rachel said.
“I know,” Gretchen said.
Rachel settled into a long pause. “What was your favorite birthday party as a kid?”
“A true thought. A time. A happy memory. Something you loved.”
“I can’t think of anything happy. Nothing’s happy.”
“Is that a false thought?”
Gretchen curled her knees to her chest and tucked into the upholstered chair.
“What’s another version of that thought? Take your time and give yourself a chance to remember. To really consider all the possible choices.”
“My fifth birthday,” Gretchen said. “My mom let me paint my nails purple and I got a white cat.”
“That’s happy,” Rachel said.
“Was that girl worth it? The purple nails and the white cat? Did she deserve those things?”
Gretchen hugged her knees tighter to her chest.
“Consider that as an equally true and valid thought.” Rachel made sure she had Gretchen’s full attention. “You didn’t ask for this hurt or sadness. But you’re dealing with it. You didn’t ask for the job of healing yourself, but you got it. And your job is to take care of that five-year old. So make sure she knows how worthy and good enough she is.”
Gretchen didn’t cry any more. She didn’t say much for the rest of the session.