Once I Knew This I Couldn’t Un-Know It

Can we all pause and scream a collective – CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!

I bet you are wondering how I could have missed that one. Believe me, I was asking myself the same thing. So. Many. Questions.

It would have been tempting to take all the blame and guilt that I had so willingly accepted and place it squarely back on his shoulders. Because no matter how cold or controlling I may have been, this wasn’t my fault. How could it be? I was the wrong gender. I felt relieved that I didn’t have to own it all anymore. Relieved, but also confused. Bewildered might actually be more accurate.

Through the dusty screen I peer inside. Tapping on the wooden siding of the house, I murmur a tentative ‘Hello?’

No answer.

The door creaks open and I walk down the hallway to what appears to be the waiting room.

The couch’s dated brown upholstery is coarse against my skin. Fiddling with the pendant around my neck I glance up at the jars of herbs and potions that line the back wall. I reach over to grab one of the ratty Australian Natural Health magazines splayed out on the makeshift timber coffee table in front of me. Somewhere towards the back of the house I can hear the irritating tinkle of wind chimes.

The clack of a heel on the timber floors prompts me to throw the magazine back on the pile, shuffle my skirt back down my thighs, and sit up straight. I want to make a good first impression.

From around the corner a sturdy middle-aged man follows a tearful woman to the front door. This does not bode well for me.

As he passes, he motions for me to enter the Chamber of Sadness.

The small bright room smells of patchouli. The first thing I notice are the motivating quotes plastered on the pin board propped against the massage table. In the centre of the board, ‘Flourish!’ shouts at me from within a blossoming red rose.

John enters, extends his hand for a warm handshake, and asks me to take a seat on one of the cane chairs by the window. He introduces himself as an executive coach and psychologist, and I immediately feel more at ease. Having worked in a large corporation for many years, I know what coaching looks like. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all?

‘Firstly, I should let you know that I share this space with an aromatherapy masseuse and a Chinese herbalist. Today is a full house, so we are in Ann’s room. It’s a little snug, I hope you don’t mind.’

I don’t mind. There is a nanna-like quality to the smells and the cane chair hugging my shoulders that is comforting.

‘So, tell me a bit about you.’

I don’t need a second invitation. I start talking, rambling really, about the state of my marriage, and about my job and my children and his illness. My mother once said I could talk a leg off a chair and this is especially true when I am nervous. When I come up for air I remember why I am here in the first place, ‘That’s enough about me. When do we start marriage counselling together?’

‘You don’t.’

Hang on. ‘But how will you fix it if we aren’t both here?’

‘In my experience I find that neither party is wholly honest in the presence of the other and hurt gets in the way of working through the core issues. For your marriage to work, you have to work on you.’

‘But he is the one who needs help, he is the one who is unhappy. If he doesn’t come then…’ I trail off before I get myself into more of a flap.

Casually leaning into his chair with his ankle across his left knee, John reiterates, ‘As I said, my job is to help you become the best woman and mother you can be. You can’t control what another person does.’

‘Well, I want to! I want this all to go away!’ The tears well up in my eyes.

This won’t be the last time we have this kind of exchange: me pleading why won’t hes and if onlys, and John reminding me that this is about me being my best self and not about controlling an outcome. Regardless, during those first few sessions all I can think is, what am I here for…

John changed the course of my life forever. Like a tick, he burrowed underneath the thick layer of fear and defensiveness, and wouldn’t accept anything less than total vulnerability. It was in this space that I began to find my truest self.

He was the first person to notice the level of effort I put in to hiding from connection. He also noticed how desperately I craved it. During many of our sessions he would move his chair to be directly opposite mine, and as I talked, he would make strong, unflinching eye contact. Being seen was beyond uncomfortable and I could hold it for mere seconds. He persevered, and over time I got much better at meeting his eye as I shared the deepest parts of myself. It felt exhilarating. I became the Augustus Gloop of connection, stuffing my face full of vulnerability.

One day when I was lamenting my many responsibilities, John asked me to write down three things that I was grateful for. In the spirit of this lesson, here are my three things about John:

1. Because of his coaching background, John had little interest in blaming my childhood for the situation I found myself in, and for that I was grateful. I had no time to rehash parental gaffs and project them onto my marriage.

2. He gave me what I needed, when I needed it. Some days I was weighed down by my failures and by the belief that I was unlovable and unloving. On these days, he would reassure me that he and others could see those things which my husband had found lacking. This was the hope I needed when I felt worthless. On other days, he just sat in the room with me while I cried for the full 45 minutes.

3. He seemed to be available at the most critical moments. Sometimes I saw him every second day and sometimes I would go weeks between visits. When the anger and hurt were burning me alive he dampened it with the reminder that my little people were looking to me as an example, and better choices now meant a better future.

Following on from G-Day as we shall now call it, I go back to the New Age bubble on Grant St.

‘John! Did you know this about him? Why didn’t you tell me?’ I am furious. ‘I feel like such a fool! How much of my life has not been real?’

‘I suspected after my one and only session with him, but as you know I have a duty of confidentiality and I couldn’t share it with you.’ His calm voice soothes me. ‘And nothing in your life is fake. Your experiences were real to you and that is your truth.’

Suddenly all the ‘be the best you’ self-work makes perfect sense. He was preparing me for the end.

‘Well, what am I going to do now? I have to tell him I know. Do you think he will admit it? Is he ready? What if he lies again and tries to blame me? I need to know the truth.’

‘I don’t know Brooke. Let’s talk about how you might approach it.’

Sitting in my car after the session, I tap out a quick text:

Hey. Are you free tomorrow afternoon? I need your help with something at the house. Kids will be with your mum so that we can concentrate 😊.

A speedy reply flashes on my screen:

Yep, I’ll come by about 12. I have a letter for you too.

A letter? Does he know that I know?

As I pull away from the curb, John’s warning echoes in my ears:

‘Be careful of your motivation in having this conversation. You will only get one shot at it, and if he feels anything other than your genuine support, he will not openly share with you. Even then he may not admit it and you will have to accept that. Only talk to him when you are ready to forego blame.’

I’d better dig deep for the loving kindness within — I’m going to need it for tomorrow.