I presented my gift to you with no fanfare, no overt meaning beyond, “I found this old box of Uno and thought you might like to have it.” My name had been written on top of the metal lid before you were born. I suggested you could possibly cover my name with yours.
You’d been asking me about playing Uno for several months, asked if I could buy Uno for the office. You seemed pleased I had remembered, but were noncommittal about adding your name to it.
Containers are made to hold things. Sometimes they even become special mementos to keep that which needs saving. They’re also, metaphorically speaking, very relevant to therapy.
Although your understanding of metaphor is still developing, I suspect you know, even without knowing you do, that the box might be a symbol for something important, something I want you to remember long after we stop working together.
We’ve seen each other once or twice a month for almost 7 years. More than half your life. We matter to each other in ways we both feel, even as we honor the boundaries of our professional relationship.
You’ve grown taller and more articulate about your feelings, the scared kindergartener who threatened to hurt me with his arm cast a now distant memory, even as the old fear of being hurt lingers in your bones. We sometimes talk about the day we met, about how you still want to lash out when you don’t feel safe. We talk a lot about taking space and creating safety inside yourself.
You say you trust me now, the reason you no longer want to hit me. You’re matter-of-fact about this, as if it’s a simple equation. Maybe it is. Simple, but not easy.
When we talk about safety, you invariably focus on what I’ve done to earn your trust. I, on the other hand, urge you to consider the risks you’ve taken, the work you’ve done. I don’t want the credit.
But I do want you to remember feeling held, of being safely contained by me for a time. And then, as you recall how that feels, even when your heart pounds with fear, I want you to remember to hold yourself in love. Because, strange as it may sound, love is the best antidote to fear, the most powerful weapon you have to manage all that scares you.
Yes, more than anything else, I want you to remember to love. That you are always, always worthy of love.
After thanking me for the Uno, you said, “Maybe I should leave it here so other kids can play with it too.” We’ve worked on empathy, talked a lot about sharing and being a good friend. You’ve learned well.
“No,” I replied. “There are other things for other kids. This is for you.”
Although this piece was inspired by some real events, it is a work of fiction and should be read as such. I share it here because, despite how I’ve chosen to end the piece and our individual and varied needs for external containers, the gifts of love are meant for all of us. Whatever our history and however deep our wounds may be, I suspect we all need these reminders at different times. Consider yourself reminded and loved ❤️
Both the painting and the prose piece were coincidentally finished this morning. The title of the prose piece preceded the making of the painting, but a shared title and pairing for this post seemed just right.
Gift giving in a therapeutic context is a risk and one I’ve only carefully done as part of a deliberate transition/goodbye plan. I can neither encourage nor discourage this practice as a general rule. But I will say, in my experience, true healing of attachment-related wounds happens only from real exchanges that are both safe and heartfelt.