I started the session by asking if she had any housekeeping announcements. She looked confused (I was not particularly clear on why I asked that question, so it ended up being really weird and abrupt), but then I think she realized I was trying to set the stage to start talking about something important. So she quickly reviewed some “in the works” stuff and then it was my turn.
I wasn’t entirely sure how to even begin to explain what happened or how I felt about it. I was totally overwhelmed. So I started with a story within a story and told her about René and the zodiac sign. Then, without stopping to connect the two, I said that Zooey and I had our “final communication” that started with a voicemail on Friday night and ended with an email on Monday night. I then told her that once I explained what happened, my story about the zodiac sign would all make sense. Or so I hoped.
She said, “Okay. Well I’m wondering what was going on that made you want to call her on Friday?” To which I said “I’ll tell you exactly why I called her” and pulled out a printed copy of the post I wrote after leaving Zooey a voicemail. I read it to her. Then I read the post about Zooey’s response to my voicemail, as well as the post about my request for clarification which also had Zooey’s follow-up email and my reactions to it.
It was a lot at once, but she seemed to track well with me and it was helpful to have these chronological “live action” posts to explain everything in a succint and orderly manner. Otherwise I probably would have just been talking in a million different directions and ended up incredibly frustrated with myself.
After I read the blog posts, I took a deep breath and told her that I also had the final letter that I emailed to Zooey on Monday night. She said, “Well let’s hear it then!” So I read it to her, which was just as hard and emotional to do as I’d imagined it would be.
Her very first comment was about shame. She noted how pervasive shame seemed to be in all of these interactions which reminded her of a previous comment I made about feeling as though Zooey and I got stuck in a shame spiral together. I acknowledged that a lot of it IS about shame because I grew up in a family whose communication style centered around creating as much shame and humiliation as possible within each other. So then we talked a LOT about the parallels between the dynamics of my relationship with Zooey and my previous relationships, particularly with my biological family members.
She also pointed out that I tend to blame myself, even when I am not at fault. She said that I insist that I “should have known” or “should have seen it coming” or “should have expected it” or “should have” many other things. She’s right. I don’t really realize I’m doing this as I’m doing it, but I know I do it. She asked where I think that comes from. I said that because of the unsafe, incongruent, and invalidating environment of my childhood, it has always been easier to shift the blame onto myself. I think it’s easier to imagine there is just something inherently wrong with me than to believe that my family, friends, doctors, therapists, etc are capable of doing the awful things they’ve done. Plus if the problem lies with ME, I can control it – I can fix it and then people will stop hurting me, right?! (spoiler: wrong).
Then she asked me if I could have done anything differently in regards to the voicemail I left Zooey. That question caused an immediate and very intense internal reaction within the system, which I think she noticed because she said, “You were not wrong. You did the right thing and you needed to do it. You know a lot more today than you did on Friday, so this is something you needed to go through to get where you are right now. But I’m just wondering if you couldn’t have asked for what you needed with even more clarity?” I was sorta confused about what exactly she was saying and she admitted that she tends to speak in a way that comes off confusing when she’s with me (side note: hello, countertransference! let’s work through you, not ignore you!).
So she told me not to imagine doing anything differently with the voicemail, but to imagine the scenario in the future. She asked if, in a future world, I could perhaps just say something like, “Hi Zooey, I’m sorta confused about the contact I’m allowed to have with you since terminating treatment and I would like to talk to you about it to get some more clarity.” It pissed me off, but she was absolutely right. That definitely would have been more clear. But I was still wondering WHY she was bringing this up?!
She very gently pointed out that although I was not wrong to be so vulnerable with Zooey in my voicemail message, I was also essentially inviting her to reject me again.
Holy shit. This therapist was right again! I hated to admit it, but yes, that’s exactly what I did. I knew in my heart that Zooey would very likely respond the way she did. I know she’s a terrible communicator and she has a proven track record of backing down from her professional duties instead of leaning into them, so it was not at all surprising that she emailed me with this vague and blame-y response that absolved her of any responsibility whatsoever.
I don’t yet understand why I did that. I have some underlying feelings and theories about it, but I’ll need several more sessions to figure it all out. I’m just relieved that this therapist lady was so engaged with me and asked these great questions. It made me uncomfortable and ashamed and confused and pissed, but these are really good questions. And although a lot of shame came up during the session, I felt like she was able to really help me contain it and stay with it, rather than pushing it away or dissociating. I think that because she stays present with my emotion, I am somehow able to stay present as well.
Finally, the session was over. She asked if there was anything else that needed to be said or asked before I left. It was a VERY strange question because my wife and I had been discussing the whole session frequency issue and I’d said I’d bring it up in this session. I hadn’t mentioned yet and I really didn’t want to. I told her that there WAS something I’d wanted to ask, but now I didn’t want to because I felt too vulnerable. She sat there for a second and let me think about it before telling me I could wait until next time if I needed to.
But, somehow, I mustered the courage to say “No, I’ll ask now because I’ll regret it if I don’t….” followed by a very long pause and then in the slowest and most stunted way EVER, I said, “Okay…I was wondering if perhaps we could revisit the idea of increasing session frequency?” To which she said that yes, we absolutely could. She asked if I wanted an extra session this week because she had an opening on Friday. I took the opening and once we settled the details she said, “Great. And in the extra session we can talk about increasing session frequency!” I just laughed.
I think we might be onto something, her and I.
P.S. This post was really hard for me to write for some reason so I hope it’s not too confusing and all over the place.