During my last session with the therapist, I was in a really weird emotional space. It’s strange because I think that as I’m letting go of Zooey, I feel very stuck about what else to talk about. The majority of my session time over the last three months has been spent dissecting and processing what happened with her. Now that it’s coming to a point where I don’t feel the same sense of devastation and urgency, I’m just completely unsure of how or where to move next. It’s not that I don’t have things to talk about. I always have at least 874 things I could bring up in session. It’s more that I’m afraid of talking about anything else.
Part of this, I think, directly relates to Zooey (of course). I’m hesitant to move onto any new issues because I’m terrified of overwhelming yet another therapist and ending up back at square one. Each time I start to inch my way onto a new topic, I do a LOT of talking “around” the issue. Which is super frustrating because that’s very unlike me. Usually I’m incredibly straightforward, even about very difficult stuff. One of my life motto’s is “say what you mean” because I believe we do a great disservice to ourselves and to others when we make them try to guess what we’re really saying. I don’t necessarily think people do this on purpose, but I don’t think we make much effort to NOT do it, either. You know?
Anyway. So I was having a hard time talking. I brought up this story about my biological mother (and I say “story” because at this point in my life, I’m not sure I believe anything my bio family ever told me):
When she was pregnant with me, my bio mother contracted a very serious illness. Much of the pregnancy was spent on bedrest and her treatment team was very concerned about my health. They came to her twice to discuss the potential negative impacts on my fetal development and to offer her the option of terminating. Her and my biological father decided that they didn’t care if I was born early with severe physical or mental defects – they loved me no matter what and would continue with the pregnancy. As it turns out, I was born right on time – perfectly healthy, all 10 toes and all 10 fingers. I was also eventually found to have above-average intelligence and I’ve actually experienced very few health problems throughout my life. My siblings, who had “normal” gestations, had far more health issues than I ever did.
Why does this matter? Well, for one thing it comes with a pro-life message (I am enthusiastically pro-choice). My parents get a “pro-life newsletter” delivered to their mailbox each month. Someday I might find the courage to explain to all of you how absolutely hysterical that fact is.
Also, when my bio mother told this story at my wedding reception (yes, you read that correctly), she told all of my wedding guests about her noble decision to forgo aborting me. She then proceeded to tell them all about how I got “sick” as a teenager and how much care and attention and energy her and my bio father had to spend on me during my endless psychiatric hospitalizations, suicide attempts, and otherwise unsafe behaviors (again: in front of our WEDDING GUESTS). Her point (I think?) in telling this story was to illustrate that although I’ve been essentially giving her hell since I was literally in utero, she loved me and was proud of me and was so happy that I’d found someone else so utterly willing to put up with my shit.
It was painfully humiliating.
I told this whole story in session in order to link it to my current feelings of intense shame and self-hatred. I have always felt as though my bio parents resented me. I still struggle to explain it, but it’s almost as if my very existence was a gift to myself. A gift that they had given me. And a gift that I sure as shit better not take for granted! I have a memory of being a child and my parents getting upset with me. One of them said, “I put you into this world and I can take you out of it just as quickly.” I think that’s a pretty good summary of their general attitude towards me.
So here I was, sitting in self-loathing and trying to make some sense out of it. I said to the therapist that it feels as though there is something wrong with me – like I really was born with a defect, but just not something people could see. I also said that I feel like I am filled with all of this filth and poison and toxicity that has just always been there. And that I wondered if that yuck isn’t what drives so many people to do really terrible things to me.
She responded by saying, “But I think it’s pretty clear that your mother poisoned you from before you were even born.”
Well, yes. That’s true. But not what I needed to hear.
I recoiled from her statement with such force that my physical body moved in on itself and she asked me what had just happened. I told her that I felt a huge wave of shame smack up against me as she said that. She asked me what I thought created that shame. At first I just didn’t want to even try to understand it. But she told me that, if I could, it would be really useful for me to stay with the shame and try to find where it came from.
So I did.
And I realized that although her response was certainly appropriate and accurate, it was also a way for her to distance herself from me. I explained that I was essentially asking her to join me in this really dark and scary place. In telling her the story, I needed her to just hear it and be there and stay present with all that it brought up. When she shifted the focus onto my bio mother and responded in a “helping” manner – she was unfortunately also responding by sending a message of: “No. I don’t want to be in this space with you. I need to shift this to a space that is more comfortable and where I can be useful and say clever therapist things that will help you see how wrong you are about yourself.” I know it comes from a place of wanting to help and demonstrate care. As a therapist, of course she wants to be helpful. But I think it’s important to understand that this is also an act of disconnection. She was disconnecting from me – from my story, from my truth, from what is very real for me every day. I felt so alone.
I explained all of this to her. She listened intently and then thanked me for working through that moment and sharing my thoughts with her. I told her that I think it would be more useful for her to just meet me in that moment with pure empathy. To respond with something as simple as, “That sounds really awful, Andi.” She said she agreed and it was very helpful for her to hear all of this from me. Then she said, “And – yes – that must be really awful.” I really appreciated that she took my words to heart and gave me that empathy right in the moment. I needed it!
The problem with Zooey is that she left me. Not just physically, through termination, but emotionally as well. And she left many, many times throughout my time in treatment with her. She wasn’t strong enough to be in this with me. I know that now. But I also can’t do that again. I can’t constantly be pushed away. I need someone to be stronger.
I need someone to stay in this with me.