After I showed the therapist the bathing suit photo during session yesterday, we spent a minute or so talking about it. She noted that I had a lot of “something” (spunk? energy? sass?) and also that she was struck by how ordinary the photo is.
I agree. It is a spectacularly average photo of what looks to be an average little girl. And that sums up so much of what I feel when I reflect back on my life. From the outside, it was painfully ordinary. But under the surface, there were layers upon layers of darkness and chaos and misery. In certain photos, you can see it – that haunting aura of hidden torture. But for the most part it is lacking in my history. If it weren’t for my “sister”, who is the sole corroborator of my story, I’m not sure I’d believe anything awful happened at all.
The therapist said this is actually fairly common in abusive families. I know she’s right, but it’s still frustrating because the level of invalidation is just insane.
Then I used an additional burst of courage to ask if she wanted to hear the damn letter. I mostly just wanted to get it out of the way, but I also did think it was important to share everything I’d hope to share despite our weird disruption in session.
So I read it to her after explaining that I felt really vulnerable and so could she please go easy on me once I finished? She just nodded, so I started reading. My voice was super shaky and breathy but I managed to get through it.
“Wow. That is all very important stuff for me to know.”
“Yes. It’s important to know how you see this playing out – the things you hope for and the picture you have for the future. And you’re right – this isn’t an ideal world, this is reality. So we won’t be able to do all of those things all the time, but I believe we can incorporate elements of it into our work and meet some of the ideals some of the time.”
“Right. I mean…I know that, I guess…”
“You seem disappointed.”
“No, not disappointed (I don’t think). I was just transported back to many different conversations that I had with Zooey. It just feels similar. I feel like she said the same things. She wanted to create more space, but then it just ended up pissing her off.”
“She did? I thought you two didn’t extend or increase sessions?”
“No, you’re right, we didn’t. But in other ways, she added space to the relationship. Like if I was having a hard time, she would schedule check-ins on the weekend or during her break at work. We’d touch base regularly. Or she’d call and leave a voicemail to check in. Or let my sessions go over. Or encourage me to “reach out” if I wanted to connect with her for some reason. She spent a lot of time encouraging me to reach out – to attach to her.”
“Do you feel like that created a sense of dependence on her?”
“I mean, probably. But it’s more that it just ended up making her so overwhelmed and pissed.”
“What do you mean by that? What do you think made her angry?”
“That we didn’t respond the way she wanted us to. She said she wanted to get to know us better – to know the different Parts and to be there for them. So they opened up to her. I think she thought that if she could create enough space it would all fit in nicely, but it didn’t. By opening up more space it just opened up more shit. And then it all kept getting bigger and bigger. And it’s so hard for me to understand why she asked all of these really vulnerable parts – who’ve arguably spent their whole existence looking for someone to just SEE them – to trust her, only to give up on them. On me.”
We sat for a moment together. I ran out of things to say and I was reaching my max threshold for emotions.
“It seems like something about this letter and this conversation taps into a lot of the sadness you feel around Zooey.”
“I know this brings up a lot for you. There’s so much that happened with Zooey and there’s so much emotion around the idea of adding more time to sessions. It is meant to be helpful, but if it’s truly this terrifying for you – it’s okay that we hold off and keep exploring these feelings before making that decision.”
“Yeah – I think that’s for the better. Because if we do this and it doesn’t work out…”
“I know you’re scared. That’s why these conversations are so important. You and I have to keep talking about this stuff as it comes up. That will help us keep you safe.”
“Sure. That makes sense. But…and I know I’ve said this before – but it’s important to reinforce that we can try all we want, but we both know that if we fail – I am the one who will pay for it…”
Then I stood up. I took an purposeful added moment to make eye contact and let her know my final statement wasn’t a challenge as much as an expression of terror.
I’m pretty sure she already knew that.