Finding What I Needed

So I didn’t ask for what I needed. Well, not exactly anyway. I did talk about asking for what I needed. Turns out I still wasn’t entirely sure what that was. It also turns out that there was a lot more emotion behind all of this than I realized.

I was a few minutes late for session. On purpose. I spent the train ride to her office gently crying and I couldn’t figure out why. When I stepped onto the street, I sat down on a bench and pulled out a piece of paper. I just let myself write freely, in any handwriting or vernacular that came out. It was three different styles of handwriting that were expressing one very big emotion: fear.

Once I got those words out, I tucked the note into my “therapy folder” and walked as slowly as possible to her actual office. When I buzzed in and walked into the waiting room, her door was wide open. She was waiting for me. I sauntered in and sat down, immediately declaring that I was late on purpose: “I am passive-aggressively late today.”

She quietly laughed. “Okay. Well what is it that you’re protesting? Could it be related to my upcoming vacation?”

Of course she was right. She asked me what I was feeling about that and I said mostly fear. And helplessness. I felt incredibly resistant to sharing the honest truth with her – that I wanted to ask for something to help me hold onto the work, the space, and her. I talked about how therapy vacations are a bizzarre and necessary evil. I explained that I know she needs time off and that it’s good for the work to have some breathing room. But it’s still strange.

If, for example, I stopped taking medication for a week, I probably wouldn’t feel very good. The medication helps me to feel more stable and less anxious. If someone took that away, I would arguably become less stable and more anxious. Which is why I wouldn’t just stop taking my medication.

She both appreciated and agreed with my analogy. She recognized how difficult it might be for me to feel like this thing that supports me and that I rely on is being taken away, even if only temporarily, and asked what might help me feel supported during this time off from therapy. Her comment reminded me that “temporarily” might become “permanent” if she has a change of heart during this time away from me.

Which also reminded me that I’d brought some items to session with me: the letter and card from Zooey that I mentioned in my last post, as well as a list of direct quotes that Zooey had either said, emailed, or texted to me during my time in treatment with her.

In regards to the letter and card, I told the therapist that I hadn’t asked for any of this stuff. I never asked her to write anything, it’s something she just did on her own. And although I kept the card close by me once I had it, I resented that she gave it to me because it felt manipulative. How dare she offer support and comfort in this gift while sending me away? I remember feeling very confused when I opened it during that session. I was so angry with her, but here she was – giving me this lovely card. Ugh. So confusing!

I read the therapist a selection of highlighted Zooey quotes from the list. I didn’t have a blog back then, so I didn’t document therapy like I do now. But I did write letters to Zooey between sessions and I always kept a list of important things she said to me. I wanted to remember them in moments of darkness and despair. Here are a few samples:

  • “I believe you and I can handle it.”
  • “It’s okay for you to need me. You’re safe here.”
  • “You don’t have to be a perfect patient.”
  • “I think you’re worth fighting for. And I will fight for you.”
  • “Nothing you say to me will change how I feel about you. You won’t scare me away and you do not make me uncomfortable.”
  • “You are not alone. I am here.”
  • “I am going to work hard to figure this out with you. We’re gonna figure this out. All of us, together.”
  • “I want to do this work with you.”
  • “Yes. I am absolutely committed to seeing this through.”
  • “You are not losing me.”

As you can probably see, she made a lot of promises and did a lot of reassuring. But we all know how that ended. Which is likely why I was so hesitant to ask for something similar from this therapist.

Then I said, “She gave me all of this and I definitely appreciated it at the time. Obviously it meant something to me, which is why I haven’t thrown it out yet. But, to be honest, it’s not even what I needed…”

The therapist jumped in right away to say, “That! Stay with that. What is it that you needed from her?”

“I don’t know…”

“I think you might, though. Try to stay with this thought.”

“Okay. I guess I needed her to help me figure out how to be okay without her. She gave me these lovely things, but it made feeling better somehow always linked to her – seeing her, talking to her, texting her, emailing her, whatever. I needed her to teach me that I could be okay independent of what she was doing.”

She replied, “Yes. Exactly. And that is what I want for you. I think we have a very solid relationship. And I think that by being someone you can rely on, but also someone who teaches you to rely on yourself, we are forging an even stronger, longer-lasting relationship.”

“I know. I feel that, too. And I want to ask for the things I need from you, but I feel like something about what happened with Zooey prevents me from doing that.”

“What are the things you need from me?”

“Reassurance, I guess…”

“Reassurance that…what? That you will be okay? That I’ll still be here when vacation ends? That this is not last year and I am not Zooey?”

“…Yes”

“Well I can’t see the future anymore than you can. But I do believe you will be okay. I will be here when my vacation ends. You and I are not you and Zooey. And this is absolutely not last year. You have grown so much since then. You are not in the same place.”

I mean, she had a point. But I still felt like something was missing. Yet I couldn’t ask for what I needed because I somehow still couldn’t figure it out. I told her how I kept Zooey’s card on the windowsill at the trauma program and I would re-read it several times a day. I didn’t understand why I did that despite the fact that she’d essentially bullied me into going there.

“Probably because you wanted to hold it. To hold onto her?”

I paused and then started crying again, “Yes. I did want to hold onto her! I was mad at her, but I was also terrified of going to this program. I knew I’d be out of state, away from anyone I loved or that loved me. I didn’t know what the program would be like, the house, the other patients, the staff. And I wouldn’t be able to just hop in a car or catch a train to come home, either. If something bad happened, I’d be stuck there. I was scared out of my mind and I wanted to hold onto Zooey and onto the attachment I felt for her because it still made me feel safe somehow.”

She had a hard time articulating her response to this, but eventually she said that she thinks the main problem is that Zooey fostered my dependence on her. She made it impossible for me to know how to self-soothe or problem-solve without reaching out and connecting to her. And although there’s nothing inherently wrong with reaching out and connecting with your therapist, it needs to be done in a way that promotes empowerment within the client, rather than dependency on the therapist.

I knew she was right, but something about this conversation made me feel very ashamed about my relationship with Zooey. And the juxtaposition between the two therapists suddenly felt heavy and uncomfortable. I realized that my attachment is dramatically different between the two and in some ways, I miss the attachment I had to Zooey.

I wasn’t sure how to explain this, but I mentioned not feeling particularly attached to her. I said I feel attached to “the work” (which she thought was a good thing), but not attached to her. She asked me to talk more about that.

I looked down and said, “I appreciate the way you do this work. I can see, I think, why you do things the way you do. I know that it’s probably good for me and keeps me safe. But I still really resent that you hold me at arm’s length.”

She looked visibly shocked. She asked if I genuinely feel that she holds me at arm’s length. I nodded yes.

She slowly said, “I really want to explore that and talk about that more when I get back because that is very important. And I can see how you’d feel that way, but I will say that I do not feel that I hold you at arm’s length. I actually feel extremely close to you.”

I snapped my head up, “You do?”

“Yes. I do.”

“Wow. That’s…bizarre to hear. And unexpected.”

Then she reminded me that she is available during her vacation. She waited until I made eye contact with her and said, “Really, though – I AM checking my voicemail next week. So please call if you need to touch base for any reason. Seriously.”

Before leaving I gave her the slip of paper I’d written on before session. The first sentence said “Please come back” and the last sentence was written in a child’s handwriting. It said “I hope you are still nice when you get back. I will be good and quiet.”

She looked very touched after reading the short note and she said, “I will come back. When I do, I hope you are neither good nor quiet.”

I honestly didn’t know what I needed going into this session and although I thought it would end up being some connecting link (such as a voicemail) or a tangible item I could physically hold onto (such as a letter), it wasn’t.

It was her honesty; her authentic, emotional admission that she feels close to me. Her ability to maintain safe boundaries while also making herself emotionally available to me. THAT is what I needed. And I will hold onto those words for the next nine days until our next session, where we will probably pick up this conversation and talk more about our attachment and why, exactly, I feel that she holds me at arm’s length.

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24 thoughts on “Finding What I Needed

  1. Sirena says:

    I laughed at you telling her you were being “passively aggressivly late” I like your sense of humour. And I found your honesty about resenting her for keeping you at arm-length so brave. And your honestly and bravery was rewarded with her being able to tell you that she actually feels very close to you. Good work! I’ve been feeling like there’s too much space between me and my therapist, so hearing that your therapist was shocked you felt that way and that she feels close to you, gives me hope that perhaps something similar could be going on with me. Maybe it’s me not feeling the attachment rather than it not being there? Thanks for sharing this post. I’m glad you got what you needed from the session. x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Haha thanks. I tend to be that kind of upfront with her. She laughed a lot because I bet she was thinking “classic Andi” lol. The arms length comment was a last act of courage. It felt important to say before we parted. This is the longest we’ll have ever been apart without planned phone sessions. I wanted to be honest about that and I am so glad I was. One of the first things I wondered after session is if perhaps I am the one holding her at arms length, or keeping the relationship distant in some way. Which I want to spend this week pondering some more. Might be worth exploring with your therapist. Thanks for the kind comment – I’m glad you enjoyed the post xx

      Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks so much, Grainne. I loved that response too, especially because it is probably the first time that child Part has been told she doesn’t have to be “good and quiet” to have someone show up for her with kindness. Thanks for the support 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. e.Nice says:

    really admire the work you are doing. how honest and open you are. communicating and figuring out what will help, what you need. Reading this made me think. It is an interesting juxtaposition. Needing to rely on, become connected with, depend on, a therapist to work through it all, but not becoming enmeshed or dis-empowered or dependent. It seems like a fine line to dance on. Seems like you two are doing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thank you. That is so nice to hear. Sounds like this resonated with you somewhat. I agree – it is a strange juxtaposition, unlike any other relationship. I think that’s part of what makes it so challenging to navigate. And, yeah, I think we’re doing okay 🙂

      Like

  3. Jen says:

    I love this whole post – from the passive aggressive late announcement to the honesty throughout and how she was clear that cares about and believes in you — and you could hear and believe in her sincerity and authenticity.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. La Quemada says:

    This is such a rich session. I am consistently amazed at your self-awareness and all the layers you can see within yourself and your relationship with your therapist. You have great emotional intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. alicewithptsd says:

    This is so hard. I never understood exactly how hard breaks were until last week– although whenever i read about other people on therapy breaks, i always feared when it would happen in my life, and i can honestly say that even with all the chaos in my life last week, the fear of the break i felt was worse than the actual break itself. I do hope that these nine days go by quickly and safely, and that you will reach out to her if you need to. She sounds like she means it, truly means it, that she is available for you.

    I also want to say i can sort of see the difference between Zooey and the therapist as far as attachment and working through stuff…..but it is almost this feeling, a sense, not quite words. But i think that where if Zooey did indeed foster dependence, perhaps you miss that, or felt closer or more attached to her becasue dependence is what a young child feels for their mother, which creates this extreme closeness, and this intense attachment. I don’t know. Where with the therapist, its more like preteen years, or even kimdergarden age, where you are working and she is working to teach you to depend on yourself– so even reaching out to her, gives you validation and safety, but ultimately you have to make choices and solve prolems. I don’t know. This is what bea does– i am always the one put back in charge. Its hard.

    I’ll be thinking of you this week. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      That’s good to know – I think it’s fairly common to be more afraid of something than the actual thing itself. I also hope that if I really needed her, I would reach out. I think I would, it’s just hard to imagine. What’s so interesting about your comments regarding Zooey is that this therapist and I always say the same thing – that we can sense something about it, but can’t quite put it into words. I do miss the co-dependent relationship with Zooey because it FELT closer. And maybe it was, or maybe it was just different. Thanks for your support xx

      Like

  6. jaklumen says:

    The term “relationship” feels too uncomfortable for me to use with a therapist or counselor, ever. I’ve been more mindful of co-dependency and people pleasing of late, and so much of what you’ve written was scary to me. If I had a similar “relationship” with a therapist like what you described with Zooey, I’d be worried of such issues being a problem.

    I’m happy with my current arrangement, however. I mean to get my therapist the OnePage from Bobbi & Athena about family denying my abuse; Twitter stuff isn’t fully integrated into our sessions. Don’t have a post about family denial because mind-melting chronic pain. (Just a few scattered Tweets.)

    I didn’t have an Affirmation this week because my therapist had to reschedule. Session will be on Tuesday. Hopefully I will be able to put it up then but with school starting for my kids… well, we’ll see.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      I can see how “relationship” is an uncomfortable term. I never used it in therapy prior to last year when I started reading more about attachment and relational theories. By learning about how therapists often use the therapeutic relationship to foster growth, I understood the importance of forging a solid connection with a therapist. But it does often make me so uncomfortable which is, I think, why I almost always say “therapeutic relationship” – just to keep the boundaries clear. I think what I had with Zooey was intensely problematic. But because it was so familiar to the patterns of enmeshment and co-dependency from my childhood, I found comfort in it as well. I also learned a lot about how NOT to do therapy. Bringing in a OnePage or other Twitter stuff is a great idea to launch conversation. I talk about my blog quite often for this reason. Hope you feel better soon. Good luck for Tuesday’s session!

      Like

  7. Cat says:

    I take a lot from your honesty and I just love all her responses. Those texts/statements from Zooey are pretty scary since we know the outcome… the woman isn’t stable. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that you don’t feel reliant on this T as you were with Zooey. This T does try to empower you more. I hope the break goes okay for you

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Rachel says:

    I love what happened. That you received from her what you needed, and the genuine exchange of emotional intimacy between you two. Beautiful to read. And maybe arms length is okay, maybe you’re learning that a little closer is okay too.

    Liked by 1 person

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