Promise

I finally did it: I told the therapist about that damn dream.

It took me more than half the session to do so, but I did it. I’d made a list of important things I wanted to talk about so that I could warm-up to the session before I dropped the dream bomb. I talked about not being able to sleep. I brought in an adorable handwritten letter that my oldest niece mailed to Wife and I (and talked about the trigger sthat came from reading that).

Then, as an attempt to segue, I mentioned that I’d been having other dreams: dreams about food, money, school (the usual anxieties) and this other weird dream about doors.

She’s very into dreams so she listened attentively as I walked her through each dream theme. I knew that she knew I was building up to this dream about her (since Julia had mentioned it prior to this session), but she let me take my time and say it when I was ready.

After we discussed some of the anxieties keeping me up at night and how my niece is at an age that was very traumatic for me, I fell quiet for a bit. I was looking out the window and abruptly asked her if she regretted this.

“This?”

“Yeah. This. Being my therapist.”

She started to ask me what made me ask that, but she stopped herself. Then she said, “Well, first of all: no. I don’t regret this. But I do wonder what made you think of that right now?”

“I don’t know…”

“Is that another thing that you worry about?”

“Yes. I worry that you’re going to back out of this. With my school schedule being such a clusterfuck, I worry that you won’t be able to fit me in for three sessions. So then I imagine that you’ll just tell me you can’t make it work and slowly pull away. You would never just abruptly stop seeing me, but what if you drop me to two sessions and then one session…”

“Until one day I just tell you there will be no more sessions?”

“Yes. Exactly.”

“Well your school schedule is regrettable, but we’ll make it work. It might not be perfect, but we’ll figure something out. I’m not going to do that. I think three sessions works really well for you. How are you feeling about it?”

“I don’t know…”

“That’s okay. You might feel a lot of things about it. But I do think it’s the right fit for us. I’m also wondering what you imagine I might regret about being your therapist?”

I laughed, “Oh a million things. We don’t have enough time for me to list all the reasons.” She just gave me a gentle smile and let me sit with that thought for a bit.

At that point, I paused and looked into the corner (the same corner that I reference in the dream). I felt a sudden burst of courage. I went for it.

I said, “So I had this dream about you and I know it’s not real, but it still bothers me.”

She asked if I wanted to share the contents of the dream. I said that of course I wanted to share (that’s why I brought it up!) but I wasn’t sure I could do that. She asked if I could talk about what bothered me the most about the dream, but I couldn’t really do that, either.

Then she asked if the dream was scary because we related to each other differently than we do normally in sessions and I said yes. So she asked if it would be helpful to tell the dream as if it were about two other characters, rather than about us. It was a good idea, but I still couldn’t do it.

However, this time I did bring my words with me.

So I pulled both my stuffed animal and iPad from my bag and opened up my journal app. Once I skimmed through my own handwritten notes again, I felt terrified. There’s no way I could say these words out loud and I explained that to her. She asked if I’d like her to read it silently instead. I was hesitant because I generally prefer to speak my own truth out loud when I’m in session. There’s something very liberating about doing so, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that this time. I handed over the iPad and cringed as she quietly read.

I’m not sure exactly what she said immediately afterwards (I think something about how a lot of people have dreams like this) but I know it made me flinch. She responded to my reaction to her comment by saying, “…And I’m normalizing again. Sorry! I can’t help it sometimes.” Then she said a bunch of things that were probably very validating and lovely, but I couldn’t make sense of anything she was saying because I was too busy panicking about having shared this dream with her.

I knew this was a big deal. So did she. But we struggled to connect and figure out how to talk about this material. We were running out of time and I needed to hear her say she wouldn’t hurt me. Not like this. All I could say was, “I know you don’t make promises…” and she said, “Right. And I can’t promise I won’t hurt you at all. I probably will.”

Which is true, but that wasn’t good enough. I needed more. Yet still, I couldn’t find the right words to express that need.

“I know this is probably ridiculous to you. I’m sure you look at this dream and see an impossible situation. But that’s how we’re different – this is not impossible to me…this is all I’ve ever known.”

“Well there are parameters to this relationship that are in place at all times. One of those is that there’s never anything physical. These rules are set in place to protect you. You are safe here.”

It still wasn’t enough. That sounded like standard clinical boundary shit. I’d heard it all before and I’ve watched those boundaries be completely ignored at my own expense. I wasn’t sure how to explain this to her. My head was spinning and I was beginning to dissociate. But I knew I needed to push through my discomfort and be more explicit with her.

“I know. I understand those boundaries. But I don’t really understand what it all means. It’s too vague. So I need something from you.”

“Okay.”

“I need you to promise me that you will never, EVER hurt me…not like this.”

“I can promise that to you. I will never do anything like this to you.”

Time was up. We just sat there for an awkward moment. I felt myself starting to cry. I felt rejected somehow. I’m not sure why, exactly. It could just be that I was projecting my own shit onto her. Or it could be that she was stuggling to stay in that space with me and I felt the repercussions of that micro-abandonment. This is part of what I ‘m referring to when I say she keeps me at arm’s length.

Perhaps that’s necessary though. Maybe she simply can’t stay totally present in these moments with me. She is only human afterall.

I wish this had gone better. I wish I’d been better. It is becoming more and more challenging for me to articulate myself and that’s incredibly frustrating. I feel so helpless.

Regardless, I found a way to ask for what I needed and, thankfully, she was able to make that promise.

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21 thoughts on “Promise

  1. Sirena says:

    It’s hard to know what she could have said or done to assure you fully that she’ll never hurt you in that way, but I totally feel what you did, that sense of wanting more, wanting something more than what she gave in that moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      That’s true. Perhaps I was searching for a moment, or a feeling, that just wasn’t going to come because it’s such a huge need. I feel like I did want more of something, but I can’t even tell what that is.

      Like

  2. Sirena says:

    sorry, pressed enter by accident. I wonder if it was just that there was such a huge build up for you, that the words didn’t match the intensity of the build up? I wonder what she could have said or done better? I can imagine for her, that it might have been difficult to see a client worry about that her committing such a heinous act. Maybe it did being up some things for her. Maybe you guys could talk more about that next time?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      I mean, yes, this definitely had a massive build-up. Three weeks of waiting to tell her and then almost an entire session to actually share it with her. It felt very intense to me and I’m sure she felt that intensity herself. Maybe she just wasn’t quite sure how to respond to me. And, yeah, I hope we get to talk about this more because there’s a lot more to be said. Thanks.

      Like

  3. sensuousamberville says:

    Sometimes contact can be very reassuring, a hand clasp, a pat on the back or a hug. She is not likely to offer these though, is this something you think that you would like at times? Some patients will request this, but with many the mere thought of it may make them recoil or lash out.

    There is a lot here Andi, in this post, and the connecting ones, using speech to transfer information doesn’t always work, some things are difficult to say, you don’t want to validate them or re-live them by verbalizing them. You don’t want to be judged by what you feel or say, and you don’t wish to upset your relationship with your therapist, more so having been abandoned by the last one. This fear seems to be in many of your posts, it is powerful in you. Are you feeling now that she is going to stick with you?

    Dreams, they can be an outlet for our torments, or just a mass of confusion as our mind sorts things out. We do not create our dreams, we just live in them, so sharing them with your therapist is not something that you should feel shame over at any time, or embarrassment. They may be hard to share, so do what you did this time, write them down and let her read them. It becomes more third person this way, and this is what it really is, the dreams are not you, they are third person so to speak. What you dream is not what you do/did or want to do, but they can be a window into a torment that needs easing. Share them freely with her, treat them not as what you dreamed, but what your mind dreamed. Here this is what it did again last night… a third person action. It removes the fear of releasing the dreams to her.

    Her referring your actions/dreams as normal, is normal. The urge to reassure that a patients actions are not unfounded, others feel/act in a like fashion, more so when in similar situations is a form of validation, to offer comfort. You remind me of a patient quite a bit. So I often want to type this is normal.

    Your boundaries were crossed freely in the past, it is difficult for you to see how a healthy relationship does not do this. To trust. This is very hard I would expect, for you to trust. Likely why she is at “arms length”. She does not wish to intrude on your boundaries, she is showing respect. Why your request to her needed to be made and why she will understand it. The dream too, was very powerful, some dreams seem so real, having her reassure you is good. Your relationship with her is becoming stronger.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Andi says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I don’t generally long for hugs or touch of any sort from her. I haven’t had very positive experiences with this in the past (for either safe, consensual touch or otherwise) so I tend to err on the side of caution. Plus I don’t necessarily believe touch would be useful or therapeutic for me in this setting.

      I think the dreaming part can be difficult for me because I live in such a dissociated manner. So dreams, for me, are not very different from much of my day-to-day life. It can feel just as real as actual reality. Also I worry a lot about the messages I send through sharing my dreams and how that might offset the dynamics of our relationship.

      I can see that she is trying to normalize this experience for me and I have great appreciation for that. I think it’s both appropriate and useful when used in the right way. This particular exchange is a reference to prior conversations her and I have had where I’ve explained to her that when her immediate reaction is to normalize, that can feel very invalidating to me. Intellectually, I already know these things are normal. I need her to find me where I am, emotionally.

      And, yes, boundaries are certainly tricky for me. I both want to feel close to her and feel very threatened by that intimacy. It’s a hard line to walk. But this is something else I believe she does brilliantly and I am always so grateful for that. We are slowly figuring out how to make this work and I absolutely believe the relationship is getting stronger. It’s a painful process, but I think it’s worth it.

      Like

  4. Jean says:

    Wow! You did super great in my book. You have such courage. I’m not sure I could have done what you did, but then I would never know until I was in that situation. I also think you were very inventive in how you handled sharing it. I hope all inside feel relief and if anybody is upset, they will be able to let you (gently.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Zoe says:

    Even though you couldn’t talk about your dream, you had the courage to hand her your journal and read it. You knew full well what was there, how it could feel to share that with her, and you still did it. She’s a professional, so I am most certain she will understand why this was so important for you to bring out. You’re making progress.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Amb says:

    You were great. You had the courage to make her aware of the dream, despite how terrified it made you. I can’t imagine how horrible it must have felt to share that with her. I’m really glad that she was able to promise you that she wouldn’t hurt you in that way. She truly sounds like she’s in your corner. You deserve that. You deserve someone who truly cares and believes in you to walk this journey beside you. Try and be gentle with yourself. You’re doing such good work towards your healing. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thank you. It was terrifying to share it – I just had no idea how she would receive it or how it might shift the dynamics of our relationship. I’m still not sure, but overall it went well. She seemed neither upset nor surprised by what she read, which I’ll take as a good sign. I think she is in my corner…it’s hard for me to really understand that and allow her to do that, but I’m getting there. x

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amb says:

        She definitely is. The complete trust will come eventually, I think. I know it’s hard when you’ve been hurt by people that you were supposed to be able to trust. I would have been terrified To share it, too… Probably never would have been able to. I admire your courage. I really don’t think she’ll allow it to change the dynamic, especially since she was neither upset or surprised by it. She really does sound great and I’m so glad that you have her in your life to help you.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Rachel says:

    You did it!! So proud of you! I see nothing about the way you told her, or the way the conversation went, as a reason to criticize or come down on yourself – we can’t “know” how to share difficult topics, or respond. We do what we can in those difficult moments (which are VERY difficult, emotionally, to sit through). And I think it is easy to criticize ourselves afterwards by saying we could have been ‘better’ – but, what ‘better’ is there? Because even that could have been ‘better’, according to the critical part of ourselves. That said, I DO understand the frustration of not being able to communicate clearly, and how helpless it feels when the emotions overpower our wishes and desires in relationships. That is tough, and you’re working through it and I am proud of you. None of this is without a bit of messiness, is it? xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thank you! I think the self-criticism and feelings of wishing it had gone better are almost an auto-response. If I achieve basically anything and feel proud or happy about myself, I immediately have to turn the switch back to negative self-talk. It’s like there needs to be balance or something. I also just wish this never had to happen. It is so hard to realize the extent of my trauma and how much it permeates my life and functioning. It’s maddening to not being able to communicate in a way I’m used to. I’m working on that, though. And, yes, this is definitely going to be a bit messy! x

      Liked by 1 person

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