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.
“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?”
“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.”
“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.