I eased into yesterday’s session before reading the “special” email to the therapist. I knew I wanted to read it to her. Well, I didn’t want to, but I had a sense it would be important to share and discuss.
Before bringing it up, I mentioned feeling as though I’d been triggered by a lot of different things lately. I said, “It just feels like I’m trying to work through this thing and right when I think I’m at a better place with it, something else triggers me and I start to spiral again…”
She let me carry on with being vague for a while before asking me what that thing might be. I told her it was somehow related to our relationship, but that I was struggling to verbalize my thoughts and emotions. She reminded me that I didn’t need to have it all figured out in order to talk about it.
I reiterated the feelings I’d first mentioned on Friday when I said that the relationship felt both threatening to me and as though it was somehow in danger itself. I told her it feels like I’m in a place I didn’t want to be and I’m both angry and ashamed that I’ve arrived here. I also feel guilt over having put myself into this place again and I feel both stupid and irresponsible for doing so.
Naturally, she asked what I meant by the “place” I’m in.
I explained that I’d begun feeling similarly about our relationship as I did with Zooey, right before the bottom fell out from beneath me. She asked me what was similar about it. I said I didn’t know. Then she asked if I could just talk about that time in my relationship with Zooey instead.
“Ugh. I don’t know…I can’t tell you.”
“Because I will end up revealing more to you than I want to right now.”
“So you’re trying to protect yourself a little?”
“Yes. But at least I’m clever and I use Zooey as a way to talk about OUR relationship when doing so outright is too scary.”
“That’s true. I’m wondering if you could just speak a bit on what that was like for you… with her?”
At that point, I told her I’d printed the email. I didn’t say much about it except that I felt it could help explain the dynamic between Zooey and myself. I pulled it out of the back of my notebook and very slowly unfolded the paper. I just looked at the printed words for a bit, taking some calming breaths. I told the therapist that I was super nervous and ashamed to be reading it and then, before even letting her respond, I said “Okay!” and dove into it.
She listened very attentively and with great compassion.
I won’t lie, it was excruciating to get through some of it. I was so painfully humiliated by my own words. I felt like a fucking moron for becoming so attached to this person. And I was terrified that by sharing my emotion around Zooey, I would send the message to this therapist that I felt the same way about her (which I do and I don’t…it’s paralleled in many ways, but wildly different in other ways).
I reflected some of this to the therapist and she said, “But that is exactly what SHOULD happen in this work! That’s a very normal, expected reaction to intense and intimate emotional work!” She also reiterated that Zooey’s inability to handle my emotion is not a reflection of me as much as her.
Then I said, “Whenever I talk about Zooey, I’m worried that you know her…” (they went to the same grad school and graduated close together, plus their offices are very close together)
She immediately said, “I don’t. No, I don’t know her. I didn’t hear of her until you mentioned her. And it’s important that you know that.”
I felt very relieved by that information because it’s something I’ve worried about since the day we met. And it was nice that she took my concern seriously and reinforced how important it was that I know the extent of her connection with Zooey. Thankfully it goes about as far as going the same school.
Then she pointed out that the email shows how much I was trying to gain clarity and understanding about my relationship and boundaries with Zooey. I said, “I know, right? It’s almost as if I’m advising her on how to have therapeutic boundaries by explaining the way I understand them. I’m all but begging her to make the space safer for me.”
The therapist agreed and we discussed how it is never the client’s responsibility to do that, thus it was not my failure. It was hers. I wish I could internalize that more (something to keep working on).
Bringing the email into session and getting my therapist’s feedback helped settle some of that shame I’d been holding onto. She didn’t think it was weird or obsessive or pathological for me to love and want to feel connected to Zooey (which is what I feared she would think). She also pointed out that this was another example of how Zooey left me alone within the relationship.
She said, “And that reminds me of your parents. Right? There was always this sense, for you, that something was wrong. You struggled to know what it was because no one else around you was reflecting back that things were not okay. But you knew. And in your efforts to engage with your parents about that, they just dismissed and ignored you. They left you in that space, pretending nothing was wrong, when you knew that something was very, very wrong.”
Yes. Exactly. And it was crazy-making to be raised amidst that kind of incongruence.
It’s obvious that Zooey triggers a very primal and deep trigger around abandonment and betrayal. In some ways, I’m almost grateful for that. Her behavior allows me to go into that emotional space and talk about it with my therapist in a way that is just too threatening when discussing my parents themselves. I can’t be that far into the hurt. But I can talk about it in regards to Zooey. She serves as a nice stand-in. And it allows me to communicate my fears to my current therapist without making myself unbearably vulnerable.
Then, to tie it back to our relationship a bit, I said that feeling so similar to the way I felt in that email is very activating for me. Being in that attachment space causes me to worry that history will repeat itself; that everything will be taken from me soon (that she will be taken from me). I repeated that I did not want to be in this space; to feel this attached to her.
She said, “Well that’s kind of hard when you’re coming three times a week!”
I just laughed quietly and said, “Yeah…true.”
But her comment was hurtful to me. I can’t quite explain it, but I felt like she was making fun of me somehow. Or as though she was putting the frequency of sessions entirely on me; as if I’d unilaterally made that decision and she wasn’t part of it. I was embarrassed and ashamed. It made me worry that she was sending me some underlying message about how she feels seeing me three times a week.
It’s probably nothing, but I’m still thinking of bringing it up on Thursday and asking her what, exactly, she meant by that.
Meh. I feel so inarticulate right now. There is so much powerful and painful emotion around this shit, but it’s incredibly challenging to string it into coherent thoughts. I suppose that’s probably a signal that we’re really “in” this, yeah?