Friday’s (extra) session ended up being 90 minutes long.
I walked in and sat down, immediately curling into myself and pulling my hoodie up over my head. I asked her if she was mad at me.
“No. But…are you okay?”
I just started firing off random and incoherent thoughts, explaining that I was most certainly not okay. I explained that a series of upsetting things had happened that were building up and I needed to just talk.
She told me to go for it and she’d just listen for a while.
I talked about how my sister (cousin) contacted me about my niece. Apparently my niece’s behavior has become very regressive since school restarted earlier this month. She’s been displaying very emotional and labile behavior and has stated that she hates school and hates riding the bus.
Upon further investigation, my sister learned that a boy on the bus has been harassing my niece – insisting that she kiss him, hold his hand, etc. She believes he has touched her as well, but can’t quite determine the nature of physical contact.
Since both my sister and I were sexually abused by more than one perpetrator as children, this was obviously very triggering for her, which then triggered me. Since this is her child, I know she saw a similar situation unfolding in front of her and she felt helpless and terrified. I tried to just stay very calm. I advised her to remain focused on her daughter – ask her what’s going on, tell her you love and support her, let her know that you’re paying attention and you SEE her. She needs to feel as though she is being protected and is not left alone to fend for herself. Once that task is done, then go to the school counselor or her teacher or bus driver and start problem-solving around this boy.
She took my advice and we stayed in contact throughout the next 24 hours as things unfolded. It seems to be calmer now, but I know we’re both emotionally heightened and reeling from the very idea that someone has violated this child’s body and space.
My therapist asked me what major thoughts/feelings I was feeling around this.
“I just…I want to support her. I want them both to know that I’m here and I will help them. I want my sister to know that she’s a good mom; that her daughter will not relive our childhood. But she feels helpless. I feel helpless! How can either of us possibly know how to appropriately respond to this? We were raised in a culture that silenced, ignored, and abused little girls. There was no one to model good parenting; no one to protect us; no one to tell us that we could protect ourselves, our bodies, our space. If we don’t know that, how can we teach it to our kids?!”
She started to respond, but I switched topics.
“And then I got the results from my MRI. It was abnormal. The hamstring tendon is partially torn, as expected, but I also have a labral tear in my hip and cartilage breakdown. My doctor said it is not even related to the pain I experienced in the back of my hip because it’s an anterior tear.”
“What causes that?”
“It’s generally caused by either sudden trauma, such as a car accident, or repetitive trauma, as you’d see in athletes. I have been in car accidents, but I was never injured. I played sports and danced throughout childhood, but not seriously enough to warrant a torn labrum.”
(For reference, the labrum is a ring that surrounds the socket of a ball-and-socket joint. It’s essentially an extension of the socket and serves like a suction cup to keep the ball in the socket. We have them in our hips and shoulders).
“What do you think it’s from?”
“Well this particular type of tear comes from microtrauma that happens when the hip joint is repeatedly pushed to the end of its range within a very specific combination of motions.”
“What are those motions?”
“Abduction, external rotation, and flexion.”
“What does that mean? What does that look like?”
“Ugh. Okay. So abduction is pulling the leg away from the body. External rotation is turning your toes out. And flexion is bringing your knee towards your torso. Kind of like tree pose – do you know what tree pose is?”
“So imagine that position. If you’re in that position and you’re repeatedly pushed to the end of those motions, it puts pressure on the front of your hip, pushing the femur on the socket, which causes the tear.”
It looks like this:
“So imagine being in that position with both legs and having pressure repeatedly put onto your legs or knees. THAT would tear my labrum and cartilage in this particular way.”
I let her visualize it all in her head – the distinctly sexual nature of such a position and what might lead to pressure and repetitive trauma on the hip joint.
Once she put it together, I saw the expression on her face change to something of horror. She looked up and we made eye contact.
I knew there was so much more to say about this, but I just couldn’t go there.
“Anyway. My doctor said this puts me at a higher risk for osteoarthritis in my hip so we need to keep an eye on it. For now, physical therapy should be fine, but we may need to try more stuff later if it gets worse.”
I jumped topics again:
“So do you remember how there was that drama with Mom a few weeks ago about her friends staying with us during her layover when I said yes and then backed out of it? Well I’d been sorta avoiding her since then. I mean, not really, but enough that she probably noticed. I hadn’t reached out to her at all except maybe one text message. Anyway, she called me last weekend and left a very nice voicemail, which I never returned. I just wasn’t ready to talk to her yet.”
“That’s okay. Sometimes we just need space.”
“I know. But then she called me and I was at the gym, but I picked up anyway because I felt bad that I’d been avoiding her. I said ‘Hello’ and she said ‘Hi Andi, it’s [her first name]’, which…I was so stunned I didn’t even respond to her right away.”
My therapist just looked at me, a bit confused.
“This is so stupid! Nevermind.”
“No, it’s okay. This seems important to you. Even if you think it’s stupid, why don’t you just say it anyway? Just to get it out there?”
“Fine. It’s just…it’s been about two years since she introduced herself on the phone by her first name. She usually says ‘Hello my sweetheart, it’s Mom’. And so I was really caught off guard by that. Which is lame because she’s NOT my mother – this ‘Mom’ thing is just a cute game we play. But still, it hurt me.”
“Of course it did. In this relationship, she is the Mother. And Mothers shouldn’t just stop being your Mom because things get a little tense or distant between the two of you.”
“Well that’s what I was thinking; it’s like she backed out of that part of our relationship because she was worried I was mad at her or something and that’s not fair.”
This conversation also had a lot left to be discussed, but once again, I changed topics:
“Plus I got this fucking invoice from the Trauma Center yesterday. Which means they’re still fighting claims from last year and that money could add up very fast; money I don’t have. Plus, if they challenge Zooey‘s claims, I will get an invoice from her, too. And if I even have that much contact with her, I just…I will lose it. I cannot handle that.”
“Right. That would be very upsetting. But as far as the insurance issue itself, don’t just accept this as your debt. Fight them. This is ridiculous and they need to pay for your care.”
“I know. And Wife is planning on handling all of it nice and calmly, but all I can do is panic. Money is a major trigger for me, especially when it relates to insurance and psychiatric care.”
She started to ask me more about that, but I knew I wanted to pivot the conversation in a different way.
“So as I was panicking last night, thinking about all of this potential debt and all the drama over money, I started figuring out how to lower our expenses. Naturally, since I spend the most money on therapy, I decided that should be the first thing to go.”
She paused, waiting for me to continue this thought.
“I just started freaking out. And I thought it was about the money, which it was, in part. But then I realized that I was creating the perfect excuse to bail out of therapy. So then I started wondering why I feel such an intense need to abandon this work, and THAT is why I emailed you at 2am to ask for an extra session.”
“What do you think that is about? The need to run away?”
“I think it’s about fear. And about power and control. I want to ‘pull a Zooey’ on you. If I come in here and say that my financial situation has changed and I can no longer afford to pay you, there’s nothing you can do to change that.”
“True. That is a pretty good way out.”
“I mean, I guess I could also just say ‘fuck you’ and walk out, but I wouldn’t be that obvious. I’d want something to just make it easy for me to bail. Something that’s seemingly out of my control so I wouldn’t have to take responsibility for that decision.”
“It sounds like you want to ‘pull a Zooey’ on me before I can do it to you.”
“Yep. Exactly. Because I always feel a strong sense that a premature ending to this work is inevitable and I want to stay ahead of that. I don’t want to be blindsided again. I can’t tolerate that. I can’t tolerate THIS.”
She asked me to talk more about that emotion. About the fear and the intolerability of everything.
“It’s everything! This is not my life! I don’t feel real! This life…I am not supposed to be living this. I don’t think I’m supposed to be here. I’m not sure I was ever supposed to be here. I know I wasn’t supposed to live this long, so all of this is just pretend. It’s fake. And it doesn’t belong to me. And all of that – the reality of how little I deserve to even be alive makes this life unbearable.”
She glanced at the clock and said,
“I’m torn, as I often am, at this point in the session. We have 15 minutes left and we’re getting into some really important material. So I’m torn as to whether we should dig into more or pull back so that you’re able to leave here feeling safe and contained.”
I know she meant this from a place of concern and protection, but it just made me flip my shit. I started crying and yelling about how it takes TIME to warm up in session and even feel safe enough to talk about difficult things:
“I watch the clock just like you do! And once I feel calm and settled into the space, I start to consider what I could talk about. And I’m asking myself the same questions: can I get into this material and do this deeper work and still make my way back before that hour ends? Do I risk getting stuck in a regressed or dissociated state or do I just let the clock run out, knowing I’m holding back?”
“I know you do. I know you’re constantly assessing the situation.”
“It’s agonizing. And lonely. There’s SO MUCH I want to say – I want to go deeper. But I am so fucking terrified that I won’t be able to return to my Adult Self in time and we’ll both end up overwhelmed and resentful of each other and of the work. So I just sit here, alone, holding onto all of this shit that I desperately want to release.”
“I know. And I see this pattern in our dynamic – we get about 45 minutes in and that’s generally when we get to something that I would really love for us to get into further, but it’s hard to know what to do.”
“I know. I think I sense and react to your hesitancy. Or you sense mine.”
“Perhaps we both sense each other’s hesitancy?”
“Right. And I’m going to think about this pattern some more – about how we can maybe shift our dynamic to allow you to relax earlier in the session and feel more welcome to share that stuff as it comes up, rather than agonizing over what and when to share.”
I love that she said that, because I know she means it. I know that she’ll think about it a lot and come back with ideas.
“Also, while we’re figuring that out and working on new ways to make this space safer for you, there’s still the option of more time. I know things are a little complicated with scheduling for us right now, but adding 15 minutes to our sessions might be just what you need to push through that particular barrier.”
So here I am freaking out about all the money I spend on therapy and grasping at any excuse to run away from it while she’s suggesting I see her even more.
I don’t know. It’s confusing. If three sessions a week still isn’t enough, what is wrong with me? What would an extra 45 minutes per week really do? Why can’t I do enough in three hours?
But maybe she’s right.
Or maybe she just likes that check I write her every Monday.
What a mess.