As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my therapist closed Friday’s session by saying,
“There is nothing I can say right now that will help you or make you feel better. And that is awful. So we’re just going to need to hold onto this until Monday. But I am here. If you need to check in before then, I am here.”
I was so irritated with her and myself and the entirety of therapy in that moment, but I really appreciated that she said that. It was honest and real and she was absolutely right; nothing either one of us did would have helped take away the pain I was feeling. Her comment didn’t seem to come from a place of helplessness as much as an acknowledgement of our reality.
I also appreciated that she offered contact with me over the weekend. It was an important gesture because it signaled to me that despite the 45 minutes we’d just spent completely missing each other, she was still there and we were still connected. She wasn’t going to take herself away from me just because we struggled to reach each other in session.
So I did call her, basically the minute I walked in my front door. I left a message asking her to call me back and she called about 90 minutes later. I opened the conversation by saying, “I think I just need to hear your voice” (which is a pretty big deal considering the repercussions of saying the same thing in a voicemail to Zooey).
She said, “It sounds like you’re needing connection right now, after having such a difficult session.”
I agreed and expanded on that thought. I said, “Leaving session when our relationship is in turmoil is the worst for me. Leaving after other stuff, such as talking about trauma or emotionally difficult material is very hard, but it’s not as hard as feeling like something is wrong with us. That, to me, is unbearable.”
“Can you talk more about that. Do you know what makes it unbearable?”
“It’s just…if you and I are not okay…if something is wrong with our relationship, then it feels like everything else is just hanging in the balance. And that terrifies me.”
“Yes! Our relationship is the foundation of this work – it is what everything else it built upon. So if you’re feeling concerned about the status of our relationship, it only makes sense that you’d be afraid of everything else coming undone.”
She reminded me again that she did not (and does not) take my behavior personally and that I’m allowed to bring any and all emotions into session, whether they’re directed at her or not. She also told me that she felt as though the session was super important for us. She said,
“Sometimes when we’re in that place where we’re struggling to track with each other and find common ground it can actually be what helps our relationship become stronger, because we have to really push through that together. It was so hard for you to stay with that emotion; to stay in that space despite how painful it was – and I know it was painful for you; I could feel that pain. But you did it and it was imperfect. Yet here we are, talking and connecting. And it’s so important for you to know that things can be imperfect without being irreparably damaged.”
She was making some good points that I am only now beginning to internalize. At the moment, I was too caught up in fear and anxiety to really process her words. I spoke more about the stress of feeling as though we’re at battle:
“It consumes so much energy to worry about us and if we’re okay. And there’s so much for me to hold onto when things feel shaky between us. There’s all of this really heavy stuff we’d begun to explore, but I put that on hold to address the relational issues because I wanted to feel like we were on solid ground before we even attempted to go there. Yet, somehow, I dug us into an even deeper hole and now we’ve spent an entire week missing each other and existing in entirely separate realities. So now, on top of carrying all of the shit around this new memory or alter or whatever is happening, I have to hold onto the relational stuff. And it’s just too much.”
“I know it’s a lot for you…”
“It is! And I can’t do it. So then I wonder: is this right for me? Is therapy right for me? Does it really make sense to do this? Because I already have to deal with the trauma, regardless of whether or not I’m in treatment. Having a therapist just creates this entirely new painful element to my life as I try to navigate our relationship and constantly worry that I will be hurt again. And I don’t need that. I can’t do that.”
“This sounds like the doubt you brought up on Monday.”
“Yes! THAT is the doubt I was expressing on Monday! I actually don’t really doubt you at all, as a therapist. I think you’re capable and I mostly feel like you’ve got this handled. But just the relationship itself is a source of tremendous pain and struggle and I start to doubt whether or not it makes sense to subject myself to that. How will we ever get to the work if we’re constantly butting heads and we can’t even reach each other?!”
She let out a gentle laugh and said, “Andi, this is the work. We’re already in the work; we’ve BEEN in the work. And so much of that happens through our relationship; that is a lot of what therapy is. I know it feels like therapy is on hold when we’re working through our relationship, but so much of that process is the process.”
This idea of what is or is not therapy reminded me of what I’d said in my last post – about how I felt like a little kid who wanted to run back to her Mom and tell her about some great thing that happened at school. I told her that and added a story from my childhood:
“I was in sixth grade, which was the year I became ‘popular’. There were these six girls, they were called ‘The Six Pack’, and they wanted to be my friend. We got along well until one day when we had this big blowout fight that involved physical violence. We were sent to the principal’s office and everything. I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine my life at school if these girls hated me. They were the coolest girls at school! So I told my Mom what happened. She listened…well, she didn’t leave the room as I was talking, at least. And after I finished sobbing out this whole story, she said ‘Andi, you’re just going to have to get new friends.'”
My therapist gasped and said, “Oh my god!”
“I felt so dumb. This thing was so so important to me and she just brushed it away…it’s like I was a fly on her shoulder that was bothering her.”
She paused a second and said, “And this is so much of what happens for you, right? This idea that you’re not important and that what’s important to you cannot or will not be seen – that YOU won’t be seen, or heard. And that if you are, it will be dangerous and invalidating.”
We talked about that a little longer and she again acknowledged how painful it is for me to sit with that emotion. She said that she wants to help me create a space that feels safer and more open to me. She said,
“I think if I had given you more space today and allowed you to just get out whatever you were trying to say, it might have been easier for you. And I want to make this easier for you; all I can do is try and I’m going to try.”
Then she said she had to go soon and asked if there was anything else I needed or wanted to say.
“I…yes, actually. Can we do a phone check-in for maybe Sunday?”
“Sure. Do you want to schedule that or just call me and I can call you back?”
“I think we should schedule it. If we don’t, I won’t call. I will want to, but I won’t.”
So we scheduled a call for Sunday afternoon.