Today is two years to the day that I started seeing my therapist. I wrote her a letter that I’ll be reading in session later today and I wanted to post it here as well:
When I think of our first session together, it’s admittedly hard to even find very much of you in that memory. What is most salient about that experience is how intensely bereft I was, and how frantic and helpless I felt. Looking back, I can see that I absolutely did NOT want new therapy with a new therapist. I wanted Zooey to suddenly realize she was wrong about everything and I could go back to seeing her. I held onto her promise that we could stay in touch as long as I was actively seeing a new therapist and had reasonably settled into that relationship.
That was an empty promise for many reasons. Mostly because she doesn’t know herself well enough to know what she can and cannot handle, but also because if I did indeed wait until I was “reasonably settled” into a new therapeutic relationship, the pull to contact her would be much weaker. Maybe that’s why she framed it that way to begin with. No, that’s probably giving her too much credit. Regardless, I’m very grateful she put that stipulation in place, because otherwise I doubt I would have sought a new therapist with any seriousness. I probably would have just dropped out of treatment altogether and waited another five or so years before seeking therapy again. So my initial motivation for seeing you was to establish enough of a relationship to justify having contact with Zooey
I chose this rock as a physical representation of the past because I painted it while I was seeing Zooey. Wife and I did this wonderful Native American rock ceremony where we found three rocks on a pier. We took a marker and wrote something on each of them, something we wanted to discard or let go of. Then we threw all three of them into the lake and grabbed a rock to take home, which would represent everything we hoped would fill the space that remained once we let go of the other stuff. I took my rock and painted it with the things I hoped for the most:
I was so optimistic when I painted that damn rock. My relationship with Zooey was in a sweet spot and I was filled with hope and faith that I could conquer just about anything. After she terminated my therapy, the rock haunted me. It served as a constant reminder of the price of optimism and hope. How could I have been so naïve?
But it wasn’t naïve to want to feel worthy, to wish for healing, or to long for connection. She was just an asshole for betraying me.
I read through some of my oldest blog posts. It’s rather unsettling to me that I didn’t actually begin to write about our work together until late March. But I suppose that makes sense, given the circumstances in which we met.
One particular post stood out to me. Partly because it’s so honest, but also because it seems quite relevant to a recent discussion we had about the dynamic we shift into when I offer you positive feedback.
Here is an excerpt. The post is from 21 months ago:
This therapist legit pisses me off.
Not because she’s done anything wrong, but because she’s so utterly good at her job. I don’t even know what to do with all of this! She’s incredibly aware of me and where I am at all moments of those sessions. She’s even more self-aware. She cares about how she impacts me and she wants me to talk about it. She cares about my safety and is mindful of how to protect me when I’m in her care. She’s honest and forthcoming with how she’s experiencing the relationship. She is considerate and thoughtful. She’s funny. She actually keeps up with me during session, even when I’m going 90 miles an hour and jumping from topic to topic. (I told her once that if I didn’t make a list before sessions, I would just sit and do nothing the entire time. She smiled and replied, “Somehow I doubt that.” Fair point.). She is very respectful of me and my experience. She’s a wonderful communicator and I can tell that she values my input just as much as her own when it comes to my treatment.
She believes the shit I tell her.
I know she’s not perfect. No one is. I know she’ll frustrate me and hurt me and disappoint me. That’s a natural part of any relationship, but even more so in the therapeutic alliance. I think I’m mostly okay with that. What I’m not okay with, however, is how much comfort, safety, compassion and hope she brings me.
It’s just too much to lose.
Thankfully, I stuck it out anyway. I still fear that you’ll leave me, but it’s harder for me to imagine that you could take all of those things from me. They feel very rooted in the work we do together, as opposed to something you just give to me. You can’t take hope or compassion or safety from me because they’re not yours to give OR take. Just like they weren’t Zooey’s to give or take. But now I can see that.
As for the rest of it, I actually wouldn’t change a single statement. Everything I reflected about how I experience you remains true to this moment. I would probably add more things, if anything. But I don’t really need to because somehow I kinda nailed all of it just three months into our work together.
The difference, however, is that it doesn’t feel as removed as it did when I originally wrote that post. Even though I clearly wrote about how you impact and interact with me, it never felt like it had anything to do with me. It felt like you were just being you and who I was seemed irrelevant. That’s partly true, of course, but I think who you are with me is, by definition, unique to me. To us. We’re both inherently the same when we’re not together, but the person we each are when we’re together is special.
I think when I’m with you I become both the version of me I hate the most and the version of me I didn’t even realize I had the potential to be. It’s alarming, really. And when I ponder the reason for that, I immediately think of space. I can’t imagine I ever had space to be anything but what was constantly being projected onto me. I spent so much time anticipating and fulfilling the needs and wants of others that I never really had any room to stretch out and experiment with who I am, what I want, or what I need.
That being said, I think the most valuable aspect of the space you create for me is that it is contained. For the most part, I can always see where the boundaries are; I have a sense that I can run around and make a mess, but I can also see the walls that tell me where I must stop. As much as I rage against those walls, I also find them comforting. It’s good to know that my BIG feelings won’t just expand infinitely until they destroy the entire universe.
And as time has passed, I’ve come to understand that the walls are neither rigid nor fixed. They are dynamic- a living and breathing structure that expands and shrinks as necessary to fit whatever is needing containment.
I chose Anna’s music box as a physical representation of the present. Inside are trinkets and objects that further represent various members of the system. Although it’s an imperfect symbol of the container we’ve created, it’s a pretty good stand-in. It’s been so valuable to understand that difficult and overwhelming thoughts, feelings, and sensations can be boxed before they annihilate me. But that also doesn’t have to mean they must be hidden or locked away, never to be seen or heard from again.
Which is why I chose the candle as a physical representation of the future. Our recent conversations have made it more apparent than ever just how much self-hatred, rage, and shame I carry inside of myself. And just like the inside of that music box, those things exist within absolute darkness.
I am terrified that if I ever made my way into that darkness, I would find nothing but ugliness and filth. I’m so afraid to learn who I am because I’m afraid the answer is someone who is useless, stupid, disgusting, and evil. But I think what I actually fear the most is that I’m none of those things? What if I’m a decent, kind, smart, funny, curious, and interesting person?
What if underneath all the Russian nesting dolls is something good, something loving, something beautiful? I cringe when I think of all that potential beauty and goodness being systematically covered with layer after layer of manipulation, neglect, terror, cruelty, betrayal, abandonment,
I hope that’s true. I hope that my inherent goodness has not been “hatefucked” into complete oblivion. If there’s anything left, I want to find it. You were right yesterday when you said there was part of me that wants to love myself – that endorses body positivity and refuses to be cruel to myself just for the sake of being cruel. Or because I’ve cut off contact with every single person in my life who’s cruel to me except the one who does it the most: me!
I think when we started this work I imagined you and I would need to unearth a lot of “bad” parts. I figured they were the ones wreaking havoc, so we’d just need to find them, figure out what the hell their problem was, and help them solve it. But it hardly seems so straightforward anymore.
Darkness is where shame thrives. Perhaps the darkness is not filled with evil, but with shame. And if so, I don’t actually think that shame belongs to me. I think it was both literally and figuratively placed inside of me by my parents and the many others who hurt me. And I think it’s smothering everything else.
If we could illuminate the darkness, maybe the shame would begin to dissipate and we could see what’s really underneath all that blackness. Maybe the parts I imagine are evil are the very same parts that are good.
When I think of navigating that darkness, I don’t want to do it alone. But I know you can’t do it for me. So I suppose I imagine the two of us, skulking along, totally unsure of what the fuck we’re about to encounter, but holding onto that candle and refusing to let the darkness swallow us up. Maybe I hold it sometimes and you hold it other times, but mostly I’d like us to hold it together.
I also know the final steps will have to be mine, alone. As we’ve discussed before, you can’t climb into that hole with me, or for me. No one can. I have to do it myself. But I sincerely hope you’ll stand at the edge, holding that damn light so I can find my way back out again.
So here’s to two years. Here’s to all the hard work we’ve done.
I’m incredibly grateful that we’ve been able to do this work together. I honor it. I celebrate it. I cherish it. And, of course, I resent it.
I love you.
I love that you’re my therapist.
And even though you wouldn’t say this to me, I know that you love me, too.