Gratitude as a Trigger

This is something I wrote after I found myself talking relentlessly at the opening of a session to avoid feeling/saying/thinking something. I wasn’t sure what that something was, but this letter helped me realize that I become very triggered by feeling and especially expressing gratitude.

Dear Therapist,

Lately I find myself becoming overwhelmed with emotions when I think of you. I suppose that’s nothing new because most of the time I’ve known you has left me struggling to regulate and understand the feelings I have around you and our relationship.

But I think maybe the juxtaposition of how shitty my mother is against how good you are is making me feel a little chaotic inside my head.

I just watched the film “Lady Bird”. The mother is a lot like mine:

There’s this scene where she clearly feels hurt, angry, betrayed, whatever by the daughter, Lady Bird. She’s storming around the house, very aggressively doing chores while Lady Bird begs her to talk to her. She tells her mother that she’s sorry and she knows she’s bad, she knows she lied. Yet still, she so desperately needs her mother to see her, to acknowledge her presence, and HER pain. Even at 17 years old she desperately needs her mother to help her regulate all the BIG feelings she’s having and her mother refuses. Seemingly because she is unable. She cannot regulate herself, so how could she possibly model that for her child?

I once heard a podcast where someone said,

“We can only take someone as far as we have gone ourselves.”

And I think about that all the time  – how my mom and dad are so limited in what they could ever really do for me. I’m not sure I understand how much of that is because they simply cannot go further, versus what very often seems like an absolute unwillingness to be a better fucking person. I may never know, and maybe it’s not important. But it really pisses me off because it is so deeply disappointing.

And I’ll be honest – I’m so tired of being disappointed.

Which isn’t to say that you aren’t disappointing because you are, regularly. Sometimes because you do shit that pisses me off, by which I mostly mean that I create a story in which you’ve hurt and betrayed me yet again.

I mean, regardless, you’re human and I’m still learning to be okay with that. And how to be okay with all the ways you will continue to disappoint me because you cannot ever be everything I want and need you to be. I hate that so much.

Even this letter! I haven’t really tried to write like this since I created a little ceremony to commemorate two years of therapy with you. My knee-jerk reaction to that hour is always a jolt of humiliation. I tell myself it was embarrassing to be so sentimental and demonstrative with my emotions.

But it wasn’t. Not really.

It was vulnerable as fuck to do and I was heartbroken with disappointment, but that’s not inherently humiliating. I just felt so ashamed at how desperate I was to connect with you over this moment that felt so important. It didn’t happen the way I suppose I’d imagined or hoped so I automatically assumed it was shit and you didn’t care.

But you did care, probably. In your own way.

My point is – this is hard! I’m always nervous to tell you the ways you hurt me or frustrate me, but it is terrifying to try and explain or even simply acknowledge how important and transformative and special this relationship is to me.

Maybe “special” isn’t the right word, it’s kind of creepy. But I guess “unique” or even “unexpected”.

I could carry on about how you’re kind to me and you don’t actively harm me, but I don’t even think that’s it.

It’s like:

I don’t know your story. I don’t know what pain or loss or traumas you’ve had to overcome. I don’t know the work you’ve done, but I know you’ve done it. And I know that because I don’t think I would be here if you hadn’t already been here. How could you take me further than you’ve been yourself?

(And this is imperfect, but I think the overall point is right.)

Which I think – and this is one of those things that’s scary to say to you – but in the moments that I start to question the process or why I’m even doing this or if it’s worth it…when I feel lonely and like no one else would ever get what it’s like to engage in this work, it often helps to remind myself that it’s NOT work I do alone.

And I don’t have to scream or cry or throw things or desperately beg for you to see me and hear me and acknowledge my pain.

I keep telling myself that I’m afraid to feel close to you, to be connected to you, to feel good with you. I think I really mean that I’m afraid you won’t care or respond to that closeness or good feelings in the right way.

And, mostly, you won’t.

But, I don’t know, I guess it would be nice if I could stop telling myself that I’m a garbage person because you don’t respond perfectly to each moment I’m wanting you to get it right.

Though sometimes you do get it right, whatever that means.

(Also, I’m not a garbage person because there are no garbage people.)

The other day it occurred to me that I am legitimately fat right now. It made me sad and angry, but then I thought,

“I wonder what it would mean if I were allowed to be fat?”

Meaning, what if I’m fat and that’s okay?

Anyway it seemed like a fucking revelation and I thought of you. Of the space you give me to just exist and I guess the idea of being allowed to be fat sounds a lot like being allowed to exist.

This is all very vulnerable and I’m concerned you’ll think it’s corny, but maybe I’m allowed to be corny, too.

So, yeah, I think of you a lot and how even though you didn’t and you don’t do it for me, I’m really grateful that you’ve done the work. I’m grateful you found this work and I found you and here we are, working together. Both apart and parallel to each other.

Whatever. You’re great and it means a lot that I get to have you as my therapist.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I think that’s a new one for me!