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!

Shit Dreams

Last week my therapist told me she would be taking an unprecedented two week vacation next month. I was understandably upset about this and had a hard time articulating that in session. I just sorta fell silent as the battle inside my head began to unfold.

That night I had a dream in which I showed up to therapy very dirty. I’m not sure if I was sweaty or muddy or what, I just knew I needed to clean myself up. My therapist told me I could use a nearby bathroom. She showed me where it was and I went in, only to immediately spin around and walk back out. I said, “Hey! I can’t use that bathroom! It’s literally covered in shit! Not just IN the toilet, but ON the toilet and in little baggies all over the damn room!!” My therapist just shrugged.

I told her about this dream during the next session and when I finished speaking, she smiled and giggled a bit as she said, “This dream is about my vacation.”

“Oh? Care to elaborate?”

“Yeah…you’re worried that I’m going to leave and things will get backed up. And then when I get back, I won’t recognize that there’s shit everywhere and I’ll just expect you to carry on as if it’s not there.”

I burst out laughing and said, “Yep, that sounds about right!”


Tomorrow is my first day of work!

Well, technically it’s just human resources “onboarding” for two hours, but I get to sign my contract and becoming an employed adult again! Wednesday will be my first full work shift, following by another clinician-specific training on Thursday. Then Friday I’m completely ready to be an official employee. I’ll be working part-time until I take the board exam next month, which gives me some time to transition back into working. It’s been several months since I was in an orthopedic clinic, so I’m feeling a little rusty. I’m sure I’ll pick it up again quickly, but I’m still kinda nervous.

I spoke with both of my nieces (and my nephew) via FaceTime this evening, since they also start school tomorrow. My older niece seemed indifferent at best and terrified at worst about starting 3rd grade. The younger kiddo was mostly just totally stoked about starting Kindergarten and told us about how she’ll be riding the #4 Giraffe bus. It felt good to talk to them. They bring such joy into my world.

My sister also announced that she’s returning to college soon. She didn’t get to complete her Bachelor’s (she got pregnant senior year), so I would be thrilled to see her achieve that goal. She said she was inspired by my decision to go back to school to change careers, which felt nice to hear.

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I had a very hard time sleeping on Monday night. I think I was nervous about my job interview Tuesday morning, but I was also just extremely agitated. I couldn’t get comfortable and I felt something that I struggled to identify. Loneliness? Grief? Sadness? Emptiness? Anger? All of the above?

I’m not sure.

When I mentioned it to my wife and we spoke about it, she said that she believed she briefly spoke with a part that she’s never talked to before. She guessed perhaps it was Scooter because this part seemed young, but also very angry, expressing intense anger at my therapist for leaving us (i.e. going on vacation). Interesting.

The interview went very well. I wasn’t particularly nervous for the actual process of being interviewed. My résumé is stellar and I have a charismatic, articulate, confident presence that tends to impress people. I also went into the interview knowing I’m a very good match for the company, so I was more or less scoping them out to see if it seemed like a good fit for my career trajectory. I ended up being quite impressed with the two interviewers. There was a moment when I could tell they switched from “interviewing” me to “selling the job” to me, which felt nice. I love the idea of being a prize candidate and I’ve worked damn hard for it!

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Knocked The Wind Out Of Me

Right now I’d be going to session if my therapist wasn’t on stupid vacation. I’m still super irritated with this whole thing. I’ve never been thrilled when she leaves but I usually just suck it up and block out anything I’m feeling until about an hour or so before I see her again.

But in an effort to stay connected to the work, to her, and to what’s important about all of that, I’ve been actively pushing myself to stay present with whatever feelings come up. Which sucks. I had another dream with my therapist featured in it last night. I don’t remember much of the actual material, but I know that I felt scared (not of her, but of someone or something) and she was there. I can’t really explain it, but something about the dream felt very intimate. We were in a place that was emotionally closer than I’ve ever felt with her in real life, at least not that I’ve ever been consciously aware of anyway.

She often tells me that my extreme fear of intimacy is what generally leads me to pick fights with her or sabotage our conversations. I always find that strange because I think I’m a person who generally embraces intimacy. I have a beautifully intimate relationship with my wife along with several close friends. There are certain people that I don’t ever really censor myself for when I’m around them. But maybe that’s a different kind of intimacy, or a false intimacy or something.

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Initiating Disengagement

I woke up this morning already beginning to feel crushed under the deep shame of wanting and longing for connection with my therapist (or any human being, really). I’m basically already initiating the “disengage from therapist” sequence because I’m so terrified of the space I’m in right now…probably because I love how it feels to actually trust my therapist.

It’s very scary to feel like I suddenly have so much more to lose.

But I really don’t want to back away from this.  I want to hold this space for myself and keep reminding myself that I enjoy it and it feels nice and (gasp!) I deserve it, dammit!

I’ve made couple of videos since I mentioned wanting to keep some sort of video log during my therapist’s vacation. I kinda hate them because I hate my own face and voice, but I’m trying to remember that she looks at and listens to me at least three hours each week, so she’s used to it.

I’m feeling slightly anxious that the videos are somehow too intimate to be creating, let alone bring to her to view for herself. Not sure why, and that’s probably worth exploring. For now, it’s comforting to have my phone to talk into as if she’s eventually going to hear those words.

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Trying to Hold Onto Connection

My therapist is officially on vacation now. *Sigh*

Today’s session went pretty well. There’s nothing that was bad or negative about it, I’m just sad that she’s going to out of the office for 12 damn days. Boo.

I opened the session by asking if she was ready for vacation. She said,

“Well not yet! Are you still mad that I’m going on vacation?”

I said yes and then outlined many of the things I spoke about in my last post. I was very honest with her. She figured I was worried about the usual fears (abandonment) but I added my concern that we would lose the momentum we’d worked so hard to build up over the last several weeks. She agreed and said that although it could (and likely will) be difficult to pick up where we left off, we also won’t be starting over again.


But I’m still concerned. I feel so good right now about where we are, relationally. I feel so relaxed in the relationship, in a way I’ve never experienced in therapy before. I found myself beginning to jump to conclusions during session today regarding her thoughts about me, but then I “reality checked” myself and realized I don’t actually believe she’s thinking anything bad about me. I suppose I have a different level of trust with her. I feel very calm and open right now.

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I Hate Vacations

My therapist will be on vacation next week. Although I’m grateful that we were able to move through this latest rupture in time for her to leave, I’m incredibly anxious about her being away. I struggle just to go from Monday to Thursday between sessions. Weekends are generally not as much of a challenge, perhaps because I tend to transition into “off work” mode, understanding that this is time for my therapist and I to be apart. But being separated from her during working hours is always much harder for me.

Today’s session was fine. I did a lot of talking, free association style, about various aspects of my past. I’m not sure why, but it’s random stuff that’s been on my mind so I figured it was worth mentioning. I felt good about the conversation. I felt her presence, and we really felt like a team. But I’m also aware that I tend to do more talking about non-relational feelings when she’s due to be out of the office.

At the end of the session, she mentioned her vacation and wondered if it’s something I wanted to talk about. I just told her that I’m pissed that she’s going away and there’s not much more to say about it. She asked if we could maybe just hold onto that for now and discuss it further tomorrow.

I really do want to talk about this some more. I told her that I feel more or less okay with her leaving, but that I can definitely feel other parts that are less than thrilled. She thought perhaps that’s something they could bring in tomorrow…

We’ll see.

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My session yesterday went very well. I’m a little surprised because I was so anxious going into it, but I think all of the writing and talking I did throughout the weekend helped me feel more confident.

Before heading into session, I started to regret not making an exhaustive bulleted list of everything I wanted to cover (which is my usual routine). But then I remembered my posts here and all of the important dialogue I had with my lovely readers, and I started to calm down. I reassured myself that I knew what was important to me and found some confidence that I didn’t even know I had.

I opened the hour by saying,

“I feel like it’s been forever since I was here…I’m like ‘wait, what were we even working on?’ But it also seems like I never left. It kinda feels the exact same…like we’re just hitting the replay button or something.”

She asked what in particular I was feeling.

“Anger, I guess. Like…I feel okay-ish outside of here. More optimistic, to be sure. But then I come in here and sit down and I just feel so pissed!”

She speculated that my anger comes from all of the tension and difficult emotions surrounding our latest discussion about boundaries. This is when I felt my throat start to tighten. I was so worried I would say the wrong thing and lead us back into an argument. But I also didn’t want to just surrender, so I said:

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