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:
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.
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.
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…
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:
As much as I was soothed by the phone call I had with my therapist on Friday evening, I continue to be very agitated regarding the issue of boundaries and affection. I’d say I was probably at about 8/10 on the panic scale when I left session, 6/10 after talking to her, and since then I’ve been hanging out around 4-5/10.
I really loved her metaphor about the elephant. And I appreciated that she made a point to let me know that she wants to support me and would never intentionally or deliberately deny me what I need. I also understand that her version of giving me what I need will likely always differ, sometimes vastly, from what I imagine.
But I also can’t shake the feeling that all of this is happening within the realm of where the therapist is most comfortable. I think she has a flexible way of conducting therapy that also exists within a very rigid framework. Which is to say that she is only flexible when it suits her particular needs, or her specific version of therapy.
And so here I am, twisting and bending and trying desperately not to break, in an effort to preserve the therapeutic relationship. I will admit that I do see her bending as well, but as I mentioned – I feel as though she only does so within a limited range, whereas I’m expected to move far outside my comfort soon.
Which, you know, may very well be the whole point of therapy.
After I published my post about yesterday’s session, I called my therapist. I left a voicemail that went something like this:
“Hi. I’m calling because I think we probably need to talk before Monday because that’s a long ways away and this feels important. I know you’re out of the office tomorrow, and potentially all weekend, so you may not be able to call me back, but I’m asking anyway. I *think* I need to talk to you, but I don’t know…because I don’t really know what that even means! Anyway, if you have a chance between now and then, can you please call me?”
She called back an hour or so later and we were able to speak for about ten minutes. I told her just about everything I was feeling and thinking. I essentially outlined much of what I’d written in my previous post, specifically that I felt like she was not necessary putting conditions on affection for me, but just withholding it entirely.
I also said that although she is certainly entitled to conduct therapy in the ways she thinks are most helpful, I’m not sure that my feeling as though she won’t offer me compassion or reassurance, even when I really need it, is a good match for me. I explained that I’d imagined I didn’t feel those things from her because I simply hadn’t been asking for them (or asking in the right way). But upon finally finding a way to point out this specific need, I learned that it wasn’t something she was even considering offering to me and that was absolutely devastating. I further told her that this realization not only undermined my relationship with her, but my relationship with therapy in general. I was questioning everything!
I was somewhat surprised by her reaction to all of this.
I just got out of session and I think I somehow feel worse than I did going into the hour.
I don’t even know how to understand what is going on right now, let alone attempt to explain it. I don’t think I made the best decisions about how to discuss the intense trigger I felt on Monday (and still feel).
It was a mess for the first half of the session. At one point she said,
“It feels like you were late and that is somehow my fault and now you’re angry with me for it.”
Which made me just lose it, prompting a heated battle. And then she stopped us and asked me what I needed from her.
“Just listen to me.”
So she asked me to start over, to begin again and to try and disregard all that had been discussed about this issue in the previous 30 minutes.
I thought about it for a minute and then more or less went through everything I had written in my previous two blog posts. I gave a narrative timeline of how I experienced the last session and the time until today’s session.
I talked about feeling like I am ultimately disposable to her. Replaceable. Irrelevant. Unimportant. Worthless.
I talked about how this is supposed to be a relationship between two people. A therapeutic relationship, yes, but one that still involves two of us. I talked about feeling as if I am the one solely accountable for the hour of session and what happens to us, to the work, to me.
I said that her failure to be concerned or to reach out and check in despite me being very late for session for the first time in 168 sessions sent the message that I do not matter, that she is not interested, that she doesn’t care, that it’s not important to her, and that I am not worthy of her concern or curiosity.
I told her that I understand and respect her policies and methods, but it’s not enough for me. I said,
“I need you to fight for me! I need to know that we’re in this together and that you care. I need you to show me that I am worthy when I cannot believe I am worth it. I need to know you won’t just discard me if I am not able to be fully invested in the work or the relationship. Because therapeutic or not, I am only half of this relationship and if you won’t fight for me, or for us, then I feel completely alone and scared and worthless. And that is just not good enough!”
She sat quietly for a moment and then asked if I wanted to hear a response. I said no so we talked around it for a while but then she asked if she could say two things:
1. She was absolutely concerned and curious about where I was and why I wasn’t in session at 5pm.
2. She would have called if I had not shown up at all.
Then she reflected on her statement about the therapy session being my hour to do with as I please.
“That was just not an appropriate response because it doesn’t even address what you were bringing up by mentioning that I hadn’t called to check in.”
Then she spoke about how she uses something like lateness to explore underlying themes with clients. So she doesn’t like to interfere with attendance because she wants to allow the dynamic to play out as it needs to in order to bring it into the analysis.
“But I can see how it can come across as uncaring or coarse and I will think about that more for how it works or doesn’t work with you.”
She said all the right things and seemed genuinely interested and I could tell that she desperately wanted to connect with that deep trigger I was feeling. And maybe we did get to it a bit but I can’t really tell.
I don’t even know what I feel. Unfulfilled, I think. I needed something from her. I still need something from her. Not only am I unclear as to what that need is, I don’t believe I could get it met even if I did know.
It feels like this is all for nothing. These triggers, these huge emotional explosions that destabilize me and make my life feel chaotic and scary and lonely, are not okay.
I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep feeling this way – a way I cannot even seem to name or articulate.
It’s like dying of thirst when you don’t know what thirst is, let alone how to get water.
I have been thinking some more about what happened yesterday.
I know that being unintentionally late for my session was intensely triggering. But I also think that the way my therapist responded to my lateness added fuel to the shame fire.
I suppose I was sort of stunned that she seemed so unfazed and unconcerned by my lateness. Her response that the hour is mine to use however I want to use it is fundamentally true, but it wasn’t good enough.
What does that really mean? If I just never showed up again, would she even care? Am I so disposable that she can simply wash her hands of me if I stopped coming to sessions? Do I mean so little that she could simply walk away from me if I put up resistance?
Probably. And probably for good reason. But that is not cool.
I don’t necessarily think I wanted her to be in a state of panic about me being late. I have never been more than slightly late and I’ve never missed a session (even when I wanted to) because I am very cognizant of not being manipulative or doing too much communicating through “acting out” behaviors. There are moments when I want to behave in a way that would be provocative, but I work hard to avoid that because it never truly pays off.
However, her (apparent) utter indifference was startling. And this is something that I quite often feel from her. I am sure that if I spoke with her about it, she would deny indifference and give some eloquent explanation for why she responds the way she does.
But the truth is that I wanted her to fight for me.
And she didn’t. Which really hurts.
Her presence in my life is powerful. I have given her the privilege of getting to know me and our work together has allowed her to become part of my support system – a system that is vital to my ability to remain functional.
If it means so little to her, what does that mean for me?
I feel so alone.
Why won’t she fight for me?
Why am I not worth it?
Why do I not matter enough?
Today in session, I was telling my therapist that I feel like I’m at some sort of therapeutic plateau. I have come so far in terms of stability. I am in a good place – my life is overall quite wonderful. Of course there’s a lot I still struggle with, but that is entirely internal at this point. I have eliminated all sources of truly toxic or harmful external stresses. There is no one left in my life who can, or would, hurt me.
So, naturally, I feel a compulsion to continue to hurt myself.
During last night’s session, I nearly had a flashback. I think the only thing that stopped it was that I felt it coming on and mentioned that fact to my therapist. She told me that she knew it would annoy me, but that she was going to do what she needed to do in order to keep me “in the room” with her. For us, that means she asks a lot of grounding questions and makes a lot of grounding statements.
Why is this annoying? Because it feels like an abandonment. Not necessarily from me, but from the parts that are stuck in trauma time. I want to pull away from the memories and sensations, but unfortunately that means that I leave those traumatized parts stranded in their present-day torture.
Which sucks. But I just can’t do it. I can’t go there.