Anger and Layers

Last week seemed to be all about patience and trust. With myself, with my therapist, with the whole process.

Since the last couple of weeks have been wrought with various ruptures and challenges within therapy and the therapeutic relationship, I’ve been exhausted and detached from the entire experience.

But I think that’s okay. And maybe even a good thing.

I wrote about Thursday’s session being a lovely conversation. I felt more like me in that hour than I’ve felt in a very long time. I was calm and able to be both authentic and vulnerable with my therapist. I felt like we were attuned to each other and in sync.

Friday’s session was also nice. My appointment was right after a nine hour professional conference, so I showed up in a suit and completely burned out from a day of heightened social interactions. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to talk about very much in that state, but we were able to pick up on the good energy of the session on Thursday and flow with it.

Continue reading

Appropriate and Necessary

I opened yesterday’s session by commenting on how much contact my therapist and I have had over the past week:

“Do you know that we talked for four and a half hours last week?”

“Oh, really? Is that…you mean, with the three sessions and the phone calls?”

“Yes.”

“You did the math?”

“Yes.”

“How do you feel about that? About last week and how much we talked?”

I told her that I was surprised I’d had that much to talk about; that I could fill that much time. I shared that I thought it was really helpful and she agreed. She said that I’d had a difficult week and thus I needed the added support.

I said, “Right. I mean, you know, I think it was appropriate…and necessary.”

“Necessary?”

Continue reading

Threatened/Threatening

Therapy has been a strange experience recently.

A good kind of strange, I think, but still unsettling. This feeling mostly revolves around the burgeoning attachment I seem to have for the therapist…my therapist.

It has been a very slow burn for us. After all that happened with a previous therapist, I was beyond hesitant to build a new therapeutic relationship. I went into this one guarded, scared, and pessimistic as hell. I held my hopes at a fairly low level to (try to) decrease the repercussions from the abandonment/betrayal that I saw as inevitable.

But relationships are always shifting. And slowly, over a period of just over nine months, we have gotten to know each other. We’ve had our fair share of rupture and repair and, from those experiences, we have gained a certain amount of trust in each other. She has repeatedly proven herself committed, interested, and (most importantly) capable. I often find myself annoyed by her ability to meet my needs, either before I even know what they are, or directly after I express them.

I don’t know why that annoys me. Probably because it is so utterly unfamiliar. And, as a human being, I fear the unknown.

Continue reading

Finding What I Needed

So I didn’t ask for what I needed. Well, not exactly anyway. I did talk about asking for what I needed. Turns out I still wasn’t entirely sure what that was. It also turns out that there was a lot more emotion behind all of this than I realized.

I was a few minutes late for session. On purpose. I spent the train ride to her office gently crying and I couldn’t figure out why. When I stepped onto the street, I sat down on a bench and pulled out a piece of paper. I just let myself write freely, in any handwriting or vernacular that came out. It was three different styles of handwriting that were expressing one very big emotion: fear.

Once I got those words out, I tucked the note into my “therapy folder” and walked as slowly as possible to her actual office. When I buzzed in and walked into the waiting room, her door was wide open. She was waiting for me. I sauntered in and sat down, immediately declaring that I was late on purpose: “I am passive-aggressively late today.”

She quietly laughed. “Okay. Well what is it that you’re protesting? Could it be related to my upcoming vacation?”

Of course she was right. She asked me what I was feeling about that and I said mostly fear. And helplessness. I felt incredibly resistant to sharing the honest truth with her – that I wanted to ask for something to help me hold onto the work, the space, and her. I talked about how therapy vacations are a bizzarre and necessary evil. I explained that I know she needs time off and that it’s good for the work to have some breathing room. But it’s still strange.

Continue reading

Asking for What I Need

I mentioned yesterday that the therapist asked if there was anything else she could do to help bridge the time between sessions while she’s on vacation (i.e. besides being available by phone). At the time I just said no because I couldn’t think of anything, and she said that was was open to talking about it more.

It wasn’t until I’d written and published my last post that I remembered that other bloggers have asked their therapists to write them short handwritten notes. This is something Zooey did on two separate occasions, unprompted. She wrote a letter to Julia (the same day we somehow ended up inpatient) and she wrote a card out to all of us that she gave me the last session before I went to the trauma program.

So I suppose I might associate therapist notes with abandonment and bad choices? Who knows.

Either way, I’ve been wondering if this isn’t something I should ask for in session today. I think if I did, she would probably ask me what, specifically, I wanted her to write. I’m not sure I know what would be helpful. I can’t really think of anything. Or perhaps it feels too vulnerable to be that open?

But I do think having something to physically hold and look at would probably be a useful thing to have. I feel pretty solid overall right now and the past week has been rather calm and settled, but I have no idea how next week will be. I don’t want to find myself in the middle of her vacation wishing I’d had the courage to ask for something I needed.

But what do I need?

I guess I need her reassurance. I’m not sure she’d give me that, though. She won’t promise me anything, nor should she. I don’t think I need her promises. But then what else would be reassuring? Maybe just knowing that our relationship doesn’t disappear when we’re not having sessions?

It feels very primal, this need. Which is maybe why it’s so hard to verbalize.

Any ideas? Suggestions? Anything that worked well for you?

Talking Through Impasse

I brought my concerns about our recent therapeutic impasse into session on Monday. I altered the post so that it read as a letter directly to the therapist. I felt that would be a better way to communicate than to give her this information in a strange third-person manner.

She was incredibly receptive to what I wrote. She felt I explained myself very well and she said that having such information really helps her better understand what is going on with me in those moments. She further explained that she had also spent the weekend thinking about this and brainstorming different ways to respond to me that might be less triggering for me, which I appreciated.

Then she explained that although the goal is certainly not to trigger me or cause me to feel as though I’m being abused again in any way, it’s also very important that we’re “bringing my family into session”. Meaning that part of the work is in having these triggers come up and identifying the historical components of them. She feels that it is crucial that we stay with the authentic emotions of the moment and work through them together.

So she wants to be supportive of me, but she also wants to encourage me to face the trigger and allow it to play out however it needs to within the therapeutic space. That gives us a chance to really explore what’s going on and to help me find different ways of reacting and responding to similar triggers. All of which would help me feel less distressed in the long run. But it also means that there will need to be times when sessions will be very uncomfortable or painful for me.

Continue reading

THIS!

I just finished reading Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. It’s an absolutely brilliant book, but since I don’t have a tremendous amount of free time to leisure read with all of my classwork, it’s taken me months to get through it. Still, I tried to open the e-book on my iPad during longer train rides to sneak a quick read and give my brain a break from school-related reading. I came across this passage recently, which seems incredibly relevant to the current struggles I’m having in therapy:

While human contact and attunement are the wellspring of physiological self-regulation, the promise of closeness often evokes fear of getting hurt, betrayed, and abandoned. Shame plays an important role in this: “You will find out how rotten and disgusting I am and dump me as soon as you really get to know me.” Unresolved trauma can take a terrible toll on relationships. If your heart is still broken because you were assaulted by someone you loved, you are likely to be preoccupied with not getting hurt again and fear opening up to someone new. In fact, you may unwittingly try to hurt them before they have a chance to hurt you.

This poses a real challenge for recovery. Once you recognize that posttraumatic reactions started off as efforts to save your life, you may gather the courage to face your inner music (or cacophony), but you will need help to do so. You have to find someone you can trust enough to accompany you, someone who can safely hold your feelings and help you listen to the painful messages from your emotional brain. You need a guide who is not afraid of your terror and who can contain your darkest rage, someone who can safeguard the wholeness of you while you explore the fragmented experiences that you had to keep a secret from yourself for so long. Most traumatized individuals need an anchor and a great deal of coaching to do this work.

I sort of just want to bring this excerpt into session with me and say,
“THIS! Can you do THIS?!”

She Is Not Zooey

When the therapist called to check in on Friday night, I was a total mess. Not only because of all the internal chaos, switching, and overwhelming emotions that had brought me into (mild) crisis, but also due to the triggering nature of being in such a situation, needing a therapist to call me. Again.

I felt this so intensely that it was hard to even talk to her. She kept asking me what I was feeling, what I was thinking, what was going on with me? I gave these deliberately vague answers. Eventually, she said “I really want you to be honest with me.”

“I want that, too. I want to be really authentic and open about what is going on. But I also want to say what you want me to say. So I’m trying to figure out how to share honestly, but at the same time – I also want to answer you in the way I think you want me to answer. But, also, it feels really important that I tell you the truth…”

“Yes, I want you to feel like you can tell me what’s really going on with you. I think we’ll be able to figure this out together if I have a better sense of what is going on right now.”

After that I was able to talk a little more openly, but that same feeling kept creeping back in. Especially when she would say something particularly validating or to indicate that she was committed to working with me. You’d think that’s exactly what I would want to hear (and I do) but it is SO TRIGGERING because I immediately snap back to similar moments of being on the phone with Zooey. She said almost identical things to me in moments of distress.

Continue reading

We Have Time

I thought a lot about how things have gone in the last couple of sessions. I think part of the problem is that I have so much trouble sitting with uncomfortable emotions, particularly in silence. I know that she utilizes silence as a way to create space and allow both herself and her clients to process what has been discussed, but I don’t use it that way. Instead, I build up tremendous pressure about what to say next – will it be what she wants me to say? Will she think it’s lame? Once it comes out of my mouth, will I think it’s lame? In all of this worry around speaking, I end up completely trapping myself into a space that I can’t get out of.

And last session, I did the same thing to the therapist. I trapped her. I put her into an impossible situation for which there was no solution and I knew it. Nothing that she said or did could have made me feel better. And I think, in a way, that’s what I wanted – to bring her into that space with me so that, even if only for a moment, I wasn’t alone with it.

It worked. She told me during yesterday’s session that she did feel trapped and as though there was nothing she could do to help me. But she also said that it was okay and that being in that space – really feeling what that moment felt like for me – allowed her a small (but important) glimpse into what it must have been like to grow up; that feeling of being trapped and angry and confused and frightened all at once. She said that she felt the absolute helplessness and hopelessness that I had probably felt a million times and although it was difficult for us to stay in that moment together, we did.

Continue reading

Beyond Being Stuck

I’ve been reflecting more on yesterday’s post. Some of you asked if I was truly feeling “stuck” or perhaps something else? I think you’re onto something there. It feels like being stuck, but I’m not sure that’s the most accurate way to describe what’s happening.

Which is a couple of things, really.

First of all, as someone pointed out – this may very well be a test that the System is using to gauge the true reliability and trustworthiness of this therapist. I would defnitely agree with that. They have many reasons to do so. I certainly don’t blame them, but it tends to cause a lot of interference in session when I am trying to speak as Andi and receive all this frantic input from Others, causing me to question virtually everything I say. I don’t know how long this “testing period” will last for. And I sincerely hope this is a test the therapist can actually pass. Somtimes we set up tests because we know people will fail them. It’s a way to prevent them from getting closer to us without actually having to talk about it or work through it. We just get to throw up our hands and say, “See! You couldn’t do this after all!”

I don’t want to do that again.

Also, because there is so much conflicting emotion around the very idea of being in therapy, I think that is where a lot of my frustration comes from. I am not always the strongest Part when in that office. Or, I am, but I’m up against more than one Insider – which puts the odds against me. It’s so hard to push through all of that noise and chaos to even figure out what I’m feeling or thinking on my own. I think that’s where a lot of my confusion and helplessness comes from. And I also believe that my intense fear and need to defend myself comes from the Parts whose job it is to protect the System. They are ensuring I don’t get hurt (even if that ends up leaving me feeling utterly abandoned and alone). Or, the increased activity of introjects – who are working overtime to protect the secrets (and our abusers) – may be creating an additional strain on the conversations.

Continue reading