The “L” word Part I
So far all of the writing I have been doing here has concerned my healing history so to speak. Stories of work I have already done and lessons learned. I’m going to deviate from that and actually talk about what’s going on with me right now. Partially because I think it would be helpful for others to hear about it, but also because I am working through this and struggling to understand what it means and how it fits in my understanding of who I am. When I talk about the past, a past about which I have had a chance to reflect, the stories can come out in such an orderly fashion, like little perfectly wrapped packages with a gift bow when the reality was actually an experience of raw confusion. I thought it might be helpful to see the raw confusion as it was happening.
I’m going to talk about the “L” word. Yes, that four letter word we avoid like the black plague in therapy: Love. Have you ever noticed that the shorter the word in English, the more confusing talking about it’s meaning is? I mean the long words like antidisestablishmentarianism have very specific meanings. But say “God” or “love” or “happy” and suddenly you have a very long, complex conversation on your hands. So one thing I do want to note is that throughout this post when I discuss BN loving me, I very much mean it as a parental kind of love, a love which seeks my good, not in any romantic or erotic sense. I don’t believe that there is an erotic or romantic component to his love for me. But if there was, I’d be the last person on the planet to ever know about it anyway. But I’ve never picked up on anything along those lines.
I struggled for so long to even know that my relationship with the Boundary Ninja was a real one. Was this just some kind of persona he presented? Were his responses genuine or just what he has learned works over the years of his practice? Does he really think I’m the world’s biggest pain in the ass and shudder when he sees my name in his appointment book on that day’s schedule? Does he ever think of me outside those 50 minutes? I’m sure you have your own list of questions. I eventually came to believe that the relationship was a real one, and that it included liking and care and concern. I even had a close to certain belief that yes, the Boundary Ninja loved me. I mean, quite frankly, if what he was doing for me wasn’t love, then I didn’t know what love looked like. And by the time I stopped going regularly, I had formed a deep sense of trust in our connection. Of knowing that he was there and available if I needed him. That I could go back and talk to him about anything (which I have occasionally tested, I’ll have to tell the story of the book of poetry someday). But always I think I have carried this tiny doubt that wouldn’t QUITE let me trust that it was actually love.
A few weeks back, I ran across a post on a psychologist’s blog, Joseph Burgo, about Attachment Theory and the Healing Psychotherapy Relationship . His description of therapy and how it heals read like someone had sat in on my sessions with BN. But it was when I hit the last two paragraphs that it really gripped me.
Where I think I might diverge a bit from my colleagues — at least in what we’re willing to discuss in public — is that the truly healing relationship involves a kind of love and commitment on both sides. When I accept a new client, especially someone with grave difficulties, I take it seriously; the relationship may last for many years and the emotional demands will be large. If our work “takes hold,” my clients will attach to me in powerful ways. While the psychotherapy relationship means something different for each of the participants — it is, to a significant degree, about the client’s life and not mine — we both must care about it. And over time, we will come to love each other. It scares me to put those words down — I feel extremely vulnerable saying it.
While it’s not the same thing as the love between mother and baby, though it can never replace what was lacking, it is important and powerful. I would say that in many ways, it is this love that offers the greatest chance for healing. The brain may not have developed normally because the child lacked what it needed at a critical period, but love and understanding within a later therapy relationship can do quite a lot to repair the damage. Maybe my clients and I will never be “native speakers”, as it were, because, as infants, we didn’t get what we needed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t become proficient at the language.
My first reaction to reading this was to feel incredibly affirmed. What he wrote tracked SO closely to what I had experienced in therapy and how the healing had occurred for me, that surely this was true also. Here at last was the long sought confirmation that BN really did love me. What a wonderful feeling. I debated sending him the article but it felt a little scary and a little pointless. I mean, this was only confirming something I already thought was true, so what was the point? I knew he would never actually say the words, and somehow it felt like I would be putting him too much on the spot to bring it up.
This was further complicated by the fact that I was struggling with being hurt and angry by his failure to do something he had told me (or at least very strongly implied) he was going to do, which was to read this blog. (Yes, I am certifiably insane, we’ll talk about it later!) If it hasn’t been coming across clearly, I’m REALLY excited about writing this blog. In some ways, it feels like a culmination and an outgrowth of the work we had done together and it was really important to me that he see it. I had told him about it when I first started writing it and he was very supportive. The next time I saw him, he apologized and told me that he had not yet had a chance to read it yet, that he had been very busy. We talked about it a little and I told him that I was working on knowing it wasn’t about not wanting to read it, but his schedule and it was ok. But I kind of hung on to that “yet” (like a starving dog with a fresh steak). But time kept passing and nothing. It was hitting the end of January and I started this blog the beginning of October. I finally had to admit to myself that no matter how many times I told myself that his schedule was very busy, it was the holidays, he has a lot of patients and has a very generous contact policy, that I was feeling hurt and angry he had not yet read it. Which was a little confusing as I really, honestly, was not sure I had any right to expect him to read it. I mean, he spends at least eight hours a day IN therapy, why would he want to read about it in his free time? Especially since he was there for what I was writing about? Not to mention that he was still taking my phone calls and emails even though I wasn’t coming on a regular basis (I’ve been averaging about 4-6 weeks between sessions) so wasn’t it pretty obnoxious to expect MORE of his personal time?
But the bottom line was, feelings are feelings, I was hurt and angry. I also realized that a bitter feeling of “yeah, right it’s real, when in four months you can’t be bothered to look at something I told you was really important to me.” But when I stopped and really thought about it, I really did know that it didn’t have anything to do with him not wanting to read it; he’s been very supportive and excited for me about this. Which led me to the understanding that in any other relationship that was this important to me and that I trusted, I would be going to the person and expressing my feelings, so shouldn’t I do that with him also? So I emailed him and asked for an appointment. It took him a few days (for scheduling it sometimes can take that long, I used to get really twitchy about it but am happy to say I roll with it much better these days). So I was going in to talk to him about how I felt about him reading the blog.
But something else was going on. The article I had read stayed with me, even haunted me. And although initially my reaction was so positive, as time went by, it wasn’t so great. I started to feel very confused. There was grief and fear and I didn’t know what else. But I realized that any time I tried to go near my feelings surrounding what was said about a therapist and client coming to love each other, I would melt down. So I really wanted to talk to BN about it, but to be painfully blunt, I was terrified to do so. So I kind of kept doing the whole rationalization thing. I already knew he loved me, he had talked about a loving relationship in the past, what was the point of bringing it up, why not just let it go and file it under things that didn’t really need to come up? I mean, you don’t have time to talk about everything, right? Yes folks, I had gone Egyptian, I was living in denial.
So I went to the session fairly keyed up between needing to tell BN I was angry (never a favorite past time of mine and one he had worked VERY hard to get me to do) and debating whether I would bring up the article. I did have it up on my Ipad so that if I did decide to ask, I would have it ready to read.
He let me in, and we sat down and he asked how I was. And I told him I wasn’t quite sure why I was there, but I did have a starting point. Then I told him that I was angry and hurt that he had not read my blog. That it was really important to me and I wanted to share it with him and the last time we had talked about it he had said he hadn’t read it yet, which implied he planned to. That I could have handled it if he had told me he wasn’t going to read it, but the waiting was driving me nuts. That I wasn’t even sure I had a right to expect that he would read it, or to be angry that he hadn’t but it was how I was feeling and I knew I needed to tell him. He was, as always, very welcoming of my feelings. He told me that he knew how frightening it was to come and tell him this and that he really appreciated my openness. That he did feel bad about not reading it and he understood me being hurt and angry. (OK, funny thing, he really ran on for a while, I mean practically babbling for the Boundary Ninja and at one point mentioned his countertransference of feeling like a terrible person for not responding. I think he felt so bad that he kind of ran on. It was actually kind of endearing, if I wasn’t imagining it.) He told me that it was no excuse but January had been very busy, overly so, but at the same time it’s not like he had spent the last 47 hours in the office, he had done other things, like watched TV and gone skiing. That he had a list of stuff to get to, but that this made him realize that he needed to bump me up in importance so to speak.
He talked about how it could feel that to ask for what you needed or wanted made it feel invalid when you got it, (I hate when he reads my mind 🙂 ) but it’s not true; it’s important to make our needs known. That he really did want to read it or he would have told me, but he had to be honest and tell me that it became more important for him to get to it, knowing now how I felt about it. At one point, he said “I mean, I do feel bad about not reading it yet” to which I responded “good.” He accepted that crack very graciously and we laughed together. Then he said he felt bad but he wasn’t beating himself up over it either. And I told him I really wouldn’t want that.
He was very open about talking about how he felt and I did tell him that I was still sure of our connection but that bitter feeling of “don’t tell me it’s real, if you can’t even be bothered” was creeping up on me. But I told him that there are so many things I could list that he had done that said he cared about me and the relationship was real, which made me realize that if I was this angry and hurt in my other relationships, I would speak up. So I knew I needed to talk to him but that it would be ok. He said that he realized it could be hard to hold both feelings simultaneously, to be angry with him and yet know that the relationship was good. I readily agreed.
I experienced something that is very difficult to convey in words: how well we know each other and how open we can be with each other. BN talked about how weird it could get (he gave me a couple of examples of transference and countertransference we could have run into in this situation) if we were both walking on eggshells so it was important that we were honest with each other. Talking about it really helped and I was reasonably sure that at some point he was going to read the blog. 🙂
Somewhere in the middle of all that, I looked at his table and saw that my heart box was closed (it’s normally open so you can see the green stone heart in it). I stopped and half grinned and said to BN “ironically enough, my heart box is closed.” And BN said yeah, he had noticed that the other day, he didn’t know who had closed it. And then we sat for a beat or two and he said, “so do you want it open or closed?” I laughed and said “ah that is the question isn’t it?” and leaned forward and said, “I want it open” and opened it back up. Then BN said to me (with a huge grin) “thanks for waiting for me to ask, after all, it is mine now.” Very wonderful moment. I told him that it meant a lot to me to know it was on his table and I liked seeing it there when I came in. It didn’t hurt to hear him claiming my heart as his either.
At which point we moved on to discuss some issues I had run into as moderator on the psychcafe about which he was very helpful. At this stage in our relationship, there is somewhat of a mentoring factor. When I start bumping into my stuff in the new roles I’ve taken on, he is an excellent resource for sorting through what happened and how I could handle it better.
Somewhere in the middle of that discussion I realized that we were getting close to the end of the session (probably had about 20 minutes left) and I was avoiding bringing up Burgo’s blog. So I told him that there was something else I needed to talk to him about of which I was really scared but I was coming close to a “last minute bomb” so as soon as I told him one more thing, I wanted to talk about it.
We had circled back around and I told him that I really understood him not finding the time yet, as between the forum, the blog and my friendships I was working really hard to stay caught up. He response was to say “just because you understand doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be hurt or angry.” It’s pretty damn impressive how he won’t make any excuses for himself.
So, with my heart in my mouth (and I’m sure stark terror in my eyes) I opened my Ipad, told BN that I had read a post on a therapist’s blog about attachment that had contained a description that fit our work together perfectly and that I wanted to read the end of it to him. So I read him the last two paragraphs that I quoted above. Gentle readers, even I will admit I felt a twee bit brave doing this. 🙂
He was just unbelievably amazing (why am I still capable of being surprised by that?). When I was done reading, I told him that reading the part about the therapist and client coming to love each other made me feel really good and then it got really scary and I didn’t understand. I told him that I really did feel loved by him, and that I know he hadn’t said it and I didn’t think he should, so I wasn’t sure why this had thrown me so. I also told him that I had enjoyed the fact that in our work lately, it hadn’t been about our relationship and that had been nice, that it felt like I was moving on, so it was frustrating to be back dealing with something that felt like it had already been dealt with (or at least should have been by now).
BN told me that I didn’t have to figure it out alone (for the 352nd time). And then he told me that he very much agreed with the description; that this was a loving relationship, and the healing was accomplished by love. But to say “I love you” was tricky because it could be so hard to know what that meant both to the person saying it and to the person to whom it was said. That he knew how scary it was to talk on such a vulnerable level, and that he was very glad I did come to talk about it.
At some point in there, I totally lost it and was just sobbing while he talked to me. At one point he also said to me that I was much closer to working through this than I realized.
While he was talking about wanting to be loved and my dad, I connected and I told him that we had talked about that whole dynamic in which I moved towards dad because I wanted to be loved, but then I got abused, but I kept going back so I must have wanted the abuse. I told him I knew we had taken that belief out and smacked it around the office a few times but that there was a very deep emotional connection that wanting to be loved made me a bad person. To which he responded “what a horrible dilemma to feel that way.”
I told him, with my eyes still covered and still crying “thank you for being safe enough to bring this to” and he answered in a very gentle voice “thank you for talking about it.”
At that point I realized it was getting really late, and I said to BN “I’m sorry again for bringing this up so late in the session, I know I don’t normally do this” and he told me it really was ok but that it was time to end, as someone was waiting (we had actually started late, so the poor man was already running behind) and I told him I knew. So we started to get up and he stopped and looked directly at me and said “are you ok?” and I half smiled back and said “I will be.” We both got up and I told him that I wanted to make another appointment (I usually do not make one when I leave these days, just contact him when I want to come in) and then realized he was already at the appointment book and he said “oh yeah, I realize we need to talk more about this.” So we scheduled one for two weeks later, with apologies on his part that it couldn’t be sooner. Very warm handshake and he told me again that he appreciated me talking to him about this stuff and I told him I appreciated him appreciating it. 🙂 I was a bit of a mess since I left barely contained and cried all the way home, but in a relieved, it’s ok to feel this kind of way. I knew we had more to talk about but to bring that to him and for him to once again embrace what he is to me was so powerful. I had, once again, a feeling with which I am very familiar, an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I had been led to this man.
In my next post, I’ll talk about what happened at the next appointment. Until then, go gently with yourselves.
Continued in The “L” word Part II.
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