The “L” word Part II
This is the second part of a two-part series, for part I see The “L” word Part I.
Before I tell you about what happened in the follow-up session (hey, no whining, I had to wait for two weeks! 🙂 ), I want to talk about what happened in between. Because therapy doesn’t just happen in your therapist’s office; your sessions are actually the tip of an iceberg. The part below the surface is all the processing and integration you do between sessions as you consider what was said and how it fits and consider what you want to talk about next time. For me, therapy can often feel like one long conversation, punctuated with long pauses, during which I’m doing a lot of thinking about what got said.
So as you can imagine, it was a relief to have the subject out there and the topic breached. As I wrote to a friend, I spent the next two weeks, in a “weird head space.” Talking to BN about love in the relationship seems to have hit something really deep. I spent half of my time stunned that BN was so accepting and affirming about the love in the relationship and the other half terrified at the thought that he really loves me. It once again evoked some of the pain of the boundaries and my endless quest to define just what this relationship is. In some ways, my relationship with him goes so deep that it just defies definition. It just is, I have no way to characterize it. So, for lack of better words, it’s like I’m in my mind, looking for the right place to put our relationship down but every table top or shelf I approach, as I go to place it there, it’s like “nope, that’s not quite it, it’s not THAT kind of relationship.” So I am standing with my hands full of this amazing thing that I have no idea what to do with. The uniqueness of the therapeutic relationship can sometimes cause a lot of confusion.
But somehow having it confirmed, saying that it was love and having BN agree, kicked up a whole lot of stuff. Emotions from such early experiences that they are inchoate, and very difficult to express. When I’m feeling really confused and am not understanding how I feel, I often turn to journaling. It had actually been a long while since I had done so, but I got my journal out and just started writing. I always hand write in my journal and I know from experience that if I start writing and do not edit my thoughts (no one else EVER reads my journal), I will often be able to make connections and forge new understandings. This was no exception. I ended up writing out a lot of surprising (and fairly warped) beliefs that I held on a very deep level about being loved.
So I was all over the emotional map in the interim, but as always happens, the time eventually passed. Which was good because I really did feel like I needed to talk more with BN about this. 🙂
The BN schedules on the half hour, but usually lets me in at 40 past the hour. I usually try to arrive on the half hour, as I like to have some time to transition into the therapy space, so to speak. I headed down on time and had just sat down figuring I had around 10 minutes and BN opened the door less than a minute later. We said the usual good mornings. Then I told him that I realized we had left things off in a pretty intense place but I was kind of feeling like “now what did I come to talk about?” but that I thought that was probably because I was pretty shut down. BN said what he always says, which is “take your time.” So I told him that I had done some journaling and unearthed a lot of interesting beliefs about love.
I told him that these were buried pretty far down and that there was nothing really new, but it felt deeper. We have often discussed the whole dynamic of moving closer to my dad in an attempt to get what I needed, but having it turn out abusive. But my needs kept driving me back, so I came to believe I wanted the abuse, so I must be a bad person. So what I realized I believed was that I that I felt like a bad person for wanting to be loved (we had actually touched on that the week before). I also uncovered the belief if I looked away from him, he’d stop loving me, that I had to stay and keep an eye on him to make sure he didn’t go away (classic case of anxious attachment behavior). That the instant I believed he loved me, he would hurt me, after all, my father said he loved me and he hurt me. That when I believed he loved me, it would disappear. You get the trend I’m sure.
So BN asked me what could we tie this to, what had happened so that I would feel this way? He answered his own question (a rarity!) into the dynamic with my dad (which I was already aware of) but (and this gets really hard to describe) we just went really deep into this kind of implicit relational understanding, per-verbal kind of stuff. The feelings that came up were very intense and very difficult to articulate. BN ended up doing a LOT of the talking (we’re usually about evenly split or biased in my direction). He started describing the confusion that would happen when I would go towards my father, longing for love with every fiber of my being and then it turning into something horrible and overwhelming. As he started to tie it all in, as he put words to my experience, I started crying. So I kind of sat there, weeping with my face covered most of the time, trying to nod occasionally to let him know he was getting it right. That went on for a good chunk of time.
At one point I told him this felt more like deep internal tidal pulls rather than emotions. He talked about metaphors being my way of integrating an experience that he thought was how I learned to experience relationships before I had any way to describe or understand what was going on. That it was important to feel this and be able to understand and fit it into my narrative. He talked about what good work I’ve been doing getting through this, that a lot of people quit before they’ll go there. It’s hard for me to hang on to but he really emphasized that this was a continuation of my work, not a regression.
It was such a gift to have BN sitting there giving voice to what I was feeling inside. We finally hit a point where I told him that it felt like someone had taken a large cauldron and poured in love, fear, and shame and thoroughly mixed them, such that it felt impossible to separate them back out. That I was sitting there feeling ashamed for wanting to be loved, feeling ashamed of loving him and even feeling ashamed that we were discussing love.
BN was talking about disruption and repair, that we learn to tolerate disruption when it’s repaired quickly. That quick repair is what teaches us that we can be safe in relationship even when we’re hurt. And he made it really clear (again) that he thought it was a really good thing that I came to him and expressed my anger and hurt over the blog, and that’s when a light bulb kind of went off for me that I was learning that our relationship was good and intact and secure but that BN really is human (!) and sometimes even he will hurt me (despite how clearly he tries not to). Holding both those things at once, ignites this deep down stew of shame and fear wrapped around my sense of being loved and being in relationship. I actually looked at BN at one point and said “OMG, the safer I feel the scarier it gets!” and he said, “exactly it’s what makes it so very hellish to heal from this.”
At some point, BN told me that he had looked at my blog. We discussed it for a while and I’ll just say he said some very nice things. He thanked me for the very kind words about him, that it was an interesting experience to have this coming back at him. (It became obvious from what he was saying that he had read the “Therapy isn’t enough” post so I went back and re-read it. Thank heaven I didn’t remember a lot of details then and there or I would have turned bright scarlet for the rest of the session. I forgot I said QUITE so much in there about him. :)) It was kind of clear he agreed with what I wrote. It was also really clear he had spent some time with it. I grinned like an idiot and told him I really appreciated him taking the time to read it.
We went back to talking about love and I brought up BN telling me that it’s like when our kids ask us “why do you love me” there’s really no answer except “I just do;” that it made me realize I wasn’t doing anything to earn his love which meant I could lose it. I have no control over it’s continuing and that terrified me. That it was also painful to realize that if he loved me, than I AM loveable so why didn’t my dad? I was facing the difficult reality that my own father had chosen not to love me. Which is when I think I really went to the core of the issue. I finally looked at him and said “there’s one question wailing away deep down inside me, you talked about my taking anything my kids threw at me, that it’s what a parent does. But I’m their mother. You’ve taken everything I’ve thrown at you and I don’t understand. It’s not about you being paid, there’s not enough money in the world to buy that. Yet you’ve done that for me. Why? Why would you possibly love me?”
BN did not miss a beat, his answer came back without hesitation. He very gently said “you let me.” Cue Niagara Falls. Seriously, I started sobbing really hard, but not in that shut down kind of way. It was much noisier than usual and a lot more like a small child. It was tremendously powerful, in some ways it’s still reverberating. Not the least of which is that by saying that BN was also saying he loved me. He stayed with me and gave me a few minutes, then started talking about the movie the Breakfast Club and how when Molly Ringwald (who was the cheerleader, popular type) started doing Ally Sheedy’s makeup (she was a goth, outsider, whose hair was always in her face) and Ally Sheedy looked at her and said “why are you being so nice to me,” Molly Ringwald answered her “because you’re letting me.”
When most of the crying had run its course, I looked up at him and said “Really? In that end it’s that simple? Notice I did not say easy, I said simple!”
So I really experienced that BN really does love me, he’s not going to hurt me the way my dad did, and… ok this is going to sound really weird. It’s not that he gave me what I didn’t get BUT I have learned and healed enough to get what I need now. He told me at one point that he was really sorry I that I had to experience this.
We parted with a warm handshake (honestly it was really difficult not to just hug him because it had been such an incredibly intimate session) and we told each other take care. I felt kind of stunned and very Zen calm. I had told BN near the end of the session that I was feeling a lot better. Then added that I felt like I could sleep for about a week. I was so wiped, it was like my brain was dribbling out my ears.
I ended up sending him an email later that day thanking him because I felt safe and loved. That I knew it wouldn’t last forever, but now I had experienced that and it would come again. I went to bed expecting to crash and sleep like a baby and then didn’t sleep well. When I got up the next morning, I was feeling not great and when I stopped to check in, it just felt like there was this left over stirred up grief. I was also feeling really scared, like I just needed BN. It was pretty strong, so I finally broke down and called him. He called back seriously quickly and I started out by saying that “feeling safe and loved hadn’t lasted nearly as long as I expected.” He cracked up at that which was nice. Then I told him that I really didn’t know why I was calling, that it felt like there was grief and I didn’t know what I wanted from him but that I just needed him. He was very warm and accepting and told me that he thought it was exactly the dynamic we had talked about, that feeling loved was kicking up all that fear and shame and I was scared he wasn’t going to be there. It was a pretty quick phone call. When I hung up, it was like all this stored stuff just came welling up and I ended up almost “keening.” I was rocking back and forth and kind of wordlessly screaming for a while. I think I terrified my poor dog (I was working at home that day). I felt worn out when I was done, but much calmer.
It is humbling to know what he’s willing to give me. It feels like I’ll never be able to do enough to say thank you. I said that to BN at one point, just how very difficult it is to express how grateful I am and he told me that when he read the blog and saw how I was helping other people, that provided thanks enough.
I wish I had a neat ending to provide, but honestly, I am still struggling to assimilate this and deal with the intense feelings kicked up. I keep thinking that I have dealt with the longing to have my unfulfilled needs met, that I have mourned those losses and let them go, but it feels like I am once again struggling with completely letting go. My on-again, off-again anger at the boundaries is moving through me. As in, yes, he loves me, but only for 50 minutes at a time. I think I am once again dealing with my enraged child inside who really doesn’t want to accept that she just cannot have what she wants.
There is such a dichotomy, because on one hand I am so very conscious of the incredibly priceless gift that BN’s love and acceptance is to me. It is so much more than I ever expected to have or believed I deserved; to know that I am loved AND safe. It is so much more than many people will ever know. I am grateful beyond my ability to begin to express it. It is a gift and freely given, and as I said earlier, I have to struggle with what to do with that. On the other hand, despite how overwhelming it is, it still comes up short. I am still left with a terrible loss. There are moments when I could almost hate BN for showing me exactly what it is that I lost: Having a father like him. Holding both emotions at the same time can feel…uncomfortable and confusing. But also like I am continuing to grow.
But at least I have the process down now, which is that I need to go and talk about these feelings with someone who can accept and understand them. So I emailed BN yesterday, and despite feeling rather pathetic about it (ah, yet another post for another day), I’m waiting to hear back about an appointment.
So this is what my healing looks like in all it’s messiness and confusion. Thank you for reading this, for providing me with a place to speak of it. I hope that even if it doesn’t provide answers, that maybe it can help someone feel less alone in their own struggles.
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