Hmm, knowing it was love didn’t have quite the effect I expected.
Gentle readers, I am not in a good place. My reaction to not being in a good place is usually to go find a deep dark cave and hole up in there until I get the pain and hurt under control, but it’s an impulse I’ve been working on changing for a long time. So despite being in the midst of a Category-5 shame storm, I’d thought I’d talk about how I’m feeling instead. So if you’re reading this, thank you for listening.
I had no idea that in many ways, being ambiguous about whether the BN loved me or not was actually a form of protecting myself. I like the word “caring;” kept things a little more detached and at a safer distance. It’s probably why it took me so long to actually confront the topic. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve discussed love in the past and I have even told BN that I loved him, which he accepted graciously, acknowledging that in the kind of deep, intimate relationship we have in therapy, these feelings could occur and it was really ok to express them. I had even talked about my longings to be loved and wanting to know how he felt about me and there had been many in-depth discussions of the boundaries and how his feelings were to be kept out of the room so to speak. But taking him the article that I talked about in the “L” word posts was the first time I directly asked whether he loved me or not.
My expectation would have been that hearing a “yes” would be a wonderful thing, but like so many things in the therapeutic relationship, it turned out not to be that simple. 🙂 The symbolism and transference in the relationship rise up once again to make something that seems like it should be simple and straightforward, actually a difficult and painful passage.
The BN and I have discussed the whole dynamic with my father many times in the past .The longing to move towards him to get my needs met juxtaposed with the inevitability of being abused and hurt. Directly confronting the depth and reality of my relationship with BN seems to have opened a long closed lid on one of my oldest internal tupperware containers. That’s how I think of my unprocessed traumatic memories, that they’re stuffed in God’s tupperware, firmly sealed to keep them fresh, and put on a high, deep shelf, out of sight until I’m ready to take them down and deal with them. Which is based on some strange, internal, unconscious formula which I have never been able to understand, but through experience have come to trust.
I spent the weeks after my last session with BN feeling not so good and very confused. There’s been a lot of shame and guilt and a level of self-loathing and condemnation I was SO hoping to have left behind. It didn’t help that we had a disconnect about me emailing for an appointment and him leaving for vacation and not seeing it. I actually sent a *gasp* snippy email when I got a less than reassuring response (which being the boundary ninja he is, he ignored. If I’m upset, there’s no game playing, I have to come out and say it.)
I must confess that there’s also been a lot of “normal” stress between my husband’s work hours and my work hours (we’re putting out a release right now), coupled with a really rough phone shift in which I handled a really difficult rape call (ended up emailing the BN about that one, because ironically the fact that I was working on a phone line prevented my getting a call back. 🙂 He sent a great response).
In trying to cope with all this, I realized that I was, ONCE AGAIN, in a place where I was struggling with wanting to return to some kind of regular therapy appointment. I was thinking once a month, which was more an acknowledgement of reality rather than future plans, since I’ve been seeing him about once a month since around the holidays. But when I say I’m conflicted about it, that doesn’t begin to describe it. I have seriously come close to driving several close friends to madness with my struggles around this issue. The oddest part about it is I am the ONLY one having any problem with this. Everyone around me, whose opinion I respect, have been very clear that they see nothing wrong with me going back. As a matter of fact, most people see it as a positive thing.
By the time I was able to get in and see BN last Monday, I had almost forgotten why I was going in. But I decided to tackle the whole “I want to come back but can’t decide if it’s the right thing to do.” I was going on for a bit when I realized that I was speaking very quickly and throwing in all kinds of interesting, but unnecessary details (can anyone say “avoidance mechanism?”). I stopped and looked at the BN and we had this exchange:
AG: “I’m talking a lot and really fast aren’t I?”
BN: “What do you think that’s about?”
AG: “It usually means I’m trying to avoid something.”
BN: “What do you think you’re trying to avoid”
AG: “I don’t know, it’s like if I try to move towards it, the pain ramps up really quickly and I turn away”
BN: “What do you think the pain is about?”
We continued on in this vein for a while. Painfully, uncomfortably on for a while. I kept going in circles. with BN making it clear that it was ok to want to come in, it was ok to need to come in, it was ok to make an appointment, it was ok not to make one and call when I wanted to see him, etc, etc ad nauseum ad infinitum.
I told him that I was really frustrated that no one, including him, would tell me what to do! That I realized my thinking was distorted, because I was acting like there was a right answer out there, the “right” thing to do, but the truth was, there wasn’t a “right” answer. That if I decided to schedule appointments, I could do that for a while and see if it helped and if it didn’t, I could go back to calling. Or I could continue to just call for appointments and if that didn’t work, I could start scheduling. That no real harm would be done either way. But it didn’t FEEL that way, it felt like there were HUGE stakes involved in the decision.
BN then pretty much nailed it, as he has the annoying habit of doing. He talked about how I thought I was going to reach this place where I would no longer need, but it’s not possible. I HATE feeling needy and I was describing how it felt and BN said “needs always feel endless until they’re filled. Think about hunger, it feels endless until you get food. But if you know there’s plenty of food on hand, hunger doesn’t feel threatening. But you also don’t get a meal and expect to never eat again. This relationship isn’t about ‘ok, I’ve gotten my needs met, now I’ll end it and never need again.’ If you said you were starving and could eat five trees and someone gave you five trees, you’d feel good for awhile, but a month later you could eat six trees. You are going to have needs that you will need other people to meet.” At one point when we were talking about how I “ended” therapy, he gently reminded me that it was my idea to do that, not his. (Honestly, he did what he could to talk me out of it while really respecting that it was my choice and without telling me what to do. Because evidently if he actually told me what to do, the Universe As We Know It would cease to exist. Damn boundaries! :))
So we hit the end of the appointment (actually ran a little over) and he asked if I wanted to make an appointment? Or I could just contact him if I wanted another one? He made it clear that either way was really ok with him. I literally COULD NOT decide. Whichever way I went felt WRONG and threatening. I finally looked at him and said I just didn’t know. To which, in true therapist fashion, he said “ok, you’re deciding not to decide.” So I told him that I would get in touch with him if I decided to come in and it might be in an hour. (OK it was 24 *roll eyes*). As we walked to the door to say goodbye, he thanked me again for talking about how I was feeling. As I shook his hand, I told him that he should look into professional help. He just smiled and said “I’m good.” 🙂
It is very, very rare that I leave a session with BN NOT feeling better, but this was one of those rare occasions. I felt absolutely awful. It felt like it had been impossible to connect with him, and despite his having assured me during the session that he was fine and not feeling pressured, there was such a strong feeling of my being too much, and too needy and exasperating. I actually told him that I was sure that someday I would reach that magic point where his head actually exploded from dealing with me.
I ended up calling a friend that night because I was struggling so much and in the course of the conversation, I finally realized what was going on. These feelings weren’t about now and whether or not I was going to go back to regular appointments, these were memories of feelings. (Is it too much to ask, that ONCE, just ONCE, my feelings turned out to actually be ABOUT the BN INSTEAD of my past? Hmmmm?) I was remembering the exquisite agony of being desperate for love and connection and wanting to move towards my father, while experiencing an equally strong terror of moving towards my father knowing the abuse that would happen. It was like standing on a knife’s edge, so delicately balanced, but standing in a place of pain. To sway, even slightly in one direction, was to experience an overwhelming sense of “wrongness.” It felt like my only choice was to remain perfectly poised between the two choices; paralyzed by indecision. (And I wonder why I froze and dissociated? Geesh!)
Once I connected with that, my course became clear. The danger of going closer to my father was very real, but it’s not dangerous to go towards BN. So I called him and told him that despite how clear he had been at the session, I needed reassurance that we were really ok (I acknowledged that these were my feelings and had nothing to do with his behavior, I knew he had been the same steady presence he always is) and that I wanted to make an appointment. He offered me next Wednesday at 9:30 AM and then asked if that was ok, did I need to get in this week? Which meant a lot to me because I know his schedule well enough to know that he would either have had to reschedule someone else or come in early or stay late to add one. I told him I would be fine until Wednesday (in another piece of irony- the irony fairy is working overtime around me right now-my husband and I have our first couples’ appointment in over a year and a half next Tuesday night. Just for the record, things are good between us, we’re just tacking an issue together with which we want some help.)
OK, you’re thinking. So you FINALLY made up your mind, you called, he gave you an appointment, so what’s the deal? Here’s the thing, I know cognitively that BN is safe, that moving towards him because I need to be able to talk about these feelings is actually a good and healthy thing to do. BUT… my experience as a child was that I kept going back to my father because of my needs and getting abused. So, as a child, I got confused and thought that meant I wanted the abuse to happen, which made me a terrible person, the result being that I became horribly ashamed of my needs and my moving closer. I should add that this was much more of a felt thing and not a reasoned thing, as my experiences happened before I had sophisticated enough cognitive abilities to think this through, my sense of this has been pieced together from my feelings. So yeah, my frontal cortex gets that this is the right thing to do, but try telling that to my hamster amygdala.
What I am doing, going back to see BN, moving towards his love, feels SO very wrong, that I am a repulsive, evil person for doing so and that I am unfit for human contact. There is such a deep sense of shame and unworthiness and above all, that most hated neediness. I can barely stand to be around myself, but being around other people feels terrible also, because how could they possibly stand me? I know this thinking is wrong, I keep pushing the inner critic away (and telling it to shut the —- up!) but it’s a constant battle. As I mentioned earlier, I want to hide from everyone, but I know it’s not the right thing to do. So I am trying to reach out and let people around me know how I am feeling (which is a big part of the reason you are presently reading about this). Everyone is being incredibly kind and understanding (which just makes me feel like they can’t see me clearly.) And the fact that I keep feeling this way despite their efforts, makes me feel like even more of a burden. And off we go on lap 257. UGH.
But I know this is the right thing to do. I need to go to BN, make my needs known, be vulnerable and then I am going to sit there and take in that he is not exploiting my needs, or using them to hurt me, or abusing me in any way. That I am not a bad person for wanting to move closer to his care, and that it’s actually the right thing to do. Who knows, maybe I’ll even make another appointment before I leave.
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