Love is the Answer

So I went back to see BN on Wednesday morning. Actually I went back to see BN on Tuesday evening for a couples’ session. I  mentioned it before, but my husband and I have decided to tackle some issues that we share, not a conflict, and thought that BN could help us. I was very focused on not making the couples’ session about my stuff. So focused in fact, that it wasn’t until the session was over that I realized just how shut down I was. It started to occur to me towards the end of the session because my husband was actually sharing some pretty powerful feelings in answer to a question that BN asked both of us. I had floated through with a pretty superficial answer and there was my DH reaching deep. That’s when I realized that I was pretty shut down. I actually felt kind of guilty about that, like I had lied. But it hit me that I had stayed so shut down because it felt like it was my only way to get through the appointment.

So when we left the session, at the end of which BN had warmly shaken my hand and said “see you soon,” by the time we reached the car, I was starting to fall apart. I then realized that I hadn’t been shut down ONLY so I wouldn’t derail our couples’ session, I was shut down because their was a deep terror welling up at the thought of going to see BN the following morning.

I have rarely been so clear about the transference. I deeply understood that this fear had nothing to do with the BN and my experience with him. What had he EVER done to engender this level of fear? And the answer was nothing. Yes, there have been small misattunements and human failures along that way (I am somehow more certain that things were often less than fun on his end of things), but BN has been characterized by his sensitivity, his compassion, his understanding, his empathy and his consistency. I recognized that this terror – this primal, wordless, deep sense of impending annihilation – had everything to do with what I had experienced with my father.

So I was simultaneously experiencing two levels of the relationship. The adult to adult “real” relationship in which I carry an absolute certainty of being able to trust this man. Literally, out of billions of people on the planet, he is the safest person I know. I trust another person or two as much (the DH certainly springs to mind) but BN is not only trustworthy. He also brings a deep understanding of my struggles and how they were formed and has walked through amazing depths of pain with me. I know he will not flinch from whatever I bring him.

But the other level is the symbolic, in which BN stands in place of my father and so carries the burden and legacy of all that my father did. And from this viewpoint, based on my extensive experience, I was doing the most foolhardy thing I could do. Going towards my caretaker, in the seemingly vain hope, that THIS time, despite all experience, it would turn out differently. How did any hope survive? How could I feel it still springing up within me, even while I tried to shove it away, knowing it would only increase the pain, when the inevitable betrayal occurred? Yet again.

After we arrived home and my husband had gone to bed, I literally sat and shook and trembled and cried for an hour so deep was my fear and anxiety. But my will was set. (OK, let’s be totally honest, I did allow myself to imagine calling BN’s service and leaving a message that I had started throwing up when I got home (I wanted to badly enough) and I must have a stomach virus and we would have to cancel. It helped when the panic got too intense).

I was not in good shape the next morning. I took my blanket with me (for those of you who do not know, I have a blanket I had gotten from the BN earlier in our work by trading a new one so I could take home the one from his office that was my security blanket, transitional object and containment field all rolled into one. I take it with me when I know that I will need “holding” during a session. And yes, my family calls me Linus. :)). I got there a little early and sat in the waiting room. BN opened the door at the usual time and let me in. I headed over and sat down and so did he. He opened with his usual “how are you doing?” and I answered as I reached for my blanket and wrapped it around me “aside from the uncontrollable shaking and not being able to breathe, I’m great!” I told him I would need a few minutes.

When I’m that scared, I will actually sit and try to ground myself by letting myself be as present as possible, knowing that I am in a safe place. BN has a fountain in his office, and I have always found the sound of it very comforting; I actually once said it was the “sound of safety.” So without consciously realizing it, as I sat there, I reached out for the sound of the fountain and met silence. My eyes popped open, my head jerked to the left only to see the fountain was gone, at which point my head snapped back around to look at BN and in slightly rising panic, say “where’s your fountain?! what happened to the fountain?!” BN smiled very gently and told me that it had broken down (later in the session he told me that the fountain actually hadn’t been there for about my last five sessions, I just hadn’t noticed it.) It was actually a little funny and helped in a weird way.

Before I started, I told BN that I was clear that these feelings were about the past, that I really understood I didn’t need to fear him. Because he is the quintessential T, he told me near the end of the appointment that I was being protective of him and didn’t need to be. We may have words about that later. 🙂

I explained to BN what I had went through after leaving the last session. That I rarely left our sessions not feeling better but this had been one of those times. That I was struggling in vain for a sense of connection. I told him that I had talked to a close friend and finally connected that these feelings were memories. That I was experiencing what it had been like to be torn between wanting so desperately to go towards my father for care and comfort and love, but being so terrified of being hurt and abused. I described it as being poised on a knife-edge, precariously and painfully balanced, with the need for love and closeness drawing me in one direction, balanced as powerfully with an opposing imperative to move away in order to stay safe. That to move even an inch in either direction, towards or away, was to court disaster and a plummet to my destruction. But that I was struggling to realize that while my need for love and closeness were legitimate and healthy, the danger was no longer true. I told him that it was very difficult to talk or express this (I do want to make it clear that this in no way flowed or was even this clear, I started and stopped and made a lot of futile gestures. There a lot of people in my life who would have paid good money to actually see me speechless for so long. :)). That I didn’t really want to talk; I just wanted to sit and experience that I wasn’t going to be abused, that it was safe to be there.

BN met me through this. I’m not sure how he knows the difference between me actually needing silence and space and when I’m avoiding but he has an uncanny ability to discern it. I found him poised at the perfect distance. Close enough that I could “feel” him even with my eyes closed and face covered (I was sneaking the occasional peek to see if he was, against all odds, still there) knowing that he was providing containment, that it was safe to allow myself to feel this and express it because he wouldn’t let it run wildly out of control. But he was also just far enough back, providing space and quiet, so that I could sit with my feelings and have the space to feel safe. In some ways, this is an almost impossible session to describe because it was the felt experience of NOT being alone, of being safe, despite feeling so scared, that healed.

As we talked about how I felt (or tried to) I finally came out with the understanding that my father was a horrible figure that embodied both salvation and annihilation. And a question sprang out from my core and I said to BN “how do you possibly deal with that? how do you deal with a person who is both redemption and destruction?” And he very gently asked one of his devastating questions. He said “what DID you do?” And that’s when I hit the core, which in some ways, I had been on a trajectory towards from the first day I met with BN.

So my answer almost burst out of me: “I went towards him, again and again and again, driven by my needs, knowing each time what would happen, and I hate myself for it. I hated myself every time for giving in. For going back, knowing I would be abused, but going anyway because my need was so overwhelming. I hated myself and I was so ashamed. Ashamed of my needs and my weakness at giving into them.” I broke down and sobbed. Then I said that I knew how wrong what I was saying was, that the truth was I was a child and that my needs were life and death, but my God, how strong were the feelings telling me otherwise. And then I managed to finally choke out my cri de coeur, that I knew it was impossible but what I would give to have had BN as a father instead of my own, to have experienced then the safety I had with him now.

When I hit that point, there is a deep relief mingled with the pain, loss and grief. It is freeing to finally just express how I feel, the deep longings, the shame, the self-hatred and the grief. They are the truth and mine, and I weary of acting like they are not there. And across from me sits a man who stays right beside me, and hears and accepts those feelings. He does not turn away, he does not condemn, he provides a quiet witness. And somehow these nightmares, exposed to the light of day, to an others loving gaze, dissipate into weak, powerless shadows.

I finally said to BN that I didn’t know what I needed or what I wanted, and he gently reminded me that earlier I had said I needed to sit and know I was safe. So we did that. When I had recovered enough to actually open my eyes (actually BN said to me that he couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or not and I told him I was occasionally peeking. So he encouraged me to keep them open as much as possible to experience that I was in the present and safe), we were able to talk about the whole dynamic. That my struggle about whether or not it was alright to come see him had been present throughout our work together. That I always wanted to leave before I wore out my welcome, and struggled with guilt about even coming to see him. That I had recreated the tension of wanting to both go towards my father and away from him in my struggling to decide if I should be coming to therapy or not.

I very sheepishly (finally) admitted that at least part of my “leaving” therapy was a very sophisticated version of “run away!” (OK, those of my friends in the audience who are thinking “well I could have told you that!” please permit yourselves several minutes of smugness. :)) BN very graciously pointed out that it was also important for me to experience that I had that control and that I could actually survive without him. I admitted that I felt a little silly, but was trying to have compassion on myself that I had needed to move away in order to work through this.

I asked BN how he could always tell the difference between when I really needed the space and when he needed to push me and he told me he didn’t really know. 🙂 But that part of it was that I showed him and told him when he got it right. I told him that I had really been able to feel him with me. He told me that he wasn’t sure that he completely understood everything that I had been feeling, but he could see the pain and the terror and the confusion, and my struggle to put to words to my experience.

There was an incredible sense of relief because the shame and fear, in which it felt like I had been swimming, were gone. Shame feels so endless until its power is broken, then you are left wondering why you gave it such power. It also hit me once again, that I could get so lost in thinking that the yearnings and pain are about here and now and wanting more beyond the boundaries, but when I went to the core and heard the cry of my heart, my longing was not about wanting BN now, it was about wanting to have had him then. That experiencing what I have with him now, illuminates what I did not have then and allows me to know what I grieve. It also provides the safe place in which to grieve and therefore heal.

I made an appointment for two weeks later. Oddly enough, not sure what I’m doing long-term, but decided I really didn’t need to know. At that moment, I realized that we had hit some very deep feelings and I wanted to know that I could come back to discuss anything that got stirred up in case there were aftershocks.

I was very tired but very relieved when I left. But the best part was the next morning. I ended up going to bed early and sleeping very soundly (which is getting to be a rarer thing as I get older) and woke up rested in the morning. Which was also my birthday. I was filled with such a sense of gratitude and looked forward to enjoying my day. You know how you never quite appreciate your health as much as when you’ve just gotten over the flu? I was marveling at a sense of joy and worth after fighting through such a tempest of shame. I am so grateful for all that I have in my life. So many people sent birthday wishes and cards and gifts and phone calls that it was impossible to feel anything but loved. I am humbled by the people I have been given who have helped me heal, I am grateful that we CAN heal. It was a fun day, full of silliness and laughter and a sense of well-being. All of which I value so much more for what it took to get here. It is in walking through the darkness that we learn to appreciate the light. And being loved is so much more precious for having experienced its absence.

BN had been right all along. Pain isn’t a part of love, it’s the answer to pain. I am grateful for both his love and the boundaries which contain and make safe that love. I’m learning to live with its truth. And live the truth that love is safe to move towards not only in BN, but in other people in my life. There are much worse things to do with your time.

  1. March 20, 2012 at 1:13 am

    I’m totally impressed by your strength, on one hand to be so honest, and on the other hand to admit to yourself what you admit to all of us. Really. I wrote about hope today and I think you’ve said in a different the same thing I was trying to:


  2. March 21, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    Hi Susanna,
    Welcome to my blog and thanks for reading. And yes, I totally agree, we were trying to say the same thing. Hope is so necessary, but sometimes we need to change what we are hoping for and we always have to work towards what it is we hope for.


    PS Did some reading on your blog and really enjoyed it.


  3. March 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    I struggle with fear in every therapy session pretty well. What you say about it may be true for me also. I trust my T, I feel attached, he gives me no reason to fear – yet I feel petrified going to see him. It’s fear of what has already happened.

    I’ve learned a lot from your blog AG, thanks for writing it!


    • March 22, 2012 at 9:11 pm

      Hi Ellen,
      I’m so glad that you commented, as it gives me a chance to thank you for adding me to your blog roll, I really appreciate it. I’ve been reading your blog and the way you describe your relationship with Ron sounds very familiar to me. I’m sorry, I know this can be really hellish and crazy making to work through. Those messages from our pasts are very powerful. It does get better though and it sounds like you have a good T. Thanks for taking the time to say thanks.



  4. Starry
    March 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    Boundaries and transference are the HARDEST things I’ve ever encountered!! Thank you so much for addressing both of these topics so openly and honestly – you really do give me hope. I’m quite sure my T thinks I’m OCD about him, and maybe I am, but I’m looking forward to feeling more peace about things and about his role in my life. Right now I feel very tumultuous inside.



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