I saw BN today. The day did not start well. I was holding down a lot of terror because despite knowing better, there was a deep feeling of dread about what I would find when I walked into his office. I knew I was overreacting by being convinced that the relationship was beyond repair, but try telling that to my hamster amygdala. Which is also deaf, I believe. 🙂 And as if the terror was not enough on its own, I woke to a continuation of a difficult situation with which I have been dealing. I do not mean to be coy, dear readers, but this particular problem involves not just my privacy, which I have every right to set aside if I wish to, but also other parties for whom I cannot make that decision. So if I sound a little vague at points, you’re not imagining it.
So I drove to BN’s office in a very focused manner, as when I am feeling this scared about an upcoming session, I have this habit of overlooking a necessary highway change, the correction of which can be quite costly in terms of time. I was running a little late because I had stopped for a cup of coffee at what seemed to be the most popular drive through for a 50 mile radius judging by the line of cars. But I had been so nervous, I hadn’t really slept all that well the night before and we were out of caffeinated coffee at home. I was not going into the lion’s den unfortified, or even worse, unconscious. 🙂 So when I arrived, I headed upstairs as quickly as possible and settled in the waiting room.
In just a few minutes, BN opened his door and said my name. I got up to walk in, braced for my execution, only to realize that BN was smiling and welcoming me in. “That’s strange,” I thought, “doesn’t he realize we’re in the middle of an awful disruption?” He asked how I was and I told him as I sat down that I had a lot of things I needed to talk to him about but needed to let him know about what had happened that morning in the difficult situation (DS) because I knew that it was upsetting me. He said it was fine to deal with that if it was what was on my mind and I told him that I felt there were other things more important to talk about. Then I started crying. BN said, as always, and as gently, “take your time.”
I managed to choke out that I was REALLY scared, that I wasn’t sure if he was aware, but that I ended up in a bad place after the phone call on Friday. That it was extremely short; that the reason I had wanted an earlier appointment in the first place, was that I had felt a shift in our relationship. I was very uncertain if that feeling was generated solely out of my fear and distorted perceptions or if I was picking up on something that had happened with him that might or might not have anything to do with me. I told him that I needed his input so that I could figure out what was mine. I explained to him that I had not expected a reply to my apology email, so I was pleasantly surprised to receive one, only to be upset to find it contained only the one word, “thanks.” That I had gone straight to a very bad interpretation because I had no idea what he meant, which is when I decided to call. But the call had been so brief that when I got off the phone I went into a deep attachment freak out and had spent Friday is a dissociative state the like of which I had not experienced for years.
At that point, I really choked and couldn’t talk for a minute. Finally, head down, face covered, eyes closed, and still crying (just picture a copious amount of kleenex being consumed for the rest of this narrative), I said “I really need to know that we’re ok before I can go on.” To which BN replied “do you mean right now?” And I said “yes, it really feels like something is wrong, I came in today expecting to find you very angry and stern and that you would tell me we were done working together.”
BN’s response to that was something he very rarely does, and had never done quite so directly as on this occasion. He told me that if I could manage it, it was important that I look at him. That it would be difficult for me to take anything in, or to feel he wasn’t going away if I was not present. I kept trying to make eye contact and was pushing it so hard, that BN added “that wasn’t meant as a judgement, I understand if you can’t do it, I just wanted to encourage you to try.” I told him I knew it would be good, but I evidently couldn’t make it past his kneecaps. (I almost added that I usually wasn’t adverse to looking at him, but it somehow didn’t seem the right moment for a wisecrack, so I actually stopped that one before it hit my mouth. :)) BN then asked one of his typically astute questions “what’s stopping you? what does it feel like?” I love the way he can stop me in my tracks and suddenly open up an unforeseen vista by a well timed question. I thought about it and then told him that there was definitely shame there, but the stronger feeling was that I was just too much, that I dreaded looking at him because I would see reflected that I was just too needy and demanding and he was worn out from dealing with me. He told me it was good I was able to identify the feelings, at which point I actually managed to make eye contact. He held my eyes with his and said “do I look like I am worn out? Or have had enough?” I stared at him for a few beats and then had to answer honestly “no, you don’t.”
So he told me that I knew that in the face of that kind of shame, the solution was to become vulnerable and talk about the shame. But that because of my experiences, becoming vulnerable was very scary, but it was also the only way to move through the shame. I actually bowed my head again and said “how many times are you going to have to tell me that?” and he said “I don’t know” in that tone which implied no matter how high that number was he was going there. I kind of laughed and said it was probably a good thing he didn’t know (or he’d flee I added silently in my mind.)
I told him about connecting with the fact that ever since we had discussed love in the relationship that I had been scared. That every time I moved closer, it got scary all over again. We also talked about the ongoing DS, and I talked about how I could struggle to trust I was doing the right thing. He started asking me questions about how I was handling it, to which I gave the most truthful answers I could. After several questions, he asked me what I thought about how I handled it after hearing my answers? I told him, “See, right there, that’s the problem. When I step back and THINK about how I’m handling this, I feel like I am doing it right, as best I know how, that I am being self-examining, seeking counsel and ensuring that I am acting for the right reasons, but it’s really scary to trust that, to think I can trust myself to know.” I talked about some of the things I had discovered in our work that made me question myself. Finally, in a fairly exasperated tone, I said I was tired of not being able to feel ok.
I told him that having this deep a sense of insecurity and fear about the relationship coming up could make me feel very stuck, as if I had not moved in years. He talked about the fact that I wasn’t able to feel ok, because I hadn’t had the felt experience of being ok when I was supposed to learn that. He actually thinks that these feelings are very deep and probably stem from my relational experiences from when i was younger than two, before my cognitive functions came online. So I said, “how do I just put this down and know I’m ok?” Have I ever mentioned that BN is not prone to sugarcoat the truth? This was one of those times. He said “You don’t. You can’t. You do not have a felt sense of being ok. Which is why you are coming here and facing all of these feelings and fighting through them: the loss, the anger, the grief, the questioning, to work through this and hopefully start to learn enough of a sense of worth to continue and go forward with. And you’re much further along in that process than you give yourself credit for.”
He went back to the email and my explosive phone call, and said that one of the things I had said during the call was that it felt like I was forgotten. He told me that there is big difference between him forgetting me and forgetting to send an email to me. That connecting our sense of worth to someone’s humanity is not something, either professionally or personally, he would recommend doing. After all, even Christ was late for Lazarus. I laughed and told him that was a very good point. I told him about the connections I had made about realizing I was angry with him for being human. That when he made these mistakes, it rubbed my nose in his humanity and brought me face to face with the fact that he couldn’t fix it. That I was still letting go of those longings. That I was angry he wouldn’t be my father. I spoke, and rather disparagingly, of my idealization of him in the beginning, of seeing him as some all-powerful perfect being. He interrupted and said, “you’re making it sound like it was so ridiculous to idealize me. But of course you idealized your therapist. We idealize a father figure, because when we are children, we need to believe in our parent’s perfection in order to feel safe. We believe in a therapist’s perfection for the same reason.” He talked about that feeling of safety and being attended to were what should build a sense of felt worth. But that my father has done a bad job. (It is rare that BN makes a baldly critical comment about either of my parents, so this was very powerful to hear.) But that he couldn’t attend to me the way a father would. That if I needed him, I needed to say so. And that was hard because there was a time when I should have not had to ask. That I had discussed on my blog how what happened in therapy wasn’t enough and that loss had to be grieved. So if the phone call on Friday wasn’t enough, that it really would have been ok to call again and tell him that. That his steadiness and responsiveness to my needs were where I would build a sense of my worth.
I also talked to him about the fact that his detachment has been feeling very strong lately and was bugging me even more than usual. That I was back to feeling like patient #37. He told me that he was detached in a therapeutic sense and that he should be. I told him I really understood the necessity of it, but I still didn’t like it. He told me was not conscious of any change in his detachment; but that it was important that he be consistent, that no matter how I felt or what I did, I found him the same. I confessed to him that even though there were times where I wanted to shake him or scream or do anything to shake him out of that detached composure, I knew that his steadiness was actually the thing that made me feel safe. And he said, exactly, and that’s what scares you. Because as soon as you feel safe, you have to remember to be scared and on the lookout for how that safety will fail you.
I looked at him and said “How long until I can stop fearing that you will fail me? How long will it continue to be so terrifying to draw closer?” At one point, when we were discussing the DS, I told him that I actually felt like I just wanted to crawl into a cave. BN looked at me and said, I know earlier that you said you wanted to crawl into a cave, but I know you’re not going to do that. You have worked really hard and healed and you are out there living a full life, choosing to do what is important to you. And the things you have chosen to do, moderating the forum, volunteering on the crisis line, your blog are all things that carry a lot of vulnerability with them. Of course you’re running into this stuff, because your stepping out and risking. If you were huddled in a cave and this stuff was coming up, I would be handling this much differently, but this is no surprise. And I know at times it may not feel worth it and you’ll think about quitting, but you’ve already made that decision. You’re going to continue being out there and continue growing.
To which I replied, “ah yes, the growth is SO much fun!” and was rewarded with BN’s wry grin and a laugh which forged a deep moment of connection. We got up and I told BN I wanted to make an appointment for a week because of everything going on. I had continued to fight a lot of fear through the appointment, it was a struggle to take in the actual BN and know the connection was solid. We went towards the door, and as always BN handed me my appointment card and we shook hands. I usually try to make sure I make eye contact during the shake and what I met was a warm, caring gaze.
The fear followed me, but I kept going back over the session and the things he said kept coming back to me with which I reassured myself. But what stuck out in the end were the bookends of the appointment: the smile with which he welcomed me and the warm, caring regard at the end. They formed a solid frame in which the rest of our work was able to stand upright.
I am still struggling to take it in, that BN is still there, and still him, and that I have not imagined the connection or it’s strength or depth. I do not know where he finds the patience and compassion that he shows me, but I am very grateful for it. Even while the damn detachment continues to drive me nuts. 🙂
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