The Paradox of Shame – Part II
Greetings, gentle readers, thank you for your patience in waiting for the followup. 🙂 This is the second half of a post started in The Paradox of Shame – Part I.
The level of shame and embarrassment surrounding finding out about BN’s relationship with this author was almost indescribable and I found it extremely difficult to actually GO to the appointment. I basically managed by refusing to think about it that morning. Every time I started to think about what it would be like or imagine what I would say or BN would reply, I would just shut it down in order to stop myself from being overwhelmed to a point of not being able to function. And I kept focusing on my breathing and slowing it down. It helps that I’m the best terrified driver in the world. Being in therapy for so long, has given me plenty of opportunities to practice. 🙂
I got to his office and realized that having a 32 oz glass of ice tea with your breakfast before a therapy session about which you’re already nervous is not really a good idea. 🙂 So I ran into the ladies’ room as soon as I got there and then headed upstairs. He has a very small waiting area that he shares with two other therapists (the building is an older home converted to offices which is filled with a lot of therapists with independent practices). I didn’t expect him to open the door for at least five minutes, but before I could sit, he opened his door and called my name (the house is pretty old and the stairs are REALLY creaky, so it’s pretty easy to know someone is coming up them). So I kind of looked around the doorway and said “me?” and he nodded yes, and I headed in to sit down and told him I didn’t expect him to call me so soon. (Yeah, ’cause this was the week he picked to run early! OK, OK, I know it was kind, I was his first session that day and he was trying to maximize our session time. But when you feel like you’re facing your execution, punctuality is not high on your list of virtues. :)) I sat down in my usual seat and learned the true meaning of awkward. I actually made a gesture indicating I needed some time and sat looking anywhere BUT at him.
SIDENOTE: Cycles of Becoming explained to me that this behavior is actually about scanning the environment for dangers. Once you’ve established there are no other threats, then you can look. This made a LOT of sense to me so I wanted to pass it on, for those of you who also may look around a lot.
After a minute or so of just trying to breathe, I finally said, “I don’t think I can start today.” To which, BN gave one of his classic replies: “but that is a way of starting isn’t it?” I wanted to throw a pillow at his head. 😉 I told him that the thought of being seen, in any way, was almost physically painful. I kept starting and stopping and BN was gently encouraging me. He finally said that I had laid a lot of it out in my email and why didn’t I walk through finding the book and talk about the feelings? (He’s used this method before. When I go back and present it as a narrative, it also allows the feelings to come back. Just assume a lot of stops and starts and tears for the rest of the session.) I told him about getting the book at the library and recognizing that I had seen the book on his desk. Then I told him that I’m the kind of person who reads a book cover to cover so I read through the acknowledgements and found his name; that there was no mistaking that it was him (I told him I had always wondered if _______ was his middle name.) Then I started reading the poetry and it was incredibly powerful, with great imagery, and then I saw the poem that was dedicated to him. Last, but not least, the book ended with an essay that talked about how her poetry was a conduit to her faith until she actually found her beliefs.
I told BN that if someone had set out to create the person who could make me feel the most threatened with him, this woman would have been the result. That I had lost track of how many times he had talked about how some truths are so difficult to express, so we turn to art and poetry to express them. That my father was standing in front of me, once again, telling me I wasn’t enough, I wasn’t good enough.
Somewhere in the middle of expressing all this, I just covered my face and told him I was going to keep my eyes closed, because it was easier to talk that way. And yes, I knew he could still see me. 🙂 He talked about how courageous I was to come and talk about this knowing the level of shame and embarrassment I was experiencing, that I was doing the right thing to come and express the shame, as it was the only way through it. (Actually, he told me a number of times how courageous I had been. At one point I told him it was more about desperation. Yes, I have difficulty accepting compliments. 🙂 )
He really wasn’t saying too much in the beginning, just giving me space to talk about my feelings. What is so weird is that even though he’s not really saying too much, I feel safe enough to just keep talking about how I actually feel and as I do that I’m able to start understanding what is going on. I kept talking about how I was feeling and how difficult it was to express. I told him that the ironic part was that when I was this much at a loss for words, I would usually turn towards writing poetry, but there was no f—ing way I was doing that now. I shared about how stupid I felt that I was feeling this way again. (My favorite reaction chain: I’d like a serving of shame with a side order of shame for feeling that way. Oh and a shame cherry on top, thanks!)
When I finally drilled through to the center of the feelings, I ended up telling BN that the pain was really about how our relationship was such a powerful, meaningful one for me. I had never trusted anyone so much (case in point, I was sitting in his office talking about this), that it ran so deep and was so close to the center of who I am and who I was becoming. So the relationship was very special, as well as unique, for me. But as for him, he had other relationships that ran as deep and meant as much and I was not nearly as important to him. That I felt like a child on a beach who finds a beautiful object on the sand, and is so excited that they run to their parent to show them their “treasure” and it turns out to just be a piece of broken glass. That I was just a piece of broken glass and how could I have believed any different?
He talked about it being part of an old pattern that we could recognize, that I would go towards my father, hoping each time it would turn out differently, only to be hurt again, to not be enough. That he understood why these feelings had been triggered so strongly, but he wanted me to understand that I experienced a difference in my relationship with him. That when we are taught we are not enough, then we believe we have to earn it. But he wanted me to know that I was special all the time, in all places, that we are not loved for what we do, for our performance, but simply because we are.
I was so relieved that he understood and made so clear that what I believed was a lie, that I really started sobbing. Where before I had been very rigid and silent, this felt like I was small and just letting go. An old grief. I must have cried for a solid five minutes. BN kept talking to me through it. At one point I got so loud and ended up practically screaming into a pillow and I heard him tell me that it was ok to be heard. Then I heard him say, very gently and with so much compassion, “AG, I am sorry you had to experience this hurt, that you went through this.”
When I slowed down enough to talk again, I was trying to describe how it felt and was really struggling to put it into words. I finally came out with “it hurts so much to remember how it felt to feel so worthless.” And BN responded “absolutely.”Then he spoke for a while, giving me a chance to recover, and said a lot of good stuff. He made it very clear that this wasn’t a regression. That growth is both a progression outwards and a journey deeper inwards and that sometimes you can run into things that provoke a pocket of woundedness that hasn’t been dealt with yet, but that he felt like I was very close to having none of those left. That when these feelings got evoked in the future, they would come with a sense of them having already been acknowledged and being able to move through them on my own. I told him how very close I had come to not coming, that I had really considered if I could bear just not ever contacting him again because if I didn’t see him, I would never have to talk about this. He talked about the shame being tied to recognizing my normal human dependency and attachment needs. That when you had experienced what I had, you could come to see those needs as the problem, that because things would go so badly with my dad and I would feel stupid for going back time and again trying to get my needs met, a lot of shame became associated with my needs. That a normal reaction was to try to live in detachment, but that human beings don’t do well outside of attachment. I started laughing and said “I’m not sure how well I do in an attachment relationship.” He said a lot of people can make the mistake of believing that, but because of our relationship, I had learned the truth of attachment and could carry the experience of mattering, of being understood.
Then he talked about the fact that I had not pushed, nor had he offered, any information on his relationship with the author (I noticed he was careful never to say her name, only I did. He also said this in a way which told me he appreciated my respect for the boundaries) but that we really didn’t need to. That this really wasn’t about our relationship; it was about the grief that it evoked. That in my original email I had laid out the fact that I couldn’t know about the relationship and I understood how my feelings were so intense they were blocking what I knew what was true. That I already had a good handle on the situation, I just needed to experience being understood. About this point I lost it again, because I realized that I had been SO scared to go see him because what if it was true, what if I really was worthless and even he couldn’t convince me otherwise? He talked about how our worth is intrinsic, I had mentioned my kids earlier in the session and he went back to that, how our children want to know why we love them and there really isn’t an answer. We just love them.
But he went back again to that sense of needing to earn it, and how we can struggle with that feeling. That everyone, no matter how accomplished they looked could struggle. And had I ever considered that another of his patients might look at me and feel the same way about my talents and accomplishments as I felt about the author’s? He told me he wanted to read me a poem. (I thought this was a particularly gutsy and risky move on his part. I was not the only courageous person in that room). He said he had heard the poet on vacation, a poet laureate of the United States, and that he was really funny. He enjoyed him so much, he had bought a book of his poetry. As he picked it up, he broke out in a huge grin and said “I do not appear anywhere in this book” and we both burst out laughing. He was flipping through the table of contents looking for it and I quietly said, “thank you so much, BN” and he said “you’re welcome, AG” and just kept looking. It was all just incredibly sweet and intimate. He found the poem, and read it. It was short, and very funny so that when he finished reading it, we burst out laughing together in a wonderful shared moment. The best thing was that it fit so well with what we were discussing and we both just GOT it.
Feedback by Billy Collins The woman who wrote from Phoenix
after my reading there
to tell me they were still talking about it
just wrote again to tell me they had stopped.
Being open about the feelings allowed me to get to the underlying beliefs and allow the grief to move through me. And it was SO clear and obvious from being with BN, that my fears about myself being worthless and failing in comparison with someone else were just lies that I had been told a very long time ago. My relationship with my BN is just that: MY relationship with him and therefore unique. For both of us. It is very real and he really does cherish it. I had actually mentioned to him years before, long before we started doing individual work, seeing his name in the liner notes of a CD by a local band a friend of mine had lent me. I actually had asked at the time if it was him. At one point in the session, he told me that he knew I read the acknowledgement section because I had read those liner notes and talked to him about it. I was kind of blown out of the water that he remembered that. I smiled and said that was before I really knew him and it was a man. 🙂
There were so many things he said and did that day that made clear to me in an unmistakable way (even for me!) that he KNOWS me and that he’s glad he does. The sense of worth he conveyed to me was true, not because he said I was worthwhile, but because he was able to recognize and reflect something that has always been true. I felt on solid ground again, and was filled with so much gratitude and love.
We shook hands very warmly at the end of the session and he told me to hang in there. I was still feeling very emotional when I left, mainly overwhelmed with relief and it took a lot of the day just to let it sink it and process it because it had been so powerful. I ended up getting the book of poetry Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems from the library and so enjoyed reading it since so many truths we had discussed in our work were contained within it. I ended up writing a poem, included below, for BN in response to it. Which is how I really knew my sense of shame was broken.
The Poetry of Billy CollinsI appear nowhere in this book you said then smiled and read an answer so subtle I didn’t hear all of it until several days had passed The poem made us both laugh and allowed me to write this even though I had sworn never again Feeling safe, I read the book and met you everywhere in it though true to your word, your name did not appear
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