Greetings Gentle Readers,
I know I have been quiet as of late. News of both my brother’s death and my aunt’s revelations have knocked me off-balance and sent me back into my past in a way that has not happened for a long time. My work schedule has been quite busy, as well as my husband’s, so on top of the emotional stress, there has just not been a lot of free time, but I saw BN Thursday morning and wanted to post an update. I’ve been working on this post for so long that the last sentence originally said “I saw BN this morning.” I am somehow….gagged. As if attempting to voice what I feel inside is so impossible, that words fail and I simply turn away, again and again. So I am going to just finish this post and put it up no matter how it sounds to me, just so that I might speak. So if I sound strange or somehow not like myself, that is probably what you are hearing.
This is difficult to talk about. Whenever memories from this young an age are disturbed, especially by a sudden, unexpected disruption, the first, middle and last reaction is shame. Swift, knee-jerk and sustained. Both events have caused me to pull out my internal photo album and comb through the memories of my childhood. Not really a pleasant past time. As the mud on the bottom is stirred up and the old feelings eddy through the water, the old sense of the world not being a safe place and there being no one I can trust came back to haunt me. I had seen BN a week before this last session and told him about the feeling and that I was barely hanging in there with him and my husband and that was about it. So in many ways, the last few weeks have felt like a battle to keep some space between what my feelings have been telling me and what I know to be the truth. I haven’t had a particular sense that I’ve been winning.
One of my deepest beliefs as a child was that my only hope of safety lay in being alone, so between the shame and that belief, my instinct is to go to ground, to not interact, to not be seen. Long hours and a heavy work load provide a convenient way to indulge that.
So I knew I wasn’t in good shape driving down to see BN. More than anything, I just had this sense that I needed to stop and sit and be with my feelings and let the pain in. I had an 8:30 AM appointment, which is usually his first appointment of the day, but wasn’t that day. He opened the door, and I started to get up, assuming he was going to invite me in, and instead a very attractive, well-dressed blond came out. (Why is it never an old bald man in these situations? Why? Is it too much to ask? She was really lovely to boot and smiled and said good morning so I didn’t even get the pleasure of despising her for being nasty. ) BN opened the door a few minutes later and ushered me in. One thing that very much stood out for me was that I barely managed to look at him through the whole appointment. I’m not sure I could even tell you what the man was wearing. I walked over to the love seat where I always sit only to notice that the cushions, instead of being their normal blue, were a nice peach, which, I will give you, went well with the rug. I kind of stopped and said “you had the cushions recovered?” and BN said “new cushions and they’re very …” and we both said “firm” at the same time as I hit the seat. I took the change surprisingly well, as I normally tend to get upset about changes in his office. Of course all he did was change the cushions, it was still the same old crate furniture from the 70s so the change wasn’t too shocking.
I had brought my blanket, knowing it was a session during which I would want to be held and contained, so I wrapped it around me, barely managed to look at BN and said “I just need to sit for a few minutes.” Then I sat. I sat and stared at the rug at my feet and started dripping tears. I tried not to DO anything, just feel. And it dawned on me, that what he was seeing was actually exactly how I was feeling. Sad but frozen. BN is REALLY good at holding still. He waited patiently. I experienced a profound sense of relief that I could stop pushing, stop acting like I was ok, STOP functioning. After some time (probably not as long as it felt) I looked up and said, “thank you.” BN asked how I was doing? I had sent him an email over the weekend in which I had made it clear I was not doing well and needed to connect with him for comfort. I told him that what he had just seen was probably the best depiction I could give him. That I was hurting, but felt so frozen and unable to speak. That no matter what I was doing, I wanted to be doing something else. Now that I was finally in his office, I did not want to speak at all, but if I was sitting out in the waiting room, I would be desperate to be in his office talking to him. That I was struggling with feeling so isolated and wanting people to come after me, but as soon as someone did (as many people had, no guilt people, you’ve all been very caring!) it just felt like “no, I need to be alone.” But as soon as I got that, it felt terrible. That it felt so confusing.
BN cut straight through the clutter; he has a gift for that. He told me “well, that’s exactly what the shame does, isn’t it? You’re in pain and need other people but the shame is telling you not to be seen.” Which is, if I am honest, kind of like “d’oh!” I told him I did feel ashamed that I was back here again. That I thought I was done grieving over this, that I had worked through these losses in my childhood and that everyone around me must be feeling frustrated with me. BN told me that when you had not experienced repair after disruption in childhood, sudden disasters, such as my brother’s death and learning of the even deeper betrayal in my family would evoke a deep sense of shame. But that the only way to handle it was to do what I was doing, to come and speak about it. That I was entitled to these feelings and having them be heard. Something in me heard the invitation and gave myself permission to feel what I had been trying not to feel.
I wrapped myself in the blanket and put my head down and wept as if my heart was breaking. Because it had. Every once in a while, when I was losing my sense of the present, I would open my eyes to make sure I was still in BN’s office and that he was still there. And he sat with me, while I cried and was a witness to my grief. I was heard. When I finally calmed, I told him I was glad to open my eyes and find him still there. That part of what got so scary was that the feelings were so strong from childhood and the old pattern of not being able to trust anything good (my father always betrayed me) actually made me worry that I had made him up, made up being an adult and therapy and healing, and I was going to open my eyes up and find myself five years old again. He told me he was really there and I was really safe and this was real.
I started talking about the feelings that had been coming up and told BN that it was like the end of the movie Sixth Sense when you realize the character was dead and you ran back through the whole movie, rethinking the whole plot in light of the new information. I had been going through my whole childhood. Some very raw pain and anger came pouring out. I was almost screaming in rage at one point. The feelings erupted so uncensored that I felt scared at how much I had exposed myself. I told BN that it scared me, that I felt incredibly naked, like an oyster whose shell had just been opened. He told me he understood but that I must have felt a sense of safety on some level in order to have expressed myself and that he was glad I could say how I felt without worrying about his reactions.
Part of what I struggled about expressing is how angry and frustrated I am about having to work through these feelings. Again. Because the fact is, I have to. At one point, I remember putting my head in my hands and just saying “I sound so incredibly whiny!” BN’s response was to tell me I had every right to be angry about having to deal with this.
And so very tired. I just want to stop. I told him that I wasn’t feeling suicidal at all, but that the idea of dying sounded rather soothing. That if someone in my building was ever going to lose it and go on a killing spree, this would be a rather welcome week for them to do so. (Sorry, the sense of humor can get rather black at times like these.) I looked at him and told him that how I really felt was that I just wanted someone to take care of me (flinching inside as I said it, because how unreasonable is that?) and to my shock, BN’s reply was “well, that’s perfectly normal isn’t it?” That’s part of what is so healing about our sessions, no matter what I express, BN reflects it back as a normal, reasonable reaction on the part of a human being. A flawed, imperfect human being at times, but a human being. Seeing myself through his eyes can be both clarifying and redeeming.
I told him part of the effect was that the rawness wasn’t only about pain, it was about beauty. That my husband and I had gone out for dinner at a local diner the night before and an older gentleman was having pie at the counter and was bantering with everyone on the staff in a very friendly, familiar way. Our waiter was giving him a VERY hard time about whip cream on his pie. When the waiter came over, we were joking and he told us that the man’s wife was in a nursing home and that he went to visit her every day and would stop in on the way home for coffee and pie, so they tried to make him feel welcome. I almost burst into tears in the table. The love of that man for his wife and the kindness of those people in that diner. I desperately asked BN, “how do you reconcile it? How do you reconcile the evil that we can sink to, and the heights we can reach? That the same ability that allows us to so deeply feel beauty, love and truth are also what open us to pain and ugliness and evil?” I am grateful that I have a place to ask a question like that without being met with scorn or derision. BN answered me simply and said “that is the question isn’t it? I suppose in a black and white world it would be simple, but I am glad you can recognize both responses in yourself, the pain and the joy.” One of the most difficult truths I think that I have learned, and which I am again struggling to understand and accept, is that our suffering must be fully accepted in order that our life be fully embraced. That in fact we do not fully know joy, unless we are open to pain. I am walking in the valley where you struggle to hang on to the truth that the joy, and beauty are worth the cost.
The other thing that came out was how scared I am. Scared that I won’t get back out. I managed to leave here. To move beyond being trapped in this place of loss and move on to other things and I’m scared I won’t be able to leave again. At one point BN was talking about the healing I had done and I looked at him and just said: “I’m scared, BN. I’m scared I won’t get back out.” It was a relief to be able to tell BN I was scared. He was very clear that I was not going to stay in the grief and even that it was not going to take me as long to move through; even going through a list of changes he saw in me. I was even able to express to him how scary it was to realize how much I had needed him through this. And how much of an anchor he was for me to move through it.
I was shaky but relieved by the time I left, but realized I had this nagging sense of something being wrong. And then it hit me. I had told BN I was scared. One of the dynamics we had uncovered about my dad, was that he had gotten very angry when I got scared, so that I had learned to be scared of being scared. Hence, my difficulty in actually admitting when I was. So I was in that place where I *KNEW* BN wasn’t angry in the rational sense, but this wasn’t a rational fear. So less than two hours after I left his office, I called his service and left a message. He called back and I was able to both express my fear and my realization that this was really about my father (my actual words were that I was a “triggered mess”) but needed to hear that he wasn’t angry. He was very reassuring about not being angry as well as affirming about being glad that I was able to express how I felt to him. Total elapsed time: 57 seconds. Which helped to reinforce one more thing he had told me during our session which was that I was tolerating the limits of our relationship better now than in the past. News to me, but I’ll take it. 🙂
So I am continuing to process. The grief comes and goes, sometimes quite suddenly. I am trying not to fight it. When I start to feel sad, I stop and allow myself to cry or feel the hurt. I talk to my husband and my friends as much as I can bear to (or my perception of how much they can bear to listen). I promise myself if the pain gets too bad or too scary I can contact BN again. I am waiting in suspended animation until early November to go speak to my aunt in the hope that she will provide more details. Actually that she will provide any information at all about my father. I am so very tired of not speaking, of not knowing, of not being able to trust what the truth is. But I am acutely aware that this is my family and that the only satisfaction I may derive from this trip is knowing that I went and asked the questions. That may have to be enough. I know there is joy further down the road. I know that I will be ok. I just wish my memory of those things were more vivid at the moment. And I am sorry. In so many ways, I feel like my mission, my purpose here, in my writing, is to offer hope for people struggling to heal. Because I believe in healing, I believe that we can heal and that there is always reason to hope. But there are times when even I cannot feel it. When in doubt, offer the truth. It’s hard right now. Thank you for reading, it is important to me to be heard right now. And it is less lonely knowing you are all out there.
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