The Whole Story of the No
In my post I HATE hearing no, I talked about BN saying no to something I asked for but didn’t go into too many details. Some of it was lack of time, but I suspect, gentle readers, that some of it was embarrassment. So now I’m going to tell the whole story, mainly because I am working very hard to understand what is going on within me and where I want to go from here. I see BN on Friday and I am struggling to discern if I am just trying to avoid loss or if this is something I can have in the here and now. I strongly suspect from the intensity of my feelings that BN gave me the right answer, but I’m not sure whether I am ready to give up the fight yet. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
I have a favorite Christmas book, Santa Calls by William Joyce, that is a children’s picture book that I read to my children when they were small. It is a whimsical tale with everything you could wish for in a story: Santa, Mrs. Claus, the dark elves, licorice, the Canine Brigade, good triumphing over evil and reconciliation. The heart of the story is the wish of Esther to be friends with her brother, which is why I suspect I remembered the story this Christmas. While doing some Christmas shopping at Amazon, I ran across the author and on sudden impulse, decided to buy BN a copy as a Christmas gift. I normally really think through the gifts I give BN and try to be introspective about why I am giving that particular thing but not in this case. I felt a strong pull that I wanted to share the book with him and I didn’t really stop to think about it.
After the book arrived and I started thinking about what to say when I gave it to BN, it dawned on me that it was a slightly strange gift. It had seemed so very RIGHT when I decided to order it, but when I really contemplated giving a storybook to a grown man, the oddness of it struck me (hey, my denial mechanisms are as robust as the next gal’s :D). My first rationalization was that he could read it to his grandchildren. He has three and usually sees some, if not all, of them during the holidays. But as I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t just want him to have the book, I wanted to share it with him. But the thought of asking him to read it with me felt wrong, that it was such a regressive request and would be inappropriate to our relationship. I felt embarrassed and childish for even wanting this, so actually asking for it felt scary and just too over the top.
I wrapped the book and took it with me to my session to give to him, but still really had not decided if I would bring up wanting to read it. This ended up being the session during which we discussed my reactions to my medical tests and ended up discussing a lot of my body issues (Is a body REALLY necessary?) which evoked a tremendous amount of shame. So the next thing I realize, I am wrung out and almost out of time. So at the tail end of the session, I ended up handing the gift to BN. While he opened it, I mumbled through an explanation, telling him it was my favorite Christmas story and I wanted him to have it and that his grandkids might enjoy it. Not my most articulate or graceful presentation of a gift. BN was very gracious about it (and managed not to say or even wear an expression which said “WTF?”). He even thanked me again when we shook hands at the end of the session, which is how we always say goodbye.
It all felt very flat and disappointing. I was discussing what happened with a friend of mine and realized that I had chickened out. We both agreed that it was funny and pretty ironic that I was afraid to ask considering some of the topics I have discussed with BN. In thinking about the situation, I realized that I really missed BN every Christmas. In many ways, he is the closest thing I have to a good parent. I am very clear that he’s my therapist and not my father, but have also acknowledged how deep the longing for that can run. But he is my secure base, and in many ways our relationship feels very strongly like “home.” And who doesn’t want to go home for Christmas? But I would never intrude on his holiday, despite his generous contact policy. I feel like I need to be with my family and that he deserves to not have his time with his family interrupted. So reading the story with him during a session felt like a way to have some part of Christmas spent with him, but within the frame of therapy and on my time. So I made the decision, despite the fear and embarrassment, that I was going to ask him to read the book with me (I was fine with doing the reading or having him read). So, I sent him an email, asking if he could have the book available as I needed to talk more about it and that depending on how things went, we might need it. He didn’t respond to the email, but I hadn’t asked him for a response and I usually don’t hear back if I don’t ask.
I started our session off by talking to him about the realizations I had made after our last session by blogging about it and the responses I got; that I had broken through to the fact that it wasn’t about not liking the body I have, it was about not wanting a body at all. I was feeling very open and relaxed, especially since a lot of the shame has dissipated. When I finished what I needed to say on that topic, I took a deep breath and said “ok, the book.” And froze solid. Completely shut down, including forgetting to breathe.
BN said what he always does: “take your time.” I finally managed to tell BN that I was feeling very embarrassed, and wasn’t sure if it was appropriate, but the intensity of my reactions made it feel like it was important to discuss and that what I really wanted was to read the book together.
BN asked me to say more about that, what did I mean? And I told him I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to read it to him or have him read it to me, but I somehow wanted to share the book; that I wanted some part of Christmas with him. My affect was pretty intense by this point. BN said to me, very gently, that he had heard my request and knew he had not yet given me an answer, but that he needed to understand more before giving me one. But he wanted to be clear with me that there was nothing wrong with asking, that he respected my courage in taking the risk, that it was a very good thing that I had asked.
He talked about how important it was that I was free to express any of my desires in therapy. That he knew with my background, that expressing even the smallest part of what I wanted could feel so dangerous. He pointed out how badly I shut down when I started to speak about it. That it wasn’t just important that I asked him, but that I asked what he symbolized. At some point, he quoted the author Robert Fulgham, talking about who of us does not long at Christmas to be carried as a child and tucked safely into bed.
That broke me. I ended up in that state of mingled relief and grief. The relief is about being met with acceptance and gentleness when I expect scorn and condemnation. Relief that what I am feeling and wanting is not freakish, but a reasonable human desire. The knowledge that I am safe in my risked vulnerability. But along with the relief is the grief of knowing that I want it so badly because it was missing and that realization of my loss. So I cried for a while with BN listening and bearing witness.
I had calmed down and we were running out of time. BN told me that while he was open to thinking about it (adding an old joke we share to soften the blow) that he didn’t think it was a good idea to read. Gentle readers, those of you who have waded through a lot of my writing know that a big theme with me is struggling to face that which we can no longer get and grieving instead. So I fought to hang on to my sense that this answer was a loving one, that I could trust BN and knew his decision was based on what he thought would be best for my well-being. But inside me was this terrible wailing and hurt about hearing no. That what was the point of taking the risk, only to have my worst fear be confirmed, that I was denied what I wanted and was hurt. Again.
But the stronger part of how I was feeling was gratitude for how accepting BN was of the desire and asking for it, for his normalizing how I was feeling. Knowing me so very well, BN mentioned that I might be angry about being told no. I actually replied “How about this time we skip being angry at you and go straight to my father?” So we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas and I left.
BN has always told me I am better at knowing how I feel when I’m alone because when I am with someone else I tend to focus on their needs and that sometimes takes the form of reacting in a way that will make them more comfortable. It’s not conscious, I am literally not aware of feeling another way. So as the day passed, I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself I understood and was ok with the no. But it started wearing really thin and I realized I was angry and hurt. And fed up with acting otherwise. This was helped along by the fact that two friends, whose judgement I trust, thought BN had made the wrong call.
As hard a time as I had hearing a no about getting a hug or being held, I recognized how important it was that the boundary existed. I had faced all the pain and grief. And I even understood that I might be reaching for something that wasn’t there in the past (I am open to the fact that BN made the right call) but I was not so clear what harm could come from reading the book. I know SO many other people whose therapists have read to them. I know some who have recordings of their therapists reading. Why do I have the therapist who says no? I have worked really hard in therapy and faced a lot of hard truths. Would the universe really stop spinning if this time we went for comfort?
And if I am honest, it just hurt to be told no. And I’m tired of being mature and trying to understand, of working to accept with good grace that which I cannot have. I even realized that I sometimes hate BN for showing me what I didn’t have. It IS possible to get your needs met, to have a loving, attentive other. He has vividly shown me that (for which I can also be very grateful). So while I know he is not in any way responsible for the loss, he acts as the catalyst which brings my understanding of my loss. Because you know the loss wasn’t affecting me before I was conscious of it, right? I know the feeling is irrational, but it is how I feel at times.
So this is one of the times (very rare) that I am going to push back on one of BN’s decisions. I am very glad that I KNOW he can hold his own and that the answer will not change unless I convince him to change his mind. He is capable of saying no to me when it is necessary, which has the paradoxical effect of making it safe to push. The scary part is knowing that one possible outcome will be the realization that I am trying to avoid a loss and push past the boundaries. But I’ve lived through worse and I trust we can work through this.
If anyone is so inclined and has the time, I would really appreciate feedback. What do you think is the right answer? Am I asking for something that would be ok to get? Or am I asking for something that will hold out a promise BN cannot keep? I am sincerely interested in hearing opinions either way. Thanks, as always, for reading. I’m planning on posting an update after I see BN on Friday.
ADDENDUM: Forgot to say that I had emailed BN to tell him how I felt and that I wanted to discuss it further. He took it with his usual good grace and told me that he was glad to discuss it further, that it was important. He makes it very difficult to stay angry with him. 🙂
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