Existential Freefall – Part I


I was going to name this post “Existential Freefall or What I’ve Been Trying to Remember for 20 years (Well, 50 Really)” but that seemed a bit unwieldy, even for me, so I went with the shorter version. 🙂 I had a major breakthrough in my session last Friday, so much so I think I will be processing it for quite a while. I was finally able to remember something that I have been trying to bring into consciousness for over twenty years. Now that I’ve remembered it, I get why it took me so long. I’m going to try and explain both the memory and my process of getting there, but think I want to say up front that this memory is from such a young age, that it’s really about remembering the feelings at a time when I didn’t have the cognitive abilities to describe what I was feeling. Not to mention that trauma can send anyone of any age back to a per-verbal state. So anything I say is in essence a translation from my child self to my adult self. Words feel inadequate to describe the intensity of the feelings. And the feelings are continuing to unfold, I have been feeling sadness, and relief, and grief, and joy, and gratitude, (so much gratitude!) and weariness … you name it, it seems to be rolling through my system. But the key word here is “through.” I’m alive, all of these feelings mean I’m alive. I’ll take it.

The last several months in therapy have consisted of doing deep core emotional work. The main focus has been on my body. Learning that it’s mine, getting down out of my head and living in it. Accepting it as part of me and learning to take better care of it. One of the “side effects” of being more embodied has been going over some old ground, but experiencing the feelings much more intensely, since I’m not as cut off from my body. At one point, I was describing how I felt to BN and said that the feeling was so strong it was visceral. BN very wryly asked “is there any other kind of feeling?” Brought me face to face with the fact that I really do hold my body, and therefore my feelings, at a distance. We’ve been trying to correct that.

I have been going so deep, that I have been recovering new memories, lost parts of my experience, which has not happened this consistently for a very long time. As usual in my work with BN, it starts as being about him and our relationship, then I follow the rabbit trail of my feelings to the original settings and circumstances which feed the intensity of what I am feeling. (I say this because I don’t want to give the impression that what I am feeling is not real and has nothing to do with BN. It does, but I am also acutely aware that the intensity of the feelings is often off the charts. This is usually an indication that something from my childhood, an unprocessed feeling, is being evoked here and now because of the symbolism carried by BN). I think because I am learning to stay down in my body, instead of just hiding in my head, I am tolerating more intensity and actually allowing my feelings in. I have been going deeper than ever before. I am also aware that I have found a new level of trust. BN has been so steady and so encouraging that all of my feelings truly are welcome, that I am not editing nearly as much. If I am thinking something, I try to just say it; if I am feeling it, I just express it. It’s not always easy or pretty, but I’m better at it now then I have ever been. I won’t lie, it hasn’t been a lot of fun and it’s been taxing work to boot, but it has also felt very necessary. I am reclaiming split off parts of myself and I will not be whole until I do so.

This culminated, as I said earlier, with my finally getting to the heart of a memory I have been trying to approach since before I worked with BN. Near the end of my work with my first therapist, we had been trying to approach a memory, but any time I went anywhere near it, I would get so scared that I would hyperventilate and dissociate. I was getting nothing but an intense terror that drove me back. My therapist and I were both frustrated and not sure what to do about it. I think what was preventing me was that I was not yet ready to face it. Although I must confess that what lay at the heart of the terror was much different from what I expected.

At my session a week earlier then the one I am writing about, I was waiting in the small waiting area outside BN’s office. The waiting area is really the landing at the top of the stair well leading to the second floor of what used to be a very large family home that now is used as offices for a number of therapists in private practices. So if you’re sitting there and someone is leaving, there is no avoiding seeing each other. The previous client was a woman and must have been near the door getting ready to leave when she laughed. She had a really lovely laugh, the kind that makes you smile and want to know what was so funny. When she walked out our eyes met, and we both smiled at each other. Then I said to her “you have a really lovely laugh.” She was visibly pleased at the compliment and said “Thank you so much.” She then went on to add, gesturing back to BN’s door, which had closed behind her, ”If it wasn’t for that man, I probably would never have laughed again.” Not one to miss an opening, I replied something along the lines of “I really understand that, I could say the same.” She then said “He really is amazing” and I answered “you’re preaching to the choir.” A lovely exchange right? Between two people with a mutual respect and gratitude for a dedicated professional gifted at his job. So why did I end up sitting there with tears running down my face? I had so much to talk about that session that I let my reaction go, but it was haunting me.

Fast forward to Thursday, the day before my appointment. (A message to the friend I am about to talk about: I know I told you it didn’t bother me and I lied about that. But I truly meant the part about it being helpful for you and what you needed and wanting you to be able to talk about it. These are my feelings and I can manage them and I didn’t want you worrying about me. But this is important to the story, so I am outting myself. I’m sorry, please forgive me.) A close friend of mine was struggling with feeling connected with her therapist. Since we both experience this periodically, we use each other as a reality check that our therapist has not suddenly decided to hate us. I have an immense respect for her therapist and how she holds boundaries while also being rock solid certain that she loves my friend. While texting about the situation, she shared that she had gotten an voicemail from her therapist checking on her and reassuring her. I truly was glad to hear it, as I know how scary and difficult and REAL those feelings can be, and it had obviously helped to hear from her therapist. I think her therapist reacted to a very real need in a way that provided some stability in a very difficult and painful place. My friend did check in with me, knowing that the only unsolicited contact I ever get from BN is about schedule changes (in fact he had resecheduled my appointment last week from Thursday to Friday. 🙂 ) That’s when I lied, because I didn’t want her feeling bad, both because her plate was full enough and NO ONE did anything wrong. But if I am honest, the same tears welled up and this settled in with the laughing client encounter to haunt me.

So I’m driving down to therapy and thinking about what I wanted to talk about. The eating has not been good recently, I haven’t been binging but I’m not exactly eating in a healthy manner. There’s been a lot going on. My husband was finishing up a refuel outage and had been working 6 days a week on a 12 1/2 hour night shift with Tuesday night his only “day” off. And a dear friend of mine lost her parents within a week of each other. Her parents had adopted my husband and I years ago, before we were even married and through the years have NEVER missed a major event of ours. They attended our wedding, came to the hospital for the birth of both of our kids and were the first people to show up at my mother-in-law’s wake. They had a good long life, were both in their 90’s and both died at home surrounded by a loving family, so it’s an uncomplicated grief. As much as you can say it, it was a good death. But it is very sad to know they are no longer there. We attended the wake on Friday and the funeral on Saturday. My friend’s son, daughter and daughter’s husband stayed with us Friday night, which weirdly turned out to be a lot of fun. Sorry, wow, I went wandering off from my point, see how much I hate to talk about overeating? 🙂 Things have just been so crazy that healthy eating and exercise had gone by the wayside.

So there I was with two major issues: overeating and lack of self-care OR knowing that I was struggling AGAIN (oh dear Lord, not again!) with the limits of my relationship with BN. I couldn’t figure out which topic was going to provide avoidance of the other one. 😀 I’ll be back in my next post to tell you what actually happened in the session. ‘Til next time, dear readers.

For Part II, see Existential Freefall – Part II.

  1. Willow
    April 21, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    “As usual in my work with BN, it starts as being about him and our relationship, then I follow the rabbit trail of my feelings to the original settings and circumstances which feed the intensity of what I am feeling. ”

    Looking forward to your next visit (!) and just curious,,,,rabbit hunting,,,,do you have an average time that this takes? Hopefully not a silly question….this is amazing work if you can do it, I’d be off wandering the seven continents without a clue of where I was heading 🙂

    Like

    • April 22, 2015 at 12:21 pm

      Willow,
      Good question! 🙂 It kind of depends on what you consider to be the destination. 🙂 If I’m walking into a session with something really bothering me, we can usually trace it to something by the end of the session. (Just want to add, I’ve been doing this a LONG time, BN and I are not much for chit chat, we usually plunge right in and we’ve been working together for long enough, that we have a kind of short hand between us. I can make a short reference that can encompass literally sessions of work together on any given topic). But there is the larger picture of going deeper over time on any given issue. I think of therapy like a helix. You go around and around, over the same ground, but go deeper each time you hit a particular topic. In that sense, some of these takes weeks, some months, some years. The memory I am talking about now, I have been moving towards throughout my work with BN. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about therapy, especially in terms of recovering split off stuff, is that you carry a very accurate internal sense of when it is safe to remember something. I was talking about it and BN quipped “yes, it’s probably when you realize it won’t actually kill you to remember.” That’s probably pretty accurate. 🙂 The more you integrate, the more strength, energy and knowledge you have to deal with the next piece. For me, it’s really just been a matter of dealing with whatever is coming up in the relationship (simple, but NOT easy). BN and I have discussed it many times, but truly, the stuff you need to deal with, will come up. It’s eerie at times. So not a silly question at all, just not one with a simple answer. ~ AG

      Like

  2. Moto
    April 21, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    AG you are so brave and give me so much confidence that it can be done! I have to say this post is a cliffhanger!!! I hope it’s not to long for the next!😊. I am so sorry about your friends parents. They sound like amazing people and sound like they had a wonderful life!

    Like

    • April 22, 2015 at 12:24 pm

      Moto,
      I am really overjoyed that my experience helps you to face your own challenges (but don’t give me too much credit, you’re still the one with the courage to face your stuff!). Sorry about the cliffhanger! 🙂 I can assure you though it will be up later today or tomorrow at once. I wrote this as one piece but it got so long I had to split it, so I only have to finish the final edits before I post. I’ll try not to keep everyone waiting too long.

      And thank you, they really were wonderful people. So even though it’s sad to lose them, I am beyond grateful to have had them in my life. I hope I leave behind half of the legacy they have.
      xx AG

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  3. EBB
    April 21, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    It is indeed a cliffhanger. Looking forward to your next installment. Perhaps you should be a novelist! Major breakthroughs in my therapy too. I think the blog has replaced group therapy.

    Like

    • April 22, 2015 at 12:25 pm

      EBB,
      Oh dear, not another book I need to write. 🙂 Sorry, I know it was a bit of a cliffhanger, it was just the best break point. See my comment to Moto, it shouldn’t be long! Really glad to hear you’ve had major breakthroughs and that the blog is helping you. Please share if you want to. xx AG

      Like

  4. April 22, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    You’re a stinker to leave us hanging like that. 🙂
    I didn’t know where to share this but I figured you and other readers would understand. Today, after almost a year and a half with my T I said “I love you.” You know what she said, “Thank you for taking that risk.” Which is exactly what anyone wants to hear after saying “I love you.” I imagine I’ll talk more with her about it next week, which is gonna be awesome. I don’t know if she has that as a boundary that she doesn’t say that to clients or what. I guess I’ll find out next week.

    Anyways, glad you had a breakthrough even if we have to wait to read about it. 🙂

    Like

    • April 22, 2015 at 6:56 pm

      Sorry Judy! It was just too long! I am hoping I am forgiven as I just posted part II. 🙂

      As far as saying I love you, I recieved a very similar response from BN when I said it out loud to him. He told me that he appreciated how courageous I was to say it and that he did not find it distasteful either personally or professionally. I have said it to him once or twice since, and even one time in print. He always acknowledges it and makes clear that it’s really ok both for me to feel and express it, but I have never heard I love you back from him, nor will I ever. When we discussed it, he told me that it’s very complicated since when a person says those three words, it can be hard to know the meaning both for the person who said it and the person who hears it. (My post The “L” Word discusses the issue in detail, just in case you haven’t read it already.) But FWIW, I have no doubt that BN loves me even if I never get to hear those three words. I think it’s a good thing to talk about. xx AG

      PS Martha Crawford has a fantastic post on her blog “What a Shrink Thinks” that covers the topic from a therapist’s point of view: Unspoken.

      Liked by 1 person

      • April 23, 2015 at 12:54 am

        Thanks 🙂 I know my T loves me, but it was weird saying it and having silence and such a therapist answer after I said it. There is something about hearing it back, you know? Oh well. Such is therapy I guess.

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        • April 23, 2015 at 9:15 pm

          Definitely Judy! It’s just incredibly awkward to say “I love you” and not hear “I love you” back, especially when you’re reasonably sure the person could say it and mean it. 🙂 Ah, therapy, source of so MANY awkward moments.

          Liked by 1 person

          • April 29, 2015 at 1:51 pm

            I had my appt today and talked to her a bit about the “thanks for taking the risk” reaction. I’ll still need to talk about it more next week I think, but she told me that none of her other clients had said that before, which I thought was crazy because how do they not see how wonderful she is? 🙂 She talked some about concern about boundaries and not getting her own needs met. I think in some sense it caught her a bit off guard because she’s never dealt with it before.

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            • May 5, 2015 at 9:57 pm

              Judy,
              Sorry to take so long to respond, things have been a bit hectic. I think it’s really great that you brought up your feelings about her response. and even better that she was open with you about not having experienced this before and not being sure how to respond. Those kind of decisions can be difficult on the fly. And I’m sure her other clients see how wonderful she is, they just didn’t have your courage to say it out loud. This is deep work you’re doing. I hope you’re able to keep discussing it until you feel comfortable. Thanks for letting us know how it went. xx AG

              Liked by 1 person

          • May 6, 2015 at 10:13 pm

            I had another appt today and we talked about it some more. I told her about wanting to hear it back and how it felt not to. I was more scared than I thought I would be. I hadn’t felt that scared with her in a long time. I could barely look at her. She explained that she didn’t feel like it was right for her to say it back to me, but explained that she cared very deeply for me. I’m still processing but it was a good and productive appointment. I’m feeling less burdened because I have felt for a long time that I had to hide how I felt about her. It’s still scary, but I feel less now like I have to hide how I feel to survive.

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            • May 7, 2015 at 11:29 pm

              Judy,
              It sound like you’re doing really good and important work. It takes so much courage to become vulnerable enough to expose your real self and your real feelings. I know how scary it must have been to walk in and face this head on, but it’s how the healing occurs. xx AG

              Like

            • May 11, 2015 at 1:38 pm

              Just FYI, you’re a beast at replying to comments, but you don’t have to be.

              So it turns out this thing is tearing me up. My appt is on Wed and I feel like I’m in suspended motion until then. I’ve written four or five emails to her about a ton of stuff I’m processing and this is all just aching right now. sigh.

              I wrote this poem this weekend. I guess tortured souls are good for something. 🙂

              To no one in particular…
              There is a hole in my soul and it aches and it aches
              It is nothing like the pain of cuts, bruises or scrapes
              Broken bones or indigestion can not begin to compare.
              Where have you gone? I can not find you anywhere.
              Come to me now. Come to me please.
              I don’t want the scent of your perfume in the breeze
              I need not see your picture or hear your voice on my phone
              I have no use for a moving picture of your physical form
              Suspend the laws of time and space and life and death
              Have mercy on what small part of me that is left
              Come to me here, now, and without delay.
              Come to me here not tommorow, but today
              You force me to feast on holograms that leave me weak
              Mere sensory reminders when it is you that I seek
              They only whet my appetite for more
              For you, the real thing my soul longs for

              Like

  5. drgeraldstein
    April 23, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    Charles Dickens has nothing on you!

    Like

    • April 23, 2015 at 9:17 pm

      BEST. COMPLIMENT. EVER. Thank you! Now if I could just get paid a penny a word… 😀

      Like

  6. kelly
    September 1, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    …. a memory, but any time I went anywhere near it, I would get so scared that I would hyperventilate and dissociate. I was getting nothing but an intense terror that drove me back..

    Oh my, you could have taken the words from me, a fear to utter words that I so need to, silenced unable to speak ( not that I find talking easy at the best of times) each time I try, without the courage to allow my letter to be read. How do you move past this, I can’t put into words how this all makes me feel I end up so overwhelmed at times trying to stay with it that a need to regain control takes over where I end up watching myself.

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