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.