I walk into my therapist’s office every Monday with a laundry list of stuff to cover. I have been going to Dave for over a year (with an abrupt three month hiatus because I couldn’t handle an uncomfortable conversation…more on that later). I can’t tell you how difficult it is to cover everything I need to talk about in one hour. I sit down, sometimes pulling out my phone to reference the list of stuff I want to tell him, and just word vomit…sometimes I laugh, sometimes I blush, sometimes I sob openly. It is extremely difficult to cover both what is currently happening in my life and reveal what has happened in my past in such a small portion of the week. After a year, I think we are finally getting to a point where he knows the foundation of every traumatic thing I’ve experienced in my life. And god, I didn’t admit to myself how bad it was until I was able to talk to someone who held everything I told him and didn’t abandon me. It wasn’t until he looked at me, with tears in his eyes, and told me that I have been through so much much…and everything has been so chaotic for me….that I was able to actually look at everything and think, “holy fuck, this is a lot”.
Everything has been so chaotic in my life…from the beginning. A lot of my trauma and confusion comes from the lack of stable and safe love in my life. And of course, for the longest time, the decisions I made in my personal life echoed the traumas of my past (cue the shocked faces /sarcasm).
I was looking forward to having a calm week this week. Everything was supposed to be calm. I have been tying up metaphorical loose ends for months…focusing inward, on the work I know I need to do, sitting with the discomfort I have so deep inside of my heart and in the pit of my stomach…and learning what I need to do to change my life without running to someone romantically to help me. But even with me turning inward, the chaos swirls around me, and I have another laundry list for Dave and it is only Thursday. Outside of cutting everyone out of my life, I am not quite so sure what to do.
But I can’t cut everyone out of my life. I am relearning friendships, my own boundaries, and ultimately love. My therapist says I am learning emotional intimacy…
The reason I stopped going to therapy out of the blue (August to November) was triggered by some of Dave’s questions. See, Dave and I had a conversation in our second session about love and attraction between therapist and client. I was so relieved he was willing to discuss what so many therapists tend to ignore…it is a giant elephant in the room that can be extremely confusing for the client when they begin to develop feelings for their therapist. But it certainly isn’t surprising for this phenomenon to occur…a lot of vulnerability is required for a client to be successful in therapy…especially for someone who has experienced trauma. Vulnerability in such a safe environment fosters a form of love…perhaps it is parental, romantic, platonic…but in some form love will arrive. Dave brought this up early on…letting me be aware that this dynamic would probably show up at some point between us…and I SCOFFED at him. I told him I wouldn’t do that to him…I couldn’t destroy him (he’s married)…because that is exactly what I want to stop doing…destroying people. He asked if I thought I would destroy him…and I couldn’t meet his eyes. Of course I could. I didn’t want him to test it. I changed the topic without answering. That was all in the second session.
As an aside…when Dave told me that this love thing happens and is quite normal, I remembered how I had fallen in love with my first long term therapist when I was 17…and the therapist had ignored it, as did I. That would have been a GREAT time for the therapist to educate me on transference.
So when August came around…Dave asked me something along the lines of what I thought about him…and I scoffed again. “I don’t.” I was uncomfortable and irritated that he would ask me such things like what I think about him. Was he wanting kudos? This was supposed to be about me! Not him. So I was peeved. He dropped it…until the next session. And I was officially pissed this time. “I don’t think about you! You’re in a box and I can’t take you out of the box!” He was leaning into why I kept him in a box…and I thought he was encouraging me to…you know…destroy him. I was disgusted. I had trusted him…and it felt like he was hitting on me, encouraging me to let him out of the box that kept him safe from me.
I left. He knew something was wrong. I wasn’t looking him in the eye…and I sent an email soon after that said I was done with therapy. He sent me an email encouraging me to come back for one last appointment, to discuss what happened…and I ignored it (very unlike me). He didn’t email again.
It wasn’t until my life became overly chaotic in November when I realized I needed to go back to therapy. Dave and I had just started getting into some meat of my childhood before I ended therapy…and I felt like my soul was a lake whose silt had been stirred up. I couldn’t see anything in this lake…I didn’t understand anything about my life and what the fuck was going on. I felt exposed to the brokenness inside of me…and completely lost. I emailed Dave, asking to come back. I started really thinking about our interactions and thought maybe I had misread it…and if anything, I figured I could continue to ignore his advances while I worked out other shit (this wouldn’t be the first time in my life I’ve ignored advances from people who are influential in my life).
Dave put me on a wait list. #butthurt
After a week of waiting, I asked him if I should just start up with a new therapist (Annoying. Finding a good therapist is like dating and a job interview mixed into one horrific encounter where you somehow also have to pay $130+ per date/interview). He wrote back that there was an opening on Mondays…
So I went back. I didn’t want to talk about why I dropped him…I had other shit to talk about first….but he didn’t let it go. And rightfully so…I was sitting in his office crying about a boy who dropped me out of the blue, with no closure…and Dave would mention the similarities between my ex dropping me and me dropping him. He would bring it up and I could tell he was visibly hurt that I had dropped him without an explanation, without any closure, without an email…and I told him I didn’t want to think about how I had hurt him…and when he pressed that he was hurt…I reacted poorly. The first time he tried to show me he was hurt, I lashed out. “You only care because I pay you to care! I’m not special to you. I’m just another client. I’m not special”….(in retrospect, all of that sounded like eight-year old me. I felt myself become eight when I said it…I sounded eight. I was whining…felt like I was curled up in a chair crying when I said it). Oh that went over well. But therapy is like emotional prostitution…I am paying for someone to care. Dave said that doesn’t mean he doesn’t actually care about me. The money is like an ethical barrier to ensure he cares about me in the right ways….and now we are back to love between a client and a therapist.
I have a friend who is also a therapist. We stayed up late one night talking about love and therapy…and as he spoke about his experiences with clients and love, everything started clicking in my brain about what Dave was trying to do with me. All this talk about love and trauma and learning emotional intimacy…I was keeping Dave in a box to protect him and to protect myself…when I need to let him out of the box so I can learn that I can love and be loved without it being sexual, that I am worthy of love without sex, that sometimes people show up in love, and that I need to be able to respond better when people tell me I’ve hurt them. And if something sexual does come up, how to address it properly and ethically instead of how it has been handled by men in my past who exploited my vulnerability or status in relation to their power. This is all learning the emotional intimacy that I refused to engage in for years unless it was deeply tied into sex with people who didn’t reciprocate emotionally. I am not quite sure exactly why my love/sex/intimacy signals have been twisted and broken...abandonment from my dad? Sexual abuse? Boyfriend dying? Probably a bit of all of it.
Anyway, maybe I’ll let him out of the box and learn something. Like Dave said after we talked about all of this, “Welcome to Psychotherapy. You’re in it now.”