My emotions are so raw and close to the surface. I am so in need of care and comfort. I think I am conveying this to my therapist, but she isn’t seeing it, or her responses are too clinical or (my great fear, of course), she doesn’t want to meet it. Or, most likely explanation, she’s doing everything fine, and I’m just in a place where I can’t receive what she’s offering.
I feel that I’ve dug myself into another hole. It started a couple of months back, with conversations in therapy about how hard it is for me to stay emotionally present during sex with my husband, even though we have a good relationship. We tiptoed a little around the question of what part of me is present–who is this part, and what does she need. That part carries a lot of the convoluted messages I hold in my head about sex and being “bad” or “dirty.” I decided at one point that maybe she needs some new messages about sex, some positive sex education.
So far, so good. I mean, I feel like that was progress. But somehow recently, as I have explored the negative messages I hold about sex, I feel like I got caught, or perhaps I took a wrong turn. I went back to visit an old experience, how it happened and what I believe it says about me. I peeled it back a little. Why was I so complicit? Why did I pretend that something was okay when it absolutely wasn’t?
This brings me face-to-face with my helplessness. Yes, I was educated into this helplessness, any resistance I might once have shown frightened or scolded or trained out of me. But that doesn’t make it feel okay. It makes me feel weak and vulnerable and rather ashamed of myself. I wasn’t nine years old anymore when this particular experience took place. On the contrary, I was 21. I was in college. It’s hard to make peace with helplessness at that age. I’m trying, though.
Trying means I’ve been working on a letter to that 21-year-old self; I’m currently up to version 4. It’s hard to get it right. At first it was too distant, too generic. The second letter dealt in excruciating detail with what actually happened. I was trying to communicate that I could look at every detail and still love and accept the girl who lived through that. But it was dry and technical and, frankly, depressing. In the third letter, I tried to shift away from facts to beliefs. What beliefs was this girl holding about herself? Were these accurate and healthy?
This version 3 was not a bad idea. It is important to examine and challenge negative beliefs. And yet I still didn’t feel that the 21-year-old, as a recipient, was satisfied. The letter was telling her how she should think, but I came to realize that what she really wanted was comfort.
“So what would you say to her?” E asked me. “What comfort can you give her?”
That’s when I got stuck. I couldn’t generate the warmth, affection and care that the girl needed. I couldn’t generate it, because I needed it myself. By peeling back these layers of myself, I had exposed the uncertain, lonely, alienated girl who needed the generous hug of a non-judgmental mother.
“I can’t find that tenderness,” I told E. “I don’t have it in me. I have a cold, stony heart.”
E didn’t believe my heart is stone and asked me to think about how I have mothered my own children. But she also said she could keep giving me some of that, some of the tenderness the wounded parts need.
(Side note: Sometimes I fear I do have a heart of stone. I worry that I mothered my children too much out of my head and not enough out of my heart. I worry that I haven’t taught them how to deal with emotions. How could I? I am only learning that now, in my own middle age. What have I failed to give them? How much do they long for comfort?)
I went home after that session with my longing for tender care turned up to HIGH. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I wanted to be loved and cuddled and hugged and cared for. Honestly, I wanted to be babied. I put myself to sleep at night imagining that I had my head in E’s lap and she was touching my hair and making the soothing sounds to me that you make to a toddler or little child who is very upset.
I’m not kidding myself. I know this won’t happen. I don’t even think I’d want it to, not really. I know it’s transference, and maybe it’s accentuated because of Mother’s Day this week. But it’s makes me feel peaceful to imagine it.
Except that it makes it disappointed with the real-life E, who has no idea of my canyon-sized neediness (and couldn’t possibly fill it if she did). I feel myself grasping at her in unskilled ways. I feel hurt, as if she’s rejected me. But since I know this is not real, it feels ridiculous, and it’s hard to talk to her about it.
I try, in session on Monday. With great difficulty, I admit that I want to be held and babied (not by her, I leave that out, because 1) too embarrassing! and 2) she’s an imaginary substitute for what I really want, which is to go back in time and have my mom do it). She doesn’t laugh at me for this. She sees it comes from a wounded place, and she’s kind about it, so much so that it feels easier for me to bear.
I leave the session with a sense of relief. A little later, I text her:
I feel lighter after our session today. Thank you!
It’s simple. It’s not important. But when she doesn’t respond, the feeling of rejection grows. Oh come on, I tell myself. This is so irrational. Even though I understand that emotions aren’t rational, this seems a bit too much.
My insomnia is not better; if anything, it’s worse. So last night I’m awake at 3:30, trying to be mindful, accepting. This is what my nights are like these days, with long periods of wakefulness. That’s all right. It’s just now, and it won’t last forever. However, since it’s the middle of the night and I’m exhausted, frustrated, and awake, I start to spin out mental stories about how I won’t ever be able to work because I can’t function in the mornings without sleep and I never get anything done and I’m so unproductive and I just hate myself like this… well, you know how this can go. In general I feel mindfulness has helped me, but sometimes (when I’m triggered, especially), it all goes out the window.
I text E about an hour later. I know she has her phone off at night and won’t see it until morning; that’s why I feel I can do this–I tell myself I am not disturbing her. I write about my despair of ever getting a grip on my life when I can’t count on sleeping, my frustration at having tried so many things without success, my hopeless fury at a brain that won’t cooperate with me, my wish to burn myself just to calm all this down. It’s a bit of a rant. Then I ask her, if she has time in the morning, could she please call Tabitha (psychiatric nurse, remember?) and share some of this with her? I have an appointment this afternoon, and I need help with this but I have a hard time sharing all the story or even explaining at 2:00 in the afternoon how desperate I feel at 4:30 in the morning.
I get up with my husband at 5:00, have tea, read the news, feed the dogs, then manage to sleep a bit more. Mornings are better for sleep.
When there’s no response from E by 11:30 in the morning, I’m doing it all over again, scolding myself for asking too much of her, kicking myself for the idiocy of actually sending a text written in the middle of the night. It’s one thing to write in the darkness, but something else to hit “send.”
She texts at 11:45 that she left a message for Tabitha, she hopes I got some sleep later, and she’ll see me tomorrow. I read “see you tomorrow” as “don’t text me anymore today for god’s sake.” Maybe she means it that way, maybe she doesn’t. I am so oversensitive right now.
So somehow, from what started out as an attempt to be more fully present in my relationship with my husband, I have landed back in this hole. There’s no particular reason to be insecure in my relationship with E. She’s repeatedly shown herself to be on my side. I know it’s something restless and angry and tired inside of me that’s pulled me down here in this uncomfortable, narrow hole. I wonder what it takes to climb back out?
q, its ok, it will be ok, you sound like your hurting so much. you did all the right things. honestly you did. i’m sure e cares, maybe another frank conversation about how you feel when you next see her might help? I know sometimes its hard to get words out though. Its like that for me too. Know that I am here and I care and I am sending love and so many hugs to you, xo
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You are so sweet. I love your kind comment. I am going to have a session with E in about an hour, and I think I will take this post with me and try to talk through it, as honestly as I can. I feel like maybe I can do it today, because I feel better than I did when I first wrote it.
Thanks for your hugs; I can feel them all the way from across the world. xo
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I’m so glad that you can, good luck today in your session, XX
So sorry for your pain. Benadryl? I assume there’s no important pre-21 history….
Nah, Benedryl leaves me with a groggy hangover. I have tried it.
Oh yes, a very complicated pre-21 history, of course. And I know that’s how I ended up where I did.
I think 21 is still very young and vulnerable an age, and with an abuse history already, it’s likely you were sort of conditioned into certain situations with certain people. You’re doing a lot of deep and meaningful work and you’re doing really well. I hope you can get from E what you need.
Now that I’m feeling better today, I can agree with you that 21 is pretty young still. Legally, 21-year-olds are adults, but I know that I was still quite naive and inexperienced. My self-confidence didn’t even exist yet. I see young people now who are 21, and I respect their emerging adulthood, but I can also see that they are still developing as adults (for example, my son and his friends). This makes it easier to understand how all this could have happened. Thanks for your compassionate interpretation and kindness. Comments like yours are a real comfort when I’m having a hard time.
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I’m sorry that you’re in pain and feeling so down. You definitely do not have a heart of stone. It sounds like you’re feeling ashamed of past events and ashamed that your feelings aren’t rational. It’s okay to feel like you need E, and it’s okay to feel uncertain about her, even if there’s no overt reason why.
There are moments when I can handle all of this. And then there are the moments when it seems like too much. I get mad at myself about the “too much” moments. I think things like, “I should know this by now,” and “for god’s sake, not again” or “this is ridiculous.” It would probably be better to say, “Oh, right, it’s this again. Of course this will keep coming up, both because it was traumatic and because I still don’t have my brain chemistry under control. It’s okay to feel like this sometimes. It will pass. I am safe. It will be all right.” Perhaps I should record this for myself on my phone, actually.
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I understand what you mean about being 21 – I’ve been in a similar position. I’d already been in a sexual relationship when I was much younger, so how could I possibly claim innocence or lack of understanding of what was happening? I spent over 30 years believing that what happened was my fault, I must have encouraged it, I must have secretly wanted it, and it is only now that I can see that I wasn’t mature or experienced either emotionally or sexually – quite the opposite – and had been conditioned to be unassertive and boundariless which was then taken advantage of. In some ways that knowledge is actually way more painful than just taking all the blame myself, because it involves confronting the poor parenting I had and just how shitty some of my “friends” really were (including that first sexual partner).
I can also relate to some of what you’re saying about feeling cold and heartless. After years of trying to please people and buy my way into love and security that way I’ve swung in the other direction and don’t want to give anything to anyone, which is a relief but also makes me feel guilty. I have got to the point though where I can conceptualise it as “temporary compassion fatigue”, and something that will improve in the future. I think that as I learn to set my own boundaries and ask for my own needs to be met in healthier ways, it will feel safer and easier to give of myself to other people.
What I’m trying to say is that right now it is intense and horrible and maybe feels like you won’t find a way through, but I think that even though you can’t change the actual events of the past, with E’s help you can learn to think of think of what happened and think of yourself, in quite a different way.
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I appreciate this response so much–it feels like you get it, which is so validating. And I like the idea of “temporary compassion fatigue.” I mean, it’s funny, it’s easy for me to feel compassionate to others here on WP. But it’s hard for me to put much energy into other people in real life right now. I do think some of that is about how hard I worked at my old job for many years (16+) and how self-sacrificing I was there. Maybe in time, when I feel rested and re-centered in my own life, I’ll be able to do more of the kind things for others that I’d like to do, that I believe we should do for one another, when we can.
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[…] myself. By the time I head for therapy around 2:00, I feel ready to be honest and brave. I take my most recent blog post with me, in which I describe my need for comfort and soothing, and my fantasy that E will provide […]