Just in time for Halloween, a real horror show. It’s the return of the attachment wound, that monster that turns rational adult women into screaming, desperate toddlers…
It’s Monday, my first day back in therapy after my vacation. And since E was on vacation before me, it’s really our first opportunity to restart the work for the first time since the end of August.
You might think I’d be excited and eager after such a long break. And in a way, I am; my mind remembers that it feels good to sit in her office and be seen and accepted. But on the other hand, I have coped with the separation by trying to tuck as much emotional “stuff” as possible into a big box and then shoving that box under the bed. Honestly, I feel kind of disconnected. Plus I’m still jet-lagged and worried about my son.
So on the drive over to E’s office, I decide my only goal for therapy today is to start to reconnect. But when I enter the old Victorian house where she works, I can feel the protective walls around my heart.
It helps that she greets me with a warm smile. She playfully extends her fingertip to touch mine, echoing the line in a poem she sent me earlier about returning after an absence. I feel welcomed. We spend most of the hour catching up–my trip, my emotional and physical state, and what’s going on with Andres. It’s kind of like laying the groundwork for moving ahead.
I leave the session still not fully connected, but hopeful. But when I return on Wednesday, it all seems to crumble.
First, she seems tired and less attentive. Okay, she’s human, that can happen. Second, we return yet again to the topic of my existential loneliness, and it turns into a conversation about activities I can go to or groups I can join. I can’t even remember now if we say anything directly about those walls around my heart that both protect me and hold me prisoner. It just feels like we are talking at completely different levels.
It doesn’t help that the venlafaxine withdrawal symptoms have started up again, and my arms, hands, legs and feet are electric.
There isn’t really anything wrong with the session, per se. But I leave feeling unseen and alone. I go home, work a little, do some chores. But the feeling grows, creeping out of its dark spaces, fingers crawling up to wrap themselves around my ankles, thin icy tendrils piercing my skin, digging in, and finding their way up into my mind.
Wait, I tell myself. Don’t get lost in this anxiety and loneliness. It was just a missed connection. E cares about me. I can reach out to her–she’s often said I can–and tell her what I’m feeling, and she’ll reassure me.
So I email her:
There is something we aren’t hitting when we talk about loneliness and needing to find my tribe. I don’t know what it is exactly, but there is a hole that hurts and isn’t getting whatever it is that it needs. I’m sorry to be so vague. I am not sure what we are missing.
It’s about 90 minutes later when I hear back from her:
Go in and look around. Think about what it would feel like if you weren’t missing the indescribable thing. If you got it and had words for it, what would that feel like? What words come close to explaining that feeling? This is good weekend homework for you.
In the meanti me, my distress is already growing anyway. And there is something about the “good weekend homework” that feels so dismissive to me. It’s only early evening Wednesday. Does that mean go away and work on this on my own and just bring it back to her next Monday? I’m convinced that’s it, and it accentuates my sense of being alone.
Maybe I’m just not good at connecting, I think. After all, I thought I was reaching out, and she didn’t feel it that way. And I’m around people who are friendly to me, but who never become close friends. It’s that damn wall around my heart again. I keep people out. Or I’m missing the skills to let them in. And after all this therapy, and as old as I am, maybe this isn’t fixable anymore.
I text her back
I think I just can’t connect deeply.
With the feeling? Or with others?
With others. I want to but… I don’t. Or I can’t.
And realistically, this probably isn’t going to change much.
Then I suppose you will have a part of you that lives with the loneliness of this loss.
Just the wrong answer. I realize, as I read it, that I didn’t want her to AGREE with me. I wanted her to reassure me, or to highlight ways in which she has seen me connect with people. Of course, it’s text after all, and my sentences are short, and she doesn’t know what I might be needing, underneath my words. But the thought of just living with “the loneliness of this loss” fills me with despair. All I write, however, is
A few moments later, she texts back
What does that answer mean? Is she trying to say that she knows living with the loneliness is ugh, and that’s why I have to keep trying? I feel confused.
What are you saying?
But it’s getting to be dinner time, or maybe it’s the week she runs a therapy group in the evening, so I don’t hear back. I eat my own dinner, and I read a bit, but the monster in my head is growing. In a rush of confused emotion, I write
I am trying hard but I’m still lonely. Is it hopeless? Am I hopeless?
That’s what I feel when I come to see you, feeling lonely, and then leave, not knowing how to address it.
Recognizing that I’m tired and discouraged, that something weird may be happening with the Effexor again, I still don’t see my way out of this.
She obviously is busy, because it’s hours before I hear back from her.
I’m sorry to hear you feel lonely after our sessions. I’m glad you are talking about it. Let’s talk in person about this experience of loneliness. Sounds painful and worth exploring. Have you been cutting the Effexor again?
This is a totally reasonable response, but at the same time I note: “let’s talk about this in session.” In other words: wait. But the urgency is growing. The monster inside is transforming me into a small child, with the (lack of) patience of a small child.
I think my earlier message didn’t make sense. When I read it again now, itdoes not express what I think I was trying to say.
I’m sorry; it’s probably frustrating to get these messages saying I feel lonely after session. All I know is that I feel highly dysregulated and alone. I can see I’m caught in some irrational thinking, but it feels so true that I also can’t pull out of it.
(I have NOT been reducing the Effexor again but ever since I refilled my prescription 5 days ago, I have all the symptoms of reducing it and have to wonder what is going on.)
I need you and don’t want to need you and feel utterly uncertain of our connection and am appalled to be feeling this AGAIN. I hate it. I hate being like this.
Sorry to hear this. Maybe the pharmacist can give you information on the source issue. Sort of would make sense something is different in the medication. Hm.
I’m right here. Our connection is strong. You have a right to get assurance. I’m glad you are caring for yourself by asking.
I can’t feel our connection. I am sad and mad and confused (that “helpless rage”). And my adult self is embarrassed by that…
I’m sorry, it’s late.
I’m here, felt or not. Can you allow, soften and soothe? You don’t have to fix this right now. We have time to talk this out. Soothe the worried parts as best you can. You are going to be fine. We are fine.
By this time, I am in bed, next to my husband who kisses me and tells me, again, how much he loves me. And I think, how can you love me, I am a raging two-year-old lunatic? But I don’t tell him that. I kiss him back and tell him, again, how lucky I am to have him. Because I am, I know I am, even though in some ways I can’t fully feel it right now.