It seems like my current assignment in therapy these days is “learn to apply coping skills independently.” I don’t especially like this lesson, but I can see why it’s an appropriate goal. (Besides, how many times do we really enjoy what we learn in therapy? A lot of it is so damn painful.)
In therapy on Wednesday, E asks me how it was to have cancelled my Monday session with her and have only one session this week. When I say, “Hard! I didn’t like it,” she looks disappointed. Then she goes into her spiel about why it’s good for me, how I can do it, all the internal resources I have built up, blah blah blah.
Yep, I know, my dear E. You really don’t have to tell me that. I know it myself. After all, I am the one who proposed cancelling Monday’s session. The issue is not whether or not I am ready to try applying what I’ve learned. The issue is that it’s hard. The issue is that I miss you. I miss the intimacy of our sessions and the safe space to show myself.
I don’t say it quite like that. I don’t tend to cut her off when she launches into a long speech. But maybe I should, because often when she does that, I feel misunderstood. I feel lectured to. I feel she is engaging with the abstract principle of “client independence” and not with me, the person sitting across from her, who feels sad and lonely because our relationship is changing. Why does she do that? (Answer: It’s probably some kind of defense mechanism that kicks in whenever my hard emotions have to something to do with our connection.)
Anyway, I move us to talk about the difficulty of losing (or rather, slowly starting the process of losing) the safe place for deep, personal conversation. Then we talk about where else I can find that in my life. I don’t know that I have written about this much on my blog, but another recent “learning target” for me (to use educational jargon) has been the intentional development of other relationships that can provide some of that deep connection. It’s why I started going to a women’s group every two weeks. It’s why I have consciously reached out to some women I like, to spend more time with them and see if it’s possible to develop a deeper friendship. And of course, over a much longer period of time, I’ve been working to allow my husband to see deeper into me, to let him view the pain and doubt and depression and, well, all the scars I used to hide from him.
So she asks me to assess how those efforts are going.
“I’m growing closer to Danielle,” I say. “We are going on walks together once a week, and most days we text each other, naming one thing we are grateful for about our days. She suggested it, as a gratitude practice, and I love the regular connection.”
E beams approvingly at this. She knows Danielle–we met at the first therapy retreat E led, two and a half years ago now. “What about Lisa?”
Lisa is another person I met at the same therapy retreat. “We’ve done a lot of things together,” I said, “but lately she feels more distant. Maybe it’s just that in the summer she has her son home more, or maybe because she’s moving soon. But I’m still hopeful about that friendship.”
“Good,” says E. “What about Helen? Have you seen her lately?”
“No, not much,” I say. “She’s always so busy, with two teenagers at home. But she’s great. I’m meeting Tina for lunch tomorrow though.”
Helen and Tina are two women I met in my yoga teacher training in 2017. That was an experience that fostered a lot of kindness to one another in moments of vulnerability, so I hold warm feelings toward everyone in my cohort. But Helen and Tina were my two favorites.
I continue on, “Eliza is great when I see her, but that’s not very often, because she’s so busy with her kids. It’s a little hard because I had kids at a younger age than most professional women, and I’m done raising mine, but a lot of my peers are not. And they just don’t have as much room in their lives for friendship; at least that’s how it seems to me. And I remember when my boys were home, I also didn’t go do things with friends all that much.”
“Nina?” she asks. “Didn’t you meet up with her?”
“I did, one time,” I say. “That was the only time. But the good thing is, I’m actually going to see her again on Saturday. I really like her. She has so much enthusiasm and eagerness to make her life richer and happier than it’s been.”
E shows me that she has written down all the names: Danielle, Lisa, Helen, Tina, Eliza, Nina. “That’s very different than six or eight months ago.”
“It is,” I agree. “And even if they aren’t always available, and even if I share at different levels with some than with others, they are all smart, kind women, and I can be real with them. Maybe not tell them everything I’m thinking or feeling, but I definitely don’t have to keep it superficial. And my sisters. I don’t tell them everything, but I can share a lot, and I feel relaxed and comfortable with them. Also there is Leah, my beloved long-distance texting friend, and Polly, my brilliant if somewhat erratic friend from grad school. I can tell Leah and Polly a lot about my work in therapy; they know what that’s like.”
E adds them, and my sisters, to the list.
“And more importantly, I tell my husband a lot more than I used to. He doesn’t always get it or respond in the way I wish he would. But he listens, and he tries, and he accepts me.”
“Yes, he’s been great,” she agrees.
It’s not the only thing we talk about in therapy, but it’s one of the main things I carry out of the session with me–the sense that I’m not as alone as I used to be. There are people in this world who are willing to listen to my thoughts and emotions. There are people with whom I can be honest about my struggles. It’s deeply comforting.
So a day later, I am at sex therapy with Marie, and it’s messy and hard and oh, so triggering. Triggering in a way I haven’t been triggered in a couple of years. I’m dissociating and dizzy and I want to curl up and make myself small. I feel weak, as if all the strength has been sapped from my muscles, and I can hardly stand up. It’s very hard to drive home.
At home, I fall into bed, because that is what I do when I’m flooded and overwhelmed in this way. It’s painful and dark and frightening and lonely in this mental space. I know it’s some kind of implicit memory. I know I am safe now. But I don’t feel safe.
I’d really appreciate some comfort. Last year, I would have texted E for some validation, support, and encouragement. But that’s off the table now. She probably wouldn’t object if I emailed her, would she? But it feels like I’m not supposed to. Marie said I could call her, but that doesn’t seem right, to work to separate from E and just replace her with another therapist.
I run through the list of names. “Triggered in sex therapy” is not a topic I’m ready to bring up with some of the women on the list. I text something small to two of them. When I last checked, a couple of hours ago, there’s no response yet, and I’m already questioning myself. Maybe that’s TMI? Maybe I shouldn’t say anything?
It’s all so confusing. It’s more complicated than I thought. I know I have more people than I used to have in my life. I know I can tell them how I’m doing with my depression and medication withdrawal. I can talk to them about how hard it is to be a good mom, or the questions I ask myself about my career. But when it comes to something as deeply personal as triggering implicit memories from childhood sexual abuse, is that something I can share? Maybe that’s only really for therapy offices. Maybe I do need to get through this by myself.
CREDIT: Photo by Molly Belle on Unsplash