Every other Thursday is sex therapy day. Except lately it’s been less about having sex and more about the impact of old traumas and the blocks they create to having sex. Clearly related, but not quite the same thing.
So today I climb the wooden stairs up to Marie’s office, fairly relaxed, having recovered from feeling very drained after my intake with the EMDR therapist on Tuesday. I sit down on her couch and promptly pull a pillow on my lap. I like and trust Marie, but I also like to have a little something to hide behind in therapy.
“Only a few days until vacation!” she says cheerfully.
I smile. Another reason I am fairly relaxed is that my husband and I are leaving Monday for a tropical vacation. We are both passionate about the ocean, so exploring the underwater world will be a big part of it, as well as cultural experiences and learning to cook new foods and, well, just having a big chunk of uninterrupted time together. We’re both very excited.
“So of course I’m dying to hear how it went with Elaine the other day,” Marie says.
I tell her it went fine. Elaine seemed warm, and very competent, and deeply knowledgeable. She has a deep expertise in EMDR. Essentially her entire practice is only EMDR, along with internal family systems. Elaine said she’s found it doesn’t help much to use EMDR unless we’ve worked with whatever parts have developed to defend the traumatic wound. She made me feel (mostly) comfortable talking about a couple of the parts that I imagine would get activated about this work–Doubt, for example, and a teenager part. But more about that another time.
Marie nods her head as I talk. She had spoken to Elaine on the phone before I ever did, and she already felt Elaine would be good for this work.
“When will you see her again? And how often?”
“Not for about a month,” I say. “It has to be after my vacation, and then she had a good opening on October 8. And it will be either weekly or every other week; we haven’t settled that yet.”
“I think we should put a pause on our work while you work with her,” Marie tells me. “I don’t want to be working at cross purposes. You still have E as your primary therapist, and you can work on healing the trauma that blocks you from feeling free to be sexual with your husband with Elaine.”
At one level, that makes sense. But that is not the level on the surface. Suddenly, I feel I am struggling not to cry (and I am the one who has never, ever cried in therapy–even out of therapy, I can count the number of times I have cried in the past 20 years on one hand).
Marie talks on a bit more, I think, and then pauses to ask me, “How does that sound?”
I’m a little tongue-tied, and it takes me a few tries to manage to say that I feel a lot of resistance and nervousness. I edit out that I feel hurt as well, because I remember that revealing that my hurt seemed to make E defensive–or something. At least, it seemed to complicate our relationship. Anyway, I do say, “I don’t even know if the EMDR will be helpful, and then I give this up, and you’ll fill my slot, and then what will I do?”
“There’s no rush to fill your slot,” she replies. “I can just use the time for people who need to make changes to their regular times, and then we can check in after six weeks or eight weeks or whatever, and you can see what you want to do then. Maybe the EMDR won’t help, and you’ll want to come back here and work as we have been. Maybe it will help, and you’ll feel your reaction to traumatic memories will be changed, and you will just come back here to work on a few things related to your sexual relationship with your husband. Or the EMDR will work, and you’ll feel free enough on your own to re-establish your sexual relationship. It will probably be one of those three options.”
Again, I can tell with my head that this is logical. I try to nod and be reasonable. But Marie’s not dumb; she can see how upset I am and keeps encouraging me to talk about it. It’s hard; disconnected thoughts race through my head, and I’m not focused.
“That’s okay,” she says. “Just start with one of them, and we can see where it takes us.”
With difficulty, I say, “I think I feel like I am being pushed out of the nest. I am being pushed out of the nest here, and also by E, and I’m not ready. I don’t like it.” I covered my face for a moment, frustrated. “I know I am overreacting; I can see it.”
“No, no you are not,” she says.
“I am, it’s okay, I know I am.” I take a breath. “But there is a reason for it. I have spent a good part of this year going back and forth with E because of this. She’ll say, now, that I can stay however long I feel I need to, but I don’t believe her. I mean, I believe she will let me stay, but I don’t believe she thinks I should, so I don’t feel fully relaxed…”
I also feel incredibly disloyal, complaining to Marie about my therapy with E. They know each other. It’s not like they are close friends, but they have interacted professionally before.
“What else?” she asks.
“I feel like I was pushed out of the nest from home before I was ready, too.”
“How old were you?”
“I was seventeen when I actually left home,” I explain, “but even before that, I felt like I was not getting support transitioning to adulthood. I remember crying in frustration when I was trying to apply for college, because I didn’t know how to do it or how to choose or even how to think about what would be a good fit for me. I didn’t know how to talk to my manager at work about my schedule. I didn’t know how to cope with so many things, and really, from the time my mom married my stepdad when I was fourteen, I really didn’t feel like I had anyone on my side.”
I think about that a little more. “Once my mom married my stepdad, I no longer had an adult on my side. And even before that, I couldn’t be sure of whether I did or not.” And then, a flash of guilt about being disloyal to my mom. I love my mom. She loves me. It’s just complicated.
Marie doesn’t worry about the “complicated” part. She focuses on how I’m feeling right now. “And now it feels like you are going through a transition and your supports aren’t going to be there for you again, something like that?”
“Yes,” I say. “Something like that.”
“Can you think of some ways this is the same and some ways it is different from your experience with your mom?”
Same: I feel rushed, hurried out, upset because there isn’t a place for me. Different: I can come back after working with Elaine, or if EMDR doesn’t help.
“But can I really come back? I don’t know. When I was seventeen, I graduated early from high school and then I spent a year in Spain as an exchange student. It was a good experience in lots of ways, also because the family there was much more open about emotions and generally healthier.”
“Right before I left for Spain, when my mom took me to the airport, she said, ‘I hope you have a wonderful experience. But if it it doesn’t work out, don’t worry, you can come home, and no one will think less of you for it.’ This was a wonderful thing to hear, to know I had a safe nest to go back to if I needed it.”
“But the thing is, it wasn’t true. Less than two months after I left for Spain, my family moved. She and my stepdad bought a new, smaller house in another state. There was a bedroom for them, one for my brother, and one for my two sisters to share. There was no place for me. They had no intention of me coming home.” I am surprised I am talking about this. I haven’t really talked about this in therapy before.
“That’s painful,” Marie says, or something to that effect. Something that makes me think she gets it. “One way this is different for you, though, is that this time you have agency; you have a choice. You don’t have to go see Elaine. You decided to do that. You can still change your mind, now or anytime. It’s up to you.”
But it doesn’t feel that way to me. It doesn’t feel like a choice. Yes, I decided to see Elaine. But I didn’t realize that it meant stopping my sessions with Marie, especially so abruptly. It was Marie’s idea, not mine, for me to stop seeing her. I just look at her.
“I promise,” she says, slowly and seriously, “I promise I won’t give away your time slot until you say it’s okay. I have ten people on my waiting list right now. I won’t call any of them. It’s your slot. There is still a bedroom with your name on it.”
That helps a little, to hear that. But at the same time, am I going to feel like I’m expected to give up the slot, whether I want to or not? I’m not sure.
Marie smiles at me, “I know, it will take time before you find out if you can fully believe that promise. That’s okay.”
It occurs to me that Marie is accepting my unhappiness about this in a way E never could. E tends to go on and on about how it will be good for me to see her less often, how it’s better for me to be independent, blah blah blah, too many words that to me just sound like: you should go away now. At least Marie isn’t doing that. She’s not telling me that I’m wrong to be upset.
We’re getting near the end of the session and pull out calendars. Marie is going to be off the first two weeks in November (another effing therapy vacation, sigh). So how about if I see her November 21? I count up the weeks: 10. That sounds like a lot. Fine, whatever.
I’m frowny though and less warm and talkative than usual. Marie doesn’t seem uneasy exactly, but I can tell she’s still assessing what’s needed.
Suddenly she says, “How about this? Think about it a bit. I won’t open up your October 10 session for anyone else to switch into for at least a week. If you think you might want to keep it and have another session when you get back from your trip, just email me, and we’ll meet then.”
I nod. That’s a good solution, because right now I am not thinking clearly enough to tell whether I need that time or not. I am just in the midst of some kind of I’m-being-rejected emotional reaction that is 90 percent about the past and only 10 percent about whether or not I need to keep seeing Marie while I’m doing EMDR.
So that’s where we leave it. I go away with a couple of options for meeting with Marie later on. I also carry with me a new realization:
Marie promised to protect my slot until I decide I’m ready to give it up, and I believe her (at least mostly). E has said I can stay with her until I’m ready to go, but she said that after a lot of clashing, and I don’t really believe her. That is, I believe she won’t terminate me. But I don’t believe she is fully okay with me taking my own sweet time. And part of why I feel so upset today is because I haven’t really resolved this issue with E (despite thinking I put it to rest earlier).
I also see that Marie is far more comfortable with me being upset by something she has said than E ever is. This makes me feel more frustrated with E (and again, disloyal for saying that).
I really just want to curl up in my comfortable therapy nests, stay there, and be comforted and comfortable. Is that so wrong?
CREDIT: Photo by Luke Brugger on Unsplash