I was pretty nervous leading up to my therapy session on Wednesday. I was going in with all that angry energy of the abandoned inner child, the one who was so outraged to find out that E planned to take a three-week vacation in September. I felt, on the one hand, that I wanted to honor those feelings and maybe even discuss them (maybe maybe maybe???) with E. But I feared, on the other hand, that it might come out in a way that was off-putting for E and might somehow land us in a rupture. And that would just be proof that my fear of therapy in July was warranted.
It’s been a long time since I went into therapy* with my heart pounding so nervously.
(Note: “went into therapy” means I got to meet E again in the garden behind her office. We sit across a table from each other and talk in person. We’ve done that four consecutive weeks now, and except for the week we got a little rained on, it’s been ten thousand times better than looking at each other on our laptop screens.)
When I got there, the pens and coloring books were already sitting on the garden table. We often color while we talk, though sometimes when the conversation gets going, we don’t make a lot of progress on our pictures. It doesn’t matter; the coloring is relaxing and companionable, and it keeps me going when I sometimes get stuck for something to say.
On this day, though, I brought my own project with me. I have an art journal I sometimes spend a lot of time on and other times neglect for weeks at a time. I generally work on it at home, though I had brought it to one other session. I opened it up, picked up a couple of the darker colored pens and set to work adding to the scribbles I had started that morning.
At first, E didn’t say anything about it. Instead, she asked me what I thought about our last group session on Monday. I said it was great, which was true. (Later on, I’ll need to post about group. E has changed the way we work together on Zoom, and it’s become deep and rich and meaningful.) I told her how much I respected one of the group members for taking a big risk to talk about things in her life. But it was clear, even though the words were all positive, that everything wasn’t okay.
So she gestured toward the journal. “What’s behind all that? What’s that energy?”
I paused for a moment, then I said simply, “It’s an expression by the part of me that doesn’t like you going on vacation.”
She smiled, kindly, and nodded her head, “That’s always hard for you, I know. Do you want to say more about what the part is experiencing?”
I did, but I wasn’t sure where to start. Then I thought, well, after all, I had already explained it all in my blog post. “I posted about it,” I told her. “I’ll just read you the post.”
So I did, I read it aloud, slowly, taking time to assess her reaction. When I said I wanted to discuss our first, longest rupture, she nodded seriously and scribbled something down on her notepad. She smiled a little when I read the part saying she should just take a few long weekends to go camping and half laughed when I said that grabbing her and pleading for her not to go would violate social distancing. I felt like she was listening intensely and taking it all in.
The first thing she asked me was about the protective part, the part that wanted to shut down. Could I tell her more about that? What would be the benefit if I did that? Was there any down side to it?
That followed familiar patterns from our past conversation. Yes, shutting down offers me some protection, keeps me safe from being hurt more, but it also keeps me separate from people I care about. It leaves me lonely.
“What exactly do you need protection from?” she asked me. “What are you afraid might happen when you share emotions like those of the unhappy toddler?”
“Well, it makes me so vulnerable,” I said. “And you might say something like ‘We are all ultimately alone. We have to come to terms with that. We are all born alone, and we die alone.” Those were words on hers that stabbed me in the heart, back during that first rupture–and a few times since, as well.
“Right, you hate that, I know,” she said. She smiled a little, not in a ha-it’s-so-funny way, but rather in a yes-I-remember-everything-we’ve-been-through-together way. Then she got kind of thoughtful and said, “I guess that kind of answer isn’t very respectful of the little one’s feelings, is it?”
Right! Exactly! Those words crushed the little one. They felt like a giant push away from the trust and connection we had gradually been building. If only she’d remembered at the time that all I needed was a little reassurance that the little one’s emotions were valid and tolerable! Instead, we spent three months at odds, me frightened, angry, and distrustful, E frustrated and uncertain, for a time, about how to make things right again.
I didn’t say all those thoughts, however. Perhaps they will come up some day, if we ever do talk directly about that first rupture. But just the fact that she recognized now, if not then, that all her existential we-are-all-alone shit was invalidating of the toddler’s abandonment fears… just that felt good.
And anyway, this time she wasn’t making the same mistake. Instead, she was warm and kind to the toddler. She didn’t seem threatened or uncomfortable at all. She just talked about how painful and even life-threatening abandonment can feel to a very young child. She asked me how I could help to reassure that young part of me.
“You can’t though,” I said. “I think we talked many times about how it’s my responsibility to care for that anxious little one.”
“Right, it is,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t have help. You are being a great advocate right now for the little one. You are articulating her fears and her needs to someone who cares, someone who wants to help.”
I thought about that. In fact, I have continued to think about that. I still get confused about the idea that “we have to heal ourselves.” I resisted it for a long time. I wanted so much to be rescued! But I think I finally came to terms with the idea that it is sad, but we can’t go back in time and have a hero come and save our little selves. So all we can do now is save those little selves on our own, with our strongest, wisest adult parts.
However, somehow maybe I had come to think that means we aren’t supposed to lean on others for support. And here E was telling me, no, I didn’t have to do it all by myself.
She told me that she wanted to do something that would be especially for the that vulnerable young part. She wanted to send a card, and she would think about what she could say directly to that part about how much she was committed to providing support and care for her.
I can’t remember exactly everything else we said, except that it was accepting, validating and soothing. She was glad I read her the blog, that I shared what my “irrational, childish” feelings, the ones I used to bury because I thought they weren’t acceptable. She said it was a big deal and a beautiful way to support that very young version of myself.
While we had this conversation, I got out my white pen and added to my scribbled page in the art journal. I drew in some cartoon little hands, reaching, stretching, trying to connect, in spite of all the messy stuff going on all around her.