After a Therapist’s Vacation

Tomorrow I see E for the first time in four weeks. Overall, I feel I’ve managed fairly well during this break. Yes, of course, I missed her and our sessions together. But not in the same way I did, say, in 2016 when she went to Japan for a month. Then I was more desperate, had fewer coping strategies, and was very isolated. (I has also just had a hysterectomy and was in a lot of pain.) All those factors made my need for her intense.

Four years later, my mental health is more stable. When I’m distressed (and the wildfires have made much of this month quite distressing), I have a bigger toolkit to draw from–not that it always works perfectly, but it’s something. And I have opened up to more people, so the sense of being devastatingly alone with so much craziness has eased. Now I’m more open with my husband about how I feel. I have a friend from group that I share confidences with. I tell my sisters more than I used to, though I still edit things out. I have a couple other people I can turn to. Maybe it’s that more than anything, the not feeling so alone, that has made it easier to cope.

Over these past four weeks, I have certainly thought about E, fairly often in fact. Sometimes I have carried on mental conversations, imagining telling her about what’s been happening and my emotional response. Sometimes I have even had a few stray thoughts along the line of, “Hm, I’m all right, maybe I could go to therapy less often…” But I haven’t obsessed.

And now, finally, I’m about to see her, after all this time, and I am overflowing with emotion. To be more precise, I feel very, very angry.

My wise, centered, adult self knows that E hasn’t done anything wrong. She took a long vacation, okay. She is entitled to that, and it probably helps her stay healthy and centered.

However, it’s not my wise, centered, adult self that is raging. It’s my young self, maybe a toddler or maybe a four- or five-year-old self that is erupting:

I’m not going to go back there and talk to her! Why should I? She doesn’t care about me! She left me. She left, for a long time. And she didn’t care about me or think about me or worry about how I was doing. She doesn’t think I’m important. She doesn’t love me.

I guess I’m not important. I’m not. I’m nothing. I don’t matter. No one really loves me, not really. I shouldn’t even be here.

But why doesn’t she think I’m important? Why did she leave me? Why, why doesn’t she care?

And she wasn’t even here during the fires and doesn’t even know how awful that was and how scary it is to know that, with climate change, it will happen again. How could she be gone during such a hard time?

She’s so mean to have left. I don’t love her anymore. I don’t want to see her.

But I DO want to see her. And I want her to see me, to care for me, to comfort me.

I don’t want her to leave anymore!

I know, I really do know, that this is old stuff. This is abandonment angst. This is my mother not seeing when I was wounded. This is my mother not protecting me and my siblings from my stepdad’s emotional abuse. This is other things I don’t hold as narrative memory but do hold in my body. E is not the cause; her vacation is simply a trigger that sends echoes reverberating down the chamber of painful emotions.

But the thing is, it feels like current pain. During the day today, as I imagined seeing her tomorrow, I genuinely couldn’t imagine talking to her about how hard the whole wildfire experience has been, the grief it provoked, the way it has brought up old trauma memories, how off balance I still am, especially at night. When I even tried to think about what I might focus on, I get derailed by all the frightened, angry, confused young child emotions that have come up. It’s like they are blocking my ability to think.

Finally, it dawned on me that I couldn’t just think my way past those emotions. So this afternoon, I did instead what I am learning to do: I turned toward them. I turned on a piece of meditative music that also included the sound of the ocean. I sat down and slowed my breathing down, focusing on making my exhale longer than my inhale (that activates the parasympathetic nervous system). Then I just imagined taking that little girl onto my lap, on a porch facing out toward the ocean. I imagined holding her, rocking her, talking to her quietly.

I used to really want E to mother me. I used to imagine her sitting on the couch beside me, brushing my hair and talking soothingly. I resented the idea that I needed to mother myself. I hated that! Other people hurt me, and I have to do all the comforting and soothing MYSELF? How is that fair?!?

That attitude, however, has been shifting, slowly, very slowly. There are probably many reasons, but one it that I have come to see that I can mother myself better than E can do it. I have come to see that I understand my own needs better than she does. I am softer than she is, more gentle. She has a fiercer edge to her, which I sometimes admire but sometimes find too harsh. She often thinks I need to be tougher and fight harder. I often think I just need to be cuddled for a little while first.

At any rate, in my imagination, I can be as gentle and soft and cuddly and woo-woo as I want to be with my inner child. I’ve started to find that comforting and helpful. So resting this afternoon, listening to the ocean and quiet music, and imagining myself holding that little girl–all that actually felt good.

I imagined telling the child: I know you have seen E as your mama for a long time. But you know what, I’m actually your mama. I just was sick for a while, and E had to help me get better so I could be a good mama for you. The good thing is, unlike E, I will always be here. I will never leave you. If I go on vacation, I will take you with me. You don’t have to feel abandoned anymore. You don’t have to be afraid that you will turn around and find no one there.

I know that this afternoon’s emotional work is a long-term fix. I know all those same young emotions will come up again, and again, and again. That’s okay–I mean, it’s certainly not ideal. I’d love to not have to feel all that attachment pain ever again. But it’s okay.

I’m still not sure how to start talking to E tomorrow. I still feel distanced from her, a little alienated. Maybe I just have to start by telling her all this stuff. Maybe I need to tell her that my Little One is mad at and distrusting of her. Maybe we have to repair a bit of that first, before we can pick up anything else.

I used to be too embarrassed to tell her about these feelings, to be honest about how my different parts felt about her. And when I first dared to tell her, I did it in clumsy ways that seem to have triggered something in her. So she reacted a bit defensively, pushed me away a bit, and that made everything worse. But over time, we seem to have found a way where I can tell her that some part of me is mad at her, disappointed in her, afraid or her, or whatever. And E can see that my wiser adult self knows that the part’s thinking may be childish, but the feelings are nonetheless valid. Then we can talk through those emotions in compassionate, non-judgmental ways. It seems like maybe we need another one of those talks tomorrow afternoon.

(Can you imagine E preferring to spend a few weeks in a place like this, rather than in therapy sessions with me? Seriously, what is that about?!?)

CREDIT: Photo by Greg Seymour on Unsplash

8 comments

  1. Talking to E about all of these feelings seems like a really healthy place to start your session tomorrow. I love how you deliberately spent time with yourself to identify what and how you were feeling. I really hope that this return session is a helpful and productive one for you. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Sara. Thanks, the session was easier than I thought it might be. I did end up telling E about this, as well as other things that happened over the month, and it felt good. It felt like we started to reconnect. I’m hoping that after next week’s session, things will feel normal again.

      Thanks for commenting–each comment means so much to me; you probably don’t realize it, but any time people comment, I feel so much less alone with all this messy stuff!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am glad to hear your session went well.
        I completely agree and am strengthened by comments as well.
        I find myself really relating to your writing and connecting to my own experiences more through reading what you share. Thank you for that! 💕

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The way you are caring for, comforting, validating, and loving Little Q is beautiful. This is the real work.

    It may be that when we no longer know what to do
    we have come to our real work,
    and that when we no longer know which way to go
    we have come to our real journey.
    The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
    The impeded stream is the one that sings.
    —Wendell Berry

    Liked by 1 person

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