When I last posted, I had told E in a session on March 24 that I thought I would take a break from therapy. March was such a hellish month, not in general, but very specifically in therapy. Every week I felt like I was looking for a level of warmth from and connection to E that I just wasn’t getting. I felt so upset after therapy sessions that it took me days and sometimes a whole week to stabilize myself again. So I decided I would take a pause, see how that felt, and then try to decide what to do next.
To my surprise, when I suggested that, E suddenly became warm, gentler, and started offering me more support than she had been giving me. It felt like she was ready to give me the very things I had been longing for as soon as I said I was going to stop looking for them.
Like I wrote about in my last post, I felt confused and distrustful rather than happy about her response. Again I spent days mulling over our therapy session: did it mean this? did it mean that? what should I do?
In the end, I decided to go with the decision I had already made: I would take a month off from therapy.
For some of you, maybe the idea of taking a therapy break is not such a big deal. For me, with my attachment angst and my long-standing fear that E is trying to push me out of therapy before I am ready, it is a radical and daring decision.
I tried to think to times when she and I hadn’t seen each other much. There was that time back in spring 2016 when she went to Japan for three weeks. Given her travel days and my therapy days, I didn’t see her for more than four weeks. Then in those years 2010 to 2014 or 2015, I only had sessions every two weeks, and I often had to travel for work, so sometimes I didn’t see her for a month or even six weeks. But back then, I mostly talked about work stress or the challenges of having a son with autism, and I mostly avoided the serious scary stuff.
Since I have opened up and allowed myself to be vulnerable with her, I think that break in 2016 was the longest we have had, and I both feared and hated it.
Now here I was, telling her I wanted to go a month without a session.
The last week of March we had some milder weather, and I was able to have my session with her in the garden, instead of online. That is nearly always a huge improvement and usually makes it easier for me to talk openly. Also, I went into the session feeling pretty calm and centered, firm in my decision.
The first time I explained it to her, the week before, I think I emphasized the part about how crummy I’d felt after our recent sessions and how much I wanted to stop that. Taking a break, I told her, would spare me all that angst and pain around our relationship.
This time, I didn’t repeat those reasons. They were all still true, but so was this, which is what I said: “For the most part, I’m doing okay. Things aren’t perfect, but I have a lot of coping skills now, even when I’m very triggered.”
I even had an example for her. A few days before, I’d heard an episode of This American Life on the radio that was about a woman who had, as a child, testified that her mother sexually abused her. Then she forgot about it for years. Then she recovered the memory. Then Elizabeth Loftus, the University of Washington researcher challenged her recovered memory (not for personal reasons about the young woman, but as part of the professional debate about the possibility of recovering traumatic memories). This challenge undermined what the woman believed about herself. It’s an incredibly painful story.
This kind of story of course hits all my own tender spots about memory, doubt, and a history of sexual abuse. After I heard it, I felt my heart beating faster. I felt tense and afraid. I started to text E about it.
And then I stopped. I asked myself, “Wait, why am I texting E? What is she going to do? Anything she might suggest me to do, anything she might remind me of–I already know. I already know that I should bring self-compassion to my fear and pain. I know how to soothe myself.”
I deleted the message I had typed out. And I coped.
I told this story to E to show that I knew I could deal on my own with, not everything for sure, but with clear triggers. And I wanted to do a longer break and see how that would feel.
I also told her, “Look you are going to be gone two of those weeks anyway. I also feel that if I ask for it to be a month, I feel more control. I’m setting the boundaries myself. It makes me feel, not just control, but maybe a sense of strength and empowerment.”
I must have said other things too, but I don’t remember exactly what it was. But it was calm, and it felt right.
E’s reaction was different this time. She didn’t tell me I was avoiding things or running away. She could see why trying a break might be useful.
I said I didn’t want to give up my scheduled sessions in May. I didn’t know longer run what I wanted to do yet. I asked if we could keep them on the calendar and talk about it later on.
“That’s fine,” said E. “But I’ll keep April 14 on the calendar for you for now, just in case. If you want to come in, you can, and if you still think as we get closer to it that you don’t want to meet, you can cancel.”
(is that a little odd? I felt it was, but I didn’t argue. Maybe she was just trying to give me a lot of freedom, a lot of options.)
So we settled on that and spent the rest of the session talking about lighter things. I left feeling calm and confident. I worried that maybe the next day I might regret this decision, but I didn’t. And I haven’t. It’s continued to feel okay, and on the Sunday before Wednesday, April 14, I emailed E to cancel that session she had held for me.
I’m doing pretty well and think I will go ahead and cancel my session this week. I will be very excited to see you on May 5 and will probably talk your head off then.
Take care and enjoy your upcoming vacation.
She didn’t answer immediately but a couple of days later she did write back:
I got this Bone Sigh poem today and thought of you. It seems to speak to the shift you’ve made in the last years to really honoring and treasuring yourself. Your ability to listen, comfort and support yourself is very evident, even when you have bad days. It has been my pleasure to watch and support your growth.
I read a quote this morning by Thomas Jefferson Caruthers. He said, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” This is what has happened in our work together. Your skills are familiar and practiced making me less and less essential in your life. Now, that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to be available to support you and encourage you, but it is clear you have gained so much and are quite equipped to manage life’s continuing challenges.
I hope you are still feeling good about taking the month of April off. I’m feeling good about your experiment. I look forward to connecting when I come back refreshed from being nourished by the ancient redwood trees.
Warmest regards, E.
a lump of gold
it was a nugget way down deep.
a lump of gold, her belief in herself, her self-love, her real.
that’s what she needed to focus on.
grow that, and the rest would take care of itself.
—terri st. cloud, bone sigh arts
I feel like this email is kind of a preface to a goodbye, one we are gradually approaching. In the past, that would have really upset me. But this week, it didn’t. I have been feeling centered and busy and hopeful. I have had lonely moments, and either I have reached out to friends or my sisters or I have just comforted myself until it passed.
Maybe I really don’t need E all that much anymore. For sure I don’t need that hellish attachment agony I was experiencing in late February into March! I think I still have some healing to do, but it might be time to do it differently that I did in the past: maybe with fewer sessions, maybe with other healers, maybe in some way I can’t yet identify. It’s okay that I don’t know yet what comes next. It’s okay if in May I go back to seeing E every week for a while. It’s okay if I don’t. All I know for sure is that this break is boosting my self-confidence and giving my inner child a much-needed respite from repeated triggering.