Returning feels like going backwards

With all the family challenges I’ve experienced in recent weeks, you won’t be surprised to hear that sometimes I have really longed to talk things over with E. I ended therapy with her back in August, but of course, after so many years of working closely together, I still carry her with me in my head and heart. Of course I think sometimes about returning to her.

When we said goodbye, she gave me permission to stay connected to her, loosely and occasionally. I even made a specific list of what was approved communication, to make sure I understood what was acceptable. And then I found, in the months immediately after we stopped, that I had some residual anger that made me less interested in staying in touch than I had expected.

It’s been more than six months now, however, so the anger has faded as well. Most of the time, my feelings toward E these days are affectionate and grateful. And sometimes, I long for the intimacy and familiarity of our old conversations. Who else knows me so well? My husband, my sisters, my best friend from grad school–they know a lot about me. But only E has been permitted to accompany me into some of the darkest corners of my soul. That’s a powerful connection that I miss.

About six weeks ago, when I first found out that Andres and Patty were coming to live here with us, I did email her with the news. It was the first real update I’d sent her since we’d said goodbye.

Hi E,

How I have missed you! You can’t count the number of conversations I have had with you in my head since I last saw you. I hope you are doing well and that the new year has started well for you.

Overall, I’ve been doing really well… [short update on work and art-making, which I’ve omitted here]… Husband and I just got back a few days ago from 10 days on Kauai. It was so lovely and playful and adventurous. We snorkeled, of course, and saw several sea turtles. One of them hung out with us for quite a long time, to our great delight. We went ziplining, which I found to be utterly exhilarating. Since we were outside virtually all the time and at uncrowded beaches, we didn’t feel it was a very great risk, and—knock on wood—we have stayed healthy.

Literally *one hour* after we got home, Andres and Patty called to say they are expecting a baby. Wow, yikes, omg. I have wanted to be a grandmother but expected Sandro and [his fiance] would be the ones to make that happen. It’s fine; I mean, no matter what I will welcome this new person with an open heart and open arms. But Andres and Patty are financially quite unstable and, skipping all the background details, are going to move back here and live here with us for a while until they can get their own place. This makes good financial sense but also is scary and unsettling. Patty is great for Andres; he is living in a healthier and more stable way than we have ever seen him. She’s kind to him and very patient and also loving and appreciative of him. She’s also got a complicated personal history and (I’m starting to see) a bit of a stubborn streak.

So I’ve been having more mental conversations with you over recent days, processing all these upcoming changes. I imagined you reminding me to have compassion for myself and accept my complicated feeling about having them move in, and I’m doing that pretty well. I’m asking for support and encouragement from both Husband (who is of course also very affected) and my friendship network. It’s a hard one though. I expect Andres and his sudden, impulsive moves in and out of my home will be a recurring challenge for me as long as I live. If I’m lucky, Patty’s stabilizing influence will mean he’s able to live elsewhere a good amount of the time. (If I’m unlucky, I’ll be raising their child…)

And if I have trouble staying centered and calm amidst all this uncertainty, I may take the next plane back to Hawai’i. Or maybe call you and see if you can squeeze me in sometime. I’m not asking for that right now; I’d really like to keep working with what I’ve learned and internalized and see how that goes. But I’d love to have the option to check in if it seems like that might help.

Sending a warm hug,

Q

P.S. But it will be cool to be a grandma, in spite of everything, don’t you think?!?

I was gratified to receive a reply back later that same evening:

Hi Q,

What a delight to hear from you. So glad to know you are doing well. I love that you and Husband have such lovely vacations. Swimming with turtles sounds so amazing.

But being a grandmother tops that! I’m sure it will be all sorts of things – incredible joy, lots of fear, much work, and deep, deep love. I know you’ll be a fabulous grandma and I’m sure it will fill your life in ways unimaginable. And, leave it to Andres to find the challenging path : ). I’m so glad Patty is a stabilizing factor for him. I’m sure you all are awash with emotions both big and small.

I’m so glad to know you are well and steady. You worked hard to build a network of support both externally and internally. I have a lot of trust in your ability to navigate the territory in front of you. And, of course, I would be delighted to offer additional support if that were ever wanted.

I just got some new adult coloring books (a mistake from Amazon, intended for someone else, and rather than have me return them they told me to keep them!). I immediately thought of you and all our coloring together when I opened the package. They will be here waiting for you should you ever need to use them.

I’m doing well. I’m looking forward to working less and being creative with the work I decide to continue doing. I’m still stopping individual therapy at the end of this year, but I’ll continue training and supervision for several more years. I love my work. I feel privileged to have had such a meaningful occupation. Thanks for being a part of my rich and meaningful work world.

Keep me informed about your unfolding adventures into grandmothering.

Warmest regards,

E.

This response felt good to me. It felt warm, and I managed not to nitpick the wording, looking for signs that she either really did or did not care about me (yes, after all this time, I still have a part of me that wants to do that–the insecure little girl who can’t fully trust will always be there, I guess, but she doesn’t dominate my emotional life these days). I appreciated knowing she was there and would make space for me, if I needed it.

Well, things have not been easy since Andres and Patty moved in, as I wrote about the other day. I have done my best. I have practiced self-care. I have walked and talked to friends. I have talked to Husband–and also not talked to him about it, when I thought it would just frustrate us more. I have pulled out my old affirmation cards. I have (sporadically) meditated. I have eaten junk food. I have avoided junk food. I have escaped into books. I have deep cleaned my closets. Last week, after many days of imagining long conversations with E, I emailed her back again.

Hi E,

Thank you for this lovely reply you sent me last month. It made me so happy to hear from you.

[two sentences about an art class I am taking…]

Everything has been very challenging with Patty and Andres living here. She is completely debilitated by severe “morning” sickness that lasts 24/7, so although she got a job, she hasn’t been able to work. She is literally bed-ridden most of the time. Andres is very anxious and kind of lost without Patty giving him a daily structure. I have had to lean heavily into every self-care strategy imaginable, and still to be honest, I have had some pretty bad days. But that’s how it goes sometimes; storms pass through. Somebody told me that once, anyway.

I hope you are well and staying warm and cozy during this very wintery week. Thinking of you with great affection,

Q

This time I had a response from her the next day.

Hi Q,

It’s good you are doing that art class! I haven’t recovered from the frustration of my art class last summer, so I haven’t yet considered another. Frankly, much of my energy is going to trying to figure what I’ll be doing once I stop seeing clients at the end of the year. I know I’m not done with working, but what that looks like remains unclear. I’m currently on a personal retreat giving myself space to ask important questions and listen for answers. I know I will continue offering trainings to therapists, because that brings me much joy and sense of competence.

I think back on all I learned in working with you. You were a great teacher, partly because the peculiarities of your pain – deep troubling unknowns, repeated offenses, the toll that took on your confidence and sense of value. But your persistence, courage, and drive for wholeness kept you working on your own behalf and fussing with me to hear you and hold a space for you. I am greatly appreciative for your influence on me.

The Patty and Andres situation seems really rough. They are fortunate to have your support, but I’m sure that comes at a cost to you and your partnership with Husband. Yes, good to remember storms pass, but you should definitely invest in a sturdy umbrella!

Thanks for the update. I’d gladly find a time in my schedule if you want support or a holding space.

With fondness and appreciation,

E

(Certainly I noticed the word “fussing” right away. But I’ve decided it’s fine. It’s better than saying “fighting.” And it’s true that I did fuss, fight or even battle with her in many of our sessions, at first indirectly and later, as my trust and confidence deepened, more directly. It was often very painful and frustrating, but I can see now that, over time, it taught me to trust my own sense of a situation over hers. Earlier, I used to think, if we didn’t see something the same way, that of course she must be right, and I was wrong. But that shifted over time. And I think learning to trust my own instincts, learning that I even had a right to perceive things differently that someone else–that was all a part of the healing I did in our work together.)

But back to the topic at hand, which is really this: I have been enormously stressed and upset at the changes in my household these past six weeks. I have felt frustrated, trapped, overwhelmed, tired, anxious and depressed. My sleep is a mess. I have had negative thoughts and even urges to harm myself for the first time in a very long time. And E has left the door open for me to come back to her.

I know she can’t fix things for me. She won’t tell me anything I haven’t heard before. But she knows me well. She knows the backstory for every family member. It might be a comfort and a support in a difficult time.

And yet, I hesitate. In part, I’ll admit up front, there is some pride involved. There is a way in which I feel like making an appointment means I have failed to cope on my own. Perhaps I am not as strong or wise as I thought I was.

I try to shrug off the pride part. I know that strong and wise people can turn to others for help. There are no gold stars handed our for managing all our troubles on our own. And why should pride get in the way of me reaching out for support I could probably benefit from?

Another reason I resist is that I am reluctant to repeat a goodbye. It took a lot for me to decide I was finished working with E, and even when I knew I probably was, I still struggled to set a date and felt nervous as I approached our last session. All that was hard, but there was some satisfaction in having ended it myself, rather than having E put an end to it. Now I know she is retiring at the end of 2022, so there would have to be another goodbye, at the latest in December. I am not excited about repeating that whole process.

But finally, there is something about going back that just feels wrong. Even though some young parts of myself still long for her, I think my adult parts have (mostly) moved on. My adult parts tell me I have learned what she has to teach me, and I have learned that she was unable to teach or offer me other things I have needed. She was generous in many ways and withholding in a few others. I accept that now, or at least the adult parts do. Going back risks reawakening the yearning in the child parts that I had already decided were not going to be met by continuing with E. Going back is inviting a repetition of dances (and fussing) that we have engaged in before. I am not sure I want that, even though I miss her face and voice and know she would welcome me warmly.

Perhaps E is a road I have already traveled…

14 comments

  1. What lovely responses Q! It sounded like you both wanted to meet until towards the end where it sounds like maybe one of you doesn’t (for very good reasons, I hasten to add). At first I was going to say, “Just do it! You know you (both) want to” – but I now hesitate to say that because i too am rubbish at endings and if a door has closed in a satisfactorily sense, then I can see why you’d ask yourself: why open it again? Only… do desperate times call for desperate measures? I did wonder if the self harming thoughts might creep back in with the tremendous pressure you find yourself under, and I would hate to think of you not having a decent whack of support if it made all the difference. Only you can know though. Really glad you’re tuned in to yourself and keeping an eye on things. You are very wise, going back to the start of your post, so hopefully the injured pride can hold on to that truth about you ♥️

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have had all the same thoughts you mentioned here: “Just do it! You know you want to,” and “These are desperate times…” and “Having thoughts about self-harming indicates I need help…” And still I hesitate. Maybe the fact that I hesitate despite everything is the important part to listen to. Something is telling me that, despite the comfort and familiarity E offers, this is no longer for me. ???? Maybe. I am not sure. But I’m still leaning that way.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That sounds like a tough situation. Reopening the emotional doors of therapy is so…well, I guess it’s just so much. On one hand it’s a person who you really value and spent a lot of time with, but having said goodbye and knowing you’d have to say goodbye again come December would definitely be hard.
    Either way, I don’t think it’s necessarily the wrong choice. But the “right” choice can still be hard, either way.
    Stay strong. 💙

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for this. It’s so useful and wise to remember that there isn’t necessarily a “wrong” choice. It could go either way, and I’d probably be fine either way… eventually, I would surely be fine, I know. Shorter term, one choice is probably harder than the other, and though I’m not sure, I kind of suspect going back would be harder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It might be harder, but hard doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Sometimes facing the hardest things in life are the most necessary to find healing. 💙

        Like

  3. I really understand that feeling of having had a good ending, and feeling finished with your T. I think I would feel the same – that going back would disrupt something that was good and completed. Endings are hard, and having to do that again – whew!

    At the same time, your situation with your son moving in sounds very rough. I know I simply could not cope if my own disabled son came to live with me! It’s good that your son at least means well – can’t really say the same of my own son unfortunately.

    Could you find someone else for support, not E? Of course, the new person wouldn’t know you the way E does/did. But maybe could still provide a stabilizing influence for you? I just think it would be so unfair if this major stressor, which would be very hard for anyone, caused you to relapse with your mental health, after all your heroic struggles to get better. I’m sure you’ve considered this, but just am putting it out there.

    I am currently going to start with a new T, again. My previous one ‘referred me out’ as they say. Fun times. But in a way, I am still hopeful.

    I do hope your son and his fiancee come up with some plan to live on their own. Do they need nudging? You could still offer support, even if they live elsewhere.

    My two cents.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Ellen, thank you for your comment. I appreciate that you really understand the challenges of living with an adult child. We are trying to find a housing option for Andres and Patty, but it’s not easy. It’s not so much that they need nudging as that they have very little money, and housing is crazy expensive here. We are going to have to help them financially, probably by taking equity out of our own home, ouch. But necessary.

      I do think that a different therapist, one who doesn’t know me nearly the way E does, is probably the best way for me to go. What I really need is someone to help me relocate my inner Wise Woman self when I have trouble finding her. Someone who can help me find a sense of balance when I’ve lost it. That shouldn’t require having known me for over a decade, right?

      Like

  4. Such lovely responses from her and I’m really impressed by your self talk and self care throughout this. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about ongoing contact/occasional sessions. I’m currently ending with my therapist and she is keen for this. I am less keen for some of the reasons you describe here. Sometimes the clean cut is more painful but neater.

    Having said that – you deserve support in this challenging time. I wonder if you’ve thought about reaching out to another provider? They won’t know you as well but they could provide a sounding board.

    Like

    • Oh, that’s so interesting that you are also hesitant about occasional sessions with a therapist after ending regular sessions. When I said I was ready to end, E did offer to see me once a month, but I said no. I felt like I would just use those to update her on my life, and seeing her would reawaken the longing of the young parts for her attention, so that I would then spend the next couple of weeks dealing with that unresolved longing. It would just die down, and then I would have to repeat it all again.

      Even now, after six months and some distance, those young parts still would like her to mother them. And that never did quite work out the way they wished for. So why set them up for more pain and disappointment?

      Anyway, yes, I am thinking that someone else may be able to help me find some perspective and healthy coping strategies. And I can also draw on what I learned from E over the years and use that as well.

      Good luck with your ending of therapy–it’s an amazing milestone!

      Like

  5. Well blimey! What lovely, open-hearted replies from E. You know me, I would be back in a flash but I also totally understand the reluctance. I guess what I’d ask myself is: is what E offers enough right now? Would her familiarity and knowledge of ‘you’ help weather the storm or could it maybe end up triggering parts thar needed/need more from her? And if so could you work through that or would it be further destabilising? Like right now I feel like you really need a bit of compassion and holding both literal and metaphorical and I know E doesn’t do touch. I don’t know Q- but what I do know is your own inner wisdom will guide you to where you need to be. Big hugs x

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you have described it exactly: I fear that seeing E would just get the young parts all riled up, wishing for her embrace, wishing she would be the protective mother. And then, on top of all the stuff I am dealing with at home, I’d need to deal with that as well. Ugh, I just really don’t want to take that on! No, for now at least, I am allowing myself to imagine a warm hug from her, and I happily re-read her kind emails, but I am not asking for any sessions. Maybe I’ll change my mind at some point (I’ll leave that possibility open), but for this week, I think it’s healthier to find any support I need elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Her emails were definitely warm and caring, and I could see how that could be tempting to fall back into. I suppose my biased opinion is that which you talked about with second endings. Recently, when I thought I had the chance to see J again, I went back and forth about what it would be like to go through that with her a second time if we parted again. It was bitterly painful to even imagine! So I could see why you would want to avoid that. I also feel like you really have made so much progress with her, but have maybe outgrown her in that sense. I wonder if you’d ever consider meeting with someone else? Maybe someone who could support you in a way that is different because they are a clean slate? I don’t know, just things to consider. Like RBCG said, you’re a very wise human being and I know you’ll make a decision, in time, that is best for you.

    Like

Leave a Reply to Me Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.