Tag Archives: abandonment

Finding my voice

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Time flew by and the sessions between my new therapist Heart Healer (HH) and I quickly racked up. We spent the first six catching up on my childhood, major relationships and challenges, as well as figuring each other out.

Like a good detective, HH was curious and tried to figure out basic connections between things before jumping right in and confronting the ‘baddies’. He felt there was a link between the vulnerability and safety of young women and children in my job to an afraid or lonely child inside me.

There was an adult part and a child part. The child felt scared vocalising things because of not wanting to hurt others and see them in pain. The child also did not want to be so vulnerable that others would take advantage or hurt her. I felt a sense of relief at him acknowledging these fears and vulnerabilities.

There is a child part that doesn’t have a voice,” HH said one session, his finger pressed to his cheek while deep in thought. “There is feeling and emotion but little voice… It feels like it may have been suppressed“.

Over the next few sessions, it would become clearer why this was so.

Despite our productive moments, I have to admit that I was stumped by his behaviour and body language at times. He always seemed quite nervous when greeting and saying goodbye. Was I really projecting or was this about him?, I wondered. I mean, I was obviously anxious going into every session because he was new and I was apprehensive about some things that had come up in previous sessions. But surely he’d be a little more chilled for someone who had been doing this for 17 years? Every now and then, I would notice him yawning. Or sitting back quietly in his seat with his arms folded and closed off. Maybe he had just had a long day or some challenging sessions? I had to constantly challenge my anxious thoughts and give him benefit of the doubt.

But there was one major developing theme I could not shake. I would get to the waiting room a few minutes before our session and sit patiently. Other clients would come and go with their therapists. The big arm of the clock on the wall would strike 12 and still I would sit. He would only come fetch me about 5-7min after our session time had started. This may not seem like much. But in a 50-minute “therapy hour”, it was a lot. The time we were missing out on was not what affected me most. It was the visceral feeling of abandonment. I felt isolated and confused as I waited. I started to doubt myself and our therapeutic relationship. It brought up old themes of not being good enough or worthy of someone’s time. His other tasks were more important and I was ‘a task’ that would have to wait. I didn’t mention any of this to him for over a month. But I had learnt enough from my therapy with DS to raise my therapeutic experience because it was grist for the mill. It was also an extremely difficult but necessary goal of my own to be more assertive.

My heart was pounding and I was trembling as I walked into his room. Could I trust him? HH acknowledged my fear of being retraumatised. There was always a duality. Hope and dread. “I wonder if your need to be seen, heard and validated comes from failed experiences in the past?” he mused.

Taking a deep breath in, I raised my feelings around him being consistently late in starting our sessions. With not a shred of defensiveness, he said he was in the wrong and it was his responsibility to start on time, not mine. He referred to it as an “infraction” and said he had every intention of doing better next time. I felt brave for telling him that waiting longer for him made me question things. He was so understanding and I felt myself relaxing a little. Feeling buoyed, I asked if it would be possible to let me know when we had 10 minutes left in a session because it took a while for me to gather myself before leaving. He said that was not normally something he did but that he was happy for me to pick up a clock he had and move it to a table we could both see. I felt a lot calmer.

He has been on time for every one of our sessions since. And the clock is always on the table as I get in. These were positive steps in building an alliance.

 

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My year without therapy

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This weekend marked a year since my therapist DS (Deep Soul) and I parted ways. These 365 days offered a chance for reflection, regression and growth. Many a client before me, and many still to come, will be confronted with this situation. Each will react differently. I cannot claim my path was special. It is also not over. I chronicle the journey because of an instinctual need to record and preserve. My wish is that you not be triggered, but rather find comfort and hope. Alternatively, I hope you can learn something. It’s pretty long so grab a cuppa before settling in…

The beginning:

It took a while to grieve his departure for another country, and the loss of our weekly sessions. Old abandonment fears sparked up in a twisted knot of rage, loneliness and despair. “Why was he leaving when he had previously acted as though there was no basis for my fears of being abandoned?” “How could my greatest support system at the time also be the cause of my greatest emotional pain?” “What did this say about my worth and closest relationships?” My husband offered much-needed support. But the despair felt strongest when we were fighting and I didn’t have another safety net. On the days I was more emotionally centered, I felt happy for DS and all the opportunities that awaited him. Hope nestled like a tiny, scruffy Phoenix in a pile of ashes in my chest. I was wary…waiting…wondering how the days, weeks and months ahead would look. As always, vivid dreams offered a colorful, if somewhat cryptic, reflection of my internal landscape. DS featured every now and then. It became a source of amusement as to what form he would take. I found that though he was physically gone, our relationship and tete-a-tete continued and actually developed in my dreams. Obviously, I refer specifically to the part of DS I had incorporated into my own personality. Most would argue that the symbols and people in our dreams reflect different aspects of ourselves. In a dream a few months after he left, I had a Karate Kid moment that left me feeling more supported:

I went to visit the doctor. I entered the office and the doctor looked more like a monk. He had glasses, a beard and kind eyes. I noticed the sign on his door said ‘THERAPIST’. I was confused. We started chatting and he asked how I was. The conversation was stiff at first and I said I was doing well. He stared at me and I felt my defenses breaking down. I laughed and said: “Well, that is what I am supposed to say”. He smiled, nodded slowly, but kept quiet. His presence was zen-like. I started opening up to him. There were suddenly other people in the office and it felt like a playroom for adults. The session became group therapy.

The middle:

Having initially entered therapy because of marital strife a few years ago, I found that my husband and I were progressively making leaps and bounds in our relationship. There was a renewed sense of playfulness, enjoyment in each other and increased ability to share our perceptions and feelings. I was overjoyed. Feeling more secure than I had ever felt in any relationship, I found myself blossoming. I took what I had learnt about intimacy and trust from DS into my marriage and friendships. Never before had I felt more loved and appreciated for who I was. If ever there was a time for an upbeat soundtrack and rolling credits, this was it. But occasionally, I felt fear rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. “How could this joy last?” I would cling to my husband and pray that he not be taken from me suddenly, through a car accident, illness or some other drama. I had rediscovered what was important to me. And with that brought a feeling of how fragile life was and quickly it could be taken away. This nightly toiling was somewhat of a premonition. A few months down the line, my husband and I were caught up in a drama concocted by a very sick and sad person, that thrust open past fault lines in our relationship.

While it is still very difficult to talk about, and actually makes me feel out of breath and sick to the stomach, I will give an overview of what took place. A woman I had never met before phoned my husband at his office one day. She claimed she was phoning on behalf of her friend, who apparently felt very uncomfortable with an alleged chat her husband and I had on Whatsapp. The husband was a colleague of mine who I had worked with a few times before but did not really know that well. I sometimes liked his work-related photos and once or twice swapped information for assignments. He worked in a different building. The anonymous caller refused to identify herself and asked that my husband not tell me about the phone call. This raised my suspicions. Understandably, he was very distressed when he phoned and relayed to me what she had said. I tried to comfort him and assured that no such thing happened. I wanted him to know he had my absolute loyalty. Confused and shocked, I felt like the world was swirling around me. It felt as though our secure base and growth were being snatched away. There is truly nothing more devastating than being accused of something terrible when you are innocent. I sunk into a familiar pit of emotional despair. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Those moments made me long for DS and his reassuring presence. He knew me. He would believe me.

Through this, I wondered why someone would blatantly lie. Why would they want to tear us apart? What person would willingly cause such chaos? My first step was to email the colleague in question, CC my husband, and tell him about the distressing phone call. I wanted him to clearly state to my husband that we were just colleagues. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about his personal circumstances to try hatch up theories about who might be behind this. He assured that he and his wife were very much together and in love still, and that someone had been harassing him for a while. He apologised that this person had dragged us into the mess . He asked for the number this woman had phoned from.

Using all my investigative skills, I eventually uncovered what I believed to be the truth. I linked the mobile number to a woman through a Google search and cross-referencing. This woman, who turned out to be a freelancer for our mother company, had friended me on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Seeing her work details, I figured we had had obviously met before or had seen each other in a professional setting. I accepted and thought no more of it. She then was able to see my husband, where he worked and his department. It would not take much to phone his company and ask to be out through to his landline. While I don’t know for sure, I guess she must have had feelings for my colleague. She may have seen that I asked about his work trip to Dubai. I found that she used to like every post of his. This stopped just before the phone call and I guess he may have spurned her attempts to be closer or have a relationship. They unfriended each other and I later found she unfriended me before all this unfolded. Why she chose us as a target of her fury I will never know. After speaking to colleagues who knew her, I established she was not mentally well and prone to strange behaviour. Her actions angered me but I had better insight and understanding. I blocked her on all social media channels and increased my privacy settings. I then shared these findings with my husband, hoping he would feel more at ease. The attack had brought up old issues. Every day was an ongoing struggle over trust. A budding self-confidence regressed to insecurity. Fear, and not faith, was my foundation. Pretty shaky. Around this time, I had a jarring dream:

I drove to a house and it belonged to an distant school friend. Photos lined her walls. A baby was in some of them and I found out it had died. The house was quite dark and gloomy. I went outside and her husband drove in. He was absolutely devastated, hunching over and crying as he got out the car. Their house was suddenly replaced by a warehouse. I walked over to him because I realised I was there as a therapist. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I held him up and slowly led him to the warehouse. DS stopped in the parking lot and got out. He saw me supporting this guy. I was pleased because I hoped he would see me more as an equal and fellow professional. It felt like he was there to give me a therapy session. We all walked inside and my office was two sets of chairs and a table with a book labelled ‘counsellling psychologist’. The set-up was in the middle of the big warehouse and DS felt close but out of sight. Her husband confided in me that he wanted to commit suicide. It felt very urgent and I tried to comfort, placate and reason with him but he got increasingly violent. He jumped up from his chair and stormed toward me. DS appeared, whipped out a gun and shot him to protect me. The man collapsed to the floor. I was shocked and woke up highly unsettled.

The end and beginning:

As the dust settled, it was possible to reflect on where I stood and what therapy had cracked open. I had been here before. There was only so much I could say and do. Others were responsible for their actions and reactions. Trying to convince someone and, in a sense control the outcome, was futile. Relationships, life and people were messy, unpredictable and not always fair. As an idealist, I saw the potential of “what could be” instead of what was staring at me. Relentlessly pursuing the unattainable had caused me a lot of unnecessary grief. While there was some merit in believing in others, nobody could live up to these expectations, least of all me. I could not hope to heal old wounds by transforming a so-called bad object into a good object. Martha Stark described this phenomenon clearly and sensitively in her book, Psychotherapeutic Moments: Putting the Words to Music (available from freepsychotherapybooks.org). She explained how relentless hope was a defence to which people clung to in order to avoid grieving and feeling the pain of disappointment in the ‘object’. For me, this was the pain of parents who were not always responsive or available to the infant me. Fairbairn said: “A bad object is infinitely better than no object at all.” Cue a repetitive compulsion and a cycle of disappointing and infuriating intense attachments. If I think about it, I had transferred early and unresolved attachment onto DS. I so desperately clung to the hope that he would return to the country or somehow complete the incomplete. All of this sounds rather intellectual. But it sunk in on an emotional level as I read Stark’s book on a bus. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks with every bump in the road and every paragraph I read. I allowed myself to start feeling the “unbearable” pain buried deep inside. A therapist’s role here was to alternatively challenge and support. Without DS, but with some of his internalised good, I try to do the same. This is a long journey, maybe a lifelong one to make peace with reality. Or, as Stark says, “transformation of the need to hold on into the capacity to let go”. I dreamt this on the anniversary of his departure:

I drove to DS for therapy. It was in a different house and there were quite s few cars parked in the front yard. It took some maneuvering to find a spot. Once parked, I sat still for a bit. Excitement rose at seeing him again. In my rear view mirror, I saw a family leaving his office and wondered what their situation was. It struck me that I hadn’t been in therapy for a year. Maybe it was not necessary for me to go back.

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Longing, loss and looking forward

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Last night I dreamt of seeing a new therapist. My mind may have been playing tricks… He felt like my old therapist in different form. It’s been five months since DS closed his practice and left the country. He’s popped into my nightly adventures at times since then.

In my dream, I felt hopeful as I knocked on the door of the new guy. The building was in town and he consulted on the third floor. He had the same initials as DS but had a bit more of an exotic aura. I remember chuckling at this. We sat for a session but I could not recall what he looked like or what we discussed.

Mostly I felt hope. It popped into my head that I had found finally someone to be present at my side again as I worked through feelings of despair and anxiety.

Loss revisited 

And then the oh-so-common theme of abandonment reared its head. I pitched for a session at 6pm and there was another therapist and client in his room. They asked me to wait out on the street. I decided to phone the new therapist and see what was going on. Out on the pavement, I scrolled through my phone looking for his number. Maybe I had forgotten to book a session?! Hearing his soothing voice was all I wanted to hear in that moment. There I stood, looking for him but not finding his contact in my address book. I became more panicky. “Had I imagined it all?” The pain of losing a therapist surfaced sharply. Eventually I left. Upon waking I felt the same loss as when we said goodbye.

The dream, I think, is just part of the natural cycle of processing and grieving. For the most part, I have been strong. I just really miss DS as a person. How he’s doing often enters my mind.

Feeling

I imagine him bundled up against the cold with his dog and a petite, dark-haired woman at his side. They walk hand-in-hand through frosty fields. Their pooch runs after something in the grass and they laugh.

At our last session, he promised to send me his contact details once he had set up his new practice. I was a bit disappointed that he never did. He probably thought I could get it off his new website and that emailing wouldn’t make sense.

May we both be in a good space.

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Cold comfort

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In the weeks since DS announced he is closing his therapy practice and moving to another country, I’ve been trying my best to keep things together. Like a mantra, I tell myself it will be okay after August and that this is for the best. My husband, family and friends have been very supportive and collectively tell me everything happens for a reason and I will get over it. It feels like there is this expectation that I should be over it now because they have said their kind words and allowed me to vent. The publicly acceptable gap for mourning is closing.

And yet the pain is so fresh. I don’t WANT to lose DS. I don’t WANT him to be so far away and very possibly never see him again.

When the lights are out and the night silence opens the space for terror and isolation, I cling to my cow Daisy for dear life and wish all the pain inside away. I try to find sleep in the fetal position and wedge Daisy’s head between my chin and shoulder. Sometimes, the softness against my bare skin seems to work and I find myself calming down. Other times, I lay curled in the dark with my racing thoughts and sleeping husband, at times wiggling closer to his warm skin for comfort and desperately wishing I could share in his utter surrender to the world around our bed.

If DS knew how much this was affecting me, I wonder whether he would think it’s all because of the transference and therefore not as valid or real? It’s real to me but I still question my own experiences and perception. It feels like his departure is more than just a re-activation of abandonment and safety fears from my childhood. I’ve connected with him on a very mature level. I will miss the relationship we built together, his listening and empathy skills, and especially the small bits of “non-therapist him” that shone through.

Our session on Wednesday was so disjointed and I feel like such a loser. I so desperately want to connect with him and enjoy our sessions while we still have them. But instead I just felt so sad. Having him in front of me was the most painful reminder of everything that I am going to be missing.

I saw blue wrapping paper, or what looked like it, in his bin as I was throwing my tissues away. For all I know, it could have been an envelope but I imagined another client giving DS a parting gift and I felt so excluded. Other clients are merrily sharing happy, intimate, nostalgic or healing moments with him, processing things, and here I am, weak and unable to connect.

It feels impossible to show myself compassion right now. Instead, all I hear is: you are pathetic.

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Goodbye DS

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My heart has not felt this much pain in a long time. My most wonderful, kind and helpful therapist DS is leaving. I am in shock.

He broke the news when I walked into our session on Wednesday night. I entered in the best mood he’s probably seen me in the last two years. We sat down and he said he had something big to share.

“I am going to be closing my practice in August and I am moving overseas for training and study opportunities.” (Or at least this is what I remember hearing. And it was probably said in a much gentler way). I felt like I was dreaming. Surely he couldn’t be leaving. Could this be another of my common abandonment dreams that I hadn’t yet woken from? There I sat on the couch, trying to process what he had just said. I was too shocked to cry immediately.

And then the emotions rose to the surface… joy, pride, sadness, despair, confusion and to a lesser degree, anger. The tears started pouring down my face as I opened up to him.

“I am so proud of you DS. What an amazing opportunity. Wow,” I said, meaning every single word. I felt like a proud parent. It was a courageous move to leave behind the familiar and his friends and family. At this, his eyes welled up and he broke out into a beautiful, genuine smile. I sensed this was extremely difficult for him and I told him I wouldn’t like to be the one to have to break the news to all his clients. It would suck to be in his position, knowing his move would hurt some people.

I had a ton of questions.

– Will you start a private practice over there? [yes]

– Are you taking your dog with? [yes]

– When do we begin termination? [when would you like to start, he asks. I tell him I honestly hadn’t thought about it and surely he knows more than I do]

And then the implications of the move hit me and I crumpled into my lap. We would have to say goodbye to each other. Not only was he leaving us but leaving the country too. He would be very far away, with no chance of bumping into him. He would be as good as dead. My whole body hurt at the realisation. It made me feel less alone that DS also seemed sad and had tears in his eyes.

How is possible to feel so happy for him and yet so sad and lost? Perhaps the adult and child part of me feel differently about this? I haven’t slept well since the news (just when sleep was getting better) and I find myself weeping at random moments of the day.

This sucks so bad.

Like it or not, DS is re-enacting what my dad did when I was four. My parents divorced, he left the house without much warning and I didn’t see him often after that. I need to find a way in the time we have left to re-frame this departure so it doesn’t scar me in future. I don’t know how but I remain optimistic.

I have to admit that a small part of me was relieved when DS told me he was leaving. It made me feel less crazy. I just KNEW something big was happening in his life and that he would be leaving. Call it intuition. I’ve felt that way for at least six months. Every time I shared my feeling that DS was going to leave, he acted surprised or calm. Either I sensed something before he did or he knew and was still deciding whether to move. My gut tells me he has been planning this for at least a  year. One doesn’t just decide on the spur of the moment to move your entire life to another country. My gut also tells me he is moving for love, and not just for his career. But I have absolutely no way of knowing this for sure. It’s just something I feel. I think growing up in a house where I was on alert all the time honed my super-sensory skills. I just wish I could call on those skills at will.

The next four months are going to be quite tough. All I know is that I don’t want to see another therapist after DS leaves. He was my first therapist and I honestly can’t imagine sharing that private space with anyone else. It would feel tainted.

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Am I overreacting?

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Please tell me whether I am overreacting. I need outside perspective from those who are familiar with the therapy process.

DS informed me at the end of last year that we would need to change our session from a Monday evening to a Wednesday evening because he was taking on new commitments. In our first session this year, he said we could keep the same day and time for now but that Wednesday would be a possibility in the near future. A few weeks ago, he confirmed it would be changing and we met yesterday in our new session time. I shuffled things around a bit to make it happen, knowing that the sacrifices were worth it because I really valued what I was getting from therapy and that it was important enough to me. I am more sensitive to change than normal and it takes me a while to digest how things might be different.

I arrive at our new session slot last night and DS poses himself in such a way on the chair that I know he is going to announce something. He tells me that he is phasing out his evening sessions and asks whether I will be available sometime during the day or just after 5pm. He knows from our previous negotiations with session days and times (we’ve been through this three times in the last 22 months), that it’s almost impossible to meet during the day or just after 5pm because my job is hectic and unpredictable.

I was shocked that he was changing things up as soon as in our first new session. It made no sense why he would prepare me to meet on a Wednesday evening and then tell me in that first new slot that actually he doesn’t want to work evenings anymore. It seems like an unnecessary disturbance.

The phasing out of his evening session seems unfair to me given that he suggested it in the first place. Once we changed from a weekend slot to a weekday slot, he created a reasonable assumption that that would be available to me for as long as I needed it. To me, removing his evening slot is based entirely on his needs, not on mine. Don’t get me wrong… I cannot overstate how much I imagine he has to deal with and how he may need more time outside of his therapy role to remain healthy.

But for once, I don’t want to have to think about his needs before mine, something which already happens in our alliance. I am dealing with the grief of losing my job, the huge anticipation and nerves around a new job, trying to finish up my Masters thesis, awaiting the outcome of a serious professional issue that arose from a genuine mistake and could threaten my reputation, and worrying about my dad’s health. To be honest, I don’t feel like myself at all and am finding it a challenge to cope. I feel very vulnerable.

Given that he knows how much I am going through, is it harmless to shake up the therapeutic frame and take away that secure base? And is it fair to put the spotlight back on the therapy process when he recently noted that he wonders what has been happening for me in daily life because we’ve talked so much about the alliance lately?

I understand that it could very well be an overreaction given my present fragile state. It just feels scary and real that I could lose DS and my therapy space if he does not budge. I know I need to be assertive and tell him what I need. With a head alternating between racing thoughts and big, empty expanse, it is hard to think clearly.

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17 days without DS…

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Our last therapy session for the year was terrible. I had wanted to reflect on our work together and strengthen our connection so I would be okay over the break. I envisioned a warm session where my walls were down. Us ensconced in a rich and infectious aura of Christmas hope and thankfulness. A snowglobe of memories and feelings to shake and eye in wonder while apart.

Instead, I sat in front of DS (Deep Soul) with an inexplicable headache, feeling irritated by the pain and my own low feelings. I struggled to concentrate because the pain was unrelenting. We spoke but I felt disconnected.

He remembered to give me a book to hold onto during the vacation, called “A Tale for The Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki. Such a magical book. Two weeks before that, he had surprised me with another book about two orphan girls caught up in a tale of transience and loss. I was taken aback that he was giving me a book before the break, as I thought this would be the only one to hold onto. He said he would give me another if I finished it in time, and I did. Such thoughtfulness on his part. During our last session, I explained how meaningful the first book had been and how many things had resonated. DS confessed that this was unintentional and coincidental. He  said he hadn’t spent time thinking about what to give me but had picked stuff based on a gut feeling. Covering up my feelings of surprise and disappointment, I said: “Yes, I know that obviously”. I didn’t know. I envisioned him running his fingers carefully over the spines in his shelf, a slight furrow in his brow and a biting of his lip indicating the concentration and thought about what best to leave me with. Why do I feel like an idiotic child for thinking this?

I had also contemplated making a Christmas card for him because I knew he had a strict policy on gifts and would not accept even a small token of appreciation. Actually, I bumped against this boundary a few weeks earlier when I handed him a science magazine I received in the mail. I said he could read it and then pass it on. I told him at the time that he could place it with the other mags in his waiting room when he was done but he said he would give it back to me afterwards because he did not accept gifts. I understand why his policy is in place but it wasn’t a gift. Nonetheless, if keeping those boundaries in place keeps him sane, then I can’t really complain. Going back to the Christmas card, I wanted to draw something cool, color it in with bright khokis and leave a small but meaningful message for him. I felt like the card would be a good way to close the year. I ended up at the session empty-handed because I honestly couldn’t face the possibility of rejection so close to a break.

So here I am, 17 days in, and I miss him with every inch of my being. It’s been a bit easier than I expected and I have had the support of my husband and family. We flew to see my mom, dad and sister at the coast and it’s been wonderful catching up with them the last two weeks. We fly back home on Monday and I see DS in the evening for our first session of the year. I want to be braver this year. I want to ask him what he did over the break. I want to open up about other things in my life. Maybe, at some point this year, I will be able to shake off these feelings of being unworthy, of time flying by too quickly and leaving me in its dust. Maybe, this year, I will find peace.

 

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Do not abandon me…

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Barely a minute after I make myself comfortable on the couch, DS assumes a businesslike position, refers to his iPad and says he would like to chat. Something is different. Normally, he’s reclined in his chair with one leg over the other, waiting to listen. Every inch of my body stiffens in anticipation of his announcement. It’s like the last few seconds before a car crash. Everything happens in slow motion, sound seems to distort and it’s impossible to escape the inevitability of it all. Why do I feel like a naughty schoolgirl being called into the principal’s office? I try to focus on his face.

DS tells me he will not be able to make our session the week after next and can we reschedule? The first part of the sentence makes my neck stiffen and the second part induces a relieved whoosh of air through my lips. Just last week he told me he would be off for two weeks over Christmas. Add to that my vacation plans and I was facing three weeks without him. At the time, I tried to be grown up about it but that had slowly given way to fear at how I was going to cope without him. I try to reason with myself while listening to DS, attempting a flicking of the “do not panic” nervous system switch. Attachment panic does not listen to reason. It lays urgent claim to every bodily process and tries to establish a sense of security. I nod and we work out an alternative session for the week after next. In the back of my head I am wondering whether he is going to bring up the ballet show invite I e-mailed him a week ago. My body remains on the edge of the seat and ready to respond to any threat. It seems like we are coming to the end of our administrative discussion but alas, it is just the beginning.

“I also needed to speak to you about our session time for next year,” DS says while looking down at his screen, presumably at a calendar or a set of notes. He seems really calm. Cold fear grips my heart. This can’t be good. He doesn’t want me around anymore.

Just a few days ago, I dreamt that I arrived at his office and found a strange man sitting in his spot. This stranger was rude, perfunctory and looking at a tick-list. I felt like I was in a bureaucratic department and not a therapy room. This strange therapist ignored my pleas to see DS and decided I was done with therapy. I was enraged. He ticked a huge box on the form and sent me away.

“I am taking on some new commitments next year and will not be able to meet with you at our regular time on a Monday,” he says. “I was hoping we could discuss another time that works for both of us”. His words filter slowly through the neurons in my brain and it seems like a confused, foggy soup in there.

“How does Monday during the day work for you?” Anger rises in my chest at his request. I tell him I have to work during the day to make a living and there is no way to carve time out. “And lunch time?” he asks. No, he doesn’t get it. He is coming up with impossible times because he knows I won’t be able to say yes and it will give him a reason to say he has no other option but to stop seeing me. Tears pop up at the corners of my eyes. I cannot do lunch because I have such an unpredictable job. There is no way to commit to that. I feel frustrated, I want to scream… I feel completely abandoned. Instead, I sit mute and re-iterate that I can only see him after work. He offers an after-hours session on Wednesdays next year and I quickly nod.

Everything feels too intense. DS’s voice seems distant. Concentration is near impossible. He is negotiating and I just want to close my eyes and rest my head. Escape can’t come quick enough.

But it doesn’t and we’re straight onto our third matter for the day, the invite. DS acknowledges the invite and wants to know how I feel after sending it. I feel content with my decision to invite him to the show but also uncertain of what his reaction will be. “Well, to…um… respond, I cannot go to your show because of our professional relationship,” DS says. I hate that I am putting him in this possibly uncomfortable position. Obviously, we had already chatted about how I knew it wasn’t possible for him to attend. It still didn’t lessen the disappointment that I felt in the moment.

We spent the rest of the session talking about my fear at slipping back into old patterns of feeling and relating while spending the holidays with my parents. DS wanted to know about all my fears. What he doesn’t know is that I am scared he is going to forget about me. I am also scared because it is difficult to call up his face in my mind, especially when I feeling strongly, and I doubt my own abilities to self-soothe. As much as I hate to admit my dependency, I am continuing with a move towards intimacy and plan to ask for something of his to hold onto until our first session in the new year. I think this would be a way to soothe all the childlike fears I have and represent a physical way of holding onto the therapeutic relationship.

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So close and yet so far

image**

In the last month or so of therapy, I have come to identify one of my central struggles. I must have had a blind spot to not realise that this issue defines how I relate to others and see myself.

I fear intimacy.

Those three words seem alien on the screen. After all, I value my family and large circle of friends. I actively seek out friendships and human contact. How could I possibly fear intimacy if I am anxious to maintain closeness to others?

Well, it’s something I am trying to make sense of, with the help of DS (my therapist Deep Soul). There wasn’t a lightning bolt moment as such but, like a detective, I pieced together “here-and-now” therapy moments to come to this conclusion. DS hasn’t disagreed with my finding.

It would explain all the anxiety I have whenever we’re alone in the room. I reckon that if you had to look up intimate in the dictionary, this situation would feature in the top five! How often do we have an active other who is fully present for us? There is nowhere to run when I am on the couch and he is sitting in front of me. It’s like I can’t handle the closeness, even though consciously I love being able to vent and have him listen and interpret. What am I so scared of? Or why I am scared?

Happy Holloween…

I told DS that I think it’s because I’ve either had a limited experience of happy intimate relationships in my formative years or that I have never had a true intimate relationship at all, even if I’ve been under the illusion that it was intimate. Basically, I am working with a wonky model or map of how relationships are supposed to be. Relationships with my parents were based on compliance, authority and respect. I have a heart full of empathy for why they were that way and that this doesn’t make them bad people. But it does leave me with confusion and pain in relating to others on a deeper level at times. I don’t have strong, formative memories of being able to completely trust someone and be loved for who I am, not what I do or say.

In my heart, I know that intimacy is about being vulnerable and also feeling safe enough to assert views and personality to another. I believe intimacy is based on two people being authentic at any given moment. What makes this confusing in therapy is that DS gets to sit in his authoritative chair waiting for me to open up and speak. The imbalance terrifies me. The blank slate position triggers all sorts of feelings:

– Shame at not being “worthy enough” for someone to open up to me about who they really are and their own weaknesses
– Terror at having to give some or all of myself without reassurance or reciprocation
– Loneliness of the therapy relationship in terms of its one-sideness
– Sadness at feeling like I need to give up on my spontaneity in order to not break certain boundaries in therapy
– Confusion and anger at this catch-22 situation

In our session on Monday, it emerged that I seem to be afraid of enjoying the intimacy of a relationship without feeling loss at the same time. This was after I mentioned that it’s difficult to enjoy the caring moments between us because I know that I will have to eventually give up the relationship. He then asked about the feelings of loss I might have in relation to therapy ending at some point.

The question was innocent enough but I interpreted it as DS telling me I need to just accept there will be an end and more frightening, that it’s something he’s been thinking about a lot.

Don’t take a pill and don’t phone me in the morning…

After the session, I had the impulse to e-mail him and say I was taking a month’s break to escape from the confusion and hurt. It was also a passive form of “punishing” him. I decided to wait and see how I felt the next morning. I’ve been doing a dedicated mindfulness programme for two weeks and when I woke up the following day, I was mindful that the impulse was based on my fear of intimacy i.e. Let’s run away before things can get really hectic between us! I realised I would only be punishing myself and would feel very sad if I couldn’t go to therapy every week.

At this point, I accept that I will need to continue with the journey. At the same time, I have never felt more vulnerable. Wherever this leads, it feels like I have uncovered something important about myself.

Should I go against all my fears and send DS a message this week, letting him know that I became mindful of wanting to escape and that I am feeling vulnerable at the moment? This would prepare him for what to expect at our next session. I also feel alone and really need to feel like he’s there for me.

Or should I wait and raise it next Monday? Is part of therapy learning to bear this pain alone?

**Penny Siopis. 2010. Little Flame. Ink and glue on canvas.

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