I am happy to report that after having a really tough therapy session on Tuesday, I was brave enough to talk about it with J yesterday. Walking to my session, I was full of anxious doubts and consumed with guilt.
The guilt came from a variety of places. Primarily I was feeling guilty about putting my wife through so much in the past few years. I’d spent Tuesday evening and most of Wednesday counting the ways in which I have traumatised her. I was imagining how horrific it would be for me to witness her in my situation. I tortured myself by revisiting every awful event; violent self harm, disappearing acts, suicide attempts. It’s horrible thinking of her sat at my bedside, time after time, waiting for me to regain consciousness after overdoses.
My Tuesday session with J hadn’t helped this. She’d highlighted the fact that my wife can’t be sure of her future with me. Plus she had told me about the impact my behaviour had on her too. I left feeling as though I had seriously damaged one of the most important and vital relationships I have right now. I resented J questioning me so intensely. It felt like I had done something wrong, and so I gathered even more guilt.
Yesterday I was nervous about sharing my views on our previous session with J. I didn’t want to make a bad situation worse. But I also didn’t want to feel as though a gap was growing between us. I talked about work for a while to avoid the topic. Eventually, as we sat in silence, I decided I would start that conversation.
Since I was tiny, I’ve always been afraid of upsetting people – in particular, those I love the most. In my family there were a lot of volatile personalities. I existed with arguments and anger going on around me almost constantly. And those disagreements inevitably ended in one of my parents removing themselves. Basically, the message I ingested was; upset people and they leave.
As an adult, I am starting to see how this connects with my fear of conflict and of having an impact on people. Imagining that someone is upset with me or because of me is frightening. So I was anxious talking to J about what has happened between us. I guessed her comments in our previous session had come from a fear for my safety, but I suppose I like to think of her as immune to it. I like to kid myself that she can be involved with me without it having any effect on her.
The conversation actually went really well. J was quick to remind me that she is not a robot. She made it clear to me that her own fear had played a part in how she had responded to my overdose. What I didn’t expect was her anger.
After almost two years working together, I was still under the illusion that J only cared about me in the way anyone cares about their work. I was convinced she was invested in my recovery because of her professional pride. So the anger was a surprise.But the other surprise was that it actually felt OK. J’s anger came from her care for me. She was angry that I had put myself in danger, not because it had encroached on her evening, but because she really does care.
That concept was so strange to me. That a person could be angry with me and still care for me. For a little while it was an utterly confusing paradox in my black and white world. But it has settled a bit now and I’m realising it is OK. J can see my flaws and my defects, she can be upset by me, and that doesn’t mean she will disappear. After so many months of fearing she’ll eventually abandon me, that feels important. And it feels good.
Photo, Travis Wise, Creative Commons.