Today I am 100 days sober. I am 10 days from leaving the job I’ve done for nearly 7 years. And in 12 days I will be leaving the life I know behind and starting out on my boat. Oh and I shouldn’t forget to mention, we’re 3 days into a mini Siberian winter (but that’s the whole UK, not just me!).
There’s a lot happening and I can only think of a handful of things that aren’t changing at the moment. It’s hard to feel grounded. I’m excited, but there are huge waves of fear and panic as well. Plus, there is the simple and not insignificant stress of organising and packing everything.
I’ve written in the past few weeks about the fact that one of my biggest sources of anxiety right now is the way that therapy will change. Before I was hospitalised at the end of last year, I was in a bad place with therapy. I felt rejected by J. I felt I couldn’t trust her. I worried she wasn’t capable of helping me. I was afraid that working with her was making me more ill. The relationship was provoking so much intolerable anxiety and insecurity, it started to feel unsustainable.
In hospital I had a lot of time to think. Particularly, I thought about what needed to happen or change for things to feel better for me. I kept coming back to therapy. And I kept returning to the horrible conclusion that if my relationship with J didn’t improve, I would need to find someone new to work with. That was a painful realisation, because I love J very much and I didn’t want to lose her.
I chose to try to repair what was going wrong with J. I knew I had to be more open with her and more engaged with the work. I wrote to her, setting out the things I thought needed to be different about how we were working. I made some commitments; in particular, not drinking before sessions, and bringing something to prompt me in case the defensive part kicked in and I couldn’t manage to speak.
The good news is that since the start of this year, I do think therapy is going better. I’m still having sessions in which I feel shut down and I want to push J away. There are also still a lot of times I feel insecure and anxious about her abandoning me. But I’m trying to manage that in a different way. I’m keeping one of her blankets at home, in case I need something to help me feel connected with her.
If the blanket isn’t enough, I am allowing myself to text or email J, just to check in and get some reassurance. I’ve done that a couple of times now. Each time I’ve been really worried I’m overstepping, and each time her responses have been kind and supportive. I can’t yet say it’s easy to contact her between sessions, but she’s always telling me that these things won’t get easier if I don’t do them.
This week my sessions were really up and down. On Tuesday, I felt defensive and shut down. Everything J said irritated me. A part of me was intervening and telling the parts that wanted to be close to her to shut up. Literally, I could hear a voice shouting ‘shut the fuck up’ at them. I tried so hard to say something, but it felt physically impossible. I couldn’t make my vocal chords work. I left feeling so isolated, and disappointed that I hadn’t found a way to connect.
J suggested I try doing some writing at home from the parts that weren’t allowed a voice that day. Later, as I tried to write, that harsh shouting returned. Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up. Shut the fuck up. Round and round. I pushed through and kept writing, but it was such a battle. The little part just wanted to tell J she’s scared of losing her. She’s scared of the change and of being forgotten. She’s scared that she won’t be safe when J isn’t close by anymore.
It was embarrassing to read that back. But last week, I emailed J something I felt was cringeworthy and pathetic and she had responded with warmth and encouraged me not to be embarrassed. She actually said she was touched I’d shared it because she knew how much trust was involved. So I wrote out what I’d scrawled and took it with me to my session on Wednesday.
When I got there, I didn’t want to take it out of my bag. I realised I definitely couldn’t read it to her. And then, after managing to explain about the angry voice silencing the small parts, the session got really hard. J wanted to talk to that angry part. She asked me what that part thinks of her and I hesitated for a long time before I told her, ‘nothing positive’. It frightened me to say that, and I could feel a lot of tension in my body.
She attempted to speak to that part a bit, and ask some questions. I really didn’t want to answer her, because I get scared of damaging the relationship, and that part had nothing nice to say. I managed to half explain how that part feels pissed off that the others are so needy, that they need her so much. It feels like we should be self-sufficient. And it feels like she’s deliberately made the others dependent on her; that part feels really angry about that.
J attempted to respond to this, trying to apologise if she’d done something to make the little part anxious and that it wasn’t her intention. She wanted the angry part to hear it. She asked what was happening, but I could only tell her it wasn’t sinking in. That part wasn’t going to do anything but throw back whatever she said. It sounds horrible to say it, but that part sees her as fake. I couldn’t say that to her. That part assumes that everything she says is contrived and is just regurgitated from a book she’s read. It definitely doesn’t feel as though she cares. It doesn’t feel like she’s genuine at all.
I got more and more wound up and J asked if it was OK for us to move on to something else. That was a relief, and I agreed. We talked a little about the relationship being the work, and she said how important it was that she’d managed to have some contact with that part. I think it was probably the first time we’d really had a proper dialogue. When she said we’ve possibly ignored that part, I realised that it’s likely because it doesn’t tend to use words. To me, that part ensures it isn’t ignored. It does so by communicating with actions. So I think it is important that it starts to find some words. Maybe then I’ll be able to get my destructive behaviour under better control.
Even though this discussion was tough, and what I’d said felt harsh and unkind, having that conversation brought me closer to J. For weeks now, I’ve been delaying asking her for a transitional object to take with me when I move. Every session, I’ve gone with the ambition of asking her, and every time it has felt too scary.
It still made me so anxious I was shaking, but I did finally manage to ask her about it. When I nervously looked up at her, she was smiling. She said she would be happy to get me something. In fact she’d been thinking about it for a few weeks herself, but had wanted me to bring it up and ask, rather that her offering. She seemed pleased I had somehow found the courage to ask. And I felt pleased about it too. Fear almost always stops me asking her for anything at all, so it felt good to get a positive response.
At the end of the session, I felt like so much had happened in that hour. I felt secure and I felt proud of myself for doing something that frightened me and getting a good outcome. I was able to hand over the writing I’d done from the little part, without it feeling very scary at all. And I even asked J for a hug as I left.
Image: Jorge Jaramillo, Creative Commons.