My therapist thinks we have two relationships; one therapeutic and one personal. I am finding this rather confusing. Unless you’re so dissociative you completely split into different people, surely it isn’t possible to have multiple relationships with the same person?
The subject of our relationship has come up again after a disaster of a Skype session last week. We were talking about my boat and the mooring we’re currently waiting for. I said that we’d be cruising around close to the marina until they have space for us. Then J informed me that one of the villages I’ll be staying in from time to time is where her daughter lives. Apparently her daughter walks the dog (whom I know because I see her at Js) on the towpath. So it’s likely we will cross paths.
J asked how I felt about that, and I said it was fine. In that moment I didn’t feel much about it at all. I felt a bit angry that she had chosen some indirect language to break this news to me. She’d told me the dog goes for walks there, leaving me to make the assumption that her daughter is local. It felt patronising to say it that way. Like she didn’t want to deal with how I’d be if she mentioned her daughter.
She went on to start talking about how we have this ‘normal’ relationship as well as the therapeutic one. That really irritated me. She kept saying how we need to find a way to normalise our relationship and I pointed out to her that it’s not normal. It frustrated me so much that she was insisting our relationship is normal, at the same time as saying that she would avoid walking by the canal there if she knew I was moored in that village. Because if she were anyone else I know, it would be good news wouldn’t it? In what other (chosen) relationship would that be a possible problem?
It seems like a small, simple thing, but for some reason it has stirred up all the painful attachment shit. The stuff that is always around when I think about her, but that I desperately try to avoid.
Often I imagine those attachment feelings as a colony of bees. There’s thousands of them, and their combined hum makes it impossible to discern the individual tone or traits of any particular one. There’s always this drone they make, and a vibration that stops me being able to ignore them. But if I leave them alone, that’s all it is. A kind of constant, low level discomfort that I can just about tolerate.
This particular conversation with J was the equivalent of whacking that beehive with a big fat stick.
A week has passed since then, but when J asked me about what I’m feeling today I still couldn’t even start to describe it. Its anger. Its hunger. Its loneliness. And fear. There’s a whole load of fear. But none of those is distinct. I’m just giving this the only labels I’ve got. They don’t feel right. They don’t feel like they do it justice.
Desperation feels more fitting. Desperation for something impossible. I’m not talking about hope or longing. It’s more active. It’s more painful. It’s sharper. The energy is different in desperation. It’s a place of knowing what is wanted so badly is never going to come to pass.
But what do I want? What is it I am desperate for? That I can’t say. It would be simple to say I want J to be my mother. And sometimes that’s accurate. From time to time, I wish she would cuddle me up and do everything within her power to soothe me. Sometimes I just want to stay with her, to fall asleep with her close by and rest peacefully knowing that I am safe there.
I know those feelings come from the young parts of me. I can say for certain that the adult part definitely doesn’t want J to be my mum. I know that. I know our relationship wouldn’t be what it is if I were a part of her family. She accepts me and hears me and stays with me because she is my therapist. I’d never want to risk losing that. I actually hate the thought of her not being in that specific, boundaried role (and I loathe the boundaries as much as the next person).
Perhaps what I’m struggling with most is the fear. Fear of not being important enough. Fear of being too much. Fear of being ‘difficult’. Fear of abandonment. Fear that I am basically just ‘work’ to her.
Oddly, it’s triggered this fear of her being ashamed of me. Or maybe it’s fear of my own shame. I only noticed this week, that the confidentiality of our relationship is attached to shame for me. Because I know she can’t talk about me to the people in her life – and rightly so – but that touches on something. It is familiar in the sense that I have experienced feeling as though I was a shameful secret before.
When I was little, nobody talked about my brother abusing me. Everything stayed the same and our family went on as usual. That left me envisioning myself as shame. I was the embodiment of this horrible secret we didn’t speak of. It sounds insane even to me, but because I talk about that stuff with J, it’s hard to detach from feeling like I am once again that awful, shameful secret. Her reasons for not speaking about me are different of course, and I really do know that, but the secrecy and separateness of our relationship from real life triggers this. It’s not a thinking thing. It’s an intense feeling.
That’s the problem with the stuff around our relationship. It’s just so full of that intense feeling. It’s harder to manage all the attachment crap than it is to actually talk about the trauma and the feelings I have about other stuff in my life. Literally anything is easier to discuss with her than what exists between us. Therapy would be a million times less painful if I didn’t have to deal with the therapeutic relationship. And yes, I also know that therapy wouldn’t be therapy without it.
That’s what I always come back to though, when things feel this tough between J and I. I return to the option of ending therapy, and ending the relationship. I know that would be incredibly painful and sad. It would hurt to say goodbye to J. I imagine I would need to grieve. But then I also imagine moving on and not having to keep returning to this quagmire of attachment feelings.
For sure, if I changed therapist this would all emerge again in time. So I really see the options as; keep enduring this anxious, fearful, angry mess that comes up with J, or stop doing therapy completely.
At the moment, I am leaning towards the latter. I’ve been doing this for over 3 years now. Stuff has changed, of course it has, but what price do I pay? It exhausts me. It brings up anxiety and pain almost every time. I spend a ridiculous amount of time agonising over my relationship with J – probably a lot more than I spend ruminating on what I’m there to work through. And when travel is factored in it now takes me a whole day to go for therapy each week. Then there’s money. Of which I have almost none to spend on something that essentially makes me feel like shit week in, week out.
I wonder what the hell I’m doing it for.