Daring To Trust

 

Today I did something that scared me, something that made me feel, something that needed me to be braver than I have ever been before. I shared something that I had never ever shared with anyone before.

*

I have now been seeing P. for just over a month. Ten sessions to be precise. And it has been, well, quite a big change for me. It is hard to not constantly compare the work I am doing with her to the work I did with A. It isn’t so much that I keep thinking that one is decidedly better than the other, but I am struck, over and over, by how different it is to be in therapy with P. The relationship we are tentatively building has a whole different feel to it, there is an added dimension to it, a quality that is hard to paint in words, but which is so real I can almost feel it physically.

That said, I miss A. I do. I really miss her. I miss the way I would spend time in session self-analysing and contemplating different angles to things, turning things round and round and having the luxury of going through all the ins and outs of my thoughts, with A. every now and then reflecting back to me what she heard me say.

I find myself, sometimes, making statements that I feel would have fitted well in A.’s therapy room, but which don’t quite work in the space I share with P. I find that doing my ‘getting into therapy mode’ routine, which I have been doing for nearly five years with A., feels awkward and out of place with P. I still do it, because it is simply the way I kick into gear, but I always feel very aware that P. is there, waiting for me to look at her and greet her properly.

So, there’s a lot to get used to. I find it so scary, the way P. meets me at the door, always with a big, warm and welcoming smile, and the way she seeks to make eye contact with me. I find her invitation to form a real relationship with her absolutely terrifying. There are alarm bells going off all over the place, simply because they have been tuned to mistrust that kind of openness and warmth, has been trained to automatically look for the ulterior motive behind any random act of kindness.

But, I am determined to not allow myself to use that fear as an excuse not to dig deeper. I am determined to find a way to ‘dare to trust’, to challenge my own hardwired concept of the world, of others being out to cause me harm. So, I’ve been pushing on with P. I’ve used my sessions to talk and talk and talk and talk about this fear of attaching, this extreme inability to trust – I’ve talked very openly about it all and she, in turn, has responded to it. And I think that that is where some of the healing may lay; in having those fears heard, having that reluctance be understood and accepted. Because – paradoxically – that is what may ultimately allow me to let my guard down, to allow P. in for real.

And today I took a leap of faith. I brought my journal with me, and I shared a drawing I made this morning of something that happened to me, something I had relived in the form of a flashback earlier today, and which I have never ever shared with anyone before.

It was incredibly scary to do, and before I did it, before I even opened up my journal, we spent time talking about what I was feeling, what the fear really was. I explained that there was something about P.’s presence that made me feel more scared than I would be, if I were on my own with the drawing. That something about her being there made me feel more exposed, more vulnerable, because I didn’t know how I would react to looking at the drawing in front of her, and I also didn’t know how she would react. The metaphor I used to explain it to P. was that it’s like standing in front of the mirror, naked, and then doing the same thing, but with someone next to you. The first is hard enough to do, the second all the more frightening.

At first I just sat with the journal in my lap, looking at the drawing I had made, without sharing it with P. Just to see what that would feel like, to test the waters. I found it difficult, had to actually use my hand to cover up the parts of my drawing that felt too difficult to look at. And then, in the middle of doing this – in the middle of shielding myself from my own drawing – it occurred to me that I didn’t need to be the one who was stuck with the drawing. I didn’t need to shield myself from it. I could give it to P., and she could protect me from the full force of the raw horror that the drawing contained. So, I handed it over to her, barely daring to look at her.

But I did. Look at her. And, yes, there was a reaction to what I had drawn, an obvious emotional response to what she was seeing splashed across her face, and it made me feel very afraid, anxious that maybe I had pushed her too hard, too soon. But then P. spoke, first about how what I had shared in the drawing was something no child should have to experience, and later, about how she felt about me having shared it with her. And it made me feel better.

In the session before this one, I also shared something, in words rather than through a drawing that time, and towards the end of the session P. asked me how I felt about what I had shared. So I talked about it. And then – the thing that made me really feel that there might be a possibility that I could trust her to take good care of me – she asked if maybe I needed to also know how she was feeling, having listened to me. So, I nodded and said that I thought that would be good, feeling so immensely grateful that she had understood how enormous my fear of breaking others with my story is.

And that – her honesty in sharing exactly how listening to me affected her – is what made it possible for me to take this huge step in today’s session. Because, something about that – about P. not holding back on her own response, is what makes me feel safe, makes me feel that she knows her own limitations, and that – because of this – she wouldn’t allow either one of us to go further than we could cope with.

xx

“It’s time we made a place
Where people’s souls may be seen and made safe

Be careful with each other
These fragile flames..
For innocence can’t be lost
It just needs to be maintained..”

JK

 

Innocence Maintained  © 1998 Jewel Kilcher
Advertisements

Trauma Focused Counselling, Psychoanalytic Therapy & Bridging The Gap

By now I have had nine sessions with Z. Only, it’s turned out very different to what I had thought it would be. Two sessions ago Z. said that she felt concerned about us doing deep trauma-focused work, said that she wasn’t sure it would ultimately be to my benefit if we started unpacking memories that would undoubtedly cause a lot of pain, when we have so very few sessions together and might not have enough time to get any closure. She also said that she was unsure if we should do all sixteen sessions as planned, or if we should perhaps instead spend a few sessions thinking about how the work we have been doing so far could be brought back into A.’s consulting room. Or, Z. added, maybe what we need to do is look at sorting out a referral to someone else, someone who specialises in trauma-treatment, but who – unlike herself – could offer long-term therapy?

All this came as a bit of a shock to me, because, after all, Z. had been handed my referral and would have known the extent of trauma I have suffered, and she also knew the premises we were working on from the outset: sixteen sessions, no more, no less, unless I decided to cut counselling short. Of course, intellectually I can appreciate the concerns voiced by Z., but it was still a tough one to take in. Also – perhaps more importantly – I know myself fairly well, and I could see right away that no matter how much intellectual sense this proposal made, it would only be a matter of time before those deep seated, fear infused questions started popping up in my head and heart: Was that really the reason why Z. wanted to cut counselling short? Maybe this was just what she was saying, because she didn’t want to tell me that I had once again become ‘too much’? What if the real reason was that the stuff I had shared already was more than she could cope with? Needless to say my internal Here-We-Go-Again alarm bells were going off like crazy.

Of course, the rational part of me knows that it is unlikely that Z. would lie to me, or that – given that working with trauma is What She Does – the bits and pieces of trauma I had let her in on would be too much to cope with, but as we have seen time and time again, intellectual understanding and emotional response rarely go neatly hand in hand in perfect harmony. As I said to Z.; in many ways it doesn’t even matter what the real reasons for not doing the full sixteen sessions actually are: ultimately it will almost certainly become cemented in my mind as further proof that I’m ‘too much’. Or, even, that I’m not really worth the hard work that is involved, because, after all – everyone else gets their sixteen sessions, and they’re all trauma clients, too. So, this must be something specific to me.

I told Z. that, although I’m nowhere near as invested in my relationship with her as I am in my relationship with A. [yet], an experienced rejection of this kind would still bring all these fears to the surface in a way that I don’t think would be particularly helpful for me, as it would only serve to reinforce the idea that no one can truly cope with me. That no one wants to hear my story.

I feel quite pleased with myself that I managed to share these thoughts with Z., that I didn’t do what I would have done a few years ago: bury all feelings as deeply as I possibly could, right at the very edge of my conscious mind, and just accept Z.’s suggestion to end counselling early – with a bright smile plastered across my face to hide the invisible tears, to boot. I’m glad that I instead decided to ‘fight back’.  [Especially as Z. told me in today’s session that we have another seven to go, which means we will be doing the full course.]

The two sessions since Z. suggested stopping short we have spent, in part, at least, exploring what this proposition of Z.’s has done to me and how it has made me feel about Z. I’ve also explained that I am not looking to find a new therapist; I think it is crucial that I somehow find a way to bring the work I have started with Z. back to my sessions with A., both to allow me an opportunity to discover that I can overcome my fear of breaking people [and perhaps even of breaking myself], and for A. to rise to the challenge and earn my trust back, so that I dare once more take a chance and share some of the truly awful things that happened to me. To, in a sense, come full circle.

A.’s and my story began a little over four and a half years ago. It took me a good year of testing A. in a million different ways to make sure that she was for real before I even considered talking about anything much at all. After that another two years were spent slowly slowly building a genuine relationship. I began trusting her, tried to open up even when I was terrified to do so. And then in year five of therapy – boom – something went quite badly wrong. Both A. and I hit a wall, full speed, from opposite sides, and whatever trust there was got seriously dented as a result. And that’s where we are at now: we are both still in recovery mode.

What I would like to add to our story is a final phase where I get to experience that mutual trust can be rebuilt. Both that I can start trusting A. to ‘hold’ me again, to feel safe with her, to know that she can cope hearing about the things that happened to me, but also that she can regain her trust in me. It would be unrealistic and unfair to suggest that the breakdown and subsequent dent in trust was experienced only at my end; I can absolutely see that the act of nearly killing myself earlier this year, put a dent in A.’s trust in me, too.

This is the main reason why I don’t want to look for another long-term therapist, even if she happened to be specialised in trauma-focused work. I feel that the positive corrective emotional experience needs to happen in my relationship with A. The circle needs to be completed in a single relationship.

I do feel that the work I have been doing with Z. – both the trauma work and the work we have been doing in the last two sessions – has been helpful to me. It has made me try to, ever so gently, bring some of the feelings around the abuse into my sessions with A., to lower my guard that little bit more, and it has also helped me be a lot more direct in the way I communicate with A. about our relationship. I do a lot less tiptoeing around. I still feel that I want to complete all sixteen sessions with Z., because I think the time left could be well spent building bridges. I also think it’s been quite healthy for A. to see how I have responded to a very different type of therapist/counsellor, and I think it has made her reflect on the way she works with me, and what may or may not be useful in our work. I don’t mean that this has been a forced response to a threat of If you don’t do things MY way, I’ll find another therapist, because I don’t feel I have issued such a threat – the decision to do trauma-focused work outside of therapy was made before A. and I hit that wall, had been discussed in my sessions with A. – but that it’s happened naturally, on a genuine feeling level.

There is still a long way to go, for both of us, but I think we will get there in the end.

xx

PS. Following my last two posts I have (a bit surprisingly) had more than one email asking if Z.’s real name is Zoe Xxxxxxx, so I thought I’d state once and for all that NO, it isn’t. Z.’s name doesn’t even begin with Z, I just randomly picked it because her letter was already in use. As I’ve said before, I do always take as much care as I possibly can to mask other people’s real identity, and this includes the identities of my counsellors and psychotherapists. :)

Where Do We Go From Here?

I have been meaning to upload this post for a few days now, have kept telling people that I was going to post an update in the next few days, but, for whatever reason, I just needed a little more time to think before writing it. As I wrote in a previous post, it hasn’t been my intention to turn this little therapy drama into any sort of cliff-hanger, I just simply wasn’t quite ready to write the update until just now, hence the delay. Nothing more to it.

*

A. replied very briefly to my email, acknowledging that she had received it and confirming that she was expecting me to come for session the following Wednesday. This was good; I wouldn’t have wanted her to respond to my email at length, I just wanted her to have read it and to have had some time to think about the things I was saying, so that we could talk about it in the next session.

I began that next session with a simple ‘So where do we go from here?’ thinking that that was open enough to invite some sort of mutual discussion. Instead my question was met with silence, and I felt instantly annoyed, because I had really hoped that A. would recognise the need to respond to me openly and directly, to engage in a dialogue with me, rather than to hang back and wait for me to say something for her to analyse. So, naturally, the next thing that came out of my mouth was dripping with frustration: ‘You know, it would be quite helpful if we could have an actual two-way conversation about this.’

We did have something of a conversation, eventually. Thankfully. Because, I think I would have walked out once and for all, had that not happened. My anxiety was sky high coming into that session, not knowing whether or not this would be the session where A. would tell me that she definitely couldn’t carry on working with me, regardless of whether or not I promised to not get suicidal again, because I was simply too much for her. And, also, there was tremendous fear that what I had written in the email would have a negative effect, or would be misunderstood, would have tipped things in the opposite direction of what I had hoped for. So, I really needed to be able to have a conversation with her about where we stood, what was going to happen, what the deal was going to be. I couldn’t have handled the not-knowing, the guessing, the excruciating uncertainty regarding the future of our therapeutic relationship.

A. brought something up which I had mentioned in the previous session, namely the idea that if I did go along with her request that would almost certainly mean that talking about suicidal feelings would become taboo. She told me that there were no taboos, that I was free to explore absolutely anything I wanted to in session – but – that I was not free to act.

I sat with this for a moment, because to me, this seemed quite different to what I felt she had said in the previous session. There is no way for me to know if this was what she had meant to convey in the previous session but had just expressed it in a somewhat clumsy way, resulting in me hearing something quite different, or if she had taken in what I had written in my email, and realised that what she had demanded initially was an impossible ask. All I know is that this felt different to the ultimatum-like choice she had presented me with the last time we met. So, that’s what I told her. A., of course, wanted to know in what way it felt different, and I said that this felt more doable, that while there is no way I – or anyone for that matter – can promise never to become suicidal, I can choose not to act.

I can’t say that I feel that we managed to talk it all out in that session, or even that we have in subsequent sessions. I couldn’t honestly say that this issue has been resolved. It still feels like it’s sitting there, an invisible but definite stumbling block between us. Whilst I acknowledged that I can make a choice not to act, I never made any sort of promise to A. that I won’t, nor has she pressed me for one. In some ways you could say that we have both just let it drop, allowed it to fall into that silent space between us, lost in the red pile of the Persian rug at our feet. I can’t help but feel that we are both working very hard at pretending that everything is back to normal, even though we both know that that isn’t the case at all.

As far as taboos go, do I believe what A. says, that there are no taboos? I suppose you could say that I do, or – perhaps more accurately – I believe that A. genuinely wants me to feel free to talk about absolutely anything, no matter how hard, no matter how sensitive. Have I talked about how I really feel since this happened? Have I been able to talk about suicidal feelings? About urges to act out? No. I am far too scared that I will say one thing too many and that consequently therapy will stop. In some ways I feel that all of a sudden I am doing therapy under the threat of termination.

Sharp-eared readers will have noticed that none of the discussions between A. and I have addressed the issue which felt most pressing as this whole drama unravelled; my deep-seated fear that I always end up being too much for people, and that I had pushed A. to the point where she couldn’t cope anymore. There is good reason for why I’ve not written about this; we haven’t addressed this at all. Neither my fear, nor any possible validity in my feeling that A. can’t quite cope has been talked about.

I have had a lot of comments and particularly emails about the last two posts, all of which I am grateful for, as they have offered many different angles from which to view what has been going on between A. and I. A number of readers have expressed a fair amount of anger at A.’s way of handling the situation, and as anger sadly isn’t a talent I have mastered, it has in many ways felt good to see others reacting in this way. And, at the same time, because I am a Worrier, it’s made me scrutinise what I have written, to try to ascertain if I may have unfairly painted A. in a darker shade of gray than was necessary. I would like to think that I have been reasonably fair in what I have written, yet at the same time I think it is important to remember that this blog is a stage which I share with no one, and as such only my voice gets heard, only my version of events gets told. A. has had no opportunity to put her understanding of what has been going on between us forward. Also, as I highlighted in my email to A., it is entirely possible that my assumptions about what has been going on for her are altogether incorrect.

One reader very helpfully pointed out that it may well have been that what A. was saying about not being able to work under the threat of suicide was less to do with not being able to cope with me, and more to do with the fact that a client’s suicidality can make therapeutic progress very difficult. This is something I agree with; a client’s suicidality, especially if acute, can doubtlessly make the therapeutic process suffer, may even make it impossible. I also agree that it is fair for a therapist to be clear about not finding a client’s acting out acceptable. However, I also feel that the way A. initially presented the issue to me, ie “I can’t work under the threat of suicide” suggested that it wasn’t so much that she felt that my suicidal impulses or acting out was a hindrance to the therapeutic process, as much as it was a case of her not being able to work under these circumstances, and this is what lead me to interpret her statement as indicative of her not being able to cope. She wasn’t saying that ‘The constant threat of you acting out makes it impossible for this therapy to happen, because it means your energy is focused more on the idea of being dead, than on being here with me and genuinely engaging with this process’, she was saying that she couldn’t work when things were this way.

But, of course it is very possible that I was taking her words a little too literally, maybe expecting too much of her in terms of expressing exactly what she meant in a “perfect” way, and – as I wrote in the email – there is a difference between her actual words and what I heard, and of course the things I read into those words come largely from my imagination, rather than from actual, factual knowledge or confirmation from A.

There is so much more to say about this, and I think this whole thing will take a long time to be fully resolved. But for now, this is where I will leave it.

For the time being I am still seeing A. Although, as I said earlier, there is still much left for A. and I to talk about, we have had some very good sessions lately. No, it hasn’t been addressing the stuff that is going on between the two of us, but they have still been very useful sessions.

I want to once again say thank you to everyone who has taken the time to email or comment on the last two posts. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you, but rest assured that I have read what you’ve written, and I very much appreciate getting your points of view. Whatever they may be.

Be kind to your Selves.

xx

In the next episode of What It Takes To Be Me: I embark on a new journey as I dive head first into the world of intensive, short term trauma-focused counselling. Stay tuned!

By the way, we’ve just passed the 55,000 hits milestone since this blog was relaunched!
So THANKS to all!

I Solemnly Swear Never To Be Suicidal Again? – An Entry About Fears, Promises & Honesty

When I uploaded the previous post twenty days ago, I was fully intent on posting the next one the following day. As you can see, this didn’t happen. Instead I have been telling myself every day since then that ‘You really must get around to writing That Post today’, each day finding conscious and unconscious reasons not to do so.

I’m not always good with feelings, with dealing with them, I mean. Especially pain. I have a tendency to shut down, to frantically try and get away from anything that may make me experience emotional pain. And I do this even more so if I perceive that the pain is being inflicted by someone I respect and care about. In some ways I suppose this behaviour makes perfect sense. Who wants to feel pain? Who wants to feel hurt by someone they hold important in their lives? And, yet, looking at it from another angle, it is sort of strange, particularly from someone who has spent so much time doing therapy, where much of the work centres around exploring and examining pain, past and present, often inflicted by those we find hardest to blame.

So.. this will be a hard one to write. But, I felt that I owed it to myself to be brave, to not hold back, to be honest and let it all out. After all, that is why I have this blog..

The week I had been discharged from Drayton Park I arrived for my usual Friday session with A. I had a very specific question on my mind, one which had been eating at me for a while, and I felt I really needed to pluck up the courage to ask A. about it, in light of what had been going on both with me separately and in our mutual relationship lately. I never got a chance to ask the question, because once I had sat down, A. turned to me and said ‘There is something I need to say to you.’ Alarm bells went off all around my body. Last time she started a session that way was when she told me she was pregnant, and I could tell that this time it would be something possibly even harder to deal with.

‘I can’t work with you under the threat of suicide.’

Ten words. Like bullets to my heart.

I must have sat quiet for ten minutes, my world stopping in its tracks. I felt cold, nauseous, struggling to breathe. Thoughts were spinning in my head so fast it was impossible for me to grasp any of them for what seemed like forever. For a second I contemplated just getting up and leaving, something I have never done in my life, to anyone. But, the pain was excruciating, and I felt that I couldn’t take it.

When I finally spoke, the words that came out, as I was trying to blink away tears that weren’t even there, were a mere whisper; ‘I guess that makes one more person who can’t cope with me, one more person who I’ve become too much for, who I have pushed too far’. I couldn’t look at A. as I said it, because I was too scared of the force of my own emotions.

This fear of becoming too much for people, it’s been central to my therapy from day one. It’s been a ridiculously regularly recurring theme, something many hours have been spent turning inside out. I know where it stems from: that pivotal moment when I was seven and told my mother about what my brother was making me do, when I broke her, when I discovered that there was no one who could help, no one I could tell without running the risk of breaking. And ever since then, that fear has remained, has evolved into this enormous ball of anxiety that now encompasses a million different things that I believe I do, which ultimately drive people away.

Having said that first thing, suddenly there were lots of other things I wanted to say, thoughts I wanted to share, because apart from fear and pain a plethora of other emotions were descending on me at breakneck speed. I took a minute or two to try to pick them out, to separate them. The most urgent one was the feeling that this was incredibly unfair, because in the past several months I had more than once felt unsure of whether or not A. could truly cope with what I was bringing to session, and more than once had I openly asked her if she could. And each time she had opted not to answer. So I said exactly that, adding that it felt like she was going from zero to a hundred with no steps in between. Silence, silence, silence and then ‘I can’t work with you’.

After a few more moments of silence, from both of us, I asked her how she had imagined I might respond to what she had just told me. A. said that she didn’t know how I would respond. In frustration I said that that wasn’t what I asked, I asked how she had imagined I might respond, because in my mind, she is an intelligent person, and it didn’t seem that far-fetched that she might have pictured me hearing what she said as a form of rejection and as further proof that there is no-one who can cope with me, and that it would take me down the path of ‘If even my therapist can’t cope with me, then what hope is there..?’

Later she said, in her very gentlest voice ‘I’m giving you a choice’ and because I wanted to be fair to her and to the reality of the situation, I said that I could see that, and that I can absolutely understand that it must be incredibly difficult – frightening, even – to work with me when I am suicidal. Especially in light of what had happened only a few short weeks ago. And, yet, at the same time I couldn’t help thinking How is this a choice?’ She was saying that she couldn’t work with me under the threat of suicide, but how could I possibly promise to not be suicidal? It’s not something which can be switched on and off with the push of a button. It felt more like an ultimatum; ‘Either you stop being suicidal, or therapy stops’. I was going through the options in my head, thinking that I would be willing to say almost anything – even if it was a lie – if only she would carry on working with me. But, I also knew that I really didn’t want to have to go down that road, because it’s perilous in nature; one which would inevitable and seriously impact whatever work we might do in the future.

I said to A. that if I did make a promise like that, wouldn’t that by default make the whole subject of suicide and suicidal feelings taboo? Because, how could I ever trust that I wouldn’t accidentally step over the line of what A. felt was too much, now that she had shown me that such a line did exist, not only in the realm of my fears, but tangibly right there in that room? Wasn’t it exceedingly likely to have the effect that if things got to the stage where suicide felt like an option, I might not be honest with her, might not share these feelings, for fear of what the consequences might be for my therapy? To this A. said that of course I would also need to think about whether or not I could work with her. This may have been meant to make me feel that this was a two-way street, but it only left me with the feeling that perhaps she was hoping that I would come to the conclusion that I couldn’t, thereby giving her an ‘out’. So, I said exactly what I was thinking: ‘I feel like I am being pushed towards terminating this therapy. And that is not what I want.’ To which A. said that I may need to take some time to think about all of this.

I was silent for a while, trying to come up with something – anything – that may be used to bridge the gap between what I felt A. was asking of me and where I felt I was truly at, and suddenly I remembered something D. – the counsellor I worked with before I started seeing A. – and I used to do when things were very difficult. We would make an agreement that I wouldn’t act out in any way between sessions, that I would always come to the next session to talk things through with her. And, because I had a huge amount of respect for her, I knew that if I did make that promise, there was no way I would break it. It’s just how I am. And, if I felt that I couldn’t make an honest promise, it wasn’t a case of ‘Well, then I can’t work with you’ but we would instead find some sort of middle ground, acceptable to both, and which, crucially, didn’t entail making false promises. I might admit that I felt unable to promise that I wouldn’t act out, but that I could promise that before acting out I would do X, Y and Z (ie call the Samaritans, speak to three different friends, do my nails, make a painting, write a chapter on my book, contact the crisis team etc).

Having explained this set-up to A. she initially wanted to know how that had made me feel and I told her that it made me feel contained, that it was a positive thing, this process of coming to a reasonable agreement, because it made me feel that I had some control. And also, that not only did I know that I wouldn’t break a promise I had made to D., I also felt confident that she knew I wouldn’t.

After a short pause A. said that she felt she had made her position very clear and that any promise would have to be for as long as we worked together, however long that may be.

It felt like she was pulling the rug from under my feet, like she was responding to my tentative suggestion of a possible solution, by immediately raising the bar, to make it impossible for me to make the promise she was after.

So, I left that session in a daze, feeling unsure if that was it, if that was the end of the road for our work together, not at all knowing whether her earlier ‘You may need to take some time to think about this’ extended only to this particular session, if she was expecting me to show up for session the following Wednesday, or if she wanted me to do my thinking at home, so she wouldn’t have to deal with my suicidality, which clearly could not be dissolved from one session to the next.

*

I am not meaning to make this storyline of my life into any sort of cliff-hanger, but I am exhausted and I need a break. There is a lot more to say about what has been going on in my relationship with A. and what has happened since this session, and I hope that in the next few days, I will be able to post an update of some sort.

Until then,

Be kind to your Selves,

xx