A Fork In The Road – Choosing A Path

A. has been away since the Friday before last, and it feels like it has been our longest break ever. There is just something about this particular break that has felt sort of endless. Of course, this hasn’t really been the longest one, seeing as she was off on maternity leave last year, but it has felt incredibly long.

I think one part of it is the fact that I have been living in a heightened state of fear ever since I ran into M., and not having A. there to talk it through with has been hard. Yes, I’ve still had Z., but since that’s the place where I’ve seen M., I haven’t been able to relax at all, and that – naturally – has had a direct impact on my ability to open up and talk about things; it is very hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable in a place where you don’t feel safe. That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to do just that. But, still, it’s in my sessions with A. I usually feel most safe, more sheltered from both external and internal storms. In fact, this is where I am least likely to experience flashbacks. Sure, I do still have the occasional flashback when I’m with A., but it happens a whole heap less there than anywhere else.

A. is back tomorrow, and that’s a good thing, for sure. I feel that there is a lot that has happened in the eleven days since I last saw her, and there is a lot of catching up to do. Prior to A. going on leave I had a session where I tried to be brave and share my concerns regarding not feeling sure about where our therapeutic relationship and work is headed, or even where I would like it to go.

There is one part of me who is listening closely – perhaps even a little too closely – to other people, who all seem to be suggesting that perhaps I am overly attached to A., and that I have really come as far as I can, working with A. That I may have outgrown her, in a sense, and the time has come to start over with someone else. And at the same time there is the intense pull in the opposite direction: that while there are many things that are less than ideal in our relationship and the way we have been working together, there is a golden opportunity here to work things through, to have a different experience to what I have had in many previous therapies.

I think what troubles me most is the fact that I feel so completely in the dark about my own motives for wishing to go in either of these directions. Is thinking about terminating my work with A. really a result of outgrowing something, or is it a case of the exact polar opposite? That, actually, having spent years only dipping my toes I am now dangerously close to allowing myself to dive in head first? Perhaps terminating is a way for me to avoid having to do that? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that happened. In at least three previous therapies I’ve managed to find an ‘out’, when things have got a little too hot. Maybe I am really just repeating a pattern here? To cut and run, rather than stay and face my fears?

And, at the same time, is my wish to stay with A. purely about this opportunity to go deeper than I have done before, or is it rooted in fear of letting go of the emotional safety blanket A. has been providing for me in the last four and a half years? Change can be a pretty scary thing, and sometimes we all need a little push in the right direction to dare take that final step off the beaten path.

I definitely feel that working with Z., alongside A., in the last few months has been a very positive experience, has made me reflect on the work I have been doing with A. It has helped clarify in my mind what I feel has sometimes been lacking. But, equally, it has highlighted the things I really appreciate in my relationship with A., the things I find a little overbearing in my work with Z.

In many ways, therapy with A. is a very independent endeavour; I am most definitely in the driver’s seat, choosing which roads to go down, which ones to avoid, and what speed we should be travelling at. Counselling with Z. is a lot more directed, something which became very clear when she expressed concern that we may be dipping too deep into things. And, at the same time, Z. is a lot more head on than A. She often asks very direct questions about what’s going on for me, what I am feeling, and, particularly – what I feel about our relationship, pushing me to go to a place where it is a little scary to be. And, this is an area where A. and I don’t really manage to communicate all that well. I am not sure if this is down to me and my fears, or if it is a situation A. and I have created jointly, but I do know that it is absolutely one of the things I would like to change.

A. made a comment when I talked about this, among many other things, in one of the last sessions before this break, which I feel is both valid and makes me worry. She said that all these questions I have about our work together, the uncertainty of where we are going, the not knowing where I would like to go, echoes very loudly in the rest of my life: there is a lack of clear direction and a strong feeling of being pulled in two opposite directions [the wish to live and work through things, and a darker pull towards giving up and ending my life].

As I wrote earlier, this comment does have some validity: I can see the echo, and I get what A. was trying to tell me. And at the same time, there is some frustration on my part about the way A. tends to see most everything I say about our relationship as a direct echo of something bigger in the world outside of her consulting room, the way she sometimes seems reluctant to allow me [us] to fully explore what’s there inside those four walls. My general view is that, yes – there are often echoes of the outside world being reenacted in A.’s and my relationship, but, that this doesn’t mean that what is going on between the two of us isn’t equally real and in need of being worked through. One doesn’t negate the other, and sometimes a rubber duck is just a rubber duck.

As you can see there are a whole lot of questions bouncing around inside of me at the moment, and very few solid answers to counter them, but I hope that in the next few weeks I will be able to use my sessions with both A. and Z. to look at them closer.

xx

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: "Draw, Don't Cut"  [..the slightly more creative version..]

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: “Draw, Don’t Cut”
[..the slightly more creative version..]

Advertisements

An Uneasy Dwelling – Delayed Reflections On Living In A Therapeutic Community

It’s been a year now since I moved out of the therapeutic community I used to live in. And I’m still processing it. The ups and the downs, pondering what I took from my time there, what more I could have got from it, what I’m glad to have left behind.

I can say without hesitation that I don’t regret moving in there. I can also say that it is the most stressful living situation I’ve every voluntarily put myself in. With three group meetings a week [on top of my individual therapy sessions outside of the house] it’s a pretty full on experience. Even though I often made the decision to stand on the sidelines, to keep myself at a distance, it was a pretty intense way of living.

Would I have got more out of living there, had I been more invested in it? I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t rule it out. Certainly it made a difference to the sense of community within the house that I chose to not engage as much as I could have, to not push for communal meals, to not easily join in with the household. Yet, at the same time, it just never made sense to me to bring my worries and desperation to the house meetings, to be looked at by people, who – although I liked many of them – didn’t feel particularly safe with. [This, incidentally, is solely a reflection on me, – not on them.] To me, it always seemed like the natural thing to do, to turn to my sisters and the friends I have always been fortunate to have when things got tough, to turn to them for extra support. And for the things I felt I couldn’t necessarily share with them [for whatever reason], well, I had my individual therapy with A. for that. Bringing it to the group sessions, it just seemed a bit odd.

That is not to say that I never shared anything in the meetings. I did. But not on a regular basis. It tended to be only when things were really really bad and I just couldn’t hold my tears back.

So, what was it that I found stressful? Well, in part what I have just written about; the expectation to involve myself, to engage and to share, and the feelings brought up by the fact that it was an expectation which I always felt I would never be able to live up to. Part of that was, as I said before, down to the fact that it didn’t quite make sense to me to share difficult things in a group of people I didn’t really know that well. But, of course, there were more deep rooted trust issues at work, holding me back. Other people, who may also have had friends and family they were close to, didn’t feel the same level of reluctance to take the plunge in the group meetings, and were much better able to let others see their vulnerability.

Another thing that was probably more stressful than I even realised at the time, was the constant stream of visitors to the house. Visitors who came to our meetings with a view to possibly join our household. This was a part of life in the house that I never got used to and always felt distinctly uncomfortable with. It was one of those things that made the place feel a lot less like it was my home as opposed to only being the place where I happened to be living.

People would come, share their story, share of themselves, [or in some cases not share] and we were, I suppose, meant to get a feel for whether or not this was a person who could fit into our house, who might benefit from moving in. It probably doesn’t sound particularly stressful, but it really was. Especially the decision making process, where – in theory – residents were said to have a big say in whether or not someone was invited to join, but which in reality often felt like a humongous and never-ending pressure to get new people in. Often at a time when all you really wanted was to find some headspace for yourself, to settle in the group you were already living with. I remember more than one meeting where one of the house therapists would say something along the lines of the process being about all of us reaching some sort of consensus about whether or not a person was suitable for our house, and in the next breath would not-so-casually mention how we needed to be X number of people living in the house for it to be financially viable. No pressure, right. :þ Also, I always took issue with the fact that the question “Is this someone I can live with?” seemed to be second priority to “Could this person gain something from moving in?”, which, it could be argued, sent the message that the gain of a person joining far outweighed the potential rise in stress level of those already in the house.

Clearly, there were times when the reluctance to accept new housemates were motivated less by worries about how a new person might impact the household negatively, and more about a strong wish to hold on to what was familiar. But, then, is that so strange? For a person to build a home, there arguably needs to be a level of familiarity and stability. A stream of new introductions allows little space for that.

Stressful was also the particular mix of people in the house at any given time. Without going into detail about any one individual, the people staying in the house – at least for most of my stay there – could be broadly grouped into either dealing with depressive and/or anxiety related issues, or difficulties which fell somewhere along the more psychotic end of the mental health spectrum. And, as housemates were supposed to support one another [rather than relying on the house therapists – who only come to the house for the meetings – to sort things out] it at points felt very much like the first group was responsible for the latter group.

It isn’t easy walking through the door, never knowing what you might be walking in to. I’m not going to say that I was in any way the person who most often ended up keeping track of others – I wasn’t – but, there were absolutely times when I had to drop what I was doing in order to help settle a very agitated housemate or, once or twice, call the police because someone had taken off, stating they were going to kill themselves. And I think this way of always being on the ready to put fires out, to some degree stopped me from being able to explore my own issues more. [Not the only reason for this, of course, but one of them.]

One of the really invaluable, yet hard bought, lessons from my time in the house, was having to seriously think and feel through what boundaries meant to me. Which ones were important to me, which ones did I feel able to be more flexible about? I had to work at asserting myself, when I felt the boundaries were being stretched beyond what was OK for me. Regular readers will remember that my decisions to ultimately leave the community came down to – in part – feeling that I needed to make a stand for myself, to not just go along with boundaries being pushed, but to recognise that what I feel OK with, or not, is important and worth holding on to. But of course, this was an ongoing battle, this getting a feel for when it was important to hold on to my way of living my life, yet at the same time question my reasons and motivations for doing so. When was there a valid reason, and when was I simply being stubborn and resisting change? When was it a case of me being the rebellious teenager I never got to be in my own family, when was it the adult me refusing to see things from another person’s perspective?

While I was staying at the house, one of the house therapists published a book about the community houses run by the Philadelphia Association. I made the conscious decision at the time not to read it while I was still living there.

Having now lived away from the house for nearly a year, I have read it, and I have to say that it’s a book well worth reading. I found it very interesting to read about the history of the houses [which I had some idea of, even before moving in, but, again had chosen to not explore too extensively], and how the philosophy behind the houses has altered and varied at different points.

I think it’s an honest book, even though I at times found myself smiling at the discrepancy between the idea of the community houses and the reality of them. At least from my point of view.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading the book for yourself, click the link or picture below.

If you would like to read about my time in The House: entries written between January 2009 and July 2011 were written while I was staying in The House. The first post I wrote having moved in is called “On My Own – An Entry About Finding New Ways To Cope“.

xx

An Uneasy Dwelling by Paul Gordon

An Uneasy Dwelling
by Paul Gordon

Looking Back, Moving On & Holding On To Your Dreams

Once again I find myself packing my stuff up; I’m moving on Sunday. All of about thirty metres down the street. So, in many ways, a minor move. I’m moving into a larger room in what, at least on the surface, looks like a nicer flatshare. Hard to know for sure until you’re actually there. I’m looking forward to moving out of this place. It has, without comparison, been the worst place I have ever lived. And I’ve lived in a lot of places, including spending a night on the streets of London, not knowing where to go next..

So, from that point of view, moving is a good thing. And at the same time, I can’t help but thinking that this is not how I had imagined myself living at age 35. My picture looked more along the lines of a nice flat with my man and my three children. I’d be focusing on my writing, maybe having already had a break or two, literary wise.

Instead, here I am, in a rented room. Utterly single, painfully childless, and my writing.. well, I really don’t know what happened there. So, of course there is sadness in the realisation that there is such a discrepancy between what I had been hoping for and what I’ve got. And of course it hurts to not have those things, to know that I was pretty close to all of those things only a few short years ago.

This is not to say I’ve given up on that dream, that picture. I believe it could still happen. Maybe not in the order I had initially imagined, but still recognisable as an altered version of the original image.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made in the last few years. I think had Dev and I chosen to stay together, knowing that we ultimately wanted different things, well, I don’t think we would still be friends the way we are now. I think bitterness may have started to sprout between us. And I would never want that to happen.

Moving into the therapeutic community a few years ago was a big decision and although I’m not sure it was ever really going to be quite right for me, I do feel that I got something from being there, even though I struggle to put it into words, exactly what. Maybe space to grow? Maybe to appreciate how strong my need for independence is? Maybe realising that I can be accepted for me, even without being the good girl, without having the great job, without being the most responsible one? Even the decision to move out, I believe, was a step in the direction of feeling allowed to say “This is not good enough for me, this is not acceptable to me”.

Going into therapy? Well, that’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes, I know – I’ve been in therapy before. Some good, some not so good. But this time around is the first time I’ve felt on a very deep level that it’s time to go that extra step, dig a bit deeper, to not run when things get scary, but to stick with it. That, painful and terrifying as it can be, I want to keep at it, want to look at those bits I am most ashamed of, the ones that are the hardest to own, to accept as my own.

So, although I’m not where I thought I’d be, I think it’s been time well spent, hours well invested. And, as I said earlier, those things that I dreamed of; that I still wish for – they could still happen.

I leave you with a few lines from a Dawson’s Creek era song:

“..I’ve got the greatest admiration
for the way that you got through it
couldn’t ask nobody else to do it
better than you do it

stay you
– that’s the toughest thing to do..”

xx

 

Lyrics from Stay You © Wood