I walk into A’s office Wednesday afternoon.
A: “You look.. no, I will let you talk”
PD: “I look what” I smile broadly
A: “You seem different today. Lighter”
PD: “I am.”
I have never trusted her or myself the way I do on this day. And I decide to read her something very personal. Something I’ve re-written a hundred times. Something that will lead to us discussing my second least favourite topic – our relationship. I read her this:
I feel like a competent adult and I have no idea what to do with that.
I don’t think it’s escapism competency where I front as this super high functioning person… like most of my life. It’s different. I think it’s the beginnings of simply functioning. But I don’t DO normal functioning and problem solving. I certainly don’t do stability. I don’t know how. The lack of problem to solve or be blamed for is unsettling. It’s weird, life is kind of new, and I felt this huge weight lift when I spoke up for myself. But it’s so unknown that it’s scary. A part of me misses that burden and that part of me is panicking.
That centre part of me doesn’t feel walled off and it doesn’t even feel full of emotion, it feels like it was purged last weekend in the midst of the grief that almost killed me. I am experiencing more happy and hopeful emotions than anything else, for the first time in a while. I stood up for myself and the world didn’t end. I am loved by people in my life who are trying to help me through this.
That’s nuts. That’s insane. It can’t be real.
And I’m weirdly upset over the lack of tension or problem to solve – I am upset that I can’t seem to find anger or sadness or guilt or shame in every moment. If I look deeply I can feel this dull grief that will surface and sink every once and a while. A grief that is reasonable and easy to handle now that I know the depths I’m capable of feeling.
I think I’m afraid that the comfort and reassurance I’ve received in this relationship is going to suddenly stop. Or you’re going to decide we are done when I feel like even though I’m functioning better that there is so much more to talk about. I am afraid that when I am stable and coping and feel integrated and whole you’re going to be like “good job, time to leave, your feelings don’t matter anymore” and there will be no more relationship here. That things will abruptly end on your terms. That I won’t have a say. (That if I’m not broken you won’t love me anymore)
And I recognize that feeling. Often it kept me in the cycle of lying or exaggerating to continue to get care from people because I wasn’t getting it elsewhere… and I’m feeling that way now. Like I need to have another crisis, or have things be worse, to force care. I caught myself half way through concocting a story to prolong myself feeling needy and sad – as if my life as is isn’t enough of a reason to continue to receive care from you, or anyone else. The idea that I don’t have to make up stories to feel loved is insane to me. And I’m catching myself thinking about doing it – which makes this a very vulnerable conversation about my second least favourite topic to discuss… but at least it’s an honest conversation.
I read her the letter and we eventually get around to me admitting great need and care and even love for her. We talk about the fear she may leave and the doubt combined with the fact I know she’s staying.
A:”It shows great emotional depth and health – to look at the situation like you just did. It’s not black and white and you, you just told me that. You’ve never done that before”
I look at her, then look away.
“PD,” she catches my eye, “can I tell you something? This relationship will not end until you want it to end. Unless you break the boundaries we discussed or I end up moving or changing careers, which I have no plans of doing right now – we may end up knowing each other until we are old ladies. And I am okay with whatever you chooose. I am here for you. I know it’s scary that you need me and I know there may come a day you are afraid because you don’t need me. But this relationship is in your hands – yours, PD. I am not going anywhere.”
At this point I look away. I feel tears coming, but they’re a different kind of tears. They’re gratitude and joy based. “I think, I think two things. One, I no longer doubt that I am capable. I am not naive enough to believe that I am always going to feel okay. I know there are difficult things left to talk about and I know that there are going to be hard moments – but I know, too, that I am capable of moving through them. If I can survive last weekend – I can survive anything. And… second” the tears really begin to fall, “I think I have forgiven myself for lying to <husband>. I can’t find the guilt. It doesn’t exist. He forgave me a long time ago, and I have punished myself for much longer than he ever punished me for it. It was something like two years ago when he said that if I couldn’t forgive myself we would never achieve our potential because I would constantly be putting him on that pedestal and thinking less of myself. But A, today I woke up, and I saw my equal. I can see where the lies came from, where they originated from, why I told them – it’s not an excuse but it isn’t worth punishing myself over. For the first time in, well, ever, I look towards the future with hope, and feel like I can start leaving the past behind me. Emotional emancipation, if you will.”
I look up at her, and she’s crying. It catches me off guard – in the best way. I have decided, on this day, to let my walls down with her.
“That.” She pauses. More tears. “That is incredibly beautiful.”
I look her dead in the eyes. We are both crying. I remember 7 months ago I couldn’t look at her. Couldn’t articulate any of it.
“Thank you. Thank you for saving me.”
All she can do is nod. I hand her the Kleenex box and go in my best A impression “so how are you feeling today” and we both laugh. I’m like “I need to get you those celebratory Pom Poms.”
She laughs and goes “it’s not pride, PD, although I am incredibly proud of you. It’s gratitude. Thank you for saying what you said. Thank you for showing up here every day and putting in the work. Thank you for making me not only a better counsellor, but a better person.”
I go “since I just learned to say I need this relationship and it matters to me and we’re already here I want to tell you why you’re such an effective counsellor.” And I share how her boundaries have helped me, how she uses self-disclosure is helpful. And how I really feel heard when I come in angry even though she doesn’t always give me what I want. How the fact that she doesn’t pretend to be perfect gives me permission to be flawed as well. I continue “I know that you will tell me I’ve done all this work, and I know there is more work to come, but please know that your effort and work and commitment to me and love for me has made such a huge difference in my life.”
Her: “I’m so glad you came in today.”
“I am so glad I came in 7 months ago.”
“Me too. Me too. Thank you. That was such a nice session to have on my birthday” (I didn’t know it was her birthday)
And then the lights went out because there was this weird power outage, and it was super dark, and the moment and connection changed. But it was amazing.
Emotional emancipation… I think I’ve survived the worst.
I finally opened up with my counsellor. I was finally 100% vulnerable. And it was worth it.