“It is so important for me to know that you are feeling this way. Stuck. Overwhelmed. Held captive by the tyranny of language. Because now I know what we can do. We will make our own language.” – A
I was ready to quit. I think she knew that too, considering my opening line was “I don’t want to talk to you.” I get stuck in these moments that I can’t intellectualize away, and as somebody who has often only been praised for being intelligent, with my intellect being a core part of my identity (the only one that has not changed, the life force I hold on to), it frustrates me and feels limiting when my plentiful cognitive assets cannot navigate me through therapy.
Couple that with what A said last week about it being harder for her when I don’t let her in, and I arrived at session on Thursday ready to walk right out if she refused to read my letter. I was not having any of it. This is the first time I sat down and basically quit.
Feeling stuck, worthless, ashamed, and generally underserving. We bounced back and forth. She kept asking me why I didn’t want to talk to her and I kept telling her that all I wanted was for her to read the letter. She asked me to read it, and I said no, and if she wasn’t going to read it, I was leaving. She then danced around the letter, asking me why I won’t talk to her, and eventually I told her how last week I felt like that this is the point where my therapists abandon me, because I stop being able to communicate, and then I’m too much. So what is the point in even trying? She asked another question and I was like “listen, it is way more eloquently explained in my letter. I will even acquiesce and read it to you, but can we please read it?” So we did (note how she got what she wanted, and I read it to her).
So I read it – and explained that how we are taking on my biggest defence of being what is “normal”, acting “normal”, and that I have no problem with confrontations based off of fake emotions but if it’s how I really feel? I freeze. I struggle with communication. I don’t recognize myself or my body as separate from the events or emotions of a situation. I don’t see myself as a separate entity.
I also referenced my biggest fear, about being dismissed or abandoned or punished when I do share my feelings.
And A, being A, directed the conversation to how I did show up even though I didn’t want to, about how I am worthy of care (she asked me to say “I am worthy of care. I am deserving of care.” And I told her if I said that I’d be lying to her, because I don’t believe it. I don’t. Not on any true, real, level). So she said it for me. She talked about how our brains work – primitive vs non-primitive, and how we can be limited by language in moments of duress.
And then she said that quote, that I started with, and suggested we form our own language, with our own cues. Verbal, non-verbal, whatever works for us so I can cue her, somehow, when I’m overwhelmed. She apologized for unintentionally tripping what I call the “Liz wire”, of me feeling like I’m going to be too much and she’s going to abandon me.
I told her at the end of the session that I feel like there is no good choice. Silence means she abandons me. Talking means she abandons me. So my instinct was to not show up. But I know, that if I leave now, I’m never coming back to therapy.
So we created some cues and discussed what works and want doesn’t and I’m hopeful that I actually can communicate with her. We have a therapy safe-word, if you will, that I just say if I can’t say anything else (the word is chicken, cause that’s what popped into my head, and we are unlikely to be talking about chickens). So I just say “chicken” or she can ask “chicken?” And if I don’t reply, or nod my head, she knows I’m too far in it, that I’m overwhelmed.
I felt better when I left. I still felt ashamed and small, that I need help communicating. I still felt like there was something wrong with me. But closer to her, warmer, and that would have been enough.
Later that night I get an email. From A, with a link to two podcasts. One about trauma and the brain, and one about vulnerability. Both over a year old, with the sentence “our sessions lately reminded me of these talks that I think will help you.” Not only did it make me feel amazing that she thought of me outside the office (which she tells me she does but I don’t believe), but also that she pulled up old podcasts to share.
So I listen to the trauma and the body one, that night. And after having this whole session where I talk about how I cannot intellectualize the fact that I cannot speak to her – she goes and fucking finds someone, who has studied this, a PhD level Harvard instructor, who has peer reviewed things to say. She finds someone who can appeal to the intellectual side of me and defeat my shame with facts.
And I am just so grateful to have a therapist who gets it.