Dream Dream Dream

(or The Ghost of a Therapist Past)

I was awoken the other morning by the most disturbing dream.  It was one of those dreams that felt so very real that it took me a few minutes to realize that it was only, thankfully, just a dream.  So here goes:

I was at my old summer camp, or a place that felt and reminded me of camp.  I was there with a group of cousins and their spouses.  Actually, they are my first cousins once removed, the first cousins of my mother, but due to some wacky birthing patterns on that side of the family, I am closer in age to those cousins than my own actual first cousins.  There was also a group from KAAN – the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network – at this camp-like retreat, and it became clear that the space had been double-booked, and we were forced to share this communal space for our respective gatherings.  We were tolerating each other – and each other’s presence – but only barely.   Suddenly, I said out loud, to no one in particular, “I never thought I’d live long enough to actually feel home-sick, to actually want to go home rather than be a camp.”  To which, the ex-therapist, who was sitting in a rocking chair across the room, replied “but you did” in the most snarky and cruel tone.

Perhaps I should stop and explain.  The ex-therapist has 2 adopted children from Korea, which is why my unconscious put my family gathering in conflict with this KAAN meet-up.  That part makes some sense to me.  What I do not understand, at all, is why the ex-therapist is still showing up in my dreams and what in the world I can do to expel her, once and for all, from my unconsciousness!  And I don’t have any idea of why my unconscious needed to send me this message or what it even means.  Was the ex-therapist making a statement on the length or quality of my life as compared to her own?  Was she a ghost or spirit in the dream?  And why was she and her chosen family intruding upon my own family gathering at my beloved summer camp of all places?

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Stitching

(or How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?)

Whenever I need to engage in some emotional self-flagellation, I know exactly where to go.  The ex-therapist still maintains a very active Twitter feed, and if I am stupid enough to look, I am bound to find something there that upsets me and makes me feel bad about myself.  I had stopped lurking altogether, for a time, but as the seasons started to shift and the cooler weather finally arrived, my psyche felt pulled back, still trying to reconcile the events of the past year.  A year ago she first told me she was sick.  In a few more weeks, it will be a year since our last session.  And in a few more weeks after that, it will be a year since she dumped me.  I can still feel it all deep in my bones: the fear, the disruption, the panic.

The ex-therapist has tweeted ad nauseam about how clients have “agency” and don’t have to read or follow any of her postings online.  I find this defense to be ignorant at best, and grandiosely self-justifying in reality.  She probably knows that she should be more careful with her tweets and words, knowing that there are clients and ex-clients out there, but she just can’t help herself.  So she constructs this elaborate justification for her actions, to make it all seem reasonable and okay.  The problem with this outlook is that the relationship between therapist and client can be intimate and intense in a way that is unlike any other relationship.  It’s also imbalanced, with the therapist usually knowing more about the client than vice versa.  So it is only natural that the client will seek out any information available to try to make sense of the person on the other side of the couch.  And the ex-therapist made that information so tantalizingly available, like leading a kid into a candy store.  It is irrational to then expect the kid to not indulge in the candy laid out before them.

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unFramed

(or 2,700 seconds)

The therapeutic frame.  That pillar of the therapeutic relationship draconically enforced by authoritarian therapists and equally loathed by clients everywhere.  Or so I thought.

Shrinky term:

frame (noun, frām) – the setting of boundaries or ground rules for the contractual aspects of therapy. [1]The therapeutic frame governs the rules and expectations of therapy: time, place, fee, confidentiality, contact.  It is a crucial element for the creation of safety, for both client and therapist.

I spent 4 years in therapy where the frame was decidedly gray.  I’ve spent much of the last 9 months having to re-learn how to be in a healthy, boundaried therapeutic relationship.  All that time, before, I thought I was fighting against boundaries.  Now I see that I was actually reacting to a distinct lack of boundaries.  Just as children do better with well-defined boundaries and expectations, so do therapy clients.

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Go to Quiet Places

(or This is NOT a “My Therapist Has Cancer” Blog )

Whenever I get really angry or upset or sad or confused, my default mode is to go quiet, to be very silent and still.  Sometimes when this happens, my FitBit will actually register that I am “sleeping” even though I am wide awake and most likely on heightened alert.  I think I go into this state because I’m scared to move until I can regain my footing, get my bearings and figure out what is going on around me.  And only once that happens do I dare to speak into what I am experiencing and venture out from whatever place of safety I’ve retreated.

And so I think that’s what has happened with this space over the past few months.  It’s not that I’ve struggled for ideas of what I wanted or needed to write about – I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on boundaries and closure and growth, but also on what I wanted and needed this space to be.  When I started to write this, I never could have imagined that it would become a blog about having a therapist with cancer.  And I’ve felt over the past few months that this space has become more about her and less about me, and I wanted to take it back and reclaim it as my own, but was unsure of exactly how to do that.  I tried to map out a plan of the things that I still needed to say, in what order, to resolve that part of the story.  But I’m starting to realize that it will never be a fully realized and complete story.  There will always be an oozing wound, although it doesn’t bleed nearly as much as it once did.  And I’m sure it will rear its ugly head every now and again, maybe when I least expect it, and that I will just need to stop and address whatever is rising to my consciousness, even if it doesn’t fit neatly into my current trajectory.  I’m never sure where this journey will take me or the detours that will arise.  But this is my attempt to get back on the path, and continue onwards.

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Manifesto

(or Shout It From the Rooftops!)

I’ve been re-reading old writings and notes and emails, trying to retrace my path of the past few years.  I’m looking for patterns, for what has changed and what hasn’t.  I’m trying to see where I’ve moved forwards or backwards, where I’ve gone in concentric circles, where I’ve stayed in place or just gotten stuck.

In seeing a new temporary-therapist, I’ve had to recover familiar ground and revisit old injuries.  I’ve had to adjust my schedule, contort to fit into a new space, negotiate a fee.  And I’ve had to contend with a whole host of new feelings – ones of loss and rejection and minimization – that caught me off guard.

I’ve had to let this other person into a space that used to only be occupied by me and my therapist.  I’ve had to tell her about our relationship and things that worked well and things that didn’t.  I had to rehash the Impasse, which has always felt like a dark cloud that continued to lurk over me, occasionally unleashing a torrent of anger and rage when I least suspected it.

One of the ways we found our way out of that impasse (although we still sometimes go back in) was by writing a Manifesto.

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Impasse: A Tale in 3 Acts

(or When an Unstoppable Force Meets an Immovable Object)

Prologue: At the heart of every good therapeutic alliance there is an impasse – some insurmountable challenge that must be negotiated between client and therapist before the real work begins.  I know, from my own experience, that being in the depths of an impasse is intolerable.  It takes all the courage and energy you can summon to engage in the battle, to fight the good fight.  I share these stories because it helped me to know how others in my own therapeutic lineage tackled these ruptures, and because I hope my own impasse story gives others hope that there is a way through.  It’s messy and terrifying and may never be fully resolved, but it doesn’t have to spell the end.  It is, in fact, often just the beginning.

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Real

(or Questioning Everything I Once Held to Be True About the Therapeutic Alliance)

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out-handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.

~ Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

There have been several occasions when I have had to remind my therapist that therapy isn’t real.  She always takes offense at my insistence that therapy is actually an alternate, concocted, manufactured universe that doesn’t even come close to approximating reality.  If all the people in my life were as compassionate and empathic and understanding and able to listen and willing to negotiate and able to engage in conflict and open to change, not to mention be completely focused on me, as my therapist is, then I wouldn’t have a need for therapy!

I know that therapy is meant to be a petri-dish, where you get to test and experiment and fail in safety with a dedicated guide and cheerleader right there by your side.  It’s a chance for a dress-rehearsal, to try things out before you have to do something out there, in the real world.  But it is an artificial construct, with carefully appointed boundaries and roles and responsibilities.  The real world doesn’t work in the same way.  I wish it did, but sadly, it doesn’t.

I also know that what my therapist is really reacting to is my suggestion that the relationship between us isn’t real.  She will counter that the relationship we have is indeed very real, and intimate and loving and supportive and everything you’d hope to find in another person you can relate to.

Sometimes in the past I had allowed myself to believe this, to be pulled into the notion that what we had between us was more than a business transaction.

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