Posts tagged with "therapy"

you die, all you do is die, and yet you live

I never intended ther­apy to take such prece­dence, but it’s become the re-occurring event around which I work all my other plans. I’m still learn­ing how to be an emo­tion­ally healthy per­son, while unlearn­ing the destruc­tive habits I devel­oped to sur­vive the rela­tion­ships of my past. They affect me every sin­gle day, and I know I’ll be doomed to recre­ate the dra­mas of my ear­lier life unless I have out­side help. At the same time, it’s not a process I can rush. Every ses­sion leaves me emo­tion­ally exhausted, and I need a healthy dose of happy to recover1. It also takes time to process what I learn, reflect on ongo­ing behav­iours, and put new tech­niques into practice.

I’m for­tu­nate to have found a com­pe­tent ther­a­pist with whom I’m com­fort­able, espe­cially when doing cog­ni­tive work that often leaves me unsafe2. After so many months, he knows enough about me and my his­tory to under­stand the kind of guid­ance I need. There’s no struc­ture, but he always lets me start. As a per­son who’s spent his entire life being socially sub­mis­sive, the role rever­sal is a wel­come change. It’s a reminder that the time is mine, that I’m free to be myself, that I get what I want out of our hour.

Sometimes, I catch myself wish­ing he would val­i­date me with­out the need to explain myself, but he con­sis­tently remains the neu­tral ally (albeit one with plenty of com­pas­sion). I’ve learned that it’s impor­tant he never side with me out of loy­alty the way a friend might, so I can trust his opin­ion is always bal­anced and fair. Other times, I wish he would sim­ply tell me what I need to know, but he lets me come to real­iza­tions by myself, to make sure I’m always in con­trol, and to avoid influ­enc­ing me by the act of mak­ing a sug­ges­tion. It’s a unique role in my life that he plays well.

I dread the pain, but still look for­ward to every ses­sion. So much of my progress is tied to the mem­o­ries I’ve kept in the back of my head and the emo­tions I’ve left to expe­ri­ence. It’s an oppor­tu­nity to show myself com­pas­sion, while flex­ing men­tal mus­cles I don’t get to use often enough nowa­days. Not to men­tion the grat­i­fi­ca­tion and hope that comes with uncov­er­ing long-seated, self-defeating thought patterns.

Heather hasn’t been com­ing in with me lately, but she still comes with; I don’t need her as a wit­ness as much as a sup­port when it’s over. It’s com­fort­ing to know I have a part­ner who accepts me now amid all this uncer­tainty, and will con­tinue to no mat­ter who I become. She’s the one who tends to my wounds at home, the love I’ve been miss­ing my entire life, the rea­son I’m strong enough to do this work. The least I can do is strengthen my bond with her by learn­ing to be more a trust­ing, patient, and accept­ing person.

  1. Something that usu­ally involves turn­ing into a blitzed-out her­mit for a few days. []
  2. I’ve always won­dered what other people’s expe­ri­ence with ther­apy is like. I don’t know a sin­gle per­son who goes on a reg­u­lar basis. []

so soft with scars

It’s hard to imag­ine what life will be like when I’m still try­ing to sur­vive from one day to the next. I’ve never been more dis­con­nected with real­ity, but dis­tance is what I need. At first it was days; now weeks have started blend­ing together. Stretches of time feel shorter as they get longer. It’s been more than a month since I took a step out­side, and about as long since I’ve seen any­one but Heather. I can’t even remem­ber the last time I answered my phone or made a call.

Every day, it feels like I’m falling deeper into a hole I can’t seem to escape as I slip fur­ther away from myself. I used to enjoy being inspired and cre­ative, but some­where along the way I stopped dream­ing. The lines in my face tell me my body has paid a price of it’s own. It’s left me unsure of who I’ll become; if only I wasn’t so fond of the per­son I used to be.

My new ther­a­pist is shock­ingly young com­pared to the man who retired and forced me to look for some­one new. Every few weeks, we care­fully explore the thoughts I keep tucked away in the back of my mind. Heather often serves as wit­ness, to under­stand what I’ve been through and have to re-experience. It’s exhaust­ing to go into a past that pains me so much, but impor­tant work that I hate and need and want all at once.

girl and cat

Not quite two years ago, her stay with me began as refuge from an abu­sive part­ner. She was a frag­ile girl back then; pan­icky dur­ing heavy winds, blind to her own bur­geon­ing nubil­ity, uncom­fort­able around any­one else for more than a few hours at a time. Fortunately, my inse­cu­rity hap­pened to man­i­fest itself as a need to take care of oth­ers, and I found both val­i­da­tion and hap­pi­ness when I had the chance with some­one so deserv­ing. It’s hard to believe how quickly our roles have reversed. Now I’m the depen­dent, a posi­tion I have a harder time accept­ing than she does1, and one I’ll likely have for the rest of my life.

Through my strug­gle, I’ve seen her grow into a con­fi­dent young woman who knows how to cook a steak medium-rare (even though she’s a vegan), enjoys every chance to exert her sex­u­al­ity, and often under­stands more about my med­ica­tion than the doc­tors who pre­scribe it. I thought I knew what love was, but every day her unwa­ver­ing patience shows me how much deeper it goes.

Guild Wars 2 character with Eternity

Totally not compensating.

This is the face I wear most often as of late, while explor­ing a world large enough for me to get lost in. I can set goals at my own pace, whether they’re sim­ple ones that leave me sat­is­fied enough to sleep, or com­plex, long-term ones that help me feel accom­plished enough to do big­ger things. Every day, I’m given the chance to be kind, gen­er­ous, and pos­i­tive to vir­tual strangers, while keep­ing a dis­tance from the real world. I even started a lit­tle guild with my friends, and we recently claimed the hall which we’ll call our home; even if I’m not emo­tion­ally avail­able to them, this is how they stop by and spend time with me.

It’s hard not to hate myself when my issues are pre­vent­ing me from being the per­son I want to be. I’m in a rush to get bet­ter, when time to heal is what I need most. Heather reminds me that the suf­fer­ing I’ve been through is the rea­son she feels under­stood and safe. I tell myself that this time is just a chap­ter in the book of my life — a stop on the way to who I am — and that there’s more left to write.

  1. I keep remind­ing myself: she knows what she wants, and what’s best for her. []

Level 8

Shawn and I go deep once a week, usu­ally with a decent amount of psy­cho­analy­sis mixed in with our Magic matches. I real­ized I still need ther­apy, but in a dif­fer­ent form from what my ther­a­pist could offer1. I need to work with some­one who isn’t restricted by time lim­its when I’m in the mid­dle of extremely time-sensitive events, and it’s vital that I work at my own pace, since it’s easy to rush things (that should be dealt with very care­fully) when it costs $180/hour. He also stretches me out in all the right ways, and I’m learn­ing that phys­i­cal com­fort is often just as impor­tant as emo­tional validation.

Shawn admits it’s all pop-psychology since he has no for­mal edu­ca­tion, but he’s spe­cial­ized in peo­ple and rela­tion­ships for so long that it’s no less effec­tive. Sometimes, it’s scary to work with some­one who func­tions at such a higher level of under­stand­ing of the world. I recently heard Jon Kabat-Zinn say, “Buddha was not a Buddhist”, which I started repeat­ing to Shawn when try­ing to relate mind­ful­ness with mod­ern reli­gion. He fin­ished my thought by say­ing, “and Jesus was not a Christian”, an idea I’d only come to after a lot more research and reflec­tion. He was able to reach the same con­clu­sion by exam­in­ing pat­terns in his exist­ing knowl­edge; an extremely pro­found and impact­ful con­cept to me, which I was still try­ing to fully grasp, was applied com­mon sense to him.

That means I’m occa­sion­ally con­fronted with how narrow-minded I can be in com­par­i­son. It’s mess­ing with things I take for granted, like my ideas of right or wrong, parts of my world-view I’ve held for so long and with­out ques­tion. Sometimes, I real­ize the per­son I was until that very moment would have done things I’d now con­sider embar­rass­ing (being judgmental/intolerant/hateful), based on igno­rance, parochial­ism, or naïveté. Thankfully, I’m also get­ting bet­ter at accept­ing my past self(ves) by under­stand­ing all the influ­ences that have led me to think a cer­tain way. It also helps know­ing that the truly impor­tant thing is that I have the power to change now, and that it’ll affect me pos­i­tively for the rest of my life.

Shawn used to say I was a wiz­ard stuck on level 7, always on the cusp of lev­el­ling up. I had enough wis­dom and intel­li­gence and other attrib­utes to be a much more pow­er­ful char­ac­ter, but was still a mage who couldn’t start his main quest, due to a very low stat in his rela­tion­ship score. This was hold­ing me back because rela­tion­ships are a huge part of my needs; ironic that I’m also so bad at them.

I’ve learned a lot in the last few months though, through a new aware­ness of deeper parts of myself, and a view of the world that’s get­ting more objec­tive. I’m apply­ing these things by pur­su­ing healthy inter­ests, which cur­rently means build­ing my rela­tion­ships and prac­tic­ing uni­lat­eral virtue. While the lat­ter has been both empow­er­ing and hum­bling, it’s also dras­ti­cally shaken my under­stand­ing of my rela­tion­ships, my needs, and my past. I can tell I’m only begin­ning to fig­ure out the dynam­ics of peo­ple and how they func­tion, but Shawn says just com­ing to that under­stand­ing means I’ve finally reached level 8, and with that foun­da­tion, I can begin the next part of my journey.

Then he gave me a high-five. My ther­a­pist never did that.

  1. Not that he was bad in any way. It’s just that the nature of open­ness tends to get more com­pli­cated when money is involved. You know some­one truly cares when they lis­ten with­out hav­ing to get paid, and it’s eas­ier to be com­fort­able with that. []

tin cans and string for years

Man can­not remake him­self with­out suf­fer­ing, for he is both the mar­ble and the sculptor.

—Alexis Carrel

I’ve been dis­cov­er­ing that I don’t know how to take care of myself. Not in a prac­ti­cal, every­day sense, but a cog­ni­tive one. Consistent psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse dur­ing my for­ma­tive years meant I never had the chance to develop some impor­tant life skills, like how to nur­ture my emo­tional needs, how to make mis­takes, and how to view myself with­out judg­ment. The poi­son was in the wound, you see, and the wound wouldn’t heal.

So far I’ve just started rec­og­niz­ing these issues in ther­apy, and it all makes me feel dam­aged and defec­tive, likely why I’ve been hid­ing these parts of my life from oth­ers for so long. But I’ve been hid­ing them from myself most of all. It’s hard to go through the painful but nec­es­sary process of griev­ing when I’m alone; always eas­ier to ignore things and keep going.

I asked Tiana to help me through this, cause now I know I can’t do it by myself. It wasn’t easy. Even the sim­ple idea of ask­ing for help makes me anx­ious. People who’ve had major roles in my life have hurt me or let me down in a very sig­nif­i­cant way, so trust­ing oth­ers has always been hard, and I’ve avoided being vul­ner­a­ble for so long because of that.

Luckily, Tiana responded the way I needed her to, and it’s been a great com­fort to give myself up to some­one I can trust. To be able to cry in front of a per­son with­out feel­ing guilty about my emo­tions or how I’m mak­ing them feel. To be able to talk to some­one who’s recep­tive and atten­tive and gen­tle and car­ing and appre­ci­ates my open­ness as well. To be the lit­tle spoon, cause every­one needs to be held some­times. She lets me let go, and for the first time, I’ve been able to sur­ren­der myself fully and still believe that I’ll be okay. I can sigh with relief instead of sadness.

These are still baby steps though, and the whole process is ter­ri­fy­ing. My sense of con­trol is what makes me feel safe, even if it’s detri­men­tal to my growth, and I’m still learn­ing how to give that up. But I tell myself it’s progress nonethe­less, which is what I need now.

that I may cease to mourn

At some point along the way, I dis­cover that I’m ter­ri­ble at being alone. I need some­one to care for / spoil / love / give my exis­tence mean­ing. Echoes of a try­ing child­hood I’m just now sort­ing out. Otherwise, I’m con­stantly feel­ing empty instead of fulfilled.

Once a week I’m torn down so I can be rebuilt again, and some days I won­der: what of me will be left?