Posts tagged with "therapy"

projector

A while back, my ther­a­pist asked, “Do you think Heather will love you, regard­less of whether you’re active­ly con­tribut­ing to the rela­tion­ship?”. I told him I was­n’t sure, cause I was still try­ing to under­stand the con­cept of uncon­di­tion­al love. As a child, my par­ents told me they would­n’t love me if I was­n’t a good boy, and a good boy would do exact­ly what they want­ed. The affec­tion they doled out was direct­ly relat­ed to how well I did in school, or how much I impressed oth­er par­ents. They used it as a tool to con­trol me, and this dynam­ic has influ­enced my under­stand­ing of rela­tion­ships to the point that it feels like I con­stant­ly need to be mak­ing efforts in them (or they’ll decay).

So my ther­a­pist instead posed the ques­tion, “Do you think Heather will love you, no mat­ter what?”. My first reac­tion was one of con­fu­sion; I heard the same ques­tion as before. When I real­ized it had com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent impli­ca­tions — would Heather still love me if I was an axe mur­der­er; if I was racist; if I burned the house down; if I did­n’t love her back — it dawned on me that I was pro­ject­ing this mon­u­men­tal require­ment on myself to be con­stant­ly mak­ing efforts towards the rela­tion­ship. It was­n’t an expec­ta­tion Heather was bring­ing, but my own; one I pro­ject­ed on her due to my child­hood trau­ma.

To real­ize that I was doing this in such a spe­cif­ic and sig­nif­i­cant man­ner was a shock. My mind inad­ver­tent­ly made bounds in log­ic, and every time Heather said, “I’ll always love you”, I would hear, “I’ll always love you, as long as…1

Continue read­ing “pro­jec­tor”…

  1. It blows my mind to know that Heather’s love for me isn’t con­di­tion­al, that she loves me deep­er that I’m even able to under­stand at the moment. []

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.