Late sunday night I realized that Monday was four years to the day since my first session with M. I have spent much more time feeling unsure and unsafe and considering quitting than not. At almost any point I would have told you I wouldn’t be in therapy for more than a few weeks so it is surprise to realize it has been four years. I decided to celebrate and went to buy a couple of cupcakes to share with M. While I stood there looking at the flavours I realized how little I know about M. I don’t know what flavour he likes, if he has a life-threatening peanut allergy. I chose red velvet and vanilla bean (avoiding the delicious looking chocolate peanut butter). It is weird that M knows so much about me and my life and I don’t know if he eats cake.
We spent most of the session talking about my FOO. My conversations with my siblings and parents and the dysfunction in my family. It was sad and I cried a lot. He didn’t ask me about the box I brought in and I didn’t mention the anniversary until the last 5 minutes. Then I told him it was the four-year anniversary of therapy starting and I was surprised it had lasted this long and I offered him a cupcake (he chose red velvet). I thanked him for the last four years and he thanked me for the cupcake. We spent the last minutes eating our cupcakes in a companionable silence. I’m going back tonight and I’m afraid I am going to have to go back to talking about anger.
M thought that I had the dream I discussed in my last post because I was afraid of the intensity of the anger I felt towards my daughter after our fight. During the session he asked me if anything happened during the fight that reminded me of fights with my mother or the feelings I had when I was a child. I was too horrified by the dream to think about his questions.
I don’t remember fighting with my parents when I was a child. In my family only my parents were allowed to be angry. They lost their temper and yelled and screamed and slapped and spanked. If I got angry then they got angrier and the punishment got worse. I remember holding my anger inside me and holding myself very still. I would stare at a wall and try to stay calm. After I left the room and was by myself then I would explode. Usually I cried but sometimes I would stomp around and throw things. Usually I only did that if I knew I wouldn’t be overheard. If my parents weren’t there then my older siblings got to yell and scream. In my family I learned that only the oldest people were allowed to get angry. Probably it would be more accurate to say that only the oldest person was allowed to express their anger but I didn’t learn the difference between feeling and expressing a feeling in my family.
When I became an adult (at least chronologically) I started getting angry when I wasn’t around my family. When I fought with my boyfriend I would yell and throw things around the room but not at him. I thought I was expressing my anger without being violent. When I went home I flipped right back into the person who didn’t get angry like my parents expected. When I was in my early twenties I did a weekend personal development course (I won’t mention the name) and one of the things I realized after the course was that I didn’t have to scream or yell or throw things in order to act out my anger so people understood how angry I was. I stopped losing my temper and instead I held it until I had calmed down enough to talk about what I was angry about. Lots of times I calmed down and never discussed it with the person who upset me and instead I would tell a friend about what made me angry. I felt more in control because I wasn’t stomping around and acting out. I met, dated, and married my husband during this period and we rarely fought because he didn’t like to fight and I didn’t like to lose my temper. We smoothed over our disagreements and didn’t resolve anything but it seemed a good thing that we didn’t fight like my parents fought.
The next time I felt really angry was when my first child was a baby. I wasn’t angry very often but it was awful when it happened for me and for her. I had this beautiful newborn who I loved more than I could describe and then she would cry and cry and be inconsolable. She wouldn’t want to be fed. Changing her diaper wouldn’t help. I held her and walked her and sang to her and she still cried. Sometimes I got angry at her like she was doing it on purpose. I’m not sure if I thought she was crying to annoy me or refusing to go to sleep to hurt me or if it was just a broader feeling that I wasn’t in control. I expected that when I was the parent I would be able to control my children like my parents controlled me. Perhaps another part of me thought that when I was the parent I would be allowed to be angry. I didn’t hurt my daughter physically when I was angry. I remember sometimes putting her in her crib or in her swing and leaving the room while I tried deep breathing exercises to calm down. Things got easier for me when she learned to talk. I found that even when she was a typical toddler I felt like talking her was less frustrating than the helplessness I felt when I couldn’t console her as a newborn.
This morning I had a terrible dream. It was disjointed and confusing but it ended with me hurting my daughters. Hurting is too bland a word but I don’t want to describe it. I knew right away it was “just” a dream but it was vivid. I kept remembering what I was thinking in the dream and I got more and more upset. I called M to leave a message on his voicemail and instead heard my sister-in-law answer the phone after one ring wondering why I called so early and was crying. I was panicked. I know that there are probably a lot of interpretations of my dream but M and I don’t talk much about dreams. I got to my session in less than an hour. I’ve spent today feeling fine, going to work, talking normally for most of the time except for the occasional thought or memory of my dream and feeling so awful suddenly followed by distraction. I feel like I’m chopped up into separate pieces and different pieces are coming to the surface and I’ve got no control over what comes up.
I’ve been a lot more peaceful in the last two weeks than I have for years, maybe my entire life. My mood is balanced. I’ve been upset and frustrated (with my children or my husband) but not overwhelmed by my feelings. That has meant I’ve responded differently to the stresses in my life. I’ve rarely cried in the last two weeks which is very unusual for me because I normally cry at every therapy session, any time I am alone and allow myself to think about my life, which means driving the car, before I fall asleep at night, anytime I am physically still. I’ve also stopped worrying obsessively about therapy and my relationship with M. I haven’t felt like quitting. I haven’t thought about calling another T. I haven’t read as many psychology and healing information. They don’t hold my interest the way they usually do. These things are all good things or at least I think they should be good things but actually I don’t feel like myself. I feel different and I’m confused by the difference. I don’t know why it happened and what it means.
Two weeks ago I had a major fight with my teenage daughter. I’ve talked about the struggles I have with her and I’m not going to go into the story behind the fight instead I’m going to describe the aftermath. We were both really angry with each other and ended up expressing ourselves by yelling at the top of our lungs at each other. My husband was left pleading with each other to leave each other alone and take a break. When my daughter left my bedroom I changed completely from someone who was standing up screaming and arguing/proving my point to lying in my bed staring at the wall and just lying very still. I spent a long time curled into the fetal position. During this time I was furious internally. I was so angry at my daughter that I had to fight the desire to go find her and continue yelling at her to get my points across. I hated her. I couldn’t imagine how we could salvage our relationship. I couldn’t imagine how we could continue to live together. I spent time dreaming up solutions to the fact that we couldn’t resolve this fight and live together. I was furious in a way I can hardly describe. I felt no sympathy or empathy for my daughter even though I knew she was dealing with a lot of things in her school life and friendships. It didn’t matter to me. I actually finally understood the saying “you are dead to me” because the end of the relationship with my daughter seemed to have the same finality. The next day we moved around the house carefully avoiding each other and the feeling left. We had a couple of good talks about what she was feeling and how it was effecting her.
Four days later my daughter refused to go to her extracurricular activity. I insisted she go. She had a complete meltdown, begging me not to make her go and asking me why I hated her so much. I was surprised by her and what she was saying because I didn’t hate her. I was really calm and trying to talk to her and help her figure out what was upsetting her. Eventually she calmed down and I started to see what was so painful for her and helped her deal with it. I let her decide how to manage the situation but told her I had confidence in her and her abilities. That meltdown ended in a long talk between us. When I went to my session later I told M about both ‘fights’ and the difference in how I felt afterwards and how they were resolved. The next day I called him because I started to feel ashamed about how much anger and hatred I felt towards my daughter at one point. I think I told him that I didn’t think a good parent would ever feel like their relationship with their child was over and irreparable and not be upset by that idea and even feel justified in those feelings. We talked a little bit about it and agreed to talk more about it during a session.
The next couple sessions I talked about some of the other things going on right now like my family Easter dinner and how bothered I was by my parents and siblings. I talked about my crazy schedule with my daughters performance coming up at the end of the month and other day-to-day things. During my last session M decided to go back to my feelings about my daughter and asked if I felt like I was like my mother when I felt so angry at Kate. I told him no. He tried to explain to me why but I wasn’t really paying attention. He was explaining why he thought I expressed a lot of different things to Kate about her and my feelings for her and that she didn’t believe I hated her or she wouldn’t have shared so much with me after the fights etc. Eventually I told him it didn’t matter because I didn’t think Kate knew how I felt after the fight because I was able to keep myself from expressing those feelings. I didn’t start fighting with her again. I didn’t belittle her or punish her harshly for her outbursts and anger towards me. I fought to behave differently than I felt. I feel like the problem is in how I felt towards my daughter. While I started to talk about it with M I started to feel the same way again, the fury and anger and hate came back up, the despair and feeling like the relationship was severed permanent happened again. It felt like the feeling overcame me and it wasn’t a part of me. I felt like I was different people when I was so angry compared to how calm I’ve been feeling lately. M told me he thought the argument triggered me back into the feelings I had as a child (the only person I can remember ever being so angry at before in my life was my mother, right down to the desire to have the relationship with her be completely and irrevocably ended). M told me he thought there was a big disconnect between the state I was in after that fight and how I typically feel and so the feelings weren’t coming out of my interaction with my daughter and my feeling for her but instead were coming out of my past. I understand what he is saying but I don’t know if it makes a difference. I really was furious at her or in relationship with her. I don’t know when it will happen again or how well I can keep myself from expressing my feelings.
The evening after that session I was really upset and kept having waves of shame and disgust. I cried and felt hopeless. Then the two days since then I’ve been very busy and I’ve returned to the quiet balanced mood state I’ve been in for the last couple of weeks. M thinks I was in an unusual state after that fight when I felt so angry. I think that my calm and balanced mood state I’ve been experiencing lately isn’t the usual for me. I feel more disconnected than ever before and I don’t feel like myself. So even though I’m calm and I’m not obsessively worrying about things I’m afraid because I don’t feel like myself.
I hope other people had a better holiday than I did. I went to my parents for Easter sunday dinner with my three brothers and their families. I was actually only there for about 4.5 hours but they have tainted the entire holiday. I had a busy weekend but mainly calm and enjoyable. I took the kids to visit the Mayan exhibit at the ROM before it left town. I’m sewing costumes for my daughter’s show later this month and I’m not very good with a sewing machine so that is challenging but peaceful. Also after processing my session with M last week I’ve felt quite calm about therapy. I wouldn’t call myself hopeful but it is the first weekend in a long time that I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about whether I should quit therapy or find a new therapist. It was nice not have those circular arguments circling around in my head.
The anxiety about going to my parents for dinner started shortly after the kids finished “easter hunting” as my son calls it and grew steadily until late afternoon. I delayed leaving as long as possible and then was so short-tempered that I couldn’t handle the radio being on or my kids talking to each other. I felt hot and sick and confined but getting out of the car when I arrived wasn’t better. My parents have been out-of-town since the beginning of January. They go south every winter from after New Year’s to Easter and then leave for their summer vacation end of June until the end of September. They’ve been keeping to that schedule for over a decade so I spend half the year with no family obligations and then the other half counting down until they leave town again. I don’t know why I’m so anxious about going to dinner because it is always the same. My parents aren’t cruel or mean. Nothing really happens and I still dread it.
Generally my parents greet me and my family (husband and kids) happily and tell them how happy they are to see them. Then my parents separately will comment to me about my weight or appearance. This time my father just looked up and down at me and sighed when I hugged him. Within 30 minutes my mother came to tell me that she bought me a hoodie but she didn’t know if it would fit me because I am so much bigger than she thought. My size hasn’t changed in the last three months but my parents always think it has. In years past I”ve been greeted with “oh my god, how much weight have you gained?” or “you are SO big”. The children and the young adults in my family eat separately to my siblings an parents lucky for them. So my parents talk about their grandchildren often commenting on their weight and appearance. My father thinks I’m a better parent if my children have lost weight since he last saw them and a worse one when they gain weight. He doesn’t consider growing patterns or time of year or their lifestyle. He can evaluate me based on what they look like. My mother uses more criteria: what clothes they are wearing, how their hair is done or not, if my daughter is wearing makeup? whether they look happy? A few years she was very concerned about my younger daughter because she was afraid she was becoming a “sad” child. I’m not sure what she meant other than she cried easily and didn’t look happy enough all the time. She wouldn’t believe it had to do with my mother constantly judgemental statements.
Dinner always involves twice as much food as is necessary even though there were about 25 of us with multiple choices. During dinner we talk and I try to keep the conversation to light topics, movies, TV shows, books. Eventually my father gets on to some important (to him) topic usually involving politics or religion or child rearing and he hammers away at his idea. Someone at the table will disagree and he gets more and worked up until he gets to the point where he is telling us “that we should do something about… and we haven’t because we are too stupid to understand”. He is completely unable to accept that we might disagree with him on anything. This weekend my husband got upset enough that he left the table part way through my father’s argument/rant. Then my mother threw enough chocolate at the kids to ensure they were completely wired and exhausted and finally we get to leave. I know what it is going to be like and I”m prepared for it but it still bothers me.
The other problem for me is that one of my brothers abused me when I was a child. I’ve never talked to him about what I remember. When I told my parents when I was a teenager they did absolutely nothing and my family continued like it always has. So for over the last 25 years I’ve had countless family dinners and events with my brother. I always act completely fine and I usually am but occasionally something bothers me. This time it was my brother leaning over me to hug my while I sitting on the couch and briefly pushing too much of his weight on to me. When I pushed him away and told him he was too heavy he then leaned and did it again but more weight and for longer while laughing. That kind of teasing is the common response I get if I say anything is bothering me. More of what bothers me while someone laughs. It makes me want to cry for the child I must have been, the one I can’t really remember. I know what happened to that child or at least some of it but I can’t remember how it felt. Other times I think all I’ve got is the overwhelming feelings and no idea why or what those feelings are about.
It has been a crazy week. During the session after I got angry with M he actually discussed his training in different therapeutic modalities but emphasized that he was influenced by his more than thirty years of experience so it was hard to define therapy. I realized that I hoped that getting him to talk about his therapeutic technique would lead to me discovering what kinds of things I should be talking about during our sessions and eventually I asked him just that. He answered with his usual (unhelpful to me) response that we can talk about anything and that there were lots of things that were worth talking about (which is my wording not his). He thinks it is important that we talk about traumatic memories but when I want. It is important to talk about my day-to-day struggles with parenting, my FOO, my relationship with my husband, eating, weight, insomnia because they relate in many ways to my trauma. Then he said that I should talk about what is emotionally salient and important to me in the moment. I told him I understood but it didn’t help because everything would be fine if I would walk into his office and say this is what I want to talk about and it is important to me. I can’t or at least I haven’t so far because I don’t trust that what I want to talk about is the right thing to talk about. I doubt myself. I worry that what is important to me is stupid and worthless and self-indulgent so I keep waiting for him to tell me what to do.
So many other things in my life have exploded in ways that are so difficult that I’ve actually spent very little time thinking about therapy and where it is going. Tonight I went to my session and talked about my life outside therapy. I talked the incredibly stressful and difficult week my daughters have had particularly my older daughter. She has had trouble in school, big fights with her best friend, and a huge disappointment in her major extracurricular activity when she was turned down after trying out for a new team. To make things worse her younger sister was accepted. I’ve tried to be understanding and supportive and the more I try the angrier she is getting at me and the angrier I am feeling in response. Parenting feels like one huge failure after another. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I feel like I can’t judge if things are getting better or worse for my children. The best thing about my session with M tonight is that I just talked about it. I didn’t have time to tell him everything but I felt very little shame and judgement about what I was saying. Usually by the time I’ve left his office I’ve started worrying that he thinks I’m a terrible parent and so on and so on until I’ve spun out to a point where I’m lost in the guilt and shame. It is quieter in my head tonight and while M couldn’t give me the magic pill that would solve all my daughter’s problems I was glad to be able to talk about it.