How does therapy work anyway?

I’m exhausted. I’ve spent the last week running from my memories. I went away last weekend with my sister, three cousins, and a couple of friends for a “girls” weekend. I left right after a session with M. The weekend was okay but with so many members of my extended family there was lots of talk about what our parents were like and how we were treated as children. I was less upset than I usually am when my family tells me that my mother didn’t mean what I thought she did or that I am too sensitive. Instead I stood my ground and explained how my mother treats me. I know that we have different feelings about my parents but I was okay. I could hear their opinions without ignoring or denying my experiences. It was different.

I went to my session on Monday and told M some more stories about my early adulthood and my first serious relationship. I had never discussed it with M and I am ashamed of how things worked out. It was an unhealthy relationship. I was miserable but I felt like I had to make that relationship work at all costs. So I stopped doing what I wanted and I concentrated on making him happy. It lasted three years and in the end he left me anyways. Now I’m glad he did but at the time I was broken-hearted. M said very little while during the session. Just said it must have been a very painful time in your life. I left thinking I don’t understand how therapy is going to work. What difference does it make that I cried for an hour while M listened. I don’t even know what he thought.

The other surprising thing that happened to me this week was that I had to give a brief talk at the elementary school “Curriculum Night”. I hate public speaking. I have had lots of experience and never found any way to manage my nerves. It doesn’t matter how well I know the subject, how friendly the audience, the purpose of the talk. I usually have trouble sleeping for a few nights before the talk and have anxiety dreams like I’m trying to talk and nothing comes out of my mouth. Usually I feel sick to my stomach hours before I talk and I am afraid to eat anything. A couple of years ago I was supposed to give this same talk and I cancelled about 45 minutes before. This time I had very little fear. I wasn’t looking forward to it but I gave it a brief thought the night before as I tried to sleep. I was calm right up until I started speaking. It felt fundamentally different from how I feel when I have spoken in public before.

So I know I am changing because things in my real life are different. This week it was being able to give a talk without being so nervous that I need to run away and having a different reaction to my family members. I would say therapy is working but I hate it. I want to quit again. I am embarrassed about what I did Monday night after my session which I haven’t written about. I hate how attached I am to M and how much time I spend worrying about what he thinks. How come I can think therapy is working and still dread it.

I’m so ashamed

Last night I had an intense session with M. I talked about how I felt when I was a child and teenager and my mother didn’t allow me to have any money or choice about clothes or make any decisions for myself. I feel like I’ve been sucked back into the past and I’m not the adult me who is responsible and tries to do the right thing. Instead of the me that is making the wrong choices because there are no right ones. I managed to tell M that I stole money when I was young. I stole from members (siblings and cousins) of my family and when they caught me they didn’t tell anyone, instead they started hiding their money. I would never have stolen from my parents because I would have been in so much trouble and the people who I stole from didn’t tell my parents for the same reasons. In my family we lived in completely different worlds the parents and the children and we tried not to let the parents in our world. Instead the children tried to deal with fights and accidents and life by themselves which usually boiled down to the biggest and strongest does what he wants to everyone else. Sometimes I tell people it was like the “Lord of the Flies” except we never butchered animals.

I tried to make amends to one of my cousins for stealing from her when I was 21 and she was kind and gracious and forgave me. She knows a lot about what my life was like because our mothers are sisters and far too much alike, cruel and self-absorbed. I think that experience helped me forget the misery and guilt of my teenage years. I forgot what I had done wrong and how afraid I was of being caught. I stopped living constantly in the shadow of fear and shame. Now I’m back in it. I can’t imagine seeing M again much less talking to him. He was very understanding and didn’t judge me for it. He agreed that I was shamed by my parents when they wouldn’t trust me to make my own decisions and have any money. Last night I actually felt good about the session but now I’ve fallen into the hole that is the past me. I hope I find my way out again.

Physical pain makes it so much harder

I am feeling a lot better now. A week ago I started taking antibiotics for an abscessed tooth and then the next day I say a specialist who prescribed me a second antibiotic and Percocet to manage the pain my tooth was causing. At first I continued on my expected schedule and I visited my parents on Tuesday night, went to work Wednesday morning, and then to my session with M on Wednesday night. After that session I felt completely alone and overwhelmed. I thought I felt that way because of the triggering things that my family talked about and I tried to discuss with M.

There were several members of my extended family at my mothers and it didn’t take long for people to start telling “funny” stories of how they were treated (or mistreated) by their parents. So my mother and her siblings talked about my grandfather and my cousin and my sister and I talked about our parents. Of course my mother claimed not to remember the event my sister described and then someone else said of course your mother wasn’t so unreasonable all the time. I told a story about how my mother was even more controlling of me than my older sister in response to my sister’s actions. My sister is almost 10 years older than I am and when she started babysitting my mother allowed her to keep the money she earned to spend on what she wanted. My sister was able to buy clothes and makeup that she wanted and she started smoking cigarettes. When I started earning money my mother decided the way to stop me from becoming a smoker was to make sure I never had any money to spend. She collected my earnings and then only gave me money if I was doing something that I asked her to do and she approved of. She bought all my clothes including bras and underwear without me even being in the store. When I asked if I could have money in order to buy christmas gifts for my siblings and friends I was told no she would buy presents for my siblings (and I guess my friends didn’t matter). This went for a long time. When I started working full-time during the summer between high school and university my mother checked my bank book to make sure I wasn’t spending any of my own money. When I told the story last week she told me that I should remember that we made an agreement that if I didn’t spend any of the money I made at my full-time job she would give me an allowance of $5/week. I remember it like a decree and I certainly didn’t have a choice about the agreement. I think I would have preferred my mother not “remember” her actions rather than continue to defend them and explain why that kind of control was okay. After all I had the most money of any of my siblings when I grew up. I paid for my entire education, undergraduate and graduate degrees, myself. I opened an RRSP at 18 and spent three months travelling through Europe after I finished my Masters degree. When I got married I had enough money saved for the down payment on our first house. I was also the teenager who lied to people and pretended I had lost my money when we went places. I preferred to be thought of as incompetent than broke. I did other things I’m not proud of to get money and try to appear like other people in high school and early university. I spent very little time trying on clothes or make up. I think I was well into my 20’s before I bought myself something just because I liked it. Even now in my 40’s I am wiling to spend money on my children, their clothes and activities, but can’t justify spending money on myself (except therapy which isn’t fun at all) I don’t even know when I realized I could spend my own money. My mother certainly didn’t announce it one day. She wouldn’t hesitate to look through my bank books or credit card statements and comment on what I spent even now. I spent years trying to figure out what was mine and what I controlled and when I had to do what she wanted me to do.

I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy talking about the ways my mother is controlling and self-absorbed and emotionally neglectful. This money story is just another example of it but it overwhelmed me. I felt so ashamed. At the time I was ashamed that I’m still crying about things that happened so many years ago and I’ve talked about so many times before. I know what my parents were like, why does it still have so much power to wound me. I felt so awful physically after that I didn’t go to work for Thursday and Friday. It took until Saturday night for my tooth to stop hurting enough that I could sleep through the night only taking Advil instead of percocet. That’s when I realized that being in so much pain physically and made it much harder to work through my memories. Instead I was just feeling the feelings like they were real. Now I can see that I felt ashamed when I talked to M because I spent so much of my life being ashamed. I must have been so bad that I couldn’t be allowed to have any money. I must have been so bad that my mother had to control what I wore and ate and read. Some of the things I did were bad. I lied and cheated and stole at times when I was a teenager. So I was ashamed of myself and I felt like I was alone. Last week I was drowning in that shame and feeling completely isolated from the rest of the human race. Thanks to those of you who reached out to me last week and told me I wasn’t really alone, I just felt that way.

I feel so alone

Tonight at my session I cried about how alone I feel. How I seem to be the only person in my family that can’t laugh and make jokes about the events of our childhood. It hurts too much to me to laugh about it. I am too angry. It feels wrong to be so angry about things that happened a long time ago. I am certainly isolated from my family because of our different feelings about our childhood. It seemed like I cried and cried about how I felt and I get more and more awful looking. I buried my face in my hands, the Kleenex, the edges of my fleece. I didn’t want to look at M and I didn’t want him to see me. When I look at the time I realized it was four minutes past the hour so I wiped my eyes, blew my nose, turned my back on M and collected my stuff. I rushed out of the office without looking at M, saying anything, or shaking his hand. So I felt even more alone.

I feel sick

I feel awful. I have a toothache. I feel light-headed. I am sweaty and feel like it is too hot even though the thermometer says it isn’t. The wedding with my family was okay. I told my husband he didn’t have to come with me to the wedding. I offered him the chance to stay home. Things between my husband and I have been very strained lately. Sometime last week I asked him why he was so angry because it seems like he is upset by everything I say. He told me he was angry at my parents and angry that he has to go to things with my brother and pretend everything is fine. I was shocked when he said that and I didn’t have much of a response. I think my husband is really angry that I am struggling so much with the things my parents and brother did to me as a child. I think he is tired of having a wife who is scared, anxious, and depressed. He is tired of having a wife who avoids sex and withdraws into herself. When I started therapy four years ago I think we both thought it wouldn’t take very long to talk about my childhood and move on with my life. We had no idea how hard it is.

Therapists

I’m feeling that deep exhaustion that comes after therapy. I also feel hopeless but a resigned, inactive hopeless. My session on Wednesday with the consult T wasn’t eye-opening. I talked about my concerns that I was stuck in therapy and that I might work better with a different T or a different type of therapy. The consult T suggested that I might be consulting other T’s and planning to quit therapy frequently because I was afraid of depending on T. He predicted that it would probably be very painful and time-consuming to work out my issues around trust and dependency and they were probably core issues for me. I didn’t have much to say after that. I mean what else is there to say when someone says you are likely going to hurt like this, struggling with uncertainty, flipping between being okay and wanting to run away from the relationship, for an unpredictably long time.

After that I went to my session with my T and talked about my family. My parents have returned from their summer vacation. I am attending a family wedding tomorrow with my parents and almost all my siblings. It will be the first time I see my parents since I tried to set some boundaries with them back in June. I wish I had turned down the wedding invitation when I received it.

Anxiety and avoidance

I had an enjoyable long weekend. My mood improved a few days after my session and my conversation with my brother and I got out of the city. The weather was perfect and I spent my time reading and resting. I didn’t think about therapy and I enjoyed the break. Unfortunately it couldn’t last. My session with M last week was difficult in part because there is so much to talk about. I don’t know what to say and M doesn’t give me much direction. I was frustrated with my brother and our conversation about our parents. I was worried because my parents came back this weekend and I haven’t talked to them since my confrontation with them at the end of june. I also had a major fight with my husband and realized that we have been very disconnected over the last couple of months. My fears about therapy and the relationship I have with M are hanging over my head as well. A couple of weeks ago when I decided I was quitting therapy with M I booked a session with a different T. I told that T I wanted to consult about my therapy and discuss what kind of therapy would be helpful for someone working through childhood abuse. I have consulted with two other therapists over the four years I have been working with M. That session is booked for tomorrow afternoon.

Instead of talking about any of the above topics last Wednesday night I told M about my current sex life. He asked me how sex was going with my husband as a follow-up to something I had said the session before. I told him it was going badly. I am sure that the sex problems are related to the other problems my husband and I are experiencing but I didn’t talk about the other problems. In the past I have stopped talking about sex after saying that, kind of like “sex is difficult end of story”. Of course there are lots of different ways sex can go badly so it isn’t much of a description. There can be the problems with initiating sex and finding the time and energy to enjoy sex. There can be the triggers and flashbacks that sometimes occur where all of a sudden I am confused when I am and who I am with. I feel forced and paralyzed and frozen and unable to talk. Then there can be the times when I am not really there from beginning and I kind of stay in my head where I feel like I am preventing flashbacks by disconnecting from the experience. I experienced all those kinds of difficult sex with my husband and some others that I won’t talk about explicitly. I told M what sex was like for me over the last 3-6 months, how I try to avoid it, and then feel guilty or wrong for that so I initiate sex that I don’t really want to have because I should. How I feel terrible afterwards and often want to curl up and cry while my husband annoys me by being affectionate and loving. How much I can enjoy sex physically and hate it emotionally. How it makes it worse that my body responds even though I don’t want to. Of course I shared all that and probably even more of the confusing mix of feelings and reactions I am having around sex by telling M some detailed stories. It was really difficult to by honest with M about sex. His response to my stories was a rather deep in drawn breath followed by a head shake and a “wow that’s difficult”. I was hoping for more. It seems odd that I am struggling to expose more of myself to M and the response is “that’s bad”. I knew it was bad. I started with that is bad. It didn’t take long after I left to feel like he was blaming me for the problems my husband and I are having sexually. I wrote him an email telling him that I thought he was blaming me which he didn’t get until today. His response today was clear and even comforting. No he wasn’t blaming me. It is a complicated issue that will take a lot of time to work through. We can talk more about tomorrow during my session. So I am feeling anxious because I don’t know if I want to talk more about it.

Tomorrow I have two sessions, one in the afternoon with a consult T, and then my regular session later.