Where do I go wrong? or why do I get stuck?

I am feeling frustrated in therapy again. I feel like therapy helps when I am able to talk about things with M, particularly the first time I discuss something. I’m not sure what is supposed to happen next but what usually happens is I stop talking, feel like M isn’t understanding how difficult it is for me, I get angry at M and at therapy, and then the rupture. So if I try to describe it I am hoping someone will tell me where I go wrong. Is is that I give up talking about it too soon? Is it that I have unrealistic expectations about what therapy can do so I’m always disappointed by it? or something else.

The trigger:

I have an infected tooth that is going to required a root canal and crown. I have had several of these before and I always go to the same specialist for the root canal. During my appointment he asks me why I haven’t had a different tooth extracted (which was his recommendation). I tell him that the oral surgeon wouldn’t extract the tooth unless I was willing to start the long and expensive process of getting an implant (9 months and between $5000 and $6000). I say I can’t afford that. He asks about my insurance and I explain that it has an annual limit of $1500). He says he understands and tells me he will write the surgeon saying I need the tooth extracted even if I do not get an implant. He then examines the current tooth and tells me it needs a root canal. He walks me to his business officer so I can book an appointment and says something to her I don’t hear. The business officer tells me that the root canal costs $1535 total but the dentist is waiving his exam fee today of $150. I get very upset and start crying. I find it very upsetting when someone gives me money or a discount on a fee like this. I feel like I owe them and that is really bad. I don’t mind borrowing money or negotiating a lower fee or when someone says if you buy two of those I will give you 10% off the price. It is being given things that upsets me. I’ve stopped seeing professionals after they have done that for me because I find it so difficult to face them again. I know I have a problem with this.

Last week – session 1:
I tell M about what happened at the dentist and how I started crying in front of the business officer. I tell him how awful I feel. M asks me if I can discuss my feelings with my dentist and tell him I would like to pay the full fee (which I am not sure is what I want, … really I want to stop feeling bad about it.) M suggests I don’t feel worthy and I would have been uncomfortable about any gesture the dentist made that was more than I expected. I said no, it is about the money. In the past, this same dentist has called me at home in the evening after a difficult appointment, left his cell phone number, answered my call while he was out to dinner, and another time gave me his number so I could contact him over a holiday weekend if I needed him. At the time I appreciated his concern.

After the session:
I thought more about the issue and started to feel really bad that I was okay with the dentist giving me his personal numbers or that I called him when he was at dinner. I feel guilty. I think about other times I’ve been uncomfortable with people buying me something or giving me a gift even with friends. I also start thinking about a couple of awkward situations that involve money and M that I’ve never discussed with him but have bothered me.

Session 2:
I tell M about my realizations about feeling uncomfortable with a lot of things but how money is especially triggering. We discuss how it relates to my childhood. When I was a child my brother paid me in quarters and candy for sex acts (at least I remember him promising me them I don’t remember him paying me). I express frustration because I understand that makes the issue of payment complicated for me but I also understand that I professional giving me a discount is not expecting sex or a friend paying for my coffee is not going to say “now you have to do something for me.” I still feel really bad though. M says that understanding doesn’t make the feelings disappear. I want to know what will and he says continuing to talk about it. I tell him about one of the awkward situations involving him and money. Several years ago (about 5), I showed M some pictures of me on my iPad. M came and sat beside me on the couch while I did and then went back to his chair. At the end of the session, I found some change on the couch and said this probably fell out of my purse. I scooped it up and put it in my wallet without really looking at it or counting it. All of a sudden I remembered he had been sitting on the couch and it was more likely change that fell out of his pockets and I said so. He reached into his pocket and said probably. I start to take out my wallet saying I’m not sure how much it was and he says forget it. M says he remembers the pictures but not the change. I say “of course not you aren’t crazy” M tells me I’m not crazy I have reasons to be hyper-vigilant.

When it first happened I couldn’t forget about it. I obsessed about it. How much money was it? (a handful of change but we have dollar and two dollar coins so $3) Does he think I took his money on purpose? How could I return it? Should I leave it in his outer office? what if someone else takes it? what if he doesn’t realize it is from me and that I’ve returned his change? should I try to do it to his face? After my first session last week I was right back to obsessing over it. After the session I send M and email telling him about my obsessive thoughts.

This week – session 1:
M asks me more about my obsessive thoughts about the change incident but I have difficulty telling him more. He doesn’t seem to understand why I am so bothered by it. I wonder if he thinks I should give him some money for the change (like he suggested I pay the dentist). I don’t know what I am expecting but I feel like I am not really getting a response from him about this issue. I also have no idea how embarrassing myself by telling him about this is going to help me resolve my feelings around the issue of money and gifts. I start to get frustrated with M. He seems to be saying that this is how I feel and I can’t change how I feel. He says I need to have some compassion for myself. I feel like I do but that doesn’t help. Nothing helps, I told him something that has bothered me in the past and it didn’t make a difference except I feel stupid and that he knows how stupid I am again. I feel like therapy isn’t working because M isn’t doing anything. By the end of the session I am saying very little and feelings upset.

After the session
I realize that once again, I wanted M to do something to make me feel better but he didn’t because that isn’t what therapy is about. He doesn’t try to make me feel better. He doesn’t say anything about the change because it isn’t an issue to him. He won’t say I am not worried about the money or you aren’t worthless or anything I can interpret as him caring because he never does. I’m just angry because I want him to but I know he won’t so it is just wasted anger. I leave him a message telling him I feel sad that I feel this way and that I do have some compassion for myself that this is so difficult and painful for me but nothing changes and I still feel sad.

Session 2 (tonight):
M asks me if he understood my message and if his email response made sense to me. I don’t say much. He asks me how I feel. I don’t feel much. I tell him I don’t want to talk and I think it is because I don’t want to get upset. He asks me if I think I get upset because I talk to him about things or if I get upset anyway. I am frustrated because I understand I get upset by things other than therapy, the triggering event had nothing to do with therapy. Eventually I tell him talking about upsetting things leads to me being upset at him, that I get angry that all he can do is tell me that I feel the way I feel and I can’t change it so I must have compassion for myself. I think he should do something but even while I’m angry I know it isn’t his fault so why talk about the anger. So I feel stuck and I don’t want to talk about this anymore, which leads to me not wanting to talk about any of the other potentially stuck issues in my life, which means we are sitting in silence again and I’m crying. M says I keep hearing that my feelings can’t change but that isn’t what he says. He says if I keep talking about my feelings and my experience that will make a difference. I say I can’t do that . He says I did do it before. I leave and now I’m wondering what am I supposed to do.

My father calls

I have had a draft of this post I’ve been working on for weeks so I apologize in advance for its length and any mistakes I haven’t found.

The week before Christmas my son handed me the phone and my father said “it’s me, Dad”. I can’t remember him calling me before. Once he called me because he had an episode and couldn’t remember where my mother was or what he was doing alone in the house but I have no other memories of him calling. For much of my adulthood we spoke only when I called my parents house and my mother wasn’t home so my father would take the opportunity to talk to me. Those conversations happened less frequently over the last seven years as I’ve distanced myself from my FOO so I call my mother less often and I share less of my life with either of my parents. He asked me if I remember the conversation we had last spring. I said “I thought you would never mention it again.” Now I need to give some history but rather than go back to our conversation last spring I’ll start earlier.

My childhood

I was sexually abused by two older male family members. They lived with my family and were over ten years older than me. I should make it clear that they didn’t know about each other. They both abused me separately. The abuse started when I was very young and I think ended by the time I was 10 but I’m not sure because I don’t remember much clearly, a few specific incidents that happened in my bedroom or the bathroom. Memories that are like snapshots with no beginning or end just flashes. During my childhood I told nobody what was happening. I was sure it was all my fault and I was to blame. I had a lot of fears as a child. I was afraid of the dark, I had nightmares. I frustrated my parents and my older siblings (I am the fifth of my parents six children).

My teens

When I was 14 years old one of my abusers moved to the city my family were living in and my parents invited him to stay with us until he got settled. It was very difficult. I was struggling with being a teenager, trying to figure out how to be like everyone else when I felt disgusting and my parents were overly controlling. I wasn’t allowed to have any money, go to stores, go out in groups with boys (certainly not individually). They didn’t trust me which added to my guilt. It is ironic that they paid so little attention to me as a child and didn’t have the slightest clue what was happening under their noses but once I passed the age of 13, they were prison wardens. Those rules didn’t apply to family members though. So I spent several months trying to juggle all these different things. My family member might pick me up after school and take me out for a ride or a movie. One night he showed me my first porn movie. Eventually he told me that what had happened between us when I was little (4 or 5 by his memory) would never have happened with anyone else because I started it. He said I was special and he loved me and he hadn’t found anyone else to love like that in his life. It was overwhelming. I was 14 and he was almost 30. I felt so guilty, look what I had made him do. I was confused by his confession and things got even more confusing when he stopped talking to me after and focused all his attention on my younger sister.

Eventually, I told my parents. It wasn’t planned. It happened because another family member told about being abused by a different family member and that is when I learned that I wasn’t the only one this had happened to. My family was filled with offenders and victims and there were hidden layers that I had not glimpsed before. When I told them my father was upset and hugged me and my mother had no reaction. My father asked me why I hadn’t told him before because he was worried when my relative started spending so much time with my younger sister and stopped talking to me. I told him I never left them alone. I asked if I could see someone so I could get help (I was thinking a therapist) and my father said yes we would get help. We went to sleep and when I woke up it was like I had never said anything. We continued to see those family members. I waited for my father to bring it up but he never did. I went to their weddings and celebrated holidays with them. My mother continued to treat me like I couldn’t be trusted. After about a year I admitted they were never going to help me and I was furious but I couldn’t do anything because I was still under their complete control.

As an adult

There is no way to summarize what happened when I was an adult. If you have experienced something like it you can imagine. I was furious but couldn’t admit it because my parents have always told me how much they loved me and how perfect our family is. If I didn’t come home for every family dinner, or didn’t call home enough, or didn’t listen to them, then they were disappointed and made sure I knew it. I tried to put it behind me because it was all over a long time ago. I knew what had happened. I knew they couldn’t deal with it but there was no point in still being angry about it because I was an adult and I could take care of myself. I got married, had three children, remained close to my family. I had occasional fights with my parents where I got angry at how they told me what to do, how to parent my children, and my mother would cry because she had to tell me what to do because she loved me so much. Fighting with them didn’t help, they didn’t change how they behaved and I couldn’t stay away from them without feeling very guilty.

I started therapy at 38. My presenting issue was my weight. I was morbidly obese and I couldn’t control me eating. My parents had been telling me my whole life how unhealthy I was, how I overate, how I was lazy and didn’t exercise like my siblings. When I was pregnant my father told me I was hurting my children by bringing them into the world with such an unhealthy and damaging environment (he meant my obese body). I told M about the abuse when he took my history. I told him I was over it and it didn’t affect me. I said bad things happened to lots of people and this was mine but it was in my past, not my present or future. It might have been believable if I hadn’t broken down into uncontrollable tears during that speech. It was the first time I had talked about the abuse in decades. I went home that night and sat in bed crying, while my entire body shook.

When I was 40 my eldest child (a girl) graduated from middle school. When she excitedly showed my parents her dress, my father told her it looked like it was too small for her and she would have to avoid all sugar and treats until after graduation. At the graduation, my mother spent 15 minutes before the ceremony telling me how fat I looked in my dress, asking if I had gained weight, and acting like she didn’t believe me when I said no. I decided I had to confront my parents and tell them they weren’t allowed to comment on the weight or appearance of me or my children. It lead to a huge fight. Why was I so sensitive? couldn’t I hear some advice? that is just how people their age and nationality talk about appearance, it isn’t insulting. When I wouldn’t back down my mother switched tactics and started to cry and tell me how much she loved me and she was sorry for anything she had ever done that had upset me or I had been hurt by because that was never her intention and how could I believe that of her. That fight led to individual phone conversations with each of them later on.

During those conversations I told them I was angry at them for doing nothing about the abuse when I had told them about it 25 years ago. My mother said “what do you want me to do? say sorry?” and then explained there was nothing to do because the abuse was over by the time I told them. My father told me that I didn’t understand how complicated and difficult it was for him because the family members were my mothers’ family and not his. He told me he didn’t know what to do and that I hadn’t told him when I was a child. I was glad I told them I was angry but their response was all about them still.

Last spring

It has been 2.5 years since I spoke about the abuse on the phone and we’ve never mentioned it again. I’m talking to my father (on the phone again) about my asthma and he starts to explain how it is caused by my obesity and how I became obese because of my eating as a child. I disagree with his story and tell him so. He gets angry and tells me that if I were a reasonable person I would listen to what he says. I get so angry I see red and I tell him he doesn’t get to call me unreasonable. He doesn’t get to tell me what I do wrong as a parent or a person. As far as I’m concerned he failed me by doing nothing about the abuse and so I don’t want to hear his opinion about anything. I say he lost the right to speak to me like he knew better than me when he did nothing to help me as a child. He says I didn’t know what was happening when you were a child. I say I was still a child at 14. You were the adult and you found it difficult. Imagine how much harder it was for me. My father switches and says he doesn’t know what he can do to help me but he is willing to meet me to discuss the abuse in my childhood “once and for all”. He doesn’t know what good it would do but he will do it. I am surprised and tell him we should discuss it in the future. Then I didn’t hear from him until just before Christmas.

Back to the present call

My father says I’ve been thinking about our conversation last spring and I want to set a date to meet to discuss it. I don’t know how it will help or how we could meet. I ask him if he is calling because my mother isn’t home. He says yes and I realize that if we have this conversation we have to do it without letting my mother know about it. He starts to get emotional and talks about how he is getting older and he doesn’t know how much time he has and he doesn’t want to leave this unfinished between us. A lot of different things go through my mind, like did he find out he is sick, why is he asking now? I have to leave the room because I am sitting with my three kids at the beginning of this conversation so I start to head for some privacy and by the time I get to my own room the conversation has switched.

Now my father is telling me about his life. He is talking about his young adulthood when he went away to school and wasn’t married. He talks about his childhood in another country. He tells me how unhappy he is because he has nothing to do and my mother won’t do anything he wants to do. They usually go away every winter but she won’t go where he wants to go. She has turned down three ideas and he is miserable. He talks for 45 min with me saying very little. I’m trying to figure out how this went to talking about me and my pain into his memories. I’m torn between feeling angry that he seems to have forgotten me as he talks on and on without even needing me to say anything and feeling sorry for him. When he first said he wanted to talk about my childhood there was a part of me that was so happy it was like I was finally getting my heart’s desire. Another part of me was so worried that he was upset and worried about dying. I wanted to tell him it was okay, I was okay and we didn’t have to talk about anything about him. Then I was angry that he was ignoring me again. It was so disorienting, like on of those funhouses where the floor isn’t flat and you can’t seem to walk.

I managed to ask him if he was worried about his health or had received bad news and he said no but at his age it could happen any time. I suggested that he write some memoirs while he was stuck here for the winter because it was something he could do without my mother’s permission or help. Then I started to get off the phone. He said he would like me to make time to meet with him in January because it would have to be after the holidays. Only after the call did I realize that he had managed to dig up this just in time for our huge family gathering where we would all pretend to be happy and nothing bad has ever happened. It wasn’t easy. Now I’m avoiding answering the phone because I’m not sure what I want to say.

Anxiety

I am feeling very anxious. I’m avoiding calling my parents house because I’m afraid of calling when my mother is out. I am also regretting canceling call display on my home phone because I’m afraid he will call me again. My father won’t talk to me if my mother is there. I’m not sure I want to talk to him at all but I haven’t decided what to do.

I’m also in a lot of pain because I have a tooth abscess. I’m taking antibiotics for the infection but I’m going to have to have a root canal followed by a crown. This kind of dental work isn’t new to me. I’ve had a lot of root canals and crowns over the last 15 years. They’ve all been done by a specialist and most of them have been successful but I had an infection in one of them about 18 months ago. He performed a very painful gum surgery which wasn’t successful. I was supposed to have the tooth extracted but the oral surgeon I was referred to didn’t want to extract it if I wasn’t going to have an implant put in its place. An implant costs between five and six thousand and my insurance will only cover a small part of the cost. I decided I couldn’t afford it so I asked the oral surgeon to just extract the tooth and he suggested waiting.

During the examination of latest infected tooth, my specialist asked me why I hadn’t had my other tooth extracted. I explained why I hadn’t. He said he understood that the oral surgeon wanted to give me the best possible care but if it wasn’t possible for me to pay for the implant then I should still have the tooth extracted because of the danger of future infections. He said he would write the oral surgeon asking him to do the extraction. Then he walked me to his business officer to arrange my next appointment. The business officer told me that my root canal would cost just over $1500 and the dentist had waived 10% of his fee. I burst into tears surprising the business officer. I was so ashamed but I couldn’t stop crying. It was awful.

I tried to talk to M about it today. I’ve had this reaction before. Six months ago I saw a chiropodist a couple of times and the last time the chiropodist didn’t charge me for the appointment because he said he didn’t do anything for me. I argued that he gave me his appointment time but he didn’t change his mind. I didn’t start crying until I left his office but I haven’t gone back to him. I know rationally that in both cases the professionals involved chose to give me a discount but it feels so wrong to me. I didn’t tell my dentist I couldn’t afford the implant because I couldn’t pay his fee. M tried to ask me if I felt like I was beholden to him because of his discount and I said not rationally.

M told me many people are uncomfortable with people giving them things or doing favours for them. He asked if it made the relationship seem personal instead of professional. I said no, it is really about the money. This same dentist has called me at home on the evening after a previous root canal to check up on me and when he didn’t get to talk to me he left a number for me to call him when I got home. I called him and he was in a restaurant having dinner. Another time he gave me a card with his cell phone number and told me to call him if I needed to talk to him. Neither of these things made me feel uncomfortable. I appreciated his concern. This discount makes me so uncomfortable I want to cancel my appointment and never go back. I hate how irrational I am.

M tells me how therapy works..finally

It feels like I’ve asked M a thousand times how to do therapy, what to talk about, how it works, what to do. And he’s answered thousands of times and I’ve gotten frustrated and angry because I didn’t understand, or felt hopeless because I knew I could never do what he was suggesting. This week was different. I don’t know if he explained therapy differently or if I just heard it differently but M told me succinctly how he thinks therapy works.

So in case it helps anyone else I thought I would share it here (although I’m giving you my paraphrased understanding of what he said.)

Preamble – (because M never says anything without explaining and qualifying and defining the parameters etc). You can’t explain how therapy works to someone who is in therapy because what therapy is, is deeply rooted in the client’s experience so I can’t expect his explanation to fit my experience but since I asked (for the 1000th time) he will tell me anyway.

1) It is about sharing stories from the past and present related to the things that cause you pain.

2) Part of it is about experiencing the pain together because being in pain alone is very different from being in pain while being connected.(which isn’t something that you can easily do because you can’t force connection even if connection is your intention)

3) It is about sitting in pain in an environment that feels safe (however safe is relative so it is hard to define… there is no way to talk about difficult things and feel 100% safe, they are painful and evoke memories and feelings of being unsafe, however you need to know you are safer than you were in the past)

4) There are some concrete strategies that can be taught to help you learn ways to recognize when you are in a painful and unhelpful pattern and things that can improve the chance of change (things like self-care and meditation and understanding cognitive distortions.)

5)There is some point in trying to understand how and what causes you pain but not in the cathartic way of thinking if you could just get to the core injury then you would be liberated from it and the pain it causes you. It is more a process of understandings that are shared between a client and therapist which involve sitting with pain, recognizing what can be explained and understand and acknowledging the things that are painful but aren’t understood but instead are accepted.

Usually when he talks about how therapy works I feel a wave a despair wash over me and the voice in my head keeps yelling that I can’t do it, I will never be able to do it, I can’t even understand it. During this conversation, the voice in my head was much quieter and I could still hear what he was saying. The voice in my head told me I would never feel safe enough, and I would never trust him enough and I couldn’t do it but I also realized that I am safer with him that I ever have been and that sometimes I can do it in some ways about some things.

I also understood why he always tells me I can talk about anything which never made sense to me. I am always analyzing M to see if he is interested in what I am talking about or if he frustrated by my silence or whatever. I talk to him all the time in between sessions in my head and tell him so many things but then I walk in and I can’t talk. I realized so much of what I want to tell him makes no sense to me. As in I think it isn’t worthy of discussing and I’m afraid he doesn’t want to hear it: like since I’m happily married now why tell him about things that happened when I was dating 20 years ago because they aren’t relevant to my current problems. If the point is sharing my experiences (just sharing them) maybe I don’t have to understand why I want to tell him things, maybe they don’t have to make sense.

I am in an unusual place and I am not sure how my session tomorrow will go because I understand more about why I struggle so much to talk to him but I don’t know if that will make it easier to talk or not.

New Year, same old, same old

I had my first session of 2015 this morning. I have had a busy holiday season with a lot of family events. All my siblings came home for the holidays which meant a week with far too many events. I managed to decline some invitations which helped me decrease my stress. I also avoided any direct conversations with my parents which was important because the week before Christmas my father called me which almost never happens. I’m working on a post about that for another day. I managed to enjoy shopping with my teenage daughters and buying presents for my children.

M didn’t go away for the holidays so I had 2 sessions a week with him through December. Starting the week before Christmas I talked about my FOO during my sessions. I started with my conversation with my father, and continued with my holiday celebrations, my siblings and how we all regress when we spend time in my parents house. I felt alone even when I was in a house full of people. I have always felt like a stranger in my family. I am the odd man out, the “sensitive” one who overreacts and wants to discuss how I feel. It is the complete opposite of how I feel with M and I missed him quite a bit between sessions. I told him so in an email earlier this week.

During this morning’s session I ran out of stories about the holidays and my family because I haven’t interacted with them since Monday night. I slipped into the familiar place where I had a lot of different thoughts but I didn’t know what to talk about. M asked me if I felt like I missed him because for the last few sessions I’ve been speaking freely about things and not feeling stuck in silence. I didn’t think of it that way at all actually. I know I was speaking freely but I don’t feel like we worked through my feelings about him and therapy. It felt more like an intermission to me. A few sessions talking about what was happening right now in my life. M told me the sessions felt quite different to him. The conversations don’t link up for me. M obviously prefers me talking more. It didn’t help me talk more today. Instead I cried more and felt like a failure. M tried to ask me questions about what I was feeling and then about if I thought he was interested and cared about my feelings. I just got more and more confused and by the time the session ended I was exhausted and felt hopeless and miserable and that is very familiar for after a session.