Linda said it was nice to see me and asked how our break had been and I said it was good to be away, that being out in nature was lovely and we enjoyed a couple of days of sun which was a treat. I told her I’d missed having our mid week session.
I said, ‘the break was nice but you know… we took us with us!’ I laughed and Linda had a sort of ‘I know what you mean’ expression. I said, ‘So we had the same old stuff going on only we didn’t have 4G and tv distracting us. So sandwiched between the nice nature trails and hikes up mountains there were moments of tension and disagreements.’ I noticed that Linda seemed really present and ‘with me’ through this session. A lot of enthusiastic nodding and agreeing. Encouraging me to think more deeply about certain subjects and be more gentle with myself.
We revisited the conversation we’d had last Saturday about Adam’s signs of dyslexia. Linda brought it up by thanking me for the email I’d sent her last weekend which was nice. I didn’t have any of my usual worries of, ‘oh is she just bringing that up because she’s actually annoyed that I emailed her’… I just took what she said face value. I’m noticing my interpersonal anxieties are far less triggered by Linda than they were by Paul or Anna and although I reckon part of that is definitely down to the fact that she’s only 12 years older than me and is gay (so doesn’t trigger immediate and obvious transference like Anna and Paul did), it’s also to do with her character which is very direct, open and straight forward. Paul was sometimes sarcastic in humour or would say things in an indirect way which would feel confusing and would trigger my familiar patterns of attempted mind reading. Anna always tried so hyper-carefully to be gentle and kind with me that sometimes I wondered if she was tiptoeing around topics… there doesn’t seem to be the same need for second guessing with Linda. I am aware that there’s time yet… it could all still come. And also I’m aware there’s been rapid growth through the grief. I feel like a broken record saying this repeatedly, but experiencing my ‘worst case scenario’ and witnessing my journey through the aftermath of losing Anna has afforded me the opportunity to learn about my resilience… it’s a strength we all are capable of but don’t know it’s there until sadly we are forced to fall back into it.
So back to the session, I told Linda that I’d done a lot of research and reading after last week and could definitely see signs of dyslexia in Grace and Adam. I had always suspected it but had forgotten about the information processing challenges associated with the ‘disorder’ – merely focusing on the reading and writing side of things. Having it brought to my attention that both Gracie and Adam will struggle with taking in big lists of information or focusing on one person when there is noise around them has reminded me to have patience for their need for order, a slower communication style and to keep a check on my unrealistic expectations in my relationships with them.
We talked about this for quite a while and then I said, ‘to be honest, I’m really reluctant to admit this…’ Linda told me to take my time and I continued, ‘I’m going to sound like a complete bitch but this just feels like more emotional labour… once again I’m the one doing all the reading and researching and understanding. I did talk to Adam about the dyslexia and he found it really interesting and agreed with me. He could see himself and Grace in what I was telling him and he was keen for me to find a questionnaire online for them both and to look into support at work that I can use to help Grace. And that’s good, I’m glad he wasn’t defensive or anything but this whole things is actually making me feel really angry. I’m the one who has to make the changes and organise assessments and basically be the teacher in my family… why can’t he do this?’ Linda said, ‘oooh Lucy it sounds like there’s a lot of anger there.’ I said, ‘Yeah I think I am angry because I’m tired of all this, I’m exhausted that it’s always me who is responsible for this shit…’ Linda encouraged me to continue talking about my feelings and I said that I just wished Adam was motivated to sort these things out for himself. She said she would encourage us to not go for an online questionnaire, that it needs to be a formal thing completed by a psychologist but they are very expensive. She repeated, ‘very expensive!’ and rolled her eyes. I imagined it’s something she has had to go through with her partner.
I talked about how frustrating it is to imagine that I just have to accept Adam as he is now and that this whole processing disorder thing is just a convenient excuse for him to never make an effort ever again. I said, ‘I brought up something similar to Paul years ago and said to him, ‘I know I can’t expect him to change’ and Paul had said, ‘woah why cant you expect him to change?’ and I’d said that I knew it was co-dependent to expect people to change and he’d said, ‘hmmm well no, you can’t change him but you can expect someone to make an effort just like you make an effort…’ and Anna was less direct than that, when I talked to her about Adam she’d say things from the empathy angle… she’d be like, ‘it’s not easy to watch someone that you know would benefit from therapy not taking the first step,’ and then she’d just encourage me to stop hassling him about it… and last weekend you said that his journey and him changing or not was down to him and not really anything to do with me.’ Linda was nodding and concentrating on my words then thought for a second and said, ‘I want to clarify because I feel like you heard a certain thing from me regarding what I said about Adam and change… what I said definitely comes with a caveat… so yeah you can’t force people to change but you are married to him so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect him to make an effort in the relationship… for you guys to talk about these things and agree together to work on something as a team.’ I said that sounded better, made more sense and sat well with me.
I said, ‘I feel like there’s two separate problems here… there’s him being a human being who has flaws and has good days and bad days and is easily aggravated by the kids and then there’s me, a perfectionist, who gets very triggered by people who are anything less than perfect around my kids and has very high standards for everyone around me… so it’s a difficult mix.’ Linda smiled and said, ‘ah yes well we are all flawed… I have MANY flaws!’ and she laughed and I said, ‘well yeah me too obviously and that’s my point, it is totally unrealistic for me to be so unforgiving… because some days things are great, yesterday was a really good day…’ Linda smiled and said she was glad to hear that, I continued, ‘I think the main problem is that he is not great at communicating… he just really struggles to explain himself and I find myself having to coach him through our conversations… he can’t explain what’s going on for him… so anyway, he was in a good mood yesterday and we were all relaxed and I liked him and we were all happy, then today for whatever reason he’s more irritable and losing his temper with the kids… and I seem to have such little tolerance for him having bad days, so I go from loving him and enjoying his company to hating him and not even wanting to be in the same room as him!’
Linda said, ‘wow Lucy, that’s a strong word! You hate him, wow!’ I said, ‘well I mean I don’t verbalise it I never tell him I feel like that but uh…’ Linda said, ‘but that’s a very powerful thing to keep inside you isn’t it, that’s huge.’ I said, ‘well maybe it’s not hate…’ I noticed a shift in her and felt that maybe she could see that I was feeling defensive about her big reaction to my word choice. She said, ‘okay sorry, no… I just mean I can tell this is a very big deal for you, it’s a strong feeling and that’s a lot to contain. I’m imagining what that feels like for you inside.’ I said, ‘yeah maybe it’s like a resentment or something… I can barely look at him sometimes. I hate this part of me actually but I find it really difficult to let go of things… I don’t want to be like this, like the kind of woman who becomes really bitter and holds on to every single mistake a person has ever made. I really want to elevate myself above that, to work on being more compassionate and forgiving… but it’s like part of my brain just will not let go of these things you know? So even when we’ve gone over an argument or a mistake or a wrong doing, it’s still inside me. Even if years pass, if ever he makes another mistake or is less than happy, less than perfect, it’s as if that part of me feels like, ‘don’t you dare slip, you owe me! You did this thing that really hurt me and you will always owe me because of it.’ Linda said, ‘do you know what this is about Lucy? What this resentment is really about?’ I nodded and suddenly felt flooded. My face flushed and I told her I wished she couldn’t see me. Eventually, while looking at my fidgeting hands, I said, ‘The thing is, it’s a big deal. Something big happened between us years ago and I find it hard to let go of it.’ Linda said, ‘have you spoken to him about it?’ I said, ‘yes, it came up initially when I was working with Paul and I worked on it again with Anna. Each time it came up I did talk to him about it. It reached a head again about a year ago and we went over it again… he thinks it’s resolved now and he would be totally blindsided if I suddenly brought it up AGAIN.’
Linda paused me and asked me how I was feeling. I said I wasn’t sure. I took a while to answer and I looked out the window. I said I felt numb… but not numb. In reality I think I was a bit spacey and still am actually as I type this. She asked me to stay connected to her. She encouraged me to look at her and work at staying connected to her. She said, ‘it feels very important that you work at staying connected with me while you talk about this. Even if you need to pause or stop talking, keep the connection.’ It felt like a really powerful moment of closeness between us. For some reason I felt the need to see her. I looked at her and she was looking right at me too. I breathed and did what she told me to – I worked on staying connected to her. After a while I quietly said, ‘We have such a long history, 19 years… so much has happened… I wish we could hit the refresh button and meet each other now with fresh eyes.’ Linda was nodding a lot as if she really understood this which intrigued me because I’ve never even thought it before that very moment. I said, ‘I just feel like there’s so much that clouds the relationship.’ Linda asked what exactly clouds the relationship and I said, ‘Well lots of things. All of the different people we have been over the years. The people we were when we met… I was a suicidal teenager when we met… and because of things we’ve experienced over the years together. I find it so hard to trust him. I can’t let go of any past mistakes.’ i felt totally defeated and let out a long sigh then said, ‘I know that it’s my problem. If only I could let go of my perfectionism and stop expecting too much from people then we could be happy… coz he is happy most of the time, he’s fine with things just the way they are. You said yourself, he is consistent, he hasn’t changed – it’s me who’s changed.’ Linda said, ‘oh Lucy,’ with such compassion in her voice that it touches something deep inside my chest, ‘that just sounds so unkind, such unkind things to say about yourself. There’s no blame, you’re not a problem.’
Linda asked what would happen if I was to let go of the things I’m hanging on to and I said, ‘I’d be made a fool of. I’ll get hurt again.’ Linda said, ‘that could happen anyway, couldn’t it… in any relationship?’ I said, ‘Well yeah, it could, and it did… I experienced that with Anna… she didn’t deliberately hurt me but you know by leaving she did.’ I felt a blanket of fog descend over me and said, ‘Let me think.’ I whispered to myself, ‘What would happen if I let go of the hurts I’m holding on to? I guess what happens when I decide to let go of the anxiety and hurt I notice a detached feeling…’ I said louder, ‘I detach. I think to myself – I can go back to behaving normally in the relationship but I just will never openly relax and lean into the relationship again.’ Linda said, ‘yeah that makes sense, so maybe there’s all this grey here between the black and the white.’ She spaced her hands out either side of the screen. She said, ‘so we have complete lack of trust here and we have complete blind trust here and maybe somewhere on this spectrum is a place you could feel safe?’ I let that settle for a bit and she asked how it felt for me. I said it felt a bit scary but something that I’d need to think about.
Linda said, ‘Have you ever written a list?’ I looked quizzically at her and she explained, ‘Just sat down and written a list of all the things you want Adam to change?’ I laughed and said, ‘and not give it to him?’ she said, ‘noooo, just for yourself, to give you clarity.’ I said, ‘hmmm that feels like an overwhelming task.’ She asked why and I said, ‘I just feel like there would then be a big list in black and white of all the reasons why the relationship should end.’ Linda said, ‘That’s a very big thing to carry inside you, Lucy.’ I said, ‘I know,’ I felt like I might cry but it didn’t come. I continued, ‘I am so scared of repeating the mistakes my parents made. I would never have had kids if I’d known I would bring them into a family that would end up separating.’ Linda had a lot of sympathy in her eyes and she told me she understood. I said, ‘The thing is, I love him so much. There’s really no need to worry about us splitting up, we are both so committed to making this work and also most of the time it is NOT hard work. We get on so well, we have such a laugh together and love each other intensely. But it’s where my brain goes. Like an intrusive thought on repeat. And I just can’t get past it.’ I was quiet for a bit and then said, ‘Then there is this thing that happened years ago. He really hurt me, Linda. It was a massive betrayal. He wasn’t unfaithful but it felt like it and then he denied it and lied about it for years.’
Linda asked what was going on for me right now and I said I felt shame. She sounded surprised and asked if I knew what that was about and I said, ‘I should know how to do this! I should know how to have a relationship with him. I’ve been with him for nearly two decades and struggle so much with emotional intimacy! Still? I think this is why therapy suits me, it’s a really avoidant way to be connected to someone, isn’t it!? I get to be emotionally vulnerable with you, which is really quite safe… and I pay you for that so I don’t feel guilty about it… then I can end the session and have distance between us for a few days before opening the wound again. I just hate being so closed off and shit at all this.’ I think I was drifting again because Linda asked me to stay connected to her once more.
There were a few minutes of quiet and I said, ‘this is very important and I’m trying to figure out if I can work on this with you without telling you what happened.’ Linda said, ‘is it important that you tell me this thing today?’ I said, ‘no, I guess not today… it is important and worth covering at some point but not urgently today I guess… I just don’t know. I doubt this is the most shocking thing you’ve ever heard, I don’t think you’d think it was that big of a deal actually… I’m just really embarrassed.’ Linda said, ‘I don’t want you to feel like you have to tell me… can you explain why you are ashamed when it’s not something you have done, can you answer that without telling me what it is?’ I tried to explain the role I played in what had happened and how I was afraid I could be unfairly judged. That my opinion on what happened could be interpreted as me being conservative and closed minded. Interestingly Linda didn’t do what Anna used to do which was constantly reassure me that she wasn’t judging me. I think that’s partly an experience thing. Linda trusts she can show me through her behaviour the lack of judgment whereas Anna felt the need to spell things out to me. Perhaps coming from an anxious place where she didn’t want anything to be misinterpreted by me.
Eventually I told Linda what had happened. The first time when we had only just started going out. Then again a few years later. And numerous times after that.
(I’m not going to write what happened here because it is deeply personal but I will say that it’s nothing illegal but something that would divide opinion. It’s something I feel very strongly about and something that goes against one of my most important values. I betrayed myself by allowing this thing to happen repeatedly and by silencing my gut instinct and ‘believing’ him as he lied time and again.)
I rattled through the explanation as Linda sat quietly listening and then she thanked me for telling her. She told me she was concerned with how Adam had protected his own ego by gaslighting me… basically denying the thing that I knew to be true, repeatedly for over a decade. I tried to justify his behaviour telling Linda that I understood that the shame Adam felt pushed him to probably even lie to himself about it and she said, ‘yes but there’s an element of him denying your experience.’ I said, ‘yeah I know… that’s exactly how I felt… thank you! It was crazy making. There have been some very dark moments. There have been times when I have tried so hard to move on… years where it’s been nowhere near the foreground but it’s always on the peripheral. It seems to be so over for him but still very important to me. The last time we spoke about it he told me we’d ‘put it to bed’ and that he’d apologised and that I shouldn’t need to bring it up again. I had been so furious with him and told him it wasn’t up to him to tell me whether we were over it or not, that he’d betrayed me… he lied to me, repeatedly for years! I have never lied to him. I have never betrayed him. I told him that I am the one who gets to tell him when we’re over it!’ Linda was so attentive, constantly checking in on any sensations in my body or any spaciness I was experiencing. I then said, ‘honesty is so important to me Linda, so so SO important! Honesty and openness… it’s the foundation of everything!’ Linda had a very serious expression on her face and she said, ‘I know, Lucy. I really do know that about you. I learned that about you very early on. Honesty and openness is very important to you… I hear you I really do see that in you!’ I paused and just looked at her. I wanted to know how she knew! When did she learn this? I’ll revisit that another time. It was so powerful.
As the session came to an end we reflected on how I had absorbed his shame. While he has disconnected from any of the feelings he once had and barely seems to remember what happened, I am left carrying this hurt and shame inside me. Just like I did with my mum.
Linda said, ‘it felt like there was a big risk for you in telling me this, thank you for taking that risk. Thank you for telling me this today.’ I said, ‘well actually thank you, because this has been the easiest of all three times I’ve talked about it so thanks for that… when I talked to Paul, he seemed to take it personally and sided with Adam… finding loads of excuses about why it was probably my fault. When I talked to Anna about it I sensed she was uncomfortable about the topic. Maybe the discomfort was mine because she was like a mum to me and it was totally cringey telling her but I thought she was a bit embarrassed to talk about it.’ Linda smiled and sort of rolled her eyes with a kind expression of fondness and said, ‘I’m so glad you felt it was easier to talk to me about this, thanks for telling me that Lucy that’s really good to hear.’ I said, ‘to be honest I feel like it would be hard to shock you. I’ve seen the kinds of things you deal with written on your website, this is fairly tame in contrast!’ Linda laughed and said, ‘well yeah, some people have tried!’ and we both laughed.
She then said, ‘really this all boils down to one person who has a lot of self awareness butting heads with another person who has very little self awareness… and how that can be balanced and negotiated.’ I nodded and she asked how I was feeling. I said I was annoyed that the session was over when I still had so much to talk about. She said I could bring it back as many times as I need to. And I know that I will.