Joy in the Therapy Room

I had mixed feelings all week about tonight’s session. It is the session before a therapy break. It’s only one week’s break… Anna’s going on a well earned holiday and will be back the following week. However, because of my attachment wounds, the relational trauma, the abandonment issues… therapy breaks always push me into the corners of my mind. It really accentuates how fragmented my internal reality is. The way my body/mind seems to hold several very different (often opposing) ideas/thoughts/feelings.

Tucked away in a deep, dark corner there’s a young part of me that’s felt very sad about Anna’s approaching holiday. Like she’s abandoning me. The overwhelming sense of being alone and on the outside. I wrote a couple of posts about it on Instagram… the feeling of being outside the therapy room and looking in at her empty chair. Wanting to curl up into a tiny ball on her chair and sob my heart out… the idea of being outside her family and looking in, longing to be embraced by her as if she were my mother. The familiar feeling of not being wanted, not being loved.

Leaning over the banister overlooking that child, there is an anger and resistance … it feels teen like. This part is furious at me for all the things I talked about last week. She’s shouting, ‘you’re an idiot, you should never have said that, you betrayed mum and dad, Anna will know you’re a terrible person, you’re disgusting, you make me sick, you should have kept quiet… get over it… stop going on about it, stop crying you fucking freak, what the hell is wrong with you, you push everyone away, no one will ever love you, no wonder she’s taking a break, she needs to get the hell away from you, you’re so intense, she’ll probably never come back you should probably just quit to save the last bit of dignity you have left…’ That kind of thing. It’s not pleasant.

Resting somewhere mid/foreground, there’s an ever strengthening adult part who is slowly flexing and stretching her muscles… she is gently, tentatively reassuring the anger that it’s okay to trust Anna. That the anger (and the underlying fear it’s masking) is understandable… it makes sense considering the betrayals and neglected needs of childhood… That it’s okay to talk about these things. That nothing bad is going to happen if I open up and share the secrets I’ve kept inside me for all these years. That Anna will not reject or abandon me because of what I told her. That no one will punish me for sharing.

In the hours running up to the session I actually felt good. I’ve been very busy with work and focusing all my attention on that during the day. I had also made the decision to not go deeply into things with Anna because of the missed session next week. Instead I thought we could talk about family life, little niggles, my husband and our relationship… day to day stuff that often gets ignored because there is always something bigger and muddier to delve into with Anna.

I was so pleased to see Anna tonight. I have so much warmth and affection for her, it hits me as soon as I turn the corner into her room. The way she behaves with me. That she intentionally smiles when she sees me (since I told her that when she greets me with a straight face it makes a part of me freak out thinking she’s angry with me or sick of me and sends the whole session into turmoil). I love her quirky dress sense and that I can tell she loves clothes and shoes by how many different items I’ve seen her in over the months. That she sometimes has a new candle on at the start of my session, that I can see she only just lit it and I wonder if she’s bought it with me in mind, to help ground me.

I explained that I wanted to keep things light and told her why. She agreed and congratulated me on the self-care I was affording myself. She did say she wanted to honour the ‘kickback’ I’d felt after the last session to help minimise the chances of it happening again. We talked about the critical voice and how I had brought myself back from the slippery slope of self-hate (that can so rapidly lead to self-harm). I talked about how I’d called on my learned knowledge of mindfulness. How we can train ourselves to observe and ‘notice’ the thoughts and feelings as opposed to ‘being in’ them. That once I had brought my awareness to the thoughts and feelings I was able to feel detached from them in an observer role. I could then give myself advice on how to deal with feeling so guilty and angry. She was so proud of me, she beamed. She told me, ‘well done, you really looked after yourself, you couldn’t have done that 6 months ago… well done!’ I thanked her. She wrote a lot of notes at that point and I wondered how she was wording what we just talked about.

I briefly mentioned my friends funeral that I attended a few days ago. We talked about how hard it was but that it was manageable. That since feeling my feelings more, I am less overwhelmed by funerals. I used to cry uncontrollably throughout and after funerals. As if it was the only time I thought it was socially acceptable to cry so I would finally let out all of the crying I’d held in for years. This time it didn’t feel like there was a heaving body of water behind a rickety old dam. This time it felt like the tears I shed were actually for my friend, because I have been shedding the built up tears of my own grieving bit by bit, every day.

Something really magical and amazing happened about a third of the way through the session. We refocused back onto the agenda for the session and at one point when I was talking about a few things that have been happening this week, Anna and I got the giggles. It started with me finding an anecdote about my kids amusing. I saw the ridiculousness of how annoyed my husband had been at the situation and then couldn’t ‘unsee’ how silly it was. Then I told her another story with the intention of trying to get to the bottom of why my husband gets so quickly frustrated with these things and why I find his frustration so annoying. The content of what I was saying wasn’t funny at all but it really tickled us both. It quickly escalated to the point where Anna and I were silently in hysterics, tears rolling down our faces, sharing glances at each other with smiles and tissues wiping the tears… it was so beautiful. I’ve never experienced laughter with her like that before. I’ve done the whole ‘deflecting the pain with black humour’ type laughter… but never have I shared a moment with her where we are both belly laughing. Every time we settled ourselves and I tried to start again something else would set us off. She said, ‘it’s so great to see you laughing, Lucy!’ and I said, ‘its really lovely to laugh with you.’ It felt just as intimate as the moments when I have been confessing my deepest secrets, crawling in shame, only this time I didn’t want to hide from her.

When I was a child, if I found things funny my mum would tell me to stop being silly or she’d take it personally thinking my brother and I were making fun of her. I’d be sent to my room or shouted at, told to go away… I remember trying very hard to supress my joy, just like I supressed other emotions in front of her. This evening, with Anna (who momentarily will be graced with the nickname ‘therapy mum’) I just let it all pour out of me. It felt so connecting and authentic. There was no need to analyse or interpret the laughter, we just let it be there between us. There’s something so powerful about knowing the person you’re with is feeling the same thing you’re feeling. No resistance, no defensiveness, no shaming or belittling… just an open, loving willingness to connect to your feelings and share the experience. I felt like an energetic, excited kid relishing in (therapy) mums attention and love. I felt like she was enjoying me tonight… that’s a new feeling.

I have quite a long drive home from my sessions and often that gives me time to reflect in an adult headspace (I have to stay in adult because I’m driving!)… tonight I thought about how the session was metaphorically like taking a holiday from the relentless hamster wheel of in depth therapy. It felt like after months and months of being submerged in the thick black depths of the ocean of my mind, we were coming up for air. Just briefly, together. Glancing at each other across the surface of the water, smiling at how far we’ve come, how attached and connected we are, before plunging again into the great unknown.

I reflected on how I never shared this carefree joy with my mother and although there’s a slight sadness there for the child who missed out on this, there’s also a sadness for my mother. I at least have experienced these joys in other relationships, I’m not sure she ever has.

Lastly, when I got home, I reflected on how this joyful interlude can be in some way transplanted into my ‘real life’ relationships. I thought about how my husband and I get so bogged down by family life sometimes, the mess and the constant daily chores, the nagging and the exhaustion. I thought about how once in a while we should allow our playful, joyful sides up for air – to laugh at these things as they are happening… the ridiculousness of life with young kids. To let the genuine, restorative love we have for each other spark a humorous interlude once in a while. Take a holiday from being ‘serious mum and dad’ and just laugh.

What a total joy it was to share this moment with Anna. To feel her accepting me and all that I bring to her, even if it’s not the most exciting, interesting ‘trauma’ she can sink her teeth into… I brought her raw, real connection and she gave me her authentic responses in return and that is what therapy is all about.

Hugging her at the end felt different to all the other times. I was completely grounded, no blurred edges, no floating, no dissociation. I felt my arms around her back, felt the fabric of her top rucked beneath my palms. I rested my face on her shoulder, smelt her perfume, felt her arms round me, felt her breathing against me. She said again, ‘it was so lovely to laugh with you,’ as she held me, and I felt it.