letters to my therapist

damage control

Eje Gustafsson

I sometimes send my therapist links to my blogs via e-mail. We have an agreement: I’m allowed to send them if she’s allowed to not read them.

I always hope she’ll read them, but I don’t expect her to. She gives me her full attention during the hour I pay for each week. I don’t have a right to expect more. But one can always hope for more! My therapist is very generous. And that makes for some confusion on my end, but I wouldn’t trade it for more clarity. I appreciate the somewhat flexible boundary, tending towards generosity.

I am always unsure about what’s ok to say and what’s not, with everyone I know, always gauging what’s ok to ask for and what’s too much. So it feels useful to have to keep clarifying and clarifying with my therapist over the blog. Asking for honesty, becoming more honest myself, overcoming the guilt of asking for what I want, and the shame of feeling disappointed when I don’t get it. Some weeks she reads them, some weeks she doesn’t. When I ask her, though, if she’s read something I sent during the week, she seems to feel bad if she hasn’t.

I don’t want her to feel bad! I don’t want her to feel like she has to give me something extra every week. I try not to send them every week, but then every week I think certain ones are important for me to talk about with her. If she doesn’t read them, I tell her about them during the session. I do a LOT of work outside of the therapy hour. And often she does read them, and I love that, and it encourages me to try again. The whole thing is anxiety provoking. But I still want to keep going. She could cut it off at any point. I have to trust her word, that unless she says stop, I am free to send.

I just realized, right now, as I’m writing this, another reason why I am nervous about this. The last man in my life, after we broke up, told me I could write to him as much as I pleased but he wasn’t going to promise to read all of it or to respond. (That was a condition with my therapist too — she didn’t want to have to respond.) So, you know, I’m a prolific writer. I sent letters to my ex after we broke up. But I don’t think it was more than 12 a year, average of one a month. After a while he said he wasn’t going to read anything over one page. I made them shorter. I wished we could have stayed friends, but he rarely wrote back. He had immediately gone into another relationship, but he still said it was ok for me to write. I was working my way through my own feelings about the break up, sharing in writing. I tend to need a lot of time to recover. One day out of the blue I got a cease and desist letter. No explanation, no warning — that letter was the warning. When I wrote back to question him he got a restraining order.

I have experienced a number of surprising cut-offs like this in my life. The first probably was when my father distanced emotionally after I was molested by the neighbor. But there have also been a number of friends who kept saying, it’s ok, it’s ok, and then SLAM — the door closes in my face. I know I’m intense. I like to go into everything. I like to explore all the feelings. I like to push buttons and question motives. People have limits. I get that. I really do. I know I’ve cut off relationships without explanation too, because at the time I was too threatened to even look into what was going on for me, too afraid to be honest with the other person. I mean, even with that last boyfriend, I ended the relationship because I was afraid of sex. He never pressured me, but he was attracted to me. I felt so guilty for always denying him. He was a nice guy, very patient and kind. I thought he deserved someone more available. And I wanted out of the pressure cooker I was in, the constant questioning, will it happen today? Do I want it? Does he? He’s not an ogre. He’s nice to me. Can’t I give it to him? NO.

So was he getting me back for the unexplained break up, with an unexplained cut off of all communication? I’ll never know unless “he comes back to tell me he’s gone.” (Simon and Garfunkel — Cecilia) I mean, unless he ever wants to tell me WHY. I hope he does. I’m so curious! Of course I suspect his new girlfriend had something to do with it. I’m not mad that he wanted me to stop writing. He’s her man now — she has a right to say no more of this. I am mad about the way they did it. Don’t I deserve a phone call, or a polite letter with a little explanation? The guy I broke up with before him wrote to tell me he was getting married. I knew what that meant, and what to do. I wrote him one last letter, wished him well, and then stopped.

Anyway, I’ll have to tell my therapist about all this next week, and once again voice my fear that one day, suddenly, she’ll find that I’m too much for her, and the door will close, sharply, unexpectedly: “No more blog reading — you expect too much.” Or even, “No more therapy — I can’t handle you.”

The e-mail I sent yesterday with links to three recent blogs related to our last session, was in some way I think an effort at damage control. I want to make SURE she’s ok with Sewer and her rage. Here’s what I wrote, if you’re interested. This blog post is getting to be longer than usual. Maybe no one will read this far. Am I boring you? I hope not. But then again, I want to be free to read or not to read your blogs. I don’t expect anyone to read mine. But I’m delighted when they do, even if only one or two. So here’s the whole e-mail:

Dear “Therapist”,

It occurs to me that my blog would make a good training manual for therapists. I mean excerpts from it maybe could be useful. It’s charting an amazing, to me, journey into deeper parts of myself. I don’t think a lot of therapists understand how this shit really works. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s my sense. Anyway, I’m so glad I decided to do the blog, to make a detailed record, not just for myself, but to make it public. A record of progress, of risks, and of “my therapist’s” ability to handle me at key points.

Our last session did not seem like much while it was happening, but as I digest it, I am feeling more and more relieved that SOMEBODY knows about Sewer. I don’t remember letting you talk to her before. I didn’t even remember there WAS a part named Sewer. But I was always dealing with that vicious, cutting anger under the surface. When would it come out next? Who would it cut? What was it about? Why wasn’t I in control of it? Why was it part of gentle little me?

Those dots started to connect yesterday. The constant gauging I spoke of, trying to determine who can handle which parts of me, makes for a lot of social anxiety. But my friends are reading my blog. I don’t have to talk about it, but they know, and now I CAN talk about it if I want to. And the people in my life who don’t want to know don’t read it. And that’s fine. But I have some real and deep friendships. Certain people are following along, able to meet me where I am. I’m hearing that my posts lately are “pretty intense.” Not so many readers. That’s ok too. I still want to write them.

Here are a few of the latest, if you are interested. Please never apologize if you don’t read them! There is no reason you should. I have to overcome a guilty feeling even to send them, as though I am asking for special favors. If I ask you during a session whether you’ve read something I’ve sent you, it’s only because I need to know where to begin our conversation. No is a good answer. I need to be able to trust you to say no.

This blog thing takes a lot of negotiation, but it feels like good negotiation, at least for me. Thanks, thanks, thanks.

Not Myself — Invisible Illness — Medium

Sewer — A Time to Mourn — Medium

Dredging for Freedom — Invisible Illness — Medium

Shawn Thornton — Witch Doctors at the Eye of the Solar Epoch



I’m probably just making it up

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