The retreat I wrote about in earlier posts has been a big deal for me. In some ways, I feel it was a giant emotional step forward. That doesn’t mean everything’s solved and clear and happy now (wouldn’t that be nice). It just means in the long slow therapeutic process of healing, I feel like I may have jumped ahead a couple of months.
So what does that mean, you might wonder. Probably a lot of things, in fact, but for today I’m focusing on two changes that stand out to me.
More open with my husband. He was curious, but not pushy, about the retreat. So I started telling him about it much as I wrote about it: this is how it started, this is what I thought at first, this is what I worried about.
When it got to the point of talking about the story I shared with the group, I realized that I had just shared a painful and intimate story with five other women I’d just met. If I could do that, surely I could share it with the man I’ve lived with for so many years, right? He’s the one person I am always sure about, who respects me and loves me and has been astonishingly patient throughout my depression. So before I could talk myself out of it, I read him the same story, all of it, no editing things out.
His initial reaction kind of disappointed me, “How could he do that? What kind of man was he? How could he think he had the right?”
I mean, I have asked those questions myself, plenty of times. Asking them is a logical reaction to the story. But the things is, I felt so exposed, reading him that story. I didn’t want him to think about that old colleague of my dad’s. I wanted him to think about me, about how I was feeling.
I can’t recall now what I said, exactly, but very quickly, he saw what was wrong, and he stopped talking about Lee. Instead, he shifted to “how terrible that must have felt to you” and “no wonder you’ve struggled; you’ve had such a lot to deal with.” Simple words, but they made me feel heard. They made me feel he gets it.
He said he would have wanted to protect me. He said he still wants to protect me. There was a sweetness in hearing that, and at the same time something strange. So I told him, “Well, I’m grown-up now, and so of course I don’t need protecting in the same way. I can do that in a way I couldn’t when I was young. But you know what? I love that instinct that makes you want to protect me. I love that you value me and want me to be safe and well.”
This is a level of emotional authenticity and vulnerability I’ve seldom been able to tolerate with anyone, even him. I’ve found it very hard to share with him
my shameful secrets my stories of abuse experience. I feel grateful that the retreat moved me in this direction–and what’s especially touching is that he feels grateful, too. Sometimes I think: how can this man love me like this? Other times I think: don’t worry about it; just soak it in.
Bolder with my therapist. If you’ve read more than a post or two from my blog, you know by now that I have a very experienced, skilled and compassionate therapist. E pushed me a lot at the retreat, and I know it was a good thing. But a few days later, something about it wasn’t feeling right to me. I felt squirmy, defensive, even a little (dare I say it?) angry.
I saw her the day after the retreat, for our regular Monday session. I brought up that she had pushed me a lot on Saturday, in a way I wasn’t used to and that differed from how she was with the other five women there.
“I just wanted you to speak your truth at the moment,” she said. “If you were in my group therapy, you’d be more familiar with that. In individual therapy, I don’t use exactly that same approach, but we get at it in other ways.”
I went home that evening, and it still didn’t feel right. I texted her:
You were much pushier with me on Saturday night than you really acknowledged today in therapy. It was more than “speak your truth at this moment.” It was pushing me to go past “I can’t find my emotions here.”
I’m not mad. I’m saying my reality does not match the way you described it today. And I’m wondering if you were unaware of that or if you kind of understated it in session today.
I don’t know why, but it feels important to me for you to know what it felt like.
I was pushing, indeed. The push was for you to speak the truth–either I will or I won’t allow myself to feel my feelings.
It felt like I was up on the high dive and you were blocking the ladder so I couldn’t climb back down. I think I am both very happy about the and still shocked and shaken.
Yes, good analogy. You can jump, I know. I’ve seen you swim, so I knew there was no real danger. I want you to get past your old stories of “can’t” I would have let you come down the ladder, certainly. But while you were up there, with so much support, I wanted you to jump and trust you will survive. You did–you jumped.
I was glad to see you crack that door open (mixing metaphors).
I don’t want to push you off the high dive, but I did make coming down the ladder a bit hard to do. Do you still trust me?
Yes… and I would like us to negotiate some rules about pushing. Then when I feel okay with the rules, I want you to push more. Do you think we could do this?
I certainly do. We’ll figure it out. I absolutely do not want to have you feel controlled by my suggestions or directives. Let’s keep talking about this.
You’re the best.
Aww shucks. It really matters to me that you feel your power. Hep me know how to walk this line.
Hope you have a great night and a good night’s sleep.
(Yes, I was overcompensating with the “You’re the best,” but in the moment, I felt so grateful that she wasn’t defensive, that she accepted and even welcomed my efforts to set some limits.)
When I saw her again on Wednesday, one of the first things she said was, “Shall we talk about me pushing you? That feels important.”
With some stumbling around, I was able to say something like this: “When you started with the pushy questioning and with telling me to say things to the other women, while looking deeply in their eyes, I didn’t know what you were doing. I wasn’t familiar with this approach. I am used to you being much softer, and suddenly you were very firm. This threw me off balance. What was happening? And I did what I always did in the past. I didn’t challenge you. I didn’t ask questions. I just went along with it.”
“You didn’t hurt me,” I went on. “You weren’t trying to, and you didn’t. So I know it wasn’t like my past experiences. But still, something about the approach feels off. It feels too much like earlier situations where someone just told me what to do or did something, and I wasn’t given a choice, and I didn’t know what to do, so I just went along with it.”
She didn’t get defensive. I mean, she could have said, “well, you should have protested,” though of course at the time, it didn’t occur to me. She could have said, “you know me better than to worry I’d do anything to threaten your well-being,” and I do know that. But he didn’t. She just accepted that this felt wrong to me.
In the end we agreed that if there is a similar occasion in the future, instead of launching into something new with no warning, she’ll ask me, “Do you want to try an experiment?” And she’ll make it clear that I can stop things whenever I need to or want to.
At first I felt I’d just advocated for myself, wow, great! But doubts kicked in before bedtime that evening.
It is strange and kind of unnerving to come and say to you, maybe this thing you did, with good intent, and even with good outcome, still had a component that makes me uncomfortable. I’m glad in a way to see that and speak up. But I’m also worried about alienating you. Are we okay? Are you upset?
I’m good. I like your care for yourself.
I might ask you a couple more times, because I still feel uneasy.
Ask away. I’ll answer honestly. Just want you to know I’m okay with it.
And overall, we are okay. I do feel a little more distance between us since then, but it’s not terrible. I recognize it might be my imagination. It might be true, and it could have to do with what I said, or with the fact she has a good friend who is dying, or the ebb and flow of other things in both our lives. I am trying not to read too much into it. I do believe she wants me to speak up.
The retreat was less than 48 hours altogether. Isn’t it amazing to have so much happen in so little time? I’m still in turning it over and over in my mind, still surprised at what came from those two days.