I finished IOP (intensive outpatient therapy) last night. It was so hard but also very worth it. I learned so much about myself and how to be a mentally and emotionally healthier person. There were lots of gentle lessons but also a lot of brutal ones, too. They dragged up some serious shit into the sunlight that had been buried in darkness for a long time — shit I thought I was done with but had actually just stopped talking about. That was a wake-up call.
During my time there, I only met with my therapist a few times. I could only handle so much self-examination in a compressed period. When I saw her last week, she said something like, “Now that you’re finishing up IOP, let’s spend some time thinking about how to move forward and what you want out of your therapy.” Okay. Easier said than done, but okay. So I gave it some thought over the past week and realized that the reason why therapy felt stalled was not because of anything she did or didn’t do, but because of what I am and am not doing. I’m hiding behind humor and shallow subjects and putting on a show that I’m fine (this is called masking), but a lot of the time I’m not fine. And I hide it. And I need to do some soul-searching to figure out why.
I saw my therapist again tonight and she ambushed me with the question again with five minutes left in the session. I got flustered and babbled on about how I need to stop masking and be more honest with her about things and she said, “Yes, I feel like [XYZ] happens and you don’t talk about it until it’s at a crisis level, and we try to figure out why it happens and get it under control, and then you seem fine and then it happens again. We’re stuck in a dynamic that isn’t working and I just wonder if this is pointless for you.”
Is…is she thinking about breaking up with me?
I cried on the way home. I was in a panic. But then I texted a good friend and we talked it out. I didn’t express myself well in the moment with my therapist, but I know what I need to do.
I need to stop being so afraid of shame.
I can barely even type or say the word. Shame. That awful feeling of humiliation and distress and crippling self-judgment. It’s beyond horrible. But the truth is that some of the things I need to talk about make me feel ashamed, and I run from that feeling like my hair’s on fire. I will talk about literally anything else to avoid discussing something that makes me feel shame. While it’s true that shame can be toxic and self-destructive (god, we can be so hard on ourselves when we’re ashamed) it also potentially signals a need for growth and change. Hate feeling ashamed of a certain behavior? Maybe it’s time to search for another way to behave, ya know?
I also need to work on vulnerability, which is tied to what I just said. Admitting to being ashamed or embarrassed means feeling incredibly exposed, and that’s scary. I trust my therapist probably more than anyone else in my life, and I’ve always thought that I’m totally open with her, but now that I really think about it, I still find myself thinking, “Not gonna talk about that because I might cry, and what if I can’t stop?” When, honestly, who cares if I can’t stop? Who cares if I sob through the whole 50 minutes and go through an entire box of kleenex? Apparently I care, and I need to work on that. I need to let go and just cry and swear and struggle out loud. Sometimes my relationship with my therapist feels like we’re just a couple of girlfriends, and I don’t need that. I have plenty of girlfriends. I need a therapist. And that’s something that both she and I have to work on, I think.
When she said, “I just wonder if this is pointless for you,” it scared the shit out of me. Just the tiniest implication that I could potentially not see her anymore made me freeze with my cup of tea halfway up to my mouth. I felt sick to my stomach. Is that a sign that it’s time to step up and make it real and honest and anything but pointless? Is this a sign she was trying to make me see? I think so. Because otherwise, what am I doing? If I’m not going to sit on that couch and be open and vulnerable and thoughtful, why sit on it at all? So I need to be willing to talk about all of it. The shame. The fear. The doubt. The pride. The love.