A lapse, and another: triggered by childhood memories I couldn’t shake that escalated into extreme anxiety. I needed my therapist to magically fill the space between therapist and mother. Let me explain:
I was frequently the teacher’s pet. From third grade on, I could be found in my teacher’s classroom helping her with whatever task she was willing to give me. I could have been doing several other things during that time but I loved staying after and getting one-on-one attention. This opportunity was partly by design–my mother was a teacher at the same elementary school so I didn’t ride the bus home. On days when my teacher, or even other teachers, had other things to do, I played on the playground, went to the after-school program, or hung out in my mother’s classroom. But I felt sad when I couldn’t hang out with my teacher. I remember this the most vividly in third and fourth grade, and then again in seventh and eighth. In high school, this teachers pet behavior continued but on a lesser level since I was occupied with after-school sports in every single season. It came to an abrupt halt when we moved my junior year. I never reached out to any teachers or coaches my junior and senior year.
My mother would say she spent a lot of time with me. The fact is that she did. We occupied the same space a lot. But she wasn’t usually present. And I could feel it even though I didn’t understand it. I needed her to be present and because she wasn’t, I pined for that attention elsewhere. I made some very strong relationships through reaching out like that, a few of which still distantly stand today.
My therapist takes this role for little-me (and adult-me) now. This week, I’ve felt sad and angry every time my emotions got big and I couldn’t be with her. I felt rejected when she seemed so far away. It felt like when I would leave the room crying as a child, and no one would come after me and I would fall asleep crying, feeling lonely, unloved, and unworthy.
Of course these thoughts flooded my mind: I shouldn’t feel like this. I am a grown woman with my own children to take care of. I’m being ridiculous. And guilt and shame swooped in. Isolation feels better than sitting with childhood grief or past and present hurt. That’s when The Shut Down took over. That’s when the Eating Disorder said, I’ve got it from here.
I became extremely angry for letting myself feel loved by my therapist, and feeling like I could count on her in a similar way one might rely on their mother. I needed to hear her voice when I texted my lapse(s). I needed to actually hear that she wasn’t rejecting me, and that after fucking up, and running off to be alone, she would come. She would meet me where I’m at with gentle words. She would offer hugs and let me cry. Of course I didn’t directly ask for any of that. I wanted it to be intuitive, as if I was worth enough that she would know her “daughter” needed her “mother.”
When I realized I couldn’t directly ask, and it wasn’t happening, I immediately wanted to quit therapy altogether. I felt ashamed for having this expectation: you idiot, she has her own life. And the only way I felt I could stop feeling unjustifiably hurt, was to shut her out.
All of this feels very much like a stubborn emotional teenager. Which brings up embarrassment, because feeling like a teenager or even a toddler throwing a fit, feels highly uncomfortable and inappropriate.
I am so lucky and grateful to have the most amazing therapist. I recognize that even in emotional turmoil over the relationship. The distant feeling (whether real or made-up) is so painful though, the only way I know how to function through it is with my eating disorder leading the way.