Therapy is a mysterious process – more an art than a science. Full of twists and turns, blind alleys and mountaintops, dark pit and revelations. Sometimes change is incremental; progress happens by stealth. At other times there are massive strides, great leaps forward all in one go.
And sometimes the ground shifts right under your feet and you’re looking at a new landscape –or at the same landscape, in a different way. A therapeutic paradigm shift.
When I said last week that I was struggling to write, it wasn’t because I was feeling particularly unwell. I was struggling because I simply could not keep up with everything that was going on inside. I didn’t have a hope of giving it all expression, let alone coherence. I didn’t really understand how it had all come about, but since just before the Easter break, things have felt different. Things have been different. It seems as though it started with the wonderful session before the break when my therapist connected with the different parts of me, including the ‘child part’, in the one conversation, in a very powerful way.
In some ways, every change that I have noticed over the last four to six weeks deserves a post. Maybe one day – but right now, things are still developing, still changing, and I need to stay with it and move forward, rather than capture what’s happened. It’s as though I suddenly woke up one morning and realised that it feels okay when my therapist doesn’t understand me or forgets something I have told her, because I know that says nothing about how she feels about me; or that when she questions me or my motives it’s not because she’s being critical but because she’s trying to help me explore something and understand myself better; or that I no longer hate my inner child, despite the strength of my previous feelings against her. That last one is a big one – I’ve gone from wanting to ‘eliminate her’ to having conversations with her. And those examples are just some of the things I have realised (or realised that I’d internalised), over the last few weeks.
One of the forms the paradigm shift came in, was a new sense of commitment. I have always insisted to my therapist, including when she spoke about my ‘resistance’, that I was committed to the process. I was committed, in the way in which I understood the term. I always prioritised therapy, I tried to push myself to talk, to trust, to be open, to let change happen. I was committed – but was I all in? No.
I was committed to taking part and to trying to change, but on my terms and in my ways, and worse of all (though I didn’t realise it), on my own. Every-time there was a roadblock, a problem – I pushed away and tried to figure it out alone. And if I came up against wrong turns and dead ends, I blamed them and retreated, or tried to break through them with a sledgehammer. A couple of weeks ago when I felt as though I was repeatedly getting ‘knocked back’ because there was something I wanted in therapy that I didn’t feel I was getting, I sent my therapist this picture of a maze, to show her how I felt.
But being ‘all in’ means accepting that I have someone with whom to navigate the maze and share the headache of bumping up against brick walls, as well as the satisfaction of making progress, and the companionship of the journey. Being ‘all in’ feels like another level of trust, and openness and vulnerability, but without fear. Or rather, braving the vulnerability, even when there is fear, because the trust is there. On the one hand being ‘all in’ feels like being free – on the other hand it feels like wanting to draw a circle around me and my therapist to tightly circumscribe us; like wanting to build a blanket fort with her and disappear beneath it to do our work, letting no one in or out. It feels strongly as though the next phase of the work is for us, only us, together, and that is a big part of why I’m struggling to write.
Since feeling ‘all in’, I have had some wonderful moments of happiness. And also some intense moments of pain. Because here’s the paradoxical thing about being ‘all in’; you can’t actually be all in, and enjoy everything that involves, without at the same time accepting that ‘all in’ leads eventually to being ‘all out’ – to growing up and ‘moving out’ of that warm and secure blanket fort, and to making your own way in the world.