Or, ‘The resolution to the tale of this thing that I have done’
Almost three years ago, in March 2016, I wrote a series of posts called: ‘This thing that I have done – Part 1’; ‘This thing that I have done – Part 2’; and ‘A twist in the tale of this thing that I have done’. They were about the fact that I had obtained a copy of the notes of my sessions with my ex-therapist Jane, just before the service through which I had seen her, was due to shred them.
My therapist and I spent a number of sessions discussing what might lie behind my decision to obtain a copy of the notes, what meaning it might carry, and how I should come to a decision about whether or not to read the notes. Jane and I only saw each other for fifteen sessions, as the counselling service she worked for only offered short term therapy. Though I tried to enter private therapy with her a few months later, she decided to take early retirement for health and family reasons, and the hope of seeing her again, never came to pass. In a number of different ways, therefore, our work together was artificially constrained and cut short, in ways that perhaps neither of us would have chosen, and some of which we could not have foreseen.
Obtaining the notes was a way of exercising control over this particular ‘ending’ in a way that I couldn’t over previous endings. It was a way of guarding against the spectre of regret if I didn’t ‘save’ the notes and could never read them, and against the fear that I would lose my memories of Jane and our sessions, in the course of time. The notes held the possibility of gaining a glimpse into her thoughts, and a validation of my struggles. They held the possibility of seeing myself through her eyes, and the hope that she would be the non-distorted mirror that my parents never were.
But I also knew that the notes held the possibility of disappointment; of not finding what I was hoping for, or of finding things that would be hard to understand, difficult to accept, and impossible to go back and query or clarify. I knew that they held not just the possibility, but the likelihood that reading them would do more harm than good. Having taken eighteen months to fully grieve losing Jane, and having reached a state of acceptance and being able to treasure and feel nourished by positive memories, it was difficult to see any way in which reading the notes could add, rather than detract, from that. And yet, the draw towards reading them was very strong. So strong, in fact, that I put the notes in an envelope and gave them to my therapist, asking her to keep them safe for me, until such time as I made a decision about whether or not to read them. That session, when I gave her the notes, was a wonderfully connecting hour – I had a desire, which she seemed to share, that reading the notes should be something that, if we did it, we should do together. That the role of the notes was to be worked out within my therapy and in the context of our relationship, and not outside it.
My therapist didn’t press the point, but I knew that her view was that I didn’t need to read the notes. That my memories of my relationship with Jane, my experience of my sessions with her, was enough, and would sustain me, and would be there for me to call on internally. Even now, my therapist still points out that I put a great deal of emphasis on the external, rather than being nourished by my ‘internal objects’. It reminds me of a section of a podcast I listened to recently by the wonderful ‘This Jungian Life’, on the subject of ‘Slobs’! In a discussion about hoarding, and the value placed on external objects, the point was made that we have the tendency to want to ‘concretise’, and it can be difficult to let things go and to appreciate that there is a space between an object and the feelings that are connected with it – the feelings do not depend on the object for their existence. Jungian analyst Joseph Lee made the point that sometimes we do not have “a confidence in our psyche’s ability to keep us in relationship to the thoughts and memories that accrete around the objects; so we falsely fear that if the object goes away then my feelings and memories that relate to the object will no longer be accessible to me “.
A similar point was made incredibly beautifully and poignantly by blogger ‘Reflections of a Mindful Heart and Soul’ who commented on Part 1 of my series of posts. I will quote parts of her comment here, again, as when reading them back this evening they seemed to encapsulate entirely and truly the nature of my dilemma, in a way that I couldn’t completely understand and certainly wasn’t ready to accept at that time, but see with much greater clarity, now:
“What is true, whether we like it or not, is relationships change. Who we are, and who we are becoming, changes…..Perhaps another question may be: Am I fighting acceptance of what is? If the search is to find out whether or not you were special, what was real or not in the therapeutic relationship, the notes may not tell you that……..If you had a good relationship, remember the good memories. When it is all said and done, what we truly remember years later is the essence of someone and that is what matters. When you are old, good memories do come back on their own when you least expect them to. The task at hand is learning acceptance, not fighting it, and learning to let go of what was and cherish that as well as moving into the present, day by day and to keep learning and growing. It is never easy. Nature teaches us this is the pattern- the seasons come and they go. That doesn’t mean there has to be forgetting. It just means there is only so much we can deal with effectively in the present or enjoy.”
She said of her comment ‘I usually don’t do this [comment at length], but I feel you are at a crossroads in your growth’. She was right – and I think that my positive decision to trust my therapist, to focus on our therapy, and to put aside Jane’s notes at least for a time, was a key turning point and the start of what soon became a period of vital change and insights in my therapy.
I can see now, that my decision to obtain Jane’s notes, and also to postpone reading them, had much more to do with my current therapy, than it had to do with my therapy with Jane. Whatever worries, fears, anxieties, and motivations that I felt I had in relation to the notes and to Jane, they might have been real but they also represented the same set of feelings, but magnified, in relation to my current therapist. And absolutely core to that set of feelings, was the question posed by ‘Reflections’: “Am I fighting acceptance of what is?”
I had another two and a half years of therapy to go before I could truly experience, and not just intellectually be aware of, the answer to that question. Two and a half years of fighting acceptance of what is. And then a serious act of sabotage to the therapeutic relationship in the middle of a period of important dreams and active imaginations, propelled me into a period of hard but rewarding work, and significant realisations. As described in ‘Therapy, choice, and our internal fight’, I realized that:
“Every time I choose to confront the part of me that wants to stay stuck, every time I make conscious efforts to feel better rather than accepting my place in the pit of despair and closing my mind off to other possibilities – I am actively accepting, all over again, the inevitable truth that I am changing and that therapy will end. “
And I also realized, as described in ‘Resistance in therapy – facing the dark parts of the shadow’, that:
“Ultimately, radical acceptance of reality as it is, is what’s left when my Resistance fades away”.
Two and half years is a long time, but I’m learning that working with the subconscious is a tricky and time-consuming business, and it is not just the conscious parts of my personality that can be stubborn! I need no more evidence of the incredible power of the subconscious, than the fact that the act of sabotage to my therapy that I mentioned, took place just hours after I came to a very important decision – the decision, finally, two and half years later, to ask my therapist to shred Jane’s notes, without me reading them. I realized that I had reached the point where I could trust in my memories of Jane, and what I carried of her, within me. I could trust my internal sense of the relationship I had had with her, and that was enough for me. I had reached the point where I could see clearly that what we experienced together in our sessions, was what was ultimately real, and was what constituted our relationship. What we created between us was the only reality that mattered and that could meaningful for me, and I was finally able to let go of the possibilities (both for good and for ill) that I used to think were contained within the notes.
Dimly, at the back of my mind, I was aware that there was an important lesson in there that I could transfer to my current therapeutic relationship. In the back of my mind I knew that this decision had come about not because of anything to do with Jane, but because of progress within my current therapy. In the back of my mind was a realization that the reality and significance of my therapeutic relationship lay in mine and my therapist’s direct experiences of each other, and that I needed nothing outside of this to confirm the reality and significance of that relationship, either now or in the future. But I didn’t consciously reach for that lesson, and I didn’t bring that realization into my awareness. And hours later I found myself, for the first time in eighteen months, engaged in a serious act of internet sleuthing as regards my therapist. A serious act of looking for something outside my direct experience of the relationship, to make it somehow more real, and longer lasting. A last-ditch attempt by my subconscious either to subvert the realization, or, if one were to be charitable to it, to hasten its awareness. Though in the past I have fought my therapist’s emphasis on the powerful agency of my subconscious, this time I had absolutely no doubt of its role in this incident, and in the connection of those two events – my decision to let go of Jane’s notes, and my subversion of the equivalent path with regard to my therapy.
When I did finally step onto that path, and when I did finally transfer that lesson, this is what I became aware of, and it bears a striking resemblance to what ‘Reflections of a Mindful Heart and Soul’ wrote to me, two and half years ago:
“It seems to me now that I can choose to focus either on being, or on remembering, but I cannot give equal attention to both. My heart has to be turned toward one or the other. The more I focus on gathering memories, the less I focus on immediate relating, and the less I’m able to internalise her. Ultimately, my deepest desire is for the therapy and the relationship to be something that I am, not just something I remember. And for that I need to accept that the remembering may consist primarily in seeing her and hearing her in who and what I am becoming, knowing that what I’m seeing is her influence, and what I’m hearing is her voice, woven into my thoughts.”
I told my therapist I would like to destroy Jane’s notes, that I was ready to let them go. She asked if I wanted to do it, and I said that I was happy for her to shred them. She said they would go on her compost heap along with all her other shredded paper – I think that’s a rather fitting end for them, considering plants and gardens are an important point of connection between us, and my therapist often uses garden related metaphors in our work. I like the idea of Jane’s shredded notes, eventually helping my therapist’s garden to grow! My work with Jane was the starting point and catalyst for my current therapeutic work, and she was also the one who referred me on to my therapist.
A number of readers and bloggers said at the time, that they were interested in how the tale of this thing that I had done, would eventually turn out, and that they were contemplating a similar course of action, or were caught in a similar dilemma. If any of them are still reading, I’m sorry it’s taken this long to come to a resolution! But I also hope this resolution is an encouragement – an encouragement to look within and beyond the immediate desire to take a course of action, and an encouragement to wait until you reach your own conviction, however long that may be. And an encouragement I hope, that however scary it may be, to quote ‘Reflections’, “Who we are, and who we are becoming, changes”.
January 6, 2019 at 12:06 am
Thank you very much for this!
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January 18, 2019 at 5:05 pm
Glad you liked it, thank you! 🙂
January 6, 2019 at 12:19 am
Love and light
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January 18, 2019 at 5:04 pm
🙂 thank you!
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January 6, 2019 at 12:34 am
Dear Clara: This is so clear. I am here, now. Thank you. TS
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January 18, 2019 at 5:05 pm
Thank you so much….
January 6, 2019 at 4:57 am
Life in a Bind, I see incredible strength in your writings – particularly this one! Not only are you an incredibly great writer, but you have strengths you may not even realize. Apart from the radical acceptance that you have experienced, there is a strength in your struggle to truly embrace the fact that you care about the longevity of relationships, and how hard it is to detach when such relationships were short-lived. Most people nonchalantly move on, and I most certainly am prone to leave before the going gets tough – as if I’m embarking on a new life and forgetting the old. Whereas forgetting is something I embrace, it seems that forgetting is something that you fear – perhaps (correct me if I’m wrong here). It’s easy for me to sever than it is for me to stay, and it’s harder for me to admit that I want longevity in relationships. For you, that strength is there – your heart and desires are evident. For me, I’m still trying to discover what exactly it is that my heart wants. Although you may struggle with the need to maintain long-term relationships, the fact that you are capable of having the feeling of desire for that is so much more a strength than a hindrance – at least in my eyes. I have the opposite problem sometimes (not all times), and I’ve learned to detach quickly and completely, forgetting the true beauty of relationships and longevity in them. You have that gift, and when you do find longevity in what I hope for you would be with many different people who are able to reciprocate the love you desire and/or express, I hope you are able to understand your own strengths despite any given mental health disorder. I believe in positive psychology, and I believe that every single disorder deserves the best treatment for that disorder or for a group of disorders, if more than one should coexist. It sounds like your shredding was a powerful step in the right direction, and that the hardship involved with shredding demonstrated your ability to feel emotions that most people take for granted. The relationship seemed to mean something valuable and important to you – on many levels, perhaps levels that were beyond therapeutic expectations. The fact that you found value in that could be seen as both a strength and a weakness; if you obsess too far, you tap into the realm of overstepping boundaries, but if you embrace your strength in being able to feel that about someone, then you have the potential of using that kind of strength to find people without such strict boundary parameters – such as that with friends, a significant other, or safe family members. When experiencing loss of any kind, there’s this fear that nothing else would be as great as the thing we had lost – but that is furthest from the truth. We can be grateful for having something good in our lives, even though it was short-lived, but we can also look forward to similar or even better things, if our minds and hearts are set on that. Better things in the future doesn’t negate the good things of the past; on the contrary, better things in the future build on the good things of the past – and those good things have always stemmed from your strengths, not your weaknesses. You played a role in any good relationship, as did the other person; those are strengths that each individual offers to a given dyad, and those are strengths that are carried to other relationships outside of that dyad and onto others. If you differentiate yourself from the goodness that they saw in you and, instead, see the goodness you brought to the table, then you will find that you were merely learning and identifying something that was already inside of you; it always has been you, but it takes even more strength to differentiate ourselves from others. If you differentiate yourself from that good, then you can see both your own personal individual strength in that relationship and the other’s personal individual strength, and you can differentiate between the two. Once differentiated, you will find that those same strengths offered there can be the same strengths you build on, improve, grow from, and offer many others. When people learn earlier in childhood that their strength only matters from the approval of their parents, then they learn as adults that their strength or goodness is only as good as the reflection of the therapist’s mirror; that’s far from the truth. The therapist’s mirror is a reflection of YOU – not an undifferentiated reflection of the dyadic relationship between therapist and client, and not a reflection solely of the therapist’s kind words; the mirror is you, and the mirror is there with or without the therapist. When you can finally see that you have the strength to lift up your own mirror, then grieving may become easier to embrace, and moving forward can be something positive. I wish I had your strengths to be able to desire what you do, or to find the romanticism and beauty in letting go. My strengths may differ, but I admire you for your strengths. I just wanted to emphasize that above and over any of the struggles you have faced because I feel you deserve to hear something positive about the positives in you. Even if you don’t see your mirror, I see you and your ability to hold your mirror and truly embrace (if not now, one day) the beautiful person reflected back.
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January 6, 2019 at 11:24 pm
Thank you for sharing your journey.
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January 18, 2019 at 5:04 pm
Thank you for your ongoing support 🙂
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