[This post is written as if addressed to my therapist, and is on the subject of the notes of my ex-therapist, Jane, which I recently acquired a copy of. I have written about this in Part 1 and Part 2 of my post ‘This thing that I have done’.]
I know that I present you with different ‘voices’ at different times, both in person and over email; different versions of me, different ages. Do you wonder who you will encounter next; who will walk through the door, or whose words you are reading? Is it easy to tell? Does it make a difference to how you respond? When each ‘age’ and state of maturity is likely to interpret things differently, do you target what you say to different aspects of me, or tailor responses to ‘suit the mood’? Or do you just hope that each aspect of myself, each ‘age’ I might be feeling, takes what it needs the most, or reacts in whatever way is at the fore and will be most illuminating for therapy? Maybe I’m over-thinking how therapy works – it wouldn’t be the first or hundredth time. I’m just amazed and grateful for the way in which we left things before the Easter break. A state I could not have predicted, and which even a week or two before I would not have thought possible.
It started with you triggering the teenager when you dared to suggest that she may have been distracted in session. A few minutes before session’s end I mentioned that I had not yet brought out Jane’s notes, which I had been carrying around in my bag. You wondered why I had left it so late to mention it, and whether perhaps the notes had been on my mind the whole time. As I drove home, the wounded teenager whipped herself up into a small storm of indignation, bristling at the ‘accusation’ that she had not been paying attention; resenting the lack of faith in her commitment to therapy. As far as she was aware this was not the case, and in typical fashion she fired off a couple of impulsive emails to you to say so. When I got home I took the notes out of the bag and began to carelessly leaf through the pages; I was trying not to read them but she was almost daring the words to jump out at her and form sentences. She really wanted to read them as an act of defiance, as a way of showing you how cross she was; as a way of showing you the consequences of your lack of faith, and as a way of ‘living down’ to your expectations.
I wish I could say that it was adult sense that prevailed and made me put the notes away. There were many, many good and valid reasons why reading the notes at that point would have been neither wise nor well-motivated. But what held me back was not adult reason but a child’s enormous desire not to be cheated of something she desperately wanted.
I often find the thoughts I have when in lying in bed either just before going to sleep or just after waking up, to be illuminating and helpful. They flow freely, uncensored, unexpected – closer to free association than I can get at other times. They show me things I may not have realised. When I crawled into bed after I put the notes away, it was with a feeling of immense sadness and a single sentence repeatedly going through my mind: “Mummy, I really want to share this with you – I don’t want to do this alone”.
I was aware of feeling very young; but I was also surprised at the words in my head. I often think of you as ‘mother’, but until that point I had never verbalised that feeling, even internally, as ‘mummy’. I realised that what I was connecting with were feelings from when I was actually young, even though I couldn’t remember them; but I also knew that in that moment you were the subject of ‘mummy’, just as much as my actual mother was.
It was so difficult to speak the word ‘mummy’ out loud to you at our next session. And I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t mentioned it to you, though I know it’s pointless to speculate. I wonder whether you saw an opportunity in what I told you, to make a connection; or whether what unfolded simply unfolded in the way that relationships do, from moment to moment. And what unfolded was surprising, moving, joyful, and very powerful.
It was with apprehension that I asked whether you would look after Jane’s notes for me – I didn’t want to put you in the difficult position of having to refuse, knowing that to do so would hurt me. In offering you the notes I wanted to remove the temptation and the opportunity for self-sabotage, and I also wanted to prove to you that notes were in no way meant to be a ‘substitute’ for you during the therapy break (another possibility you had mentioned). It was with even more apprehension that I asked whether we could at some point look at the notes together during session. Since that night when the child wrested from the teenager the possibility of sharing this experience with you, I had realised just how strongly I wanted this to be something that we did together, and how important that felt to me.
You were happy to look after the notes until I was ready to look at them with you – with you. You agreed that this was something we could do together; that you would support me in this, if it was what I chose to do. And you seemed determined that if we did this, it was on the basis that it was part of our work, something that we shared and something for us. And therefore that meant that I should stop thinking of it as something ‘disapproved of’, ‘forbidden’, or ‘out of bounds’. I think you meant to imply that you would not be complicit in a misplaced attempt to seek connection through a familiar process of rupture and repair in which I feel I’ve done ‘the wrong thing’ and then seek your forgiveness for the imagined wrong. I think you meant to imply that this would be an explicitly joint endeavour to uncover meaning and to understand something better, and you really seemed to appreciate the importance of me not ‘going it alone’.
It’s difficult to describe how that made me feel. ‘Happy’ doesn’t adequately capture the deep joy of the feeling; yet considering that I can barely remember any longer, what it feels like to be happy, it is a significant word to use. I felt happy – and I hope you saw me smile. I hope you realised it was you who put that smile there, and why. That sense of joy lasted beyond that session and into the next one, where it was reinforced by your continued use of ‘connecting’ language – phrases that seemed to bind us together even more.
Suddenly the notes themselves, and their contents, seemed much less important. Their significance and the desire to read them, were completely eclipsed by the fact that you were willing to make them a shared experience. I still don’t know how you really feel about me reading the notes – whether you have reservations, whether you believe that it would be better if I didn’t read them, whether you feel I would learn more by being able to let go. But knowing that you are prepared to support me and share this with me, despite any reservations you might have, is an incredibly powerful experience. An incredibly joyful experience. An experience that spoke straight to the child who addressed you as ‘mummy’ and was desperate to share her experiences with you and to have you by her side. But also an experience that spoke to the teenager and to the adult too, both of whom have grown up believing that there are some thoughts, actions, and ways of being, that will never be acceptable or supported, and that ‘sharing’ experiences more often doubles, rather than halves, the difficulties.
Did you know what impact your words and attitude would have, and how powerful they would be? Was it as surprising to you, as it was to me? It shouldn’t be a surprise to me that you continue to surprise me – it is one of the many things that I enjoy about our relationship. But I am surprised at the wonderfully good timing of this moment – because it is carrying me through this therapy break with a sense of security, caring, and of a strong connection, despite your absence. And so much more feels possible, when those things are in place. The ability to maintain self-awareness and to challenge negative thoughts; the ability to recover from difficulties in other relationships, and make attempts at mending; the strength to sit with difficult emotions such as a huge sense of missing you, and to wait rather than try to fill the neediness with something else.
I don’t know what I will decide to do about the notes. But I know that if and when I read them, it will be with you, and it will be an intimate and connecting experience. But I’m in no rush – knowing that you accept, that you are with me, and that we are ‘in this together’, is all the intimate and connecting experience that I need right now, and I am grateful for it. I was so worried that the notes might somehow intrude into our therapy or undermine it – but now it feels that their chief value and purpose will be in being a shared endeavour, should the time and place (in therapeutic terms) ever be right. Thank you for a wonderful ‘gift’ going into the therapy break and for listening and responding to the voices that I was bringing you, and to the selves that needed to heal.