Part of the challenge of therapy, for me, is consistently finding myself in a place of having identified an obstacle but not yet having the tools to address it (I don’t say “fix” because that implies that I’m broken).
For example, one of the predominant themes that comes up for me in therapy is how hard it is for me to ask for what I want or to express my feelings in the moment.
(This is different than being opinionated, which I have no shortage of…)
My challenge is when it’s relational, when it’s about my emotions and desires, when it’s about feeling like I deserve to even ask for what I want.
So, during Monday’s session, this theme came up again, and another layer was revealed: that it’s not so much a fear of rejection but a fear of being dismissed or thought of as silly or stupid for even asking.
Ok, aha moment! Right? I am now empowered and changed!
After my session, J and I took Sequoia down to the beach on his long lead. Sequoia is learning how to be less of an asshole—he can be super reactive towards other dogs especially, so when a sweet white dog came lumbering over, there was a lot of commotion and trying to balance Sequoia saying hello with pulling him away if he was getting to aggressive with communicating with the owner and her apologizing, and leashes getting tangled. I heard my name a few times, and I felt my body freeze.
And then, instead of communicating with J that him giving me vague instruction or feedback in the middle of a stressful moment is not the way that I will respond well, I shut down. I didn’t feel like talking, or laughing, or letting go. I wasn’t ruminating, exactly, nor was I consciously giving the silent treatment. I felt about eight years old and scared that I was acting silly for letting this bother me, that J was only trying to help, that it’s my issue that I need to just get over.
And to make matters worse, I was absolutely aware of the irony that the very thing I had discussed in therapy was happening in real-time, in real life, and I was still my old powerless self.
In this pandemic, inequitable, political world, we are all overloaded with problems we can identify and then feel helpless to solve. Sometimes that means shutting down, sometimes that means trying something that just doesn’t work, sometimes that means yelling at someone who doesn’t agree with you.
In therapy, and through practice, I’m working on getting the right tools. I find them in hidden parts of my brain and heart, I dust them off and polish them and oil the sticky bits and put them into my tool box.
Some of them I know how to use well. Some of them I’ve just found and can’t identify, like some artifact from 200 years ago that could be a doctor’s instrument or a torture device or a woodworking tool.
Right now, the tools I have collected are a mismatched set, and not always the combination I need for the job at hand.
I have enough tools that sometimes I think, “Oh I’ve totally got this,” and then when I can’t figure out how to use them, I want to just kick over the toolbox and curse the hammer for not being a wrench.
What I need to do is, yes be angry and perhaps disappointed, and then go about trying to find a damn wrench instead of pouting that the hammer isn’t a wrench, and oh my life is terrible because everyone else has a wrench except for me, and it’s not fair because I have all these other tools why aren’t they working, and maybe there aren’t any wrenches left because I don’t have one.
So what to do until I have a wrench? I can MacGyver my way to a stopgap solution with my other tools, knowing the structure may not be sound but will tide me over as I continue my search for a wrench. I can look at that obstacle and realize it’s not mine to solve, not yet, until I have a wrench. And maybe I’ll never get a wrench, in which case I need to learn to adapt instead of closing my eyes tight like a child playing hide and seek, if I can’t see the obstacle then it can’t exist.
And, sometimes it’s possible to be an alchemist and divine the tool by pretending I already have it. I can practice in safe places, with safe people, swallow the lump in my throat and speak over the beating in my chest, and build the wrench out of my words and actions.
If you appreciated reading this, will you do me a favor? Please share on social media (especially FB and Twitter, tag @bankoferin) and help me grow my reader base. xoxo