Another update.

I never saw my therapist.

After confirming date/time and everything, I get a text a few hours later…
Her: how much can you afford for the session?
Me: Is ___ (rate I ALWAYS paid) still okay?
Her: Really need 70. Rent has gone up quite a bit (as if I care?)
Me: I understand. I just can’t honestly afford anything more. I just need a session. If this is possible for you, I’d appreciate it, but if not, I understand.
Her: Wish I could, but I have to pay $20 for the office hour (TMI. I DON’T CARE)‚ĶI’d really love to meet with you. I’m already lowering my fee from _____ an hour. (quotes an insanely high price that she’s NEVER charged anyone as far as I’m concerned)
Me: Okay. Can’t do it. Never mind then.
Her: Sorry ūüė¶

Why did she fucking ask how much I can afford for the session? Why didn’t she just tell me, straight-up, that she had a change in fees, and this was what I needed to pay? Who does this? Unethical therapists who can’t keep boundaries, that’s who does this.

I felt so betrayed. So livid. This all happened on Thursday. Couldn’t even think straight. Take a risk, want to reconcile some unsaid things in therapy, want to process our journey, but no. This happens. And it’s not the money. It’s the PRINCIPLE. I faithfully saw this woman for a year and a half- I was a consistent client and one who she said could always come back. I’m not trying to act like I’m entitled. I recognize that people change rates; I recognize that this is common in my field.

But, I would never do that to a client. Thursday, as a matter of fact, I had a client text me out of the blue…he needed a session. It had been six months since termination. He wanted to talk; I saw him the next day.

She never instilled boundaries before. And people warned me. It’s not normal for therapists to routinely text/call their clients, to self-disclose so much about their lives, to complain about office rates and coworkers, to offer me a job after graduation‚Ķnone of this is ethical. Now she decides to tighten up? Whatever. I’ll process this–if I ever really do process it–with another professional.

Eating has been off-and-on this week. Job training everyday. Lots of candy and sugary snacks and free lunch and junk food provided. Sitting all day. Boredom eating. Or refraining as hard as I can‚Ķonly to overeat later. I’ve had mini episodes of overeating three times this week. None escalated into a full binge, but I’m on the black-and-white pathway of “good” eating and “bad” eating. In fact, I want to just “binge it out” right now‚Ķlike get it out of my system.

That sounds so distorted. It’s fucked up. It’s the reality I’m experiencing.

I don’t know. It’s just been emotionally difficult. And I don’t want to do recovery. I want to turn it off for a bit‚Ķand go back later. But I can’t even do that.

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the things unsaid in therapy.

I keep having dreams about my therapist. I terminated our work in December, seven months ago, and yet, I think of her constantly. It’s painful to long for someone that is paid to talk to you. Even more son, it’s painful to be a therapist and know all this and yet still hold out hope that she is out there caring for me, wondering about me, thinking about me. It makes me feel pathetic. It really does. And I hate feeling pathetic.¬†

I don’t nearly think about my own clients as much as I used to think about my therapist. Why would I think she’s even batting an eye thinking about me? Even more,¬†why do I care so much?¬†

My boyfriend, who is an incredibly gifted therapist, researcher, and theorist summed it up really well this morning after telling him about another strange dream I had. He conceptualizes clients and human behavior from an attachment-based viewpoint (how we feel with our primary caregivers), so some of this may sound like neurological jargon, but it was really mind blowing for me. 

“She became your idealized mother as you have told me many times. She became a place you can feel safe, someone that on a very primal level felt loved you and saw you for you. She validated every part of your existence as a mother should. she allowed you to also feel safe on a subconscious level. She was changing your attachment patterns but allowing you to feel safe enough to talk about feelings and explore the things your right brain deactivates when stressed. however, she started doing things that made you question her love. She made choices that took her off the pedestal and because she never realized that what she did was wrong she never said anything and that part of your brain that activates danger was activated. When you can no longer trust that she has your best intentions in mind, you no longer have a secure base. Without the base, you go back to your usual response which was to suppress and distance and that’s what you did. you felt threatened on a primal level, you wouldn’t tell her your real reason for leaving (suppression) and you left (distance). Now, she, as a professional, never should have placed you in that position in the first place, but I still think you would greatly benefit by going against your attachment strategy of deactivation (distance and suppression) and let her know how she hurt you (corrective emotional experience). It’s a risk though, and I believe she really hurt you on a level.

I love my mother. I love my father. But I never learned empathy from either of them. I never learned that it was okay to cry and okay to be angry. The actions they perceived as negative were punished and reprimanded. As a mental health professional, I have now learned that this okay…but the parents NEED to validate if they are going to punish (i can see your angry, and that’s okay. I’m so sorry that you’re angry right now because that must be so hard …but we can’t hit other people).¬†I don’t remember receiving that.¬†

I don’t blame my parents. Few of us know how to validate. It’s not a skill taught in school, and it’s certainly not a skill emphasized in greater society. My first real experience with genuine validation was with this therapist. Me, stepping out of a comfort zone, with fear and hesitance and feelings of utter chaos and failure. Her, metaphorically hugging me, letting me know it was okay to feel, encouraging my worth. Me, trying to suppress my feelings, minimize my pain, laugh instead of cry. Her, drawing out my feelings, maximizing the sensations, noting my incongruity.

I latched onto that so quickly. She became a lifeboat. Every session, I longed for her. I held onto compliments like they were tangible presents. I will never forget the time she called me special or the time she told me she would always be there for me or the time she said she had my back. I will never forget when I began complaining that I was afraid I was letting her down, and she stared at me and said that was impossible. Once, in a very dark eating disorder time, she said, “You are so smart and such a go-getter; I have full faith in you,” and I still cling onto that very basic message when recovery becomes hard.¬†

The fifty minutes were not enough. I could have sat on that couch for weeks. Whether we talked or not, the content rarely mattered. Being in her presence mattered. Feeling that kind of love and safety mattered. Like a small child, I just needed that comfortable, secure base. I needed to know someone loved me and could care about the dark and painful sides of me. 

She wasn’t the most ethical therapist. She asked me for referrals; she once said she would be willing to supervise me when I start interning as a therapist; she talked about her own life far too much; she probably allowed me to call and text her way too often during the week when I just needed to talk. She asked for a letter of recommendation, and that was the final straw. I’m not her employer; I was her client. That stung. But I never told her. I just told her treatment was over, the goals had been met, and have a good life.

There were so many cracks in this idealized mother, but I wanted to look past them, because underneath her unconventional ways,I knew she cared. She told me she cared, and she showed it. An eating disorder survivor herself, she had the resilience and the willingness to help someone who was struggling the invisible fight so many of us suffer. She knew my pain; in fact, she had already lived much of my story. 

I wanted to be her. She was a therapist in private practice living in a relatively upscale part of Southern California with two children and a husband. She was recovered. And that’s all I wanted then. Recovery, and I mean full-circle recovery, seemed like a distant life from my own. Everyday had been a battle in my mind, a battle of eating and exercising and the scale and how much willpower I thought I had or didn’t have.

She had the life I was waiting for; the life that seemed impossible when I first started this graduate school journey and was “required” to attend my own mandatory psychotherapy. I hadn’t even started seeing clients. I was in an emotionally toxic relationship. My parents and I were fighting regularly. I felt fat and ugly and insecure and lonely and anxious constantly. I was working two jobs, averaging nearly fifty hours a week. Everything was on a routine; I thrived on spontaneity, but I was living a life of rigidity and compulsion. I wore a smile, concealed the pain, and convinced the world my life was perfect. And nobody could call me out on that facade until I met her.

She challenged. That’s the best kind of therapist. One who can challenge you with love. One who can call you out on your bullshit, while also telling you that your¬†bullshit doesn’t make you broken.¬†One who can defy your eating disorder, while understanding its complexity, ferocity, and incongruity. One who understands ups and downs and will stand by your side throughout all of it, with no expectations and no disappointments.

I am the therapist I am today because of the therapist she was for me. Again, much of what she said didn’t matter; only a few interpretations and interventions really stand out. It was the safety, the presence, and the feeling of being understood. I cannot emphasize that enough. I grew through the relationship. Yes, she hurt me. I can own that now. But the process, the messy and complicated and joyful process of psychotherapy, was exactly what I needed. She was what I needed.¬†

Maybe one day I will get to the place where I can call or write to her and tell her exactly how I feel and assert myself. I can get the closure we both know that we never really had. Termination was too abrupt, and my boyfriend was right. When the going got tough, I escaped. This is my pattern in relationships. This is how I’ve learned to protect myself. Cut people off–then I feel guilty–then I want to reach out, but it seems too late.

I know she would accept it lovingly. i know she would be proud of me for standing on my own feet, as this is something she knew I struggled with. Right now, that seems way too scary. But one day, I’ll get there.

making rules & breaking rules

Dear Bee,

As much living and wholeness as there is in my revitalized state of being, there are those times when I do feel like I’m just existing meal to meal. As if food is still the central force driving my thoughts and behaviors. It’s frustrating, right? Because surely, other people don’t live to eat. That whole motto, eat to live vs. live to eat runs through my mind.

One of my boyfriend’s colleagues, another young therapist in eating disorder recovery, has these grandiose plans to build a treatment center. She is interested in possibly teaming up with me. I don’t know the first thing about running a business nor do I even know if I want to specialize in eating disorders anymore. But I do know this. Inpatient and residential treatment out there is spotty. At best. Eating disorder therapy is also spotty. Recovery is so complex, relapse is so common, and most of the well-being gains consist of being able to really drill in the message, that yes, life can be lived in the gray, and, in fact, IT HAS TO BE LIVED IN THE GRAY.

Anyway, this won’t be for years. I don’t have to think about it much now. Something interesting to possibly look forward to though. While I don’t believe a professional needs first-hand knowledge to understand the complexity of a mental illness, eating disorders are slightly different. As in‚Ķthey tend to be progressive, and rather than a marathon-style recovery, they represent more of a convoluted labyrinth-style maze. Also, people with eating disorders tend to have other co-morbid issues and character qualities including terrible self-esteem, lying and deceit, minimizing, and a total devoid or absence of feelings.¬†

I still have some voids left in me. I know this because I still have the eating disorder gnawing with certain meals and foods and clothes and numbers on the scale. I still want to fill it with food or the absence of food or exercise or weight loss. I am still wanting the perfect body, despite my absolute knowledge that a perfect body will not bring me anything. In fact, I can guarantee this so well that I have a feeling even if I got CLOSE to this so-called image of a perfect body that I have in my head, I would self-sabatoge it. Because then, what would I have to work on? I’ve always lived thinking that I’m this never-ending work-in-progress, but to be honest, I’m tired of that faulty logic. I am good enough. Just as I am. Not a work-in-progress, but more of a progressing soul! Work makes it sound tedious and negative. It makes me sound incomplete, which I am not.

The absence of disordered behaviors often just fuels the perfectionist side in me. I want to make bigger goals. Clean eating, X amount of calories, Y days of exercise, absolutely no Z. The rules are endless, and yet, I break them all the time. Absent rules makes for an absent eating disorder. I have learned that. I need to embrace it! Rules made me sick in the first place. Breaking them takes me on the stairway to freedom. 

where is this blog even going?

Dear Bee,

Even blogging hasn’t been as cathartic as it once was.

I spent a full week taking care of myself.

It felt good.

Tonight, I binged. Just a bit.¬†I can’t do anything about it now. I was stressed- I suppose- maybe I also wanted to self-sabatoge myself, but what else is new? I can’t be too hard on myself. Otherwise, I’ll just keep going.¬†

I’ve been nourishing myself with exercise and literature and sex and great hikes and deep conversation. I’ve spent a lot of time with my boyfriend. I’ve been doing some great therapy with my clients. I’ve been grieving, yes. I’ve been experiencing a rainbow of emotions. I do what I can. I’ve been spending time with people I love, and that feels good. My job makes me happy. My friends make me happy.¬†

And my boyfriend. That goes without saying. Can we believe it’s already been almost eight months?¬†

I don’t write as much, because I’m talking more. Expressing more. Growing more. I’m getting healthier; I don’t have words pouring out on the page anymore. I am able to verbalize the emotions, and that’s scary, but it’s rewarding. I’m working towards recovery, whatever that looks like, and it’s still a struggle. I miss the luxury of weekly individual therapy, but it isn’t something I can afford right now. I’ve contemplated actually going back to OA meetings (because they’re free), but I already know I have preexisting issues with their philosophies. I’m not sure. I think what I’m doing is working. There are slips along the way, but that’s life. Maybe I miss having the accountability. Nobody asks me about recovery anymore unless I bring it up first. I don’t have a treatment team. Maybe I miss the sick role. I take care of other people’s problems all day‚Ķmaybe I subconsciously want somebody to take care of mine.

Really, I need to learn how to do it myself. 

Can’t believe it’s February. I’m excited for Valentine’s Day. I’m excited for the turn of spring and graduation and summer‚Ķand then, who knows? My future is limitless! Eating disorder or not, life keeps moving for me. What a blessing.¬†

This blog used to be so raw.

I just don’t know what I want to do with it anymore!¬†

It’s not the unknown we fear

Dear Bee, 

I’ve been anxious about my future. Feelings of being overwhelmed, feelings that I won’t “make it” in this tough, grown-up adult world consisting of budgets, time management, and full-time work. It’s hard to get ahead. I’ll have my M.S in Counseling by the end of summer, but my particular career requires licensure, which, in turn, means thousands of hours of supervised clinical work. I have the opportunity to find a paying internship after graduation, and I’m going to do whatever I can to land one. Competition, however, is fierce.¬†

I know, given my stage and level of experience and training, I’m good at what I do. And I love doing it. I’m not a money-chaser, not by any means, but I understand I need enough of it to live comfortably. Moreover, I want to stay in California, which, unfortunately, means a very high cost of living. I suppose it’s just hard not working right now. I’m making zero income. This is the first time I haven’t had a job (or been actively searching for a new job) in about six years. I’m working my ass off at my unpaid internship, grabbing any and every opportunity I can, because it’s the best way to learn and become an attractive applicant for the future. In fact, tonight, I’m going to start leading a brand new support group for young adults facing life transitions. I love that I’m following my dream! I just pray a money trail follows. I certainly didn’t get into this field to become rich, as that would be oxymoronic for a mental health professional, but I do want to travel and have a family. Those are very important to me, and they both take steady income. The good news is that my boyfriend and I will be done with school at the same time, and we will essentially enter the same workforce together. It’s so relieving to have that support. Love is a lot harder to find than any job, so I keep that in perspective.

Food has been going well. I haven’t had much of an appetite over the past few days, but I’ve been eating normally, as in not restricting and not bingeing. Because that’s part of my recovery medicine. I’ve also been insanely craving sugar, but I haven’t really been giving into it, because I’ve been feeling sluggish. Instead, I’m trying to recognize that my cravings are more emotional, rather than physical, and that it probably signals I’m tired, stressed, or need to attend to some other feeling occurring within me.¬†

One of my favorite professors once told us that it’s a misconception to “fear the unknown,” because it’s not the unknown we actually fear. It’s all the horrible events and manifestations we perceive will happen. It’s all those worst-case scenarios. We fear the worst, rather than the unknown. Because what’s to fear about something we know nothing about. We fear bad things happening to us, things in which we have no control over. That’s where I’m at right now. It’s not the unknown I’m fearing. It’s the fear that I won’t get a job, that all this school and training won’t pay off for me, that I won’t make it as a successful adult in this corporate world. These thoughts stem from insecurity, rather than evidence. I’m where I am for a reason. I graduated college for a reason, got accepted into graduate school for a reason, landed this internship for a reason‚Ķthese things didn’t just “happen” passively to me. I don’t deserve anything this life. Nobody does. We have to earn what we want.

Anyways, food. Everyone is on a diet. What else is new? I wish I could say it gets boring to hear about, but I can’t lie here. I still devour everyone’s meal plans the way they devour the food. It still fascinates me to watch people eat, to analyze their food choices, to review their bodies relative to their nutrition and exercise. It’s like a thirst that still can’t quite be quenched. I would think after awhile, it would just become exhausting to hear all this diet and food talk, but it kind of fuels me. It’s like a safe way to stay disordered by living vicariously through other people’s obsessions or own disorders. It’s not all that healthy, because I’m still ruminating on food, exercise, dieting, etc. but I know it’s better than ruminating on my OWN food, exercise, dieting. I can’t be too hard on myself. Recovery still requires active work and brutal honesty with myself and others. It’s kind of like doing homework for my hardest class. Not effortless, not really something I can just put off or “hope” I’ll understand, but something I have to concentrate and focus my full attention on. That’s how recovery works. It’s not automatic nor is it natural. It requires actual work and deep soul-searching.¬†

And that’s okay. Because we most appreciate the gifts we work for and buy ourselves. If someone just handed us recovery, we wouldn’t nearly understand the complexity and gratitude that comes with such a valuable present.¬†

End of Therapy Journey

Dear Bee,

Well, I had my last therapy session.

It was emotional, and by the end of the hour, we were both tearing up. This whole weekend has been insanely life-changing, but that’s for a different post. The five-day psychotherapy conference completely inspired me in every way, shape, and form, and I’m grateful for the experience to be in the same room with some of the most influential people in my field.¬†

Anyway, back to therapy. I ended up terminating. We had a closure session today. I had prepped her with a text. Reflecting on the past fifty-one sessions, I started treatment a completely different person than I am today. I wanted to work on my eating disorder. That was it. Little did I know that I needed to work on boundaries, end a few toxic relationships, including the one with my ex-boyfriend, quit my jobs, and learn how to take care of myself. Little did I know how much ALL this mattered before, during, and after the eating disorder work. Today, I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life. I cannot emphasize this enough. I am head-over-heels in love with my boyfriend and feel incredible fulfillment in what I do on a daily basis.¬†

Grieving the end of therapy is like grieving the loss of any other relationship. She helped me, and at the end of the session, after we hugged, I told her, Thank you for believing me. She responded, That was the easy part. 

But when you barely believe in yourself, hearing that validation and concern from someone else means the world. And, for so long, I did NOT believe in myself. It hurt more than anything.

My needs stopped being met. Therapy stopped feeling so magical. I started feeling more annoyed, more bored, more as if I was wasting my time in session. 

But God. I loved my therapist. Ethics and dependency aside, she was THERE, and I mean, UNCONDITIONALLY there for me. It was unlike any support I had ever received (prior to my boyfriend), and that was exactly what I needed at the time. That’s what most of us need, but never receive. And so, in fifty sessions, over the course of about fifteen months, I was able to end a volatile relationship, repair issues with my family, attend eating disorder support groups for a few months, quit two jobs, attain an incredible internship, trek around Europe, and, of course, fall in love. I was able to learn the value of self-care.¬†

I can always return, but I doubt I will. It’s time to move on. I’m sure I’ll go to therapy in the future, because I think ALL therapists can benefit, but for right now, I’m going to see what it’s like to work on my own self-regulation, emotions, and self-care. I have the tools. Now, I just need to use them!

I am no longer tormented by the vicious throes of daily eating disorder battles. And that doesn’t mean I’m recovered. It just means I know how to handle and manage the ebb and flow. I can live a life free of the absolute obsession and bondage that came with the compulsive nature of such a complex disease. I have worked my ass off in the name of recovery, but it’s been worth it.¬†

I hope therapy helps my clients as much as it helps me ūüôā¬†

This is the end.

Dear Bee,

I’m going to terminate with my therapist, and it’s really depressing‚Ķbut honestly, she’s just being legitimately unethical. For one, we aren’t friends. We aren’t colleagues. And yet, she occasionally acts otherwise.

I may have shown some dependency at the beginning stages of our treatment together, but it’s her job to maintain the boundaries and keep the rules straight. She wants me to write her a letter of recommendation for a new position. She actually asked me that request through a text message. It’s very upsetting. For one, I shouldn’t be asked to do any sort of favor for her. And for two, what used to be constructive self-disclosure has now become intrusive and obnoxious. For instance, all the past history with learning about her eating disorder struggle was helpful in helping me feel normalized and understood, but I don’t need to hear about her hospitalizations or suicide attempts or cocktail of medication. I don’t need to hear about how many clients she is or isn’t seeing. I don’t need to know about her family and friends and where she likes to get her bagels. But I do. I also know where her kids go to school, her previous job history, and the types of books she likes to read.¬†

I can’t imagine EVER spilling all that out to my clients.¬†

At first, I loved the special treatment. Duh. Most clients do. Clients who want you to like them basically wear shirts with signs flashing, PLEASE LIKE ME.¬†Yep. It’s that obvious to a therapist. So, I’m sure I was blatantly transparent that I was needy and dependent on her. ¬†She would encourage me to call or text her anytime, and I would. And she’d talk to me. She would encourage me to come to multiple sessions a week. And I wouldn’t for financial reasons, but honestly?! I never needed to go to more than one session a week‚Ķmost clients don’t. Maybe it was because she was the first person who didn’t look at me like I was crazy. Maybe, it was because she pushed me. That, I can’t doubt. With her facilitation, I was able to end a toxic relationship, quit an exhaustive job, and make some solid choices for myself. I was able to define what I wanted in life and develop some coping skills to manage with distress. Maybe, it was because I wanted to be her. A self-assured, recovered therapist with a husband and kids and supposedly happy life. When I was going through the beginning of school, unsure and single and active in sickness, she sure looked like someone worth idolizing.¬†

But, you know, it became stagnant over the summer. And now, I just feel like we’re not going over anything anymore. We haven’t gone over goals in‚Ķforever, and so now I feel like I’m just wasting my money. It seems more like a conversation social hour than it does professional talk therapy.¬†

So, why is it so hard to terminate? Because, well, I want her to like me. Yes, this is my transference. I hate disappointing people, even if it means sacrificing my own needs. I like to be the favorite. I don’t want her to think of me as just some other client who flaked out on her. I want her to believe I deserve that special treatment. Also, termination is just hard. You’re ending a relationship, you know? With someone who you’ve confided in with for a long while. I haven’t done a proper termination with any of my clients just yet, and there are a few I know I’d really miss if they just dropped out abruptly.¬†

I don’t really want to see her again. I want to end it over a text, but that’s shallow, so I’ll probably call. And say‚Ķwhat? I’m seeing someone else? I’m looking to go in a new direction? It’s not you, it’s me? Therapy relationships are just as intense as romantic relationships, except one person is making all the money, while the other is telling all the secrets.¬†

I’m going to miss her. And think about her a lot. And feel urged to talk to her and update her on my life. I want her to proud of me, just like most clients want their therapists to be proud of them. Our first session was in my first month of graduate school. I was just learning how to start a session with an individual, how to join with someone. Now, I have a full caseload. She’s seen me grow tremendously. I wish she could continue seeing me grow.

But my needs are not getting met. And that just defies the point of therapy. This isn’t about her; it’s about me.¬†

Time to learn the skills I learned in therapy and actually set some boundaries, practice my assertiveness, and stand up for my own needs.