The destination probably was not Tahiti. I’ll never know because my therapist, Anne, does not self disclose much. (We’ll talk about that wall behind which a therapist sits in a later chapter.)
All I know is that she goes on vacation, Tahiti, Paris, or Alaska, it doesn’t matter where. That’s a horrible thing for a therapist to do, right? Unfortunately, (or fortunately) how we react to a break from seeing our therapist because they’re on vacation is a clear (or maybe just as clear as mud) signpost of our feelings of dependency on them.
If you’re one of those who have to fight back panic with the knowledge that your therapist will be leaving soon or in agony waiting for her to return, then you’ll understand my difficulties when Anne left me. And that’s how my mind perceived her vacation – she abandoned me.
Now, my rational brain knew she had NOT abandoned me, yet my emotions screamed that she had.
The first time Anne went on vacation, it truly was no big deal. I had only been seeing her for a month or so. But still, even then, there was a whisper of uneasiness. I didn’t pay it much attention and just chalked it up to the fact it was the holiday season.
The second time Anne left, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was not liking it. At that time I still didn’t understand the depth of attachment to her that had developed within me. I told her that I had decided to leave town at the same time that she would be gone so it wouldn’t feel like a disruption in my routine that had been established by seeing her weekly. She agreed that that was a good idea on my part.
Before Anne left for the third time, she asked me how I would manage. I said I’d do fine because I had learned a lot about myself from her previous absence and I now was able to apply coping techniques and that there would be no problem.
I barely got home after that session when a wave of heart-stopping panic flowed over me. It was a full body experience. What the hey??? I can’t believe this.
Man, I thought I was in control. I thought I was not going to have problems in this particular arena anymore. I thought I had conquered that that pesky little irritant just like when we swat mosquito out of our face.
Anne has told me so many times that if emotions aren’t brought out into the light, THEY will be in control. It was happening again. I was defeated. I was vanquished. I was overcome with overwhelming dread.
For what? Was I losing my cool over anything important or meaningful? No. Was I losing my home? No. Was I having terrible conflict with my neighbor? No. Was I just diagnosed with a painful health condition? No. ( I have since learned that all emotions ARE important, no matter what their cause. We’ll discuss that topic later.)
It is humiliating to admit that my panic was generated by the impending absence of Anne for 14 days. How laughable is that? Can I confess this to anyone who has not experienced it for himself or herself? Absolutely not. I wouldn’t want to see the incredulous look on their faces.
So, I left a voicemail for Anne shortly after my session and told her that I had lied. It wasn’t a deliberate lie. I thought I was being truthful when I had told her I’d be fine. On the phone, I confessed to her that I was beginning to be consumed by fear of her leaving.
I spent a few days trying to understand this feeling. (See previous chapter, Earthquake Safety, for explanation about attachment). I thought it was so weird. I thought it made no sense. To me, it was not logical; it was beyond understanding, and it was something I had never experienced in my life before.
What I concluded after focused introspection is that the emotional part of my brain believed that loss of contact with Anne would be a risk for my survival. I saw her as my protector and if she’s gone, I WILL DIE!
Anne and I spent time in the next few sessions to find ways for me to ‘survive’ her “desertion”. Luckily, she informs her clients in plenty of time of any planned departures.
Although deeply embarrassing to affirm to her my dependence on her, it was necessary for me to divulge this fact in order to get the help I needed at that time.
It wasn’t the first nor was it the last occasion where my attachment to Anne would rear its ‘nasty’ head. Next chapter I’ll share another adventure on this theme.