Chapter 18 – The Quest

I promised you  dazzling and swashbuckling tales of the epic battles between good and evil. You anticipate stories of valor and bravura. You breathlessly await accounts of perseverance that combat seemingly insurmountable blockades to success.

Yep, that’s all in store for you. Follow my narration of events that have become the legend and the lore of heroes. You’ll be able to view a first hand account of blazing glory. You’ll never regret that you walked this path with me.

The latest adventure began when it was ME who was going on vacation. Whoopee! I’m gonna get outta town for a while. What a nice change. Instead of my therapist, Anne, leaving me, I was leaving her. (Hmmm… did I subconsciously wish she’d be in agony with MY absence?)

I get to disappear and forget all of my troubles. I told Anne that I just wanted to drive until I arrived at the end of the Earth. It was going to be so great! Total freedom. No responsibilities. Hundreds of miles on the road. Slow and easy and an opportunity to finally ‘find myself’.

I decided then to appoint a name to my journey. It would be titled ‘A Quest’. My imagination elevated its purpose as being similar to those who sought the Holy Grail. I felt a mystical companionship with King Arthur and his knights. But, whereas Lancelot and Galahad enjoyed the alliance of other brave knights, I was alone in my quest.

Uh, quest for what? Uh…uh… well, uh… complete and total self- knowledge? Uh-final victory over my deficiencies and deficits? Uh…and how would I do that? Uh… make it a ‘boot camp’ for the mind? Uh…do what exactly? Uh… well, obviously not well thought out so, of course, I fumbled and tripped and fell and regrouped and… (I’ll share the gory details in the next chapter).

Needless to say, and as anyone who has a brain in their noggin, “wherever you go, there you are.” Silly me – I thought if I drove 1000 miles, I would leave my old self behind and my new improved self would just hop in the car without even needing an invitation.

Hey, I told you already that I’m not the brightest bulb in the box. I know that many of you are beginning to feel sorry for Anne. I also feel sorry that she has such a dimwit to work with. I suppose I should pay her extra for the terrible challenge she faces when I enter her office.

Now is when you get a preview of the next chapter. I will tell you that Anne agreed that I could call her as often as needed and that I could leave voicemails or we could have telephone sessions. Not bad, huh?

Fear = cowardice.

In this situation, I was a true coward. It’s strange, though, because I don’t lack bravery in other parts of my life. I can travel alone to the far corners of the Earth and feel no fear. I can traipse alone in foreign lands and thrive where I understand not a word being spoken. I can make a fool of myself in front of an audience and happily laugh at myself.

I can challenge the hierarchy of a large organization and stand my ground for what I think is right. I can act silly and stupid and childish and carefree and not have a worry about what anyone thinks of me.

I can enroll in a class that teaches Quantum Physics and not be embarrassed that I understand almost nothing but still enjoy being surrounded by all those smart people. Oh, not credit courses, you know – I’m not that crazy.

You know the advice of ‘dance as if no one is watching’. I do that.

But, if you take my therapist away from my me, I dissolve into a puddle of fear. Who can figure?

Oops – just realized that the swashbuckling tale doesn’t arrive until the next chapter. Sorry.

Chapter 16 -Tahiti

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.

Chapter 15 – Earthquake Safety

So, boys and girls – those of you who are still reading about my adventures in psychotherapy, we’re going to discuss one of the fears that many clients have experienced. I would like a raise of hands from all of those who fear attachment to, dependency on, and neediness for their therapists.

Yep, just as I had expected – most of you raised your hands. Well, I’d also like a show of hands of those who feel they would rather die than feel dependent on their therapists.

Oh yeah, there we go – almost all of you raised your hands. Isn’t that interesting that many of us fall into a similar avoidance response on this issue?


If you ask the general population what their favorite dirty words are, I would guess they would not choose these three. But, for those of us in therapy, they are among our top dirty words.

Well, I have 3 words for you – GET. OVER. IT.

Yeah, you heard me correctly – just get over it. You see, attachment is critical to the process of healing in psychotherapy. I’ve studied the book, “Attachment in Psychotherapy” by David Wallin. He lays out very specifically why and how the attachment is necessary. For those of you who need concrete rational-brain understanding of why this is so, I highly recommend that you read this book.

So, am I attached to my therapist? You betcha. Am I dependent on her? Dang so. Do I feel needy towards her? Well, let’s imagine our need for oxygen – does that tell you something?

Do I like this feeling? Heck no. Am I comfortable with it? Uh, what do you think? Do I resist it anymore? Yeah, a little but not as much. I am allowing myself to ‘be’ with it and not fight it so much.

I’d felt a lot of anger towards Anne, my therapist about this dependency that I felt towards her. This is what I said to her:

“Anne, I am feeling dependent on you and I HATE that feeling. I blame you for this. You should have known that I might come to this state of mind and you should have prevented it from happening. How could you have allowed me to get into this state?

“You know about my weaknesses and you have exploited them. You should have watched out for me and protected me and steered me in another direction when you first detected the slightest inkling that I might be becoming needy for you.

“Why, why, why did you let me get to this emotional place? You must know how embarrassing and humiliating it feels. This is not right.

“You have to take responsibility for it. It is your fault. What do you have to say for yourself?” I was pretty devastated about this feeling of neediness and that’s why I was able to speak so forcefully. I was feeling distraught.

Anne took my outburst well. She responded in her usual very nice and comforting voice. She explained that attachment is not an ‘evil’ thing. She said that we overemphasize independence in our modern society. We have somehow learned that no one should ever need help from another – that it is a sign of deficiency of moral character if we admit we have needs.

She further explained that we are all dependent on each other in one way or another. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And, in therapy, we are leaning on a guide to help us weave ourselves through the labyrinth of emotions.

And, just like during an earthquake, we reach out to hold on to something stable until the ground stops moving, likewise in therapy, when our emotional ground is unsteady, we hang on to safety with our therapists.

When the dust begins to settle, we can loosen our grip of the support and eventually let go.

I’m happy to report that leaning on Anne helped bring balance to my own unsteadiness and I no longer need her in the same way as when my emotions had been let loose by the initial stages of my deep self-exploration.

More tales appear in the next chapter that will describe some of my continuing adventures in neediness, attachment, and dependency.

Chapter 13 – Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite I don’t blame you if you don’t know who Walter Cronkite was. It’s o.k. because I’m here to educate you. Cronkite was known in the 60’s as “the most trusted man in America.” Who was he? -simply a reporter of the news. He was a broadcast journalist but is best known for his work on CBS Evening News. He was its anchorman from 1962-1981 – a total of 19 years.

Americans would tune in to his report for the latest breaking news. Bulletins of important news were a hallmark of his reporting. He was counted on to deliver information that was crucial for the American public to know. The concept of ‘fake’ news was an alien idea. People trusted him to tell the truth.

You’re wondering why Cronkite’s story is relevant to my adventures in psychotherapy, aren’t you? Well, it’s this. I perform a similar function in my sessions with Anne. I always provide a news report.

Huh, you ask?

It’s like this: I want Anne to have a better idea of my WHOLE person, not just the dysfunctional emotional fragments of my identity. I try to ensure that my newscast consume only 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning of session. And, to me, the ‘briefing’ that I provide to my therapist contains as much or more importance than the typical news bulletin.

I’ll give you an example of a therapy newscast. No, I won’t tell you the truth. I will not disclose any real details of my life. What you’ll read next is totally made up. You didn’t honestly think I’d open up to you about my own personal emotional torments, did you? Really?

By golly, I’m surprised that you’d think I’d reveal to you when I squirm each time I ‘expose’ myself to Anne.

What I will provide in my ongoing tale are descriptions to you of the battles I waged inside of myself while I’ve tried to make sense of the therapeutic relationship. On that question, I’m pure honesty. No ‘truthiness’ there.

I wonder how many other therapy clients make a point in providing a news broadcast to their therapist. Probably most people just let ‘news’ seep into the conversation naturally if at all.

I want you to be clear that I’m not proposing or suggesting that anyone try to conduct their therapy sessions the way I do. It’s all very person. Once I asked Anne if there was a better way to approach our time together and she replied that it’s individual and if I’m happy doing what I do, then that’s the right way for me. Still, I wonder sometimes as I hear friends describe their ability to get deep inside themselves with no plan at all. Hmmmm…. I don’t know how to do that yet. Maybe I’ll learn or maybe I’ll continue the way I am.

Chapter 8, Control Freak, probably already provided you with enough evidence that I don’t leave much up to chance. The next chapter, Choreography, will offer even more confirmation that I’m fond of control. As an aside, I must tell you that I never realized that I like control until I began therapy. Weird, huh? – that I never knew before then?

Okay – here goes a sample newscast in therapy session:

1. I took a walk in the woods today.

2. I signed up for a pilates class.

3. I wrote a letter to the mayor.

4. I’m going to run the 5K.

5. I told my friend about the abuse.

6. I had a calm conversation with my ex.

And although I believe the newscast is valuable for me and to me by opening up more of who I am out in the ‘real’ world with my therapist, I also believe that the ‘news’ gives her information about me that can help me.

For example referring to above list (therapist thinking):

1. She’s not scared of bears (or spiders or ivy) anymore

2. She’s beginning to take care of herself more.

3. She exhibiting more self-confidence.

4. She’s emerging from depression.

5. She’s leaving shame behind.

6. She’s gotten a handle on her anger.

And I’ll end this part of my story with Walter Cronkite’s famous ending of his nightly newscast “And that’s the way it is”

Chapter 6 – The Dungeon Keeper

No, no, no – I’m not talking about that famous video game where we want to conquer the world. No, that’s not what I mean. My dungeon keeper is someone slightly different but you’ll have to wait a bit to understand until I get to that part of the tale.

See, I had a story. I’m not unique. We all have stories. I can tell you a story about my trip to Costco yesterday. Breakfast stories are always entertaining. Stories within stories are numerous too. Let me tell you about the T.V. show Luke Cage on Netflix. Or did you hear the latest about Rihanna (or my next door neighbor)? We breathe stories every moment of our lives.

But what if you have a secret story, a hidden story? What if that story hurts? What if it keeps gnawing at you and it won’t disappear?

That story lives inside. And that story wants, no, NEEDS to be told. It needs to be heard, and seen.

Maybe you remember some happy stories from when you were a kid. Maybe you remember getting an ‘A’ on a test or drawing a picture that you liked. Didn’t you run to your Mom or Dad all excited because your ‘story’ needed to be shared? Didn’t that feel good?

And those stories that hurt? Maybe someone at school was mean to you. Maybe you felt ashamed that you hadn’t done your homework. If you were lucky, there was someone in your life you could tell.

But, many of us weren’t given that gift of having a listener in our lives. And so much of our unspoken history collected inside of us. And some, or even many of those tales, were seemingly forgotten. You know, like when you throw your excess coins into a bowl or box but then forget that you’ve amassed a small fortune?

Our abandoned stories sure don’t seem like treasures. We may have deigned them simply as waste to be discarded. We cast them into our own personal dungeon – deep below our living room – below the space where our conscious lives carry on.

Then one day, or one week, or one year we begin to live a story that we can’t have imagined. The dungeon is full – no more stories can be hidden. We believe that everything tossed into the dungeon is offal – getting close to it too terrible to contemplate.

Maybe we try to empty the dungeon by throwing this refuse into the garbage cans out back. Again, surprisingly, we discover that no one is coming by to pick up the rubbish.

What to do? Panic mode ensues. The muck is beginning to seep everywhere. My goodness – what if someone sees it? Smells it? What if my secret story spills out into the alleyway? What, what, what to do?

Well, now it’s time to face the Dungeon Keeper. Who is the dungeon keeper? Why does she keep my stories captive? Why do the stories seldom escape? And why do I believe my stories are less than worthy – that they need to be tossed?

It wasn’t until my own self-described sewage became too toxic to survive anymore that I realized the dungeon keeper was my own fear. It was me, living upstairs, who kept the stories hidden.

I needed to release my stories. And who would slay the dungeon keeper? Who would conquer the fear? Who slays the dungeon keeper? Who will be the hero? You may begin to agree with others that I have a split personality when I tell you that it was ME who was able to become the conqueror. The courage within ME overcame the fear within ME.

Courage slays fear, I’ve learned. Well, no – the truth is we’ve always known that courage slays fear but I guess I’d say that that ‘truth’ does not become Truth until we’ve experienced it ourselves.

I became the hero.

I don’t know about you but my imaginary life overlaps with my so-called ‘real’ life. Honestly, when I thought about my pent up stories, I actually could visualize their life in a dungeon.

So, anyway, what does all this talk about dungeons, keepers, trash have to do with therapy anyway? (Yep, two anyways in a sentence is bound to be an object of your admiration, right?)

This long drawn out story is really about my therapist, Anne. No, maybe it’s really about the hero, my courage. No, I think it’s about that space that opened up once the hero came forth and rescued me. No, it’s about….

Let me think about this a bit more, ok?

Well, the metaphor so far has a few characters – all of whom are me, by the way. The trash, the dungeon, the hero, the dragon master, even the trash cans are the roles that I inhabit.

So, what role does my therapist play? Is she the ‘sanitation engineer’ that we so fondly like to name our garbage collectors? Did she help me dispose of the trash?

No. I don’t want to visualize her in that role simply because by the end of the story I realized that what I had considered trash and garbage were really signposts to my deeper self. They needed airing because without coming into the light out of the dungeon they would fester and rot and sicken the entire house.

What she was and continues to be is the torchbearer. When the hero (me) used courage (me) to look for a solution to the trash problem (me), she showed a beacon, a light that guided me.

One of the definitions of torchbearer in the Oxford dictionary is “ A person who leads or inspires others in working towards a valued goal. Yes, I could state that about my Anne, my therapist but how she did that is the magical part of the story.

See, with Anne, I WAS HEARD. I AM HEARD. Being heard, I believe, is the most important part of inner growth and healing.

And though we began this little fable referring to dungeons, I’ll conclude by stating that my forward journey could not have begun without someone listening to ME.

The removal of the treasures (I called them trash earlier) in my dungeon can take a long time. That’s o.k., because unlike real trash which we want to discard as quickly as possible, our ‘trash’ are jewels that need close inspection and renewed appreciation. We discover that these jewels deliver a richness of life that might never have been discovered without someone the hero could show them to.

I’m going to repeat myself: Being heard is a powerful antidote to emotional suffering and is a salve to emotional wounds.

It is a theme that runs through all of the stories I’ll share with you. Whether I’ve struggles with ruptures with my therapist or I’ve felt fear of her or I’ve gained incredible insights with her, I can guarantee you that if I hadn’t felt heard, my inner work with Anne would have not have been fruitful.

Now that you know that the key element, for me, in therapy is the experience of being heard, I can now discuss some of the stumbling blocks that can be put in the path of our inner work.

The work of cleaning out the dungeon can be dirty and challenging. We face steep, slippery steps. Some of the bags to remove seem too heavy. Other debris is difficult to see in the poor light.

The next chapters I’ll begin describing some of those challenges.

Chapter 5- A Rose by Any Other Name…

A rose by any other name is still a rose. Yep, it’s me slaughtering Shakespeare’s beautiful line from his play ‘Romeo and Juliet’. If you’ll allow, I’ll continue to twist that passage for my own purpose. I’d like you to know that “My therapist by any other name is still my therapist”.

So, what am I getting at? I’m on a mission to name my therapist. It’s kinda weird cuz it feels like when we have the opportunity to name our child or our dog. In my tales of therapy that I’m sharing with you now, my therapist is my creation, so to speak. No, I’m not inventing her reality and I’m not making stuff up about her kindness, her wisdom, her guidance, and her caring.

No, what I’m creating is MY version of her – how ‘I’ receive her help, how ‘I’ interpret her PRESENCE during our sessions She is not an independent entity outside of my own mind – in this story.

And within this story I don’t want to be shackled by limitation of words. I don’t want my references to her to be limited to only “my therapist” or “my T”. I want to give her a touch more personality and to achieve that I need to name her.

So, why don’t I use her given name? That’s a question easy to answer- simply, to protect her. Protect her from what, you ask?        Fame.

Fame, we know, is corrosive. Fame destroys people. We read the news and we know it’s true. I don’t want that such misfortune befall my therapist. Her fame will be unnamed. People will refer to her centuries from now and wonder who she was. Myths will abound about her.

I know you’re shaking your head in confusion at the moment. You’re wondering why and how my therapist will become so famous.

She’ll become famous because of me

My stories will enter the annals of psychotherapy. They’ll enter the textbooks that future psychotherapists will study. They’ll become the touchstone of understanding of the client’s point of view when they enter a relationship with a therapist.

I know. I know. You’re now thinking that I’m being quite presumptuous by believing that my tales will have value and meaning and will last the ages. You’re right. Presumptuousness is my right.

And you – you will help me. You’ll read my accounts of my encounters with myself in therapy and you will recognize that you’ve experienced such unpleasant and pleasant emotions with that relationship with therapist. Or you’re just beginning your therapy journey fully aware of some of the unique challenges that being in therapy offer – thanks to my story.

And so, you’ll tell your friends. Your friends will tell their friends. And so on. The movement of taking over the world will have begun. Well, not taking over the world, exactly, but you know what I mean.

So, back to naming my therapist. My first thought was to name her Lucy. You know, Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon who has her own psychiatrist booth and offers advice for 5 cents. She IS the most famous psychiatrist I know. But then I quickly realized that Lucy’s advice is almost always useless and I didn’t want you to associate my own therapist with the dubious and sometimes cruel advice that Lucy has given.

Ahhh, having naming rights is powerful. But -what responsibility. Once my therapist is named, how difficult it may be to make a change.

So, how does one name her therapist? I googled that question and ,surprisingly, I got no hits. I must be the first person to have taken on such work. Along with the power I feel, I also feel honored and humbled by such a task.

I guess I came back to the same method that I used to choose my therapist in the first place – by the sound of her name. (Check out ‘voodoo magic’ in Chapter 2 – Mail Order Bride.)

So, my therapist’s name, now, is Anne. Or should I say, her pseudonym, her fake name.

For the duration of my tale, I’ll switch off between using ‘my therapist’, ‘my T’, and ‘Anne’.

You won’t forget her name, will you?