Thursday, January 23, 2014

Expressing Myself

I've been on hiatus for a while as I work hard on making it through the holiday season successfully.  Mind you, during this time I had to redefine "successfully" several times before realizing that staying safe and finding moments to enjoy are really my goals for the holidays (and everyday!). I managed pretty well and now that the end of January is near I'm starting to (finally) see how well I really am doing. A small set-back in the middle of the month didn't even tear me down. If anything, it helped to build up my resolve to keep working diligently on my recovery from depression, anxiety, trauma, and self harm.

This morning I had one of those AHA! moments that makes life seem pretty chipper. I received an email from Dr. Judith Beck about Therapy Interfering Beliefs. Some of it I have already heard, but this morning one part really stood out to me:
"If I get better, my life will get worse."
It would make sense that these clients would be reluctant to acknowledge that problems could be solved.

Clients who hold a belief in this fourth category may display a number of difficulties in therapy. They may fear, for example,  that others will raise their expectations of the client and that the client  will then be unable to fulfill those expectations. They may be concerned that getting better will lead to a deleterious change in relationships with important people in their lives, for example, that a loved one will be unwilling to continue to offer help and support.  They may face a real-life challenge, such as having to find a job or losing their disability payments. Or they may be anxious about "losing" their therapist.

I added the bolded text and the strike throughs to highlight what really spoke to me. I've acknowledged some of this in therapy and some of it I have hidden from both my therapist and myself. The fear of losing my therapist, for example, is something I have feared saying and acknowledging. Part of me knows this is "normal" (whatever that really is) and part of me fears that it means a too-close relationship with my therapist. If I fear losing her is the relationship really therapeutic? Have I (we) grayed the boundaries too much? Am I co-dependent on her? 

The truth is how could I not have complex relationship with her?! I've been in therapy with her for 10 years, she's seen me through so many changes and life accomplishments, and even helped me out long distance when I decided to move to Oregon so many years ago. Any therapist and client would experience a deeper relationship even after just a few years together. 

Am I co-dependent on her? The answer is: not any more. There was a point where I was afraid to make decisions without her blessing. That time has passed and my part of the relationship has matured. I'm now able to make mindful decisions about when calling/email/texting (yes, she's ridiculously available) is appropriate and when it's not. I've even written this into the safety contract I made months ago with my therapist (my choice, not hers). 

The truth is I need to stop being so hard on myself and stop being afraid of showing myself to my therapist. She has seen me in the worst, and best, times and still is there. So what if I'm still afraid of "loosing" her? If I don't bring up the fears I have about recovery, I can't continue to grow and recover further. I'm not even sure I like the word "recover" because of the black/white connotation behind (you're either "in crisis" or "recovered"), but that's a post for another day.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Letting Go of Labels

The past few months have been intense for me. I was interviewed for a book, started uncovering even more about myself in therapy, pushed myself to start leaving my "victim" self behind, and participated in my first retreat.  All of this I did with support, but ultimately it was done on my own.  Not something that I would have ever imagined doing just a few years ago.

The first major leap was coming up with my own safety contract, which I've talked about previously.  I took full responsibility for all my actions and began to repair the relationship with my therapist. The second major leap was not giving up on my action plan. I found a DBT program, found it wasn't for me, and then went on to find another DBT program. While this may seem just the natural course for many, for me it wasn't.  Often in the past I would take the first program not working out as a sign. This time I didn't really have a choice: I made a plan with my therapist to do DBT for a year and I knew backing out of that was not an option.

Third major leap? Not letting money stand in my way.  Found out that this new DBT program was a bit pricier than my insurance wanted to pay for, but instead of walking away or going into crisis, I was able to work out a price that was more affordable for my out of pocket fees and for my insurance company.  I think a lot of being able to work that out had to do with the experience of my first retreat.

I found out that a social media friend of mine, Jamie, was co-facilitating a mindfulness retreat in PA and I decided, "why the hell not?" Two seconds after making the decision that I would be going I started with the chorus of "I can't"s.  I can't afford it. I can't go alone. I can't take the time off of work. I can't drive 5 hours away for just a weekend.  The list went on. For the first time in my life I decided to put aside everyone else's needs and take care of my own.  I went on a tireless hunt at work for people to cover my shifts.  Finally, the I can't take time off of work was crossed off my "I can't" list.  Then I paid for the retreat.  Crossed off another "I can't." Then I started putting money aside for the trip. Then I decided to take a couple of extra days to camp by myself, thus pushing the I can't go alone to the extreme.

Just a week before the trip financial worry decided to rear it's ugly head. I stopped trying to be perfect and decided that maybe every bill didn't have to be paid on time.  I called up several of the companies I owe money to and made alternate arrangements. The next thing I knew I was on my way.  I thought that *that* was the hard part.  Turns out, it was the easy part.

The hard part was getting to the retreat and meeting my feelings face-on.  All the things I thought I was "taking a vacation" from were there to greet me: fear, victim mentality, trauma, emotions.  From the moment I walked into the lodge until the moment I got in my car to leave I met all of this head-on.  Retreat, after all, does not mean to retreat from the hard stuff, but to take a leave from daily life to tend to the hard stuff.  And hard stuff there was.

I made many great new friends and connections, but one was particularly important. The woman who bunked next to me turned out to be a twin of mine: many of the same interests, same sense of humor, same love for dance. We were the first ones to jump in during Dancing Mindfully exercises, and we were often the ones chuckling over "inappropriate" humor. The most important aspect of this connection?  I wasn't hiding in it. I didn't use it as a reason not to dig deeper nor did I use it as my reason to dig deeper. It just was. This is something I've never considered before: a relationship can just BE. It's doesn't have to force you to do something or to not do something.  Just Being is something major I brought back from this incredible experience.

So for the weekend I allowed myself the following: to feel sad, to cry, to not have to talk, to enjoy, to not push, and to let my spirit lead me. I took that with me from the retreat to my days camping and I enjoyed all that I got out of it. The major theme of my self vacation? Letting Go of Labels. I meditated, danced, prayed, talked, and envisioned myself Letting Go of all the labels I have chosen to define myself by.  They aren't definitions, they aren't ME. I don't have to have a word to summarize myself with. It's okay to associate with different groups and to have phrases that identify what characteristics your personality has, but they aren't the end-all-be-all of who I am.  It has taken me many years to realize this.  I'm not Holly Ann, the lesbian/wife/artist/therapist/client/victim/survivor/optimist.  I'm just simply, Holly Ann.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Learning to Love Myself: A Work in Progress

Self love is a complicated thing.  For me I thought it was not just "I love myself!" but "I love EVERY part of myself."  EVERY part... that's pretty hard.  Even in trying to love myself, I hold myself up to nearly unobtainable standards.

Just admitting to pride is hard for me.  There's this constant fear of "do I deserve to be proud?" and "am I good enough?"  Since age 8 I have been a dancer, taking classes in any form of dance I can get into.  It was obvious to those around me that not only did I learn dance very quickly, but I was good at explaining and teaching others.  Twenty years later and I STILL have a hard time admitting, yes I am good at dance.  I can look back at recitals I have done and spend hours focusing on all the little things that could have been better.  Instead of learning to take pride in my work, I learned that there is always room for improvement.  What a quaint little way to squash a child's self esteem.

As it stands, I am learning that it's okay to be proud of an accomplishment.  Ironically, Twitter has played a large part in teaching me this.  No longer do I blush when I see someone retweeting or commenting on a post I have put up.  I also no longer hesitate to tweet about my blog.  I spent a lot of time watching others' tweets and realizing that it's okay to self-promote, to a certain extent.  So now I confidently post my latest blog links, preparing myself for the worst (no one retweets), yet hoping for the best (a few retweets and comments).

Then there are the parts of me that I'm ashamed of.  Learning to be OK with these parts is a Mount Everest sized task.  I've started to work with it practically: revealing what I am horribly ashamed of to my therapist and seeing how she reacts.  There was shame even in the way I presented these things.  I emailed her because I was afraid I would chicken out if I waited until our session to bring them up.  The next session we started right off on my email. I shouldn't be surprised that she is less than concerned about most of my "shameful" acts, but I was.  I often wait for me to say something and have her respond with "that's not really my expertise, I would recommend you continuing with another therapist."  Ten years of waiting and you think I would get the hint.

 Part of me was angry that she didn't see just how horrible these things were.  Another part of me wanted to cry because she cared enough to tell me that I'm not a horrible person. The entire process was overwhelming and frustrating. And after a session of attempting to explain why I thought these acts were so shameful and trying to figure out why I came to believe this, she asks me to do something.  She wants me to rephrase one portion of the email in a more non-judgemental way.  She gives me the option to pick the portion, size, and how I will go about re-framing it. 

I, always the over-achiever, rewrote the whole email, emailed the rewrite to her, and am prepared to go over it tonight.  I realized something, though: I feel a little softer towards myself over some of the "horrible" things I have done.  I've stopped beating myself up over being 28 years old and not having everything worked out.  I've even realized that it was hard for me to admit to these things and doing that kind of work is really an accomplishment. 

So maybe self love isn't something that is going to happen overnight, but at least now I know it's possible to work towards it.  You don't have to love every little bit of yourself to love yourself, you just have to be willing to accept that you're a work in progress.