(This is Part 2 of my utterly long winded story of my walk-in session on Thursday. If you missed Part 1, you can find it HERE.)
“I had forgotten that… There was one time a bunch of boys were bullying him… Pushing him around, calling him names… I went up to the boys and I yelled at them, and I told them that if they ever touch my brother again, I was going to beat them up. If I ever see them again, or if I ever hear anything, that I would be there. And there would be hell. And I stood up for my brother. I don’t think those boys ever did anything to him again… But… We just never talk, you know?”
“How did remembering that feel? Remembering holding his hand….”
I cried more. “Um… It – (I paused for a while). He had someone to look out for him. And um… Looking back on that, like an observer, I feel glad… I feel glad that someone looked out for him…”
“Glad that you could be that person…” S said, his voice calm and comforting whilst mine was cracked and emotional.
“Yeah…” My voice was barely a whisper.
“Is it hard for you to own that you were that person? ‘Cuz you said ‘someone’, like it was someone else…”
“I think so… ‘Cuz I think… I can’t get over the guilt of not being there. Always. I think one time… We were arguing over who gets to play on the computer next and um… And I kept telling him that I would give it to him after I get to a certain point. (S chuckled, which made me chuckle a little) And… And I’d meant it, you know? I said I was gonna… I just needed to get to the save point, you know. And my father was angry at our bickering. He got up and just pulled the plug from the computer and uh, and we were both angry at him. My brother and I made up almost instantly and we were mad at my father together. And we just decided we were gonna play other things together and my mother laughed at my father and said, ‘You shouldn’t ever get between those two… They always figure something out. They wouldn’t have fought for long. Now they both hate you’ So I guess…. That was the relationship we had, you know?Unspoken. But there was some kind of a bond…”
“It really sounds like it. Have you ever felt guilty for not being there for him for a long time?” S said, sounding amused at my story.
“If I was, I wasn’t aware of it… I don’t think um… I don’t think any of these memories and feelings would’ve come up if I hadn’t talked to him yesterday. And uh, it almost feels like I was half-asleep the whole time and now I’ve suddenly woken up…”
“Feels like a dream…”
“Yeah… Then realizing oh, I guess I didn’t do any of these things. Cuz I never talk to him…”
“Do you think talking to him on a regular basis would be positive?”
“Maybe… Possibly… Um… I don’t know… Maybe… I think, I think I’m more ready to buy gifts for my brother than I am for my parents. I don’t know… Somehow… Sometimes I wonder how he’s doing. Sometimes I wonder if he has ever felt the way I did or the way I do towards my parents. It just sounds like he doesn’t hold a grudge the way I do.” I said.
“Like you said, he was the favorite. You got all the expectations and all the hard stuff. He got more care.” S said.
“And I think in some ways, I think I protected him from that. I think I took it on so that he doesn’t have to. So that he didn’t have to be that child…”
“That makes sense that you would feel more resentful. You would have more issues than he did. More issues with them, I mean…” S said. What he said made sense.
“Yeah. I guess… I guess I wasn’t a bad sister…” I said, a realization dawning on me that I was punishing myself for something I hadn’t done – that is, fail my brother.
“It doesn’t sound like it…”
I cried pretty hard. My voice was all choked up.
“I guess I did everything I could”
“Mmhmm” S said quietly. “You must’ve done something right if he still feels attached to your parents…”
“Yeah… I don’t know why I always feel like I need to do this for people.”
“Like protect them? Sacrifice?”
“Yeah… I give up a lot of things for myself for others. I’ve never seen this before. I never realized this before…” I said, as my mind started to go on overdrive.
“How much you give up for others?”
“Yeah… I give up my own happiness for others. To protect them. Their feelings. Their well-being.”
It was quite a realization – using the metaphor of swimming in a river, I often would dive in first to make sure that things are ok for others and when they are, they can then jump in too. It’s always been something I’ve done – it’s always been an unconscious behavior.
“How are you doing?” S asked, checking in because our session was starting to near the 2 hour mark. He had let me talk and talk and talk – and in the process, grieve and process some really painful memories, as well as discover something I never realized before.
“Um… It’s kinda raw but… I think I made some important realizations.”
“What do you want to take away from today – The important things to hold on to?” S asked. I think at this point, he asked me this so that I could have something to sustain me until I see him again next Wednesday.
“I’ve always done the best I could… I wasn’t a bad sister.That I am hurting and that it’s ok to feel that way…”
“Yeah… I like that…” S said.
“I guess,” I said with hesitation. I paused. “I guess that I’m pretty strong”
“You’re very strong!” S said, quickly backing up what I’d just said.
I cried when he said that. “I’ve gone through a lot for myself and for others… I think… I guess it’s… It’s ok to want help now. Because I think I’ve been strong for too long and I’m tired now…” I said as I looked down to the ground. I often did that when I felt shame.
“Yeah, you don’t have to pretend to not need help when you do…”
“Yeah… And I have help…” I said, looking up at S and we locked eyes.
“You do.” He said.
“And I…. That you don’t hate me…” I said, feeling the need to add that part.
“No” S said, slightly laughing, breaking the serious tone that he had previously. “Where did that come from? I don’t hate you?”
“I guess I’m always afraid. I’m always afraid that I’m an inconvenience…” I said, my insecurity creeping back in.
“Absolutely not.” S said very calmly and confidently. “Like I said before, I care about you. And I worry about you. But you’re not an inconvenience for me, that’s for sure. I feel privileged to be able to help you.”
“And it makes me glad to hear that.” I said, feeling more assured.
“When you came in today, it was, my feeling wasn’t ‘Oh man, she’s here again!’, it was more, ‘Oh no! Did something happen? I hope she’s ok!’”
“Yeah… I think it’s really hard for me to believe that.” I admitted.
“Yeah…” S agreed.
“Yeah… And I think that’s why I wanted to push away”
“You had that reaction again. Put up the front, act like things are fine…” S said, pointing out how I’d wanted to pretend that I don’t need any more therapy.
“Yeah… I think, I guess I’m just not used to being the one who needs the protection”
“I guess I’ve always done it so much for others, you know?”
“It’s hard to be vulnerable…”
“I wonder if that’s something to look out for. In group, to kind of, like be aware when you’re taking the protector role for other members. And when you’re kinda pulling back from being vulnerable…” S said, mentioning the process group therapy that I was attending.
“Heh… Now that you’ve mentioned that, I wonder if that’s why I’m always the one who jumps in first”
“Yeah… Last group and this group. Last group, I kinda opened up and told people that I was suicidal. And I told the group, ‘Well, nothing could be worse than that now’ so let’s talk about everybody else”
“You were trying to make it safe for other people to feel comfortable…” S said.
“Yeah. I was. I feel like everyone’s always hesitating. That they always feel like their problems aren’t big enough to talk about. So I try to assure people that it’s not. I did it again this group, I don’t think I did it on purpose but I opened up about my struggles. And T (the group’s co-leader) said that I was so courageous. I was embarrassed. I mean, how is it courage when it’s something I’m expected to do? I’m just doing my job…”
“Sounds like it’s your job, it’s your duty. Protecting your brother from the bullies, holding his hand as he sleeps…”
“Yeah, I think that’s why it’s so hard for me to accept praise, you know? But… I guess thinking about it now, I guess that’s… That’s not what people do often… I guess I can see why it is a courageous act…”
“Yeah, you made yourself vulnerable for the sake of someone else…” S said, agreeing with T in that what I did was courageous. “So there it is… In that protector role for a long time…”
“Yeah, and maybe that’s why I feel like I want that protection. Because I’ve always done it. And you know, I want someone to protect me…” I said, thoughtfully.
“You want someone to do that for you…” S said.
“Yeah… And I think that’s why I feel ashamed to admit that. Because if that was my duty… Then I shouldn’t feel like I need protection myself…”
“Mmhmm… It’s like you’re not good at your job if you need protection…”
“Yeah” I said, agreeing.
“I wonder if at the same time, it’s like, kinda like a love language. Like you show your affection and care for other people by protecting them. But maybe you also need to feel protected in order to feel like people care about you”
“Yeah” I agreed again.
“And when you don’t, you feel abandoned and let down.”
“Yeah.” I said, with the realization that he was right. “Yeah!” I agreed more emphatically. “I think that’s why I put people on pedestals… Um… So there’s always someone I can look up to, you know?”
“You need someone to be in that role”
“Yeah…….” I agreed again. “Yeah. So don’t fail!” I said to S while pointing at him. We both burst out laughing.
“I’ll try and stay on the pedestal” He said, laughing. Then he pointed out a session in which he had failed me. I had brought up the issue of transference that I was concerned about but he hadn’t been interested in exploring that at that point which made me feel like I was wrong to bring it up.
“I’m just kidding” I said a moment later, a little embarrassed.
“Seems like maybe that’s part of the challenge though, like everyone eventually falls off the pedestal.”
“I mean it’s… I wonder if the time when, there was the transference that you’d wanted to talk more about that felt like I wasn’t receptive, and I said… Well, I think I might’ve let you down. If the thought of me letting you down was just intolerable.” S said.
“Maybe… Yeah maybe at that point, you know? But it’s like I’m learning that it’s ok for you to fail. From time to time…”
“Maybe that was a good experience for you to have…”
“I don’t have to be perfect” S said.
“And when that happened, you kinda did some work on your own…” S said, pointing out the fact that when I later had brought the topic again, I was more prepared as I had actually done some reading on the subject.
“Yeah” I said, “And regardless of that failure, we’re still here…” I said, marveling at the fact that S is still on my pedestal – that I still look up to him, despite the fact that he had failed me once. I often give up on people when they fail me.
“Haha. I totally did that on purpose!” S said jokingly.
I laughed so hard. He had caught me off guard. I didn’t anticipate that he would pretend like he had orchestrated everything. As he said it, he even brushed his his hair with the palm of his hand and looked up to the ceiling, acting comically like a cartoon character who had totally not done something they said they did.
“You must have the gift of foresight!” I said. I couldn’t stop laughing.
“Yes… I’ve been planning it out for a long time!” S said, laughing along.
“Yeah…” I said, as I composed myself. Then after a moment of silence I said, “This is kinda cool” – referring to our relationship and the way we relate. Sure, we have awkward moments from time to time but in general, we have a good time together.
“What’s cool about it?”
“That… I think… That I can… I can reach a point where I’m ok with you having faults. And realizing that I still have your support. That you’re just there, you know?”
“Well good,” S said after a short pause.
“I guess the Captain America thing, with the shield, is more apt than I’ve even thought of initially,” He said, smiling.
“Yeah, I guess… Maybe that’s why I relate to him so much”
“A lot of layers”
“Yeah… I mean, he’s always looking out for people”
“Yeah… Then, from time to time, he needs help too”
“And that’s when he has a team to help him”
“Yeah…” I said, my voice dropping down to a whisper as I realized how I feel a little better knowing that I had someone to relate to – even if the person I related to was a character on a silver screen.
“Seems like you have a lot to process now…”
“Yeah, I know, that was kinda crazy…”
“Mmhmm… Well I guess think about that for the next week and… Use group as an opportunity to reflect on that, and see where you find yourself pulled into those roles…”
“Yeah…” I said. “Thank you”
“You’re welcome. Thank you. It’s always good to see you but I’m really glad you came back today”
“I guess I’ll be okay”
“I’m getting that.” S said as he thanked me again for coming in. It always feels weird when he thanks me for coming in.
After 2 hours of crying and conversing with S, I was spent but as I left his office, I didn’t feel as heavy as I usually do in other comparable situations. I wasn’t unfocused and in fact, could go to work with a slight spring in my step. S telling me that I relate to Captain America was very useful. It made me feel less alone and a little more confident. Movies, TV shows, books, and stories are how I relate to the world and definitely helps me cope with some of life’s disappointments.