listen to my pain

I’m trying to make sense of what happens when things go very badly in analysis. It’s been a terrible, harrowing couple of months, and I’m very scared because I see my analyst tired, pained, and confused, too. I am afraid she’ll leave me. I’m talking from inside the pain. The pain is a massive onslaught of a particular memory state that, I’m convinced, has never really been dealt with and therefore lives inside me in an raw, intact, pure state. No integration. This memory state has been pervading my dreams and my day life. It started off as rage. It morphed into exhaustion (so much unbelievable exhaustion). It morphed again into despair and crushing depression. It morphed into paranoia. There’s where I am — a little of all of the above, but paranoia, mostly. It’s hard to reconstruct exactly. Injured memory, traumatized memory is a creative instrument, a beautiful machine. It selects wildly and creates with abandon. It cannot but think in language, hence in story. Which is not how life happens — linguistically or in stories. So this will be terribly partial and one-sided, even though there’s two of us involved. I’m saying this because my analyst will read it (I’ll give it to her to read, if she wants to) and probably sometimes feel like, That’s not how it happened! I believe she’s deeply invested in this too. May very well, probably has, a narrative of her own. But I only know my own. My own narrative, my own making sense of pain through pain. I’m caught inside a circle of hell.

I think everything started sometime in November, when I asked my analyst whether she had ever had sex. She said something like, That’s an interesting question what are your fantasies about it. I said that of course I believed she had had sex, but I wanted to ask anyway, I didn’t know why, the question had just popped in my head.

I think that was the day it started. I added, When I ask questions I mostly want to have them asked back. I expected her to ask me whether I had had sex. But she didn’t. We had a double session, two sessions back to back, and she spent the whole time explaining to me why she wouldn’t ask the question. I would be, Why don’t you ask me the question? and she would explain. As we later (sort of) ascertained, she was taking the question “Why don’t you ask me the question?” at face value, as the request for an explanation, because it felt absurd to her that she should ask a question to which she obviously knew the answer, just as I knew that she knew the answer. Maybe she felt played. I know she felt confused and thrown because she told me. Later, much later. In the meantime, I simply wanted to have the question asked and my increasingly loud, increasingly frustrated, increasingly enraged WHY AREN’T YOU ASKING ME THE QUESTIONs were not, to me, requests for an explanation but invitations, and, more and more, commands. ASK ME THE QUESTION! ASK ME THE QUESTION!

She later said that at some point it felt silly, that she was afraid that if she did indeed ask the question I would scorn her and abuse her for being too late, for asking what now was beside the point.

My analyst is incredibly uncomfortable with displays of aggression. Aggression is the place where I go when life gets unmoored and out of control. She finds shouting extremely unsettling. I shout a lot. Well, much less now. Almost never. I grew up in a house in which everyone shouted all the time. I grew up in a country in which people shout a lot. I grew up shouting because it was the only way I could make myself heard and seen and recognized. I shout in my dreams. I shout and shout and shout. It’s so hard for me not to shout.

So, that day, I shouted. I shouted fiercely and paced back and forth and with my shouting disrupted the whole suite of offices where patients were working their ass off with their own analysts, and their analysts wanted nothing else than to give them the space  to work their ass off. Silence. Later, we reconstructed that I shouted maybe three minutes.

I left angry and frustrated and full of rage. The next time, I did my customary act of contrition (do you know how practiced I am at acts of contrition? Kids who are forced to shout to be able to exist learn very early that an outburst of fury will perforce be followed by an act of contrition, and most likely a punishment. Even as you rage you are already thinking of the sucky contrition that will inevitably follow, and of the punishment, without either of which you won’t be able to eat or won’t be talked to or have your mom like you again or get Christmas presents or be allowed to go out to play, etc. The absolute worst of these is having your mom give you to silent and cold treatment for days. It is the worst because it hurts so much and, also, because this hurt does not metabolize into sadness but into unsustainable rage, and need to shout shout SHOUT, and, well, you see where this is going to end. I spent my childhood inside a circle of hell).

Contrition didn’t go so well (does it ever?). I had this fantasy — a fantasy stubbornly cultivated since childhood — that my analyst would say, It’s okay, don’t worry, and leave it at that. I think she might have said that, in fact. But then I asked her if the shouting had caused remonstrations in her suite mates and she told me that, no, not really, there hadn’t been remonstration, just one of the other analysts had gotten “scared.”

And I wish I could begin to explain what this does to me. Accusations, implicit or explicit, of being scary, of being dangerous. Memory flood. Memory onslaught. I have never hurt anyone. No wait, maybe I have. Have I? Have I ever hurt anyone? Am I dangerous? Could I kill my mom? Have I killed my mother? I wonder if as a child I spent time alone wishing my mother dead. My mother, who was so woefully incapable of attunement. My mother, who didn’t defend me from my father, my uncle, who let them devour me and then, not happy with the outcome, beat the shit out of me. Do you remember beating me mom? “Well, yeah, once or twice, on the butt, no major beating, no.” You don’t remember the bruises? “Oh, com’on, I think your memory is playing tricks on you.” My memory, my terribly unreliable memory.

Did I lie in the dark wishing my mother dead? Did I kick the ball against the wall in our courtyard after a beating — dry-eyed, jaw-set, drawn and pale, wiry — wishing my mother dead? Did I think, what’s going to happen to you if mom dies? Did I think of the enormity of my desire, how it would spell my doom, how it would signify my end? Did I think of the terrible loss I was wishing on myself? I was caught inside a circle of hell.

What I remember of the ensuing few weeks of analysis (three double sessions a week) is endless meta-conversations. Vehement protestations on my part about how, on occasions like this, my behavior gets so much focused on instead of the pain that underlies and expresses itself through it. Why aren’t we talking about the pain? Meta-conversations, when the exhaustion kicked in, about how to help me better. And me, constantly, You are not listening to me you are not hearing me you are not paying attention. Sessions ruined by a moment of distraction, an off sentence. You are not listening to me. We are not talking about the pain. 

I don’t remember much. I’m happy I don’t remember much. It was terrible. Trying to survive, trying to function, while having regular smothering murderous nightmares about not being heard (my mom, always my mom, not noticing or not hearing or not seeing the pain). I think I became obsessed with the pain. Why aren’t we talking about this pain? Endless derailments. Why aren’t we talking about the pain.

Then, one day, a few sessions ago, I got through to her. We have to talk about the pain. Okay, then, yes, let’s talk about the pain.

The next session: nothing. Crushing depression. She says, “It’s because there was an opening, and your mind is retreating.” Thanksgiving. How do people survive Thanksgiving? So depressed. So suicidal. Thinking of nothing except how to end it.

Today — I remember today. Today is complicated. Let me try. I walk into my analyst’s office with my heart in my throat. I believe with a great degree of conviction that today she’ll tell me she’ll no longer work with me. I feel I’m walking to my execution. I have already decided that I won’t kill myself, because I can’t do it to all the people who love me, including my soon-to-be-abandoning-me analyst. “Are you going to leave me?” “Nah.” I realize I had never believed it. I had devised this incredibly painful fantasy to protect myself. From what? From a secret, unknown-to-me, deep desire to kill her? Do I want to kill my analyst? Do I want to stop the source of the pain? Is this the only way I know to deal with rejection? Is this the root of all my nightmares? Am I so angry at my mom/my analyst that I’m still stuck in this damning desire to kill her? I don’t know. I don’t feel that way. I don’t feel like I want to kill her, but I am so angry at her (my mom/my analyst), and I feel so hurt and betrayed, and she punishes me again and again, and I am helpless, and I am so scared of my own dangerousness.

I tell her, again, like someone who has to tell over and over and over, like someone who will die saying the same thing because she feels that no one, no one in the whole world, has heard it yet: We need to talk about the pain.

She hesitates. I start going ballistic inside. What? [Blank here because I don’t remember the answer]. And then I burst out crying in a way in which I try NEVER to cry, NEVER EVER EVER, because I’m SO ASHAMED of crying that distorts my features. It is essential that my features not be distorted when I cry. (Did someone once tell me: you look so ugly when you cry? If so, it must have been before I was 5, because at 5 I stopped crying.) My features are all distorted and I try to cover my face but I also have to speak and what I say is, You don’t want to hear my pain it’s a simple story let me tell it let me tell the story of my pain why don’t you want to hear it please let me tell the story of my pain this is what analysis is isn’t it why is the story of my pain not a legitimate thing for me to talk about?

She said, but of course, but we also need to talk about what’s going on between us, what you see in me, the dynamics…

So I break down again, tear pouring, face distorted, I need to tell the story of my pain it’s a simple story I have never told it no one has ever heard it isn’t it meaningful that we should hear it it’s a memory state in which I live day and night you don’t want to hear it this memory state is killing me

She says, “But this is a memory state too.”

Let me skip here how I felt a door slamming in my face. Let me skip that I just realized I said everything in the wrong order. Let me not repeat that I cried so hard that I looked like a monster. Let me not repeat that I felt that she was hopelessly beyond connection, that she would never listen to me, that she was fixated on some mysterious agenda the lynchpin of which is not listening to my story. Let me skip all this because I’m outside the paranoid state now and I see what she was saying. She was saying something about the re-creation of a dynamic of abuse and rejection between me and her, and how unveiling this dynamic is essential to getting out of the rut.

And now I have two people inside me: the person outside the paranoia and the person inside the paranoia. The person inside the paranoia is still screaming, But I want to tell my story and you are not letting me because you want to leave me! The person outside the paranoia is saying, Wait, she’s seeing something that’s there, and maybe she doesn’t realize that the story you want to tell includes the story she thinks we should understand. It’s okay, she’s not your enemy, she’s trying to help you.”

But she’ll leave meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee