Why so defensive Fräulein? What are you hiding?
The last time I saw the Square-Jawed NP (last Friday), we went over my AA fourth step worksheet that he’d given me a couple weeks earlier.
I was highly resistant to do the work of the fourth step. (Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.) I did not want to put down on paper the most horrible things I keep hidden away deep in my heart behind ice and a lead-lined steel door. As far as I’m concerned, those are my issues and nobody’s business. If it doesn’t hurt the other person, it’ll hurt me — again — and I won’t have that.
Luckily for me, NP gave me a form from Hazelden for those with dual disorders, approaching the fourth step (taking a full, honest, and searching moral inventory) from the perspective of assets and liabilities instead of the detailed crap from the AA Big Book. For instance, under assets, one might put “funny”; under liabilities, one might put “impatient”. That was the only reason I agreed to do it. It didn’t seem as scary. Plus, NP said that we would go over it together, and that I didn’t have to share it with my sponsor or any other “normal” person if I didn’t want to — Therapist Barbie would be OK, or I could bring it to a priest, or you know, that sort of thing.
But I still didn’t want to do it.
Despite my calling him a Nazi, I really like NP and enjoy our visits with their banter and sparring. Partly because I like him, I don’t want him peering down the rabbit hole and seeing just how dark and deep it gets.
Remember that NP is only supposed to be “medication management” and nothing more. Any counseling or therapizing he does is brief and bonus.
So when I went to the appointment, he asked about the fourth step worksheet. I opened my folder and handed the “final copy” to him. For three weeks, I’d been working through a rough draft that I kept in my purse in case I thought of something on the run, then the night before the appointment, I rewrote it neatly in ink on a clean copy. It was tedious work, but I did it. I found coming up with liabilities was easy and coming up with assets was a lot more work. But no, I didn’t cry, didn’t reveal anything too personal, but referred to all of the weaknesses I could think of.
NP asked me how it was, and I replied, “Oh not that bad. I wasn’t that hard except coming up with assets (insert laughter here).”
NP cocked his eyebrow at me. He flipped through the multi-page worksheet and asked the occasional question which I answered. He got to the section about relationships and said, “This is where it’s usually the most interesting.” He read it and asked a couple of more questions. Then he sat back and asked me, “Did you really put your heart into this?”
I was insulted. “Yes! Of course I did!”
“Really?” NP queried, “You did a fearless and searching moral inventory?”
“I did what you asked. I filled out your form,” I made my case vehemently, “I did exactly what you said to do. I did the form! You said all I had to do was fill out this form, and I did.”
“Wow!” NP exclaimed. “Wow… It’s like this big steel door just slammed shut on me. (He gestures a wall coming down with a stiff, downward motion with his arm in front of his chest.) “Why are you being so defensive?”
“Defensive?!?” I exclaimed, “I’m just defending my work! I did exactly what you asked me to. In fact, I went above and beyond. Look. I wrote two or more items on each line of the form doing two or three times what was asked. I’ve even been carrying around this stupid rough draft (I pull it out of my handbag and wave it in front of him) for three weeks taking notes as I thought of them! I even rewrote everything in ink on a clean sheet so you could read it. I did what you asked and more! Everything on there is what you asked for!”
NP remained stunned, but leaned in to me. “Look at me.” I looked. I was suddenly taken aback by the strange color of his eyes that I’d forgotten about — a steely color, like a dusky blue met with olive green. They were an odd, unusual shade. Because I was distracted, I didn’t hear the first words he said to me, but then I realized I needed to focus and heard him say, “Maggie, I’m not saying you didn’t do a good job. In fact, you did a great job. I can see the work you put into that fourth step. But why are you being so defensive? Why did you slam the wall down?”
“I DON’T KNOW.” I was getting mighty pissed by this point. “What do you want? Do you want me to rewrite everything in essay form?? Just talk to me and tell me what you want!”
NP: “I want you to tell me why you’re being so defensive.”
In fact, I was getting pretty loud. “I DON’T KNOW.”
NP: “Tell me… on a scale of 0 to 100%, how much effort do you think you put into this fourth step sheet.”
Me: “Are you kidding me?” We went back and forth on this a few times, and finally I answered, “100% absolutely”
NP: “You want to tell me you put in 100% effort on this worksheet.”
Me: “Yes,” I was trying to figure out what he was getting at. Did I forget to fill someting in? Was I expected to approach it differently? Should they have been worded in the form of a question? WHAT? “Yes, in as much as I am able.”
Without skipping a single beat, NP sat back and said, “Now that’s an interesting response.”
A pregnant pause followed.
I was stunned and frustrated and began to plead softly, intimately. “NP, now come on. Why don’t you just ask me what you want to know.” NP sat in silence staring at his wringing hands. So I added, “Just talk to me. What do you want to ask me? Really.”
He grunted and rubbed his head. “We just don’t have time for me to get into this. I wish I was your therapist. This is my specialty.” He has said these things before. “My hands are tied. We just don’t have time.”
I told him that I’d shown the fourth step sheet to Therapist Barbie, so NP asked me how that went. I chuckled and told him that she didn’t know what it was. He chuckled too and shook his head in his hands. “Wow, Barbie really has no idea… she’s got her work cut out for her. She’s really not ready for this.”
I agreed but added, “She’s a nice kid and she’s certainly earnest. But yeah, she really doesn’t get it.” I paused and repeated, “I really don’t know what you want to know, NP. Please won’t you just talk to me and tell me?”
“I want to know why you’re being so defensive. I mean, really, you just slammed down this big wall (he motions again) and shut me out. Tell me why.”
Oh for fuck’s sake. “I don’t know!!” I reiterated.
“You know what? I believe you. I think your subconscious is hiding something it REALLY doesn’t want to get out and…” he grunts again and says more to himself than me, “JEEZ. I don’t have enough time to do this. I just don’t.” He sighed again and resolutely leaned in toward his computer and asked me about my medications. NP looked exhausted. I mentioned that I thought the Wellbutrin should still be increased to 300mg because I still feel like I’m just under the cloud. NP muttered under his breath that this is where therapy is supposed to take over. He let out a long sigh and replied without argument that we’d give it a trial period for a month.
I sat confused. “What, no fight? No resistance? No telling me that you’re worried about polypharmacy so you don’t want to add any more to it? No fights? No arguments?”
Quietly, he responded, “Nope. This isn’t an argument. We don’t fight. Sometimes we… just… disagree and spar a little.” He continued typing in silence, the click-click of the keyboard sending the new prescription to the pharmacy.
Jesus, I thought, I broke him. I actually broke him! What did I do?!? I couldn’t believe I actually won and made him cave in — moreover, somehow that was not a good feeling. It felt as if he’d given up on me. I made him give up. It was an ugly thought.
We have ways of making you talk.
He leaned back in his chair again and said, “I just wish I knew why you were being so defensive. Don’t you see how you just shut me out? Those steel doors slammed and locked fast.”
Me: “So ask me what you want to know? Talk to me. I did the fourth step. That opens a crack in that door, you know.”
Once again he shook his head and grunted. “There’s really just no time for this. I can’t –” His eyes searched for an answer. We sat in silence for a bit — my heart was racing with fear. What had I done to him? Did I really hurt him? And why WAS I being so defensive? Did he have a point? Was my subconscious really hiding something I don’t know about?
Finally he sat forward at the computer keyboard again, moved the mouse around and asked, “What times are you available?”
Huh? I was taken aback. Why did he want to know? What was he scheming? Am I being sent to the looney bin? I was in full suspicion mode.
Me: “Why? What were you thinking?”
“Well, if I can get you in at the end of the day, we would have more time to explore this because I won’t be worried about catching the next appointment. And this is what I used to specialize in. We can get to the bottom of this.”
I was actually touched by the gesture. “Uh… Yeah, that’s fine, but are you sure?” I was worried that maybe he was risking his job by ‘overstepping’ the boundaries of his position. I leaned in to him and spoke softly, “I mean, are you really sure you want to do this?”
I was confused. He was willing to do THAT for ME? Why???
When we walked out, NP directed the receptionist to make sure I got the last appointment of the day in three weeks. She muttered that those appointments are the ones most frequently rescheduled, but he insisted anyway. So October 23rd at 3pm is our next appointment (should it come to fruition).
Until then, I am enrobed in terror. The way I see it, I have three choices. I can, A) Cancel and not go and keep my secrets to myself; B) Go and lie and/or keep that defensive wall up; or C) Go, put on my big girl pants, suck in my lower lip, and let his process happen.
I have no honest idea what to expect. Of course I’m being catastrophic and assuming the worst will be the worst. But maybe I’m not giving him enough credit and it won’t be nearly as bad or humiliating as I think. (As if.)
So I have prepared myself to be numbly clinical about it, be honest, and answer whatever he asks. I don’t want to cry AT ALL. If I can just steel myself to sit calmly through massive humiliation (it may suck beyond all reason, but it won’t kill me). After all, he seems to be going out of his way for me. It sounds like he’s planning to stay and spend more time with me than normal in an effort to break down that steel door. I kinda owe it to him to show up for this mass suckage.
Still, I remain quietly terrified. I feel trapped. It’s like being near a swamp that doesn’t stink until you stir everything up from the bottom — then pour all that foul-smelling, rotting putrification all over yourself.
I’ve also become convinced (catastrophizing again) that NP will give up on me and quit my case. Now, don’t worry, there’s no murder or child touching or anything like that in my past. None of those big things someone might expect. But still, I’m a very private person about my bad shit — and with reason. In the past, for instance, He Who Shall Not Be Named was a person of trust who knew many of my secrets — and eventually he used all my love as a weapon to stab me in the back and send me careening toward ruin. (Okay, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I had a big part in the ‘careening toward ruin’ part, but he was the catalyst.)
I don’t trust easily or at all. I’m highly suspicious. I worry not only that I’ll be found out, but to be uncovered as a completely pathetic, hopeless loser.
I also fear that NP might come to the conclusion that I’m Borderline and well beyond hope. It’s nice that he’s fighting for me, but he really doesn’t know what he’s in for any more than Therapist Barbie does. The one “Big Bad” secret I know that I hold — which I have never spoken of here or anywhere — is actually pretty lame when you consider other people who had real problems. But it’s uniqueness is what makes it so catastrophic and potentially stunning to the listener. I have to keep it under wraps, but if NP asks… I’ll have to tell.
I think my defensiveness comes more from a lifetime of trust breaches, loss of love, and abandonment issues. I wasn’t necessarily born this way — I was made to have impassible boundaries. Then again…
First recorded instance of the steel door slamming shut.
My mom once told me a story about a time when I was about 2 or 3 months old. One day, I refused to breastfeed. Every time it was offered, for a couple of days, I continued to refuse, cry, and have a fit. My mom ran to the pediatrician in a panic, and the doc simply shrugged and said, “Obviously she’s done. She’s weaned herself. So try her on baby food and see what she does with it.” I ate baby food just fine. This sounds exactly like me.
Now to truly appreciate why this story is significant, you need to know that my Mom was a chronic alcoholic. If I recall right, her booze of choice at the time was Gin and Tonic, or perhaps Martinis all day long. I was also a colicky baby for the first few months of my life, screaming almost all the time. So it would be a short jump to conclusion that mom’s milk was heavily laden with booze, which was likely the cause of my cramps and probably giving me a massive headache too (as it does even now). So as anyone who knows me well, one day, Little Baby Margaret decided she’d had enough and would rather starve than drink another drop of that poisonous rotgut!
To this day, when I meet my limit (and I have a long fuse), those protective walls slam shut. I’d rather starve — or live alone the rest of my life — than give in to other people’s wishes for me when I don’t agree.
Except… I don’t think that’s working so well for me anymore. And NP would agree.
Given the situation with NP, I feel I need to give him the benefit of the doubt. I have been seeing him for a year now. and we have built a certain amount of rapport and trust. And finally, he is going way out of his way to help me. That’s a presumed gesture of decency I can’t ignore.
It’s incumbent upon me to show up and deal. It’s the best I can do. Even so, I still fear I’ll lose him. He’ll figure out that I’m nothing but a pathetic and worthless, useless creature, hopeless and destined to live a life of misery — all this despite how fun-loving I might be on the surface. And honestly, I’ve prepared myself for that possible outcome. The shrink (or in this case, med-management)-patient relationship is never meant to be permanent anyway, so if I lose him now, hey, at least it won’t be that bad. Especially if I’m prepared. Certainly better than if I spent years seeing the guy and becoming comfortable with him only to be left behind while he, like, moves on to Ohio or something.
The main side effect of my resignation to including him in my dark little world is a dip back into really bad depression. I could barely get out of bed this morning (waiting as long as I possibly could) and couldn’t crack a smile or talk much for most of my morning shift. The increase in Wellbutrin has had minimal-to-no effect at all.
My brain just keeps catastrophizing that the end of the world is nigh. My dreams lately can confirm that (lots of end-of-the-world dreams). No escape. I feel trapped — and for me, that’s a very bad and dangerous place to be.
“Defensiveness is usually someone silently screaming that they need you to value and respect them in disguise.”― Shannon L. Alder