I think this morning of birds, how Eileen loves them. And I wonder if she is a bird I must release. I know she is not well. But I know, too, that I cannot bear letting go. I see so painfully now that important things never do end happily or easily, that flesh is torn and fabric hangs from the fence as you jump and get caught.
Releasing birds is overrated. Sometimes it’s easier to let them rest on your shoulder and outlive you.
If we don’t let go, Monkey, I am scared we’ll never heal.
The Sandbox is many things, including a long tale of very damaging therapy with a therapist named Eileen. It has been my goal to share the unique and exquisite pain of therapy gone wrong. It is its own agony and its own healing process too. My hope is that by showing what happened to me I can help others while at the same time helping myself by telling my story.
If you are experiencing dissociative symptoms, given what I know now, I advise you to seek specialized help. More importantly, and I knew this but was too deep in to follow advice I'd seen written everywhere, if boundaries are blurry, if you do not feel that everything in therapy is done in order to help you, if you feel for one second that your therapist is getting something out of your therapy personally (sex or it feels like an emotional affair), if your therapist appears to be lonely, looking for friendship, if your therapist wants to know what you think of them, is asking you questions that do not seem related to helping you then...get out. Or at least read some of the work I've provided in this section as warning.
Do not underestimate the power of the therapist in the therapeutic dynamic. He or she has power to help and enormous power to damage you as well.
Though the Sandbox has become expansive combination of art and process, its beginnings were rooted in desperate dependency upon a therapist. I was beginning a lengthy, though unknown at the time, healing process. I grabbed, unconsciously, my therapist’s hand to be helped and witnessed. This came in the form, even before the Sandbox, of emailing Eileen my writing and her responding to it.
The sending/reading dynamic should have been deeply and carefully examined and managed for both the dependency and transference that it engendered in me.
Instead, Eileen got overly involved—for reasons initially I believe that were well intended but also for personal reasons. Those personal reasons became a slippery slope that she fell off of, causing me enormous confusion and pain that has taken nearly as long as the time in the therapy to sort through.
Eileen, I believe, genuinely felt I was or at least that my writing was special. For me this was equivalent to throwing me in a time machine and mainlining me with the drug I needed most growing up.
My dependency and the intensity of my transference grew rapidly like weeds inside the Sandbox.
Looking back, had my therapist seen the dynamic between us as the most important piece of the therapy, had she delicately brought this to the light of day, I believe I would have gone on to heal some very deep and complicated wounds.
Instead, the dynamic went unrecognized. And for this I suffered greatly.
For years my entire emotional life became centered upon my Sandbox, if and how each day Eileen and I connected inside of it. Like a completely dependent child, she was…everything to me. On days when she would comment more in the Sandbox, I was being fueled and fed. On days when she forgot about me, I became a tormented animal pacing a cage, laying in wait.
For her, it is my best guess that I was part-client, part-friend, part-hobby. And perhaps partially a way to sublimate her sexuality and deeply unmet needs.
The dysfunction of the therapy was highlighted in two very serious events. First came the Flood.
The Flood was initially called The Great Turquoise Flood of 2014. Turquoise was code for Eileen—she liked the color and the jewelry. And I at times felt she was cold, "blue brained." Flood was chosen because Eileen accidentally uploaded session notes.
These notes were written in letter format to me and were peppered with highly personal thoughts and feelings about my therapy including comments about her own sexuality and jealousy toward a friend of mine who was allowed to "just" play with Monkey.
When I saw the notes I was overwhelmed, shocked and enormously confused, not in any way ready to be shaken out of my state of transference. And I was far from being able to understand the depth of my reactions inside.
The Flood was not handled properly; Eileen did not help me to understand my confusion but instead remained silent, eventually confessing to me her all the problems that this Flood had caused her.
After the Flood I became even more confused. And depressed. But I remained with Eileen as I was wrenchingly dependent. I could not see any other way.
About two months later without any warning or reason the second large blow landed.
Eileen gave her Sandbox Notice. She said in six weeks she would never read it again. She referred to meeting an obligation she had fulfilled that I was never aware of.
I was devastated.
And as special as I felt six months prior, I felt its opposite in force.
I stayed for nearly a year after Notice but was unable to really recover. I spent months in a chaotic, painful state of dependency. Eileen loved me...and loved me not. She came back to the Sandbox despite her Notice but...then also dropped me at times as well.
One of the saddest moments in this process for me came around the one year anniversary of the Sandbox. It was a moment where I found myself in unending pain, in disbelief of how ugly I had become to my own self.
I decided to try and stuff my anger but it eventually made its way out. Eileen was unable to contain it and instead reacted. There was love, fighting, pain and caused by an enormous lack of clear boundaries and professionalism.
With huge sadness, for the transference had me feeling that Eileen was a great deal more than a troubled therapist, I began to get clear that I needed this fire to be extinguished by first getting out of it and then understanding it. Releasing Birds is about this dawning.
Eventually, after months of deliberation and several consults, I terminated on April 21, 2015. It was like choosing life and death at once. Leaving Eileen was leaving someone I loved for what felt like my entire life for reasons I didn't quite understand.
But leaving her was also about survival.
Termination did not mark the end of my pain. I reeled for a very long time afterwards. Nine months after termination I was still weeping in agony. And over a year post termination I wondered if it would ever end, if I would remain always in my heart the victim of an emotional hit and run.
In Two Packs I write:
The lesson I learn is that this healing of messed up therapy takes time. And to declare it over is to declare that you are fully healed of—everything. Bad therapy mimics your problems underneath and adds to them too. It forces you to take another few hundred pounds of luggage with you on your journey to heal, as if you are climbing a mountain and someone throws another backpack on top of your existing one.
Buckets of gasoline on a remote fire seems to also be a great metaphor; Eileen carelessly—through enactments large and small, for two years—kept igniting what was a fire from long ago into a bonfire inside me that I could not put out in any way other than to leave.
Around twenty months post termination I began to crescendo in my healing, feeling that I will do whatever it takes to be done with it including the consideration of filing a complaint. This is where I live now, in the pondering of bringing what has lived for so long inside me...to a place of being further outside of me.
To begin to examine what this feels like, moving this bad therapy from the inside to the outside, I have posted a draft of the actual complaint, minus specifics.
Below are many links to dive into my story, of what it felt like at the time to be inside a painful, chaotic therapy and how I eventually emerged to be here today.