Emailing and texting your therapist can be (for some) more addictive than cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. The reward neurotransmitter dopamine floods your brain and motivates you to do more of the same. This is the same neurotransmitter secreted when you snort cocaine. Even a simple email exchange can do this for some. It’s not what drug you take, it’s the effect that drug has on your brain.
Until recently I had full email privileges with my therapist which led to gross feelings of narcissistic entitlement. I haven’t seen her in therapy since April and I still expected her to be available electronically 24/7. I would get upset when she didn’t reply within 12 hours. If she did not reply immediately, I would get rude and hostile and she would apologize.
This relationship was not healthy for either of us. We were merged and sometimes not in a healthy, nurturing, supportive, way. Partly because of her availability, I would lurch from one crisis to another expecting her to resolve my life with a few words on an electronic form of communication. Eventually she emailed that this had to stop and that I could email her, not every day, but every once in a while, and not to expect an immediate reply because quite frankly she was feeling overwhelmed. She also said I was welcome to come back to therapy any time I wanted to.
While I didn’t interpret that as abandonment or rejection, there was a definite seismological shift in the Universe of Our Relationship. I could have gone either way, I could have felt pushed and shoved from the therapeutic nest or I could consider myself launched into life with love, rather like what happens when a teenager/young adult leaves home.
I decided what she did was an uncommon act of kindness so I went cold turkey. One email is too many and a hundred is not enough. I cannot smoke one cigarette without being hooked again. I had a good therapeutic cry and sent her one email back thanking her for her patience, her long term email support and that I understood where she was coming from and that it must have been hard for her. I also said that I did not expect to resume therapy but you could “never say never.”
That was four weeks ago (but who’s counting?). The first week was the hardest. After that I felt truly liberated and empowered and no longer feel the urge to share my every thought and feeling, panic attack and flashback, good times and bad times, conniptions at work or arguments with my mother.
So how did this come about? Two years ago I started getting involved in my own life. I weeded the garden, I planted some plants. I took advantage of the fact that I live five minutes from the beach. I joined a gym and took up yoga. I started walking the dog, bike riding, picking wildflowers, collecting rocks and photographing every duck that I saw. But the greatest epiphany was making the executive decision to change careers.
After spending thirty years typing, filing, photocopying and answering the phone for indifferent bosses and uncaring corporations, I started studying in the mental health industry; pursuing a certificate in mental health and a degree in psychology, doing unpaid work experience and then I got a job in the mental health field working with people with a mental illness who want to give up the tobacco. Instead of working for psychopathic supervisors, I got a fantastic, fabulous woman who is not just my supervisor but my mentor as well. I have made mistakes and she has helped me correct those mistakes.
But I have to be so careful not to turn her into my therapist. I email her at work with work issues only. I have learned deeply in a most visceral manner about personal and professional email boundaries and I keep them in place at all times with all people now. Emailing my therapist was not about the emails, it was about wanting to be with her and having her take care of my life for me. My beloved therapist of fifteen years did a wonderful job with me. She chose the exact right time to approach my email issues with her. She waited till I was in the right job with the right support.
But this separation process has caused me much pain. Growing up with boundaries is emotionally and sometimes physically painful. I had grown up very much under my therapist’s warm wings, but I could not develop my skills, cognitions and emotions any further until I totally severed, not just the email connection, but the invisible umbilical cord that attached me to her.
I am balancing steadily on my own two feet now and dealing with all the issues and problems that life throws at us. I am helping other people, instead of being the helped which is empowering for me. I am giving back what I have had to take and that is how the Universe works for me.
How easy it would be to turn my supervisor into my therapist, but that is not her role. My role is not to be dependent on anyone except myself and that is the goal of the therapist in therapy. The process is small, incremental, painful and traumatic but with strength and support can change your life around. This includes teaching you how to live your own life independently.
I had to embrace the chronic pain and heartache of falling in love with my therapist; and then I had to fall out of love with her, but still love her for what she has done for me as well as acknowledge the immense hard work and effort I put into myself. No mean feat. Mental illness is not an easy thing to recover from. I am never cured, only recovered, and part of getting better for me was having a great supportive therapist. Recovering from addiction is difficult regardless of what the “substance” is and therapy is always a means to an end and not an end in itself.
Freedom from addiction is the most powerful drug on earth.