holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
A couple of years ago I left a therapy session with Anita and as I walked towards the gate, her son had his head in the bonnet of the car on the driveway. He was fixing something for A. Fortunately, he didn’t look up and I was able to leave without being seen. I didn’t feel much about it at the time, and I have literally only just remembered that this had even happened as I lead into the main bit of this post! Isn’t it weird, then, that a chance viewing of one of Anita’s children had absolutely no impact on me at all…and yet seeing the other (her daughter) set all kinds of shit off?! Hmmmm, I wonder why that might be?!
Let’s be clear, Anita is not a blank screen in my therapy AT ALL. Indeed, she is the complete antithesis to Em who revealed absolutely nothing about herself during the time we worked together. I know Anita has two adult kids and some grandkids – she mentions this on her website and occasionally mentions them in session. Most of the time that’s fine…ish (!). It really depends how I am feeling in myself and in the relationship with Anita in the moment.
If I feel settled and secure, then it really doesn’t bother me for her to reference her kids or something she might have done with them but other times (when the young parts are feeling vulnerable) it feels like she’s pouring salt directly into the mother wound. This feeling has got significantly worse in recent months, in part, due to the fact that her adult daughter has moved back in with her so she’s there nearly all the time working from home when I am having my sessions.
As I said in a recent post, sometimes I can hear her daughter moving around the house and it can feel … I can’t really explain it… awkward, I guess. There’s a kind of jealousy, perhaps, too. I feel jealous that I get so little of Anita’s time and attention these days, and so I really don’t need to be reminded of her daughter being there. I think I also feel a bit weird if Anita is reading me a story and I then hear daughter moving around. Because let’s face it, whilst we are working with my child parts in those sessions – it must sound a bit fucking weird hearing your mum reading kids’ stories to an adult.
Anyway, it is what is and I don’t let this get in the way of me getting what I need in the sessions – I just wish she wasn’t there (read into that what you will!). I try not to bristle when A says something about her family. Her family are clearly really important to her – as they should be. I guess, for lots of us though, when we know our therapists are close with their family, and involved with their kids and grandkids, it can feel like another reminder of exactly what we don’t have.
Like, “Look what you could have won… but didn’t.”
Therapy, at times, can feel like a brief escape into a fantasy world of what it might have been like had things been different (what we needed) when we were kids. Having someone who actually pays attention to us, listens, sees, and responds to us and meets some of our needs, is in so many ways the basics of interaction and caring for a child, but when it’s been missing our whole lives it feels like a magic balm receiving it as an adult! Having an attuned therapist has done such a lot for me…even if I am, yet again, whining about something that’s happened!!
Of course, therapy isn’t just playing at getting the mum we wanted. Well…it’s not only this (LOL!), there’s tonnes of work and pain to sift through as well. Often, it’s the fantasy relationship that triggers the sore points in us so that are then ready to be worked through and with (so long as the therapist is open to that and can cope with attachment stuff). I mean mine and Anita’s relationship is real, not just in my head, not only fantasy, but the child parts definitely see her as a mother figure. Adult me knows she’s my therapist but that’s an important role too and that client therapist relationship is valuable.
I am phrasing this really badly– wandering as usual! – but basically because Anita and I laid some pretty robust foundations at the beginning of my therapy, when the child parts and attachment stuff finally went live in summer 2020, we were well placed to deal with it. All the work we’d done at the beginning when I went to her when Em and I were hitting the skids and then terminated really left a clear map of what was likely to come up eventually between A and I. Anita’s absolute calm, care, and empathy hearing the absolute state of it when we first met meant that I knew that there was space for whatever might come AND THERE HAS BEEN A LOT!
I think this is really different to when I worked with Em and the aching need and attachment stuff came up and I had no idea what was going on, or why, or how to even deal with it. I was just drowning in shame week in week out. But Anita could see from the get-go that I had gone headlong down the hole with Em and triggered all my wounding in the relationship with her. Transference 101.
Anyway, get to the point RB…
So, we all know that my relationship with Anita is…deep? Yeah. It is. It’s close. It’s human and it’s fucking MESSY at times. We work through stuff in the room and it’s very specific to me and my need and my trauma. As we also know, a significant amount of my trauma stems from my mother wound…which leads to fun times! The bits that hurt the most are the bits where the young parts are triggered and feel unseen, unloved, inadequate, ‘less than’ – [insert endless negative feelings list here]…
Sooooo, a few weeks back it was absolutely pissing rain and I arrived at therapy at my usual time. I never arrive early – always bang on 10am – because I know what it’s like when students rock up early and I am still doing something else. Also, I figure if I arrive on time then Anita should be ready for me. So, that particular morning I had driven to therapy feeling a lot of feelings. It was right smack in that time when Anita’s wheels were falling off and my child parts were going wild inside but I had been keeping it to myself for fear of sending her over the edge. I had intended to go to that session and try and articulate what was happening for me because I was out of coping – I was in the zone and ready to go.
So, imagine my shock when I was head down trying to keep dry, little parts on the surface, and I walked through the gate, looked up, and there was Anita’s daughter coming out the front door.
I mean what a fucking fuck?! Of course we know these people exist. Of course I know she bloody lives there! But there’s something really different between having the knowledge of someone or hearing them moving about to being face-to-face with them unexpectedly. I instantly snapped into adult and pasted on a friendly smile and said “Hi”. A’s daughter smiled back and apologised for being there and then carried on out. All the while Anita was at the door – so she saw the whole thing.
Let’s be honest. This completely threw me. I got into the room and expected A to make some reference to it. It can’t just be me that thinks that’s a fairly big deal knowing exactly what we work on? I mean basically I saw the ‘sibling’. The favourite one. In the normal run of things I would have said something to Anita but given how it was then, and her total lack of capacity to hold anything I wasn’t about to bring the, “Seeing your daughter and talking to her felt really weird and it’s upset me a bit because the young parts want you to themselves and I feel like these days I get less and less of you”. Basically, it was the fantasy meeting harsh reality. And of course I know the reality – I guess I just didn’t want to be faced with it like this.
So, that was weird.
But then it happened again a few weeks later.
Are you fucking kidding me?!
This time we had a bit more of a conversation – nothing massive but she recognised me. She must be thinking, ‘There’s that client that’s here all the fucking time and never leaves my mum alone!’
So yeah. That was unexpected and uncomfortable. I mean, I guess sometimes parts of us would like to feel more included in parts of our therapist’s lives – but I can categorically say, that the part I am absolutely not wanting to know or come face-to-face with is her beloved children!
Anyway, I don’t have much more to say on that, I just thought I’d let you know as at this point I don’t think you can make it up! I mean I could unpick the psychology behind it but we know it don’t we? Ugh.
Anita is now away on holiday so it’s a three-week break – just marvellous. I’ve got another post swirling in my brain, so I’ll get to that sometime soon – suffice to say my internal mini bus isn’t in great shape.
They say procrastination is a trauma response and if the lack of being able to write this blog is anything to go by then, yep…! I mean I agree with that statement anyway – I am the queen of avoidance and procrastination and it definitely stems from trauma, a fear of failure, the list goes on…
I have been meaning/wanting to write for ages but every time I think about actually typing what’s been going on I recoil and find something else to do, or do nothing – actually that’s a lot more accurate! – so much time mindlessly scrolling through social media to distract! If I do make it as far as grabbing the lap top I turn it on and just have it sat next to me open and can’t type. There’s a part of me that wants to process and share what’s happening but there’s another part that feels, I dunno, perhaps that if I write it makes it all the more real? And I don’t especially want the last couple of months to be real.
In addition to this, I feel almost like I can’t formulate my thoughts in a logical, readable way and I aware that so many weeks have gone by, and so much has happened, that it’ll come out in a non-sensical mess. I don’t really know why that bothers me – perfectionist streak maybe? Not wanting to be judged by others? I know I used to write so much ‘better’ than I do now. These days it’s about whacking it on the page when I can, whereas before I think I actually crafted stuff before and had stuff to say that was a bit more interesting. Maybe no one else notices and I am just critical of myself, but it is something I am aware of, and I feel like maybe this blog, like my therapy, is in its death throes.
Since my last post where I listed all the random ball dropping that Anita seemed to be doing i.e not holding the frame very well: dogs barking, people wandering around outside, wet hair/not seeming ready, forgetting to put the books out, and of course forgetting to call me before my holiday things got much worse. I guess you could say all the things I have been noticing have really been symptoms of a much larger problem and it was only a matter of time until the bomb went off. However, if I am the Queen of Avoidance I am beginning to see that Anita, in certain aspects of her life, is the High Priestess!
The last year or so has been up and down. We’ve navigated our way through whatever’s come but, frequently, I have felt like what’s been happening is not necessarily ‘my stuff’. Of course, ‘my stuff’ gets triggered in relation to Anita, that’s the nature of what we are working on…but the rupture we had (in err, was it November??) where she said something about me being ‘too dependent’ (which she later swore blind she hadn’t said) felt really off. I felt (and knew) already that her personal life was difficult from a previous ‘honesty session/rupture’ but it seemed now that she was funnelling her frustrations into me and my therapy. It’s easier to feel that a client is too needy than admit her kids, parent, and all the other people that place endless demands on her are causing her to sink. Clients can be moved on and let go, family …less so!
Anyway, therapy this last year has been, I dunno… not especially therapeutic maybe? I mean, on a level it is, because regularly seeing Anita does a lot for the parts of me that fears people disappearing out of nowhere. There are parts of me that feel that after three years we can ride out whatever comes up between us and there is enough of a sense of safety in the relationship to allow me to get on and do what I need to do in my life and in my healing without the need for her to be there 100% of the time. There is an invisible string at work.
So much of the progress I have made with my mental health has happened as a result of the relationship with Anita but the work doesn’t just happen in the room. However the security that is built in the room and the safety that I feel in the relationship and in myself now means that I have been able to do so much better out of it. And of course there have been plenty of really connected sessions over the course of the year. So it’s not all bad. Far from it!
I think the early days of the therapy were really intense with Anita. I had just come out of the HORRIFIC termination with Em and there was a lot of massive stuff coming up and out then. The therapy felt really huge and helpful. Tbh it was pretty life-saving. I was so broken by what happened with Em that Anita saw me warts and all from the beginning. Anita’s approach was so different to Em’s and it felt so nurturing and holding and basically a massive fucking contrast to what I was used to.
It felt like I was having an enormous corrective experience from the get-go with Anita and she didn’t even know me. The compassion and care just came out of Anita is endless waves. I couldn’t not take it in even if a lot of it bounced off – enough of it was able to trickle down through the cracks and soothe the hurt places. The best thing about seeing Anita in the early days is there was no guess work involved for the young parts. Anita said exactly what she thought- and felt- and saw and it was so unbelievably refreshing. She didn’t hide her emotions from me, nor was she afraid to tell me how she felt about me. It wasn’t ‘love’ at that point but I was someone who was lovable and worthy of her time and care.
Then the pandemic hit a couple of months in, and we moved online for all those looooonnnnggggg months which meant there was a lot of time to get to know Anita without the room dynamic. She got a lot of my back story and bit by bit parts of me started to trust her. And then of course the attachment stuff went live (!!!) about six months in, but magically I was able to tell her (!) and it was completely accepted, welcomed even. The return to the room was unreal for the relationship and so so healing. The first session back saw our first hug. I’d spent years sitting across from Em dying inside because I felt so unlovable and untouchable and here was A opening her arms to me and pulling me into a proper, deep squeeze.
That, first, barely twenty second hug at the end of that session will stay with me forever. I felt like years of trauma was being released. The biggest thing was that she didn’t let go. It was me that pulled away and it has continued to be that way always – she never lets me go. Then of course actual massive holding happened in the sessions and this led to the me and the young parts being able to tell her I loved her in words to her face and having that reciprocated.
I mean ALL of that was massive and did such a lot to help heal the wounded young parts of me. Then there’s the heart necklace she gave me…
all the gifts over the years…the texts, check ins… there’s just been such a lot of ground work that’s been put into the relationship. The healed ruptures have been instrumental in my growth, too. It’s been far from easy at times (embarrassing as hell but never shaming) but Anita has been there rock solid throughout. I could go on and on but most of you have been here a long time and have been alongside me for the journey, so you know.
And…being realistic about things, my therapy – even now, despite all the changes – is still what a lot of people dream of. The level of intimacy there is in the relationship is … huge. And so no matter what happens I am just eternally grateful for what I’ve had, and what the relationship has allowed in terms of healing. When I think about what it would be like to not have A and start again I literally can’t imagine doing it. I don’t want to be without her. I don’t want to build another therapeutic relationship. I also know that no matter how good the next person would be I would probably negatively compare back to A because what we have/had has been more than I imagined possible and has held me through some massive emotional stuff. I can’t imagine anyone else doing the work A has with the young, traumatised parts.
I mean, perhaps now I wouldn’t need or look to another therapist to do the things Anita has done for me, because to an extent I don’t look to Anita in the same way for those things anymore, either. Our relationship is different now, or I am… we both are. I have deeper roots and am more able to withstand storms and there is a level of trust and knowledge of her care and love that means I bounce back quicker when things go wrong.
The intensity of the young part/s to need to be endlessly connected to Anita isn’t there in the same way now because we’ve moved through that stage a bit (!). Of course, that part still wants to be close and the cuddles and stories in sessions are really important – but what’s different is the need for holding ‘all the time’ (because that’s how it used to feel) or the hanging on desperately for sessions because the need to be connected and attached in a tangible physical sense was so intense and the time between felt painful. It’s not like that now.
I am not triggered out my brain when she doesn’t respond to a text whereas there have been times when I have gone belly up in the early days (you’ve seen the posts, so you know! Cringe!) and whilst I miss her sometimes I don’t feel like my life is revolving around those couple of hours a week. It’s taken a long time and a lot of work, but it is possible to move through this stuff. I don’t think I could ever go back to needing her like I did.
I want her in my life, and I want to continue on with the work (if possible) but I don’t think my world would fall apart if I go in on Monday and we have to end. I’d be gutted. Of course, I would. But I also feel like the work we have done so far has been game-changing for me. When we started the work, I needed her to keep me from drowning because I was sinking under the water. Whereas now I can swim doggy paddle. I’d like to think with more work I’ll be capable of butterfly, but I know that if she goes now that I won’t drown. And that’s huge. That’s a massive gift. Her love and care has been internalised enough so that I can actually live well.
I can really see how far I have come and how much work has been done on the various parts of me that were so wounded where previously the slightest misstep (perceived or real) on A’s part felt like vinegar being poured straight into the open ulcerated (mother) wound. That’s not so much the case now. Case in point is when she didn’t call me in February before my holiday. That would have been absolutely unsurvivable for parts of me a couple of years ago, but now, it hurt some parts but not enough for me to have a complete breakdown about it.
It didn’t completely derail me and the therapy altogether. I wasn’t caught circling the drain of being unlovable and unimportant. I didn’t spend months and months silently brooding in pain about it. That’s not to say there was no reaction – there absolutely was but it was just part of the story. I (and the parts) reacted to Anita’s poor handling of it at the time but then, I think most importantly is that I was able to bring it to Anita and tell her exactly how I felt the next session with adult telling the story and thank goodness I was able to be adult because that was fucking fateful session…
Soooo….here we go!!! … y’all ready?! Deep breaths.
What I hadn’t banked on that next session after my walking out, coming back to repair, and having a cuddle, was Anita hitting burnout and breakdown. Like I’d sensed she wasn’t ok – well more than sensed it, I felt it – but at the end of February it came out properly in that session. It was a session that was not therapy but was at least honest and allowed me to know what was happening. In some ways it was good to finally hear the truth. It made me feel less mental, actually. But crikey it was once of those situations we all dread. I spent a lot of time fearing being ‘too much’ in therapy but I hadn’t really ever banked on my therapist falling apart. FFS!
Sometimes I think it’s possible to join dots in the wrong ways and get in a muddle in therapy. It’s a tendency of mine to feel like something is off and then look for reasons that it could be my fault. What is it that I am doing wrong? Why does Anita feel distant/far away? It must be because her feelings towards me have changed or are negative and it sets the young parts off in a panic. I mean it’s more complex than that but that’s a simplified version of what can happen. Only it wasn’t me. It isn’t me…not this time (mind you was it me with Em, either?!). Unfortunately, it doesn’t change the situation though – because even though what’s happening is nothing to do with me, it’s my therapy, and my relationship that is teetering on the edge of the abyss.
I can’t tell you how many times over the last few months I have said to Anita that she’s changed or that I have felt that she’s not there. My antennas are so honed and are perpetually scanning for threat of abandonment that I pick up on the tiniest thing. Anita has acknowledged that this both a superpower and a burden for me at times but knows that she can’t hide from me because I see stuff before she even does. Thanks trauma!
She’s sworn blind this last year that nothing has changed and that everything is ok, even so far as saying “I am not in the place I was last year” at one point (EYE ROLL!). And I suppose on a level that’s correct in so far as her feelings towards me haven’t changed but she has changed. Her capacity has changed, and she is on her edge and no she is not where she was last year…in fact it’s much much worse than she was last year – she’s so overwhelmed she said that sometimes she can’t see a way out of her situation.
To be fair, I think when we’re in an impossible situation our minds hide the extent of how bad it is from us…or at least I think this is what’s happened with A. But as I said, none of this fucking helps me, or my therapy which has hit the skids as a result.
Anyway, I’ll try and condense this as it’s just a long drawn-out pile of shit to be honest with you. I had thought of typing the transcript of the bomb drop session but I am not sure there is anything to be gained by it. I might post it separately another time.
Basically, what happened was that I arrived and quickly felt a bit sick and unsettled but I couldn’t locate any reason for it in me. I told Anita I felt off and she said, “I wonder if you are picking up on my being overwhelmed?” This set alarm bells ringing but also another part was like, “Phew I am not going mad, after all!”
Anita told me she was really struggling to the extent that she was wondering whether she might have to take a break from work altogether. She said she was having extra supervision but didn’t know how things were going to pan out. She told me she’d cut her client load down significantly and hadn’t taken on any trauma clients in over a year… she was on the verge of tears and I took her hand and held it for the duration of the session. Inside part of me was panicking at what this might mean for me and another part was ok. Thankfully, there is that part now that feels strong enough to withstand the thing I have always feared most – being left.
The session was hard. A was not in a good place at all but we spoke a lot. At one point I asked her whether she wanted me to leave (as in end the therapy). She emphatically said no, that wasn’t what she wanted. And I believe her when she says that’s not what she wants at all…but that she also said doesn’t want the therapy to be detrimental to me and she has to be in a good enough place to hold the work and she wasn’t sure that she was.
Anyway, it was a weird session because on a level it wasn’t about me at all, but on the other hand it allowed me to see exactly how things were and see that my anxiety was 1) founded and 2) I was not nuts. It was heartfelt and gut-wrenching session. There was talk about the love and the care and how none of that stuff has changed at all between us. What’s happening for A is nothing about our relationship (but our relationship may end up being collateral damage). It’s everything to do with her own life. And that fucking sucks balls, but at the same time there’s a part of me that can accept that life is a bloody rollercoaster sometimes and we can’t predict the future.
By all accounts A has tried really hard to protect me and my therapy through her life collapsing around her ears. I haven’t been let go and she has tried really hard to be there as much as she can be. She told me she is committed to me and to being there, but she is also aware that that may not be enough for me. Over the last few weeks, we keep coming back round to the same thing, and it’s her saying that she doesn’t think what she offers is enough because it’s so much less than she used to give. It’s interesting. Of course, I miss what we’ve had but at the same time we are not in the same place that we used to be.
I told her that I feel like a lot of this is her stuff and not coming from me – i.e it’s her guilt perhaps about knowing she isn’t how she was rather than me having a meltdown about it in the here and now. I think she wants to be able to give more, perhaps feels I deserve more, and feels like she’s failing me or causing me harm because she can’t give it. As I say I might at some point write up part of that session because it was HEAVY and REAL but we’ll see. Time keeps marching on and as I said at the beginning I’m not finding it very easy to write.
Don’t get me wrong – I (and the parts) did fully have a meltdown starting in Feb 2022 for a fucking really long time about ‘everything’ being taken away and the feeling of her stepping back – but I am not there in the same way now but I can imagine that A is very aware of how much I have struggled. Sometimes stuff gets triggered – of course it does. When I am wobbling I long for the old Anita who I could reach out to and who would reply almost immediately, offer an extra session, or a longer session – but at the same time, I know that I can be ok without all that I had before because what I have got is still valuable and I have moved a long way since the time when that need was really there.
As I have said what I still have is what a lot of people wish for: the outside contact (never had a shaming boundary talk about that with Anita – unlike with Em), Anita and I still have regular contact, she sends me Gifs and replies to my messages, the physical touch and holding, the stories for the young parts, transitional objects, washing my elephant, the safe enough space to express my feelings – I can’t tell you how big a deal it is to be able to say “I love you” most sessions and to have it responded to with the same, and the gifts (despite being mired in shit she still remembered my birthday the other week and bought me some really lovely presents)…
I mean there’s loads of stuff that is so much more than your average therapy and so it’s about taking a reality check – it’s still more than I could ever have hoped for when I was with Em.
So, although I haven’t spoken in detail about that session what I can say is it wasn’t easy and left me feeling a bit unsure of the best course of action. Anita and I agreed that neither of us wanted to the therapy to end but that we had to keep checking in with where things were at. It turns out that is easier said than done! I took False Adult to quite a few sessions and talked about stuff like work rather than us or where things were going… which was a mistake. I think I was trying to be the ‘easy’ client and not give Anita any reason to feel stressed by me so she wouldn’t pull the plug on us. I recognise that this is a well-worn pattern – autopilot if you like. I have spent so many years of my life in hiding that I don’t think I always recognise when it’s happening…until there’s a kick back from other parts. Which is what happened.
A few weeks after the session where it felt like things might end, I had worked myself up to a state of high anxiety. Basically, I’d kept the young parts out the room altogether, hadn’t hugged Anita at all (although she had offered hugs), and felt really far away. The first ten minutes of the session were small talk and then I told A that I was having nightmares and struggling with sleep. The conversation meandered a bit and then A asked, “Are you feeling anxious?” I nodded. Part of me felt relieved that she’d ‘seen’ me and what was going on because I had been masking so well. I felt like I needed to be able to let out my fears and just be held and give space to those little parts who were feeling scared. Of course, this is what Anita would have done previously when she was fully functional…but that isn’t who I have right now.
Instead, the other shoe dropped. It’s what I had been panicking about and why I had kept False Adult front and centre. Anita continued, “Are you anxious about us?” Again, I nodded. “Wondering if I have got the capacity?” Another nod. Then came the sucker punch. “Yeah, I’ve been wondering about that too.” I felt my stomach fall through the floor. “And I think the saddest thing is my situation is going to get worse, not better” …
“I’m wondering if it’s – and as much as I don’t want to and you don’t want to – I’m wondering if it’s time to start looking around for someone else who has got the capacity – and I really I don’t want to say that – I really don’t but I think you are feeling the same aren’t you?…what are you feeling?”
I was feeling sick. This couldn’t really be it could it?
I replied, “I feel like I am watching a car crash in slow motion.” Anita looked really sad and then simply said, “Yeah, I get that.”
Then she said, “Can I give you a hug?”
I was a bit blown away tbh. Teen sullenly replied, “What’s the point?” I mean wtf was going on here? Was she ending the therapy or what?
Anita was on the verge of tears at this point and with so much feeling in her voice said, “It’s not what either of us want. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It really doesn’t…this isn’t what I want. Do you believe me?”
The adult that had been available to me in the last session was not there in the same way this time. I felt like I had been upended and went into myself to protect myself, but I stayed as present as I could because despite how fucking scary it felt there was still a part of me that felt like it might be ok. Maybe I was delusional?! But it allowed me to stay and to listen and to try and make sense of what was going on.
Anita and I battled on through the session. It was heart to heart stuff. There were tears. I mean it was fucking hideous but at the same time it was absolute stripped back, honest, and real – and because of that…connecting. I explained what I thought was going on about her feeling like she’s not giving enough, and she agreed that she was really struggling with feeling like she wasn’t giving like she used to. I said that lots of that was her not me. Time was up and I left feeling exhausted.
I sent Anita a message after the session:
If it was down to me, you know I would never let you go because I can’t imagine my world without you in it. But I get it’s not my choice and I don’t want to be the thing that pushes you over the edge because I love you way too much for that. I’ve clearly not got it right lately. I’ve been hiding to try and give you space. That’s what’s unsettled me. I haven’t wanted to talk or fill space at all with general life irritations. I’ve just wanted to be close to you – to cuddle and ride it out quietly. But I have kept away because I don’t want to break you and haven’t known what’s ok, or if you even want me to be there. It’s the distance in the room that panics me. I know it’s of my own making. You have asked me if I have wanted hugs. I just want you to be ok.
We kept in touch back and forth that week with short messages and gifs and it’s felt ok. Anita has been poorly and so I’ve been keeping my distance because she has been really breathless with asthma and a chest infection. It’s not been easy for the young parts because I really want to cuddle and be close and reconnect after all that’s been going on but don’t want to put any additional pressure on A when she’s not well. Having me stuck on her when she can’t breathe wouldn’t help would it?!
Then it was the bank-holiday weekend and a break (yuck!) and so we did Tuesday instead and a bit of a bumpy re-entry. I wasn’t feeling great, and I kept her at arm’s length which is pretty usual territory round breaks. She’d asked if I wanted a cuddle early on, but the protectors were having none of it. Some things never change! GROAN!
However, I’d got over myself a bit over the course of the week and on Friday she asked me again if I wanted a hug at the beginning of the session. There was no internal resistance at all, and I shuffled across the couch and we spent the entire hour cuddling. I said only three words in the entire time, “I love you”. Anita replied, “I love you too” and held me even more tightly.
A few times over the session she asked me what was going on for me or if there was anything I wanted to say… but I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t say anything. I just cuddled her tighter, listened to her heartbeat and allowed my system to take her in and relax. At the end she said it felt like we had had a really grounding session where we had reconnected after a long time…and sometimes we don’t need words. And, she’s right. That hour was so needed after the last couple of months.
I know that is really long-winded and probably doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’ll try and keep up with this a bit better going forward! So really I don’t know what’s going on. Maybe we’ll make it through this, maybe we won’t. However, if it does end it won’t be for the lack of love.
So, it’s been another while since I have posted again… This is mainly because life is so unbelievably busy that I simply haven’t had time to sit and write – but it’s also because really I haven’t found my feet back in therapy since the Christmas break (yes – I know it’s almost March!). It’s felt like there’s been a catalogue of ‘mini-disasters’ in the room with Anita since the holidays which has made it feel difficult to drop into feeling completely safe – or at least safe enough to address some of the lingering murk that always rears its head in the early part of the year – namely the catastrophic end that Em and I went through three years ago … THREE YEARS AGO!!
Because that stuff around Em (and by extension the mother wound) is so huge, and so painful, I have to feel so completely contained and safe in the relationship with Anita to be able to go anywhere near it….and I just haven’t. Parts of me have gone into hiding and it’s not helped things in the room at all. I mean it’s been ok, but just not ok enough for me to get to the parts that are requiring attention and care…and because time is rolling on and those parts are not getting what they need, it’s making it feel crappy inside. I feel abandoned and rejected – and part of that is my doing because I haven’t let Anita in, she doesn’t know what’s going on.
My system is having a bit of a malfunction and it feels really disappointing to be in this place tbh. I am trying not to judge myself and just accept that whatever is coming up is just part of what needs to happen right now – but I can’t lie, I am not enjoying the levels of upset and dissociation that has crept back in. I know that I need to find a way to get properly back to A this coming week because I can feel myself starting to fall down a hole that I haven’t been in for a long while and I know that if I don’t send out an SOS cry then I am going to be…well…I just can’t go there again. I feel really lost. And the young parts – particularly the teen is not ok.
I tend not to write mid ‘crap’ on the blog these days. I prefer to write and process things a bit after whatever was going on has run its course and things have resolved a bit…basically when things feel a bit more together. I want to reflect from my Adult self rather than post in a triggered state – but the rate things are going it could be 2024 before I am able to do that so I guess I’ll just do a quick catch up before this blog dies altogether. I know I keep saying this, but I think I need to carve out some time somewhere for me to be able to write – even if it’s not blogging- because it has been such a helpful tool over the years…I just don’t know where that time will come from!
Anyway, here goes…
It’s clear as day to me that I am swimming (drowning) in the shit infested emotional seas right now. I feel like I am lost. And where in the past I’ve used the analogy of Stevie Smith’s poem, ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ – where people on the shore mistake the drowning swimmer for someone who is waving at them so they don’t respond. However, right now I feel like I am not even trying to get noticed – I couldn’t be mistaken for waving because I’ve almost resigned myself to drowning. Well not that, exactly, but I am not sending up the signal to show that I am not ok because the fact is there is no one standing on the beach watching. There is no one to notice the distress to come and help. There is no one to save me, and so I am trying hard to muster the energy to save myself but it’s not easy when you’re exhausted.
We’ve all been here.
We know we need to do better but sometimes all you can do is just keep treading water until things ease off…but it’s hard. Fortunately, I am a strong swimmer and I have been in choppy waters and rip currents enough to know that the sea will calm and I will find my way out of it…eventually.
I seem to be triggered left, right, and centre- and just as I feel like I am getting my head above water I get hit with something else. I really don’t think perimenopause is helping with this– and that’s not me playing the crazy hormones card, but honestly I am finding that my emotions are very heightened alongside my cycle now. I feel so bonkers around ovulation, and even paranoid at times – so, I am sure that’s an exacerbating factor in all this, too. Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal I can do about that other than up the self-care, be mindful, and take the supplements, eat better, and try and get the sleep in. Ah sleep…that elusive balm. Again, I am sure this is perimenopause. ARGH!!
Anyway, I am struggling a bit and the reality is, the anniversary of mine and Em’s end really hit me hard this year. I don’t know why – you’d think the further I get away from that the easier it would be, but sadly, “like a tick” is stuck deep in my young parts’ psyche and whilst Adult me knows what she said was completely out of order, as we well know, a hurt young part holds onto these negative soundbites like a security blanket confirming why we are unworthy of love and care.
Christmas was especially hard this year, too, when my mum failed to acknowledge me, my wife, or my children. And whilst our relationship is patchy at best these days, it felt like a deliberate and calculated kick in the teeth – a punishment for I have no idea what…?
Let’s be clear – I am in therapy because of my mother wound and whilst events in the here and now aren’t the end of the world (and they really aren’t) what these rejections or abandonments tap into is all the pain I experienced as a child and it seems to pour petrol on the fire. And that’s when it all goes wrong!
So, my mum not really engaging with me anymore is what it is – no worries – I have a wonderful little family unit and we are happy as we are – but to the little parts that are so hurt it just twists the knife again into that wound…and of course that then plays out in my therapy with Anita as I search and scan for evidence that she, too, doesn’t really care and would rather not be around me. And of course, breaks do this. Again, breaks are just breaks to Adult me…but breaks to the young parts…well, it’s not great is it?! #therapybreakhell
I think sometimes as an adult you can really sometimes doubt your childhood experience and wonder if you are just stuck and locked in victim mode and perhaps it wasn’t really that bad. I mean, seriously, I am getting really bored of navigating this emotional territory over and over but I am not doing it on purpose! I am not choosing to be here. I am trying hard to heal this stuff so I don’t keep falling flat on my face…and it’s working…I think. But some weeks are better than others. Today just happens to be part of one of the bad weeks but there have been months of much much better weeks.
Adult is gaining power, but the young parts are obviously still very much part of the system and I think will continue to be. I don’t see the goal as ‘getting rid’ of those younger parts – they are there to give me information about my feelings and need listening to – and dare I say it, are welcome…even the critic! The more I can give them space whilst being able to keep a foot in adult the better.
The biggest difference that I feel now is that where previously the young parts could completely steam roller me and almost take Adult hostage (kind of how it feels this weekend), there is a move towards Adult being able to communicate with those small parts and hold and soothe them to a degree. I mean obviously I am not the preferred Adult/parent but this is a million miles further forward from when I was working with Em. Back then I could see and feel these distressed young parts but I could do absolutely nothing to help them. Because of the work I’ve done with Anita I know what it is to feel held, loved, cared for and can now copy that, sort of.
Anyway, back to actual therapy:
The first session back after the break was 9th of January…which felt like an eternity after Christmas. So, it had been a looooooooong break – not ideal. My mum had been shit – again, not ideal. It was knee deep into the anniversary period of the notoriously bad time when Em and I colossally collapsed – not ideal…and so, yeah, I was very fragile, sensitive, and hypervigilant heading back to A… I was desperate to see her. I mean the little ones were absolutely in need of hugs and stories and reassurance that everything was ok.
It’s been such a long time since those early sessions that I can’t even really remember the details of what happened and I can’t be arsed to go back and listen to see what happened. What I can tell you is that there have been a few hiccups that have meant I haven’t been able to quite settle into the therapy. You’ll laugh when you read this, because I think on their own these things perhaps aren’t a big deal – but cumulatively they’ve felt big enough to stop me doing the work I really need to do. It’s felt like the safe container is a bit of a leaky bucket and so I’ve been waiting, poised in false adult a lot of the time waiting for ‘safe Anita’ to be there consistently.
Tbh I can’t quite remember the chronology of the little things that happened with Anita but I know the first session back she opened the door and her hair was still wet. “Big deal” I hear you say, but what that signalled to me was that she wasn’t quite ready for me, had been rushing, and probably wasn’t in the zone. Perhaps she was not wanting to be back to work and would not on her A game. I know that’s a lot of projection but that’s what we do isn’t it? When we feel vulnerable and uncontained, we really badly need our container (person and space) to be robust and any hint that they may not be sends things off.
The next session her dogs barked loudly for almost the entire session and I just couldn’t relax at all. I was jumpy and stressed out. I’d needed to talk the first session back but it was just filler and False Adult and now it felt like she wasn’t providing a safe, calm therapeutic space. I felt angry that day. I had stuff I really needed to dig into and I was left feeling like she didn’t really care enough to make sure the space was ‘therapeutic’.
In another one I could hear her adult daughter wandering around in the corridor right out outside the room which again made me not be able to relax (I think this is the one that pissed me off the most!).
In another she’d forgotten to put our stories out, which again signalled that she wasn’t really ready – or more over, didn’t have the young parts and me kept in mind. She forgot the books once before a long while back and I went belly up about it. It was a big rupture. This time I didn’t say anything – teen me was just thinking “what’s the point?” because we were traversing this weird not quite right space and quite frankly, I didn’t have the energy for it. But of course, the little parts were upset and disappointed.
In and of themselves these things above don’t seem like that big a deal but as I have said, cumulatively I just felt so off – such a departure from the Anita I used to see. So, False Adult turned up to lots of the sessions because I just did not want a rupture…but inside there was a lot up upset and unrest. The head injury I sustained at Christmas really affected me for most of the month of January too. I felt dissociated but not. My short term memory was awful and I would forget trains of thought and words and….well basically it was a nightmare. There was one session where I just sat there. My mind was completely empty. Peaceful even (Wow!). But it meant that there wasn’t really much therapy. I wasn’t sad about it though because I was so cognitively zoned out. I literally had no fucks to give!
Then anniversary of ending with Em rolled around and I didn’t speak about it despite the fact it was swirling inside. It was mine and Anita’s three-year anniversary but I felt awkward somehow. I gave her a gift, but it just felt a bit…I dunno…strange this year. I think that’s definitely me, not her.
That’s not to say during this period A and I haven’t connected. We have had a few hugs and stories – it’s not been completely distant…but I just haven’t felt quite right. Stuff was building up and up and up and then I had a very bad dissociative day and it hit me afterwards that it was the actual day of ‘tick gate’. The body remembers even if the mind isn’t quite on it!
The next session I was determined to go and talk things through with Anita. You know when it’s just built up to a point where you have to? Avoidance is out. You just need to do the work. You need to take a risk and oftentimes when you do that that’s when things feel most held and connected. Anita is not a mind reader and so if I come in in False Adult I think she can think I am ok…enough. If I actually show her or tell her I am struggling then she’s there. Sometimes I think I don’t give her the opportunity to meet me, but then there’s another part of me that feels like by now she should know me and my patterns well enough to spot when I might be hiding away.
So, that day a few weeks back (the ‘let’s do it’ day) it felt like the internal fog had lifted, the mistrust and crap about not feeling held or contained was gone. Anita and I have been together long enough for me to know that she’s there. She cares. And she’s human. (Am still fucked off about the disruptions though!) But it wasn’t serving me to keep stuff to myself. The child parts needed to be seen and held and to talk through the break and all the feelings of being left and abandoned.
It’s a 45 minute drive to Anita’s and I had just arrived in her town when I got a phone call from my wife telling me she needed to go to hospital urgently but didn’t think she could drive. So, that was therapy out. I text Anita just 15 minutes before my session and cancelled. I was gutted, but obviously my wife’s health and well-being take precedence. When I arrived home, I saw a message from A saying she hoped everything was ok and she was sorry not see me. I spent the day in hospital with my wife and it triggered a lot of the trauma from being young and also when I had to have all the chemo and radiotherapy for cancer- I wasn’t in a very good place and also so sad about not being able to see Anita when I had REALLY needed to and was REALLY ready to let stuff out.
I text Anita in the afternoon explaining what was going on (bad) and asked if she might have time for a quick check in before Friday and…she didn’t reply until the afternoon of the next day. That triggered me. Ugh. But not only that she said she didn’t have any space for me.
I wasn’t asking for a f-2-f session, I literally just wanted a five minute phonecall to touch base and she was too busy.
I was really upset about that. I mean really upset.
The next session was quite shutdown I think until I started crying and told her I had really needed to see her on Monday and then all the stuff about hospital trauma and stuff from being little came out. I thought Anita knew about this part of my story, but I think I must have shared it with Em (this is one thing I really hate about having switched therapists – I feel like so much of my story is held with Em). A responded with lots of love and care but, despite this I wasn’t able to tell her how hurt I felt about not having a check in. She’d brought it up and said she was sorry…but I was hurting a lot and the young parts just felt like she would have made time in the past.
I was due to go on holiday in half-term and so that was creeping ever closer…another break. Another disruption. I was flying on the Friday before half-term and I had asked again in a text if we might be able to check in. Again she said she was full. When I saw her in session she said she was sorry that she had no space in the week. I moodily replied, “I don’t want to see you, I don’t have time this week either, I just wanted to talk to you.” Anita hadn’t realised the check in I was asking for was a phone call and said that she could talk to me on the Wednesday evening before I went. It’s a day she has her grandchildren overnight but once she’d got them in bed we could talk. That sounded good to me.
So I left on the Monday feeling sad that it would be two weeks until I saw A, but grateful that at least we would talk and the child parts would get a bit of reassurance on the Wednesday.
Wednesday evening rolled around…and my phone didn’t ring. There was no text. Nothing. I went to bed upset but also kind of resigned to the fact that she’d not remembered me. On Thursday my phone remained blank. No contact.
By the evening part of me was panicking that something had happened to Anita…but more voices were shouting, “She’s forgotten about you. She doesn’t care. Out of sight, out of mind! You’re just not that important anymore.” – that stuff on a loop. I felt really sad. I went to bed on Thursday ready to fly on Friday and when I woke up at 3am there was a message from Anita on my phone sent at 11pm Thursday night:
I am so sorry about last night. Not only was it children, but our electric kept tripping off on the sockets, so (partner) had to come down to sort it. I hope you have a lovely time away and can fully recharge xx (heart).
I looked at the message and was just really fucking mad. Like, really? Sure things go wrong and perhaps it all got chaotic that evening. But the thing that really hurt me was that she was only acknowledging this more than 24 hours after we were meant to check in. It hurt because the reason I had asked for the check in in the first place was because there was a break coming up and the little parts get so distressed. Anita knew this. And so that message just felt shit on so many levels.
In the past I would have replied to that message and fired something back showing just how hurt and upset I was. But I didn’t. I just didn’t reply at all. I was sick for the first part of my holiday which was a real pisser and I was having nightmares with Anita in them. By Monday evening I was really struggling with the little parts. I sent Anita a message with something from Carolyn Spring about shame and the link to a song, a friend had shared with me by Sia which really encapsulated how I was feeling.
I heard nothing from Anita.
In the past when I have been away and it’s been our session time she’s sent me a text to tell me she’s thinking of me. Not this time.
On Friday she sent me a text wishing me a safe journey home and sending a hug…but by that time I just felt really cut off. Like, really? Can she really not know how upset I am.
Monday ended up a complete shitting disaster. I could barely speak to her and dissociated so badly that it felt like there was literal grey fog in the room. I couldn’t see properly. I was quiet. I was hoping Anita would say something early on about the missed check in but she didn’t and this shut me down even further. I had expected her to say something – surely that text wasn’t adequate and she couldn’t feel like that was the matter closed? The pain inside was intense and A just seemed to leave me in it. She didn’t reach out, ask to hold my hand, see if I wanted a hug, enquire which parts were there. At around the half hour mark she asked if what was going on was due to gap or her not calling on the Wednesday.
I couldn’t speak.
And then she said, “In hindsight, I won’t do that again. I should have said no in the first place.”
With that I got up and said, “I’m so done. That’s not fair.” And walked out.
I was so upset.
Maybe she shouldn’t have offered the check in, and maybe with hindsight it was a mistake but the mistake has been made and surely it’s up to her to try and find a repair and allow the hurt parts to talk about what it felt like to be let down and seemingly forgotten about. Instead, it felt like I was being punished for her cock up. My reaction was making her uncomfortable, obviously another example of being ‘too dependent’, and so rather than look at that, just withdraw yet another thing that helps. We don’t do longer sessions anymore, now check ins are off the cards. I am waiting to see what happens with bank holidays. Previously, we’ve always rescheduled to another time in the week but I am guessing now I’ll just miss the session…that I have paid for.
Oh, and don’t get me started on that. She’s upped her prices too.
So, yeah. It’s all been a bit bumpy to say the least. We have managed to repair things a bit. I went back after walking out and a glimmer of old Anita was there. She had softened a lot and told me she cares, loves me etc etc and held me in tight hug for the remainder of the session…
It feels like we are a long way off base right now.
Part of me is wondering how much of this has been triggered by all the stuff I am carrying emotionally and so I am just being over sensitive. Another part is wondering if I just need to be realistic and adjust my expectations of the therapy. Anita’s capacity has changed. She isn’t the same as she was, but I still get a lot… I dunno. And after all, she is just a therapist.
I guess we’ll see. Apologies that this is just a moaning rant of nothing. I don’t have much reflective capacity right now. I just feel sad. I’ll get through it, though, I always do.
So – it’s been a very BIG month, or so, with Anita and therapy. I mean, wow – talk about rupture! I will try telling you all about it as ‘calm me’ after you first see the ‘not calm me’ below, in a sec (which was written in the thick of it) but since ‘calm me’ is now back online all that transpired has all gone a bit hazy – or deliberately dissociated?! I feel like I might be a bit of an unreliable narrator now (no change there, then!). And since things are largely resolved and settled again it is hard dragging my mind back to the stress of the rupture and the detail of it.
I’m in that post-Christmas fog of procrastination and borderline depression, too, so I need to be careful not to pick at a scab (throwing myself back in to remembering details of the horror) when it’s still a long time until I actually get to see Anita again because man, I am really feeling the ache right now. I really miss Anita (no surprises there!) and am consciously trying to ensure I don’t fall down the hole of doom when there’s still 10 days until I see A again…10 DAYS. Argh!
Still, I thought I would write a post today (beware it is absolutely mammoth) to try and keep a log and update where I am at because it all moved so fast, is more-or-less resolved, and I realise that I won’t have logged this at all. Next week work will be back up and running and I’ll be busy, busy, busy again so it’s now or never. This blog was always intended to be an online therapy diary, but over the last year I have had less and less time to write and so I don’t really know what it is anymore…a webspace I pay for?! Lol! I have noticed that lots of people I follow are writing less regularly these days, but I am always glad to see their posts when they show up on my reader, so I hope that that is still the case with this blog.
Anyway, I have just got to the computer and seen that this is not the first time I have tried to start a post about the rupture. Ummm, that’s news to me! Shit… I know I was dissociated and it’s been a very bonkers time with two sick kids, a broken-down boiler, car packing up… [insert endless list of mishaps HERE]… as well as my therapy falling out its arse all before Christmas break, but really? What the actual fuck is/was going on in my poor little brain? Ah, yes, system meltdown. My absolute favourite.
This…this…’mess’..below…well I don’t even remember typing it! I can see how disjointed it is. How panicked it feels…and yet, as I said, I have no recollection whatsoever of writing it. So, here it is. It won’t make sense, it doesn’t even make sense to me! But I think it’s interesting to see just how bad it gets on an unfiltered level. So, bear with me – I’ll, (usual blogging RB) be back after this:
Honest to fucking god, I think I’ve done it this time. Just lock me up and throw away the fucking key where therapy is concerned because, frankly, I’m shit at it and shouldn’t be let loose on therapists… I feel sick. I’ve had the ‘therapy’ shits (ffs!). My heart is racing. Basically, my nervous system is in free fall and my body is freaking out.
So, here I am again. Facing down a massive rupture. But this one feels really scary…usually I meltdown and Anita is solid – but she’s wobbled this week. She doesn’t feel grounded. She is frustrated and that doesn’t feel safe AT ALL. The end of that session was – bizarre, to say the least. I can’t believe she just cut it dead like that. How did she think I would react? You can’t just randomly drop information like ‘I know I’m going to be getting married at some point and I don’t know what I’ll be doing’ in an argument, three minutes before the end of an already hideous session -and there not be some fall out.
I’ve listened to the session on my way home, and she says all the right things, but it just feels like empty words. Like it’s therapist 101 not the Anita I have a relationship with. To the outside world it probably feels and sounds fine…but it’s not…It feels like she’s distancing. And the end – well that was just a fucking disaster.
And that was where it ended….my typing in the moment freak out. But how did I get there?
I had been having a panic about something that had happened between a friend and her therapist– I was basically fearing that the same would happen to me and Anita and it had sent the child parts into a right state. I didn’t tell A about it in the week between sessions because I felt it could wait. But by Thursday evening I was really desperate to reconnect with Anita and see her in person to ‘confirm’ everything was still ok and to settle those panicking parts…and basically have a cuddle. The week had been hard – everything was tough, you know? Like every day was like trudging through treacle. I even managed to slam my finger in my car door! It was just one of those weeks.
Then, Anita cancelled our session Friday session last minute late Thursday night. I didn’t actually see the message until I woke up on Friday morning. I was gutted. And so I think that maybe acted as a catalyst for the acceleration into this rupture but it wasn’t the reason for it. I wasn’t angry that she was sick or anything, she can’t help that, and I really understood her need to cancel. In fact, that day I ended up taking a nap on the couch for two hours when I would have been driving to and from therapy, so it wasn’t like I sat crying about it. However, what the last-minute cancellation meant was that I had more time to work myself up about whether A and I were still solid because there was now going to be a longer gap between sessions.
The Monday session was a bit meh, it was hard to connect, and I left feeling disappointed because I think essentially ‘False Adult’ had taken over when I really really needed for A and I to be close. It was that annoying thing where the momentum of the therapy was interrupted and the need had ramped up, but alongside that so had the fear of being too much and so I failed to allow A in.
Things felt really crap and on Tuesday I sent Anita a message that on reflection didn’t make it massively explicit what was wrong as it was wedged between nothing stuff. Anita didn’t see it and didn’t reply. But from my side all I got was radio silence from her. No, “I hear you, I am here, let’s talk about this properly on Friday” or “We’re fine, I promise”. Just nothing. On Thursday night I was worked up and texted – “Are you ok?” No reply. Then in the morning a few minutes before our session, “Yes, just really busy”. Ffs we’ve been here before. Too ‘busy’ to pay attention, running about like a headless chicken, dropping balls…I sent a message, “I don’t want to come today”…and she obviously didn’t check her phone.
The message wasn’t an “I’m not coming” it was really a “I don’t want to come because I can’t face any more of the feeling of you letting me drift away and us not connecting”. I did go to session, though. I hoped that at least being in the room would enable us to talk things out. I arrived both angry (teen) and anxious (little ones). I sat down and just froze. Silent. Ugh. Not this again. I reached for Anita’s hand and started crying. Told her I felt like I was drowning, and she was just standing watching. I told her that it felt like everything was broken. “It doesn’t have to be broken” she soothed. But it just felt so fucking crap – I was too far gone.
In a barely audible whisper, I asked for a story and of course Anita got the pile of books from the table and asked me which one I wanted. I said I didn’t mind and she selected, ‘Dragon Loves Penguin’ which is a REALLY lovely book that we’ve had for a couple of months now. We’ve read it quite few times and the child parts ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT. The story is really beautiful, and it’s been so connecting. BUT not this time.
Yep. My longstanding best-friend decided that today was the day to bulldoze the very thing that is so helpful in connecting young parts to Anita.
It all started to go wrong when Anita didn’t invite me in for a cuddle when she opened the book – or I didn’t shuffle in like I might usually…I was already in a state of freeze, though, and really needed her to reach out to me. As Anita began to read, I felt more and more distant from her and more and more distressed.
Why did I suddenly feel shame listening to a story with Anita after so many years of listening to stories snuggled in close to her? Even after listening to this very story several times in the last couple of months? Well, the previous week we’d been reading and cuddling and generally just talking and she’d said something about me having a massive inner child. It wasn’t meant unkindly, rather it was acknowledging the vulnerability of the young parts and the need. But you know how it is. There’s always that internal searchlight scanning for change in the relationship, change in Anita, change in how she feels towards me…and my system clocked ‘massive’ as a potential negative and obviously put it in the bank for later.
That later was this story time. I wish I had been able to tell Anita what was going on when she asked what was wrong/happening – but I was deep down in the shame zone, drowning in the dark by then. And so, it all started unravelling from there. RB was triggered and off we went down a road that really wasn’t a lot of fun. I felt upset that Anita didn’t seem to be ‘there’ (she was there) and trying to ‘connect’ (she was trying) but you know how it is when things feel really bad. It can feel like you’re on the other side of the world to the person sitting barely two feet from you and there seems no way to bridge the gap. This distance always makes me feel abandoned even when Anita isn’t abandoning me and so EVERYTHING she says gets filtered through a lens of mistrust and fear.
I’d been sitting there silent internally crying out for her but externally stonewalling her. At one point Anita asked me what I get from therapy – it was an open question but it felt accusatory. Like “Why are you even here?” A snarling, angry, (hurting) teen part replied, “Oh, I don’t know, nightmares, anxiety, and panic attacks!” Anita took that and seemed to run with it without realising it was coming from the hurt teen who felt unseen and abandoned and was lashing out.
Anita said it wasn’t ok, and if therapy is detrimental to me then we needed to look at that. Which is all perfectly reasonable but to the part that was freaking out it came over as if A was about to dump me/us. Anita later asked, “What keeps you in therapy?” – this kind of question made me wonder what the fuck is going on and who the hell is sitting in front of me. Like she surely knows, right? Surely, she must know after all these years WHY I am there. Because I love her, am attached to her, and want to heal my mother wound through our relationship. Because therapy is helping me work through this EXACT shit. That her steady, consistent support is allowing ALL of my parts to come to therapy and do the work (even if it is fucking cringey). But when she asked the question, I could say nothing. When the child parts are feeling like abandonment is imminent there is no chance of me saying that to her.
And then it went SOUTH in a big way. I said that I felt she’d changed (she has changed the boundaries this year and is less responsive than she used to be due to changes in her personal life) and she said she hadn’t changed, that she didn’t feel like she’d changed. Then said that perhaps there was a pattern developing because I had felt similar with Em. She said that I had been anxious and panicked whilst seeing Em and stayed. What Anita meant by that and how I received it were worlds apart. She was coming at it from a place of not wanting me to stay in something that was damaging for me (if that was what was going on) BUT how I heard it? Oh my fucking god!
I was absolutely raging. I felt so upset that she seemed to be suggesting that this was a ‘me problem’ and that the common denominator is me and therefore it must be me that’s causing these issues and ruptures. I was silent for a bit but also so fucking angry. I told Anita I felt insulted because the relationship I had with Em and the relationship she and I have built are poles apart. Yes, the same issues are coming up but fuckkk it is just not the same. Anyway, my angry teen part went to town. It escalated and after telling me she might not be around forever, and that she was going to get married soon (great time to throw that in the mix!), A shut down the session really abruptly at the end (SHE HAS NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE). I told her it was bullshit and left. She was clearly frustrated, and a bit rattled at the end – actually it turns out she was anxious.
Looking back now, actually I think what I can see coming from all this is two people converging on something that escalated and there was a lot of transference and countertransference. I don’t like ruptures AT ALL but having now worked our way through the bracken and weeds and back onto a clearer path I can see that really it comes from care: my not wanting to lose A, and A not wanting to hurt me. But being human can be incredibly messy at times and things got worse before they got better.
When I got home, I decided to make a voice note to send to Anita trying to outline what the fuck had just happened and why I was so upset. Despite it feeling really bad it wasn’t so bad that I thought we were done. I guess that’s the one thing I can always land on or take comfort in. No matter how bonkers I feel, or what I throw at Anita, I don’t think she’s ever going to do an Em on me. I feel safe enough to really ‘bring it’ to her and feel confident enough that we will come out the other side.
By the time I had done that and sent it I saw a message on my phone from Anita:
I feel really sad that we ran out of time this morning and wondered if you would like to speak on the phone later today or I have a free slot at midday tomorrow?
That went some way to alleviating the panic of needing to wait until Friday to begin to sort stuff out but also showed me that A recognised that how things had been in that session/how we had left it wasn’t great and that it wouldn’t be ideal leaving it for the rest of the week. This was also sent before I had sent her my voice message. Basically, it showed me that even when it is messy and difficult, she’s still there and still cares. I asked to see her in person on the Tuesday as it really felt like we needed to be f-2-f to work this stuff out and I didn’t think a phone call would cut it when a sense of physical connection is so important to be able to even talk.
The session on Tuesday began with a long cuddle the moment I arrived. I started crying and felt so sad but also really relieved to be there. Anita and I sat down on the sofa, she opened her arms up and welcomed me in for a cuddle. If only that had happened in the last session! We said nothing for ten minutes, I just listened to heartbeat and eventually our breathing was in time and it felt calmer. Then I said, “I don’t want to lose you.” She replied, “I know.” Which did absolutely nothing to allay my fears about things going down the shitter and her wanting to find a way to end. My heart started to race again, and I felt a sense of panic flood my system.
Everything was so easily triggered.
Anita said she was concerned and was worried that the therapy was becoming detrimental for me. She then said something about wondering about growth. This pissed me right off, but you’ll see why in the letter that I wrote later…because in my view there is a LOT of growth. She was trying to find words and basically said the absolute kicker – that lodged like a thorn in my brain for weeks. She said something about wondering if I had become “too dependent” and then corrected herself and said “no, that’s not the right words.” But this ‘thinking out loud’ at that particular time was not what I needed to hear. She told me a bit later that she had thought that this rupture had been caused wholly by her cancelling the session the other week and had run off down a path of thinking that I was stuck because I was freaking out over her having one day off sick and that her not being available had sent me into a massive spiral and it that she felt like it was going backwards. Of course that wasn’t the case at all!!
At this point I didn’t know where all this crap was coming from. All I had heard so far was “where’s the growth”, “I feel like we’re stuck” and “maybe it’s become too dependent.” I felt really hurt but also really confused because ostensibly my needs haven’t changed. It has been Anita that has changed, her life that’s become more demanding, her that has become more thinly stretched – and as a result it is my therapy that has suffered the consequences of that. We don’t do the longer sessions anymore (that were so containing and helpful) and we have way less between session contact than before (again removing a level of containment).
These changes haven’t happened because I no longer need longer sessions or contact. It hasn’t been something we’ve contracted for or mutually agreed. It’s been something that’s been done because Anita’s life and capacity changed so dramatically last year. I realise I still get a lot more than most people in my therapy and so I would never leave based on those changes, but it seemed really unfair to say I was (potentially) too dependent when actually she gives me less now and I have stop asking for what I used to have.
To be honest, when it was all coming out it felt ‘off’ but it still hurt because I couldn’t really work out where this was all coming from. What was going on really didn’t feel like it was about ‘us’ in lots of ways. On my side it was certainly a re-enactment of stuff around my mum. I was feeling unseen, unimportant, and just vulnerable as hell. It’s also a shit time of year because it’s around this time that the wheels started to massively fall off with Em. Naturally I am hypervigilant, but at this time of year I am poised for another ‘tick’ situation. And a ‘too dependent’ came pretty close, I can tell you!
And for Anita, the stuff she was saying (it turns out) wasn’t about me. Really it came back round to her family’s endless demands on her, and her feeling trapped by her mum’s level of need. It was countertransference 101. It’s easier to make a client who you see 2 hours a week and has a need the problem though, rather than fully acknowledge that the family member who has made your life unrecognisable from what it was a 18 months ago and now lives with you makes you feel trapped and stuck. It wasn’t me and Anita that were “stuck” and it wasn’t me that was making her feel “trapped.” Anita is usually so ‘together’ and ‘grounded’ but she wasn’t – but I can understand it. I guess my needing her or my feeling like she’s not there when she feels like she is giving me all that she can probably feels frustrating when she has such a lot going on.
Arguably, this shouldn’t have happened. But at the same time, it is a very real and human relationship, and it takes place in real time. As much as we’d like to think therapists have completely got their shit together and are totally ‘on it’ so far as knowing what’s going on with them, I do think we all have blind spots. Fortunately, like I say, there is a strong enough foundation to our relationship that we can weather the storms and talk things through and afterwards it feels like we’ve made another load of progress.
It’s not comfortable by any means but it is another lesson in ‘you can go through hard things, act up, act out, shout, and it doesn’t mean the relationship will end…and not everything that happens is always about you and not everything is your fault’. I would rather Anita be able to put her hands up and tell me what’s going on when we have these things happen (when she is aware of it!) than have a situation like with Em where stuff would happen and I’d be completely in the dark and left thinking everything was always my fault because she was such a blank screen – or the fact she’d blame me for everything!
Anyway, we limped along for a few sessions. I was so exhausted with work, end of term, life…that there was one session where I just turned up and said, “Can we just be together today. I am too exhausted for this, and it can wait.” And so we had a lovely hour of cuddles, gentle chat, and stories. I get how nuts that sounds. To be in the thick of a rupture and then go, “Ah fuck it, it’ll work out, we are ok really, let’s just catch our breath!” But that is the lovely thing about where Anita and I have got to. It is safe enough to do this. We can have a rupture. I know it’ll repair. On a core level no matter what’s being thrown up, and what chaos I am working out, underneath Anita is there, my rabbit that listens.
I do wonder if I sound completely unhinged. Like how can I hold so many seemingly opposing ideas at the same time?! Ruptures used to absolutely terrify me. My nervous system still gets thrown through a loop even now. It’s old programming. But there is a toe out of the water that knows there’s dry land and I am not going to be fully swept away by the storm. So, yes, parts of me freak out, have their reactions, go through the motions of it all…but there is another part that’s like, “RB you are ok. No matter what happens, you’ll be ok…because you have YOU now.”
Anyway, after a gentle couple of sessions I built myself up to tell Anita that she had hurt me with her comment about “too dependent”. It was about three minutes before the end of the session (nice one RB!) and I was snuggled into her chest when I said it. Anita went rigid and then swore blind she hadn’t used those words. But of course, she had…even if she’d corrected herself immediately and there was no intention of hurting me. The session ended and I went home and typed up a letter than I decided I would send as a voice note. It had been several weeks since everything had started and I felt like I wanted to get stuff of my chest.
It is not always easy to do that in session. Especially when young parts are so present. So, here’s what I wrote and sent to her:
What I’m left with-
Is it really only since you got sick you feel we’re ‘stuck’? Has it really just gone to shit in two weeks?
You said I was “too dependent” and although you backtracked and said “maybe that’s not the right words” that’s sent waves through my system because I don’t know how to fix that other than take myself away and I really don’t want to do that because that is the very last thing I need. I know you said it because you thought my meltdown or struggling to reconnect had come from you being poorly – it wasn’t – but even if it was that it feels like a really shaming thing to say. I do know that’s not how you would have intended it to come across but also using words like “unhealthy” as well just really hurt me. And adult me can sidestep it but the younger parts do feel hurt and so I need to tell you.
I can already feel the protectors stepping in to protect the vulnerable parts from being hurt more- I already feel a lot of shame about my “huge” inner child (again something I don’t think was meant to be shaming but it’s how I received it and that impacted how it felt reconnecting after you were sick) but I genuinely thought it was ok with you to work with this really vulnerable needy stuff.
I was struggling to feel like I was in the room with you the other Monday when it all blew up. I asked for a story because I felt like I was floating away, you started reading, and I could just feel myself face plant in shame and instead of feeling closer to you, I dissociated – because I felt too much, and that the inner child need was too “huge”, and it really went downhill thereafter. I really like listening to you read stories and so this felt absolutely hideous because it’s been something that’s really helped, does help, but in that moment it felt like I was pathetic and too needy.
I feel stupid. I’ve heard that “too dependent” (and you did say it) as young parts are not welcome, that I’m not ‘growing up’ quickly enough and obviously it’s all too much. I now really worry it’s going to be a problem this Christmas if I so much as struggle with the break (and of course I will struggle because duh – two weeks at this time of year always feels hard – it’s a time when I am acutely reminded of exactly what I don’t have). I’m worried that my missing you or having a reaction to you being gone now makes you feel ‘trapped’ and want to get away from me and so then that sets off a panic you’ll take the care away/step back even more.
This happened on Friday just gone – you told me about your Christmas break and I felt myself freeze – not because you are will be away but I was panicking that you will find me having any kind of reaction to it “too dependent” or “unhealthy” and that’s just fucking awful. I feel I have to hide what I am feeling so that I don’t get branded negatively and that sucks.
Even if I had have had a meltdown about the cancelled session the other week in the way you think I did (rather than panicking about what had happened to my friend maybe happening with you)- I think the issue is less about being too dependent but what or who is being triggered by you being gone suddenly. Why is that young part so affected and impacted by separation? Is it really being too dependent and therefore deficient – or does it make sense in the context of a caregiver being unexpectedly absent, unavailable, and un-contactable. We both know this comes back to my mum and my childhood – years of hanging on for Friday and feeling profoundly lost and lonely in the week…and then of course, my dad just dropping dead and never seeing him again three days into a separation doesn’t help.
I have spent a lifetime hanging on to see people I love and then being overlooked or forgotten about or worse, them never returning. It might not seem logical or proportionate of a response when I struggle with your absence but it is rooted in trauma and it feels really shaming to think there are things I might do that are seen as ‘too dependent’ and ‘unhealthy’ because I can’t help how I feel and I should be able to bring that to you if it was the case – it doesn’t mean you have to do anything about it. You can’t help getting sick, you are more than entitled to take time off, have holidays – be a human – but equally my reaction (if there was one) doesn’t make our relationship suddenly unhealthy, stuck, or problematic. And again – adult me can see how much of a reaction I am having to all this and that it’s all going to be ok…but the young parts are less certain.
And this is really evident – with this bit I wrote a couple of weeks ago because I know that you are still here- mostly, it’s felt fine the last couple of sessions, but it really didn’t the other week – and this is what I said:
I feel embarrassed and ashamed to have let you see that need for you when it’s now seemingly ‘too much’. I don’t know where you are. Where is the Anita that talked about going to the beach and having an ice cream so the little parts could just play and be kids for once, the one who said she wanted to tuck the young parts up in bed safe and take all the pain away, who said I didn’t need to stay out in the cold anymore, that her cupboards were full of chocolate, that said she understood trauma doesn’t always work on a timetable, that said I was easy to love and who kissed me on the head and held me close and said she didn’t want to let me go and could hold me forever, who noticed when I felt cold or shaky, the A who washes my elephant and bought me a beating heart necklace because you know separation is hard and hearing your heart beat makes me feel safe, and the squishmallow, the bunny that represented the rabbit that listened, a salt lamp to help me sleep… so many things… the A that reads stories- where did she go this week? Part of me feels like I’m insane and imagining a relationship that simply doesn’t exist. But those things have been said and happened – so what happened this week?
All that steady acceptance and reassurance and relationship building that you did, we’ve done, made it feel safe to bring the small parts to session so why am I now too dependent? Why is it now stuck? It’s years of relational trauma that needs working through in this therapy. I’m not getting a divorce! I’m not a bit stressed out at work. I’m not feeling a bit lacking in self-esteem. And there are loads of parts and therefore lots of perspectives, fears, and triggers. It will take time. There will be hard times it doesn’t mean it’s stuck or unhealthy.
Do you still love me… and the parts you worked so hard at connecting with? And if so, can you please explain that to them again and reassure them because right now they’ve got another mother figure who can’t tolerate their need and is leaving them alone and seemingly feels trapped. And I know you’re not my mum, you’re not my family, I wish you were. As I’ve said lots of times, you’ve given me a better experience of mothering than I ever had growing up which is why this all feels so confusing and painful now.
And yes, I get I need to parent these parts by myself but I am trying but I have needed it modelled to me. I’ve needed your care and compassion to begin to feel any compassion towards myself. But whether you like it or not- you are my attachment figure. And right now, I don’t want anyone else and I don’t think we’re done. And unfortunately for you, I do think you are the right person for me.
When you asked me what I get from this- I was upset and hurt and told you it was anxiety, panic, and nightmares. That’s definitely something that teen part experiences and has been really present at times lately. But there’s clearly more than that. If it was only that I wouldn’t have stayed. There is no way I would stay if I genuinely thought a pattern was repeating and it was heading the way things with Em went. But how things are with you and how they were with her couldn’t be more different. What do I get from this? I thought I was getting a relationship with you. I believed you loved me. I believed that you were safe to heal wound with, venture into that egg yolk with… and now I’m not sure if I’m even welcome and would you just let me go?
One day are you just going to tell me it’s over?…because I don’t get how we can have been through all this together and it just be in my head that this relationship means something – that this is just run of the mill therapy. I don’t believe it for one second. This therapy doesn’t look like anyone else’s I know. But then perhaps I am just delusional.
Also. Please know you are interacting with lots of parts right now. I can even feel the shifts as I’m writing this now. As I said, the teen has been about in a massive way that week and she is fucking angry but underneath she’s just really hurting and crying “please not again” and wants to connect. Yes- I have had nightmares and panic attacks and God knows what else but it doesn’t mean that’s all there is- but in that moment for that teen that’s how it felt. I need you to recognise that, and not panic that suddenly everything is detrimental for me and that this isn’t working. That teen needs to be heard but also, I need you to hold that in the wider frame of all of me. Sometimes I think it isn’t very clear who is in front of you but maybe ask. Because my quiet can be for lots of reasons…or for none at all! And whilst I can be really grumpy – there’s plenty of times when I tell you how much I value you, and love you, too because more than anything they are the dominant feelings.
And so, here’s some questions- Why does it make me too dependent to want you in my life? Why would I actually choose to have to not have you in my life when I have experienced so many losses already? It feels human to need to connect not wrong. I can’t help that you’re ‘just’ my therapist. I wish I could turn myself into a robot so not care about you or the relationship we’ve created and turn off my feelings when I’m not in the room …but I am not a robot, I’m a person and you’re a person too. I’m not wrong for how I feel and yet all of a sudden something that felt so good feels dangerous – and that’s how it spirals down. I don’t want to be too much. And I don’t want to feel like we’re broken. You usually sound so steady and certain when I am wobbling but you didn’t the other week.
And the thing about growth or lack of it- really feels quite shaming and insulting too. On Friday you said it was about ‘reviewing’ but when it was all going off it didn’t feel like a review, it felt like a threat or an ultimatum – your ‘concern’ came across in a way that made me feel like you didn’t see me or understand where things were. I shouldn’t need to justify why I am still in therapy or explain- and for you to insinuate or worry that there’s no growth because you thought I’d had a meltdown about our session being cancelled feels really shit. I shouldn’t feel like I am taking too long or not doing therapy right or not working hard enough – but that’s what that implies to me. Where is the growth? It’s fucking everywhere!
I’m sorry if my fear of abandonment flares up and my child parts still need stories and hugs. I’m sorry if I like being with you and feel like these hours each week help me actually just survive in the world. I’m sorry I’m not someone who rapidly transforms and fucks off into the sunset after six neat, easy sessions. I’m sorry that I need a deep and authentic connection. I’m sorry that my trying to repair a completely broken and fragmented structurally dissociated system has led to you feeling me too dependent and you now seem resentful of that.
Where’s the growth? I came to you with an eating disorder that had been rife for twenty years, where I had never once achieved a healthy BMI and been stuck in chronically underweight anorexic state. My body image was so screwed up. I had systematically starved myself for years, used exercise as a weapon and my inner critic was rampant. That voice has settled so much and I’m now in a healthy weight range. I eat what I want when I want and even though I’ve put on loads of weight I just bought bigger clothes – I didn’t try and go back. I accepted it. That’s huge on its own.
I haven’t self-harmed in years – even when the urge has been there, I’ve chosen a healthy option. I have reached out for help believing I was worthy of love and care rather than punishing myself.
I am able to work and manage my kids despite the stress of it all and always being up against it.
The constant fear of my cancer returning has eased a bit and I feel like I am more present in my life and can enjoy things where I never used to feel anything other than ‘I should enjoy this. I should feel something’.
I can actually tell you how I feel rather than keeping everything inside – you may think I don’t talk, or shut down and keep you out, but I have told you such a lot. I can be angry with you – I genuinely believed I wasn’t ever angry as it wasn’t an emotion I connected with but I do now. Not because you make me angry(!) but I feel safe to express anger with you. So that’s good- even if you don’t like me shouting at you and telling you everything is bullshit … that is massive progress and growth. I could never express that kind of thing as a kid. I’d have been flattened. But growth too is also telling you all the feelings – it takes a lot to tell someone you love them, especially when there’s a good chance they’ll reject you for it. I’m scared now that my telling you that ‘I love you’ is my being too dependent and that actually makes me want to cry.
I had started to believe what happened with Em was not my fault – that I’m not actually a tick because you loved me and therefore there must be good in me. Now I’m not sure- so perhaps that is a sliding back but it’s not surprising when it’s been like this this week.
So growth? My growth and healing isn’t necessarily obvious (although lots of people say they see a big change in me). It’s the deep deep wounding that’s repairing. I didn’t come to therapy with a surface wound. You can’t see a scab forming. But deep inside there’s so much change. It’s like a tree in winter. It looks fucked and dead above ground, but so many roots are stretching out beneath the earth ready to send nutrients up in spring to grow and create a canopy of leaves and fruit. It’s not spring yet but it’s not stuck or dead. I want to be an oak with huge, strong roots that can weather any storm rather than a tree with a shallow root system that will get battered by the slightest bit of wind…and that is what is happening…even if you can’t see it.
Sometimes stuff happens and it looks like I’m back to square one…but I’m not. I would hope you would know all this and I’m sad that my expressing upset and telling you how stuff has been has made you think it’s crap. I don’t know what to say but I need you to recognise my growth even because sometimes I can’t and be proud of that and celebrate that change with me. I don’t need you to shame me because there’s change and growth that hasn’t come yet. I’m a tortoise not a hare. And I know you aren’t shaming me, it’s my response…
You asked what keeps me in therapy? I do. You do. How I feel about you keeps me in therapy. My attachment to you keeps me in therapy. But not because I am stuck but because I feel like our relationship does me good. I love you. And the love has made huge shifts in me and how I perceive myself. And I’m sorry if that’s too much or makes you feel trapped or that I’m too dependent. I never wanted to make you feel like that.
You said once you were like a boomerang because no matter how much I push you away you’ll keep coming back. I am worried I have broken you in half and now you’re just a stick. I hope not.
So that was an outpouring from so many different parts – you can clearly see how fixated I got on some of the words Anita had said even though Adult me knew what she meant and her intention. The issue, though, is therapy isn’t just for my adult self…and that’s why it gets so messy.
Anita listened to the message. She really heard what I had to say. And we really processed what’s happened together. I mean talk about ‘the work’. Fortunately, we got the bulk of this out the way before Christmas and left feeling connected and safe. And to be honest, writing this out and reading it all…I think I just feel a bit like, ‘WTAF happened?!’…I think another thing I am going to have to really look at is my menstrual cycle…because guess when this all kicked off? Yeah – ‘then’.
I am not enjoying the Christmas break AT ALL. I have been struggling quite a lot but also really conscious of not reaching out to Anita unnecessarily (I will talk to her about this on the 9th). However, what was really lovely was that on Christmas day she reached out and sent me a message on WhatsApp first. It was a GIF saying Merry Christmas and a message sending ‘lots of love xx’ This in addition to the lovely Christmas gift she sent really helped settle the young parts that just miss her A LOT. Yesterday I sent her a message with a quote from a book that I gave her for Christmas called ‘The Journey’ by James Norbury, the second book in his series about the two friends Big Panda and Tiny Dragon (I highly recommend both):
and today she has sent me some photographs of a place she’s been. It feels good…although obviously I wish I could see her in person!
Anyway, this was a really long long post which really could be summarised by this:
RB wobbled in November/December. It should have been called ‘Rupture Season’ not ‘Christmas Season’ 2022. This year RB and Anita had a humdinger. But it’s all ok. They got through it. Oh, and C-PTSD is hardwork!
If you made it to the end of this – there really did ought to be a prize. Wishing you all a happy new year…let’s see what 2023 brings eh?!
As 2022 draws to a close I just wanted to pop in and wish you all a …well, I guess I want to say Happy Christmas/Happy Holidays and a fabulous New Year…but I know for many of us this time of year is really difficult and sometimes that upbeat message can fall flat or feel almost like a full-on smack in the face dose of toxic positivity (and I really don’t want to do that!). We look to be happy at this time of year, long for it even, but the truth is this- Christmas can be massively triggering and for many of us it can feel more like survival than the joyous time the movies would have us believe it is/should be. At this time of year, we spend a lot of time trying to look ‘fine’ when we are anything but.
I’ve worked hard over the years to create a Christmas that I want rather than one that feels obligatory (with family)- but it’s been hard won! Really, for as long as I can remember, Christmas has always felt tough – well certainly since my parents separated when I was a kid. Splitting Christmas between mum and dad was tough. Feeling like my loyalty was split. Then being carted off to my mother’s boyfriend’s parents’ house on Christmas day and feeling like an outsider as the ‘real’ grandchildren were spoiled by their grandparents and I sat there feeling like a cuckoo in the wrong nest – it was hard.
Then there was returning to my actual family on my dad’s side a couple of days later and being overlooked by my own grandparents. I was frequently gifted things from charity shops that didn’t fit or were so well-worn they had to go in the bin. Yet, at the same time, I’d get dragged around the city Christmas shopping with my grandmother who would gift herself diamond jewellery and expensive perfume: “Don’t tell Grandad, if he asks say it’s Cubic Zirconia.” I’m not knocking charity shops at all, what I am saying is that my grandmother always put herself first no matter what. And in a family that couldn’t express love in words they were also pretty shit in deeds…but then of course it wasn’t love. As much as I wish it wasn’t the case – sometimes family is just biology and blood doesn’t mean love.
Looking back, there was no Hallmark quality to those childhood/pre-teen years.
Then as an older teen I felt just…what?…desperately lost and alone, isolated, unseen – and that, of course wasn’t solely restricted to Christmas but I think it all becomes glaringly apparent in the holiday season doesn’t it? It’s a time when you look around you and see ‘seemingly’ happy families enjoying time together and there I was…out in the emotional wasteland. It feels a bit like that 80’s show Bullseye, when the host would say, “Look what you could have won!” as the contestants stared at the speedboat and ‘his and hers’ shell suits disappointedly having failed to answer a question correctly. Only we didn’t long for the speedboat – for us the prize was that… magical thing, the bond, the love, the feeling of belonging, being safe in ourselves and held safely by others…it’s the absence of that thing that has left that gaping hole inside us all these years that seems impossible to fill or repair. And the laugh is, it shouldn’t be a prize to be won, something that some people are blessed with, and others aren’t. But it is. And the fall out is hard to put into words…but if you know you know.
OMG I am really a Debbie Downer today aren’t? Thanks RB for the uplifting Christmas post!
Thankfully, meeting my wife changed things up massively so far as Christmas goes and having my kids has been a massive game-changer, too. But despite the special family Christmas and the new traditions I have created with my little family I still find this an incredibly tough time. I am already bracing myself for the period between Christmas and New Year which I guess I should really refer to as my ‘Signature Depression Zone’ because without fail, that lull point hits me really hard. I am much better at self-care for all the parts of me now but no matter what I do, there is a still a little voice in there somewhere that wants someone else to bring the love.
This year’s Christmas build up has been hard, too. Anita and I found ourselves navigating a complicated rupture over the last month (fucking wonderful!). It has dragged on a bit and has taken a lot of talking and processing. I haven’t got around to writing about it yet and I didn’t want post anything whilst we were in the thick of it because it seemed to be so dense and hard to make sense of and at times I was really triggered and didn’t even make sense to myself but I will get to it now that we seem to have come through the thick of it (just in time for the CHRISTMAS THERAPY BREAK!)
I think (now that I have come out the other side a bit) the ‘Mother Wound’ stuff all started coming to a head with Anita because once again the relationship with my own mum was thrown into sharp relief. Or should I say the lack of the relationship? Oh and of course it’s the anniversary of the shit hitting the fan with Em (ex-therapist) which is essentially ‘mum’ stuff. So, yeah, it’s been a tough month, really. Of course I got to play out stuff with Anita that was maternal transference 101 – which I guess is the work. I just don’t think I realised quite how much my relationship with my mum is hurting me even now.
I genuinely thought I was getting better at managing how she (my mum) affects me. But this year, once again, I feel like that little girl who’s been left: not important enough, not valued, not kept in mind. As I say adult me does a cracking job of looking after my kids and as part of that, I give my inner child all kinds of experiences that I know she would have loved and it goes some way to a repair for that sad little part of me. A visit to see a Father Christmas show and meeting the Big Guy in his grotto this week was enjoyed by me probably more than my kids!…but it doesn’t completely take the edge off for that little girl that just wants her mum to fucking show up and care.
The end of November and December have been hard (not just the rupture with A). We’ve been running the gauntlet as a family with various illnesses – the flu-like cold from hell was bad (still dragging on) but then norovirus was the absolute fucking pits. I won’t drag it out here but basically, it’s been another occasion where my mum just hasn’t been there in any tangible way. I have told her how hard it’s been and how much of a struggle we’ve had. Silence. Asked if there’s anything she wants for Christmas. More silence. Adult me doesn’t care – but I feel her lack of interest and care for my kids acutely. Her disregard for them feels like a repeat of the disregard she had for me.
It’s also really compounded when I’ve been going to see K and she’s said she is so sad for me and wishes she could be a mum/granny to my family as we deserve so much better. And despite the recent wobbly bits with Anita, again she has, as I repeatedly say, given me a more consistent and positive experience of mothering than anyone else. She has been there now for nearly three years and seen and held more of me, my pain, than anyone.
Today is Christmas Eve and yesterday I finally received a reply to my messages to my mum from mid-December (one of which was about my brakes completely failing on ice on the school run…literally had nothing!) “Sorry for the delay…” to tell me she’s bought a present and will get it to us in the New Year. Again, adult me doesn’t care…but kids at Christmas? You have grandkids. Do better. That’s what Amazon is for. Tbh I am just so done now. And to be honest it’s not even about gifts. We don’t need things. We don’t need money spending on us as proof of care. Like I said the other week my love language isn’t gift giving. All we have ever needed is quality time, care, to be celebrated for who we are… a relationship. But it isn’t forthcoming.
I realise the only person that can break this cycle of pain and disappointment is me. I have to find a way to stop letting this stuff hurt me over and over – because I am repeatedly allowing my young parts to be hurt and keep in a pattern that was forged long ago – but the one I am in the therapy trying to heal. And I have to make it so that my kids don’t end up hurt too. I’m not sure how to do it though? How do you stop caring that your mother really doesn’t want you?…even as an adult.
Anyway, this wasn’t a therapy post was it? But it’s the core wound again. I won’t babble on too much longer as it’s just morose and depressing.
Thankfully Anita is solid. We had our final session of the year yesterday which was really nice, settled, calm…which I am very glad of (you’ll see why once I post about the rupture stuff!). We had a story and a really lovely long cuddle and easy chat that felt really connecting. It felt like just putting everything to bed for a bit…or at least trying to. Anita is off until the 9th so it’s a pretty long stint and I know it’s not going to be easy this year.
It’s sad that my therapists both gave me Christmas cards sending their love and presents this year – and my mum hasn’t. I am trying really hard to take on board that I am valuable and worthy of love and care, and am recognised by people that mean a lot to me. But the stab of rejection feels so acute by my mum. Does anyone else feel this way at this time of year?
When I opened the package from Anita yesterday, one of the items was this coaster:
And honestly, I love it. I love it because it’s true. And I love it because she gets it. And I love it because it represents so much of what we have built together and shows how simple a need it is. There is no shame to be had from needing that or expressing love through touch. And I am so lucky to have found her. However, she’s not my mum, she’s not family, I can’t access her when I need her. I can’t call her up and say, “A I don’t feel good can you come?”…because it’s therapy. But then I don’t have that with my family either so…it’s better than nothing isn’t it? A lot of the time it is easy to get caught up in what therapy isn’t or can’t be…but actually what it IS is A LOT.
Anyway, sending so much love to you all this holiday season. Take good care of yourselves wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Solidarity to those of you in complex family situations, trying to fit in and yet feeling like you stand out like a sore thumb. Love to all your young parts who are reminded of the pain of your childhood and navigating triggers whether through being in contact or not. And sending care to everyone who feels alone whether in actuality or emotionally. We’ve got this – our adult selves can be there hopefully enough to hold the hands of the little ones that feel so sad x
A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast by my favourite astrologer, Molly McCord, and she spoke briefly about something she called ‘relational laziness’. I’d never heard to term before but essentially (I think) what she was saying is that some of us are on this earth and really prioritise relationships, relational experiences, and emotional intimacy, connection and all that that entails (hell?!) and others of us centre our lives round other factors such as jobs, financial security, projects…etc. This second group of people are less impacted or affected by relationships, of course they have them – it’d be hard to live on the planet and not have relationships – but they aren’t the be all and end all for them.
I’m paraphrasing and massively condensing but she basically said something along the lines of: we are not all here on the same journey and those of us who are really motivated by relational depth can often end up feeling crappy when we come across people who aren’t on the same relational wavelength that we are on. Being in a relationship with someone who isn’t relationally motivated or is ‘relationally lazy’ can sometimes feel rejecting or abandoning. We feel like we are putting in all the hard work whilst they coast through life, dipping in and out of ‘us’ whenever suits them and seemingly not really valuing us or the connection.
This got me thinking.
I think it’s fair to say I’ve met a few relationally lazy people in my life…hello Mum! But then I started to wonder, am I relationally lazy? Or, at least, could I be perceived as relationally lazy?
My first response was – No – I am not relationally lazy but then thought – Yes- I could be perceived as relationally lazy.
But how can I answer both yes and no? I’ll get to it in a minute.
So, I continued pondering this stuff a bit further and it made me think about our ‘perception’ of both ourselves and others in the relationships we have – which then made me think of the love languages.
Yes, my mind jumps around like a bouncy ball and my thoughts resemble a tangled ball of string so that’s why these blogs are always so random!
I guess in relationships it tends to help if you mix with people who understand and speak your own love language/s. Essentially it makes sense that you’d feel happiest around people that communicate their love in the way that you do – and in the way your value. This is a bit tricky, though, because we are obviously drawn to people and connect with them and it’s not always immediately apparent you don’t talk the same language or, at least, prioritise the same things.
If you haven’t heard of this stuff before then there are, apparently five love languages:
Fortunately, I don’t think many people only speak one language which is a relief, or we’d all be screwed especially when you factor in our differing attachment styles too! But simplifying these ideas a bit. I guess, someone who demonstrates their love care through ‘quality time’ or words of reassurance and ‘affirmation’ probably won’t be all that impressed by the person whose primary love language is gift giving. To them they might feel like it’s ‘buying’ love or ‘just’ a gift and yet to someone that expresses love through gifts it is actually a huge gesture of care and love because of what the gift represents. It’s not just a gift but a symbol of thought and love. Equally, someone whose love language is ‘touch’ is probably not going to feel especially loved and connected when someone else’s love language is ‘acts of service’.
I just did the quiz on 5lovelanguages.com and was actually really surprised by the outcome:
I really wouldn’t have said my dominant love language would be acts of service but then I guess it’s come out in my career choice as a teacher and then over the years as I have become a wife and then a mother… a lot of my life has been acts of service – doing things for other people that may seem inane to some but are clear demonstrations of my care: there is a lot of love that goes into daily packed lunches, school runs, swim lessons, and the laundry – especially when it comes at the expense of ‘me time’.
I guess now that I am running too fast in the hamster wheel of life, I really now do value when someone lightens my load more than a gift – that is ultimate love. And yet years ago I probably would have said my dominant love language was gift giving. I would show people how I cared through gifting and would equally feel valued through gifts I received. That’s really not how I am now. I really don’t care about presents but I do care about ‘presence’.
Interestingly, touch is right at the bottom at only 10%. It makes me wonder if this stems from a deficit in touch that I had as a child. Like maybe I don’t see it as important as other languages because I didn’t experience it enough as a child to register it as a love language. But then that seems off/wrong, because look at how I am with Anita. My child parts’ love language by FAR – like 80%- is touch closely followed by words of affirmation and quality time. Those are absolutely essential to feeling loved and cared for and good enough in my relationship with A. It has been the lack of touch, quality time, and affirmations growing up that has led me to feel so unlovable and untouchable in the first place. Those are the core wounds.
So, I wonder, then, if I speak to the various parts of me and check in, if they have different love languages. As I said, the young parts are absolutely fixed on touch, time, and affirmations – basically keep throwing the cuddles and reassurance their way please AND LONGER SESSIONS! But what about the teen? What does she need? Probably quality time and words of affirmation and not so much the touch. This is something I will keep thinking on.
Anyway, I am really rambling – but I guess getting back to my original point. Am I relationally lazy? No. But could I be perceived as relationally lazy? ABSOLUTELY yes. I think this is really more down to love languages and also TIME.
Over the years most of my friends and I have walked down similar paths. Years ago, we used to be able to meet up regularly coffee, lunch, dinner, go for weekends away, spend loads of quality time together but that’s less and less the case as we get older. This has nothing to do with the love and care we feel for each other.
Life gets in the way.
We all have kids and busy demanding jobs.
And anyone with kids (and no childcare) knows that planning get togethers with friends can be a real struggle.
My oldest and best friend from university lives about two hours away. We put our diaries together in September via WhatsApp and have found a weekend in February 2023 where we are both not committed and can sort childcare to have a weekend together.
That’s just how it is.
A few weeks ago, I ran into another really good friend at a school open day (our kids are the same age). We used to meet up every week when the kids were little but somehow, it’s been two years – pre-covid since we last saw each other. We both now work more than we did when the kids were little. There are no blocks of time on weekdays off for a cheeky swim and a coffee and throw in the 45-minute drive to get to one another it all just gets a bit tricky! Yet we made a massive effort and met up last weekend and it was like no time had passed.
This week I managed to see a friend who lives in my city, and lives literally 10 minutes away. She’s my kids’ godmother and one of my very best friends. We haven’t seen each other since January and spoke on the phone May.,,like wtaf?!
Crikey I have been busy being social– which is obviously why I am on my arse. LOL.
Sometimes I feel really guilty about not being social ‘enough’ or checking in enough with people but actually when we get together, we are all in the same boat. I don’t think my friends suddenly don’t care because they haven’t text in a few months because I haven’t either. BUT because our lives are running down similar tracks, we all understand and are singing from the same page. We are all exhausted, hanging it together by a very frayed thread, verging on burn out, and the ‘to do list’ never gets any shorter -and at the bottom of that list is often our friends and loved ones.
Difficulties, I think, can arise when people’s lives don’t align in similar ways. If one person has no time to fart and is literally cramming stuff into every available minute, then someone who isn’t under those pressures mightn’t get it and might feel rejected or not prioritised enough when they would like to talk and hang out. AND of course, throw in the mix our varying attachment styles and quite frankly we’re all fucked aren’t we??!
The irony is not lost on me about what I am about to say now.
Why it is then that with my friends I can totally understand that they care for me, I can keep them in mind, and don’t need continual evidence of their care because I am a busy person too… I don’t see them or myself as relationally lazy….and yet…oh CRINGE…when Anita is busy and is less available, I literally have a fuck off meltdown?! Like why is she so busy? Why can’t she find time for me? Cue big dumping of toys out pram!
Honestly, it’s been fucking embarrassing this last week or so. I had a full-blown wobble this week and then today and it was just agony in session. I will blog about it over the weekend if I get chance. I mean, I get it, things work differently with Anita she is my attachment figure, I relate to her in a different way to my friends -she’s ‘just’ my therapist, but man it’s just bloody painful.
Argh – so I began writing this on the 17th October…and then…well… time evaporated again and it’s now midway through November and it’s just been festering in the hard drive like so many other blog posts I’ve started over the last year or so. So much for the idea of being able to find the time to post more ‘regularly’! – Ah well, rewind a bit and I’ll take you back to the first session post two-week therapy break!
So, this morning I felt a bit out of sorts as I drove towards therapy. No bloody surprises there! It was the first session back after the break and here I was, again, nursing those horrible feelings of isolation and disconnect that I am so familiar with. I guess, it was self-imposed, forged out of panic. My system so massively fears the potential of there being a true isolation and disconnect enacted by Anita (which essentially amounts to an abandonment) that I get in there first. It’s a protective withdrawal on my part. If my system checks out first, it beats Anita to it, and therefore, she can’t hurt me. Only…my being distant ‘first’ does hurt me…so how is that any better?!
Of course, it’s not better, ESPECIALLY when Anita ISN’T trying to be disconnected or distant -far from it. She wants to be there for me and to connect. But when will I stop reacting from a place of fear whenever we come back from a break? Not today, it seems. Sadly, that anxiety spring is coiled tightly in my nervous system and it’s taking a long long long LOOONNNGGG time to convince my system that in the here and now things are ok, and that Anita is not going to repeat the relational pattern I have come to expect.
I am so shit at this (therapy/relationship) game of snakes and ladders, aren’t I? Honestly, I really messed up when the rules of life and relationships were being explained to me. I must have been napping at some of the crucial junctures because I keep hitting the same pitfalls over and over again. More often than not, I roll the dice I land on a snake and go sliding on my arse back to the beginning again. The thing is, I don’t think this is all my fault – I am trying so hard to navigate the board, to make it so that I go up ladders, make positive forward movement and dodge the snakes…but it just doesn’t always work out.
I think, perhaps, the problem came from the fact that relationship rules were explained to me by people who also didn’t understand how to play the game (my family) – and yet, because we all followed the same ‘made up rules’ it wasn’t apparent there was anything wrong until I ventured out into the world and tried to play the game with other people and they were like, “This isn’t how to play the game!” So, in order to make it through life and relationships, I’ve found some work arounds – paid attention to how it’s meant to be done. I continue on in the game but not, always, in the usual way, I don’t think – especially when there’s been a break.
I trusted that Em knew how the game worked, but it turns out that she, too, had some random, off brand, version of the rules and so that was really fucking confusing for me because I tried to play the game her way but it wasn’t right. Anyway… that’s a fucking bizarre metaphor that’s run out of legs…sorry!
I arrived a bit early to Anita’s and sat in the car scrolling through my phone – trying to settle the parts that were having a bad time, panicking that it wouldn’t be ok when I went in, fearing that something might have changed, and dreading a rupture because the parts were not in a good place. I had elephant ready in my bag to take in, but there was a part that was baulking against taking it to the session. I knew, however, that if I left elephant in the car there would be zero chance I would let the young parts out. Even if elephant stays in the bag in the therapy room it’s very clear it’s in there and if Anita has eyes (reader- she does) then she’ll know young parts are at least somewhere in the vicinity and hopefully will be able to reach through protective barriers and to the parts that so need reassurance and reconnection.
As I walked up the drive, I felt a bit checked out, on that path towards dissociation but not quite fully there. I was kind of apathetic and “What’s the point?” You know – disgruntled teen. Anita opened the door and smiled at me and asked me how I was, “tired” I replied flatly. That is my go to…because I am ALWAYS tired but also it’s just how it is: no energy, done in, running on empty. I wandered into the room and sat down on the couch. From what I could see, everything was still the same, my story books were out on the side, Anita sat on the couch beside me, there wasn’t anything ‘obviously’ different. I had no idea how it was going to be, though. I felt a bit overwhelmed and was all set for false adult to dive in and take the session and then for the teen to shut it all down at some point, but the moment I sat down A said, “I’ve got something for you from my trip” and handed me a little fabric bag with a chocolate lolly attached to it.
I was not expecting that. At all.
I said, “thank you” and put it to one side without looking in the bag and immediately asked for a cuddle. Whilst I was intrigued to see what was in the bag, I was more desperate to physically reconnect with A after the break. That couple of seconds together, to hear she’d thought of me on her trip, took a sledgehammer to my apathetic self and the young parts just wanted to be as close to her as possible (Cringe!).
I’m not a big fan of Autumn and Winter (I’m actually really struggling with SAD this year really badly -it’s either that or a colossal whack of post-viral fatigue) but the one positive about the changing season is that the temperature has really dropped these last few weeks and so there was no fear about it being ‘too hot’ to touch (hug) which is what happened over the summer and triggered the young parts…
The young parts immediately relaxed into being with her. It felt so nice to snuggle into her warm body, to be back in that familiar safe space, to hear her heartbeat, to breathe in her comforting smell of fresh washed clothing and clean hair (look don’t judge – you know how it is!). All the armour was off, everything I had been holding for the last few weeks could be put down, and I could just rest for an hour. So, that’s how it was for the entirety of the session – I just cuddled into Anita and it was exactly what I had needed.
We chatted about all sorts of stuff: her holiday, my being very ill, an episode with a wetsuit, my delinquent puppy and menace of a kitten, random life stuff – it was just really nice and connected. We laughed a lot. Anita asked me midway through if I wanted to look at what she’d given me and said that it wasn’t much, but she’d thought of me. Even half an hour in I just didn’t want to move from the safety of her arms. I guess after the separation I felt like I needed a huge top up of touch. I told A that I didn’t want to let her go and didn’t want to move, which I would have had to do to get the bag, and she held me tightly to her and instead told me about the pebble and shell that she’d found on the beaches whilst on her holiday and that she’d brought home for me. When the pebble is wet it sparkles from the quartz that is dotted on it.
She said that she’d been walking, the tide had just gone out, so the pebble was wet, and it had shone out on the beach reflecting in the sun. Knowing I collect pebbles (I had given her one that I had found for her from my favourite beach recently) she picked it for me. Then she told me about a beach she had been on that was completely made of shells and had picked one for me too. She also collects pebbles and shells and so it’s something we connect with. It’s a fucking world away from pebblegate with Em, that’s for sure!
I can’t really explain how cared for I felt in that moment with Anita but it felt healing. During the week before the session, she’d sent me a video of where she’d been, and then to know she’d consciously been thinking of me when I was out of sight (and I feared ‘out of mind’) was really, I dunno, special? I so often believe I am forgettable, unlovable, and frankly just not very important and yet here was really clear evidence (again) that that wasn’t the case at all. It was so nice because I have been wobbling such a lot over recent months on and off – almost creating a narrative that Anita wasn’t interested in me anymore – and yet here was a clear demonstration that Anita, the Anita I have built a relationship with over nearly three years, really is still there – invested – and she really cares.
I know that the doubting and the anxiety and the protectors are all there on loop. And whilst it is sometimes (always!) frustrating that despite doing this steady reparative work for so long, I still get plunged into the hell zone because of the attachment trauma, I guess there’s another part of me that can see that my panic and fear of abandonment can be heard, seen, and metabolised with Anita. I don’t have to live in fear of even telling her what’s going on for me (like I did with Em…WTAF was I doing in that therapy?!). Now, lots of the time my system is settled. Being with Anita is lovely, we do the work, her presence and care is so regulating for my system – there are plenty of ladders. But when stuff is triggered and awful and painful and I am sliding my ass down the snakes, there’s something really comforting in knowing that no matter how bad it might feel in the moment, A isn’t going anywhere. She tells me this often enough. And enough of me must believe it to have to meltdowns and throw ALL MY crazy into the ring.
In one of our very first sessions together we talked about the importance of building strong foundations so that we could weather whatever storms came our way – and we have done just that. The number of times I wanted to tell Em how I was feeling, to be able to express the most vulnerable parts of myself to her but got choked and dissociated was just hideous. It’s so different with A.
Towards the end of the session, with about ten minutes to go, and after a few minutes of calm silence, a young part quietly murmured, “I missed you” into Anita’s chest. She responded with, “I know.” Part of me baulked at this and that perfect peace was fractured. To at least some part of me it felt, I don’t know, dismissive somehow. I guess, it’s that thing about having unrequited feelings; fearing that my feelings are too big, too much, not reciprocated in any way. There I was being vulnerable and rather than replying with “I missed you too” which is what Anita has said a million times before, she came back with that. Had something changed? It was literally a split-second reaction in me – but it really goes to show how instantly the system can be triggered despite all the evidence to the contrary. The next words out of Anita’s mouth, literally continuing on the sentence were, “I’m back now. I still love you and still care about you…very much…I really, really do.” And with that the panic that flared up dispersed and everything was ok. BUT MAN…what a reminder of the work there is to do.
Of course, there’s been nearly a month since this first session back…and it wouldn’t be me if it had been plain sailing – lol – but it’s been ok. More than ok. There’s been lots of attending to the young parts through reading stories, plenty of hugs, and plenty of connected silence where nothing needs to be said because so much is ‘felt’. I’ve been so used to excruciating, dissociated, painful silences in therapy over the years but I have to say, I love that quiet, connected, safe silence where there are no words needed, when it’s just calm and safe. And frankly it’s good that we are in this sort of semi-rest phase because I have nothing at the moment. I am running on fumes.
Of course, there’s just one bloody problem – and the irony isn’t lost on me! – It’s going well, it’s safe, connected, and loving but MY FUCKING GOD it’s SOOOOOOOOOO hard to leave A and be thrown back into the real world to face the relentlessness of life. I am on hyperdrive in my day-to-day life and I am really on the edge of burnout after being so poorly and so of course the young parts are activated in the week and are yearning for that safe, holding space with A more than ever. Yikes! I really really need it to be Friday.
I hope you’re all hanging on in there. Yet another ‘brief’ 2500 word update! So concise 😉
So, the last blog post was really about how bumpy and unsettled things felt over the summer with therapy sessions all over the place, and lack of touch due to the sweltering heat wave we experienced, and then about returning to the more regular schedule of my Monday and Friday sessions when school started back up. And basically, the fucking meltdowns I experienced! (ARGH!) It’s nuts, really, how delicately balanced things are and how little it takes to throw not just a spanner, but a whole tool kit, in the works where my sense of safety and connection to Anita goes.
Hang on. No. Not quite that. That’s not adult me. Adult me is fine, and trusts that Anita and I are fine and can get through whatever comes our way…so no, it’s not the whole ‘I’ or ‘Me’- it’s the young parts that really struggled with the frame being wobbled a bit and not getting the physical connection they are so used to. Adult me realises that sessions of long sweaty hugs would be grim, but the child parts don’t care about heat!! They just want mummy cuddles and stories…and to them, Anita is that attachment figure. Any sense of distance in the room sends terror down through the system and panic that something has changed…yeah RB – it’s the weather, the weather has changed…everything else is fine. I am not a big fan of winter but I can tell you I AM SO PLEASED to be entering hoodie and beanie season because that means cuddles are on the cards! (What a loser!)
Anyway, this won’t be a long post (ha! – relief!) because really there’s not all that much to report. Anita and I have continued to navigate the wobbles and now we’re on ANOTHER break. Oh man, I swear breaks and disruption will be the end of me. Summer break, Queen funeral BH, and now another two weeks, alongside a few reschedules…GIVE ME STRENGTH!
I want to get up to speed, here, before Monday as I’d like to be able to get back into posting a bit more regularly and not just these randomly spaced dumps of half-remembered stuff that’s happened. I miss blogging and as winter approaches and the dark and the cold sets in, I need to really up my self-care and part of that, I think, comes in writing. Taking an hour to sit, process, have a cup of tea, and sit by the fire is helpful. Sure, there’s piles of ironing to do and lessons to plan, but I need to take some time back because it’s starting to feel a bit like the balance is off in my life.
My wife has recently started a new job which means she’s away two or three days/nights a week and so everything has fallen to me and frankly I’m finding juggling two kids, clubs, work, the house etc a bit much. It wouldn’t be so bad if a lot of my work wasn’t also in the evenings but it’s a right nightmare trying to get kids fed and into bed around teaching three lessons each evening when they’re home from school. I’m going to have to rejig a bit before something breaks…and that something will be me!
So, what happened since the last post? Lots of talk. Circling the same stuff over and over. Abandonment, rejection, has something changed? Why do I feel so disconnected…on loop. It’s so weird, too. Like one session everything can be fine – cuddles, stories, talking, connection – and then the next it’s like I can’t connect at all and I can’t even see that Anita is the same person she was last session. To say that it’s upsetting is an understatement. But what I have noticed (once I can get a bit of adult online) is that there’s a lot going on for a lot of the different parts right now. It feels like they are all activated and jostling for attention in various ways. Everyone wants to be loved, but as we all know, different parts have different ways of expressing themselves- and the teen is especially good at shutting things down and giving massive ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ vibes when in fact what she wants is A to reach out and take her hand and tell her she’s ok.
Anyway… ha…ha…not funny haha but groan…
So, we were plodding along a few weeks ago and then the wheels just fell off big time. I didn’t know what triggered it at the time. I thought it was probably the hangover from things just not feeling quite settled enough over the last few months and the upcoming break, but actually it turned out I was getting sick…really sick…I have been really unwell for about a month now but at the time things started to shake inside I was just on the verge of getting poorly. I think that on top of the usual stuff just sent things into freefall. You jnow where it you just can’t keep the plates spinning any longer…well it was that.
I am usually pretty together (don’t laugh, it’s true!). I can manage the feelings that come up in the week between sessions. I can tune into the parts and hear what’s going on for them and then try and put things in place to settle things down. But this particular week no amount of cancelling my work, or taking a nap, or giving the littles space to snuggle elephant and feel what was going on helped me. I just needed Anita. You know? Like nothing else was going to cut it. And man, that is a bloody bind because I can’t have her whenever I want!
So, once again I faced a tricky dilemma. Should I reach out? In the past I would have had no qualms at all about asking for a longer session, or a check in, or an extra session in the week but these days I don’t. Part of this stems from feeling like I don’t deserve it and so I feel I shouldn’t ask. Because I pay a fixed monthly fee to Anita, I feel like I can’t ask for more than the usual number of sessions now because it feels like I am already not paying her what she charges so how can I possibly ask for more contact time even if I need it? (I think this is a problem for a lot of us on reduced fees and something that therapists probably aren’t even aware of – but money shame is huge). Another reason that I also struggle to ask for more time with A is because longer sessions were taken off the table in February.
I’ve been navigating this weird space where I might ‘want’ her but I don’t necessarily ‘need’ her and have been managing with the odd rupture blowing up here and there as a result of it all. Only what came up that week was different. It was that feeling of crisis where EVERYTHING was wrong, and I felt like I was disintegrating (well I was – my body just gave up!).
And so, after several nightmares on Monday night and as things continued to get worse I decided to ask Anita if we could check in or bring our session forward from Friday on Tuesday morning. I knew that wouldn’t help things later in the week but you know what, in that moment I didn’t even see how I would get to Friday. Of course, Anita was Anita, you know the one I fear doesn’t exist anymore… and offered me a session f2f on the Wednesday which I grabbed with both hands. Despite having that safe space booked in for less than 24 hours ahead, that day was bloody awful. I felt like I was unravelling (I was, but I was getting sick too).
I’ve said a million times that I am not a crier but that night I found myself in bed sobbing my heart out for three hours straight. It just wouldn’t stop. You know, that snotty, convulsive, gives you a headache and makes you feel sick crying? It was just so bad. I felt so sad and lost and little…basically it was an almighty grief dump that seemed to come out of nowhere.
But crying is good, right? No. Not in this instance. On my own it didn’t feel cathartic. It felt overwhelming and I was plunged back into that grey space where the little four-year-old girl is standing with her back to me on the barren wasteland. Oh great. Even though I knew I would see A the next day there was absolutely no consoling the desperately sad, abandoned parts. As I say, I know now that I was starting to get sick and not actually having an epic breakdown – I just didn’t know it in the moment.
The next day I drove to Anita’s and basically collapsed into her arms and spent the entire session cuddled into her. We had some stories and I really let her in in a way that I probably haven’t for several months. It was really hard but also really necessary. A was incredibly attuned and I felt her right there with me. I asked her if she has always been there like that in recent months and she insisted that she’s been there the whole time waiting for me, trying to connect. That felt hard to hear. I know my defences are strong and easily triggered – but here was A saying that she’s not changed and she still loves me and it’s been hard seeing me suffer so much…
It felt so good to feel so connected to her. It’s that feeling I think I am always searching for – and hope one day to feel that connected to myself. But right now I look for it in my relationship with her. To feel totally safe and totally held… it’s like being able to drop all the baggage, take off all the armour, and just be… it’s just great. Only of course sessions are not infinite, and I noticed I started to feel tense when I noticed the clock had five minutes to go. The idea of peeling myself away from A, leaving the safety of her arms and the room. I just wanted to cry…especially as I had forfeited my Friday session in order to see her which meant there was now a five day stretch of no contact ahead.
Imagine my delight then when Anita said to me that she was really, really glad we had had the session that day and how important it had been – but that she had kept my session open on Friday if I wanted to come. I can’t really explain what that did to my system, the system who for months and months felt like I was not as important to A as I had been previously, and that I wasn’t as worthy of her time as before. I asked, “Are you sure?” and she held me close to her and said, “Of course”. I left that session feeling so much better than I did when I arrived and felt so bloody grateful for Anita’s steadiness and care in what has been quite a bumpy few months.
You’d think, then, that that would be the end of the craziness for a while, wouldn’t you? – that things would settle down? But you do know who is writing this right? You know me! I am a magnet for disaster…and so it wasn’t long before the next rupture hit.
And deep breaths RB. The next session was different from the intensity of Wednesday and the visit down into the deep well of pain and grief. Instead, the session was connected but essentially small talk and stories and cuddles. It was lovely. When I left, I worried that A would think I had been wasting her time that week – having a MASSIVE crisis and then essentially being ‘fine’ by the Friday. Only it wasn’t that. I had needed that Wednesday to be able metabolise things and then be ok on Friday. The Friday session felt like I had finally found that calm space in which to rest away from the trauma and just be connected. I text A afterwards to tell her I hoped she didn’t think it was a wasted session and how nice it was to feel so close after such a long time – she agreed that it was not a waste of time AT ALL.
So, what the hell happened after that?
More disruptions – the Queens funeral day was a BH which unsettled my system – not that I could have gone to my session anyway because I got very sick following the Friday session with what we now think was Flu. I felt like utter dog shit and was not myself at all. I had to cancel work and was basically bedridden. It’s been a pretty ropey month and it’s taken a long while to start to bounce back. It definitely had an impact on the therapy.
Anita was still there (she sent some really kind, caring messages) but I felt so out of myself and so the way I read out communications was through a very distorted lens. I think basically I just really wanted mothering and it was painful to know that she will never be able to do that other than from a distance – it’s lovely having messages telling me to drink lemon and honey and stay warm in bed…but…well… you know…sometimes it would be nice to have actually had someone who would have done that as a child, someone to look after me.
It sometimes feels like a perpetual walking over the things that were missing and then having a meltdown about it in the here and now, despite knowing these things can’t happen and that it’s coming from the past.
I had a session booked in for Wednesday and by the time it arrived I was feeling out of sorts. I text A and said, ‘I am feeling anxious and small. Are we ok?’ To which she replied ‘Of course we are’ with a heart emoji. I don’t know why that wasn’t enough to settle things and the next two sessions felt ‘not good’ and disconnected. Or perhaps not quite connected enough rather than disconnected which basically amount to the same thing to the young parts. I was struggling to connect to Anita and asked if we could read a story. She asked which one and I said I didn’t mind. She started reading it, but I was still on the other side of the sofa. It sent panic further down through the system. Usually, Anita will ask me if I want to snuggle in. But she didn’t. I started to dissociate and felt awful. She had no idea. In her mind she was doing what I had asked for…only for the little parts it felt abandoning. FFS!
I do think that sometimes there is an internal pressure after very connected sessions to be searching for the intensity all the time. It’s not realistic to expect that, but I think a system that has been so deprived for such a long just desperately seeks that feeling of complete safety, and love, and care. Why wouldn’t it? Anita would say she’s the same all the time, but the parts can so easily freak out over perceived small changes and then make them seem like massive problems. I mean, it was literally sitting less than two feet from her having a story on the couch…but man, it sent shock waves. Then the Friday session wasn’t great… (although actually, probably fine!)
I can’t remember the details, but I know that after session I sent this:
Obviously, things felt pretty bad because I clearly felt like we were drifting apart. Or that I wasn’t seen. Or that she didn’t care… Honestly, I wish I had the clarity of mind that I have today in those triggered moments, but I was genuinely so poorly that I was thrown into survival and panic. I like the fact, though, that because we have so much shared experience, I can reference some of the books we read, and she knows what I mean, ‘The Invisible String’ and ‘The Rabbit Listened’ are two of ‘our’ stories in the now massive pile. We have that connection and that means a lot- especially to the young parts that wobble so much.
In another one of my recent ‘everything is falling apart’ moments before the break I drafted a text that was clearly coming from a young place…and I am glad, in a way, I was able to express it and let all that had been brewing come up and out because it’s really demonstrated to me just how bloody sad it is for the young parts to have been so damaged. They say you’re only as needy as your unmet needs and here was an epic list of unmet needs from the mouths of babes.
Adult me can see it for what it is. Anita can too. She isn’t scared by this level of outpouring. She gives it space and we work through it. I know Em would have (and did) run a mile when we came into contact with these parts and this need. Anita, however, realises that the changes to our therapy, the bumpy summer, the disruptions in scheduling, and her upcoming holiday would all have fed into this heightened panic and neediness and allows space for it all and meets me with compassion.
The irony is, in the moment when I was churning out the message it really felt so black and white…but of course when I went back over messages with my sane, untriggered, adult eyes – Anita has been responsive, she has checked in, she has said goodnight sometimes, she has held me close to her, she does tell me she loves me, she does talk to the young parts. It’s not all gone. But in that moment, or in those moments where adult isn’t available and something ‘bad’ has happened it’s really scary for the young parts and it all falls apart.
Tbh I am bored of saying it because it’s embarrassing – but it’s acutely clear that we are really in the thick of working with the ‘stuff’ now. And I am buckling up tight.
We’re on a break now. It’s been two weeks (and three days!). Back tomorrow. Anita has been away, but she sent me a message midway through the first week and then sent me another this week with a video of where she’d been. It’s been ok. I have been staggering my way through being really ill. In the first week I had a massive fever and vomiting. It was like my body just went into shock after so many weeks of having been so poorly with the cough, and sinuses and body aches and and and woe is me! The day after the big sick and fever I couldn’t walk properly. I experience peripheral neuropathy post-chemo, anyway, but it was as though all my nerves were set into a painful jangle in the whole of my body. It wasn’t much fun that’s for sure.
I spent the entire day in bed unable to do anything, dragged myself to pick up kids, and then had to order a pizza as had no energy to cook. We were all in bed by 6:15 that night! My wife was away for work, so it was hopeless. Again it was one of those times where I could really have just done with a mum to come and take over – like so many of my friend’s mums do. Someone who would pick the kids up, sort out dinner, and check I was ok. My mum doesn’t even know I have been ill. We have so little contact…and of course this all feeds into what happens between A and I.
Anyway, there’s not much to say now, more than, I’m glad the break is done. I hope that tomorrow is ok as I feel a bit ‘unsettled’. It’s just that end of break thing where the teen parts come up and get pissed about having been left at all and then want to push back and reject because they feel rejected. Fortunately, adult me knows this pattern. There is enough adult around to gently roll my eyes at myself and tell the teen I’ll make her a hot chocolate and we can watch a movie later. I’ve told the littles I’ll do my best to let them get what they need tomorrow and tell false adult to stay in her box so we can make the most of the hour.
Essentially, tomorrow I am taking elephant with me, and I need to make sure I ask for a hug and stories immediately. Wish me luck…because you never know how it’ll go when the minibus arrives on the doorstep!
I’m still here – just very very busy but also plagued with procrastination where my writing is concerned. I started this post AGES ago and yet here we are in October…two months between posts, whoops!…
Anyway – here goes:
Oh, the fucking irony! I’ve got to laugh, really. Last time I was here rabbiting on, I said that I thought I’d finally got through/over the ongoing feeling of disconnect that had been caused by the rupture that was triggered in February when Anita took a step back and stopped our longer sessions.
Boy, was I wrong!
Oh, well, I guess that day-and-a-half of relative calm was nice while it lasted! Lol.
As you can see from the title of this post, things hit the skids in a big way just as the break was about to begin. Ugh. Are you guys getting as bored of this pattern as I am?
It feels a long while since this all happened so it’s not especially fresh in my memory but from what I can remember it was, once again, sweltering for my Monday session and so, yet again, there weren’t hugs (even though I had promised myself I would ask for one…) That’d been the norm for a lot of the summer, but after the session the young parts were massively triggered, especially as Anita’s looooooonnnnngggg break was creeping ever nearer. It was that panic, “We only have one more session and then there will be no cuddles with Anita for AGES.”
Adult me knew the lack of hugs wasn’t a rejection, had I have asked, Anita would certainly have given me a hug, but honestly the heat – it was like being in hell at 30 degrees and so adult just chatted away and the session felt light and fine… but of course you don’t have to dig too deep beneath the surface to see the shit starting to hurtle towards the full speed fan when there’s a break looming and the inner creche isn’t attended to! [We’re on a break again now so I really am going to have to pull my finger out and get caught up!]
Whilst the evening sessions have been a lifeline this summer, when I have ‘lived the day’ somehow, I find it hard to peel back the many layers that shroud my vulnerable parts. I really wanted this summer to be a time to ‘do the work’. When I am not at work myself and manically trying to squeeze every last drop of productivity out the day whilst juggling the kids, it frees up headspace and time to really focus on the therapy…or it would, if I could only have got there on the schedule I am used to.
As I said in my last post, I was fortunate to be able to see Anita but it wasn’t in the usual routine, and so the ‘frame’ felt wobbly. I didn’t know most weeks whether I would see her once or twice in person and the times I could see her twice meant the spacing was off…and I’ve come to realise over the years just how important that structure is. 10am Monday and Friday…that’s MY time! (more on this in a minute!)
So, lack of touch was a trigger but then so was lack of talk about the actual break. I can’t remember what we spoke about that final Monday, just ‘stuff’ – you know ‘filler’ when really what I needed was a way in to talking about the underlying panic about being left, how we would manage the break, you know a bit of housekeeping before three LONG weeks apart. Anyway, it didn’t happen and I left feeling a bit annoyed with myself.
Thankfully, Anita had washed elephant for me, which was a massive bonus so at least that was one thing that was settling for the upcoming break but that’s about all.
Unsurprisingly, the wheels started to fall off a bit on the Tuesday as my final session approached on the Wednesday. It felt like there was going to be an impossibly long separation of 3 ½ weeks (how many times have I said this is a long break here????!!!) and the anxiety began to creep in like the tendrils of Dementors. I badly WANTED to see Anita on the Wednesday because I felt like I was unravelling inside but I was also very conscious of the length of the break.
My plans for the week had changed as my wife was now going to be at home rather than working on the Friday and so she was available and could look after the kids. I asked if I could see Anita on Friday instead of the scheduled Wednesday because I thought it would be better to cut the break down. To be honest I really wanted to see her both days…or to do a longer session, but I didn’t ask because I don’t want any more ‘Nos’ and it would have made the unsettled feeling even worse. However, that is what I needed and when things settle a bit again I am going to have to really talk this through with Anita so that this doesn’t happen again.
Still, as it turned out, no matter how I tried to avoid triggers I somehow managed to seek them out like dog shit in long grass. And so, it began…
Anita replied to my message that she could see me on Friday but that “Unfortunately, I have booked someone in at 9:30” so could I do 10:45 instead?
Reader… it was like a bomb went off inside me. Scrap the dog shit analogy, I’d walked over a fucking great landmine…or setting off something nuclear inside. (I am nothing if not dramatic!)
Of course, it was possible that Anita would have filled ‘my’ time but 9:30??? She’d told me in February that our early starts had had to stop because they put too much pressure on. And yet, here she was booking someone in half an hour before my usual start time. And I get it, before her break she was probably trying to squeeze people in here and there, but it triggered the shit out of me. And then hot on the heels of that message came:
Also noticed the Monday after my break is a BH so wondered if you could make 12 noon or 8pm on Tuesday 30th?
This was a like pouring petrol on an already blazing fire. Internally, I was really upset. Had she only just realised that HER break carried into a BH? Like honestly? I had clocked it when she told me the dates, ages ago. Knowing that I was facing a massive break I had decided to go away until the Thursday and be back in time for my Friday session and now here, at the eleventh hour she’s offering me a session.
I tried to play it cool:
Yeah that’s fine. I’m not here until the Thursday after your break so it’ll be a while until I can see you.
Oh, Ok, I didn’t realise that (with a heart).
And this is when it started to boil over inside. No, Anita, you didn’t realise it because we’ve done absolutely nothing around this break…and so things then erupted:
It was then that I realised just how much I had been holding in and holding back from the parts that feel so hurt and abandoned. As I have said lots of times Adult me gets what’s happened and why. I really do understand capacity changes, life events, and all the rest of it because I have had lots shift in my world lately, BUT the thing to remember her is that I am largely in therapy to address and heal the young parts, the past trauma, the stuff about feeling unimportant, forgettable, unlovable and all the rest of it that stems from childhood. Anita is not responsible for that wounding, but our relationship triggers it A LOT and we need to actively work with what comes up when it does… and we do…but fuck me it’s hard work and agony when it’s all live.
The message exchange went on a while, and I was throwing every single toy I had out the pram. Anita kept steady but it felt like she wasn’t there and to the parts in panic it felt like things were desperately bad. My Adult had was offline and I was operating from inner child chaos. I told her I was ‘done’ and it was fucking painful but when I say ‘done’ I mean I can’t tolerate how bad it feels. Anyway, long story short is I had my tantrum, asked her if she still loved me even if I was losing my shit and she came back with, Of Course. And that was enough. Simply that. She had not gone. She still cares.
So, of course (!) I went to the session on Friday, and it was hotter than hell again. Anita told me she was so glad I had come and that she knew it took guts to come when I felt like this. My heart was racing, and I felt shaky, it was almost like a panic attack (I’m getting this a lot at the moment). Anita ‘seemed’ to be Anita, the one I love, the one with the voice, the one who gets it. (I know she exists all the time but sometimes parts of me don’t feel her or can’t allow myself to access her because I am scared).
Anita asked if I would like a story (yes please!) and I chose ‘The Wobbler’ which seemed apt given what had happened that week. I really was channelling my inner Barbara!
And so, I ended up snuggled into A for a rather warm hug for the story and remained like that for the rest of the session. We settled the young parts and then just talked – although I can’t remember really what about…
It was one of those sessions where once we had ‘reconnected’ and dealt with the blow up that had happened it just felt really easy and safe and just what my nervous system required. I would, of course, like to not have to keep experiencing this horrible feeling of disconnect and intense feeling of abandonment but I realise this is my work and sadly I am going to get triggered. We just need to keep meeting it and working with it when it happens.
I decided to take Anita up on the offer of the Tuesday evening session at the end of the break and adjust my holiday, so I was back in the area to see her. It seemed like a good idea, and I started the break feeling pretty good all things considered.
The break itself was pretty fine, too.
It was actually really fine.
I wasn’t saturated by thoughts of Anita, of missing her, or of that deep ache and longing that can happen with separation where the young parts are screaming inside and need to be picked up and held – and that was a huge relief. I thought of her, of course. She is a big part of my emotional world. But I wasn’t wracked with that desperate need to be with her, to be physically held safely by her, or repeatedly needing to reach out and find some sort of connection. We exchanged a couple of messages here and there through the holiday (I’d just got a new kitten and wanted to show her) and she initiated a few ‘I’m still here and thinking of you, sending a big hug’ type messages but otherwise I got on with my summer holiday and enjoyed myself.
I think being away in a place I love also really grounded me. Being able to be where my fondest memories of my dad and share in that with my kids did something to me inside. Em used to always want me to create visualisations to help ground me and I never could. But recently, I have found that when I feel anxious and stressed, I can close my eyes and transport myself to that special place, I can feel myself on my favourite beach with my bare feet sinking into the wet sand and water lapping my ankles. I can feel the hot sun on my back, and I feel like I am ‘held’ in nature and return to my ‘happy place’.
And that’s great.
Alongside that I am also now more able to feel Anita when I am away from her. I mean if things are really fucking triggered there’s no chance (like in that rupture where it went tits up in seconds!) but if I can catch myself when the young parts are just feeling a ‘bit’ needy in the general run of things, I can soothe myself by imagining being close to her, hearing her heartbeat, and feeling safe with her.
I can ONLY do this, of course, because I have a template for it. I KNOW how it feels for her to hold me and to be able to hear her heartbeat, for her to tell me she loves me, and to be able relax into feeling ‘safe’ – it’s in my memory not just my imagination. It’s not always easy to hook back into that when I can’t see her, but I do, at least, have a reference point now, and this is especially helped by my soft elephant that Anita washes for me at intervals.
My elephant smells like her and so when I am feeling ‘off’ I can grab it and breathe in the smell to help ground myself. It’s not just the smell of the elephant (Anita) that helps but it’s the fact that I have a therapist that will do this for me. Anita has never batted an eyelid when I asked her to wash elephant. She’s never shamed me for wanting or needing this level of connection to her and that is something I can hold in my mind when things feel bad, “Look RB you are holding a soft toy that your therapist has washed for you because she cares about you enough to want to make your separations as easy as possible”. Actions speak louder than words sometimes – and I have actions and words.
I know some people will raise eyebrows at this, but I don’t care because I know a lot of you ‘get it’ and if I am a needy weirdo then so be it, because I am certainly not alone in this. When you think about this need through the lens of child development (and of course this is something A and I do for my child parts) then it makes sense. Babies have a really powerful sense of smell. They can ‘smell’ their mothers before they can even focus in on them with sight. It’s a biological imperative. When I got sick and had to stop breastfeeding overnight to begin chemo I couldn’t be in the same room as my baby when he was due a feed because he would arch his body over to me (and the smell of breastmilk) rather than take a bottle of formula from my wife. It was awful and heart-breaking…but that’s a whole other story.
The importance of smell and how it intertwines with safety is seen as children get bigger, too. My kids both have snuggly items they sleep with. I am not ‘allowed’ to wash them because they don’t smell ‘right’ if I do. There’s something about cuddling up at bedtime with an item that is both soft and smells familiar. So, this is why elephant works for me, it’s a throwback to that young child stuff. Anita feels safe and I associate her smell with safety and elephant smells like her.
Frequently, therapists want us to conjure images of safety up out of nowhere to help us ground but when you don’t have them to draw on in the first place it is upsetting and frustrating. Em never really understood this, and insisted over and over that I must be able to think of a time I felt really safe… what she didn’t get was that at that time I didn’t need to be imagining a time I watched a comedy and felt good (do you guys remember that? GROAN!) but actually I needed to feel her, as my attachment figure, I needed to be able to connect to that/her when we were apart.
Of course, she didn’t want me to be reliant on her for any sense of emotional safety or foster ‘dependency’ and was intent on her blank slate approach and placed a cavernous distance (both physical and emotional) between us. The most she gave me was a visualisation to imagine us sitting in ‘the consulting room’ together which obviously missed the mark for the upset young parts who couldn’t understand the language of the message. Anyway, lots has changed since then – thank goodness for Anita!
So, because I can now bring to mind and almost ‘feel’ Anita I can use that when I most need it. It’s often when I am really tired at bedtime where this makes the biggest difference – again just like kids needing their comforter. I used to really struggle with that felt sense of being completely alone and abandoned at bedtime and fall into that black hole of attachment pain and doom. The physical searing sense of ulceration in my chest that and deep sick feeling in my stomach was agony. I would get more and more distressed as time went on and then fall asleep to nightmares.
I guess things being most difficult at night is because when I am tired my adult is least available but also, bedtime as a child was a time when my mum wasn’t there…for 6 years. I would put myself to bed, read my own stories, and feel chronically alone. The young parts that needed my mum and maternal nurturing had to make do with a short phone call on a Wednesday. It simply wasn’t enough.
Anyway, this is not new news.
Sooooo…the break came to an end and whilst I was looking forward to seeing Anita. I wasn’t desperate, though. In fact, I was almost late getting there. The weather had been amazing at the beach and part of me wished I hadn’t decided to come back two days early and had have stayed surfing instead.
The thing is, I never know how things will be. Breaks usually are a real trial and the idea of three weeks gap was just too much at the start of it. But by the end, well, I could easily have stayed away a bit longer. Which is why what came next is so bloody infuriating!!!
That first session back was adult, as they usually are. I brought Anita up to speed with what had been going on for the last few weeks and it was completely fine. The hour sped by and when I got up to leave, I gave her a kind of lack lustre half hug at the door. The session was, ummm, I don’t know how to put it really – it was ok – one of those ones where it wasn’t especially connecting because it wasn’t about ‘us’, it lacked any real emotional intensity or intimacy, but then at the same time it was comfortable and ok, you know? I guess the child parts weren’t ‘there’ and so it had a different quality to it.
I wish I was better at coming back from breaks and being vulnerable and could let the most vulnerable parts out, but it takes time, and unless Anita is massively attuned and guides the conversation to say something like, “It was a long break, how was it for the young parts, and how does it feel for them coming back today?” I will stay in hiding. It takes a while for my system to judge if things are still the same and if everything is ok for all the parts to come out.
When we were talking Anita asked me if I was back now and around on Friday. I sort of semi-clocked it but just shrugged it off and said “Yes” and carried on with whatever I was talking about. When I was about halfway home my phone rang, I saw it was Anita but couldn’t pick up immediately because I was driving and I don’t like driving and talking using the car phone setting as the quality is pretty shit. I pulled over and called Anita back confused. “Hi, did you mean to call me?” It was 9:30 at night so I thought maybe she’d misdialled.
No. It was deliberate.
When I had had my meltdown before the break and ‘cancelled’ everything until the 5th September she hadn’t clocked that we had clearly sorted out the rupture and I had come to my session on the Friday and booked in to see her on that Tuesday. It was a diary malfunction but OMG it set off another landmine. I didn’t say anything at the time. Anita apologised and asked if I could make a 6pm session instead. I said I could and put the phone down abruptly.
Suddenly ALL THE FEELINGS came up and my calm ‘break’ mentality was gone. Instead, I was furious and upset. Yet again, she’d booked someone in ‘my session’ time. It was a cock up and not deliberate but to the young parts and protectors it sent the message that she doesn’t keep me in mind and doesn’t have her eye on the ball.
Anita text me to apologise and thanked me for moving my session. I didn’t reply. Then the next day to make matters even worse she texted me again to ask me to move the following week’s Friday session because she’d just found out she had a funeral to attend. Part of me wanted to rage but another part of me could really see that this was just a lot of bad timing. So, I told her I could move the session and agreed a time.
By the time it reached Friday everything was a mess inside. I felt really unsettled and generally like everything was going to shit. I sent Anita a picture message about needing to talk and she replied by saying she understood but that the relationship needed to feel safe first. She’d clearly picked up on things not quite being back to how they normally are and so I asked, “How does that happen when everything feels chronically unsafe?” She sent me a hug gif and said, “Let’s talk about this this evening”.
When I arrived I was not in a great headspace. I was overtired, overwrought, and the young parts were desperate to connect but I felt like Anita wasn’t there. I felt abandoned by her (AAAARRRRGHHHH please just give me a break, already). I felt panicked and shaky and like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t look at Anita and I couldn’t let her close. I could feel everything unravelling at pace and slid off the sofa and sat on the floor with my knees up and my head in buried into the and covered my head with my arms. I was dissociative as fuck.
The only reason I know what happened in the session is because I have a recording of it. In the moment I was in complete agony. My body was trembling. I felt sick. My heart was racing. I felt like I was totally alone.
Anita and I couldn’t find each other at all. It was bloody awful. The time disappeared and it was time to go. A asked me what I was thinking and I said I felt like I wouldn’t come back. It felt that bad. Anita said she’s be sad and disappointed if I left but it just felt empty. I left feeling awful and like a baby whose mother was mis-attuned and had left the baby screaming.
It was far from ideal.
I cried all the way home from the session. I think in reality it was a culmination of the whole summer. Feeling like we hadn’t really connected properly throughout. The lack of touch. The break… I was just feeling vulnerable and needy and it’s taken a lot of time to recalibrate into the relationship…there’s more (yes MORE!) However, I’ll leave that here for now as it’s another epic post with not much to it.
I will get my shit together eventually… in all areas…but probably AFTER this current break. Two weeks… based on the above, I wonder how I’ll get on. Place your bets!
Well, blimey, where did July go? Ah, yes, work, work, more work, the kids, a bit of therapy thrown in here and there…and a lot of time at the beach! #Heatwave. You’d think July would be the time for things easing off and winding down in teaching but, honestly, it was like everything went on overdrive both with my work and all the stuff I needed to organise or attend for my kids: sports days x2, residential for my daughter, end of year assembly, random parents’ evening, school taster days, and end of year parties. It was full-on and I was on my knees a couple of weeks before term finished (honestly, some days I was close to tears I was so knackered) but somehow, I got to the finish line in one piece – or a collection of pieces deftly held together with rubber bands and chewing gum!
It’s week two of the ‘holidays’, now, and this is the first day where I have actually stopped and given myself permission to do nothing – it’s the anniversary of my dad’s memorial and picking up his ashes from a driveway next to his dive gear (don’t ask!) and so I feel a little fragile. I’m a long way on from that initial grief and pain of fourteen years ago, but I still find this time of year difficult. I get plagued by nightmares and I can’t help but remember just how bloody awful that time was.
Fortunately, I have Anita to take this stuff to and so I feel pretty ok having been able to let it out. I’ve had a cry and I feel sad to think how much I’ve missed out on with my dad over the years, but I can now see things in a different light. Watching my kids enjoy the waves and share in the place that my dad and I loved so much is so special and healing after so many years away from it – I can almost feel his presence when we’re there. I am loving being back on my surfboard and in the water enjoying the coastline where my soul feels most at home.
So, even when things feel unbelievably tough (which they really have done recently – our life seemed to just get wiped-out and body-slammed all at the same time), somehow, I am finding ways to not sink altogether and also trust in the fact that the universe will deliver, eventually. It’s not always easy to do that, especially when you suffer from anxiety. It is so easy to get caught in the endless spiral of doom when things are going wrong because it’s such a felt sense of panic, it triggers the flight response (for me at least) and the associated somatic experience is just fucking awful…
I have made it through every tough part of my life so far, and frankly even though the money stuff isn’t great (I have always really needed a sense of financial security to feel safe but am learning again that safety comes from within and not only from what you have) I’ve been through worse. It’s not a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, and it’s not critical illness and a year of cancer treatment. THOSE things were the big deals. Money makes the world go round and that sucks but currently I have my health, a partner, two great kids, wonderful friends, and a roof over my head so really, I am winning at life. My bank balance is pretty ummm…’low’ (read empty!)…but I can work more hours (might have a breakdown in October though!).
This year, unfortunately, I am working a full day each week with a student in the break (fortunately one of my home-school kids wanted lessons – phew) so it’s not quite the long holiday I had envisioned earlier this year but it’s a financial imperative after everything that’s happened with my wife’s work and so I’m making the best of it. To be honest, doing 7.5 hours once a week is way less stressful than my usual 25 (28 in Sept – eek!) hours contact time plus school runs etc so I can’t moan. The fact I only have to get up early one morning a week is a game changer and the fact I am lying on my bed in my pjs at 11am on a Thursday…well, that’s pretty good. So, yeah, all in all it’s ok. Great, in fact.
Don’t get me wrong. I have had weeks and weeks of stress and panic about our situation but there’s another part of me that’s trying to have a chat with those freaking out parts who is saying, “Look, right now, we’re still afloat. We’re doing what we can to make the situation better. The winter is going to be difficult, but we can’t change anything more right now so try and enjoy what we do have and make the most of the summer” — I don’t know who this pep talker is but right now the other parts are paying attention. I think the reality is that adult me knows I am going to be up against it in a huge way in September and I need to go into the new academic year as refreshed and recharged as possible or I don’t stand a chance.
Anyway, what else? I’ve been away from the blog for a long while. As usual I haven’t been posting because I haven’t had the time to write but I have also been thinking about the blog, too, and social media in general, lately. In recent weeks I have spent much less time on SM and I have to say I think it’s done me the world of good. Despite my best efforts to keep the majority of the SM content that I access light and uplifting (thinking Instagram here – cue astrology, spirituality, and comedy…oh and crazy animals!) I have found in recent months that my feeds across other social media platforms have been really negative. And it’s not surprising. Life is hard for so many people right now and everywhere you look there is injustice and that is playing out on the internet.
I am socially minded, and politically…what’s the word??… Appalled?! And so, I find it hard to switch off from it altogether because I don’t think we can live in a bubble. I like to know what’s going on, even if it is heart-breaking. However, I am finding places like Twitter and the comment feed on news posts really depressing. It feels like there are so many angry and disenfranchised people out there on all sides that take to social media and let it all out – but at strangers. The projection and the vitriol are really horrific. It reeks of bullying behaviour. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s doing me any good absorbing it in large quantities which is why I am spending less time online.
I think too, that what I have realised more and more is sometimes I want to respond to stuff online or defend someone or something but sometimes it just fuels a fire, and it isn’t worth it. Thankfully, I think WordPress falls into a different category where this is stuff concerned (thank goodness). In my experience over the years blogging here, it is rare to see abusive content or bullying or personal attacks. I think I can remember two or three pile-ons over the years on some accounts I follow (from people being in very bad places or who are massively triggered) but otherwise I have always found it to be a welcoming, supportive place. And I am grateful for that but I am also aware that these public platforms are open and so you’re never completely immune to someone wading in.
So yeah, I can wholeheartedly recommend a social media cleanse every now and then.
And therapy, what of that?
Well, you’ll probably be pleased to hear the Anita and I are out the other side of that epic rupture that was triggered in February when the time and contact boundaries changed. To be honest we’ve just been ticking along doing the work. It’s been ok enough. Sometimes it’s felt disconnected but that is linked to touch (or lack of it). Since the holidays started the sessions have been disrupted which has been a bit stressful, but so far I have managed to see her twice a week (Monday and Tuesday evenings). I’m not massively keen on the spacing – it feels like there’s a huge gap between the sessions after Tuesday but at the same time I am seeing her in person twice a week when I had thought I would only see her Monday. I still don’t know about next week.
It’s been so hot here that it’s caused the young parts a few problems here and there. As I said, I haven’t been hugging Anita in sessions because frankly it’s like a sauna here right now and it would just be too uncomfortable. Of course, the longer this has gone on the more the young parts have started to activate and wonder what’s wrong? Why doesn’t Anita want to be near them?…blah blah blah…which of course is not what’s going on but you know how little ones think!
Fortunately, though, it’s not been too loud and boisterous because a few weeks ago there was a slightly cooler evening and having refused the offer of a hug when I sat down (ffs RB!)) I broke my walls down for the last fifteen minutes and snuggled in and it felt lovely and deeply connected. I told Anita I had missed her, and she told me she’d missed me too. Sometimes those small interactions are everything and do so much to solidify things. The heat has definitely been the biggest driver for not asking for a hug but there is also another part underneath that is starting to retreat in preparation for the upcoming break.
Since that evening it’s been a bit of a touch drought and it’s just now starting to feel a bit eeek because Anita is off on holiday after next week for two weeks but I won’t actually see her for three weeks. This is going to be the longest I haven’t seen her I think (excluding the lockdowns – but then we were at least working online). Again, I am trying to employ the ‘don’t panic’ stuff and face it when it comes – but I know it’s going to be messy on Monday! Heat or not I think I’m just going to have to suck it up and ask for a sweaty snuggle!
I asked for stories at the end of the session on Tuesday after spending 45 minutes having a huge sweary outpouring about my mum, so the young parts are at least getting something but we need to make next Monday count. It must have seemed really incongruous, “Fuck this, fuck that, FFS…” and on and on and then…“Can we have a story?” I text Anita yesterday and acknowledged just how much I was swearing in my session and how really my anger is a body guard for sadness. I am free flowing with my ‘fucks’ in therapy but Tuesday was something else – there was more than one ‘c’ bomb and even for me I was like “whoa I am mad!!” Anita text me back this infographic and said I think there’s more than sadness under your iceberg with two hearts:
Of course, she’s right. And I knew this. And a part of me chuckled at how ‘therapisty’ that reply was.
Last Monday night as I was leaving Anita asked if she could give me a hug (thank god)…so it’s not that she’s not wanting to touch me it really is the heat and it felt good for her to reach out to me when I have retreated from it. I will be so glad when autumn comes, I can tell you!
So, the touch stuff has been a bit of an issue and then, to add insult to injury, on Tuesday my new puppy (yes, I am mental – but he’s a rescue and I couldn’t say no! especially after the heartbreak of losing our pup on Father’s Day) stole elephant and covered him in drool. You cannot even begin to imagine the internal meltdown the young parts had. I cried.
At that point I didn’t know I would see Anita that evening and though that I would only have one face-to-face session before the big break…and elephant would be stinking and untouchable because there was no time to get it washed by Anita. Mannnnnnn! It was very bad. I text K about it because she is one of the few people who really get it. She responded with such understanding that it took away any shame I was feeling but not the disappointment of having my transitional object out of action.
However, as luck would have it, Anita had a cancellation and offered me a session that evening and so elephant is now with her being washed ready for Monday and so the break …well, it’s going to be tough, but it’s a whole lot less tough when elephant is there and smells right!
Anyway, that’s about it I think. Bit of a boring, non-post but that’s sort of life right now. I’m sure to get in touch with my feelings from next Friday and then we’ll see what kind of carnage ensues!
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
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