So, it’s rapidly approaching the start of my Christmas therapy break. Eek! I have one more session on Monday and then that’s it for almost a month. As a therapy addict, the last thing I respond well to is a break in the supply of my drug/therapist (argh attachment issues!). As of Monday I’ll be going cold turkey (and it’s not even boxing day yet which is really the only acceptable time to be facing cold cuts) and that is actually pretty terrifying.
Despite there being a huge part of me that has been dreading the Christmas break since returning from the loooong summer break (I tend to do this – work on a cycle of dread counting down to each inevitable separation from my therapist) there has also been a part of me that has also tried to pretend that it isn’t going to happen, or that it will be fine, or that I don’t really mind that there is a break at all…denial, basically!
A couple of weeks ago I said to my therapist that ‘I think maybe the break will be a good thing as maybe a bit of distance might get me out of this rut of silence and being awkward with you’ and I meant it at the time…or, at least, whichever part of me was talking did.
Simultaneously there was a voice inside my head losing it, shouting, ‘What the fuck are you saying this for?! The break is not a good thing you stupid moron! Why would you say that to her?! Why can’t you tell her how bloody awful it is and how much it hurts just thinking about not seeing her? Why pretend that a month with no contact isn’t going to have you crying into your pillow every day?! You do my head in! FFS!’
I think, maybe, what was happening was that part of me, possibly the teen, was basically trying to tell my therapist, ‘I don’t need you, I don’t want you, and I can cope without you’. Breaks stir up a lot of feelings in me and really affect the therapy for quite some time both before and after a break. They really absolutely are the pits. I can’t help but feel abandoned and rejected.
I (adult) know that therapists need holidays just like the rest of the population but the child can’t really understand why her safe adult is fucking off for almost a month and leaving her to fend for herself when she is at her most vulnerable. It hurts a lot.
Every time there is a break and I can’t see my therapist it dredges up some really painful feelings from when I was little. My mum used to disappear from Sunday through to Friday. She was away at university studying, but as a four year old there is no rationalising that information when all you want is your mummy at bedtime….and this is what plays out time and again with breaks, and actually the time between weekly therapy sessions. When I want/need safety, nurturing, and care from my therapist and can’t access it, it feels utterly crushing. I have another ‘mummy’ that isn’t there when I need her and so I feel abandoned.
How I communicate how I feel about ‘being left’ to my therapist varies. Sometimes I am able to be vulnerable and open and tell her how I feel before a break. More often than not, though, I shut down. I think my saying that the break was ‘a good thing’ to her was my way of shutting her out from my emotions. It was almost me saying, ‘I have to manage it regardless. I have no choice in this, so I am not going to let you see how much it bothers me’.
The Teen part of me is so hurt, angry and rejected that it seems sensible that I stonewall her or say stuff that I don’t really mean. In some way if I don’t let her in then maybe it shows her how it feels to be excluded too. Yep, it’s not totally rational, but this is an emotional response and it’s just how it is sometimes.
Anyway, the following session my therapist asked me again how I was feeling about the break after her having read the 10 things I wish my therapist knew… post which clearly indicated that the break was a problem for me! She asked if I felt the same as I had suggested the previous week’s session. My simple answer: ‘No!’
The remainder of that session became a huge splurge about why Christmas break is so hard for me … but nothing about missing her or any of the therapeutic relationship stuff – just my life: my dysfunctional family; the weight of expectation to be someone who I am not anymore; missing my dear recently dead friend whose birthday falls a few days before Christmas; the anniversary of my spectacular mental health breakdown; two years since going through radiotherapy over the Christmas period; fear of spiralling down into self harm because things feel tricky….it went on and on and on but I kept tight lipped about the biggest issue: managing all that stuff without her support and the vulnerable parts of me struggling to maintain connection to her.
So then it got to Monday, and this week’s session. I’d been struggling all week with feeling lost and alone. Basically the attachment pain stuff had really kicked in massively. I’d shed the cloak of denial and was fully immersed in the reality of the feelings that go with a disruption to my weekly sessions. I knew that I couldn’t bury my head in the sand any longer, and I had a choice to make when I sat down: avoid or connect?
This week, I am delighted to report that I chose to connect. It mightn’t seem like a big deal but after months of being really closed off it was huge.
I’d had a quite disturbing dream earlier in the week where I had killed myself and so took that in to talk about. It was a good way into the session and stopped me just sitting there getting anxious and saying nothing! We did lots of unpicking and then once I thought we were done with it, she said, ‘I also wonder if this has anything to do with the break?’ I looked at her incredulously, ‘how?’ I asked. And she said something about how I have told her that I feel like she is dead when I can’t see her. I felt myself shut down and hide.
She noticed immediately and asked me what had changed? I explained that my body was really tense and she asked me when it had happened. I told her, ‘when you mentioned the break.’ She did one of those really warm and understanding ‘ahhhh‘ sounds and said, ‘breaks are massive and stir up loads. We need to pay attention to this so it doesn’t get ignored. We need to give it more attention than we have done in the past, I think. The break maybe feels different this time?’
Then she asked about the pebbles (honestly, those frigging pebbles will be the end of me!!) and we talked about how it’s been hard to get to it/them on both our parts. I think after the failed internalising visualisation that she sent me for the summer break that I had a had a meltdown over she’s probably worried about getting it wrong again. She asked if I had any ideas about it and what kind of message she could write that would help and I said ‘I don’t know. I don’t know what you can write to make it feel any better’. She agreed and said she didn’t know either because it was complex.
She said that she was aware that the adult didn’t need these pebbles (transitional object) but the young ones who are more fragile really did, and maybe a few of those young parts, not just one, needed a particular kind of message. She asked me what it was that all of them respond to. I wanted to say ‘knowing you are here with me and aren’t going anywhere’ but sat still and said nothing (look, I can’t always say what’s on my mind!!). She said, ‘I think maybe they need to know they are kept in mind and are held, something along those lines?’
Basically from the moment she had mentioned the break when unpicking my dream my little ones inside lost it. It was tears and tantrums. I could feel at least three separate child voices inside me screaming. Usually I keep that kind of thing to myself and banish the inner child to the corner of the room or gag her, but seeing as my therapist seemed to be inviting a conversation about what the young parts needed and knowing the break was coming I said, ‘it’s really noisy in my head’ and somehow from that we got moving along a path that I have been wary of treading before now.
She asked if I recognised the voices of the children? Were they my children? I said ‘no’. She asked if it could be my inner child/ren in distress? And I said ‘yes’ (I am sure you are all marvelling at how eloquent I am in my therapy sessions!). She said that these types of conversations really stir up lots of difficult feelings and overwhelm me. I said it was ‘hell’. She asked me if the voices felt contained inside my head. I said ‘no’. She said ‘it’s huge, isn’t it?’ I nodded, ‘I hate it’. She looked right and me and gently said, ‘I know you hate it, but there’s a need, there’s someone inside that needs a lot of care. She is very distressed.’…and then the doorbell rang!
Embarrassed, she quickly answered it (the therapy room is right next to the door and she had obviously seen her neighbour coming up the driveway) and came back in. She asked if the crying noise was loud still in my head? And wondered if the disruption to my session had amplified the noise?: ‘The little one doesn’t understand why there has been a disruption, she just doesn’t like them and it mirrors what happens in the break.’ She said that I (adult) know what’s going on but the little one can’t understand why she is not there with me.
I felt really exposed but equally really held and contained and said, ‘I don’t know what to do with this’ and she said ‘I think this is where we often get to. It’s really hard to talk about it. It’s overwhelming. It’s hard to find the words to talk about it. But the need is huge. The little one inside you, however old she is, she needs something, and so if one of your children were telling you this, what would you give them?’
And then I replied (a bit – a lot- frustrated!) ‘I know what you are trying to get out of me but it’s not as easy as just giving myself a hug and holding myself. It doesn’t work! I’ve tried really hard. It’s great knowing that there is that need but what the hell am I supposed to do with that?’ and she was really understanding. It’s one of the things that I really struggle with, knowing there is a all this sadness and pain inside and yet not seemingly being able to do anything to make it feel any better. I just feel like a powerless spectator watching small children suffer.
I told her about how I had emailed my friend some activities for our child parts and said ‘as nice as all that is, and as aware as I am about needing to attend to the needs of those parts, it doesn’t hold them, it doesn’t contain them. I try really hard but it just doesn’t work. I can’t make it feel like there is holding’. She said she understood and suggested trying something different.
She said ‘these little ones need an adult to be with them and soothe them and settle them down emotionally. It might be you or another adult. The little ones need holding and probably so do the teenagers. Maybe that is something we could develop together. It’s not just about knowing about it (holding), it’s about feeling it bit by bit. Can you imagine how that would feel?- starting with the youngest, most needy one, because she needs it. The adult can kick in and organise everything but the little one needs to feel held and loved and emotionally there with someone’.
I said, ‘yes, I get that, but the little ones don’t even know I exist. The smallest one doesn’t want me!’ In my head I was willing myself to say, ‘she wants you!’ but didn’t. She said ‘they can meet you and we can work together to help introduce you to each other. We need to be able to soothe the little one, just a tiny bit to start off with’. She asked if I thought it was possible. I said ‘no‘ because I know that little me really only wants to be cared for and held by one person…and we all know that right now, that isn’t me!
We talked about what the little girl was feeling and how it would be if I tried to sit her on my knee and hold her. I said, ‘she doesn’t want me. She doesn’t trust me’. She asked who she trusted. I said ‘no one’…which is kind of true. I want to trust my therapist but since the no touch thing I don’t fully feel like I can say ‘my little one wants to sit in your lap and for you to soothe her and tell her that she is loved‘….because it just feels toooooo much. But that’s what I wanted to say.
She asked me if the ‘little one could imagine being cuddled?’. I said ‘no’…because I have no memory of it. Holding and touch have been so lacking in my upbringing that I honestly can’t tell you of a time when I remember being ‘held’ by mum. Of course we’ve had awkward hugs now and again when we say goodbye, but there’s never been any of that closeness that I crave. There has been no snuggling at bedtime after a story and softly saying ‘I love you more than anything’ or ‘you are the most special girl in the world and I love you’ which is what I say to my daughter every single day.
It’s a running joke. Each day when she comes home from school I say to my little girl, ‘guess what?’ and she laughs and rolls her eyes at me, ‘I know mummy- you love me- you say it all the time!’ And do you know what?-that fills me with utter joy because that is exactly how it should be. She is so secure in knowing that I love her that it is almost boring to her. Win!
After my therapist’s ‘cuddle’ question – big ouch – please, please cuddle me! I jumped out of the situation, detached from the young part and wondered aloud, ‘why can’t the little part of me trust?‘ and she said some affirming, validating stuff about how things have been and yet I had somehow survived it. She said, ‘this is the place where the change is going to come. it’s a lot of work and effort and it hurts but when you take your mind to this place this is where things change. the more you can be in touch with your need and your feelings, as hard as it feels, the more possible it feels for things to be less bad’ and she is right….because despite how tough it was it was a great session.
BUT. Oh and there always is a giant BUT isn’t there? Since having such a deeply connecting session I have been left with the most enormous therapy hangover. It’s Thursday now and I am still feeling it. I’ve been so sad all week. I can’t tell you how many times I have considered picking up my phone and sending a text to tell my therapist that I miss her, am struggling and try and get some kind of reassurance that things are ok.
I haven’t sent that message because I know that she doesn’t respond to texts that are about anything other than scheduling. I literally cannot bear the feeling of being so vulnerable, reaching out and then being ignored – it feels so rejecting. I’ve done it enough times to know that texting doesn’t end well but god, this place that I am in right now is hellish. I really cannot bear the thought of the break.
So in order to try and get some extra support and sense of holding during the break I have just signed up to Sane’s Text Care again:
It’s a really great service. Basically you fill out a really quick form online with some info about what you struggle with:
and then they send a weekly support text message to you at a time of your choosing for five consecutive weeks. I’ve done this over several of my therapy breaks now and I have to say it really helps:
With the Christmas break coming up I figure it’s worth doing everything possible to try and make the weeks without therapy a little more bearable. Having my feelings acknowledged in this way is really helpful because, like a lot of you, it’s not easy to share these feelings with family and it can feel incredibly isolating struggling in silence with attachment pain. Of course, you can get support with whatever your issue because all texts are tailored specifically to what you write in the text box on the request form.
Usually they only need 72 hours notice to begin the text messages but I noticed when I filled out the form earlier that the deadline for requesting Christmas messages is 10th December. So if you are thinking this might be something that’d help you over the festive period to stay sane then get online quick.
Anyway, that’s about all for now. School run calls! …