‘Small round hard stones click
Under my heels’
This is the opening of Tatamkhulu Afrika’s poem Nothing’s Changed, a poem I used to teach my GCSE students back in the day. The lines came into my head just now as I was thinking about the title for this post. For the longest time, ok, since September the words ‘Nothing’s Changed’ could sum up my predicament with the pebbles (and that’s about as far as the link to the poem goes I’m afraid!).
For those of you who aren’t up to speed with the ‘pebbles saga’ I’ll recap a bit in this post. Apologies, but this is a real ramble but I feel like I need to get it down because this blog is really just my therapy diary and the pebbles have been a big thing… ugh!…
It’s no secret that that I really struggle with therapy breaks; they have long been a stumbling block for me. It’s hard enough maintaining a sense of connection to my therapist between sessions but anything longer than a week without contact and the wheels start to fall off in a big way; the child parts have an epic meltdown (attachment pain sets in and I feel abandoned and rejected – oh and desperately sad and alone). It’s not much fun at all. My adult self is left holding the baby in a completely clueless way! It’s not lost on me that I can love and nurture my own kids but when it comes to my inner child I am utterly useless.
Last summer break was a bit of a shambles (bit of an understatement). Before the break I had told my therapist how difficult disruptions to the therapy felt and how much I was dreading the holiday this time. I’d never let on before how terrible breaks have felt. I’d suffered my way through the previous summer break and a disastrous Christmas one but knew I couldn’t go into another one and be ‘fine’. I plucked up the courage to ask if she could maybe send me a text with a message to help me feel connected to her over the break. She did. Phew! I’d been sweating about asking her for something like this for months (overthinking it!) but when it came down to it, it was fine…like so many of these ‘things’ I am scared to talk about! – I will learn eventually!
Unfortunately, though, despite asking my therapist and her trying to meet the need, the message just didn’t work! She sent me a text with a visualisation to do. I was supposed to imagine us together in the room and my letting out whatever was bothering me and then picture her responding in an understanding and caring way. The visualisation didn’t work because the parts that need her reassurance and care when I can’t see her are very young and the wording, indeed, the exercise just wasn’t pitched to the parts that needed it…the parts that need her.
I’ve moaned/talked about this episode in detail in another blog post so won’t bang on about it again here!
I’ve noticed as time has gone on, that any time I am asked to ‘imagine’ something, like the young ones being held it puts my back up. I don’t want to have to ‘imagine’ anything. I want the reality. I don’t want to have to imagine my adult holding the distraught child (yes I know I’m going to have to accept this is how it’s going to be…eventually!) but right now I want my therapist to do it for me. Ugh! And so when she encourages me to hold things for myself it somehow feels rejecting and like she doesn’t care.
(Look I make no bones about the fact that my rational side is not in the driving seat so far as my therapy goes!…and that’s why I need the therapy.)
When push came to shove I was unable to picture my therapist in the visualisation she’d crafted (and man I really tried! I wanted to do the homework right and for the result to be that breaks would feel a little easier); all I could picture was me sitting in the room and staring at her empty chair (I literally cannot hold her in my mind at all).
The little ones’ anxiety ramped up day after day, week after week. I kept trying to zone my mind into the room and put my therapist there with me but it just didn’t work. The further break went on the more the horrid attachment pain activated in me, and the shit started to hit the fan. I felt so alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like the relationship was worthless and a sham. I didn’t want to believe any of those feelings but when I have no concrete evidence to prove otherwise it’s amazing what a good job the Critic can do of undermining the therapy and the therapeutic relationship.
It’s awful that holiday periods feel more about survival than rest and recharge for me – and for a lot of us who struggle with this developmental trauma stuff. When I was a teacher I really looked forward to the long breaks and now I absolutely dread holidays! I’m glad that my therapist is looking after herself (kind of ;-)) and I wish that in this time I could also take a break from the therapy and live normally without my issues dragging along with me. Sadly, it’s just not how it is. The moment my therapy is disrupted by a break it’s all about ‘digging deep’, ‘hanging on’ and ‘counting down’… only 21 more days to go now….AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!! Shoot me now!
Last year, I came back from the summer break feeling desperately sad and disconnected and a bit angry (hello teen!). When I finally built up the courage, three sessions in, and told my therapist how bad things had felt over the summer and how badly the visualisation had missed the mark, she suggested that perhaps it might help if, instead, she wrote something to me on a card so that I had something physical to take with me to remind me of the relationship and connection when I can’t see her – a transitional object of sorts.
Whilst the young parts of me longed for something to cuddle, like a teddy or something soft, adult me was happy enough with her idea because words are important to me and so I felt like this could be a good stepping stone to help me move forward. Having something personal from her, in her handwriting would surely help me to keep her in mind when everything was beginning to spiral. Ideally it’d also help me trust that she cared when the Critic goes all out to undermine the relationship. That was the idea anyway.
I left that session feeling positive and motivated that, perhaps, finally the time between sessions and, even more importantly, on breaks might start to feel a bit less awful. The next week I came to therapy armed with two pebbles (from the beach where my therapist lives) and a sharpie pen.
My idea was that she could write the message on a pebble; it’d last longer than a card and it would have an additional significance because I already collect pebbles. To have something in my collection from ‘her’ beach might feel even more connecting – or that’s what I thought! In addition to all this it would be something physical that I could hold in my hand. I thought it was a good idea. She seemed to think so too.
It all seemed so simple…
Only this is where ‘simple’ ground to a resounding halt and everything suddenly grew very very complicated. It’s been a real fucking mess, actually. It’s been a nightmare of tangled, fraught, communication/miscommunication and has been the catalyst for a load of my issues about feeling unlovable and unworthy play out. It’s been horrid and has really upset me. I mean it’s literally sent me to attachment trauma hell and stirred up every bit of agony I’ve been in holding for years.
It’s certainly not been ideal these last six months! I can step back now (sort of) and say that what’s happened is all part of the process. I can see that we’ve done so much work as a result of the pebbles on our relationship and on my deep-rooted issues.
I won’t lie, though, there’s a part of me that just wishes it could have gone easier at the beginning. I was already hurting, feeling lost, alone, and unsure of the strength and quality therapeutic relationship before ‘Pebblegate’ but the experience of the last six months has made me feel like I had been completely cast adrift. I can’t count how many times I’ve sat and wondered if I would even be able to work with my therapist much longer or whether I needed to walk away…I did go and see another therapist after the rupture at Christmas.
Really excruciatingly painful stuff.
I am usually really good at looking at things objectively. I am the ‘go to’ person for my friends because I see things from different angles and can see the wood for the trees. Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to extend that skill and rationality to myself when looking at how things are in the therapeutic relationship. I frequently view everything through a lens that distorts what’s actually in front of me – or rather gives me only a single view when usually, in life, I can see a kaleidoscope of colours and images.
In the therapeutic relationship I come at things from a traumatised, emotionally neglected child’s perspective. It’s no wonder, really. There has been huge deficit in holding and containment as I’ve grown up. My mum has been both physically and emotionally absent for a lot of my life and then, in my teens, when I lived with her, she became emotionally abusive. I guess once she and my dad has separated the rage had to go somewhere. I can’t tell you the amount of times the words, ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ have been screamed at me.
So, when it comes to relating to my therapist things are tricky. A whole load of maternal transference has been thrown in the melting pot and whilst I desperately want to believe that she (my therapist) cares for me and is safe because I do absolutely love her and want her to be reliable and safe for me, there’s a huge damaged part, or should I say, lots of damaged younger parts that approach the relationship with a pre-existing narrative #MotherWound. They can’t simply trust that she has positive feelings towards me. They believe that she is going to follow the script that my mother wrote all those years ago. they think that my therapist is only ‘tolerating’ me because I am paying her to do so. I am a burden to her. I am too needy. The relationship isn’t genuine. And if she had her way I’d just disappear. I am not wanted and I am not worthy of her time and care. It’s only a matter of time until everything blows up in my face.
It’s going to be hard rewriting that script when it’s been practised so many times over the years. I am word perfect now and as much as I am sick of repeating the same lines over and over again, it is difficult to believe that there may be an alternative version that could be enacted now instead of this damaging play I am stuck in. It’s hard to see that the person opposite me is not, in fact, the person who I’ve been acting this stuff out with for the last 35 years. I have placed my therapist in the role of the understudy and we are continuing with this drama, but actually, maybe now is the time to write a whole new script, a whole new play, and give space to all the parts that need to be seen with my therapist playing herself rather than my ‘stand in’ mother.
I guess over time this will start to happen more and more because there is a lot of the time when I can see my therapist for who she is; the problems only arise when something vulnerable or triggering comes up and then I am thrown back into the trauma response.
Anyway, back to the pebbles!
It’s been challenging to say the least. In the last few weeks my therapist has been asking me about the pebbles in every session and what we are going to do. She told me that she was happy to write something about her caring about me on them but had wondered if that would feel genuine enough for me? I’ve been completely thrown through a loop with this word ‘genuine’ for the last few months since she said it. When she’d mentioned about the message needing to feel genuine, I’ve heard that as her not wanting to write something she didn’t feel to be genuine for her, and therefore she couldn’t/wouldn’t say she cared about me on them.
However, when we finally unpicked things after I sent my mammoth ‘let it all hang out’ email the other week, it turns out she meant she wanted things to feel right for me, and that whatever she wrote should feel believable to me because I have such a hard time accepting anything positive from her. I automatically disbelieve her kind words and caring words or assume there’s a price attached to them — enacting that old script again. She didn’t want what she wrote to feel like she was just doing it to appease me. Basically she wanted it to be right and was aware that there was a lot of emotion tied up in all this.
Hallelujah! That is exactly what the young ones needed to hear. She cares and she wants the transitional object to be right.
The thing is, we’ve kept dipping back into this topic for the last few sessions and sometimes there’s someone else engaged not just the parts that trust her! When she asked me about when we were going to do the pebbles in the Skype Session we had the other day and being conscious that the break was fast approaching, I was pissed off. Not at her. I was cross that I couldn’t see her in person due to being snowed in. I was angry that I didn’t have any real privacy. And I was frustrated that the young ones weren’t able to connect properly. In those situations the teen steps up. The teen doesn’t need pebbles. She doesn’t need anyone. She can see how sad the little ones have been through the whole sorry saga and she is fucked off about it.
So in response to my therapist’s question about the pebbles, I told her that part of me just wanted to throw them back in the sea and give it all up because it’s been a fucking nightmare! She said that she understood that there was a part who was frustrated and had given up hope but that there were others who maybe still wanted something good to come from them. I conceded that this was the case, and we agreed we’d sort things out in our last session – Monday.
Last Sunday my family and I went to the beach – not my therapist’s beach, but one a few miles down the coast – also a pebble beach. The kids were throwing pebbles into the water, we made some cairns, and I came across a lovely pebble. It was an usual stone with a band round the middle…perfect for a message. I decided at that point that I would find some words, write them on the pebble, and give it to my therapist on our last session. I sometimes get these impulses to give her things or write to her!…and then freak out when the time actually comes to hand stuff over. lol.
I spent a while searching the internet for ‘good’ words on Sunday night. And finally alighted on these (this is not the actual pebble):
‘When my heart feels overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’
I instantly loved them. Some of you may recognise these words as a psalm. I am in no way religious, indeed, I struggle with the church and the idea that I am somehow not good enough to be part of the fold because of my sexuality. To many I am merely a sinner to be tolerated (oh and there’s a wonderful story about at trip to Tennessee in there but I’ll save all that for another time!!). Frankly the church can go do one if that’s the truth! But still, these words are exactly right for what I wanted to say and reflect what I need and how I feel. So I used them.
Fast forward to Monday…and my last session before the break…
I sat down and almost instantly got out the perfect pebble and explained how I had come to find it on the beach, why I had decided to give her it, and how I found the words. We spent some time talking about it and then she asked me if we should sort out my pebbles that have been sitting on that shelf for six long bastard months (not her words obviously! Lol!).
I agreed, and then, something strange happened, but then on reflection it wasn’t strange at all because it’s what I do…
I broke with the plan we have been coming up with for all this time and told her that I wanted her to write those same words, the psalm, on my rock. And I did want that. Sort of. But I didn’t too. It’s hard to explain what happened but I think part of it was this: she had responded so positively to the stone and the words that I had chosen for her that I didn’t want to lose that ‘nice’ feeling and vibe that was in the room – the feeling of connection.
I didn’t want to suddenly descend into the difficult stuff that has plagued these stones for so long. I didn’t want it to feel awkward. I didn’t want a disaster to come about from all this heading stuff into the break. I didn’t want to leave empty handed again. And I do like the words… a lot. They are meaningful. I felt that they were good enough…at the time.
Only now I feel like I have compromised on what I really wanted from these stones, from the transitional object, and that was something direct from my therapist about how she feels about our relationship and how she cares about me. I wanted something personal and ended up with something adequate but not quite right. She’ll have no idea that this has happened.
When she had finished writing on the pebble she said that we should come back to it after the break and talk about how it is for me – i.e whether it does or doesn’t work to make things feel better during the break. I know that I need to tell her what the process was like last week and how I ended up not asking for what I really wanted for fear of leaving feeling disconnected. I think it’s important to do that. But, now, I am worried that she might feel like she can’t get anything right and get frustrated with me (totally my projection).
You see ‘getting it wrong’ is becoming a bit of a pattern. I asked for a text last summer, she did what I asked, and then I threw it back at her as not being good enough – I couldn’t do the visualisation and picked her words apart one by one. Then I text her at Christmas in distress, she replied because she cared, and yet because her words didn’t give me exactly what I wanted we ended up having an almighty rupture. And now this. I told her I wanted particular words on the pebble, she wrote them for me, and now I have to go back and say it missed the mark. She keeps trying to meet my need and yet for whatever reason it’s not quite working for me. At what point will she say that she gives up?
Anyway, I feel like I have exhausted ‘Pebblegate’ for now!
I will say this, though, despite not quite getting the right words on the pebble it does still feel soothing (a bit) to finally have it with words in her handwriting. It does help me feel connected to her because I can remember being in that session with her and others recently where I have had a positive and connecting experience with her…and that in itself reminds me that there is a genuine and caring relationship between us.
It remains to be seen whether this memory bank will be accessible to me, if, when the little parts start really freaking out. I already had a bit of a wobble last night talking with a friend so I am very aware that the attachment stuff is not very far below the surface right now.
Still, for now I have a small round hard stone in my hand and some lovely words on it…I’ll take that as a win for now. Things are changing!