So, therapy was frigging excellent on Monday. Yeah. I know, right?! Wtf happened?
Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that it’s been a really very hard slog for me in my sessions (and life in general) over the last few months. After the rupture (wheels falling off in a big way) at Christmas, being in therapy with my therapist has felt incredibly difficult. In January it felt like things had reached the point of no return and I was contemplating terminating…I even went to see another therapist to get some additional help and perspective!
Anyway, I clearly didn’t cut and run in the new year and I am so glad I didn’t. Despite all the hard feelings and anxiety and various parts of me freaking out in different ways, I have stuck it out with my therapist. I’ve turned up every week hoping that something will shift in me and things will start to feel better. Sometimes all you can do is turn up and keep turning up and steadily, bit by bit, things change.
It’s funny (not haha), because there’s been a really desperate part of me that has been so wounded by the rupture that it’s felt like it’s needed to run away from the relationship and go hide in a corner; but at the same time there is also a part that deep down knows that my therapist and I are going to be ok, that we can work our way through this block, break down my barriers, and do some good work. It’s almost like despite one (or more) part/s thinking it’s all doomed there is at least one part of me that knows that she is safe.
I know that we have a strong enough relationship now that I can have my meltdowns, act out, shut her out, and threaten to leave but at the end of it, when the storm has blown out, she’ll still be there ready and waiting to work through it with me. I am not used to that. As a child I was never been able to express my anger or rage without huge consequences and so ended up being a compliant little girl who turned all her anger inwards. It is no surprise to me that my inner critic is so powerful and that I have so much capacity to harm myself whether it be through not eating or self-harming. There’s a lot of anger that I’ve internalised over the years!
*(Can I just say that the last paragraph is how things feel right now. I can’t say I always feel sure of the therapeutic relationship. Indeed it is a regular struggle of mine that I feel if I say how I feel I will be told I am too much and get terminated!)
Anyway, I know that it’s recommended, if at all possible, to work through the tough stuff in the therapeutic relationship rather than cut and run because the likelihood is that whatever is causing a bother in the relationship with the current therapist will only repeat in a future therapeutic relationships. Essentially, most of what triggers me in the relationship taps back into some festering wound from my childhood. That’s why it feels so massive and life and death.
So, what am I going on about here? I’m in long and winding ramble mode today!
It’s no secret that I’ve desperately wanted to reconnect with my therapist since what happened over Christmas but there’s been a lot of resistance on my part (or should I say some of my ‘parts’). When I actually get to session I’ve either felt isolated and alone or sometimes just not really bothered about anything. It’s like all the drama and ache and angst that kills me in the week evaporates when I get in the room. I think some of it is that some parts of me are so very glad to be with her that they almost forget the horror that happens outside the room; but I also think there is a part that just can’t be vulnerable and risk feeling more rejection.
It’s ironic really, I spend the whole week wanting to see her and yet, when I have arrived, I just haven’t been able open up. I can’t trust her, or at least ‘part’ of me can’t, and that part is dominant for the first 40 minutes of the 50 minute session. I can feel unsafe when I see her in person and as though she isn’t there with me, that she doesn’t care, and that I am an annoyance to her – or that’s what critical voice tells me over and over again until I am sat there shut down and frozen. The child parts have no reason to disbelieve the critic; it’s very convincing and does a good job of making the child believe she’s not safe. It’s an exhausting internal battle!
I am fully aware that this is my crazy brain not helping matters; my adult knows that this is all an overreaction and that it’s just one of my parts feeling unsettled. Unfortunately it’s not easy to override those feelings, because even though my head knows what’s going on by my body suggests something completely different. It’s hard to ignore the panic in your gut and rationalise it away. The body is exhibiting a trauma response and it trumps my head.
I’ve known my therapist for six years and worked with her for three of those; she is consistent and she is safe. She does care. She’s told me enough times that she wants to work with me and that she wouldn’t have agreed to see me again if she didn’t like me…but for some reason I can’t hang onto that. The positive affirming message/s she gives me in session slip through my fingers like grains of sand and by the middle of the week I am left standing empty handed. The needy child is distraught and by midweek the critic steps in and steadily erodes all trust in my therapist.
Yeah. It’s a really shitty cycle and one that I am trying hard to overcome. Like everything, though, I am realising it takes a lot of time and a lot of treading the same ground over and over again to find a better path. It’s like I am needing to forge a new pathway in my brain; I am steadily beating my way through thick overgrowth to a place that leads to the ‘she cares’ destination and trying to let the well-worn, easy path that forks off to ‘she couldn’t care less’ to grow over. Sometimes it’s just easier to walk the old path but I know if things are to improve long-term I need to get my walking gear on and start hacking my way through the bracken. The more I clear that difficult path and walk over it, the sooner it will become the easy path.
It’s partly why I am so hell bent on getting some kind of transitional object sorted. I really feel like if I had a tangible reminder that my therapist was out there, that she does care, and that all is not lost, then when the shit starts to hit the fan and I start to lose my way on the new path but still very rugged path and start veering back to the smooth one when the critic starts up I could go, ‘fuck you, you fucking bastard! I know what you’re doing here. I won’t believe your lies because here’s [waves transitional object – functioning as machete to hack back roots] proof! No, I won’t hurt myself. You are wrong and you don’t have the power anymore. Have some of that you sadistic fucker. I’m going this way!’ (apologies for the expletives!)
Look, I do know I am meant to be like ‘hey you, critic, what’s the deal here? Why are you so angry? Why can’t you trust anyone? Why do you think pushing everyone away is a good idea? What do you need to feel safer and to stop attacking? You’re hurting me and I want to understand why. Looks I’m making a new path that will suit us all better in the long run’; but sometimes I also get angry with myself about how long this voice has been controlling me. I know. I know. It’s me. I get it. But jeez it’s bloody exhausting… and relentless… and hellish. I’ll be 35 next week and this has been going on for almost twenty years now. Things need to change!
Anyway, as a result what happened at Christmas I haven’t been sharing the really vulnerable side of me lately. I’ve felt (my projection) as though my therapist doesn’t want to acknowledge or encourage the young parts in session and has wanted me to hold everything myself. As a result of this, I have stopped showing her the needy bits and, because I have done that, I have felt unseen and uncared for. She hasn’t reassured me because I haven’t given her any indication that I need reassurance. I have for all intents and purposes participated in the therapy. I haven’t been silent or stonewalled her. I just have come to therapy and talked about stuff that isn’t the stuff…you know?
The critic has been running the show and silencing all the vulnerable and needy parts that want to reach out and want to connect. A small mercy is that generally we do enough path beating in the session that I feel able to open up and really start tell her what I am feeling in the last ten minutes. The thing is this comes with its own problems because I don’t have the time to explore the issue and then leave feeling frustrated and uncontained. It’s not ideal.
So, the session before the one on last Monday was tough stuff. I had written my therapist a letter the previous week following the session we’d had (so 2.5 weeks ago now) with a view to reading it to her or handing it over during the next session. Often it’s in the early part of the week where the big stuff comes up for me, but by the time the week rolls around and I get back to therapy the intensity of the feelings has settled down or sometimes I just plain don’t feel them when in the room. Frustrating doesn’t cover it!
I write a lot in this blog and process quite a bit, but obviously unless I take a post with me to session my therapist has no idea what I am grappling with – she doesn’t read this. Anyway, it’s been a long time since I have written to her rather than just show her one of these posts and so I got to writing. It ALL came out. Loads and LOADS. I had subheadings titled: Christmas Break, Child Parts, The Relationship, Texts, and LOVE… So yeah I’m sure you can work out from those that it was quite exposing. I let all the vulnerability out. EEEEEEEKKKKKKK!!
Of course, there’s always something that gets in the way. I took the letter to session and I just couldn’t give it to her. We talked a great deal about the barriers I seem to be putting up, and how she feels blindfolded sometimes. She made an analogy about me being like a baby that doesn’t want to/can’t feed for some reason. That she’s trying to give me something but for whatever reason I won’t accept it. The problem that happens then is that I leave the session hungry and then feel increasingly upset and uncontained as a result. That made loads of sense to me. It also made me realise that whilst I frequently think that she is withholding actually there’s a big part of me that won’t accept what she is trying to provide. I get so caught up in what the relationship isn’t that I sometimes can’t see what it is.
I didn’t give her the letter but I was able to tell her that I have been struggling with eye contact and talking. She did her best to reassure me and told me that she understood how hard it is to look at her when everything feels so tentative and vulnerable. I told her that I had written her a letter but even the thought of what was in it made me want to puke. The anxiety was huge. We talked a lot about how maybe I am being too hard on myself and perhaps the content is not as ‘bad’ as I believe it to be. She asked me how I would feel and respond if a friend of mine who I care about, respect and value had written that letter to me. Simple. I would say that it was ok and not to be embarrassed – so why can’t I do that for myself?
She spoke about the power of the critic and how we need to listen to it and work with it. She also said that sometimes it’s about readiness, i.e I hadn’t given her the letter that session but we had done a lot of talking around it and working out why it felt so hard to share it and perhaps next week things would be different.
I left the session feeling a bit annoyed with myself but also knew that I had done the best I could under the circumstances. I felt way more connected to my therapist, too. I know that the sense of connection always feels better when I am able to show her what’s bothering me and can be vulnerable. She always tries to meet me when I open up (why can’t I remember this?!). I felt like, maybe, I would be able to talk about the stuff, the ‘real stuff’ contained in the letter in the next session.
And then ‘The Beast From The East’ hit with ‘Storm Emma’. We had a Red Alert weather warning from the Met Office which has never happened in my patch of the South West. Two feet of snow fell in twelve hours. Basically we were snowed in – 2ft of snow. I live out of the city on high ground and it feels really rural on the edge of the moors. We don’t get gritted on the roads and are left until snow melts. It sounds romantic but it’s really not! The last time something like this happened was in 2010 and we were stuck for a week.
I was so annoyed that I had built up a head of steam in therapy and was finally ready to share the stuff I have been hanging onto for sooooooooooo long and now it looked like I wouldn’t even be able to go to my session. Ugh. FFS!!! I text my therapist on Thursday evening to tell her I was stranded and it was probable that we would have to do our session via Skype on Monday unless something miraculous happened. I asked if she would read an email if I sent her one in order that we could talk about it – i.e the letter I had failed to give her last week. She agreed. I sent it on Friday morning and then felt ill!
I knew my therapist wouldn’t respond to the email and that we would address it in the session. The time between sending the email and the session dragged: my boiler broke down for two days; we had a power cut; and then mains water disappeared for 36 hours. I was not happy! BUT despite the utilities going wrong there was one good thing happened; the sun came out and the temperature went up to 8 degrees. The snow melted enough to get out the village on Monday!! … and I could go to session. Whoop!
Of course by the time I actually arrived at her house I was shitting my pants! I was going to see her face-to-face and she had already seen my letter! Eek. No backing out now.
I sat down and I rambled on about the bad luck that had befallen me over the weekend with the utilities; but I knew that couldn’t last forever and actually I didn’t want to run from the issues I have been struggling with. I reached that quiet place where the outside world was left behind and my inner world was exposed and ready to be discussed. Silence. Eye contact gone.
My therapist asked me if I wanted to talk about the letter and was I ok to given that I’d had such a tiring weekend. I said yes but I didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately my therapist had written a load of notes when she had read the email and said maybe we could go through what she’d come up with to get us started. She said there was a lot of big things and it was important to take time to give everything space; and that it must’ve taken a lot of thought and effort to get it all written so coherently.
Anyway the long and short of it is that we talked about sooooooooooooo much stuff that has been eating away at me. We talked about the suicidal thoughts I had had after the rupture, the eating disorder and self-harm and what triggers it. Usually I run away from those topics. I always feel too embarrassed to let her know I am hurting myself or not eating – particularly because it’s the attachment to her that triggers the feelings of inadequacy, abandonment, and rejection that start me on the spiral of punishing myself in one way or another.
She addressed all the parts of me and every part felt seen and understood. She was so attuned. And that felt really great even though the conversation was really tough and incredibly exposing. She spent a lot of time telling me that she cares about me and my well-being and I actually heard it. I believed it. There wasn’t any part of me that wanting chip in ‘yeah, whatever lady, it’s all lies’ which is what often happens. The child parts want to absorb her care but there’s generally the teen and the critic ready to rubbish what she says and that didn’t happen this time.
Better yet, is that this week has been fine. Good even. Of course I miss my therapist but I don’t feel like my world is falling apart because I can’t see her. I don’t feel like she is gone/dead. I don’t feel like some desperate, pathetic loser who has latched on to some poor unsuspecting therapist. I don’t feel ridiculous. The little parts feel contained and settled because they know she cares. I feel like she is in the relationship too. I (adult) know she cares about me. And that is huge. Until now I haven’t really felt it – or maybe like the baby that’s hungry but refuses to feed, haven’t allowed myself to feel it.
I am looking forward to seeing her on Monday. And, amazingly, I am ready to talk more about the very hardest things.
I know. What on earth has happened here?!
So, what’ve I learned from all this?
I’ve learnt that allowing yourself to be vulnerable in therapy is important. It’s fucking scary, I won’t lie! Telling someone how you feel is terrifying when you can’t be sure of their response especially when it relates to core attachment wounds. It’s not just the adult involved; there’s a bunch of traumatised kids too. I know I can trust my therapist. I know she wants to help me. She can handle all the parts that show up and she does want to know about all of them. I know I’ve got to dare to take risks even when there is a strong critic trying to shut me down.
Don’t get me wrong- I know that the feelings I am writing about here won’t last forever. I’m not naïve enough to think I’ve turned the corner with this stuff and I’ll never doubt the relationship or have an enormous rupture. I’ve had lots of great connecting sessions over the years but somehow always find my way back to that well-worn, dangerous path. But what I am saying is this: even when you feel like you are swimming against the tide and barely holding on in therapy, things do eventually shift and change. There are moments of connection and care and love and they are worth every second of the struggle that goes before. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth; it’s all part of the work.