The Empty Chair

Boooo! T’s gone again! It’s another therapy break! (Like really, how many holidays does one person need?!). It may technically only be a week this time, but the way things have fallen, this break means three missed sessions (two Fridays and a Monday)…and that is a lot of ‘missed’ contact time especially when things feel so precarious.

Still, it is what it is.

And what it is… is SHIT!

Ha!

I am very aware that therapy breaks are an inevitable part of therapy and it’s the breaks that have really highlighted one of the huge problems I experience in relationships that matter to me: fear of abandonment (and people dying!).

I don’t do especially well maintaining the sense of connection between sessions with Em; although it is a much better than it was since moving to two sessions a week. Two sessions a week doesn’t help with breaks, though. In fact it almost makes it worse because, as I said just now, time away now signals more ‘non contact time’ – a week used to mean one missed session and now it is two. Ugh!

I was hoping that, by now, I’d have found a strategy that would prevent a meltdown each time Em goes away. Over the years we’ve tried a few things: internalising visualisations (rubbish) and the pebble (OMG what a faff that was!) but nothing has really worked. I am determined to try the power stones thing I saw on Twitter a while back as the next attempt at a transitional object. The idea of it really appeals to the young parts and they are exactly the ones that freak out on breaks so it’s got to be worth a try. LOL…I am nothing if not persistent!

I never do especially well over the Christmas break (think last year’s huge rupture!) and so it is really important that once this current therapy break is over Em and I have some proper discussions around what happens during breaks, that we try and put some things in place to help, and that I leave for Christmas feeling safe in the relationship because when things feel dicey it makes time away even harder. Everyone inside panics.

I’m half-panicking now. The young parts aren’t having a very good time of it. There was nothing especially wrong with last Monday’s session, i.e Em didn’t say something to upset me! … but unfortunately some unexpected material was thrown into the melting pot and knocked me sideways…or actually, straight onto my arse! I really hate it when that happens.

Recently, I was looking online for book Christmas presents for my kids (my poor kids can’t escape books having an English teacher for a mum!). I bought a children’s book by Oliver Jeffers purely based on its title, ‘The Heart And The Bottle’ and the front cover. It was kind of for them, but also for me. I was intrigued and I do love kids’ stories.

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Basically, the plot of the story runs like this:

There is a little girl who was completely filled with the wonder of life. She was inquisitive and adventurous. Happy. Almost every page sees her experiencing her life with a male figure. He introduces her to various concepts, reading stories from a chair, looking up at the stars, but he is also on the side lines when she is off exploring – close but not in the way. It’s lovely. The girl is free to explore knowing her safe adult is there. Until one day, the chair the man sat in is empty. The implication is that this important male figure has died. As a result of this, the girl’s world instantly changes. She doesn’t know what to do with her feelings and so decides the best course of action is to put her heart safe in a bottle.

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The girl carries on with her life, grows up, but her life is devoid of happiness, nothing is the same. She goes through the motions but no longer sees the wonder in things. The heart in the bottle that she now hangs around her neck has become a huge burden…but ‘at least her heart was safe’ (I think we can all identify with this metaphor!).

One day the woman meets a little girl, who just like she was as a child, is full of wonder about the world. The problem is, the woman, without her heart, doesn’t know how to answer the little girl’s questions. It is then that the woman decides to get her heart out the bottle. Unfortunately, no matter what she does she can’t get it out. Luckily, the little girl has an idea and is able to release the woman’s heart. With her heart back where it should always have been she is open again to all the wonder and joy of the world. The end of the book sees her sitting in the, once empty, chair her imagination free, like her heart.

It really is a powerful book (and the illustrations are gorgeous) and when I read it, it instantly resonated with me. Losing my dad so suddenly when I was twenty five was utterly horrific. I lost the figure that taught me so much, that made me feel just about safe enough in the world. Like the girl in the story I shut my feelings off in order to be able to carry on with life. I functioned but didn’t live, not really. And then I had my daughter and something shifted in me.

I don’t want to make anyone puke and sound like the world’s worst cliché but the moment my daughter was born I experienced a surge of love that I had never felt before. Actually, even before that, the moment I discovered I was pregnant something massive changed in me. I knew in that moment that I would die for that child and no matter how bad things got I would endeavour to be there for her. I would push through any of the suicidal feelings in order that she would always have me as her anchor. I never wanted to leave my child or for her to have to experience the loss that I had…which I bloody ironic seeing as I then got cancer when she was three and my longer term future is more uncertain than I would have liked.

I know things are still not brilliant even now (mental health/emotions wise), and that’s not just because of my dad’s death, there’s still all the ‘other stuff’ and the huge mother wound to contend with, but certainly things are way better than they were. I now have two little people to live for and they bring me so much joy. Part of the reason I persist with my therapy is because I want to be the parent my children deserve.

Anyway, back to the book- knowing it was the last session before the break I decided to take the book in to show Em, let her read it and explain how it had touched me. I could stay in my adult but talk about the grief and emotional hangover of loss – not just of my dad but also of my friend who died at the end of October last year.

Em thought the book was wonderful too and we spent quite a lot of time talking about it – on the level that I have just mentioned. The thing is, something happened as she was reading it that I didn’t/couldn’t tell her about. When I had read the book initially I followed the character right through to adulthood and her epiphany at the end. On Monday, however, I got stuck in the child part of the book. The image of the empty chair stuck in my mind. The therapy break, to me, symbolises an empty chair.

The first time Em sent me a message to try and help through the break she sent this visualisation:

Imagine the consulting room, with our chairs and the pictures on the walls and books in the bookcases and to imagine us in our chairs. You can then talk to me about your concerns and needs and you can then imagine me responding in a grounding, understanding, reassuring, and caring way.’

The visualisation didn’t work. It was terrible, in fact. I was successful in picturing the room and the chairs. I could even put myself in the chair. But when it came to putting Em in hers… I just couldn’t. When I am not with her I can’t remember what she looks like. I can’t remember her voice. I can’t picture her at all. It’s hideous. When I needed to be able to feel like she was still out there all I could feel was the pain of her absence.

Not good.

At all.

So, Monday. My brain was suddenly in empty chair mode. I felt like that little girl staring at the empty chair (even though at that moment Em was sitting in it). The memory of that horrible summer therapy break set in and I was gone. I got very quiet. I felt very sad and little. I dissociated. Em tried to reach me but I couldn’t let her in. I couldn’t connect. I knew she was going, so what was the point? No matter what I would have said it wouldn’t have changed that she was disappearing and her chair would be empty and I’d be left grieving and desperately trying to shove my heart in a bottle to get through the break.

Look, don’t get me wrong. I do know I was dumb on Monday. I know that if I had have been able to express some of what was going on for me Em would have validated those young feelings and understood the fear and in doing so it may have taken the edge off and the emotions I am struggling with now might not have been so intense. The problem is, after all that’s gone on in the last month post marble and ‘I care about you’I have been reluctant to show that need and vulnerability. I still feel a bit wounded…even though things have been repaired somewhat.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I couldn’t talk about feeling abandoned and sad about the break on Monday. Driving to my tutoring it became clear to me what just had happened in session and you know how much I like to fire off a text post session that won’t get replied to!!! So I sent this (cringe!):

‘Before today’s session ‘The Heart And The Bottle’ resonated with me because of the loss of my dad, the grief, and the experiences I have with my kids now which is one of the reasons I wanted to share it with you. Today, with you, it took me somewhere else. As you were reading, the image of the empty chair came to mind and took me back to summer break 2017 when I asked you to send me a text to try and maintain the connection over the holidays. I told you when we got back that I when I tried your visualisation, about the room and imagining talking with you, I could picture the room but your chair was empty and that it felt really hard because when I needed to feel like you were still there, I couldn’t make it feel like you were at all. Knowing that there’s a break again now made those horrible feelings of helplessness and abandonment come up and I couldn’t talk about it.  So like the book suggests, when there are painful feelings I put my heart in a bottle in order to keep it safe but end up disconnecting from the world and myself. When I want to reconnect with you it can feel like no matter how hard I try and smash the bottle, I can’t. I know it’s only a week but the little parts don’t really understand time, all they know is the chair is empty 😦 and this time of year feels like there are lots of empty chairs where people don’t come back’.

Concise as ever!

Of course that has generated … absolutely nothing.

Radio silence…

Although, I do feel better for having got it out and I do think it should at least open up a conversation about the break when we get back rather than her asking how the break was and me either shrugging my shoulders/avoiding answering the question/saying ‘it was rubbish’!

So where does that leave things? Tomorrow is Monday. The chair will be empty. My heart is in its bottle. It’s kind of safe…for now! I have a week off work. I am trying to regroup and recharge a bit. I need to relax. I need not to wish the next week away. As much as I want to see Em, as much as I need therapy, I really don’t want to be plunged back into an 8 week half term of work  – I don’t have the energy for it.

So, yeah, that’s it! Rubber bands and chewing gum remain the primary adhesives for holding everything together! Fingers crossed everything holds!

xx

 

 

Author: rubberbandsandchewinggum

Mid-thirties. Mum of two. Procrastinator. Therapy and mental health blogger.

6 thoughts on “The Empty Chair”

  1. I love the book. I can relate to it on a level too. I’m thinking of getting ‘The Truth Pixie’ by Matt Haig for my nephews for Christmas. Reading to them is just another method of communication.
    It sucks that she doesn’t at least acknowledge your texts. She does seem attuned to you though. You have made a lot of progress since the summer break though. I know it will be a tough week because it will take time for the attachment pain to ease. Maybe you could do something special with your children at the session times which will be fun for the young parts too. It’s hard to need the break in one way, but not another.
    You can get through this. Sending hugs. 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah thanks love. I don’t know if I’ve made progress or not … I just keep turning up and hoping for the best 😂. I’ve got the dentist during tomorrow’s session 🤦‍♀️ but we go away to a theme park on weds and it’s geared at small kids so will try and let my little parts have some fun there. X

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  3. I like the sound of that book a lot! Your text was absolutely reasonable and it’s good you highlighted what the book meant to you in relation to her. Breaks SUCK BALLS but you are doing all this hard stuff so you are a brilliant mum to your kids, which is commendable! Your kids won’t suffer as you have suffered. I know that doesn’t take away your suffering…but the suffering is all for a reason. I think you’re fab and I’m glad I’m on this journey (virtually) with you 🤗

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