The last time I posted here I was circling the pit of attachment pain hell and I won’t lie, it was complete agony. I know these feelings well, but they aren’t constant any more (thank god!), and the intensity of them is not full on all of the time and so it takes me by surprise just how debilitating it feels when they hit full force again after a period of being pretty ok.
I was both surprised and disappointed that I had started to struggle so hard the moment the therapy break kicked in. I mean I basically had my session – a hard one – and then boom straight into the bowels of hell! Nooo! I had done relatively well with the therapy break at the start of the summer and yet within two weeks of one ending I was already starting another and I think that’s probably got a lot to do with how bad things felt starting the second.
Anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while will know that I don’t always handle disruption very well but to give myself credit, I do cope much better than I used to – or at least I had been! My benchmark for ‘break from hell’ came at Christmas 2017 when I basically lost my mind – I am so embarrassed about it now (especially as I rage/breakdown typed it all out on here and then made Em read it in our next session! Not surprising that after that she said she would be reluctant to read another of my posts because she didn’t need to be “that masochistic”- ouch) but it was all part of this messy process, I guess, and that’s why I don’t take it down/delete it. I do internally cringe a bit (a lot) when I think back over all the times I have ranted at Em for doing nothing wrong but feeling like EVERY WORD SHE SAYS IS WRONG and lashing out at her!
So, sure, I don’t really like disruption but I can largely cope with the breaks now without becoming some wobbly attachment jelly creature/raging text psycho but not this time it seems! So that leads me to wonder: how much disruption is too much disruption (for me)? And based on recent evidence it looks like two separate two week breaks in a six week period is the threshold! I said last time that Em more than earns her breaks and I understand that breaks are part of the fabric of therapy it’s just not easy explaining that to all the parts that get so affected by holidays. Like part of me wants to cheekily (but kind of seriously say), “take a holiday but just one per calendar month, please.” 😉
I have been wondering whether I would have handled a break of one solid month better than this? I doubt it! Or maybe if there had been a slightly longer intervening period between the breaks it may have been more manageable…I just don’t know. I suspect it’s not just about the number breaks it’s the fact that this second one came just at a time when my life has got a whole other level of stress come in from left field and so really it’s more about timing – which can’t be helped because life doesn’t work like that!
Thinking about how much this break has disrupted me has also made me really grateful that Em is not a sickly person – she seems to have the constitution of an ox and has only cancelled one session, at short notice, in the entire 4.5 years we have worked together. That happened in the very early days when I was seeing her in the NHS and I really wasn’t bothered back then because I hadn’t really allowed myself to feel anything towards her at that point, and was grateful that I didn’t have to get myself and my new baby out the house and into a 9:30am session! How things change eh?!
If she were to text me to cancel the day before or perhaps on the morning of a session, now, there are parts that would struggle not to feel abandoned, upset and (probably) a bit angry. I know this is because my need for her feels massive and a lot of the time those younger parts seem to exist on some kind of countdown until the next session. However, alongside this young needy part, there is another older, more nurturing part that would also really want to make sure she was ok and was being looked after if she was unwell and not care at all about not having my session.
Recently, when I could tell she wasn’t quite right (physically – lol!), I bought her the gem stones as a gesture to show her that I care. Therapy had been difficult for quite some time and I didn’t feel able to just ask her if she was actually ok despite knowing that she wasn’t. I was shutting her out because I was feeling shut out by her (not because of her being ill!) and it had become a vicious cycle.
Having worked together for so long I wonder, now, why I couldn’t just ask her at the time if she was ok even though it was a rough patch? I suspect part of it was something about not wanting to be intrusive and being fobbed off or ‘kept out’ whilst another part of it might have been about not wanting her to confirm that she wasn’t ok because so many parts of me need her to be ok. I want her to be human – but not so human that she gets poorly! Oh my god I’m such a walking contradiction! Lol!
The therapeutic relationship certainly is weird isn’t it? Our therapists poke at our core issues time and again (not always on purpose – we just sometimes don’t see the open trap door as we’re walking along and plunge into darkness) and yet also offer some of the most powerful healing we’ve experienced. It is a relationship it is set up to benefit us, not them….and that feels odd, particularly to those of us that have had a lifetime of trying to meet other people’s needs whilst sacrificing our own!
I hate that Em’s absence affects me but I also really struggle with the fact that she doesn’t need me in the least. She doesn’t miss me when she’s away – or certainly not in the way that I miss her (which is a very good thing because I don’t think she’d be the ideal therapist if she did)! When she is sick she has other people to care for her. If she is struggling in her life I would never know about it. I am not a friend or family member and so I am completely ignorant of what goes on for her outside that room – unless it impacts me in some way and then she lets me know what I need to know.
The whole thing is set up to help me and focuses on me…and that is actually alien in most of our relationships. It’s not a reciprocal arrangement and that’s why we have to pay for it. That’s how we meet their needs. I know for a lot of us paying to maintain one of our most intimate relationships feels weird but paying for it doesn’t make it any less of a relationship, it’s not fake (the teen part and inner critic are off somewhere else at the moment so can’t argue with that!).
I know that this is how it’s all meant to be but it is hard to find a place to put all that sometimes – other than ‘this is a therapeutic relationship and it’s different from other relationships we have’. Ironically when Em says that to me it makes me bristle, like I get a proper kick back, because I’ve always seen that comment through the lens of ‘limitations’ ie what the therapeutic relationship ‘isn’t’ or ‘can’t be’ for me. “This is a therapeutic relationship and so x, y, z and that might feel rejecting or like I don’t care…” In the past I have felt that this means the therapeutic relationship therefore ‘has less value’ than other relationships and it must be ‘meaningless’ because it doesn’t fit the mould of other ‘meaningful’ relationships. That deduction instantly fills me with shame, though, because this ‘nothing’ relationship is so hugely important to me. So on the one hand I am like ‘fuck it, it’s nothing’ and on the other hand I am like ‘oh my god this relationship is killing me because I need it, and HER, so much! It’s so important to me.’
Whenever Em has said something about our relationship being ‘therapeutic’ I’ve often heard that as her attempt to distance herself from me rather than her trying to show me that the boundaries that can feel so difficult sometimes are there to protect us both even when they feel rejecting. She can’t meet all my needs but she can meet some. She can’t be there all the time but when she is there she gives me her undivided attention. I’m beginning to see that I actually need and want the therapeutic relationship (even with its limitations) because what I am SLOWLY learning is that Em is committed to the work with me and I get the best version of her in the time I have. I suspect in real life she’s probably just a dick like the rest of us!
Anyway back to this therapy break. I joked at the end of my last post that I hadn’t text Em ‘yet’. And despite flailing about like a fish out of water I really had no intention of reaching out to her. I mean let’s face it, what’s the point? Pretty much every time I have sent a desperate connection seeking text and she has responded it’s all gone belly up anyway. Our hit rate of her replying to a text and me responding in a triggered state is about 90% Ugh. And let’s not even talk about the times I have text her and she hasn’t replied or acknowledged it at all. Ha. Let’s face it outside contact has been a minefield. I’ve wanted it and it’s pissed me off when I have got it and pissed me off when I haven’t!!
Em’s boundary on outside contact has always been that she would prefer it if I didn’t text or email unless it’s something to do with scheduling but that she does generally respond if she has a concern for safety. So in theory if I text her to tell her I am struggling and need an extra session she’ll respond but if I send her something but without an overt request then she’ll leave it til session– unless she thinks I’m properly not coping. To many parts of me this no outside contact rule has always felt incredibly rejecting but as time has gone on I (adult) can understand why she wants to keep communications in the room as she often say, “therapy happens here” and it’s “live” and “between us in the here and now”.
I am living proof of why outside contact can be such a minefield. I have got used to occasionally sending messages and not getting replies. It’s not great. It upsets me a bit but it doesn’t send me over the edge because most of the time whatever it is I have said can wait. It’s almost like when I am struggling I want her to have a heads up so that if things go silent in the session she has something to work with. Ie I’ll send a link to something and put ‘can we look at this in session on Monday’. I don’t require a reply in the moment I am basically just forwarding her the map.
I try really hard not to reach out at all because it fills me with shame when I do. Most of the time I don’t text or email Em. I don’t need to. I don’t actually want to either. Things are contained enough in the sessions and it’s fine…I mean it’s not fine, but I can hold things for myself until I am in the room. It’s only when the wheels are falling off inside the sessions and things are not contained enough that outside contact becomes a problem. If I can’t touch base and connect in sessions then part of me goes all out to try and connect outside them. It’s bloody embarrassing.
So, no prizes for what happened on the Wednesday following my Monday session – only two days into the break.
I sent a text.
Why? Why? Why?
Do I never learn?
I mean honestly. WTAF?
I hate that my feelings of abandonment and rejection (just because there is a break) make things feel so difficult. I hate that when I do cave in and contact her I feel as though I am breaking the rules and disappointing her but sometimes I just can’t not. I know how daft that sounds.
Why would I knowingly walk into a situation where I am going to be left feeling rejected and abandoned for more than two weeks? I guess, the answer to that question is that there is a desperate little part of me that hopes I won’t be, hopes I will get a response, hopes that something will come that is enough to be soothing and settle things down…
… And perhaps this, too, when I am drowning, and I mean DROWNING in attachment pain and feel like I can’t breathe or function perhaps hitting the big red button where I don’t get a reply from her and thus can prove she doesn’t give a shit about me actually shifts me into anger and rage and I can instead focus on how shit Em is, and how neglectful, and how I hate her and that is easier than sitting with the feelings of just really fucking missing her. Don’t they say that anger is just sad’s mask?
As I sat full of that deep deep aching empty pain on Wednesday morning it dawned on me that in the past I was so triggered by the pain I felt when Em was gone (yeah yeah, the mother wound it’s not all about her! I know!) that I was unable to see that when I had reached out to Em in a state she had generally responded to me outside session. She has, on multiple occasions tried to connect with me when I have asked for it. She had proved that she was still there. And yet on these occasions I was in such a triggered state and so programmed to feel rejection and abandonment that was all I could see in her messages. I had one narrative ‘she doesn’t care’ and part of me was looking for confirmation even though clearly another part was reaching out hoping for connection.
The messages she sent me were never ‘good enough’. They never said quite the right thing. They weren’t right for me. I guess at that those times I have such a clear idea of what I need that I don’t see that she can’t give me word for word what I want because she’s not a bloody mind reader – and in addition to that she is her own person in the relationship with me and she has to reply in a way that feels right to her. Oh, and let’s not forget that actually what each part needs can be wildly different too and so getting a bullseye is like walking round blindfolded and trying to pin a tail on a donkey!! OMG it’s a disaster!
She said, after the Christmas 2017 debacle that she had felt like I was trying to script her and that she did reply to me and that she did care but I just couldn’t take it in… and I understand that now, whereas at the time I thought I was showing her what I needed to feel better and felt so indignant about it all when I didn’t quite get it. You’ll laugh now, that I read those messages and they are ‘fine’!!!
On Wednesday, then, I sat on my bed and was fully pissed off with myself. Why? Well, because basically it seemed to me that Em stopped responding to me in April 2018 and perhaps it’s because I have always criticised what she’s done for me and our ‘crisis’ communications just weren’t working so she stopped them to stop more ruptures. I mean sure there are probably a whole plethora of other reasons for what’s happened and I guess I will try and have this conversation when we meet on the 6th September but on Wednesday that’s where I was at.
And so this is what I sent:
I didn’t expect a response, although I did hope for one.
The day dragged on and on.
I kept checking my phone despite knowing that she was at work in the NHS and so wouldn’t reply to me during working hours (or at all).
I knew she had an hour’s drive home.
I know she has a child and would have things to do in the early evening…because that’s what my life is like too.
But at 8pm I had given up hope and had resigned myself to another break of feeling like she doesn’t care, that I don’t matter, and then cycling through all the associated feelings.
That evening I was talking to my wife about her new job and didn’t look at my phone until 9:34 when it lit up.
And low and behold there was a message from Em.
I didn’t read it straight away as I wanted a quiet space to take it all in. But actually, just seeing that she had responded felt amazing. Like properly amazing. I really didn’t care what was inside the text. As I said earlier, I’ve kind of gone past worrying about the specific words, and wanting to unpick every tiny bit of a text searching for what I need in the moment, and rather have decided that seeing the bigger picture is a better idea – ie she has text me out of hours and that must mean that she cares – and try and take that in and absorb it instead. And you know what it really worked.
I opened the message. It was fine. Really similar to the one I got my knickers in a knot about two summers ago. If anything it’s ‘less’ personal than that one. BUT the big difference is I can see that she’s trying to help me AND THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS PROGRESS!
I felt my whole system calm right down after reading the message. I still miss Em. I really want it to be our next session because I feel like there is loads and loads to say and work through. I want to know what it was that made her reach out to me again in this way after so long. I want to tell her what a huge difference that message made. I want to express how being willing to stretch her boundaries a little bit has made me feel much safer and settled in the relationship again BUT importantly it HAS NOT made me want to keep contacting her or reaching for her. I need her to understand that I am not someone who ‘if she concedes and inch I’ll want to take a mile’ – far from it.
I’ve been really ill this last week with a viral throat infection and tonsillitis and despite feeling mega sorry for myself (and little) I have not wanted to text Em at all. I can handle those feelings of longing to be looked after for myself. I can adult my way through it until the 6th because I know she’s out there. Right now I am able to hold her in mind and I haven’t always been able to do that.
Anyway, it’s just over a week til we meet again and in the meantime I need to get my arse in gear and get school ready – both my kids and me! I’m sure the time will fly by… well, I hope so because I really want to go in and smile and say, “thank you!” And you know what? I think I am gonna survive this break!
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