*Beware – this is a ridiculously long post. Grab a cuppa!
Last December I stumbled across the children’s book, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams. Initially, I was drawn to the beautiful illustrations – I’ve always felt an affinity towards rabbits: my favourite childhood toy was a white rabbit with turquoise dungarees, I’ve had several rabbits as pets, and I once had a really powerful therapy session that started with a discussion of rabbits but opened up so many things!
From the moment I started reading it, I was hooked in and invested in the Rabbit’s story. I’m not surprised that it’s so many people’s favourite childhood book and I couldn’t believe that I was only just now reading it at the ripe old age of 36. I mean, I’ve seen a few quotes from the story here and there that have really resonated but never really connected that they came from an actual book – duh!! No prizes for brains!
There’s something about children’s stories and how they are able to simply convey quite complex messages that I love. I guess they speak to the young parts of me and frame emotional experiences in a way that those parts are able understand. There was a real lack of storytelling as I was growing up. I did not get bedtime stories, really. There wasn’t that consistent time to snuggle into a parent and share an adventure in a book – but more than that, the was never the closeness and safe time to feel held, contained, attached at the end of a day. Mum was never there, though, and I don’t think it really crossed dad’s mind how important that time is…although I remember he once made up a story about a lost bunny…and thinking about it I could tell you it word for word.
I am a bit militant about bedtime stories with my own children. From being tiny I have read to them both every single night apart from the one night they went camping and even then I sent them away with a story to have with my wife! It’s nothing to do with childhood literacy levels for me, though. As an English teacher I see first-hand the difference between those kids that have been read to, and fostered a love of books, and those that haven’t and how it impacts their academic progress. But I don’t read to my kids for this reason; for me it’s all about connection.
We have so many books in our house. So many favourites. We can still all recite ‘The Gruffalo’ word for word without having to look at it even though it’s been a good while since we’ve read it! The kids know most of the books so well that if I try and skip a bit or paraphrase to get through it, they know! Ha!
My daughter is 8 years old now, and my son is 5 and as I said, there has not been a single night that they haven’t had a story…or two! And even though my daughter is getting bigger now and a complete reading fiend, she still loves being read to. We are reading ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ together at the moment and it’s great.
Bedtime is the time that I tend to find out what’s going on with my kids. When they roll in from school and I ask them how their day was I’m usually greeted with, ‘fine’ or ‘good’. It’s not until bedtime when they’ve had chance to unwind, feel settled, safe, and close to me that I might find out if there is anything going on for them or if anything is worrying them. Bedtime stories are about so much more than books.
It wasn’t until I could read for myself that books became a massive part of my life. As soon as I was able, I would read whenever there was a free moment. I was that kid you’d see wandering around the school between lessons with their head in a book. I guess from a young age I needed to lose myself, escape into another world, and books afforded me that.
I think what I love most about children’s fiction is how, because the stories are relatively ‘simple’, we can overlay our own feelings and experiences. The stories are not so detailed that you can’t put yourself into them. It’s really easy to use a children’s book as mirror for your own inner world.
Another kids’ book I absolutely adore is, ‘The Heart And The Bottle’ by Oliver Jeffers. Some of you might remember the drama around the empty chair image that happened when I took the book to therapy and shared it with Em a couple of years ago… and then quickly disappeared down an emotional black hole in the session and in the break that followed! Really, I ought to have taken that as a template. Do not share books in therapy!
Anyway, like character in Jeffers’ book who puts her heart away safely in a bottle – when she experiences a significant loss – in order to prevent her having her heart broken further, the plight of the Rabbit in ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ resonated with me in relation to what I was feeling and experiencing in therapy at the time – the love, the sense of loss, the hope, and the quest of finally feeling ‘real’ one day. When I finished reading it, I instantly wanted to share it with Em. To be fair, I wanted to share all my feelings with Em I just got swallowed up in shame every time I tried to get near them or her.
It was coming up to Christmas and I decided that this year, after nearly 8 years, I would give her a gift and knew I wanted to give her a copy of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ as well as a glass snowflake that I had already bought. The snowflake linked back to a reference I had made a couple of years ago when I gave her a pop-up snowflake card. It was the analogy that I’d like to think that each therapeutic relationship is like a snowflake, we as clients know that we are one of many for our therapists but hopefully there’s something unique and special about each relationship. I mean essentially it was a, ‘you’re really important to me and I’d like to think, and hope, that maybe this relationship means something to you too’.
In addition to this, I had written a quote inside the card from Michael Rosen’s, ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’ (Ha! See, another children’s story!) and had written about the bit where they’re trapped in a ‘swirling whirling snow storm’ but that they ‘can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no! We’ve got to go through it’ which is such a great metaphor for therapy and so this year the glass snowflake seemed especially apt – still going through it and it’s still important to me.
It was a tough year inside the therapy room last year…and outside it too. My life seemed to throw up one bloody drama after another: my wife lost her job, we had issues with our donor, my grandparents disowned me for the second time, there was too much work and not enough time to ground myself and all this was going on alongside huge stuff being thrown up in the room. I felt so disconnected from Em. I was going round in ever tighter circles driving myself slowly insane. The attachment stuff was so alive and I was a dissociated mess a lot of the time. Being so close to someone you care about and yet feeling so distant and unimportant to them is unbelievably painful and being told, ‘I’m just your therapist’ doesn’t help. The mother wound has a lot to answer for!
I realised that part of me was running away from doing the work because I was always so busy. I couldn’t really let myself do what was needed in session because there was always a pressing need to be somewhere straight after, to put on a brave face and be ‘teacher’. I started trying to protect myself from the big feelings in the room so they wouldn’t spill out into my real life. Of course, that strategy did not work at all! I just dissociated because the feelings we absolutely there and then I was left with them between sessions, feeling shit. It was all a complete mess.
I knew I needed to make space to focus more on my therapy and so moved all my work out of Mondays and Fridays to enable me to really be in the moment…the irony is, I didn’t get to see if this would have made a difference because everything fell apart!
There was a significant amount of keeping Em out last year but, in my defence, that was largely because it felt like she didn’t really want to find a way in like she used to – and I guess given what she said to me towards the end of our time working together, what I thought I was picking up on was true. The shift in her perception of me feels stark: at one time she likened me to a baby that, for whatever reason, couldn’t feed (in sessions) and was then left feeling uncontained and hungry during the time between sessions and that felt really accurate and understanding and yet somehow by January that had shifted into her now seeing the young parts as parasitic, they were ‘adhesive’ and ‘tick like’. It’s not surprising that when I took a step towards her, showing her the level of need (huge), she recoiled and wanted to get away if her feelings had changed so much.
I had dream I had a couple of years ago where we were in a really hot dark room just off a busy roundabout in the city where I live. It was the summer and yet Em was wearing a rain coat (that she’d had in the room in our previous therapy) and it was completely unsuited to the situation and I couldn’t work out why she was dressed that way. She left the session ten minutes early and gave me a note to read after I had let myself out. I had to go on a run but it was rubbish and gave up. When I sat down to read the note it simply said, ‘I can’t work with you anymore’. I was devastated. I can still remember how horrendous it felt. It felt really hard bringing that to dream to session. Any dreams I had with Em in were always about her pushing me away in some way and they really impacted me. I so badly wanted to trust that she wouldn’t hurt me but I could never escape my dreams telling me otherwise.
At the time we spoke about this dream a bit but not really about the bit in the room between us – it’s always been hard to talk about what’s happening between us! It was one of those big dreams and hard to pick out what was important – I was fixated on my having to leave my watch (but probably avoiding the beginning because it was so painful) – but now I wonder if my unconscious was concerned about her feeling the need to be protected from me. The coat would stop her getting wet when working through my emotional storm, she could remain largely untouched by me. And then maybe her leaving the session early was my worry that she’d go/terminate before the work was done? I was upset by the note, and when we spoke about it she said that it seemed like a cowardly way to end a therapy and that is not how we would end. Only that’s kind of what did happen:
‘Thanks for letting me know your decision and I am sorry that I was not able to help you. I wish you well for the future’.
I know there was more to it in the end but – it would have ended on this had I not had a complete meltdown.
Anyway, whatever was going on at the it feels crap. I don’t know if she did, but when things started to feel so negative she ought to have taken it to supervision and worked through it. Maybe she did. I still don’t believe that she doesn’t have the competence to work with someone like me, I think there was all sorts going on in the room that neither of us could face head on at that point but I really feel like it’s been left in a complete mess.
I can really understand the frustration and feeling like whatever you do for someone it’s never enough, they keep wanting you to prove yourself over and over, so in the end you just give up trying because you never can be enough and whatever you think you are providing they seem incapable of seeing it or taking it in. I know at times Em said she felt blindfolded and useless working with me. I never thought she was useless. I just wanted to feel like she was really there with me rather than behind a screen – which is how it felt sometimes.
It can’t be easy being a therapist and having people throw all their stuff at you, project onto you, and not really get seen for who you are because it’s all clouded by the transference. I mean I do get that that is kind of what therapy is about but it must be exhausting repeatedly being faced with, ‘I can’t trust you, you don’t care enough’. And who knows what might have been going on in her own life. She never told me anything about her and for all I know she could have been experiencing problems in her personal life or at work. If her resources felt depleted then having someone who has so much need would probably have felt too much. I don’t know.
It was so hard at the end of last year. And yet, there was a part of me that believed we were in it for the long haul and whatever was going on in that weird melting pot that we call therapy we’d be ok. Despite how bad things felt and how messy it seemed to be getting – especially round Christmas- I must have felt there was something underneath that was solid enough to hold it, to contain my various feelings of disappointment, anger, and of course love…and shame… and that we would land back on more solid ground once whatever was playing out had run out of energy.
I guess it felt a bit like the storm I talked about in one of my first blogs, the tornado would eventually touch down and we’d look back at what had happened and take a few deep breaths, check our footing and try and make sense of it all – together.
As it turned out, giving Em the book and snowflake at Christmas fell on its arse. I mean it really was a spectacular wipe out. Both gifts were massively significant to me at that time. Because it had been such a gruelling year, I wanted to somehow show Em that whilst I might be making noises about it all feeling pointless, and shit, and wanting to leave, and repeatedly testing whether we she was safe, that actually there were so many parts that wanted to stay, to work through it, and to move forward – together.
I guess, now, looking back, you could say that the gifts came from my eleven-year-old self. She’s the one who often got overlooked in therapy. In fact, when I first mapped out my inner dynamics Em realised that she was very aware of the others (the youngest ones and the teens and the Critic) but had absolutely no idea about Eleven.
It’s always been that part that has given Em things (the marble and gem stones) and it is her, I think, that has most been hurt by the ending of the therapy. She is a good girl, she doesn’t ask for anything, and behaves – you wouldn’t know she’s there. She has experienced a lot of hurt though, and out of all the parts of me I’d argue she needs the most support because she’s wondering why nothing she does is ever good enough. It’s her that feels completely unlovable and rejected. She kept quiet most of the time but really wanted to believe that Em could help…eventually.
Gifts can reveal a lot in a therapeutic relationship, and had Em actually taken a moment to think about this with me and explore it I suspect these could have been the conversations that dragged us out the shit and back onto a slightly more solid path. However, it was clear from the first session back after Christmas, via Skype (where I ended the call twenty minutes early), that she wanted to push me away (maybe not consciously), and basically rejected the gifts straight off without wondering anything more about them. To her, at that time, me giving her anything was seen as an intrusion, pushing boundaries, and trying to get inside her. Even typing this now thinking about how rejecting it felt still makes my tummy hurt.
It felt especially rejecting when she said she was wrong to accept the gifts and in future she’d prefer it if I didn’t give her stuff. Earlier in the year I’d given her two gem stones, she had said that when people give her things she keeps them, and at the end of the therapy often clients take things back as a symbol of the work they’d done together. I didn’t like this. To me, the idea of having a gift returned feels really rejecting, kind of like ‘you’re gone now, take your stuff back with you – leave no trace’ – I guess it’s another example of the ‘out of sight out of mind’ thing. Almost, ‘I have to keep you in mind when you’re paying me but once you’re going I’ll clear the decks’. Anyway, what happened in January now felt like, ‘I accept gifts I just don’t want to accept YOUR gifts’. Oh man. This hurts. So much.
A couple of sessions later, after reiterating at least once in each session that she ‘shouldn’t have accepted the gifts’ – every time it felt like she was kicking me in the stomach and pushing me away -she asked me what the significance of the book had been. I was so upset at that point that there was no way on earth I was going to vulnerable and tell her what it had meant to me. Maybe if I had been able to engage then things could have been different but I just wasn’t anywhere close to being in my window (letterbox!) of tolerance.
It’s funny, my feelings on the book have changed a bit as this has all unfolded with Em but this is why I wanted to bring ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ into my therapy in the first place- there are so many meanings and messages and it speaks to me and all the parts that have been hurt or are hurting and clearly it’s not all about Em, it’s about my mum too and other significant relationships.
All I can say is it feels like there was a massive opportunity missed but, now, almost six months down the line I feel like I want to try and explain, because as Maya Angelou said, ‘there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you’. The person I want to hear it is gone but I need to get it out somehow even if there’s no one to process it with. So, this is my take on it but I recommend the book to everyone because everyone will apply their own narrative to what’s there.
I have no idea how this might come out as I try and lace the story together with my therapy story! But here goes:
The book begins, ‘There was once a Velveteen Rabbit, and in the beginning, he was really splendid’ and I guess, for me, this is kind of how we all start off, when we are born. We are perfect. There is so much possibility and potential (under the right conditions). Maybe, if we are lucky, at the beginning, in our childhoods we might get something like enough love and care. It looks promising for the Rabbit, ‘for at least two hours the Boy loved him.’ And this love might give us enough of a sense of safety and security to function effectively. But then, unfortunately, for many of us, for whatever reason, things go wrong ‘the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten’ and I think that’s what I felt, and experienced growing up -that feeling of being forgotten about, or at least not prioritised.
I mean, straight away, I identified with that poor bunny! Feeling unimportant and forgettable has come up in so many of my therapy sessions. My childhood for the most part felt pretty barren. I was shoved from one childminder to another, mum was rarely there. I was there but not really, ‘for a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him’. I learned to get on with it. Kids are amazing like that. When you aren’t contained and held safely you find a way to live, shelve your needs, and basically survive. How many of us can relate to that in our formative years?
I was a good girl, didn’t cause any trouble, and behaved. My heart aches for the Rabbit – but also for myself. To experience a moment of having been loved and then being swiftly forgotten is horrendous. When I look back, I can really find only one memory of being held by mum. I was really ill after a reaction to my pre-school vaccinations, my leg had swollen up, I had a huge temperature, and had puked everywhere. I remember sitting on the sofa and being cuddled. But only that once.
What I also remember, though, is the moment I left the surgery, walking home, complaining to my parents that my leg really hurt, that it was really itchy, that I felt ill and both of them telling me to ‘stop moaning and grow up, it’s only an injection – you didn’t make any fuss last time’. I didn’t say anything after that, and despite feeling rotten and poorly I stayed in my room. It wasn’t until I was sick everywhere that they looked at my leg and called the out of hours doctor. I must have been four years old. I wonder now if the cuddle was because the doctor was coming and because they felt guilty?
You learn really quickly to not express needs when they aren’t met and I guess this must have been about the same time that I burnt myself on the barbecue and told no one and still have a scar from it. What the point in reaching out when no one listens, or if you do say something they shame you or push you away?
The Rabbit was ‘naturally shy’ and ‘was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace’ among the other toys in the nursery who were flashy, had moving parts, and were not filled with ‘saw dust’. I relate to this feeling of not fitting in. I have always been good at making friends but there’s always been a part that has like I am on the outside looking in. Part of the crowd but slightly to one side. My favourite film as a child was ‘Santa Claus The Movie’ and I really related to the boy character who had no one and pressed his nose up against the cold window of a girl’s house on Christmas Eve– she seemed to have everything and he had nothing.
I remember going to friends’ houses when I was younger and noticing how ‘happy’ their families seemed, how at ease they were with one another, how attentive their parents were. I longed for that but my mum always seemed to think that ‘those’ people were ‘weird’ and ‘living in each other’s pockets’ and that it was bizarre that mums chose to be there at the school gates rather than pursue a career.
Fortunately, for the Rabbit there is another figure in the nursery, the Skin Horse who is wise and understands how things work, a kind of mentor who’s been there and done it all before! And when I read about it, part of me placed Em in this role but I guess over the years there’ve been a few teachers who have made me feel like perhaps I am not as shit as I feel, too.
‘The Skin Horse who had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by and by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.’
The Rabbit becomes preoccupied with the idea of being Real which I guess is what most of us are wondering about. How do we get to a place where the emptiness inside goes and we feel whole?
“What is Real?” asked the Rabbit […] “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick out handle?”
It’s the Skin Horse that gives the Rabbit hope. The Rabbit feels plain, and not good enough, and yet it becomes clear that those other toys in the nursery that seem to be all show, will never have a chance to become Real. I guess this is like life. Some people are quite happy in their bubble of denial and on the surface seem to be the complete package but there’s something a bit one dimensional to them. They never look inside themselves, nor would they ever think to, because everything seems so fine. But I’ve never been a ‘model of anything’, I’m not a mechanical toy. I’ve always been the Bunny!
How do we become our true selves and live authentically, then? Is it something we can do on our own? Does someone else make it happen? Or does the magic happen in relationship? I believe that becoming Real happens in relationship and it is this relationship then enables us to then be Real on our own. If we are lucky, this might happen within our own family units, at the optimum time when we are still children, but for lots of us this trying to become Real happens when we enter therapy and commit to making a change.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”
I mean this surely won’t be lost on anyone that’s doing depth work and attachment therapy! The feeling of coming to life because you are seen and cared for is the thing that makes all the difference. Feeling like it’s ok to be exactly who you are and connect with all the parts that make you whole is huge
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
Not sure I agree with ‘not minding’ being hurt, but then I can see that becoming Real can be a painful process – it’s not all bad – and that lots of growth comes in therapy through rupture and repair…if there can be a repair!
The Rabbit goes on, “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” And I guess this is a bit like us, in therapy searching for the answers, hoping that it’ll be a quick fix and in no time, we’ll be wound up and Real, but the reality is that it’s a slow process. Or at least it has been where I’ve been concerned!
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
And this is the reality of long-term work isn’t it? It’s not easy. It takes time. And it requires a fair amount of resilience. It can feel a bit soul destroying when things feel stuck and you can almost see the end goal but just can’t seem to move any further towards it. It’s not easy when you feel like you’re falling apart rather than coming together.
‘The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him’
I guess once we commit to the process there’s no going back. You’ve got to be all in.
Anyway, the story continues and one day the Boy loses a toy that he usually takes to bed with him and Nana randomly picks up the Bunny and hands him to the Boy. That night and for many nights after the Rabbit slept in Boy’s bed and the Rabbit becomes his favourite toy. They have all kinds of play adventures together. The Rabbit is happy.
Then one day the Rabbit gets left outside because the Boy has to run in for his tea. He can’t sleep without his bunny and asks Nana to go fetch him from the garden. Nana laughs at him suggesting it’s a lot of fuss for a toy and the boy replies, “He isn’t a toy. He’s REAL!” At that moment the Rabbit is so filled with joy because he has finally been loved enough to be considered Real. He’s achieved what the Skin Horse said.
The thing is, it doesn’t last because life isn’t like that…especially if you have an Inner Critic ready to pounce on anything positive. It’s amazing how you can experience good, get a taste of what it might be like to feel Real, and then the sadistic bastard comes along and tries to undermine it. This happened so many times in my therapy. Whenever Em would say something positive or I’d feel really connected to her the Critic would come up behind me and start questioning the reality of what I felt, ‘She doesn’t really care, why would she?…you’re not good enough.’ And for some reason it’s easier to trust the Critic than the person in front of you that demonstrates care week in week out.
Rabbit encounters his own version of the Critic. He’s outside one day and he meets some real-life bunnies. They tease him – shame him- because he doesn’t have any hind legs and ‘doesn’t smell right’. The rabbit is upset by the live bunnies’ goading, “He isn’t a rabbit at all! He isn’t Real!” He replies, “I am Real! […] I am Real! The Boy said so!” And he nearly began to cry.
It’s so sad. Because this is what happens, you start to feel like you are changing that things are getting better, that maybe you aren’t worthless after all – and then you beat yourself up and sabotage the process to the point where you doubt the reality. Oh – it’s so thoroughly depressing! Fortunately, as times goes on the Critic seems to take more of a backseat, well sometimes. You realise it’s there for a reason, and that it’s trying to protect you. You can’t always get round it, but more and more frequently you can stand up to it and tell it to sit in the corner.
So. What next? The Boy falls ill with Scarlet Fever and throughout this time the Rabbit stays close to him willing for him to get well. They may be stuck in a pretty awful place (as can happen in therapy sometimes!) but they are stuck together and there is a belief that things will improve, eventually if you can bear to stick it out. The Rabbit loses his shape and gets further worn out but he is unconcerned about this because he knows that, ‘when you are Real, shabbiness doesn’t matter’ and he is Real when he is with the Boy and that’s all that matters.
And that’s kind of how it feels when people outside the therapy room suggest that maybe you’re not improving quickly enough and seem worse rather than better. To the outside world it might seem like you’re willingly exposing yourself to Scarlet Fever when actually all around the Scarlet Fever is a protective force field, an important relationship which actually sees you through dealing with the illness. We feel Real, maybe for the first time, with our therapists.
People criticising my progress, or lack of it, used to feel shaming in the early days, but with time I began to see that to make significant changes and to become Real not just ‘better’ you have to strip everything back, remove the layers of varnish and veneer and discover what’s really underneath – it’s not about painting another layer of varnish over to keep up appearances! Therapy is not a quick fix and becoming Real, as the Skin Horse says, ‘takes time’ – and as therapists all good therapist like to say happens, ‘bit by bit’!
It’s about discovering, finding out about, and learning to tolerate the parts of yourself that you aren’t so keen to show the outside world (and sometimes even yourself). There are lots of reasons why parts might be kept hidden. It may be because they’re not all that likeable (the shadow), or perhaps because they’ve been so injured in the past that it feels inconceivable that you’d ever expose them to the light of day again.
Becoming comfortable with all the parts, good or bad, raging or needy, working through feelings – the shame – the love- in the presence of an ‘other’ (who actually might prefer your authentic self) and realising that you’re not perfect but more than ‘good enough’ is all part of becoming Real. And when you start to feel Real you care less and less about what people outside think.
So, the Rabbit stays with the Boy through the illness because he feels a strong bond and connection to him and it is the relationship with the boy that has made him Real. It is only the Boy who truly sees him, knows him, and loves him in spite of how he now looks. Others have teased him, belittled him, and not valued him but it feels different with the Boy. He loves the Boy…so much.
And this is how it feels in therapy, when the attachment stuff kicks in. Being in that room changes you slowly, your mask is off, you gradually remove your armour, you take a bit of a battering, you certainly don’t look pristine anymore! You are completely exposed and vulnerable in that space but at the same time, you’re seen, maybe for the first time and that does make you feel Real. Of course it does. Like the Bunny, your fur is worn away but, in the end, you’re left with the core of who you are and if you’re lucky you might just start to have a bit of compassion towards that person and that’s where the magic happens. You learn to love yourself through being loved.
Sadly, for whatever reason, it doesn’t always work out in the nursery/therapy. Sometimes it can happen that you believe you are safe, loved despite your flaws, and that you are important to the Boy/therapist and then something unexpected knocks everything for six. In the Rabbit’s case, the Doctor visits the Boy and tells Nana that now he is recovered the nursery needs to be stripped bare of everything and disinfected. When Nana asks what should be done with the Rabbit, he replies, “That?” […] “Why, it’s a mass of scarlet fever germs! – Burn it at once.’ The Doctor doesn’t know the Rabbit is Real, it is only Real to the Boy and so he treats it at face value: a faded, worthless, potentially dangerous thing and dismisses it from the room.
And this is how it felt at the end of my therapy. I thought I was in a relationship with the Skin Horse, or The Boy but actually, it seems that at the end it was really the Doctor. When it came to it, I was easily discarded, abandoned, and rejected – not good enough to stay – symbolically, ‘put into a sack with the old pictures-books and a lot of rubbish and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house’ ready to be burned. The pain of rejection from this ending is massive to me.
In the book, the Rabbit is left outside and is not burned straight away because the gardener is busy doing something else. Instead, the Rabbit manages to find his way out of the rubbish sack and discovers that he is completely alone and abandoned. He is so sad. Conversely, ‘that night the boy slept in a different bedroom, and he had a new bunny, all white and plush with real glass eyes’. And it feels to me a bit like how the therapist has a shiny new client and is absolutely fine, recovered from the fever and is able to move on whilst I can only look on and wonder at what has befallen me.
The Boy is safe and happy. That’s not the case for the Velveteen Rabbit whose ‘coat had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was no longer any protection to him’. He’s left out in the cold and without the very thing that had kept him warm – the Boy – but in addition to this, he’s no longer in possession of his own coat that had once protected him. And this is how it felt to me. I had just laid myself bare, I was stripped back, painfully exposed, defences down and rather than becoming Real it seems that, instead, I was deemed inadequate. Like the Bunny I was suddenly, and unexpectedly out in the cold.
The loss is so acute it’s hard to put in words, even now. And I have tried. I’m usually pretty good with words but it has proved hard to capture just how awful this feels. I still can’t believe that I can’t see her, that we won’t somehow work this out now the dust has settled and things aren’t so activated.
When the therapy with Em terminated I was left shocked and, like the Rabbit, I questioned everything, ‘what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?’ And I cried. So many tears. Tears where there have previously been none. The tears that have been stuck inside for years and years. The sadness was acute, for me and for the Rabbit.
Tears are significant, though. They are a release. And accessing this pain (not just from this event but from all the stored-up feelings surrounding loss and abandonment from the original wounding #motherwound) and allowing it to come out rather than bottling it up is important. My heart isn’t kept in a bottle now, but because it’s on my sleeve it’s now more prone to getting broken. When I get hurt I can cry (sometimes!) and that’s significant. In the story the Rabbit cries ‘a real tear’ and it falls down on to the ground. It’s real grief. Real loss. Real pain.
The Rabbit’s single tear feels absolutely tragic, as a reader we feel the devastation (or maybe that’s just me!). The pursuit of Realness in the relationship with the Boy seems, at this point, only to have caused the Rabbit pain and loneliness. He feels abandoned and rejected. Maybe he would have been better left in the cupboard and never experienced the relationship at all.
A moment later, out from where the Rabbit’s tear had landed, grows a ‘mysterious flower’. It’s unlike anything the Rabbit has seen before. I guess in a way, this tear, the Rabbit’s own particular version of grief, when it finally comes (and we know how hard it can be to access those feelings and let them come), in the end produces something unexpectedly transformational.
As the flower blooms, out pops the nursery magic Fairy. She explains that she looks after the toys when they are old and worn out and turns them into Real. The Rabbit is confused. He believes he is already Real. “You were Real to the Boy”, she explains “because he loved you. Now you shall be real to everyone”.
The Fairy, who seems to be a product of the Rabbit getting in touch with his feelings transforms him into Real. ‘Instead of dingy velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he went springing about the turf on them, jumping.’ And I guess this is the version of Real I am aiming for. Whether it’s possible or not remains a question but I do think that having to really get in touch with the pain I have been holding for a lifetime through the loss of Em might actually be the thing that helps me become Real. She helped me begin to feel Real, the Boy’s version, but it is up to me to get to the final real-life version of Real.
The story ends when, sometime later, the Boy comes across the Rabbit in the garden and feels he is familiar in some way. He recognises the markings are the same as his old Velveteen Rabbit, ‘but he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to become Real.’ In so many ways I feel like this now. There’s lots about me that is the same but there are things that have completely changed. I wonder, now, if Em would recognise me?
The great thing about therapy, and finding yourself is as the Skin Horse says at the beginning ‘Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again’.
I so wish that we could talk about this. Well, not only this, but it would be a great place to start.
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