I can’t bear the fact that even now, six months after Em terminated my therapy, I am so massively impacted by our ending. I mean, I am not surprised, what happened is a huge deal…but I am just so sick and tired of the pain and grief of it. I tie myself in knots trying to make sense of what’s happened and yet I can’t seem to.
I can’t let it go.
I can’t let her go.
I miss her so much.
I am angry, too. Angry that she did what she did. But not angry enough that if she gave me the chance to see her for a session that I would turn it down. My young parts are so attached, still, that I would walk through a fiery hell to see her. I feel depressed and embarrassed writing that. Like surely I have more self-respect than that? Surely I would tell her to go fuck herself… but I know I wouldn’t. The child parts of me who are in so much pain would do almost anything to see her…even though it would undoubtedly be horrific.
I suppose the good news is that I will never be afforded the opportunity to talk the ending through, to put it to rest, get any kind of reasonable closure because she’s slammed the door shut on me.
In her mind I no longer exist. I have been erased. But she is branded in mine.
And so, because I have no chance to repair this, or at least better understand it, I am left with it swirling in my head. Sometimes I can talk about it with Anita. Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I feel so ashamed by how I feel that I avoid talking about it. And recently, when I had a really triggering dream the night before my session involving Em, I got online and despite wanting to talk to Anita about it I dissociated almost instantly because the pain is so massive. K says she can feel a lot of grief in my body.
It’s at times like these where online therapy really falls flat on its face. In the room I would have been able to tune into A, her breathing, make eye contact, and in the usual run of things (pre-COVID) have her sit close to me to help me come back into my window of tolerance and regulate. But no matter how hard I try, I find it impossible to feel safely held when I am in one room and she is in another 35 miles away. And it’s not her fault. It’s not mine, either. It’s just the nature of the beast. There are some parts of me and some wounds that really need contact…real contact.
Anyway, I was quiet, subdued, anxious when I got on the call with A but aside from telling her I felt like I was drowning in shame, there wasn’t much I could do. I couldn’t go there. Anita was good, she told me that she wished she could take my hand and pull me out of the shame and tried hard to make me feel safe but in my head I just had the dream on loop and I just couldn’t do it. I talked about stuff about my mum and delved into the mother wound stuff (which is the work), she was kind and reassuring and repeatedly told me that I had been let down by my caregivers and none of what has happened is my fault but, still, I couldn’t get close to the dream.
At the end of the session it was clear that I was not in a brilliant place, despite having pulled myself back from the brink, and A said that she wished she could stay with me longer. I wished that too. Ugh for the therapy hour!
The one huge bonus about therapy with A compared to Em (and to be fair there are many!) is the fact that I am allowed to contact her between sessions. She understands my need for connection and how I build trust and so I always feel safe knowing she’s there and I can reach out without repercussions or a telling off and a dreaded ‘boundary talk’. With Em it just felt like a perpetual rejection, ‘Don’t contact me. If you do I won’t read what you send…’ Thankfully it’s not like that with A.
After the session I decided to send Anita my dream in an email so she could at least see why I was so bothered and having difficulty and then maybe we could talk in our session on Wednesday. We had scheduled in mid-week sessions to see if that helps with ‘woeful Wednesday’ so it wasn’t all that long to wait.
This is the email:
Drowning In The Pit Of Shame – The Dream That’s Sent Things Into Freefall
It was snowing, dark, and I was driving in the car with my childhood best friend. She needed to get to her parents’ home for Christmas and I was getting a lift with her back to the same place but it was pointless really because I had nowhere to go but I would sooner have spent time with her on the journey than be outside in the snow alone.
Every time we tried to leave the city we hit with massive snowdrifts, feet deep blocking the road, and there was no way out. I could see that if we could just get about five metres of snow cleared we could get onto the A road out the city and would be on the road that was gritted…but we couldn’t. It was too deep.
We ended up turning back and painstakingingly following another treacherous, windy, back road – a single track lane – and the car was sliding all over the road. My friend is not a very competent driver and I spent a lot of the time coaching her through how to drive in snow conditions. In the end I took over and drove the car because she was so stressed and didn’t know where she was going.
It was pitch black and no one was around. We talked a lot about the shit show we experienced as teenagers and the horrors we were subjected to by our mums. It was cathartic but also tragic. It was hard to tell in the dream whether I was an adult or 17…
We finally reached the village that we needed to be in and when we got there, there was a power cut. Just fabulous! Everything was cold and dark. It felt like the place was deserted.
Then suddenly my friend was gone and I was alone. The snow was falling heavily and I wasn’t dressed appropriately for the conditions.
There was nowhere for me to go so I started walking aimlessly.
I found a caravan in a field, broke into it, tried to get warm but couldn’t. It was freezing, cold and damp. I was hungry but there was nothing to eat. I was tired but I couldn’t sleep. I was alone with my thoughts and as usual they strayed back to what has happened between Em and I. The loss. The devastation. The abandonment and rejection. The young parts of me were beside themselves with grief. The same questions on loop: ‘What is so wrong with me that made her cut me dead like that? I was so hidden and yet still that was too much. Why do I still care about this so much? Why am I so affected by it? Why can’t I let it go? Why didn’t she care?’
I have been so upset by the fact that she has specifically advertised herself as working with ‘attachment disorders’, ‘trauma’, ‘dissociation’ ‘eating disorders’, ‘self-harm’ ‘PTSD, ‘abuse’ etc etc etc but rather than feeling angry about it, it’s led me to think that the problem must lie with me. There’s something fundamentally wrong with me. Something unlikeable. Something disgusting. Something that makes me untouchable. Because if it’s not me then how can she say she can competently work with these issues – the issues that I have? She told me she wasn’t competent enough and didn’t have the training to deal with me and yet here she is suggesting the complete opposite on her page.
I feel betrayed but also completely worthless.
In the cold of the caravan I decided to set up a fake email account pretending to be a potential client and contact Em basically outlining all the issues I have, asking questions about her how she practises and seeing what she would come back with as potential therapist. In theory the response should have been ‘I am sorry, but I don’t have the competency to work with this level of complex trauma’ but of course, this is not what happened in the dream (and no doubt it wouldn’t happen in real life either). Instead she suggested an initial face to face meeting the next day.
I was nervous going to the appointment but the young parts of me were so happy to get to see her. The room was in a new building back in the city and I arrived wearing a disguise. She was friendly enough but detached – she had started peddling the Cambridge Weight Plan and I mentioned that it felt a bit off having weight loss merchandise in a room where you would be talking to people with eating disorders. She brushed the concern aside and said that lots of people need help losing weight and she clearly wouldn’t be pushing it on anorexic clients.
Then I asked her questions about how she sees the therapeutic relationship. How she works with trauma. What she does with between session contact. EVERY ANSWER was the complete opposite of my experience of her. At that point I removed my disguise and burst into convulsive tears. ‘Why couldn’t you do that for me?’ When she saw it was me, she was furious, telling me that she had made it clear she never wanted to see me again and how dare I trick her into seeing me?
I was beside myself sobbing on the floor. Rather than be angry and self-righteous about the situation I just fell further into despair. ‘I knew it was me. I knew you couldn’t stand me. And still I miss you. I really love you.’ It was painful.
She ignored me for several minutes and I pleaded with her to talk with me and try and understand what’s happened and where it’s all gone wrong. Eventually she invited me to sit on the sofa with her and I lay down on the sofa with my head on her lap and she held my hand. I cried and cried – it was absolute agony– it was like being two years old. Not an adult at all.
I basically begged her to see me again and she begrudgingly agreed – ‘I can see you sometimes on these days but only for this long etc…oh and my fee has trebled…take it or leave it’. It was horrific.
It was clear as day that absolutely nothing had changed, but the young parts who need so much holding were willing to accept anything just to be with her.
So that’s what has sent me over the edge… it’s grief but also so much shame. I feel embarrassed even thinking about talking to you about how I feel. It makes me feel sick. I don’t want you to think I am some kind of obsessive freak who can’t accept that a therapeutic relationship has ended. I don’t think you understand how big a deal this is, though…because most of us don’t really say how big our feelings are and how attached we get… because it’s horrendous to experience. It has absolutely rammed a poker into the mother wound and it feels unsurvivable. I don’t want to scare you away either – because I know it’s intense. I would be running for the hills.
Anyway, I understand the different layers in the dream and I am not at all surprised that my brain served up this big shit pile to me in my sleep! But ugh.
Anita quickly responded to my email in the afternoon:
I hope you believe me when I say I’m not going to run to the hills and I do get it.
I know it’s going to be difficult for your vulnerable parts to trust and understandably so, as I said you have been so badly let down.
I was only talking in peer supervision to a colleague today about the deep attachment that happens in therapy and how powerful it can be to meet in that psychological depth of trauma but also how dangerous it can be if not handled with the love and care individuals deserve.
That’s why I believe therapist like Em are so so dangerous.
I really hope this helps.
Thinking of you,
Yes! It helped – a lot. Like honestly, it always staggers me how nice and warm her emails are after the crap that Em sent!…Kind Regards…code for ‘FUCK YOU AND FUCK OFF’.
I have to laugh or I cry…!
On the Wednesday session we talked a lot about it, not just the dream, but all the feelings I have around Em. There was one point close to the beginning where A asked me what it is about Em that makes it feel so hard to let go when she’s clearly treated me so appallingly. I felt a lump in my throat and my solar plexus go tight. Part of me wanted to run away, dissociate.
I never once in eight years managed to tell Em this in words, aloud in our sessions…I looked down into the camera and simply said, ‘I love her’.
‘You love her’, A reflected back. And I simply nodded. Yes…that’s how it is. Simple, really. I love her.
To acknowledge that properly was really freeing. I know I say it here a lot and to my close friends…but telling A felt important. I looked to see if there was any shock or disgust or anything negative, but of course there wasn’t. I was just met with an enormous amount of care and compassion as we talked about the young parts and how desperately sad it feels for them. Anita reiterated how normal it is to have these feelings in therapy. How the relationship is real and that it’s natural for love to develop in such a close and intimate relationship – on both sides.
I admitted that I wonder if I am just so love-starved that I will attach to anyone and inflate the situation in my head. The thing is, I knew that Em never really cared about me. She did her job, just about, but even at the end she couldn’t manage to exercise even professional care by ensuring a referral on and a safe handover to another professional. She left me high and dry. I so badly wanted for her to be warmer. I sat all those years ‘behaving myself’- hardly asking for anything, hoping that eventually I’d earn the care and love I so badly need. Only that’s a re-enactment of my childhood. It didn’t work with my mum who was biologically mine, so why on earth would I think it would work with Em?
This session was a few weeks ago so I don’t remember lots of the detail now, but I do remember the feelings. To be seen and accepted when I express these deeply painful- but also what so often feel like shameful- feelings was amazing…and connecting.
It is such a pity that expressing love in the therapeutic relationship has been such a taboo. Like we are somehow broken, or weird, or pathetic for having loving feelings. Every time Em said, ‘I’m just your therapist’ when I told her how I felt really missed the point. Clients are not stupid. We know the limitations of the relationship. I, for one, never wanted Em to be my friend or my mother, I just wanted a close, genuine relationship with her as my therapist, as someone who could help me with my mother wound. I’m not deluded. She was my therapist – I was never going to turn up on her doorstep outside session or be anything other than her client. But clearly I scared the life out of her.
What I have learnt in the last six months with Anita is that I can bring all of myself – all my parts to therapy. I can lose my shit, overreact, be needy and she is steady and there. Always. It’s bizarre. I’m not used to it. I don’t feel like I need to earn her care…she just cares. I really feel it….when I am not losing my shit over finding out that she’s seen another client for a walk!! But I’ll come to that next post!