For those of you have followed this blog over the last few years you’ll know that I have poured blood, sweat, tears, and thousands and thousands of pounds into my healing journey. The ironic thing is, it is only in the last year, since I went back to my craniosacral therapist K, and then found Anita in January, (just as my relationship with Em started to properly disintegrate) that there has been any sense of healing – like a proper felt sense that things can and are getting better on that deeper level.
I have done years of ‘therapy’, religiously going to see Em week in week out, two sessions a week and repeatedly being triggered into a place of huge pain and dissociation. It has been so hard to endure. Part of me wonders why I stayed for so long when everything felt so off. My attachment to Em was so strong, though. My child parts were completely invested in the relationship (or wanting to feel like there was a ‘relationship’) that I put myself through emotional hell – a familiar hell – of feeling so deficient, unlovable, and untouchable.
This experience of therapy with Em just poured salt in an already gaping mother wound. It was trauma bonding 101. A complete re-enactment of my childhood and a re-experiencing of the cold, distant, but shaming relationship I had with my mum. Deep down part of me knew that, but I couldn’t leave, it was familiar territory and what I had grown to expect…but just like with my mum, I really really hoped that one day things would turn around and I’d get what I needed.
I wanted to believe there was something better for me and maybe it would materialise if I just tried harder, didn’t ask for too much, and was patient. But this didn’t happen. I was shown time and again that my needs weren’t important – or even acknowledged as being valid- and that I had to take what was offered…which was very little.
It wasn’t until Em likened my young parts to a tick and had verbally rejected the gift (or said that she didn’t want to accept gifts in future and shouldn’t have taken the one at Christmas) that I knew I couldn’t go on any more. Em had hurt me and my child parts so badly that even though I loved her (and still do) I physically couldn’t put myself through it any more. As it was all coming to a head from my side it was clear that she was more than done too – as I had suspected – and she made no attempt to try and work through it with me, willing to let me go on a perfunctory two line email…after 8 years!
Looking back, I just wish I had made a clean break the day I went to see Anita to test the waters about a different therapy/therapist. I knew instantly that A was a good fit and that I wanted to work with her but I also wanted to try for a ‘decent ending’ with Em– that illusive thing! I wish I had have taken more heed of the concerns A raised about Em’s conduct and just cut my losses before things had chance to get any worse.
If only I had just walked away then rather than waiting to see what might happen, giving it one last go at trying to work it through, and STUPIDLY handing her the power back, then the biggest injury would have been avoided. I would have felt rejected and abandoned whatever happened but I wouldn’t be stuck with this sick feeling of people I care about seeing me as a parasite.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? I guess I hoped that she would reflect on what I told her about how hurt I was about the session leading into Christmas, the break, and the first session back, accept her part in things, acknowledge my feelings, and find a way to move forward – rupture and repair in action. But no. What happened was horrific, her response telling her how hurt I felt was, ‘your young parts are like a tick’ and before I knew it everything was unravelling at speed.
Clearly, I am still not over what happened in this therapy and every time I get close to Anita there’s a voice in my head that says, ‘This is dangerous, don’t let her too close, don’t let her see the need because you’ll frighten her away – she’ll think you’re a tick, too’. And I hate that. I hate that what Em said still hurts like hell all these months on, but I also hate that it impacts how I relate to Anita.
I cannot really explain how different it feels being with Anita. She makes me feel safe and cared for and yet even when there is real closeness between us we’re lumbered with the legacy that Em has left. I know it is going to take a lot of therapy and care to repair the damage done because Em has basically shattered all the young parts of me that were trying to trust and heal, but not only that, she’s also taken a huge swipe at my adult self. I am so grateful that A is on my side though, and willing to do the work with me….as slow and painstaking as it is.
I guess in some way I am grateful to Em (am I?!). I learnt a lot about myself in the therapy with her. Parts of myself I didn’t even know existed made themselves known to me through being in ‘relationship’ with her. Unfortunately, these vulnerable young child parts were abandoned in that room. She frequently told me I was abandoning my young parts but if that was true, then so was she. I have so often felt like I am on the verge of drowning just trying to keep us all afloat and taking myself to therapy was not an act of abandonment on my part. It’s hard living an adult life without having to carry the terror and pain of a minibus full of activated child parts too – therapy was meant to help with that (and it does now- phew!).
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time researching and finding out more about my ‘stuff’. I guess I used that well-worn strategy ‘intellectualising’ to try and make sense of the situation! I have read so many books on attachment, trauma, shame, dissociation, and the therapeutic relationship – and, of course, blogs – looking for the answers, learning how to move forward and heal, and whilst that didn’t happen with Em, I feel like I at least know myself now and confident that I am not the only person on earth struggling with this stuff. I know what’s wrong. I understand what the injury is. AND I know what I need to heal it. I’ve always known – I just haven’t been able to get what I needed until now.
After years of being told what I need by Em, like she was some magic oracle that knew what ‘people like me’ need to heal I can categorically say what I need is not what was on offer with her! Maybe her strategies work with some clients, but I struggle to see how anyone with Complex Trauma would have responded well to her ‘techniques’. As I mentioned recently in another post, I saw something by Carolyn Spring that says that when we are in distress, we don’t need strategies or techniques, we need a person. And it’s that simple. It’s not rocket science, it it? Relational trauma needs healing in relationship. Em didn’t really do relationship. She watched me as I struggled and suffered – like some kind of poor rodent in a science experiment.
I have talked and talked and got nowhere and over time replaced talking with more and more dissociation. Simply being in the same room with Em triggered me. I’d feel dysregulated before I even arrived at the session but I was always so hopeful that maybe this time I’d get what I needed having hung on desperately through the week in attachment hell waiting to see her.
I don’t think people that haven’t got this kind of trauma/injury have even the slightest idea of how bloody harrowing it is being stuck in the attachment hell zone – feeling like the world is literally falling apart, like you can’t breathe for the pain of it, and being completely terrified. When it gets bad like that I know, for me, it’s largely pre-verbal and it is so scary feeling completely abandoned, uncontained, and as though you are falling through some kind of internal black abyss. That’s crappy, but then there’s all the other feelings that can come in from other parts- the apathy, the rage, the self-loathing, the wanting to cut and run…it’s just awful.
My window of tolerance became so small in the end that I felt unsafe being with Em. I was always braced for more rejection, more shaming, more disconnection. My body was always so tense – so much so that it would hurt. More than anything I wanted to feel safe with her and that’s why I kept going – the child parts hoped that one day she’d help them and so they hid behind the sofa, peeking out, waiting and waiting to be seen and cared for. Only when she did get glimpses of who was there she freaked out, put walls up, and distanced herself even further. It was though I would sometimes be brave enough to take one step forward and she’d immediately take two (twenty!) steps back.
I don’t know what it is about that young parts that triggered her so badly but I do wonder if there is unresolved childhood trauma for her that my stuff tapped into and she just couldn’t bear to be near it. Or maybe she just didn’t like me and was content to keep taking the money. Long-term clients with attachment disorders coming twice a week are certainly a reliable source of income. We don’t ever not turn up! lol.
There is so sadness about this. At times it got so bad that I came close to destroying myself. My go to coping strategies were so active – some of the worst periods of anorexic behaviour and self-harm happened whilst in the therapy with Em because I couldn’t cope with the pain of the attachment and how alone I felt. I feel so upset about it all because it could have been so different. Handled well, it could have been so healing.
I tried really hard to do what Em said. I wanted to believe that what she suggested could work for me. I don’t want to feel this way forever – that’s why I am in therapy in the first place! I tried to engage with whatever she asked: the visualisations- ‘just imagine holding your distressed child parts’ – but it wasn’t me the child parts wanted or needed at that point– and she knew that and shamed me for it.
When it was really bad and I was heavily dissociated somewhere out in the cold alone, embodying that exiled child part, there was no adult self to help me and Em just left me stranded – sometimes for the entire session. I don’t doubt that someday soon I will be able to hold and contain these young parts for myself but back then there was no chance. I didn’t know how.
When you are terrified and in a child state you can’t just pick yourself up and make it better for yourself – especially if there’s no template to work from. How can you imagine being held and feeling safe if you’ve never experienced being held or feeling safe? It’s not just visualisations, though. I’ve done all sorts; I made my eyes follow blue dots on an I-pad over and over (yet another tool to avoid talking about what was going on between us in the room). I have tried everything Em threw at me and yet none of it worked.
I have tried to believe that being ignored during the week between sessions was for the best, that somehow my massively distressed young parts who feared that she was never coming back (like all those years where my mum was gone in the week when I was little) or perhaps dead (like my dad) would learn that she was there in session. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a transitional object, check ins…the list goes on and on …because she was unwilling to concede an inch so maybe I must stupid for thinking these things might help and how dare I ask for anything more than the bare minimum – clearly, she knew best – deprivation and isolation was best?! But I did need more and now that I am getting those things, it really really makes a massive difference.
I have never been able to feel safe in therapy because what I needed more than anything was a person. I needed a relationship in which to begin to build trust and someone to feel safe with. I needed someone who realised and accepted that there were lots of parts of me (some really badly hurt) and they each need something different and communicate in different ways. My child parts were reluctant to come to session with Anita- and who can blame them after what happened in January- but I’ve found they are pretty good at communicating with Gifs and emojis! I have sent more texts in the last week to A than I did in the entire time I worked with Em – eek!
Anita’s willingness to allow those young parts to tentatively take steps towards her from outside the room and for her to have responded in a way that they understand, has meant that now, they have felt safe enough to come to therapy and are well and truly in the room…I could not have done that if we hadn’t spent the last 9 months laying the foundations via text. Em was blank screen. Teflon. She wanted no contact. Anita is present, real, and connected. She actually seems to like me…better than like me (yay!)…which is nice but it means that what and who needs to be work with can safely turn up.
I wish I had been able to advocate better for myself with Em. Deep down we all know what we need to heal. Sometimes that doesn’t align with what the other person can do, it doesn’t fit their training or system of working, their personality – and that is fine – we can’t force a therapist to be someone they’re not (even if they seem to want to force a square peg through a round hole where we are concerned!). I just wish they’d say something early on like, ‘What you need and want is completely valid and understandable as you’ve had so much wounding but I can’t offer that’ and refer us out rather than saying things like, ‘The time for getting what you need has passed and you need to learn to hold this for yourself. I won’t collude with those young parts. If I did what you wanted it wouldn’t help you in the long run.’
Whilst I understand I can’t get a new childhood or a new mum, I can have a relationship with my therapist that is safe, caring, and loving in order that the wounding from my childhood can be gently healed. I can have someone who is on my side ready to hold my hand and support me when I go to the really dark places. It is ok to expect to be in a relationship with someone who you share the most vulnerable and wounded parts of yourself. I can’t express it strongly enough – it is the relationship that heals not the theory.
And so what happened with Em? I stayed, sort of believing her narrative that I was not trying hard enough to heal (even though I work so fucking hard both inside and outside of sessions)– that I was in some way treatment resistant so just need to try harder, let her in more, stop dissociating. And then when I did that, when I gave her my notebooks, her reaction was so bad that it ended.
Here’s a crap analogy for what my therapy has been like…buckle up we’re on course for one of my extended rambling metaphors!:
I think it’s a bit like when you’re a kid and you feel sad and want a treat. You may really want a bar of chocolate – know that a bar of chocolate is what would make you feel better- and yet the parent keeps offering you a pear because ‘they know what’s best for you’. You chew on the pear but really, deep down you wanted chocolate. I mean, of course, there are some similarities between a pear and a chocolate bar- both are sweet- but we all know a pear is not a reasonable substitution for a chocolate bar no matter what they say about the health benefits!
Imagine being a child, and every week asking for chocolate and every week being told ‘No – you can only have pear! You may think you need a chocolate bar, but you’re wrong. Pear is what you need. Pear is all that’s on offer. You’ll soon learn that pears are the best thing for you.’ And that’s hard to take on board because it feels impossible that that can be true…
But it gets worse, alongside this, whilst you’ve got acid indigestion from so much fucking pear, the parent repeatedly tells you how much chocolate you’ve missed out on in your life so far. Then saying that despite having some chocolate right there with them, that they won’t give any to you ever, and maybe you could find some way to imagine what it would be like to taste chocolate whilst you’re struggling to stomach the pear.
The pear is definitely not what you want but you are naturally compliant and so take it and wonder why you aren’t good enough to be given the chocolate. Week after week you’re handed pear but you’re quickly sick of it, the taste, the texture, how it makes you feel sick inside- everything about pear feels wrong. It’s not chocolate. At this point you’d even settle for a cocoa dusted slice of pear…but no…you’ve got pear and pear only.
Eventually, it reaches a point where you just cannot put another piece of pear in your mouth. And the parent keeps on, ‘How about we try this shaped pear today? Or perhaps we could juice it?’ as though it would be any different from all the other slabs and slices and cups you’ve forced down your neck over the months and years. You internally groan. You’re not stupid though, you stopped asking for the chocolate a long time ago because it just got painful being refused it over and over again.
You clearly don’t deserve chocolate and so now you’ve tried to convince yourself that chocolate is bad and dangerous because that’s what parent has said… but it’s never really worked because your soul knows what you need. And part of you hoped that if you kept up with the pear long enough, maybe one day you’d be rewarded with just a tiny square of chocolate. The parent thinks they’ve won the battle because you don’t ever talk of chocolate now, but inside you’re really sad – why is a bit of chocolate so forbidden? How can something that tastes so good be wrong?
Time goes on and by now you’re so sick of pear, that it’s reached the point where it’s making you sick and you have nightmares about being handed pear. Just the thought of it makes you want to gag and you cry. Until one day you crack. You can’t do it any more, the revulsion to the pear is so severe that you vomit it back up all over the floor, and it’s not just pear, it’s years of emotional pain spewing out, and you scream ‘I DON’T LIKE PEAR! I hate pear. I have tried it. I really have. But it’s not helping me. It actually makes me feel ill. I really just need some chocolate!!’ and the parent looks at you with disgust and coldly says. ‘I don’t do chocolate and if you won’t eat pear then you’ll have to go’. It’s as simple as that.
So, you go somewhere else, a foster home, crying, sad, not really knowing what you need anymore, what you are entitled to ask for. You don’t even really care about chocolate now, you just know you can’t stomach another pear and you pray that this new home doesn’t force feed them to you too.
You walk in the door and the new parent talks to you kindly, it’s bizarre, so alien!… and immediately says that chocolate is completely ok in this house like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, they offer you a chocolate bar. You don’t even have to ask for it! Apparently a plentiful supply of chocolate bars are what is needed when a child like you has been deprived chocolate all its life. And it’s ok to want that and ask for that. And, furthermore, if you don’t like pear then you never have to eat it again. When you leave the house and look in your bag you see that the new parent has even slid a chocolate bar in your lunch bag. You cannot believe your luck.
And this is what it’s been like seeing Em and A. I mean that’s a bit of an ‘out there’ analogy. My friend actually said I ought to have used ice cubes for Em rather than pears… as she was stone cold and there was no nutritional value to the therapy!! haha. The moment I met A, she was on my page – ‘you know what you need, you’re inside you, and who am I to tell you what you need? I might not be able to give you everything you need but those needs are valid and ok’… turns out she also has a stack of ‘chocolate’ and it’s really good chocolate so my inner child is delighted! Lol.
Anyway, that’s all for now…this is unexpectedly long. I’m trying to work out what to do with writing this blog at the minute. Therapy has gone to a whole new level for me these last couple of weeks -it’s incredible but also massively vulnerable work – and so I feel like right now, I don’t want to detail what’s going on because actually I feel really protective of it. I feel like I need to talk to A about it too. I get it’s my therapy, that the blog is anonymous, etc but I might have to take a bit of time before I publish anything. That’s not an intentional cliff-hanger, it’s just I feel like I need to keep everything safely contained in the room for a bit. x