My last two posts here have scooted back in time to October (and completely messed with the chronology of the blog!) to the time when my therapy with Anita took a huge leap into the unknown – proper extended physical holding in sessions and the child parts really coming up and talking to A. Having those parts speak and express their worries and fears, and then have them validated and responded to with care by A has been massive and so healing.
Until recently, I might have been able to say what those younger parts feel through my adult. She tends to filter and take out some of the cringey bits in order to avert some of the shame! The thing is, as much as adult thinks she’s saving me a whole world of pain, shame, and embarrassment what she actually does is distance me from my feelings. I end up talking like it is someone else’s experience, and so it rarely feels like those needy parts get properly seen or held in their distress.
When I do this, emotionless recounting, I don’t/can’t cry. I can’t get in touch with my feelings on a felt level at all. I am just numb to it because that’s the only way (until now) that I have been able to tell my story – from a distance- because I know what getting to close to it means, and when there is no one there who is safe to hold that then it’s a dangerous proposition opening it up. I have survived doing things this way in life and in therapy for a long time, but the pain doesn’t get processed, the grief isn’t metabolised, and I feel like a spectator….well I did…but I don’t now…not now RB has levelled up in the therapy room!
It is incredible really, what having Anita in closer proximity to me and the safe physical touch has done. I have to say therapy (before this latest lockdown and return to online sessions – groan) exceeded my expectations of what was possible for holding and healing the most wounded parts of myself. My defences came down and the vulnerability levels were off the chart, but each session just seemed to build on the last and it really felt like I was on a fast-track of healing. Mind you, it’s been like snail pace for the previous eight years, so maybe it’s just normal speed – almost a year into therapy with a competent and compassionate therapist?!
I have talked about stuff that I have never spoken about in therapy, some of the most painful wounded parts of myself have talked to Anita and it’s been great. What hasn’t been great, though, was opening all that stuff up only to have the face-to-face therapy put on hold. It has been a massive problem to my system. It’s kind of like being in theatre for surgery, we’ve just made some big incisions and are in a critical part of the procedure and now the surgeon has been called away…mid operation. Not ideal! Ugh!
I’ve been reflecting a lot this last couple of weeks, and even though online has been tough, I haven’t completely lost sight of the good stuff. I can really see how the steady, consistent work Anita has been doing with me since January is paying off. We’ve laid the foundations and I feel like they are solid. I have been having epic meltdowns online (more on those soon!) but it shows me that all my parts feel like she is safe enough to act out to really bring what’s there. I was so scared of being abandoned by Em that I never told her how angry or hurt I was – and I was clearly right not to given that when I did, I got terminated!
It’s so different with A. She’s explicitly told me that she loves all the parts of me, especially the ones who want to ‘kick off and stamp their feet’ which has meant that those parts have been able to express some of their anger about the move to working online. When I rage, I often freak out afterwards, ‘what if I am too much?’, ‘what if I push her away and she leaves?’ but she offers enough reassurance that I know that I am still safe to bring what is there – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Last week I was desperately pushing Anita away online, it was defensive, and she said, ‘You can push me away as much as you need to, but I am like a boomerang, I’ll keep coming back until you genuinely don’t want or need me anymore. But I know right now you’re hurting and this is a defence. I’m still here. I still care and love you and we’ll be ok’.
I genuinely can’t believe it. Like, what? I can express dissatisfaction and the tables aren’t suddenly turned on me? I’m not going to be told I am deficient in some way, or ungrateful, or too much? Honestly, it’s a revelation…I can express MY FEELINGS AND ALL MY FEELINGS ARE VALID AND WELCOME.
Anyway, what I am saying in a roundabout way is that I don’t think Anita’s going anywhere (well, I mean apart from fucking off up the road for lockdown and leaving me!) and this means I can feel safe enough to do the work now.
She’s always said that it’ll take time to build trust in the relationship and to believe in and feel her care. She’s acknowledged that it can’t be rushed. I am like a rescue dog that has been abused repeatedly but am finally, finally, maybe, in a foster home with an owner that doesn’t mind my jumpiness and wariness and occasional biting, and has been patient enough to wait for me to be ready to come towards her. Part of me is staggered that I have been able to let A in after all that’s happened – in my life, and more recently with Em – but I do trust her. I genuinely feel her love for me but how can I not when she so readily tells me how she feels. I was cuddled into her the other week, doing more of the deep stuff, and she said to one of the little parts ‘you’ve had a too many pears, they’ve done you no good…I have a huge cupboard full of chocolate here.’ She’d read my blog post and was demonstrating, again, using my words, my analogies, that she gets it and understands and is HERE.
And because I genuinely believe that she cares, is invested in the relationship, and is committed to our work together, the ruptures we have get repaired so quickly that they don’t really get to wreak any significant damage – in fact the repairs that happen are so timely, genuine, and connecting that I get the benefits of ‘rupture and repair’. In the end the process is healing…which is a world away from therapy with Em which retraumatised me and I would have to hold on in emotional and physical agony between sessions. Anita is human, she makes mistakes, sometimes what she does hurts me (it’s not intentional), but once I am able to tell her she tries very hard to understand and make things better. I can’t ask for more than that.
Anyway, I’m here to talk about the rupture repair that happened after I learned that Anita was going to go away to bubble with her partner and wasn’t actually going to see me face-to-face as she had promised a few weeks previously (you can read about the news and the meltdown here!).
Sorry about the massive preamble! I probably should have made this two posts. Maybe go get a cup of tea now…!
During the string of messages – aka ‘mega meltdown’- following the revelation in our Monday session that face-to-face therapy was over for now, Anita said that she wasn’t going to be leaving straight away and that if I wanted, I could see her in person to try and work things out before she left. Of course, I (well a part of me) jumped at the chance, there is no way I wanted to face the next four weeks online with this horrible feeling hanging over me.
I text A and asked if we could start slightly earlier to make the session a bit longer so we had chance to repair. I panicked on the Wednesday (woeful Wednesdays!) fearing I was going to get a text from A to tell me that she’d changed her mind and already left. I told her this in another text and she responded by telling me she was going to be there and that she was really looking forward to seeing me and understood how wobbly I was feeling.
I arrived at Anita’s doorstep at 9:45am. As she opened the door my heart was beating fast and I felt like I was going to dissociate. Usually, I’ll walk to the therapy room straight away, but that day I put my bag down and reached out to hug her. As I hung on tightly to her I said, ‘I don’t feel ok’ and she said, ‘I know. I can feel you shaking’. I was trembling. It was as though all the stress and anxiety that I had been holding onto since the Monday session was coming out in a somatic response.
I let go after about thirty seconds, just about enough time to stop shaking, and made my way to the room and sat down on the sofa. It was good to have had some physical connection before we got started with the session but as I sat down, I felt the protective parts of me rising up again. I couldn’t look at A. I was both ashamed and embarrassed by my strong reaction earlier in the week but I was also reeling, and braced for (what feels like) rejection and so the angry teen part wasn’t far away. When it’s like that it is like being trapped inside a glass box. I can see out but I just can’t connect at all.
Anita immediately came and sat beside me on the sofa rather than sitting in her chair. I couldn’t speak. I just sat there panicky, my breathing was really rapid and shallow and I just felt the force of what her leaving meant. We sat together saying nothing. After a minute she gently asked me what I was thinking and a small voice said, ‘I don’t know what’s real anymore.’ It felt like my heart was breaking. The little part that so trusted Anita just had no idea if it was all just rubbish now. Broken promises are hard for the youngest parts of me and now they were left wondering if anything was real. Did she really care about me? Love me? Or was it just part of the therapy game?
Anita replied, ‘I guess that’s because what I have said and then gone back on it, it’s hard to know…is any of this real?…It is real… I haven’t purposefully done this to hurt you. I really haven’t. I shouldn’t have made that promise to you without knowing 100% that that was how things were going to go’. She sounded so apologetic, so genuine. I really felt it but I also just felt so unbelievably sad. The apology doesn’t change the fact that I won’t see her for almost a month. It doesn’t change the fact I have to do therapy in a way that really triggers my young parts. It’s doesn’t change the fact that the very thing I need, physical holding, can’t happen.
She told me that she had thought that she would be bubbling with her mother, like last time, or her daughter who’s just moved back into the area, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be the case. She had never expected to be on her own during lockdown. Adult me understands – of course I do but this explanation didn’t do much to help the little ones who just felt like mum was going to disappear again.
‘I’m so sorry I let you down’ she said gently. ‘What can I do?’
I looked at her for the first time and said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know’ because actually what could she do?
I sat there, motionless.
‘Are you scared to let me in, to get attached because you’ll have to detach again?’
‘Yeah…I get that’ she reassured, and rubbed my arm gently.
That small gesture of touch felt so nice and I realised I was sitting there depriving myself of what I needed most. I had a choice. I could sit there ‘protecting myself’ and then walk away at the end of the session feeling shit or I could be vulnerable and let A help me and get what I need, so I moved closer to her, she opened her arms, and hugged me.
My breathing was rapid again, which is unusual because lots of the time when I am out my window of tolerance, I am frozen. I barely breathe at all. But this was a bit different. I couldn’t hide the panic in my body. I was shaking. I felt so sad. I wasn’t angry or anything, in that moment, the self-righteous teen that had been holding the fort all week had gone on a break. All that were left we the little parts who just didn’t want her to go away.
‘This feels realty bad’ I murmured.
‘I know. I know. I can feel it’ she soothed ‘Is your fear that it won’t come back to this again? [this level of intimacy and closeness] because it will. I know it’s probably hard to believe anything I say at the moment but I genuinely don’t think lockdown will last forever’. She held me close and I cried.
Eventually, my breathing began to slow as I listened to her steady heartbeat. A little voice said, ‘I’m sorry.’
Anita responded emphatically, ‘Don’t be sorry you’ve got nothing to be sorry for! You really, really haven’t. As I have said before you’re not too needy. If you hadn’t have been let down you wouldn’t be where you are. It’s not your fault. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You don’t want to feel like this. I know you don’t.’
‘I feel stupid’ I moaned.
‘You’re not stupid!’
I groaned, ‘I feel embarrassed’ and buried into her further. It’s excruciating being so bloody vulnerable and knowing that I’m behaving like a kid who has no ability to reason things out.
Anita doesn’t seem in the least bit phased by it or working directly with these parts. She wondered, ‘I think this is all the different parts sometimes going in conflict. The young parts needing it, adult parts saying “this is ridiculous” but we know the young ones are crying out for it. And it’s ok. It really is ok.’ She paused a moment and then said with so much feeling and sadness in her voice, ‘I’m so sorry that I have let them down’ and held me tighter to her.
‘Is this real?’ I asked. The concern that’d been there all week coming up again, needing reassurance. If Em and I had even managed to do this level of work I imagine she’d have said ‘what do you mean by real?’ or ‘what is real to you?’ and those conversations are fine when you are in your adult and in the window of tolerance, but when you’re dealing with a four year old part that’s scared, sometimes what we need is,
‘This is real.’
I was so happy to hear that and replied with, ‘I love you’.
I wasn’t expecting a response but Anita really knows me, really understands how much reassurance parts of me need and said, ‘I love you too. I really do. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care and I truly do care. I make mistakes. I said to you at the beginning I would make mistakes… everyone makes mistakes in relationships but it’s how you work with those mistakes that’s important. It doesn’t mean the love isn’t there when you make a mistake. I have made a mistake but it doesn’t mean I don’t care and it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It just means I’m not perfect. I did it wrong and for that I am truly sorry. I love you.’
I can’t explain what that kind of heartfelt, honest apology and love bombing did to my system. It’s not enough to say that I could feel my system settling down or that I felt safe and held because it is so much more than that, but I am guessing if you feel these wounds then I don’t really need to elaborate on how that felt.
I then told her how it’d been a horrible week and again Anita was so warm and lovely, ‘I am so so sorry. If I could take that pain away I would’. I wasn’t fishing for apologies I was just telling her how it was, but she really understood, she felt what it had been like.
I then told her about a dream I had in the week about being in a plane and spiralling out of the sky and how it had really impacted me. Anita’s take on it, ‘All that you believe in came crashing down… I didn’t mean to cause you that harm. I shouldn’t have promised something I wasn’t 100% sure I could deliver. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you all this pain.’
‘Will you take elephant with you?’ I asked.
Don’t you just love how conversations with the child parts run?? It’s like, Ok, things are fine now, so my brain has jumped onto something else. Obviously, a few weeks before I had asked her to look after my little elephant at her house so we weren’t forgotten and at that moment the child parts were clearly joining dots in their own way, ‘if she leaves elephant here she’ll forget about us’.
As usual, A didn’t bat an eyelid at yet another unusual request, ‘I will. I will’ she repeated.
‘I’m sorry I’m hard work’ I wailed.
Again, A replied emphatically, ‘You’re not hard work…well no more hard work than anyone else! I can be hard work too, just ask my partner! In real in-depth relationships it’s so easy to hurt the other person without meaning to – without wanting to. In meaningful relationships, there’s feelings and emotions involved and we’re very open and very raw and sometimes that comes out in particular ways but that doesn’t mean we are hard work’.
I didn’t want Anita to think that my performance this week had come from being deliberately difficult or nasty and said, ‘I don’t want to be horrid. Or critical. That’s not how it is. I do get it [why she’s going away and why she can’t see me] It’s just hooked right into a really sore wounded bit and it makes my system shut down.’
Does it feel a bit like, ‘Here we go again?’
I nodded and told her how I realise how black and white the thinking is but that it’s because it’s not coming from an adult place. The reaction to her breaking her promise is not from my 37 year old adult self who knows what life is like and how sometimes our well-intentioned promises don’t come off. I mean I have let a lot of people down in my time too but to the child parts it’s huge. We spoke about the window of tolerance for a minute and then Anita asked if there was anything she could do to reassure the young parts.
And this is what came out…CHILD PARTS MAN!!
‘Can we go to Madame Tussaud’s and get a wax work made of you? Or build a bear and put your heart beat in it….or a clone you?’
We laughed quite a lot at that and then Anita said, ‘that would be really cool wouldn’t it?’ There’s no shaming from her. She literally responds to me like I have said the most normal thing in the world when clearly, I am off my frigging rocker! But because she is so at ease with me, she puts me at ease too. I then told her, ‘This [her going away] is so hard because it’s not just what you say that makes a difference to me. It’s not what settles my system…’ And Anita finished my sentence, ‘It’s this. (hugs) It’s this which was missing for years isn’t it?’
This led to a conversation about how when I was little (5-11 years old) my mum was gone Sunday to Friday and how I’d speak to her on the phone on a Wednesday (makes sense why I hate Wednesdays now!). This was in the late 80’s -early 90’s pre mobile phones. The thing that we don’t have to worry about when speaking to people on the phone today is conversations being rushed or cut short because the money runs out. As a child my enduring memory of calls with my mum was the beeps giving warning that we’d be cut off and the feeling of disconnection and never having enough time to tell her what I wanted. I wasn’t seen or heard.
Anita kissed the top of my head and said, ‘I’m so sorry that… that’s how it feels when we do online and we aren’t connected…it hooks right back into that, doesn’t it?’
Anita commented that for a child of that age that kind of prolonged separation feels like an eternity and we spoke more about my mum’s volatility when she was home, and the fighting, and how I never knew what to expect or what was coming and how when I see Anita it’s like starting from scratch, checking she’s safe. There was a lot of good work done and A really got it.
I asked Anita if I could have something of hers before she went away and she said she had been wondering if I would like to look after the necklace she was wearing. It’s called ‘beating heart’ and the stone inside moves like a beating heart. It couldn’t have been more perfect really after the conversation we had just had.
Anita then asked if there was anything I had in mind, ‘was there anything you wanted to take, differently, is there anything else you’d like? You’re ok to ask you know.’
And my god, I cannot believe these words actually left me lips but I said, ‘Can I have something that smells like you?’
‘What can smell like me?’ A wondered.
I lay snuggled into her chest. How was I meant to say, ‘errr something you wear that smells like your washing powder’? Anita smells really fresh and clean but it’s not a perfume smell but it is really soothing. One day I came home from a session and my top actually smelled like her and it was so soothing to those young parts.
Honestly cannot believe I am writing this here. Part of my is cringing so badly.
Again, A was not in the least bit weirded out by my request which is so funny given how I couldn’t even get Em to write a message on a fucking pebble for well over six months!
‘I can’t think of anything that might smell like me except for me, and it’s funny isn’t it, how you can’t smell your own smell. Was there anything in particular that you wanted?’
Time was coming to a close and A said that she’d still be here on the Monday if I wanted to come and we could talk more then. It felt so good to have been seen, heard, and met exactly where I was at. I have always known that Anita would never deliberately do anything to hurt me, just sometimes things happen that hurt don’t they?
As I left, I gave her a hug at the door and said, ‘I really love you’ and Anita replied, ‘I love you too. I really do, and I don’t want you to feel like a plane crash. I am hoping I can rescue out of the plane crash a bit before I go away’.
This is bloody 4000 words long! How did that happen? So sorry!