This time last year I wrote a blog post titled ‘You’re Not My Mummy’ where I spoke about how the young parts of me hadn’t yet accepted Anita into the role of ‘replacement mum’ having only recently just terminated with my therapist, Em, after 8 years working together. I was still in a state of complete meltdown about the ending and the idea of having anything like the level of attachment to Anita that I had with Em seemed really unlikely. The attachment of those child parts is really fixed on one person at a time for me. It really is like an infant relating to its mother.
Look, before anyone starts rolling their eyes and tutting, I absolutely know our therapists are not our mothers! I understand transference. I read a lot! I don’t actually believe my therapist is my mum. I don’t want her to adopt me (much!). My adult doesn’t see Anita as a mum, at all, but there’s absolutely no point in denying that the little ones definitely do…now! (Oh the irony!)
For ease of expression and writing here, I think it’s fair to simplify things and say, that for me at least, a lot of the work I do to process my mother wound and childhood trauma is largely achieved by letting my young parts relate to my therapist as though she is like a mother to me. Of course, my adult is there in the room too (sometimes!). A and I unpick a lot of what goes on together from all angles and different parts’ experiences and it’s amazing how many parts can come floating in and out during a session. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the way I get to really process my childhood trauma is by having those child parts activated in the relationship with Anita.
When the feelings are live, they can get metabolised, understood, and healed in real time. I have spent years talking about my childhood and narrating it through my adult and there’s so much distance and disconnect there. It’s a filter that has served me well in life because I haven’t ever expressed feelings (that’s safer) but actually in the end, I almost couldn’t feel anything as stuff was so deeply internalised. Allowing EVERYTHING and EVERYONE to have their place in the room with Anita has been a gamechanger for me. I mean I really cannot believe how much I have been able to bring to her that has been locked away for a lifetime and shrouded in shame.
I remember saying, last year, how part of me hoped I would avoid getting stuck in the transference with Anita and maybe I’d be able to circumnavigate it altogether because it felt so nice not being caught up in all the negative attachment stuff that I had experienced with Em. It was such a relief to do therapy with someone that didn’t instantly trigger me and who felt safe and accepting. We were doing some great work and laying the foundations of what I thought could be a strong working alliance but part of me dreaded the possibility of finding myself back in the familiar territory of dissociation, disconnection, and high anxiety that was so big a part of therapy with Em.
Looking back now, I feel really sad that I thought that was what could be in store for me. Like if I attach to someone then, ultimately, it’s bound to be a shit show of pain and hurt no matter how much I want it to be healthy and healing because that’s my relational pattern. I am a tick, after all.
But that’s not how it is.
Attachment doesn’t have to be agonising ALL THE TIME!
It wasn’t until June when the young parts switched their allegiances and fell face first into the attachment zone with Anita. I remember I was ironing one afternoon and a little voice inside said, ‘I miss Anita’ –
‘Oh shit’, I thought, ‘here we go again’. The thing is, because Anita and I had been steadily building safety and trust in our relationship I was actually able to tell her how I felt. I didn’t get filled with shame or embarrassment for having the feelings (I mean to be fair she’d already seen a fair amount of the crazy in the aftermath of Em and I ending), they just were. And she was not in the least bit bothered and told me that she thought we were definitely getting closer and it was normal to feel this in an emotionally intimate relationship especially when young parts were involved. I love how she has always normalised my experiences rather than pathologising them – it’s so refreshing.
Anyone who’s followed me for a while will have seen how transformational this therapy has been for me in building me back up and helping me see that I am worthy and valuable and not some freak with too many complex issues who needs to be kept at arm’s length. I am astounded that I can safely feel ALL OF MY FEELINGS with Anita and she accepts ALL OF ME. It’s so strange to really experience ‘unconditional positive regard’ (or love as I prefer to call it!). I can’t believe I can cry…and not just cry…but sob my heart out with her having never shed a single tear with Em until the final session when it had all gone up in flames.
Don’t get me wrong. I have a long way to go, still! But therapy with A feels therapeutic not torturous. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns by any means. We have had ruptures but they get repaired so quickly and I can express how I feel when things A says or does upset me. She is never defensive or attacking and is open to hearing whatever it is I bring to her (especially when a teen part is having a meltdown). I do get that that is how it’s meant to be but it’s a change to what I have been used to.
I am deep in a pit of young attachment need right now after my life just collapsed and nothing feels safe in my adult world. Thankfully, it feels safe with A in the room and in that relationship especially for the young parts. I genuinely feel like Anita is holding the other end of the rope and is holding on. She said the other day that she is holding out her hand and will be there to stop me disappearing. I know therapists can’t rescue you, and I have to dig my way out my own hole but there is something really lovely hearing, ‘I can see how hard things are for you and I really wish I could take it all away for you. I know I can’t but I am right here with your for the whole of the journey and you can lean on me’. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her right now…and of course that ‘without her’ felt like it could be a very real possibility a few weeks back.
When my wife lost her job at the start of February, we were plunged instantly into financial insecurity and instability which has sent my system through a massive loop. I don’t do change very well and I certainly don’t like not feeling secure. The week following the job loss my wife also had to have an operation with a two-week recovery period and she is due another in a couple of weeks – all time she can’t work. I’d already spent weeks stressing myself out during isolation so really it’s been a hellish couple of months now.
In order to cover the immediate shortfall income, I have basically maxed out my credit cards but obviously that only delays the agony where debt is concerned…which again stresses me out. My wife will be able to work again soon but agency work is sporadic and far less well-paid than what she was doing previously. So even if things work out well with reasonably regular shifts we’ll still be about £800 a month down until something more suitable comes along. FFFFFUUUCCCCKKK.
In terms of stress, it’s been epic and I just haven’t coped. Last week was so bad I felt borderline suicidal which was really scary for me as it’s been a very long time since I have felt so awful – like when my dad died over a decade ago and I had a breakdown. I felt paralysed with fear and couldn’t see a way out of it so just spent hours feeling anxious and incapacitated. It was horrific. I even did the NHS anxiety and depression score thing (as if I needed confirmation of how shit is all was) and scored a fabulous 24/24 on the depression and 17/21 on the anxiety… I have always liked to do well on tests! Lol!
When my wife lost her job I text Anita and told her that we’d have to stop our sessions after the session we had booked in for the next day because we just can’t afford anything right now and then we’d pick up when things improved. It felt really awful and I was so so sad about it. Anita responded really warmly and told me we’d find a way forward together when we met in person and not to worry. She’s so different to Em, who, when we were in a similar situation a couple of years ago (honestly so much bad luck!) didn’t bat an eyelid when I was worrying about how we’d pay our bills and I was clearly really distressed. Therapy twice a week a £50 a session meant we accrued quite a lot of additional debt at that time and it was really hard feeling like I needed my sessions but also knowing I was putting us further into debt.
So, back to 2021, I arrived at my session that evening feeling crap but also really dissociated. I was so overwhelmed by all that had happened that I had to step away from it a bit and the only way I seem to know how to do that is to disappear. The weeks of stress and anxiety I had felt worrying about my wife when she had COVID and panicking that she’d lose her job had taken its toll and then to have my worries confirmed…well, it was too much and I was thoroughly exhausted.
I tried to be adult in that session but after a catch up on the latest elements of ‘new shit and stress’ I just couldn’t hold it and fell apart and into Anita’s arms where I trembled and sobbed and for ages and she held me until I settled listening to her steady heartbeat. She continued to hold me until it was time to leave. There have been so many sessions like that lately that I can’t really say what’s happened from session to session in any great detail but the level of holding and containment has been essential as I’ve let so many tears out even if the words have been relatively few.
In this session Anita said that she thought pausing our sessions was a bad idea and insisted that we could make it work. She said that pausing would be traumatising for my system when things are so bad already and I really need the therapy. She told me she could reduce her fee and I could pay when I could afford to, but that I needed to keep coming (if that’s what I wanted).
Honestly, the relief was massive. It felt like Anita really genuinely is invested in the work we are doing and that she really cares about me. I mean I knew this already; she demonstrates it week in week out in how she is with me. But I think dramatically reducing her fee so that I could keep coming really showed me that it’s not about the money to her. I felt so much shame about not being able to afford to pay her properly and yet it really wasn’t a dealbreaker for her. It’s taking some time to get my head round!
We agreed a fee for the next two months rather than per session and to do 75 minutes face-to-face and reduce the Friday online session to a 15 minute check in – which was fine by me (at the time) as I don’t get a lot from the online but touching base is good. This is largely how it had been anyway, over lockdown, where I have only been going once a week in an evening to fit around home-schooling and childcare. It’s not been ideal this year but I have kind of accepted that something is better than nothing and there are so many people who aren’t able to see their therapists face-to-face that I know I have it really good.
I have missed the twice-a-week sessions in the room since Christmas, but to be honest I’ve just been grateful to see A at all, especially after the having to isolate for two weeks and then thinking would have to stop altogether it’s felt like winning the lottery having any time!
This last couple of weeks has felt hard as I started sliding on the black ice of depression and anxiety on speed. The time between sessions has felt looooong and my young parts have been really struggling with that. The object constancy stuff is a real problem for me and I just can’t seem to hang onto the sense of safety and her care and warmth for seven days. I feel like such an idiot saying that when there is clearly so much evidence to the contrary. I’m still wearing the groove in my brain, though and it’s like recoiling a spring but in the opposite way to how it’s been set. It’ll take time.
There was one session where I was so desperate to connect with Anita but I just couldn’t. My protectors were fronting and I could feel my little parts screaming inside. It was agony. I couldn’t look at her and was frozen. Anita was patient and kind and so reassuring letting me know she was there, that she was waiting for me to let her in, and that she wasn’t going anywhere. She was already sitting beside me, within touching distance, but I said it didn’t feel like she was there and she said, ‘I know, and I think it’s been hard only seeing each other once a week hasn’t it?’ Sometimes she just sees exactly what the problem is and it cuts through all my defences. I just crumbled on the sofa into a flood of tears and she pulled me into her and held me again as I cried and cried.
These sessions probably sound like nothing much is happening but actually SO MUCH healing has gone on in them. I’ve been at my lowest, stripped bare (not literally, obvs!), and allowed myself to be really seen and that is massive. To be responded to with care, compassion, and love has been so huge. Anita is so responsive to my need. Last week I text her on Thursday evening. ‘I miss you’. That was it. She replied shortly after with, ‘Would you like to come here tomorrow morning?’ When I picked up the message I was stunned. I asked if that would be ok, and she said of course and she’d look forward to seeing me in the morning.
With my wife being off it means I have childcare and so I think Anita realised that and knows how helpful the second session is to me… especially after my performance earlier in the week. And that second session did make a huge difference. I came away feeling so much more settled despite more tears and trembling. I’m seeing her twice again this week, and although my child parts have been feeling really needy and unsettled (because of life) knowing that I only need to hold it until Friday is massive and feels more possible.
Anyway, that’s a huge ramble without a lot of detail, I’m afraid. There’s more to say but this is long so I’ll get myself back in the zone for the next post!
Thank you, guys, for all the support you’ve sent my way in recent weeks (and months). It’s meant a lot to me xxx