It’s been a while since I last posted (again!). Don’t worry, everything is completely fine, it’s just that every time I sit at this laptop I just can’t find the words I want, or even really channel my thoughts in a logical direction. I am so busy with work and juggling my day-to-day life at the minute (lots of spinning plates and a few smashed bits of crockery to boot) that I simply don’t have stretches of time to sit and write and so instead I just go and crack on with something I can do in twenty minutes because I seem to have an endless list of chores and jobs and emails and bleurgh to suffocate under!
Anyway, I am here now and hopefully over the next few days might be able to cobble something together before Anita goes off on her holiday on Monday. Boooo! It’s probably best I get up to speed before that inevitable shitshow commences and I go mental (again)! Obviously, that’s not my plan, but there’s a good chance that when I am THIS tired and creeping towards being THAT hormonal that things mightn’t be smooth sailing…and I hate boats anyway, always get sea sick…so….
Right, let’s do this!
Anita was so attuned and responsive to me in the days between our ‘shit hit the fan’ day/session on the Monday and our next face to face session on the Friday. She clearly had heard and taken on board everything I had said to her in that intense heart-to-heart session and despite my having left that session feeling ok, seen, heard, held, safe…I did check in with her quite a bit over the course of that week via text – nothing major but just the usual pre-meltdown/withdrawal kind of levels. I guess the part of me that was wondering if she was really stable and safe needed to keep testing that – but also that young part that so fears abandonment was checking ‘Are you still there?’
I was so looking forward to seeing Anita on Friday. Monday had been such a balls-up with time because I had had my big tantrum and stayed at home when I should have gone to session, and then I went when I realised I was burning the house down round the relationship – which meant we only had like 35 minutes together instead of the hour. Usually, if something feels off or has gone wrong I might ask for a slightly longer session, I find 75 minute sessions the best length – it’s enough time to land, do the work, and pick up again at the end. But I didn’t ask for this on that Friday because I was so aware of how stressed Anita had been on Monday. She had told me explicitly that I didn’t need to take care of her and yet here I was, not asking for what I needed to try and not add to her burden. Ugh. FFS RBCG!
Looking back now, I think, perhaps, I was unconsciously trying to stay away from anything that might be ‘too much’ for Anita in that Friday session too, as I spent the first forty minutes talking about stuff outside the room. But actually, at the same time I had stuff that I needed to talk about that wasn’t about ‘us’ or what had happened on Monday. It had been my childhood bestfriend’s funeral the day before the session, and it had kicked up some more gripes about my relationship with my mother (ugh the woman is just fucking useless). I needed to get it off my chest and also feel into the grief – so maybe I wasn’t being totally avoidant, but just prioritising what felt front and centre in that moment when I arrived.
As I said in my last post, even though what happened with Anita on the Monday felt like a catastrophe at the time, in reality the rupture was repaired, or was a good way towards being repaired, all in the space of that same Monday morning. I had been given space for my wounded and angry outburst and discovered what the reality of the situation was with Anita…and it wasn’t about me and her, although obviously it had crept into the work like smoke under a door.
So, on Friday I wasn’t wracked with anxiety and dread about whether Anita and I were solid enough to withstand what had happened. I knew we were. The worst of the anxiety was done and over with and I felt pretty ok, like I say, I genuinely feel like the foundation that Anita and I have built our therapeutic alliance on is like a really solid granite bedrock – not some shifting sand. Even when things get unsettled, which is bound to happen on and off given the nature of the issues I struggle with, things resettle sooooooo quickly.
I can’t really explain how much of a contrast this is to how things were with Em. I mean, those of you who have followed this blog for a while will surely see it. The days, weeks, months…years…that things would fester with Em was ridiculous. I would sit on my anxiety and stress about what things felt like between us for AGES, waiting for the ‘right time’ to bring it up. But there never being a ‘right time’ everything always felt so precarious and I felt like if I made the wrong move she’d terminate me…(oh the irony!…how right I was!)
Instead, I would suffer that agony of broken attachment and lack of connection that becomes so horrifically somatised for people with complex trauma on my own. It was safer to manage that than risk rejection from Em which felt like it would be unsurvivable to the young parts. It felt almost like a life-or-death situation at times – the body was endlessly in survival mode. That constant feeling of anxiety, the nausea, pain in the solar plexus, an empty black hole of ache in the chest, tension headache, tight jaw, poor sleep, or nightmares when I did sleep, the racing heart, the jumpiness, oh, and the physical shaking… I mean my poor fucking nervous system was in tatters.
I would suffer so much during the time between sessions and ‘hang on’ for the Monday and Friday session times, hoping so badly that the person sitting opposite me would for once show me some warmth and create an environment where it felt safe to express how I was feeling in the relationship with her. But more often than not, when it was apparent that that long hoped for relational experience was not going to materialise, I’d end up feeling even worse than I had outside the room, to the point where I would dissociate to escape how painful it all was.
In all honesty, it was pure torture.
In addition to this, the ruptures we had weren’t even really repaired – it was more that I had to let things go, paste over the cracks, because I was so scared of losing her. Em was never willing to apologise and instead rigidly stuck to her position making me feel like I was deficient and defective which confirmed the narrative I already had playing inside me. Of course, none of this did me any good at all!
I knew really a few months into the therapy resuming, with Em, that it wasn’t right for me. The level of distress I felt in relation to her was unbelievable when I think about it now. The problem with this deep knowing (that things weren’t right) is that it’s not what so many parts of me wanted to hear. You’ve got to remember, too, that when you’ve grown up being gaslighted and emotionally abused by a parent it’s hard to trust your gut because you’re so often told you are wrong or that something is wrong with you.
It’s not surprising that I felt attached to Em – in so many ways my relationship with her replicated the experience I had growing up as a child with my mum. She was another emotionally unavailable woman who disappeared in the week and then put me down, eroded my sense of self, and told me I was wrong when I (occasionally) expressed dissatisfaction or had a need.
I mean it was maternal transference 101 – only in the very worst way.
I sometimes wonder why things had to get SO bad before we terminated and why I didn’t quit sooner rather than have it all get so horrifically traumatic, but it’s so hard to leave someone you’re so deeply attached to when part of you in still hanging onto that tiny glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe this time if you behave in the right way, this new ‘mother’ will accept you and not abandon you.
I mean we, as humans, are hardwired for connection and more than anything I just wanted to be accepted by this person that I cared so much about even if I was pushing my way through a jungle of red flags week in week out – but I’ve been brought up in that jungle and have never seen anything but red so I stuck with what felt familiar even if it was painful. It really wasn’t until I returned to K and regular craniosacral sessions that I realised that the alternative version of connection that I had in my mind was possible and not some unachievable fantasy – like Em had led me to believe.
I used to wonder why people in abusive relationships didn’t just up and leave and now I know. I know I wasn’t married to Em (!), but I think similar things are in play with domestic abuse victims. It’s so complex and taps into so much wounding from so long ago. I should have left so many times, but I always went back, gave it another go, tried to bend myself into the mould that she wanted. It didn’t work though, did it? What she wanted me to be was at complete odd with and who I am and what my needs were.
I’m so sad now to look back and see how much emotional pain I put myself through. I really feel like a faithful dog that just kept going back to get kicked over and over and over again. And it wasn’t until she delivered the killer blow that I got free of it all.
Anyway -that’s not how it is with Anita, thank goodness! Writing that, I can see there is still so much work to do on that stuff with Em. Bloody therapy to recover from therapy…isn’t that just the gift that keeps on giving?! I think I could have gone on an around the world trip with the money I’ve put into therapy over the years!
So…back that Friday session. After I had spoken about the immediate stresses and upsets of my daily life there was a natural pause in the conversation. I guess that’s when I really landed in the room properly. I was quiet for a minute and felt the young parts move to the front. I could feel that worry about being too much – that’s always there- and, despite, wanting a hug I didn’t ask for one. Adult me knew everything was ok but those more vulnerable parts didn’t.
Anita gently broached the subject of Monday gently, “How are you feeling about us now?”
I whispered a barely perceptible, “Don’t know.”
“Don’t know?” Anita mirrored. “That’s what I wondered.”
There was another silence and the room felt really still.
“What do you need? What can I do?” Anita asked.
Again I replied with, “I don’t know.”
In that moment I don’t think I was being avoidant or obstructive or not asking for what I needed. Sometimes when things feel overwhelming I literally don’t have a clue what I need. I mean looking at this now, clearly I needed to feel connected to Anita but when I’m stuck behind my glass wall, I don’t remember that it doesn’t need to be there.
I let out a long sigh and felt like I wanted to curl up in a ball.
“It’s hard isn’t it?” said Anita with so much warmth and care in her voice.
More silence, from me.
“Because I am thinking about what a difficult situation it all is. I think that it’s going to happen where I am not in an ok space and it’s going to feed back because you are so sensitive to change because you’ve always had to be, you notice things in me that I might not… and it’s like I was saying to my supervisor and was saying to you on Monday, that I am not taking on any new clients because I don’t feel I can take on any more than I have at the moment – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect clients that I have now… and our relationship… and my relationship with my family, even. It affects everybody around me but it’s really hard for me to know what to do with that. Does any of this makes sense?” She sounded so apologetic but also just really real.
I let out a small, “Yeah” but I couldn’t work out where the conversation was going and sighed deeply and felt myself starting to drift. The bit about not knowing what to do with that set of a panic inside, was she about to tell me she was going to stop working for a bit? I had no idea.
“What do you want to happen?” I asked.
Anita paused, took a deep breath, and said, “I feel like I have broken your trust. And I know it’s going to take time to regain that again. And I wish I had a magic wand to make that happen, but I don’t. Because part of me, no, no I know, I don’t know why I brought that up, cos I know that it’s natural for you to think that it’s you and not me – and actually it is me and not you. You haven’t done anything wrong or different. It’s me. But like I said on Monday when you [Anita] get down, I don’t think you always realise how much it’s affecting you until… you don’t function properly…but I don’t want to lose the relationship, I really don’t. I am hoping we can learn from this, both of us. Because I think if we lose it [deep sigh] what would be the point? That’s not what I want, but obviously for a relationship to work be both need to want the same.”
I honestly couldn’t believe that she might be thinking that I didn’t want to work with her anymore over what had happened. As I said, it felt huge in the moment but in the big scheme of things it wasn’t a deal breaker because we’d done so much repair on the Monday. If anything it brought us closer together.
“I just don’t want to be too much for you” I replied.
“You’re not too much for me! You’re not too much for me! It’s not you that’s too much for me. And you’re really not! It’s other areas of my life that’s too much and I am trying to sort that out. But you are not too much for me… I know it’s hard to believe that isn’t it?”
“And I guess that’s what I’m thinking. That’s the learning. That whoever you work with – if it’s not me – if you choose not be with me – and I want to work with you – don’t take that the wrong way and think I don’t want to work with you because I do – I don’t want to lose this relationship. But I think the learning is that you will go into relationships and things will happen to the other person but that doesn’t meant they want the relationship with you to end. I don’t. you’re not too much for me – others areas of my life are, but you’re not, you’re not part of that. Can you hear that?”
I didn’t know what to say, the mention of not working together (even though that’s not what she was saying set parts of me off running away).
After a little while Anita asked, “What are you hearing?”
And I whispered, “I feel like I’m not here.”
“Uh hmm, like you’ve detached a little bit?”
Anita asked if she could give me a hug, and again I nodded and then shuffled across the sofa and snuggled in for a cuddle. I listened to Anita’s steady heartbeat and eventually I started to breathe more regularly, in time with Anita. When I get stressed I seem to hold my breath without even realising I am doing it. It’s nice when A and I hug because eventually my system settles and I feel my body relax bit by bit. I can go from a state of panic, heart racing, etc to a point where I almost fall asleep.
We didn’t really say anything in the remaining ten minutes of the session but that hug felt so healing and holding and by the time it was time to leave I felt so much better.
On the drive home I was thinking about what Anita had said to me, the bit about her breaking my trust really sat uncomfortably with me because that’s not how I had experienced the last week. When I got home I wrote out a massive long message – I think pretty much all my worries came out – and I sent it to Anita:
Things I need you to know. I trust you and I love you…too much probably…and that makes me really vulnerable in this relationship. When I get triggered badly, like on Monday morning, I will look to run away and push you away and act as though I could easily just end things – even though it’s the very last thing I want to do – but I do it because I’d sooner be the one to pull the plug on us than you do it and have to deal with that pain because honestly I can’t even let myself imagine how crushing that would be. It’s bad enough when you are away for a little while, but actually gone… I just can’t…
You say that what’s happened is not because of me and that I am not too much for you, and I really do hear that. I actually really understand that what has happened isn’t actually anything to do with ‘me and you’ and that’s really positive. The flip side of that, though, is that when things are wrong with us, we can do something about it together, or I can do something about how I am, and that will probably help move things forward. In this situation I have absolutely no way of knowing what will happen and I can’t affect any change or take steps to make sure things go ok for you, and by extension – us. But it doesn’t stop my brain trying to think a way round it, “maybe if I don’t text her this…” or “keep the young, needy parts hidden for a while”… you know how my brain works!
I genuinely don’t feel like things are badly broken. I just don’t know how I need to be to give you the space you need to get yourself into a better place. I absolutely don’t want to work with anyone else ever. I think you know that – at least I hope you do. I don’t feel like you have broken my trust. I am actually really glad that you could tell me how things were for you and be authentic and real with me. I actually feel like that was a big moment for us. Not a bad one. I just wonder whether you regret letting me see that, and then I wonder if you’ll take a step back from me again to regroup.
What’s panicking me is that ultimately, no matter how much I’d like to pretend otherwise, when it comes down to it, I am just your work. And we both know that when the shit hits the fan in our personal lives often the only area we can make changes to relieve pressure is in our work lives. I know that ‘currently’ I am not too much for you but what if that changes?
I am so sensitive to how you are, and I feel when you are withdrawing…and that’s difficult for me even if I now know why that happened recently. But what happens if one day I have a meltdown, or am just too clingy and you think, “fuck it, I just don’t have the energy for this anymore?”…you can just walk away. And I’ve been there before….and it was bad. But if you were to go, I honestly don’t know how I would cope. It makes me cry even thinking about it.
I feel like I am in this impossible bind – not because of what’s happened this week – but with therapy in general. Like I feel like there’s a real closeness between us and the relationship matters to both of us, and yet look how readily I lose my shit (the note with the break dates on) when I get faced with the reality that I am just another of your clients. It’s just a bloody nightmare.
I don’t know what I am trying to say, really, other than I am not going anywhere unless you push me away and that you mean a lot to me. Big hugs x
And she replied with:
Thank you for sharing. I don’t regret opening up to you- I feel honesty is really important between us. I just didn’t realise how badly I was failing at holding it all together after years of growing my self-awareness – I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get there! You are right. When things aren’t good we often need to change our work balance. So, I’m not taking on new clients and looking to see what I can let slide – but honestly, you aren’t even on my list of things to change. Yes, reading on Monday sounds good. Sending you lots of love and care xx. [and a load of hearts]
Crikey, this is really long so I’ll leave it there for now. But, good news is everything is good, settled, back to normal with Anita…well, that is, of course, until the weekend comes and she disappears for a week! More on that next time! x