So here we are then, half-way through my least favourite thing – another therapy break – and ugh, I just feel utterly bleurgh. It’s not been helped by getting my period yesterday, either. TMI?! I always feel drained, and tired, and in need of care at this time of the month anyway, so having Anita away, too, has felt especially shit this last couple of days. Thank goodness for endless cups of tea, cake, soft toys and my weighted blanket…it’s just a shame I can’t hibernate, really.
Things are still as relentless as ever with work and life, and it’s still another week until half term break from work so I feel as if I am running on fumes right now. It’s that juddering, lurching motion before I completely conk out. Eek. I’m really just hoping that I can free-wheel my way into next Friday. I desperately need some time off and some serious sleep. I think the first few days of the holiday are going to be spent in pjs watching movies with the kids and recharging our batteries.
So, I guess I should backtrack a bit and fill in to how I got to this midway point of the therapy break.
Actually, the lead into this therapy break wasn’t too bad. Well, I mean, I had the usual internal panic about it (but of course!) and felt a bit sad about it (no surprises there), but Anita and I were able to talk about it several times before it actually happened which makes such a difference.
Break anxiety is not the elephant in the room (I don’t think there are any elephants in our therapy room, actually!) like it was with Em. I don’t have to feel shame or embarrassment about the feelings that come up around disruptions to my therapy. I don’t have to pretend that I am not impacted by breaks and separation from Anita. AND perhaps most importantly, I am not made to feel like there is something wrong with me for experiencing feelings of abandonment and rejection (even if adult me knows that’s not what’s happening) when Anita goes away – and it is such a relief.
I definitely think that being ‘left’ with my painful feelings around breaks exacerbated the actual time of the breaks I had with Em. But then I felt so alone with my feelings, before, during, and after breaks so, maybe it’s just that the whole thing was a disaster! Ugh. Never mind!
So, anyway, a couple of sessions before the break Anita directed our attention towards the upcoming separation. I had obviously, already, had my big meltdown last month when she told me about the breaks she had planned – or rather the meltdown about the way the information was delivered with the formal seeming note -and so we had discussed how hard breaks felt for me then, during that big rupture repair session, too.
On our last Monday session before the holiday, I was cuddled into Anita – I can’t remember what we’d been talking about during the session – all sorts of random shit about the trip I’d just taken (we’d missed previous Friday’s session), I think, but there was a period where it went quiet, and I felt so relaxed and safe. After a little while, I asked what she Anita was thinking.
She replied, “I am thinking about the gaps that we are having… how we haven’t had any gaps recently, really, and now there seem to be quite a lot in one go – with you going away last week and then me going away next week… and I’m wondering how you are with that, really, as I’m guessing you’re not very good with that?”
She held me closer to her and I started to cry. I really wasn’t expecting my reaction having been so settled a minute before. I guess I was in no way armoured up in that moment and so the genuine reaction just came. It felt really freeing that Anita had brought the subject up and given the little parts (and all the others) space to feel whatever was there in that moment – especially in the safety of being physically cuddled.
I have been so used to pretending I am ok about breaks (with Em) and masking what I really felt, or at least downplaying it if it did come out, that having the reality of how I actually might feel acknowledged by Anita let me be exactly how it was in the moment. It’s ok to feel sad and to cry about this stuff because it feels huge to parts of me.
I had felt moments of really deep sadness and longing when I was away on the previous Friday (missing my session), not enough to not enjoy myself, but when I was sitting down alone waiting for my wife and kids I felt a real ache in my chest that I wasn’t able to be in the room that morning. I text Anita a GIF to say I missed her, and amazingly we both sent each other a message at the same time.
It felt really lovely, to see that she was thinking of me and reaching out, not just responding to a message I’d sent. It felt connecting. I think so often we worry that being out of sight means being out of mind, but here, again, was Anita demonstrating not only that she does exist outside the room but that I am thought about occasionally, too. Those moments go such a long way in showing my system how things can be in a relationship. How I am not a burden, or unwanted, or too much etc.
So that Monday was our first session back…but there were only two sessions between the breaks and it felt really crappy. Anita went on, “I just want to reassure you that it will be ok. I know that’s not always easy to believe.”
I sniffed and my tears kept coming. Anita gently rubbed my back and held me close to her. I felt so sad. Like in that moment, all the feelings of how it was when I was small and my mum going away time and again just came flooding up and out. Part of me wanted to tell her I didn’t want her to leave me, but I guess those are really the words I swallowed so many times over the years as a kid that I needed my mum to hear. Watching her disappear on a train week in week out for years really has taken its toll on me and here it was playing out again.
Anita reassured me, “It will be ok. I promise. It will.”
I so badly wanted to believe her and clung on tightly to her. There would have been a time where an angry teen part would have shouted something internally, like “Fuck off! What do you know? You fuckers always leave. You don’t care! And I’m left here trying to hold it together through the shit storm.” But the teen was silent – or rather, she wasn’t even there. Instead, I just allowed myself to sink into the immediate moment of safety, connection, and reassurance rather than fight against it.
I guess, when it’s like that I am trying to absorb as much ‘the good stuff’ as I can so that this week, when things start to wobble, I can remember how it feels to be connected and held. And it is working. When I feel distressed or upset, I can now call to mind all the times that I have been safe and held by Anita. I don’t have to try and imagine what it might be like to get what I need because I know it, now. I have experienced it.
I used to find it so difficult when Em would say things like, “that young part of you wants to be held. Can you imagine what it would be like for that part to get what it needs?” It always felt so rejecting when she was sitting right there and yet a million miles away. I’ve said before that it felt like having my nose pressed up against the window of a sweet shop and the owner saying, “you can’t have any of what’s in here, but try and imagine what it would be like to taste this stuff.” It felt so rejecting and cruel.
I knew what I needed, she knew what I needed, but I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be held and the longing for it felt so fucking painful. Em wanted me to take my young parts and hold them but I didn’t know how to do that for myself because I had never experienced being held. She used to say things like, “you do it for your kids so you can do it for yourself” again it felt so alienating and so distancing. Fuck.
Thankfully, now, I have experienced enough actual holding with Anita that when it feels bad, I can take myself to a place where I can go some way towards soothing that little part that needs cuddling. However, my visualisation doesn’t involve adult me holding that young part, it’s remembering how it ACTUALLY feels to be held by Anita. That’s what helps me. It is self-soothing, but I can only do it because I have a built-in reference point now. I can tap into that place and part that knows what it feels like to feel safe, and cared for, and held.
Asking someone to imagine being held when they have never ever had that is like trying to get someone to bring the smell of the sea to mind when they’ve never been there and only ever experienced the city. It’s impossible. It’s frustrating. And it makes you feel like you’re stupid for not being able to do something really simple… but it’s not simple when you haven’t got a basis to work on.
So, there I was in the moment with A, absorbing all the love and care I could. I’d stopped crying and was feeling settled and calm. I glanced up at the clock and noticed it was coming to the end of the session. Adult me had spoken a lot about my trip away but it wasn’t until the end that the important stuff (for the young parts) came. A little part of me whispered, “I missed you when I was away.”
With so much warmth in her voice, Anita replied, “I know. I missed you too. It felt very strange on Friday not seeing you. I’ll see you this Friday, though.” And then that was the end of the session, she gave me a big squeeze and kissed me on the head and I got up, put my shoes on, asked her if she would wash my elephant for me, (“of course”) and then we chatted about something random and adult.
We hugged again, at the door, as I left and I walked out feeling pretty good, but also knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy that week as there was only one session remaining before the break and that anticipation of A being away was sure to hit the various parts of me as the week progressed. I felt a bit clingy and A and I exchanged a few pictures, GIFs, and texts over the course of the week.
Thursday night was terrible, though. I was really looking forward to seeing Anita and felt quite ok in my mind, but my body had a completely different narrative going on. At about 8 o clock I’d just settled down from finishing work when I got the sensation of trembling throughout my body. I didn’t seem to be outwardly shaking but internally I was juddering. Sometimes I physically shake, and it looks like I am shivering, but it wasn’t like this that evening it was more subtle. I couldn’t seem to settle myself and eventually fell asleep but feeling really unsettled and not ok.
To add insult to injury my unconscious fired out a spectacular nightmare that culminated in me being attacked and then strangled by a family member (just wonderful!) and the last thing I remember was me trying to scream “help me!” over and over again but no sounds coming out until I woke up crying and shaking. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and the feeling of pressure in my neck was intense.
I text Anita that morning to give her the heads up about how bad things felt. And she replied with a lovely warm, holding message telling me that she was really looking forward to seeing me and sending hugs and love – but part of me was disappointed that we frequently do 75 minute sessions when we’ve had breaks or breaks are coming (we’d done that on the Monday) but that day we weren’t when I really felt like I needed it and so whilst the message was really perfect at least part of me felt like she didn’t see how much I was struggling.
I arrived at my session at 10am, our storybooks were on the side next to my elephant and something else that I couldn’t quite see. I sat down. Anita said, “I thought we were starting at 9:45 today and doing longer?” I cannot explain how gutted I was when she said that. She had thought we were starting early which is obviously why she hadn’t asked if I wanted to start earlier in her text that morning. Ugh. Fuck. So, I said that I didn’t think we had agreed that – but had for Monday and never mind, but the little parts were wailing that they could have had another 15 minutes that day and hadn’t.
Anita could see immediately that I was really not ok. I knew I felt off after the nightmare but thought I was just about hanging it together with my rubber bands and chewing gum. Anita asked me straight away if I wanted a hug. I nodded and sort of collapsed into her arms. “I can feel you’re shaking” she said. I hadn’t been aware of that, or at least it felt similar to how it had been during the night, I didn’t realise it could actually be felt by someone else.
As I lay still, I became really aware of how badly I was trembling. It must’ve taken a good thirty minutes for my body to stop shaking and for everything to regulate. Anita and I didn’t really talk much until I got my system and breathing settled. Once things levelled out and I felt normal again we chatted about all kinds of stuff, but I wasn’t able to before then. I wasn’t in my window of tolerance.
I am so grateful to have a therapist like Anita. So much of my wounding is early, preverbal, trauma and so the touch and the holding does such a lot to soothe and calm that terrified, traumatised part of me. Once I am in my window of tolerance, I am good to go but it can take a while to get there and I really need that connection with Anita, the coregulation to get me to a place to do the work.
I spent the entire session cuddled into A. She asked me if I wanted a story about fifteen minutes from the end but I said no, I didn’t want to have to move from where I was in order to have a story. Anita then said to me that she’d got me “a little friend” to go with my elephant and that she’d washed it alongside him, so it smelled the same.
Did I ever mention that I absolutely love this woman?
Again, it’s these sort of things that really do so much for my young parts. She’s not in the least bit weirded out that I ask her to wash a soft toy for me before breaks so that it smells like her, and I can have that whilst she’s gone. At the end of the session, she gave me a bag and inside it was a little soft toy rabbit. “I saw this and thought of you”, she said. I wanted to cry because it was so thoughtful and relevant to our relationship.
Anita and I have this thing where I call her my rabbit. I gave her the storybook, ‘The Rabbit Listened’ for our first therapy-anniversary last January because I really related to the fact that through everything this rabbit stayed alongside the boy and never went away and heard and helped him through all his emotions. She reads this book to me a lot when we have stories.
Anita sometimes refers to herself as the rabbit so the fact that she’d bought me a soft toy rabbit as a transitional object for the young parts felt really lovely. Really, really, lovely actually.
I felt sad leaving the session knowing it would be a while until I saw A again, but at least I was as well-equipped as I could possibly be going into it. I decided I wouldn’t text her over the break, or at least try not to.
So, on Sunday evening I was so delighted when I got message from A with three pictures of the landscape of where she was that day – and again, I thought how really lucky I am to have a therapist who really gets how attachment wounding can play out and what is needed to try and repair that for the young parts. I sent her some pictures back of where I’d been that day and felt good for having checked in.
I miss A, a lot, but I feel safe in the knowledge that she is out there, that she cares, and that she will be back on Monday evening. She’ll not be back in time for our Monday morning session so she scheduled me in a late appointment so I don’t have to wait even longer to see her. I know I say it all the time, but what a massive contrast to what I used to get with Em.