holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
For once – brace yourselves for this- I’m going to write primarily about my mum and the mother wound, rather than wax lyrical about my therapist! Of course, the work I do in therapy relates so much to my relationship (or lack of one) with my mother, but usually I’m here talking about what’s been triggered when I see Anita and how that works out rather than stuff in the here and now with my mum.
However, my most recent rupture with Anita was so powerful and so painful and it coincided so neatly with something that happened with my mum that it was so obvious to see that what I was bringing into the room, to Anita, was decades old hurts from another relationship altogether. Afterall, my therapist not being able to offer slightly longer sessions really should not have triggered the colossal meltdown/s that it did. I mean it’s literally been a solid two months (and still going strong!) of internal chaos and anxiety and frankly, that’s disproportionate to what the trigger actually was.
When you dig beneath the surface, though, and get curious about what the feelings in mine and Anita’s rupture were about: feeling unimportant, easy to put down, and being unworthy of Anita’s time and care, it’s not hard to see why this triggered such a big meltdown. Those feelings are so huge and so raw and yet SOOOOOOOOOOO fucking longstanding and familiar. The sense of being unlovable and inadequate has covered me like a second skin. It’s like being doused in a thick tar of shame. It’s bloody awful.
The need to feel… loved… is (still) so massive. For years and years, I felt like there was something wrong with me for needing connection and that I must be fundamentally lacking in whatever it is that makes people want to be close. No. Not people. People do love and care about, and for, me – I have great friends and a wonderful partner… what I really mean is a mum. A mum that loves me. Is proud of me. Wants to spend time with me. Is interested in me as a person. Feels protective of me. Is there. Available. Attuned. Someone whom I can be myself around. Someone who can give physical affection. Someone who is safe.
That’s a big wish list isn’t it? Perhaps as an adult, yes, but as a child, they are the basic fundamentals, surely.
But then is it really too much to expect – no, not really. I am a mother and these things come naturally. Sure, my kids wind me up and drive me fucking mad – but they are also bloody amazing, and I love them more than anything. There is absolutely nothing I would not do to ensure their happiness and felt sense of safety and being loved. My kids roll their eyes when each day I say, “Guess What?” and then reply “We know Mummy, you love us!” But I love that. I love that there is no doubt in my kids’ minds that they are loved. I love that they come to me when they are hurt or scared or just plain bored. I love the fact that they witter on for hours about boring shit but know that I’ll listen and not just send them off so I can have some time to myself. I love that they know that I will be there every single day to pick them up from school, to read a story, to put them to bed…
They probably have no concept of what this time means because it forms part of the fabric of their existence, but having not had that growing up I can say it has left a massive hole. The sense of being ‘left’ as a child has been hard. I know and understand the reasons my mum went away and her achievements have been significant, but the impact it had on the little girl who was left behind was significant too. And that’s been a big part of my therapeutic work. The coping mechanisms I put in place over the years to deal with that gaping hole inside have been huge and massively detrimental to my health. As I wrote recently, I am through the eating disorder stuff now – but it has taken the best part of 25 years. 25 fucking years. I mean hell, wtf?
As I have said before, my relationship with my mum isn’t perfect but it has been something that evolved and has worked for us both over the last decade or so since having my children. We don’t see much of her, but it’s felt like there has been a reasonable level of contact. There’s not been any drama or fallings out since I announced my first pregnancy and I have come to accept that my mum will never be a hands-on grandparent like my friend’s have. She’s not someone who will take the kids for days out, or have them for holidays or whatever but it’s been ‘good enough’…well…no…it’s been what it is. I feel sad for my children, having had a set of grandparents who were so much fun and child-orientated myself, but I give them these experiences as their parent so it’s not desperate.
Only recently, I don’t know what has happened. It feels like something has shifted and changed and I have no idea why. Like I just can’t put my finger on it. Before Christmas I mentioned that my mum seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth – and at that time I started trying to figure out what was going on. Had I said or done something to account for the radio silence? I couldn’t put my finger on anything and started dredging up things like, ‘could she somehow have found my blog and taken offence about what was in it?’ but then out of nowhere she rang me and it was as if nothing had happened. It was a total head fuck to be honest with you.
So, fast forward to now. And we’re in similar territory. I think I mentioned in one of my recent posts how she’d taken a few weeks to reply to a text but had prefaced her reply with the fact she’d had covid. I mean, she hadn’t had covid the entire time and let’s be honest, a quick message on WhatsApp doesn’t take a second but – whatever. And then it was my birthday and the thing about having not been able to get out to get a card- fine. Whatever. Whilst I was away on holiday in February, I had sent a message asking if she could have the kids for a day in July and she replied that she couldn’t as she might be doing something…nothing in the calendar yet, but you know, something might come up as a priority. This message coincided with all the stuff with Anita and the stopping longer sessions and it just really triggered the stuff about being completely unimportant and inadequate.
Anyway, I sent flowers and a card for Mother’s Day – and she sent me a message then….but that’s it since. I have sent several messages (5 if we’re keeping tabs) over the last month – and the ticks have gone blue but there’s been no response at all. It’s been the kids’ Easter holidays and in the past we’ve done Easter egg hunts in the garden and she’d bring them an egg. Not this year. No acknowledgment at all. And whilst I may or may not have done something to offend my mum (literally no clue – other than having this blog) I can’t understand why she would not want to make and effort or spend time with her grandchildren. They haven’t done anything wrong…but then neither have I.
I find myself tying myself in knots trying to second guess what’s going on. It feels so reminiscent of my teenage years, trying to make sense of a situation and work out my part in it. Like it makes no sense to stonewall someone unless they’ve done something wrong – so what is the thing I’ve done to deserve this?
Of course, there’s another part of me that feels like I need to stop trying so hard. If she doesn’t want a relationship with me or her grandchildren then that’s fine. Let her get on with it. I need to stop putting myself out there to be rejected or ignored. Every time I message her and there is no reply I am engaging in this weird dynamic. I keep knocking at a door that is locked and bolted. It’s like Em and the empty cupboard. Get the message RB – if she wanted to engage with you she would reply to you. So I need to stop, don’t I?
Some people have asked why I don’t just ring her up and call her out on this, but it doesn’t feel as easy as that. For someone who is usually really assertive and articulate, I just can’t do it when it comes to talking to my mum. I mean I’ll go head to head with her Tory Brexiteer bullshit but when it comes to, “Mum, I feel really sad that we don’t have a good relationship and I’ve really struggled over the years to understand what it is about me that makes you be so distant”… you know, why put yourself out there to be shot down in flames? Especially, if the narrative that still runs loud inside is, “You think you’re so perfect. Who do you think you are? I wish you’d never been born!”
I may not be great at ignoring the triggers or coping with the anxiety that some unreturned messages evoke but I sure as shit will not put myself out there to be hurt further. And I can see the whole thing being turned on its head, that I am somehow the aggressor, and she is the victim, “You have no idea how hard it was for me, what I sacrificed for you…” and it’ll become a character assassination. I am not here (on the blog), trying to blame her for anything – but how things were as a child has left an imprint on me (and that’s what I write about). It’s been really fucking hard, and the mother wound is painful. I’m nearly fucking forty and yet, here I am after more than a decade of therapy writing about how painful it is to be ignored by my mum, and by extension – my therapist (even though A doesn’t ignore me).
Perhaps I am deficient and too needy and am ‘mental’ and pathetic. Perhaps that’s what she sees?
But I’ve done enough work now to challenge that narrative. The Inner Critic that was forged from my mother’s voice can get back in the box. I don’t need it anymore. I have a level of self-compassion that can counteract it. I developed the critic to protect me. By being my own biggest critic and attacking myself meant that nothing anyone else could say or do to me could be worse. I had my own trump card. But now I have seen the role of the critic, and realised I don’t need it anymore. What I need to do is look at WHY it developed in the first place and look at what I was trying to get away from – the mother wound – of course.
So, what do I do now? I guess, I keep taking this stuff to therapy and working through in the safety of the room with Anita. And I stop putting myself out there with my mum. If she chooses to get in touch then great, but I am not going to keep flogging a dead horse – for want of a better expression. What would you do? It’s one of those situations where I wish I could just take the bull by the horns and ask what’s happened – because ultimately if there’s a bad reaction what am I actually losing? I can’t be any more anxious or confused than I am now. I guess, though, right now I can feel some sense of it not being ‘my fault’ and if I confront her the likelihood is the situation will be made ‘my fault’ and then I’ll start doubting myself… in some way, backing off and ‘letting it go’ is the best I can do right now.
Anyway, I’ll leave that here. I’m just off the back of a therapy break and so I’ve been grappling with that alongside this mum stuff. Unfortunately, there’s quite a few bank holidays coming up in the UK over the next few weeks and so there’s more disruption to the therapy but I’ll get through it. I always do.
Last night I was driving to therapy and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ came on my random playlist. That album was the soundtrack to my second year of A Levels – and, man, did I turn up the volume last night and belt it out – I was 18 and it was 2001 again!…
I mean, the title of this post says it all really? Pre-warning this post ends up nearly 7000 words so you might be just as well making your own inference from the title!
It’s been a long while since I have written anything about the day-to-day of my therapy and that’s partly because I’ve been so busy with just ‘getting through’ my days that I haven’t really had time to type, and also because Anita and I are navigating the rupture from hell and I wanted to be out the other side of it before I wrote anything. The thing is, it’s been almost six weeks now, and it’s still dire and so I think I need to put something down for my own sanity as much as anything as it’s all kind of blurring into one long disaster and the chronology is skewing in my head.
It feels like there’s just been an awful chain of cumulative events that have totally derailed the therapy and I am really all over the shop right now– I couldn’t even get out the car yesterday for half an hour to go to my session because I was frozen and kept dissociating…that’s how bad it’s felt. Part of me (thank goodness) feels like things will work out in the end because the feelings haven’t changed between Anita and I, but right now I’m having a hard time navigating everything that has happened and the changes in the way we do therapy because it’s sending shockwaves through my system and the child parts are terrified.
I guess I should go back where I left off when I was on holiday. My kids had COVID just before we went away which meant some online sessions which are always tough but I had managed a face to face before I flew off on my trip. My holiday was amazing, and much needed. Anita and I had a couple of exchanges – basically I sent her some photos of the sun – and everything was pretty ok until I got home to the UK on the Friday. That’s when the longing of the young parts kicked in full force. I was sooooo ready to see A after what had felt like weeks of not being able to get what I really needed and I really just wanted to go and reconnect and have a massive cuddle. It was going to be a lumpy period of time going forward, too, because I had just one session before Anita was due to be away for a week herself and so it felt really important to have that one session and to reconnect before yet another disconnection.
I sent Anita a message on the Sunday outlining where I was at. I had this sort of sick feeling as the day went on but hoped it was just anxiety and that everything would be ok when we got to see each other in person. Unfortunately, as the universe would have it, that session didn’t go ahead. Anita was away with her partner and got a flat tyre where he lives which meant she couldn’t come back home. It was going to be challenge enough sorting the tyre and still getting across country for the ferry. I was so disappointed when I received Anita’s message but could see how annoyed she was too, and it clearly wasn’t deliberate, just one of those things, but my goodness, the disappointment I felt was massive. It was clear, too, that she had literally been coming back for me that day when she could have stayed put so part of me felt heartened by the fact she did want to come, just couldn’t.
Anyway, no surprises that the online session was a car crash. I tried really hard to stay present and adult but it just fell to pieces. I was sad and disappointed. I had given her my elephant to wash when I went on holiday so it could be ready for when I saw her and before she went away. Obviously, that didn’t happen and so my go to transitional object was not where I needed it to be and that set the child parts off even more. After that session I text Anita to apologise for giving her a hard time and said I understood what had happened, but it was just difficult and that I missed her. I rounded off the message by asking for stories and cuddles when we got back.
The week whilst she was gone led to an escalation of panic inside. The child parts felt so untethered, ungrounded and try as I might to soothe them it just didn’t really work. I was due to see A on the Tuesday as wasn’t due back on the Monday until after our session. Of course, I was more than ready to see her. She’d text me to tell me that she was looking forward to seeing me and I felt huge relief about being able to go in and just unpack how hard the last month had been. Disruption is so hard for my young parts, separation is painful…
On the Monday evening I was really aware of how bloody sore that mother wound had got. It felt like I was bleeding out tbh. I text Anita and asked if over the next couple of weeks we could do some slightly longer sessions because things felt so wobbly and I needed space and time to settle and reconnect.
Probably once or twice a month Anita I have 75 minute sessions and I have written before about how helpful these can be, especially when stuff feels shaky as it gives time to settle into the space, ground, and then let stuff out and then give it time to be repacked safely.
Anita didn’t reply.
WARNING bells started ringing but I tried to put them to one side.
I was nervous as I walked up the driveway for the session but figured if I could just get in the room and the protectors would stay offline then the child parts could get what they so badly needed and things would start to recalibrate inside.
I walked into the room and our story books and elephant were not in the room.
Instantly I froze and the protectors went live. I basically shut down. I couldn’t even look at Anita.
It felt like Anita hadn’t kept the child parts in mind and it triggered the fuck out of me. I mean it was REALLY BAD. Having had so much separation and disruption, already, it just seemed to confirm that fear that the young parts have of being forgotten about, or not kept in mind, or generally just not being very important.
The session was uncomfortable because I couldn’t really speak – I just felt so little and lost – and Anita seemed to be unable to join the dots. She reassured me that we were ok, and that nothing had changed but to be honest it felt like we were on different planets. It felt like she was phoning it in and not really ‘there’. Of course, it’s difficult to tell when I’m in that state because everything feels bad and listening back it was nowhere near a terrible as it felt. She asked me what I felt was different because from her side nothing was and that she still loves and cares about me – but when you feel little and abandoned it’s hard to say, “Where is elephant and why aren’t the books here and I missed you and I need a cuddle and and and…?” It’s so fucking cringe.
I know she offered me hugs early on, but I refused them. I so badly wanted to be able to bridge the gap, but the protectors just weren’t allowing it. About half-way through the miserable silence and Anita asked again what was up, I was able to reply, “It doesn’t feel safe.” And she asked, “What can I do to make it feel safer? What do you need?…I really am here for you no matter what…” but that was met with more silence. I just needed her to physically reach out to me which I know is impossible for her to do if I have told her I don’t want a hug. (I do want a hug!)
Later she wondered it I felt like maybe I thought she didn’t care, and asked me what gave me the impression that she didn’t care. I was so far gone and wedged into that dark pit of doom that I just couldn’t get out, I couldn’t tell her why I was so upset and the longer it went on the worse it got.
Anita said something about how she knows my system is programmed to think “it’s dangerous to have time and distance” because of what’s happened to me in the past, but that separation doesn’t have to me that everything has gone wrong. She told me, “I am here, and I really want to be closer but you’re not letting me.” After a little while a tiny voice whispered, “It feels like you’ve forgotten about me.” Anita emphatically told me she hadn’t but of course all I could see was the evidence – elephant wasn’t there, and neither were the books and so in the eyes of the child parts they were out of mind and that is AGONY.
I felt so overwhelmed that I got off the sofa and sat curled up in a ball on the floor. I couldn’t bear to be seen and just sat there trembling with my face on my knees. It was fucking awful. Anita shuffled herself across the sofa and put her hands on my back in a kind of hug and kept rubbing my back. Physical reconnection is so important after a big break to let the young parts know they are still welcome, and I really needed that touch. I just wish that we had hugged on the doorstep when I arrived because that would have gone some way to reminding the parts that she is still her and I am still me and so forgetting things doesn’t mean the love and care has gone…but then of course child parts don’t see grey. It’s black and white. And any hint of retreat on the part of the other signals imminent abandonment and rejection and so we are doomed!
I left the session feeling desperately sad and activated. In the past I would have written, got it down in words and filtered whatever was coming up through the adult but it felt really important to honour what was coming up for the young parts and so I did something different. I got out some crayons and let the young parts draw and express themselves. I used my non-dominant hand…which was weird, but actually really freeing. I am not good at art, anyway, so it really did look like a four-year-old had been let loose with the Crayola but that was the whole point, it wasn’t meant to be polished it was the actual feelings in the moment. And once I got going it all came.
I was in two minds what to do with them. Part of me wanted Anita to see them and part of me felt ashamed and embarrassed. However, I felt it was important that this ‘voice’ wasn’t hidden away because it was the true vulnerable stuff. So I sent them and WHOA NELLY the shit then hit the fucking fan – deep breaths for a RB meltdown!:
Crikey that felt so massive at the time. It felt like I triggered Anita into defensive parent, an almost “look what I do for you and it’s never enough” when actually I think what she was trying to do was reassure me and prove to me that she shows her commitment in so many ways. It was just terrible timing, though. I shared the most vulnerable stuff with her and suddenly money and time boundaries we coming into play. I felt like I had showed her how hurt I was and she was now taking stuff away. Jeez. It really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
After a lot of back-and-forth things settled but I felt like I’d been on the emotional waltzers – I bet you guys do too having seen it in all its glory!
Somehow, I regained my equilibrium after that (I have to say having K on my team has really helped buffer this stuff and give me space to process it a bit outside the immediate triggering situation) and the next session was largely adult – I talked about all sorts of things, I was settled enough, felt safe enough, and then with twenty minutes to go I leapt in and talked about what had happened that last session and how it had impacted me. Anita was really understanding and apologised for not having my stuff in the room and wanted me to know it’s not because she doesn’t care it’s just sometimes she forgets and it’s not intentional.
So what’s going on then? Why has everything just flipped on its axis? It turns out Anita is stretched to her limit and has basically had to rein everything in so that she doesn’t burn out.
Oh great. Here we go.
Timing is everything and coming off the back of a holiday and disruption the last thing I needed was a shift in the frame and boundaries.
Part of protecting herself from burnout is changing how she works…which is bad news for me. Adult me gets that people’s lives don’t stay the same and things change – I mean look at my life over the last two years – but it’s felt so fucking hard having my therapy impacted through no fault of my own. Stuff in Anita’s life has got harder and in order to manage that, it’s my therapy and time with her that suffers (well not just that, but you know what I mean). She’s told me that she’s tried really hard to not let what’s happening impact me and tried to keep things the same as I am so impacted by change but she has to make changes or she’ll be no good to anyone.
The child part keeps looping round to “What have I done wrong?” and has asked her several times because the extra time being taken off the table and the outside contact seemingly being reduced too…well it feels punishing. And no surprises it has a huge impact on how safe I feel in the relationship. Things have escalated into a total shitshow when they previously wouldn’t have because I have stopped reaching out for fear of being ‘too much’ or not getting a reply when I need it. It’s basically a recipe for disaster.
Case in point was recently I had a fucking awful dream about Anita- and usually I would have reached out at the time, and she would have responded with something caring or holding and it would have put it to rest until the next session when we could look at it together. This time, instead of letting her know about it, I held onto it, and it just festered and snowballed as the week went on. Then that same week Anita text me midweek to tell me she was having to cancel a session the following week but might be able to rearrange and would let me know the next day…but she didn’t let me know and so I felt panicked and stressed and forgotten about and abandoned….and that was another straw on the camel’s back…nearly at breaking point.
The dream was hideous, and it doesn’t take all that imagination to see what it was about:
I was due to go to my session and when I arrived Anita was already sitting in the room. She was sitting on the sofa, but it had been cut in half, and the part that I sit on had been removed from the room and instead replaced with a desk/workstation. I looked at Anita and her face had no expression (like still face experiment). It was like her body was there, but she was absent. I felt instantly sick. I said, “you’ve changed it” and she swore blind that she hadn’t and “nothing was different”. I pointed at the desk and said “you’ve made it so we can’t sit together, and I can’t be close to you anymore”. And she denied it again. I walked out crying knowing that I wouldn’t see her again.
I woke up trembling and shaking on the Monday morning and it niggled away at me for the rest of the week. By the time I arrived at the session I was done in. It never used to be like this and it’s really taking its toll.
And so we go on and on and on in this messy spiral.
I will get my head round it eventually but right now it’s like I have had the rug pulled from under my feet. I feel like I have been cast adrift. I feel like I am questioning the relationship because if I really ‘mattered’ she’d find the time for me, wouldn’t she? And then of course it all comes back round to the fact that I am work, a client, and she can switch off from me whenever she chooses, and I don’t have any power in the relationship other than to leave. It’s that kicker of a reality check that really gives the critic and protectors power. They will burn the house down.
Part of what’s really hard is that the changes in Anita and I work have not been discussed or mutually agreed, they’ve been imposed by her/done to me. And this triggers back into what it was like as a child. I either went along with what was happening or I lost out altogether. I feel desperately sad that the therapy that felt so containing and holding now feels threatening to my system. Suddenly I want more than Anita can give, but my needs haven’t changed, I am not asking for more – it’s her capacity that’s changed…and that’s really hard…I am trying to get adult on board but it’s tough when all the child parts have been triggered and trust feels wobbly.
And yet, deep down, I really do know Anita cares about me and loves me. None of what she has done is meant to hurt me. There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong between us. She isn’t pulling back because of me or because I am too much, but it’s so hard to accept that because that’s how I am experiencing it. It may not be me that’s causing her to retreat, but it is still a retreat, and I am still feeling the impact of it. And no amount of her explaining she has to rejig to be able to work safely is cutting it, because little me feels like mummy has decided that little girl is able to cope alone and that her needs don’t warrant attention anymore…ouch.
And basically, we’re right back in the thick of the mother wound where I had to be an adult too soon. And yes, I get I AM AN ADULT but this inner child work is such delicate work and I feel like it’s hit the skids in a big way. It’s no surprise that I am dreaming of careering down hills and my brakes not working. Argh.
Of course, I still have my two sessions a week. I can still text Anita and she does reply most of the time (just not in the way she used to). We still get to cuddle. She still reads stories. She is still Anita. In so many ways nothing has changed and yet internally EVERYTHING has been blown up. There feels like there is no space for me now. Like what if I need her, or an extra session? That’s not available and so that makes it feel unsafe and uncontained…even though I don’t need an extra session right now!
I am trying to tell myself and remind myself all the ways that things are still ok. How committed A is. BUT those teens and the inner critic can be so vocal can’t they? And it’s hard. Sometimes all I can do is take a step back and go…’but look how much you still get, look how much you NEVER got with Em, and do you really think there’s anyone who would go even halfway towards what Anita gives you?’ and when I do this I realise that actually I am so fucking lucky. I’m lucky that Anita is dug in deep too and can hear me losing my shit and accept it and apologise for her part in some things and keep showing up for me, like we are in the trenches but we’re not admitting defeat.
After the episode (meltdown) with the young parts’ drawings and elephant not being in the room Anita has had the books out in every session. She was so sorry that the little parts had felt disregarded and assured me that it was NEVER her intention and that there was no message or change to be read in her forgetting. So, I try and let that filter in. I do feel her authenticity and humanness – she is not perfect – and I guess this is another lesson to the littles that idealise her. Actually, she’s just like the rest of us – flawed – and she regularly says this herself. But she’s better than anything I have experienced previously, she is a better therapist than Em and she is more nurturing and available than my mum!
It was my birthday recently and she remembered, and not only remembered but bought me a present – a soft toy…a soft toy that I had sent her a picture of last year and said how much I wanted one because they are soooo soft and she wrote me a lovely card, too…unlike my mum who didn’t even send me a card.
Like this woman cares A LOT. She listens and she takes me, all of me, in. I feel it, I see it, and yet because the relationship is so deep and intimate now it touches on every sore bit I have when things shift and change. In fact, I text her after another disaster session yesterday and said, “I love you, but it would be so much easier if I didn’t.” I get that this is part of the work. It’s where I am at right now. We’re dealing with all the triggers and all the landmines, and I need to learn that change doesn’t signal disaster but my god it’s sending me through the crazy mill!
I absolutely love my squishmallow. I love Anita. And yet, hardly any time after my birthday just before Mother’s Day… I got up and walked out of a session … as you do. Talk about yo-yoing! It was another intolerable situation I found myself in. I had got myself worked up about that dream about the sofa, how I didn’t feel like Anita was ‘there for me’ anymore and then the thing about not letting me know if I could see her when she said she would had left me in a state because it felt like she just doesn’t get how impacted I am by disruption. It turned out she could reschedule but ahhhhhhh by the time I found that out it was too late – I was full blown shut down!…
AND YES I DO SEE HOW NIT-PICKY IT’S BECOME but this is what happens.
Trigger after trigger after trigger sees us going mental with the hypervigilance and every small thing becomes fucking massive. I know it, and yet, it’s so hard to step out of it when we’re so far out the window of tolerance – which in my case is painfully thin like a letterbox even at the best of times! I feel like I need some space to just settle and breathe and yet we keep hitting landmines. Yesterday Anita said, “it feels like one disaster after another with us at the moment, doesn’t it?” before enveloping me in a tight hug that was so very needed. The fact it had taken me half an hour to be able to get out the car because I felt so upset about a lack of acknowledgment about a card I had given her…well…fuckkkkkkkk.
Anyway, that ‘walk out’ session before Mother’s Day was another disaster. Another massive sense of disconnection. Another time when I couldn’t allow myself to let Anita close and in pushing her away fuelled the fire of feeling abandoned. She repeatedly asked me if I wanted a hug and I repeatedly said “NOOOOO”. I was keeping her at arm’s length, protecting myself but also, deliberately punishing her a bit, I think.
Parts of me are so hurt and so angry about what’s happened with the change to the therapy and my sense of her taking herself away, that I think there’s a bit of me that wants her to feel it and understand it. That’s new. Usually, my protective parts are all about keeping me safe and nothing about trying to have an impact on the other. But is it her, that I want to punish? No. Not really. It’s my mum. It’s my mum’s deficits and lack of care not Anita’s that are the problem. Anita isn’t my mum and yet she’s been more of a mum to me in the last two years than mine ever has been…and yet, my therapist, poor woman is bearing the brunt of someone else’s legacy. She didn’t create the injury but she’s feeling the full force of it.
In a recent session A told me that my silence and pushing her away can feel punishing sometimes and then she had started to cry. I was blown away. So often she’s said how she respects my protectors and the job they are trying to do so it was a revelation to hear that, actually, my self-protection can feel hard for her too, and that how I am impacts her. I mean I guess it must, but sometimes I think we forget our therapists are not robots (well, Em was!). I had said at the time my silence and shut down is self-protection not rejection, and she said that her having to look after herself was self-protection but I am experiencing it as rejection, too. Neither one of us is aiming to reject the other but that’s what it’s feeling like. FUCK!!! Being in relationship is hard isn’t it?!
Unfortunately, the day I walked out of session – or should I say what prompted me to do a runner was that my silence and difficulty saying whatever it was that I was feeling led the conversation round to the idea of control and Anita saying I have control and power in the relationship and that I can look after me. It felt like she was saying she was no longer prepared to look after me and set the fireworks off again. SHITTTTTT. Reader, that is not what she was saying at all, but it was enough for me to get up and leave. I couldn’t tolerate the pain of the disconnection anymore and ran out. FUCK. Man!!
I sat in my car crying for a bit and then text Anita and told her that I knew we were done and that I needed time to process it. I felt so desperate and lost and alone.
She replied an hour later with:
“If that’s your choice, I truly respect your decision. You need to do what feels best for you.”
Ouch. Ouch. OUCH!!!
That felt so much like the ending with Em. “Ok, thanks for letting me know.”
I knew Anita had a huge few days ahead, which is why we’d had to reschedule in the first place, and realised it was not the time to get into a huge back and forth. I might be triggered but I am not a complete asshole. I sensed she was not on her A game and whatever came next really could be make or break and it would be unfair to expect her to interact with me in the way I wanted when she had stuff on. I was triggered and she was elsewhere, so I decided to try and hold it for the weekend. That was not easy, I can tell you!
Weeks ago, my best friend had an idea that maybe I should catch myself in the moment when things are raw in voice notes rather than trying to write stuff down – partly because Anita is dyslexic and partly because I filter so much when I write (not here obvs!) and so a voice note means A can hear how I’m saying something and takes out that stuff where what’s written and what is seen don’t quite align.
So, I recorded a message to Anita on the Friday and sent it to her on the Sunday. She messaged me on Sunday night when I was down at the seaside. I’d been away for the weekend and trying to ‘not get bogged down in panic’ but I knew from the message she sent and that she hadn’t yet had chance to listen to it but was trying to open the door for me to come back (although it also felt defensive to me), so the next morning, when I woke up, I text and asked her to listen to it when she could and then text me when she had done it and then I’d come in – so I expected her to text at 10:20 as the message was 19 mins long!
I knew it was going to be hard to get to the session because I was drowning in shame and anxiety about how things had gone on the Thursday and how things have been since coming back from holiday. The message she had sent on Thursday felt like she’d checked out (but understandably so given what she had coming up) and I was struggling with that but also trying to tune into the Anita I know. Around 8:30am I got a message from A saying she’d listened to the message, and she ‘really hoped to see me’ and it felt like she was back and warm and basically ok! Phew!
I found the voice note was a really good way of saying what I needed to say in the moment. I was able to really hook into the issue but also let my mind go where it needed. I was able to be honest about how much losing the extra time felt, how hard I find it to ask for things in the first place, all kinds of stuff really- and it clearly landed as I hoped with A.
That session was a tough one, but massively connected/connecting. We talked through so much. Particularly about what happens in those awful states of shut down and what I need in those moments (Not to be told I can leave and have a choice!) but also when I run out or back myself into a corner I need her to give me a way back in, i.e the message she sent but with a caveat at the end “I’ll be here on Monday, I still care, and we can work through this if you want to”. There’s so much processing going on right now! Anita reiterated her commitment to the work and heard what I had to say and it felt ok…so you’d think that’d be the end of it wouldn’t you?
Hell no! We’re on the fifth round of the rollercoaster ride and everyone is nauseous! I want to get off!
Part of me is just watching this like a slow-motion car crash. I feel dizzy from how much stuff is going off. It’s like someone kicked over the dominoes! Another part is laughing and rolling their eyes. Like, I suppose it’s good that I feel safe enough to kick off and get upset and show my dissatisfaction and stamp my feet with A, where previously I’d sit with Em and be a ‘good girl’ and just dissociate instead…. and so that’s progress…but then the level of tantrum and upset is catastrophic and feels like I have been catapulted back into being a kid or a teen when I just want to be ‘normal’.
I’m trying hard not to judge myself too harshly or sink too deeply into the shame when it comes but it’s certainly not easy.
Right, so what else went wrong??!
Btw – sorry, this is so looooong – I should probably have broken it into separate posts but I would forget to schedule them and know I won’t get chance to come back to this for a while so we may as well do big rupture blog and then breathe! Not that anyone will read this anyway – but I need a record of the chaos!
So, of course a lot of this was happening around Mother’s Day…not a triggering time at all is it?! Weeks ago, before my holiday (which feels like a lifetime ago now), I saw a card in the shops for and I really wanted to give it to Anita – this was obviously way before the recent crap that’s gone off. I gave her a card last year and it was received well and so I bought it for her – it was more from the young parts than the adult so when it came closer to the time, this year, I felt scared and worried, and like she may not receive it well. I’d literally just ran out the session the previous week so I didn’t really feel I could go in a give her a card when we had been teetering on the edge of me walking away!
But, after the (latest) repair session I felt more connected and safer to express what I wanted. So I wrote out this message later in the week and took it to session on Friday just gone:
I saw this card ages ago and wanted to give it to you – and then everything went to shit recently and I didn’t because I thought you might see it as another example of me wanting more from you than you can give or me overstepping a boundary. But it’s not that. Sure, I wish I had a mum more like you and I feel sad that I don’t, but like last year I wanted to acknowledge, again, how grateful I am to you for all that you do for me and to thank you for the love and care that you show me week in, week out, year in, year out – especially at the times when I am really not deserving of it and am pushing you away.
You said on Monday that you were like a wall, that you were solid and not going anywhere and despite recent walk outs and tantrums more and more parts of me are beginning to see this – I must trust that solidity or there is no way I would feel safe enough tell you how things feel, have so many meltdowns, and generally lose my mind on loop! Things do still feel unsteady and it’s going to take time to adjust because when I wobble it’s like a full-on earthquake inside – but when I stop and take a step back and breathe, what’s left is a really huge sense of love and gratitude. I really just want to say thank you – for your patience, kindness, generosity, trying so hard to make me feel safe, all the cuddles, stories, presents, washing elephant…not giving up on me or shaming me…and giving me the best experience of mothering I have had. I love you x
And that felt really big- so vulnerable- after how it’s been the last few weeks. I gave it to Anita at the end of the session because it had taken that long to work through the catastrophe of the previous session, and she said she’d look at it over the weekend. Knowing how crap things have been lately I imagined she’d read that and go one of two ways: 1) everything is fine, she’d like the card and the sentiment or 2) it’d be too much, and she’d feel like she needs to pull away.
In the past when I have sent Anita things she would usually respond in some way whether it be a message, a gif, or sometimes a photograph of whatever it is I have given her.
Not this time.
It was radio silence all weekend. I knew she was going away because she’d told me and that had led to another complicating factor about something I had offered her that I don’t have time for now as we’re 6000 words in (SORRY!)! So because of this, I basically went into a massive panic over the weekend. Her silence seemingly confirming everything I was worrying about. Another retreat from me. I threw myself into housework and blitzed the place because I knew that if I stopped, I would fall apart. I’m absolutely knackered this week as a result but better than a complete emotional breakdown!
Because I had heard nothing from A, a big part of me was scared to go to the session on Monday. I felt like I was just going to be walking into the lion’s den of rejection. I felt so overwhelmed. I tried hard to talk myself down but my system was in bits. I could feel the internal tremor or my nervous system freaking out and it felt REALLY BAD. I arrived at Anita’s ten minutes before time and text her and told her I was struggling to get out the car.
This is the conversation that happened that day. I was so dissociated at points I don’t even know where the time went.
After half an hour I managed to get myself in a state where I could get out the car and into the house. I more or less collapsed into Anita’s arms on the doorstep and we had a massive hug. When I got into the room Anita was so kind and said she understood how hard it had been to come today. I told her I felt ill, and she moved over to me and wrapped me in a cuddle. I cried and cried and trembled and ugh it was painful. Anita thought I was upset about the other thing that’s too long winded to go into – and I was – but actually it was really the card that was the kicker. It was not knowing what she thought or felt about it.
It turned out Anita had rushed out on Friday and left her phone at home for the weekend which is why she hadn’t replied to a message I had sent on Friday and she was so sorry about it. We only had half an hour because of my inability to get into the room and with about five minutes to go I told Anita that I wasn’t all that upset about the thing she thought I was upset about. She stopped, and wondered what I was upset about.
A minute passed. And then I said, “did you read the card I gave you?” I felt Anita take in a deep breath and kind of freeze for a second. I knew instantly that it was a no. I felt such a rush of feelings: disappointment, sadness, shame. She told me she hadn’t. My system went off its tits again. I said, “Just put it in the bin, then”. Anita asked “Why?” and moodily I whispered, “Because it doesn’t matter”… when what I really felt and meant was “Because I don’t matter.” Right now everything feels like such a huge contrast to how it used to be and how it is now and I keep coming back round to the fact that I am no longer important enough to Anita to warrant her time.
I know that this isn’t the case…well part of me does…but there are so many parts struggling right now.
Anita then went onto tell me that she had opened the card and saw that there was a lot of writing in it and had put it away for later because she knew it would take her an hour to read it and make sense of it. That’s how dyslexic she is. I had no idea it was so bad. Hearing her be vulnerable and tell me how much she struggles and how much it takes out of her to write and read really hit home. If that card would be so big a challenge it made me realise how much time she must have spent trying to read stuff in the past for me. Instantly, I felt different. I then asked, “Was the voice note better?” and she said, “Yes, that was amazing because I could hear what you were saying and didn’t need to actually work out what the words are and what you mean.”
She went on to tell me that it wasn’t that she couldn’t be arsed to read my card it was because she physically hadn’t had the time over the weekend to give it the attention it needed. I felt a bit less disgruntled! She told me that none of this is about her not caring or not loving me or me having done anything wrong but that stuff in her life is making her have to really rejig and she knows people who have lost their marriages over the same thing.
Again, that isn’t easy to hear because I feel like I have lost so much lately. In therapy we can be selfish and ask for our needs to be met without considering the other too much – and yet here I am, and my therapist’s life is impacting my therapy – the boundaries have changed and the frame feels wobbly and my safe container feels like it can’t hold me how I need to be held. It’s tough, for sure.
I told Anita I could read her the card aloud if she liked, but we had run out of time by then. She told me she would find the time to read it before Friday but I am preparing myself to read it to her in the session because I know she is flat out. Before I got up to leave, I said, “It feels like you have taken yourself away from me.” Over recent weeks I have said this a lot and she’s kind of denied it or made out that nothing has changed, but finally she acknowledged it – but she reiterated that it wasn’t because of anything that I have done and her feelings haven’t changed.
So. There we are. That’s the last few weeks of chaos. And 7000 words. I think my undergraduate dissertation was only 8000! Lol.
I’ll get round to commenting on people’s blogs over the Easter break but right now I am drowning in work and this rupture! I am very aware that I haven’t actually done much thinking about this stuff here, and there’s a lot that can be said but mainly I think the thing I am trying to take away from this is that people change, lives change, but it doesn’t have to mean that everything is doomed even if it feels like it. At least, that’s what I am hoping. I think falling headlong into my trigger zone has been unfortunate, but it will and has opened up a lot of conversation about my early years and relationships with caregivers. If anything, this unfiltered shit show is giving Anita a deeper insight into the damage and hopefully we’ll find a way through.
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
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