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.
Hope you’re all hanging in there in this bloody bleak misery that is ‘post clocks going back knackeredness and lethargy’! I don’t know about you but, honestly, I am completely done in. I haven’t acclimatised at all to the time change and my poor brain and body just can’t get to grips with the dark evenings and working to what feels like the middle of the night when it is, in fact, only 8:30pm when I stop work. I hope something gives soon because I really don’t think I’ll make it to Christmas in one piece if it doesn’t!
Zoom isn’t doing me any favours, either. Having myself reflected back on screen – crikey – talk about tired-looking! I really need a sunshine break and about a month off from the day-to-day grind or, failing that, some makeup that I can put on with a trowel! LOL. I really need a permanent filter on my face. My brain hasn’t caught up with the fact that I’m not twenty five anymore and am, actually, creeping towards forty!
I realise that I am blogging really infrequently these days and I wonder, actually, if anyone’s still reading this blog very much anymore. I rarely look at the data but today I did, and the stats seem high but the engagement not so much. Social media success (not that’s what I want or am looking for) seems to be built around putting out lots of content and hitting some secret crap tick on algorithms to keep ‘current’ and ‘visible’. I just don’t do that, nor do I have the time to, but I know what I am like online, I think we’ve all be programmed to be drip fed regular content and when that content doesn’t come we go and look for it somewhere else.
Anyway, that’s just some random thoughts because this blog really hasn’t been for anyone but me, it’s been my personal account of the ups and downs of my healing journey in therapy over the last several years. I am delighted, of course, to have come across some fabulous people along the way and your support has been so welcome and valuable. I guess there’s a part of me just wondering where I go from here. I think it’s perhaps because WordPress updated my site today and took another year of subscription payment and I thought, ‘Wow, do I even want to blog for another year?’
I’ve been so aware that I don’t have time to really write ‘properly’ anymore. I bang stuff out rather than craft it like I used to in the early days, and I notice it. Lots of the people I follow have fallen away over the years, too, they just stop blogging and I wonder if that’s kind of just what happens? People get to a point where they’re healed enough or bored enough and go do something else with their time?! Therapy is not central to their existence anymore and so they don’t need to write about it. I don’t know.
I know that when I first started this blog, and I was right stuck in the thick of that agonising attachment pain ALL THE TIME, I mean literally ALL THE TIME and being triggered week in week out by my therapy that I found it really comforting to be alongside other people who seemed to be in the same boat and at similar points along their therapy and mental health journey as me. It made me feel less alone, for sure. I often wondered, though, where the people who had come out the other side of the process were? Where were those people who had put the time in and gone the distance with therapy and were ‘better’ or at least ‘better than they were at the start’? And maybe I just haven’t come across many of those people but it’s a shame as I think it gives us all hope to know that it won’t always be terrible and triggering and …all the stuff.
I guess I feel, a bit, like I am transitioning into that space a bit now. I know that a lot of what I write here comes when I have had something blow up in therapy or there’s a rupture of some kind, but, actually, a lot of the time things are smooth and fine. Like today, I am here because I know the blog is sort of shrivelling up and dying, and I want to check in, but there’s nothing much to report right now. I mean, I’ve just eaten half a packet of bourbon biscuits Anita and I are doing the work, but I’m not sure if there’s anything especially interesting happening that you guys would want to read about. (Actually, there’s a blog that I need to write about what I think is/has signalled the end of my eating disorder – and I think that is massive!…)
That’s the thing, you know?- drama is interesting, ruptures get us engaged, BUT smooth, easy, doing the work with a solid therapist where things are connected and contained isn’t all that exciting is it? Does anyone want to hear about that, really? I know, in the past, when I would read stuff about therapists physically holding their clients or giving them transitional objects or washing something for the client so it smelled like them, and there seeming to be a really solid, loving connection, I would find it really painful to read because I so badly wanted that from Em and she would not budge on her boundary.
In some ways it felt like I was self-harming reading that stuff. I used to get that stabbing pain in my solar plexus and it would feel like that massive mother wound was just bleeding out. The thing is, reading those posts from those bloggers also helped me to see that my needs weren’t wrong, and that actually they could be met I just wasn’t with the right therapist for my needs and in the wrong environment to start healing my wounding.
So, what I hope, more than anything, for those of you that have read along with my significant struggles over the years in the therapeutic relationship with Em, is that you can see that it can get better but sometimes things have to get worse first. Sometimes therapeutic relationships don’t work out how you want- it’s not your fault- and there is the chance of something better elsewhere you just have to be brave enough to search for it.
If therapy tanks with one therapist that isn’t necessarily a reflection on you. It might seem to be repeating a pattern from the past, (we’re the common denominator), and we sooooo don’t want that to be the case, so we keep bailing out the leaky boat and trying to be what the therapist wants us to be…but that’s the problem. It’s not about fitting yourself into someone else’s idea of how you should be or behave ESPECIALLY IN THERAPY THAT YOU PAY FOR!! Sometimes, then it’s better to jump ship, swim in the cold water for a bit, and get to shore because the swim is easier than you imagine.
It’s really the thought of the cold water and the currents that keep us desperately clinging on and bailing out water with our hands as bucket loads flood in…and I swear to you, you’ll get through that bit where you feel untethered and alone. Not being triggered all the time and held ‘stuck’ in that desperate state of the sinking boat is so much of a relief especially when you make it onto dry land and find someone who is fully in your corner and actually can do ‘unconditional positive regard’.
Right, I’ll leave that absolute crap of a metaphor up there, now!
But without sounding gushy, I really can see how far I have come in the last couple of years. The shift inside has been so massive and it has meant that my life feels so much more manageable (even if I am always tired!).
I feel like Anita and I have reached that really lovely place where we ‘know’ each other, it’s safe (SAFE?? OMG I know what safe feels like now!), and no matter what comes up we can work through it. I am not scared of conflict or ruptures anymore – because when they happen there is such a lot of learning and growth, and most importantly, healing that comes from them. All of me, all the parts, KNOW that Anita can handle my rage and my love and all the feelings in between and that she actually welcomes all of me and all of my feelings. I am safe to feel my feelings and express them with her. She isn’t in the least bit bothered by my messy, unfiltered, reactive feelings and that’s so bloody freeing. To know I can have a hissy fit and run out the door one week and still be welcomed with open arms in the very same moment is massive. It’s something that was never afforded me as a child, and certainly not in my last therapy.
I know that maybe what I have written mightn’t make sense because, clearly, I still get triggered and there are ruptures – but relationships aren’t smooth all the time. What I am trying to say is that even when my ‘stuff’ is triggered in relation to Anita and the youngest parts are freaking out – deep down I know that the relationship I have with A is built on solid ground and there’s nothing we can’t find our way through, and because of that I can let out what needs to come, all the pain and anger and jealousy and god knows what that’s there and that’s so helpful. Anita sees me, all of me, all of my wounding, and she cares for all of the parts – even the ones that are complete pains in the arse!
Anyway, I am rattling on about not much here and I’m not convinced any of it makes sense! – so I’ll go make a cup of tea and have a few more biscuits and ponder on the post about the end of a twenty year eating disorder.
PLEASE, someone, come and have words with my system because it is completely losing its shit at the minute!
Honestly, you just can’t make this stuff up… but as always, here’s the reality of life in the therapy room for RBCG. Brace positions!:
So, after my last post, last week, things were kind of limping along internally and then sort of conked out altogether because I had absolutely nothing left in the tank. It was certainly a relief when the weekend arrived because at least the immediate pressure of work was removed, and I could kind of do the ‘three more sleeps thing’ on Friday night counting down to Christmas seeing Anita!
I didn’t do very much at all over the weekend because I had a bit of a reaction to my flu jab and so just lay, wiped out, on the sofa for the entirety of Sunday! The young parts were upset and unsettled after what felt like an eternity away for A, and soooooo NOISY but I had nothing to give them because I was completely done in. I was literally willing the time away to get to Monday evening to reconnect with Anita and to be able settle things internally.
We’ve all been there, right?
So, imagine my joy (not) on Monday when I woke up and the protectors had come online. The child parts were still absolutely beside themselves but shielding them were the angry parts that didn’t trust Anita and were raging that she’d left me/us at all. Those protectors had been so absent for the duration of the break that it was a bit of a whiplash effect waking up to that internal narrative of A not caring, and what a waste of time therapy is anyway…
I got on with my day but by the afternoon I had a really strong sense of not wanting to go to my session that evening. I mean the child parts needed to be there, but the protectors and runners had other ideas.
I text Anita to confirm that we were still on for our evening session time and explained that I wasn’t really wanting to come. Or at least parts of me didn’t want to.
I think, now, what brought the protectors online was actually the need for connection with Anita. I know that sounds utterly bonkers because, actually, those protectors stop connection- but here’s the theory: the need for holding and containment for the child parts was so strong that the protective parts desperately wanted to save the young ones from the disappointment of that maybe not happening.
So often after a therapy break (with Em) the young parts have been so in need of care and love but it wasn’t forthcoming and so it set off that agony inside where it feels like you’re going to die from the pain of it all. Of course my system wants to save me from experiencing that ever again. Getting close to that acute feeling of abandonment and rejection feels like it’s going to annihilate me.
Anita’s responses to my texts were warm … but left me cold, somehow.
I just felt like something was amiss.
And it was me – my stuff – but could I get a way round the edge of it? Could I fuck!
Driving in the dark to therapy I decided to stop panicking and to just go and get what I so badly needed. Anita had indicated that everything was fine, so I just needed to lean into that and trust it. Stop putting obstacles in the way RBCG and just go see your therapist who cares!
As I walked up her driveway, I could feel those young parts soooooo ready for a hug almost launching themselves out of me and towards Anita.
Anita opened the door, greeted me, and smiled. I went on into the therapy room, sat down and that’s when it all started to go wrong.
“I will warn you that I have a cold” Anita said. “I’ve done an LFT and it’s negative, but it’s just a particularly horrible throat…You’ve struggled to come today?”
Sulkily I replied, “I didn’t want to come at all” then whispered, “Can we turn the big light off?” The main room light felt too bright and jarring and I just wanted the low glow of the side lights and to relax into the space with A. Anita got up, turned off the light and put on the softer table lamp.
As she sat back down she said, “I’m keeping my distance because of the cold, as well…”
And that was it. EVERYTHING went mental inside. It was instant. I felt like I was going to burst into tears right there but, of course, externally I looked fine. No reaction at all. Poker face. Don’t let her see how upset you are!
‘Distance’ is triggering at the best of times but after a break it’s the very last thing I need. I can’t recall a session in the last year where Anita and I have not had any physical contact and here I was so desperate to be close to her, to cuddle and she seemed to be saying that it was off the cards. It was just too much for my system to cope with.
So many thoughts were running through my head all at the same time. My body was in a full on panic and I started to tremble. I can’t really explain how awful it was – there aren’t words. But I felt completely devastated. The protectors inside were lacing up their shoes and ready to bolt. I felt so abandoned and rejected in that moment. It was another episode of having my face glued up against the sweet shop window and being told I couldn’t have anything having waited so patiently to be there.
And yes – I know that this is just a cold, and Anita trying to be careful and not a deliberate rejection – but the young parts DID NOT UNDERSTAND that at all. To them it’s another mother who wouldn’t come anywhere near them when they needed her and it’s massively MASSIVELY triggering.
Totally oblivious to what was now happening inside for me, Anita went on, “What do you need from today? What can help you feel more settled?”
My brain was screaming “I need a hug” but instead I replied a barely audible, “I don’t know.”
“What’re your fears?” Anita asked.
It felt like I was being bombarded with questions and we’d only been in the room thirty seconds.
With a hint of anger I said, “Will you just stop talking to me.”
“Yeah, of course” and Anita sat quietly. I could see she was looking at me in the dark but I was staring into the corner of the room, unable to make any kind of eye contact.
The level of overwhelm I was experiencing was off the chart. The room was so gently lit that Anita had no idea that I was shaking. Where usually she’d have noticed and reached out in some way, I was instead left feeling isolated and abandoned.
A tiny child’s voice whimpered, “I want to go home.”
In that moment things felt so bad, the distance between Anita and I felt so great, and knowing I couldn’t get what I needed from her the only option available seemed to be to leave. It was the last thing I wanted but it would be less painful that sitting apart from Anita when I had already been apart for a week.
Anita replied, “You can go home if you want. The choice is yours.”
Look, we all know that therapists have to respect our autonomy and all that jazz, but in that situation, it is completely the wrong thing to say (well for me anyway). I might have been seemingly pushing away but actually when I say that kind of thing, it’s really a desperate call for connection. When we’ve not seen each other for ages being told I can leave is … well…it feels like she doesn’t care and it feels abandoning…EVEN THOUGH IT IS NONE OF THOSE THINGS!
Anita continued, “I will never force you to be where you don’t want to be.”
I could feel myself starting to head down into that tunnel of dissociation. Anita didn’t seem to get it. She had no idea that I had been triggered into such a deep place of doom and all within the first two minutes of being in the room. She had no idea as she sat on the couch beside me that I felt like I was being rejected and pushed away by her.
I could feel everything kicking off internally and I felt like I was going to fall apart. Not just cry but literally lose my fucking mind in there. I had held on so tightly over the week just to get to be with her and it was unravelling at a speed of knots.
“What part of you brought you here today?” Anita wondered at the same time that I repeated more angrily, “I want to go home.” I quickly put my shoes on, grabbed my keys and phone, and headed for the door “I don’t want you to go home…” Anita replied but it was too late, I was already half way out the door.
“I’m going home.”
I was out the room, down the stairs, and out the front door in seven seconds. My runners were channeling Usain Bolt.
This is new, right? Leaving. Never have I ever run out of a session. I’ve always sat and endured that physical agony of the young parts feeling alone and rejected – but I just can’t do it anymore. I cannot be in that place. It’s too triggering.
I can hear on the recording as I get off the driveway and into the dark that I let out this really pained sob as I burst into tears.
It’s awful to hear it back.
My car was parked round the corner from Anita’s house. I was in a right mess. There was no way I could drive in that moment so I just sat in the driver’s seat with my head in my hands and my knees tucked up into my chest. I basically curled up into ball and trembled and cried.
I was devastated.
How could it have gone so badly?
I sat in the dark for about five minutes – although it felt like seconds – I just completely lost time. And then reached for my phone. I felt really stupid but also really really lost and small.
As you can see from the exchange it felt like the universe was conspiring against us this session. Just as I had got back to my car, all the street lights had gone out and there’d been a powercut at Anita’s. I so badly wanted to go back to the house but also just felt completely stuck, like I said in the message, ‘paralysed’. I guess I was in a freeze response.
I just sat there, unable to move. About five minutes after Anita’s last message to me, a torch shone on the path next to my car door that was still wide open. I hadn’t even been able to shut the fucking car I was in such a state! I hadn’t heard the footsteps and yet despite being down a side road in complete darkness I didn’t react…which is unusual as I am so jumpy normally.
I looked up and there she was in the pitch black, and with a concerned but warm expression. I put I looked away and put my head back in my hands. Anita bent down and said something – and I have no idea what that is because the whole next bit of this isn’t recorded and I was so dissociated I can’t really recall much of the detail!
She asked if I wanted to talk and come back with her or maybe sit in the car together? I couldn’t move and told her that she could come in the car. My car is like bona fide special ecosystem of its own right now and I genuinely can’t believe that it had to be that day when this happened, when usually it’s tidy and smells nice and doesn’t look like trash can!
Anita was incredibly soft and calm and reassuring. My head was still in my hands and I was curled up in a ball but I could feel her even if I couldn’t look at her. She reached out and put her hand on my leg and told me that we’d be ok and could I explain what had happened?
I said she didn’t understand. That she’d never understand because she doesn’t have this wounding. That she has no idea how painful it is to feel rejected and abandoned. She said, “So teach me about it.”
I told her how her ‘keeping her distance’ had triggered me because I had missed her sooooooooooo much whilst she was away and that I really just needed a cuddle that night and it felt like she didn’t want me anywhere near her.
Anita was incredible. She refuted that and said that was not the case at all, of course she wanted to be with me and near me. She heard everything I had to say, which wasn’t a lot in terms of words but was enough to explain what had just happened. She said that telling me about the cold was not her telling me I couldn’t be near her and how in the past she’d told me the same and I have said that I didn’t mind, and we still ended up hugging so what was different?
I couldn’t articulate it in the moment, but I thought about it after and wrote it in a message yesterday which I have attached below.
I remember saying that I lose sight of her care and think things have changed and she replied with “RB, I wouldn’t come walking out in the pitch black in a power cut for anyone else.”
I think this really penetrated through to the parts that needed to hear it and Anita said lots of stuff about our relationship and how solid it is. I realised as she sat beside me in the dark that she really is my rabbit that listens. She is there, always, patient and calm waiting for me.
I wish I could remember the detail but I know that time, albeit in a completely random setting really did a lot of good. I was disappointed that I had completely lost my shit and not got what I needed so far as the physical holding goes, but emotionally Anita was right there with me. We are definitely a team!
Anyway, the long and short of it is that it’s all ok. We got me sorted enough to be able to drive and for her to leave. She asked me if I wanted a hug – which is impossible in the car – so I said, yes, got out the car and we had a really long hug in the dark.
Anita said something like, “I’ll look forward to seeing you on Monday and it really is ok” and I didn’t respond. “I’ll see you on Friday?” she repeated. “I don’t know,” I groaned.
There was so much conflict and shame and all kinds of stuff running round my brain. Deep down I knew we were absolutely fine – but there were a lot of parts still having their moment to speak.
The next morning I asked Anita is she had time for a ten minute check in before Friday and she offered me a time that evening:
I had a bit of time over my lunch break to think and I wrote and sent this message:
I’ve been trying to think about what happened last night and why but it’s not straightforward but all comes down to feeling disconnected and rejected and all that stuff.
Adult me tried really hard to stay away and not bother you while you were away on holiday and communicate in a way that wasn’t super needy, or too frequent, despite really feeling rubbish and like things were really not ok. By the middle of the week – woeful Wednesday – it felt really bad. I kept shaking and it was just horrid. If I had texted you what I wanted/felt over the week it would have been more like this, than stuff about IKEA:
I miss you and I’m starting to feel like you’re not real.
I’ve been having lots nightmares and feel really unsettled and shaky.
It feels like it did when I was little, and I’m scared that when you come back it’ll be different or you won’t want to see me anymore and I feel frightened.
I really need a cuddle.
Are we still ok?
Can we read stories on Monday?
I’ve been really sick and dizzy feel really clingy and like everything is too much but really want to see you
I feel really exhausted from holding all this and feel sad and overwhelmed but hope that we can reconnect when we see each other
All…the…feelings…are too much
And so, what I really needed last week was some kind of connection for that young part who worries so much about things going wrong or being forgotten about. Adult me can cope with you being away but the wounded child parts that struggle so much with disruption can’t, and it felt like you didn’t see/remember them. And I really get that this is me being mental because you did send stuff and I can see that now…but…ugh… I just can’t explain it really. I just really struggle with breaks and when it feels that bad it’s hard to hold onto anything positive.
So yesterday felt really high stakes. I really just needed for all that painful young stuff to be seen, held, and contained because I was wobbling really badly. When I haven’t seen you for a while, I struggle to hold onto all the evidence that has gone before that actually you do care, that I am not a massive pain in the arse (eek…think maybe that’s changed!), and that you do want to see me. I know you sent me that text yesterday telling me that you did want to see me and that you could understand how I was feeling but I was so far down my spiral of doom that it kind of bounced off.
When I arrived, I was so tired and so overwrought – it’s like the weight of the last week just caught up with me and I just wanted to be close to you. When you said you were ‘keeping your distance’ it felt instantly like you were pushing me away and it just lit the petrol that sets off that massive fire where everything is about to burn to the ground.
I get that wasn’t what you meant but that young part that is so used to being pushed away or disregarded got really triggered and really fast. I was totally gone into that place that is terrified. I know in the past when you’ve said something similar, I have said that I didn’t care about the cold, but that’s when I am walking into a situation that feels stable and safe…and after a break it just doesn’t feel like that. I am automatically looking for evidence that something has changed or gone wrong, and this seemed to be it. It felt like you wanted to be far away from me.
The internal reaction to what you said was immense. I felt sick and my heart started racing. I don’t think you noticed, but I was shaking. It felt absolutely horrific. Sitting there having a full-on trauma response to you staying away from me was too much. I had to leave. Staying in that situation was too upsetting and that’s why I ran away. I wanted so much to see you and instead it felt like I was being held at arms length and that’s really hard for me.
I know none of this is what was actually happening. I get it. But I couldn’t see that at the time.
I felt so dissociated last night in the car. I don’t remember much of what happened or what was said because I was so physically affected by what had happened. I really really didn’t want to be like that or for that to happen and I am sorry. I am embarrassed, too. I thought that I had a handle on this stuff but lately it seems like I am so easily triggered by small things. I don’t know if it’s progress that I can at least tell you how it is or whether I am just hopeless.
Thank you for coming and sitting with me in the dark.
On Friday even if you are a snot machine please can we have cuddles because I feel like I have been run over by a bus.
I miss you.
The conversation we had on Monday night was holding and connecting and so I’ll leave this there because, yet again, it’s an epic length and the editing tool is not working properly on here today! Sometimes I really feel like this 😉
Is it just me, or do you find that the moment you suggest that things might be going well and feel better for you, that the universe has a funny way of kicking you back down to earth and reality, wiping that smug look off your face?
It’s not really that bad – not at all- I’m being dramatic, but there is a bit of an irony in what’s happened since I last posted here about being ‘fine but not fine’. I was saying something about how happy and ‘present in the moment’ I had been, and how I now feel like I have now got some kind of energetic boundary around me that has meant I haven’t been drained dry and have a bit of internal space.
That’s still the case – big win.
As well as that, I was saying how despite getting a bit of a sense that things with Anita aren’t quite right (like she’s maybe backing away a bit) ultimately, I feel ok because I know that the foundation our relationship is built on is sound enough to get through whatever might be at hand or in play. This, again, felt like massive progress. I guess, really, what I was trying to say is I feel a bit more resilient and secure…even if there’s rumblings of something not quite right.
And that’s still the case too…but was put to the test in a big way recently. I’ve been waiting to write because I wanted there to be some clear distance on it all and for things not to be ‘live’ in the moment so that’s why I’ve been AWOL again.
Last time I was here, I mentioned that I had text Anita on the Friday after our session indicating that the young parts were really struggling with how she’d delivered news about her upcoming breaks (groan) and that because there’d been radio silence some of the parts inside were really starting to kick off…
Here’s what came next:
I should probably preface this by saying I was massively premenstrual when this all happened. 😉
By the time Sunday bedtime rolled around I was properly unsettled about what was going on/not going on with Anita. I’d heard absolutely nothing from her all weekend and had had plenty of time to brood on the situation – as well as get tangled up about the breaks that were coming. Even though the session on Friday had been ‘technically fine’, my gut just sensed something was amiss.
Usually, when we’ve had no contact for a while, A will send me a text the night before our session to say she’s looking forward to seeing me.
That didn’t happen.
My brain started spiralling into worst case scenarios…’I’m too much’, ‘she’s bored of me now’, ‘she wants to get away from me.’…
I slept terribly on Sunday evening and just felt utterly shite when I woke up on the Monday morning. The parts of me that fear abandonment and rejection were really activated, and the angry protective parts were also pumped and ready for conflict. Whilst the young parts of me desperately wanted to see Anita, there were enough parts that didn’t want to be anywhere near her if she was so able to leave them in distress.
(Remember I said I was hormonal?!)
All I wanted to do was crawl under my duvet and lie in the dark because of course, I was starting to get the tell tale cramps that indicate my period is about to start.
(It was a really top day!)
Obviously, being a mum of two primary school aged kids, this couldn’t happen. I had the school run to do…but after that I thought I’d just come home and be a teenager as well as mope about with tummy ache. Why bother driving to see someone who doesn’t care if young parts are falling apart and doesn’t keep to the contract on this type of contact, anyway?
I text Anita first thing in the morning when I woke up, did the school run, and then picked up her message when I got home and was sat on my driveway.
Here is the string of messages and unfolding disaster #rupture that happened all from the comfort of my driver’s seat (I literally couldn’t leave my car I was so upset and angry!):
As you can see the shit hit the fan in a spectacular way. I fully lost my mind in the space of a few minutes, didn’t I?!
Part of me had hoped, no, expected that Anita would respond to my first message with a bit more curiosity – as she has done in the past if I’ve expressed a reluctance to come to session. I never cancel sessions at the last minute or don’t turn up. I am the person who hates breaks and disruption, remember? So, any mention of not attending when it’s not because of sickness or something is a huge message from me.
The angry teen who believes people are shit and inconsistent and neglectful and all the negative things took Anita’s response, ‘Of course that’s no problem. Hope you’re OK xx’ as evidence that she really just didn’t care whether I was coming or not, and was happy to be away from me, further confirming the sense of distance and withdrawal I had been feeling recently. I get that it’s friendly, kind even…but I just couldn’t get my head round the fact that she just didn’t even wonder what was going on especially given I’d sent the message on Friday about not being ok. It’s like she just was completely misattuned.
I couldn’t work out what had happened or why, but this just wasn’t the Anita I know and love – and it scared me, so I got a pre-emptive jab in first. I fired off the next bit ‘No I’m not ok but that tells me everything I need to know’ (so mature RB – first class!)…and look how quickly things went south.
Anita’s message about being ‘confused’ set light to my petrol drenched rage and that was it. Off I went into my doom spiral. Was she really that fucking stupid?! Could she not scroll back to the message I had sent her on Friday and join some dots about why I might be staying away?
‘Only having a little (large) meltdown about breaks… next time can you tell me about it first and give me paper/dates later. I’ll explain on Monday, but the formal tone of the note just really jarred something internally – and whilst adult me is totally fine, the little parts just aren’t at all.’
Could she not see that zero acknowledgment of the young parts’ distress is basically like a red rag to a bull where my protectors are concerned? I do completely get that I said I would explain on Monday but actually we’ve agreed how we communicate in this situation and radio silence is not part of that. If I’ve been vulnerable enough to say I am struggling, it’s hideous to be left with that. And sure, I get it, outside contact is a minefield, and a lot of therapists don’t do it, but Anita and I have contracted for outside communication. We have agreed how to respond to messages from young parts – and that can be simply an emoji or a GIF – it doesn’t have to be a huge dialogue.
But that didn’t happen.
Anyway, Anita’s messages about being human and taking time off stung. It felt like a pushback. It felt like she was saying she needed time off from me (because I was so triggered by this point). And then the stuff about not knowing what to disclose just felt crap because we spoke at the beginning of this therapy about my antenna and how I know when things are off because I have had to be alert my whole life, so that it’s best to keep me in the loop – not specifics but just if there’s something up then let me know so I don’t automatically think there’s something wrong with me, or between me and her causing the sense of disconnection.
I was properly raging as the messages came in and terrified too.
And so what did I do?…I burnt the fucking house down…
I could see myself typing the messages and thinking ‘Fuck…you’re going down a path, here, RB’ but I just couldn’t stop myself.
Everything Anita responded with pissed me off further.
Something switched inside, and I had this epiphany where I realised that I didn’t have to let things go the way they seemed to be going. I didn’t need to react like this (from a position of hurt and fear). I remembered that Anita wasn’t Em. And I realised that whatever was happening wasn’t coming from Anita on her top form. I needed all the parts to calm down a bit!
Anita really struggles with writing because of her dyslexia so this interaction was her under pressure trying to get it right, but getting it wrong. She wasn’t trying to hurt me, and deep down beneath my hormonal rage and my young parts’ distress, I knew that. I’d been sensing something wasn’t quite right for weeks and here was confirmation…I just really hoped that the something not quite right didn’t involve me…although it clearly has crept into my therapy now and needed to be dealt with.
So, whoever had the moment of clarity stopped that unravelling via text, told the young parts to put their seatbelts on, and sent the message that I wasn’t doing this all by text. I started the car and arrived at Anita’s at 10:35am.
As I drove over to Anita’s I had some time to really think and calm myself down. I was angry and upset about what had happened, but actually it wasn’t a huge, big ‘end the therapy’ deal. It was just the cumulative effect of small episodes of feeling left or rejected playing out and my young parts reacting to that (my work!!).
Somewhere deep down I knew that Anita does not ever deliberately reject me and generally makes a huge effort to help me feel safe in our relationship. So, when I arrived on her doorstep the young parts were back in their box (to an extent) and my ‘let’s look at what’s going on’ head was firmly screwed on. I basically knew that things would be ok…because this is Anita and me, after all, and we are solid enough… just wobbling in that moment!
Anita opened the door, I looked at her, could see she was absolutely done in but could see immediately that there was absolutely nothing wrong with us – she was still A – and we hugged for what felt like a long while before we went into the therapy room.
What came next was really deeply powerful, healing, intimate work.
Anita sat down on the sofa and I sat down beside her. I reached out and held her hand. She looked at me and I met her gaze, (how I managed to do this entire session with total eye contact – I’ll never know, but it was so connecting!). Her voice wavered as she started to speak, “I’m not ok – I didn’t know – I’m sorry – I didn’t know how overwhelmed I was until I had a meltdown on Friday, turned my phone off and ran away for the weekend” and she began to cry.
She then went on to tell me that the dynamic between us mustn’t change, that she knows I am a giver but I cannot look after her because it won’t be healing for me but that she thinks we need to talk about what’s going on because she’s hurt me and she didn’t even realise how badly until that morning.
She told me that she realised I picked up that something was wrong with her long before she did – because I pick up on everything – and she can’t believe after so many years in this line of work, and in supervision, and personal therapy that she’d been blindsided and her self-awareness had tanked around what has happened for her. We laughed a bit about this through her tears.
She noticed her tissues were missing, which I teased her about, smiling, saying she’s really crap at her job today (!). I said how sometimes our brains don’t let us see what’s wrong when we are stuck in a situation that we can’t get out of. Awareness is great but it’s not so great when you know what’s up but are powerless to change it – which is kind of what’s going on with Anita. Basically, ignorance is bliss sometimes…well, until you have a meltdown, and everything comes rushing to the surface and fucks everything up!
Anita thanked me for coming and apologised for hurting me. She said she hadn’t even realised she was withdrawing but sees know that she must have been. Over the course of the session, she must have apologised ten times and reiterated over and over that it wasn’t anything to do with me and that we were fine but that she was so sorry for hurting me and that she hasn’t been functioning as well as she hoped and thought she was.
At one point she said, “I wouldn’t hurt you for the world – I’d never do this on purpose.” The quality of our interaction was soooo, I don’t know how to put it….raw and open? Stripped back and honest. Basically there was no bullshit – just two people in a room trying to work out what was going on and how to make it better.
We spoke at length about the chain of events that had led to me having my big meltdown that morning and she listened carefully and understood where I was coming from and really took on board what I was saying. What felt so brilliant, without writing out our conversation verbatim, was how able I was to express my feelings even in the face of hers. I didn’t feel like I needed to protect her from me and my feelings – because she’d told me that I didn’t need to look after her.
When she asked me how I was feeling after hearing what she had to tell me, I sat there, looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m not happy, but I do get it…” and explained why I was so hurt and upset about the last 72 hours or so. That would never ever have happened with Em. Not only would she not ask me about this stuff – ruptures were left festering – but the times when I did try and explain my feelings, she’d shut me down and respond from a defensive position which just silenced me and sent me off into dissociation. Basically, whatever came up between us was my fault, my reactions were disproportionate, and she would die on the hill that she was right – the all-knowing therapist.
I mean the rupture around the ‘like a tick’ comment when referring to my young parts should never have ended in a termination – certainly not one that she initiated -but her unwillingness to see how much she’d hurt me and to talk it through without shaming me and hearing how I experienced it really demonstrated how incapable Em was of dealing with ruptures (or being a therapist, actually!). I mean she actually said, “I stand by that comment” in our final session…WTAF?! …but I am not here to talk about that! (again!)
Anita, by contrast, is so good at listening, and taking responsibility for her part in things. After we’d talked A LOT and cleared so much up I said, “I’m sorry I lost my mind today” and she responded by taking her hand out of mine and holding her arms open and pulling me into a tight hug and saying, “I am so sorry that I let you down. I can see now how I could have done things differently and how it would have only been a small change but would have made a huge difference to how it felt for you. I am sorry. Ruptures can be healing, though, it’s a different way of learning. If the grounding is right healing can happen when things go wrong but if it’s not right, then it can’t. What’s happened today can feel healing in itself, although it’s come about in a horrible way, and it doesn’t probably feel like it right now. But it’s showing your little ones that ruptures don’t have to be the end of the world, and that you can actually get closer to someone through a rupture by repairing it.”
And that is how it felt. The time we had spent in that session really being open, vulnerable, and honest was so connecting and healing. I can’t explain it really without giving lots of the detail away, but the details don’t really matter because it’s how it felt not just what was said. It felt like Anita and I have met each other on another level again and it’s strengthened our bond rather than weakened it.
I murmured “I love you” into her chest and she echoed the words back to me and thanked me for coming in person even when I had wanted to run away.
I laughed, “That’s progress right?!”
“Absolutely” she giggled.
I told her about the Elmo in the fire GIF and how that’s what happens when my parts get triggered … then it was time to go. We got through a lot in 35 minutes!
Since then, we’ve done a lot of work both in and out of the room. There has been plenty to process around what happened that day but we’re doing it, steadily. Anita has been very present and responsive and things are starting to feel more settled again…but there’s loads to write about in the next post because when these things happen it filters down through so many parts of ourselves and there are lots of reactions. The good news is, adult me has it under control and the bulk of the rupture is repaired.
Well, it’s been a while since I have blogged – in fact, it’s probably the longest I have ever gone without writing in any shape or form whatsoever. There’s no real excuse for it, I have had the time (it’s just been the school summer holidays here in the UK), but I just haven’t had the inclination to write. Almost every time I have thought about sitting down at the laptop, I have had a massive internal block, like something or someone inside puts up a massive barrier and so I haven’t bothered pushing it.
Instead of writing, I have sat in the garden, taken the kids to the park, met up with friends, gone for ice cream or to the beach or the woods, or done a million other things. I’ve even sat outside in the middle of the night under a blanket watching shooting stars!…or… I’ve simply done nothing at all…and it’s been great!
There’ve been days, like today, where I have thought I would actually like to write, where I have had stuff to say, and then I’ve procrastinated with the laptop turned on beside me and found other things to do like scroll through Insta, Twitter, Facebook etc on loop (!). I just haven’t managed to get my fingers typing. I guess, it’s probably something about how writing usually just flows for me and if I’m not in that space I find it quite arduous. I spend so much of my time teaching people how to write that I don’t want to have to think about the process when I am actually writing…or trying to find something to say.
The other thing I have noticed is that I have really struggled to read other people’s blogs. It’s not because I am not interested or don’t care – I am and I do…I just couldn’t. So I apologise if I haven’t commented on posts and have been AWOL.
I’m not entirely sure what is going on with me, to be honest. When I sit and try and look inside myself it’s like a vacuum – space – it’s just quiet – still – dare I say it, peaceful…… well, no…that’s not entirely correct…there is some noise from some of the parts…but I have largely been able to switch away from it (and them) and have been able to focus on other things not getting dragged into that mess… which is actually so refreshing.
I honestly don’t know if this is progress, or just another type of dissociation. I hate that I second guess myself like this. It’s like I don’t want to say all this positive stuff and it end up being too good to be true and then end up spectacularly ending up flat on my face in a few weeks (hours) and everyone rolling their eyes – like “uh huh, there she is, the nutter is back!” I suppose it doesn’t really matter what it is right now, because however I have achieved it, I finally have some clear space around and inside of me. Rather than feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and feeling like I am being crushed in a vice, I feel like I have a little bubble of space around me that is preserving my energy but allowing me a bit of freedom to stretch out and unfurl, too.
This newfound space has been especially apparent this week as I have gone back to work. Although I am tired (OMG I am soooo tired!) and have had some students really trying to push my buttons, I don’t feel like I am having my life force drained from me. I guess, what I am clumsily trying to articulate is like I feel like I might have got myself some kind of energetic boundary installed (finally!). I am not taking on other people’s stuff in the way I have previously and also not letting them take from me. I don’t mean that I am not caring or totally detached, more that I have plugged my leaky bucket and am retaining some of the energy that I need to function for myself which actually means I function better for others, too.
Basically, I am ok enough, and although things are happening (which I’ll get to in a minute) I feel like I have one foot in the process and another on the outside which is allowing me to get on and do things rather than be completely derailed – which is absolutely what would have happened in the past with any hint of stress in the therapeutic relationship… y’all know why I am here blogging today, right?! Don’t worry, the drama is coming soon!
The end of the summer holiday was really really good. I did some brilliant fun things with my wife and kids and made some awesome memories. The last Friday of the holidays we went to totally fabulous place with an inflatable assault course on water and had a blast. It’s the sort of place where you just let go and immerse yourself in the madness. I honestly haven’t had that much fun since I travelled the world in 2005. I felt so free, so full of life….and joy.
Joy??? What is joy?!!
My best friend from university came to stay on Saturday and we spent a fab 24 hours putting the world to rights, sitting in the sun on bean bags, incense burning, eating and drinking, and then retreating into the hot tub to star gaze in the evening. Again, it was another great day and really highlighted how lucky I am to have sound people in my life with whom I can be completely myself and relax with.
Then, last Monday, we took a trip to Harry Potter Studios and had such a magical time. I kept welling up, I was so bloody happy – like my entire system was utterly in its element – I was in my element. I kept stopping and thinking how great everything was. I guess, for the first time – maybe ever – I was able to be completely in the moment and not feel like I was on the outside looking in, or worse, not even there. My mind wasn’t wandering or fixating on stuff. I just enjoyed being present, experiencing life, having fun…
Part of me is so pleased to report this – I’m 38 FFS and maybe, finally, getting a bit more settled…I just wish I could have been like this years ago when I was doing so much amazing stuff and couldn’t really take it in. Oh well, small steps.
What was really a huge milestone, too, was choosing to do this stuff at a time when I would usually have had therapy with Anita. In the past, I would have really not wanted to book anything that would mean missing a therapy session. The insecure attachment I have/had just wouldn’t allow it. It’s bad enough when my therapist/s go away (more on this later, too) but I certainly wouldn’t have wilfully taken myself away from a session because the fallout from that would be too huge and destabilising.
But I did, this time.
I guess I know Anita is there. I know that if I go away or she goes away that she’s there to come back to – that the relationship will survive disruption. I mean there’s been a lot of disruption in the last 20 months. The world won’t collapse if I miss a session or two (Ha…you should hear what the little ones are saying to that!! “Who are you trying to kid, we’re in meltdown here, you gloating cow head and we don’t want Anita to go on her breaks in October and December and we’re not Ok!”).
I suppose what I have just started to take steps into, albeit tentatively, is going out and living my life instead of living from one therapy session to the next. I absolutely need my therapy. I really do benefit from my routine. Twice a week sessions is the sweet spot. And I do not like disruption – I wrote about how unsettling it was recently when A had to cancel a session due to sickness so I am not a bloody pro by any stretch of the imagination, I can’t just take it or leave it all the time. BUT…I can survive a bit of change and disruption…especially if I am doing something fun. And that is massive. Really massive. When I was doing all the things last week I occasionally thought of Anita and how I was looking forward to telling her about what I had done but there wasn’t any desperate missing her…in those moments. There wasn’t the big gaping sore hole #motherwound in my solar plexus screaming out in pain. There were a few bits of that this week as life returned to normal, though so I’m definitely not out the woods where that is concerned.
Yeah, you just read ALL of the above right. Don’t worry. It’s not some imposter having gained access to this blog – it’s still me – just maybe the budding version of a new me. I bloody hope so – anyway. What’s brought about this change, I wonder? I have to say that I think a good part of this more solid footing is down to the work I have been doing with Anita and K over the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a colossal mess (highlighted after Friday’s session), but I am not quite a big a mess as I was when Em terminated me in February 2020.
I really feel like the attachment work I have been doing is paying off. I can, a lot of the time, bring Anita to mind when I am not with her. Even the distressed child parts are getting a little more secure…which is amazing. As I say, sometimes it’s a complete shit show but there are glimmers of improvement. Even when I am doubting everything and feeling like things aren’t safe and a sham I can look back at the evidence to the contrary and generally talk myself around quite quickly. I can talk to those parts who are so upset and angry now, and tell them that it’s ok and explain why it’s ok.
I am very very aware that this is slow process and can be like a dance of two steps forward one step back. But I do think it’s important to celebrate small wins.
Another thing that’s jolted me into another space is that my childhood best friend passed away a couple of weeks ago – and suddenly life feels really fragile again. Not in an “OMG everything is dangerous” kind of a way, but in an “I’m only here once so let’s fucking do this!!” So that’s what I am attempting to do.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to be plain sailing, I’m not dim, and this was highlighted on Friday when Anita told me she had some breaks lined up.
For Fuck’s Sake…
I’ve just said how well I’ve coped with MY being away. It is an entirely different proposition when SHE is away and I am still here…and I want to be with her!
See, here I am, the RBCG you all know and love! Lol!
Over the last few weeks there’ve been some small rumblings inside from the young parts about the therapy. It’s hard to put my finger exactly on what’s been wrong other than a feeling in my gut that Anita is slightly backing away, maybe. There is no evidence of this whatsoever in the sessions – they are as holding and containing as ever – but outside them it’s felt like she’s taken a step back. But then this might be because she was sick and a few other disruptive things have happened.
We had that difficult conversation about outside contact a while back where she explained that writing was hard and that she hadn’t been responding because it was challenging. We agreed at that point that sending a GIF or an emoji would be fine because it’s really about settling the young parts anyway. And largely she has done that…but also at times she hasn’t. And that’s where it gets difficult for my system.
Consistency is so important for me and so any hint of change or reduction in contact can feel abandoning or rejecting and so set things into a panic internally. I have been sitting with this for a while and not said anything because when I think about it, it’s probably nothing. Most people would probably scan through my WhatsApp messages and see no difference at all. It is that subtle a change, but I feel it. And also people’s lives ebb and flow and their availability changes…I get it…just some parts don’t. And they’re the ones that need the therapy most!
I guess I will need to talk about it tomorrow, now, though, because Friday’s session has set off a landmine which might not have felt so massive if I wasn’t already brooding about the perceived change in our communications.
So, I was really looking forward to seeing Anita on Friday having not had my session on Monday. I had really missed her in the later part of the week and felt like she wasn’t there…ugh…and I felt a bit anxious going to the session. I really just wanted to go in and give her a hug on the doorstep, reconnect, and maybe read some stories on Friday. But I hadn’t even been in there thirty seconds, I’d barely sat down, when she told me she was taking some time off and handed me a piece of paper with the dates on.
I didn’t even look at the note and placed it face down beside my phone.
The armour that goes on when there has been a break, that I so desperately wanted to take off, stayed on, and I stayed in False Adult for nearly an hour. It was painful. Anita did acknowledge that she never knows when to tell me about her breaks but I was already so into ‘pretend that it’s ok’ that the conversation that I really needed to have, that the young parts needed couldn’t be had.
What I needed when I arrived was to land in the room. To reconnect. But instead it felt like the welcoming space was about to be taken away again so what was the point in getting comfortable? I felt a million miles away from Anita. She was sitting on the same sofa as me but she may as well have been on the moon.
It’s hard to really put into words how this stuff feels and those of you with complex trauma won’t need me to explain. Sometimes that need to be close is so overwhelming that my system shuts down, I am quiet, and it’s clear as day that something is wrong, and often Anita will ask me if I want a hug. However, when False Adult is running the show, chatting away, the young parts are so hidden that it really would take a genius to see that it’s all a front.
With about 15 minutes to go I ran out of steam. I was so frustrated with myself for not getting what I actually needed but I felt unseen too, and I think the Teen felt angry, actually. I might have been in hiding but I guess, I had hoped, by now, Anita would know that there’s more underneath. Sometimes I wish she would say something like,
“You seem really chatty today, and it’s interesting to hear about your work etc, but I am also aware that there are young parts inside that might need some attention after missing a session and also me telling you I’m having some time off. Can I just check in with how they are, too? Do they need space today, or are they ok for us to carry on as we are?”
I can’t remember the last time I spent an hour sitting ‘far away’ from Anita. It just doesn’t happen. So often that space between us gets closed down and it settles things. I felt like I was on an island on my own on Friday. And that’s not Anita’s fault. She was there…but she wasn’t there for the parts that really need her.
In the end I gave up the pretence of being ok and asked for a hug. I spent the last fifteen minutes in silence, crying cuddled into her chest. With a few minutes to go, a little part asked, “Is something wrong?” – it was all the worry about the feeling like she has been trying to get away from me, the missed session, and the upcoming breaks panic.
Anita assured me that nothing was wrong and said that she wondered if this was because of the reasons I’ve just listed above – well the missed session and break. She doesn’t know about the messages.
We didn’t have time to talk about it because it was time to go. I left feeling flat and deflated and disconnected and generally a bit meh.
When I got to my car I took out the piece of paper Anita had given me with the dates of her breaks on…ugh…no…not good. I mentally calculated how many sessions I’d miss and realised that in December the way it might work is that I could potentially not see her for an entire month because of how her break and then the school Christmas break lands…and then of course there is Christmas itself which will be another break.
But the thing that really got me as I started to spiral into doom zone was the wording of the note. It’s typed and generic and what she will have printed out to give to all her clients:
Just a quick note to let you know I will be away from
x date -x date
x date to x date.
I do apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.
With warm regards, Anita
And you know what. Adult me is completely fine with this note. It tells me what I need to know. It’s fine…it’s just…ugh…it’s really, really not fine for my young parts who haven’t been told what’s going on, haven’t had it broken down for them and explained that it’s not her leaving them or abandoning them and they haven’t done anything wrong and that it’s just a letter she sends out for information.
What’s sad is it’s that fucking reminder that whatever I think or hope the relationship is, when it comes down to it, I am a client and she can hand over a formal note and disappear. The young parts have seen the note and have no clue who the person is that wrote it. Is it Anita? She never speaks like that to them. And then of course it brings the protective parts rushing in. The Teen is doing her best to soothe the little ones but again is absolutely blind with rage at me for letting myself think there is anything special about the relationship.
Is this note from the same woman that holds me in session, or reads stories, or buys me presents, or tells me that she loves me? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. And I know it isn’t a case of it being one or the other, it’s not black and white, and for fuck’s sake it’s just a note about a fucking set of break dates….but it’s so much more than that. It feels distancing and disconnecting. Breaks do this anyway so the delivery of information about breaks is so important.
I really don’t want to sound like a nit-picking pain in the arse here, I don’t want to be hard work for Anita. But I do want to write about my response to something as innocuous as a note with holiday dates because I think it really demonstrates how complex trauma can come out. I don’t imagine that Anita would have it on her radar that I could have spiralled like this. But even a sign off can be really triggering. Warm regards…lukewarm regards.
And I am fine. Like I am getting on with my life. As I said from the top, I am in so much of a better place than I have ever been before, but these things still sting.
I text Anita on Friday because I knew this was going to fester:
Only having a little (large) meltdown about breaks…next time can you tell me about it first and give me paper/dates later. I’ll explain on Monday but the formal tone of the note just really jarred something internally – and whilst adult me is totally fine, the little parts aren’t at all. X
And there’s been radio silence to that.
Arrrghhhh… this is not what I needed!
Like I get I’ve said we’ll talk about it on Monday, but I am surprised given the fact that I have said that the little parts are not ok that she hasn’t sent me a GIF with a hug or something for those child parts. It’s what we agreed before…so what’s going on?
And so of course, this has made me wonder if the niggling doubts I have felt for the last couple of months are actually something rather than nothing. I am hoping that it’s just me, it’s just life, that I haven’t done something wrong. It could be too that Anita thinks that things are ok, but maybe unconsciously they’re not.
Anyway, that’s that. Part of me doesn’t even want to go to session tomorrow now. It’s just so exhausting being like this isn’t it?!
ps. I do see how much of a contradiction this post seems to be! I’m fine/Ahhhh it’s all bad! But I guess what I am saying is although my young parts are reacting/reactive currently I am not overwhelmed or totally consumed by the stuff that is triggered. I see this as information about my internal world to be worked through, rather than a total catastrophe. Having said this it really all does depend on how it goes tomorrow talking about it!
* only if the person you’re working with is safe and trustworthy!
Therapy this last week or so has been a complete emotional rollercoaster. (How many times have I said this lately?!) Honestly, I can hardly keep up with myself! One minute, things are fine, the next it’s utterly desperate. The various parts of me are in and out on rapid rotation and I don’t know which way is up. It really would be really unnerving if I didn’t already have a reasonably good understanding of my system. Mind you, my teen trying to sabotage the shit out therapy is never a great deal of fun, even if I can see it and make sense of it after the event!
The last two Mondays have been quite similar…oh goody (*not ‘good’ at all) a pattern is emerging! I seem start off with a couple of minutes small talk – everything ‘seems’ fine (False Adult strikes again!) and then the clouds quickly roll in from the horizon and I am totally done for. The feeling of disconnection I feel is massive and rather than reach out for Anita, I freeze and get swept up in my internal storm which rumbles on and on about Anita wanting to get away from me and my not being able to trust her.
HELP ME PLEASE!
Last week (28th June) I walked in, sat down, and told Anita that I didn’t feel very good – I had terrible period pain and felt really drained and vulnerable and like my womb was trying to escape from my body. It was shit. I really just wanted a cuddle and to reconnect and feel safe with A – to rest in her presence – but instead of this, my teen went into complete shutdown and “fuck it all!” The young parts desperately wanted to be close, but the teen had gone into protect mode which resulted in a complete stand-off with Anita. It was agony. We’ve all been there haven’t we?!
When it gets like that, it feels like Anita is a million miles away even though it’s really me holding her at arm’s length and avoiding her. I think those young, vulnerable parts need such clear and demonstrative expressions of care and closeness when I feel off from the very outset of the session that a run of the mill, sitting next to me and tentatively asking questions just feels really … crap. Those little ones basically need Anita to be a mind-reader, and that’s never going to happen. Anita is amazingly perceptive, but she won’t know the second I walk in that I am crying out for a cuddle unless I actually tell her.
Anyway, the feeling of both physical and emotional distance between myself and Anita that I felt – or put between us- was absolute hell for the youngest parts and fuelled the anger in the teen. The longer this ‘stand off’ went on the worse it felt inside and the further I retreated. It’s totally infuriating that when the need is massive I retreat…but then of course this response is rooted in not wanting to be ‘too much’ or get ‘rejected’ by the other and so it makes sense.
I sat there rooted to the spot, staring at the door, not looking at Anita. A kept gently asking what was going on with me… but I totally stonewalled her. I’ve listened back to the session and OMG it’s just so fucking painful. When I am in that place, I feel so isolated, so cut off, and nothing Anita says or does feels right or enough, other than her explicitly telling me we are ok, that she cares, and realistically I need her to be physically touching me, either by holding my hand or giving me a hug. When it feels bad, I can’t hear her gentle, calm invitation to join her, to let her know what’s going on, to reconnect. I just feel fucked off and angry! And because I am angry, I push her further and further away.
That day, I think the need for connection was so strong when I arrived at session because I had felt ignored and rejected over the weekend (don’t ask…it was just mega PMS and the wonderful fucked up lens that that brings with it!).
And because I felt abandoned it necessarily brought the protectors online almost instantly when we met. There was a narrative of, “Don’t get too close, she’ll push you away – and she wasn’t interested in you over the weekend” sort of internal dialogue. I always feel like this after a weekend, more than I do on a Friday session – which is nuts because I’m sure if I checked my messages there wasn’t radio silence over the weekend – it just sometimes feels that way.
Anita persisted, “What are you thinking?”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
Anita persisted, “You feel very distant today…has something happened?” There was so much care in and warmth in her voice that it felt like Anita was begining to get under the surface of my armour.
The teen grunted, “What do you mean?”
Anita was not put off and replied that she wasn’t sure but felt like there was a big distance between us. She asked me whether she had upset me and I replied, “It’s fine.”
Reader. It was not fine!
I’m sure loads of you are familiar with this sort of situation and how agonising it is to be trapped inside yourself screaming to get out but being completely mute so far as being able to say what is going on goes. You’re stuck in your internal prison.
“Can you share with me what you are thinking?” Anita probed.
And out came a really angry, venomous, “I’m not thinking anything!”
Grrrr. Rarrr. My god, the wobbler was coming! Lol.
Anita backed off and tried to soothe me a bit, “Okay… it’s okay”. I could feel myself getting more and more tense and upset as time elapsed. I just wanted to be close to her, but the teen was doing everything in her power to make Anita disappear.
I sat there, frozen, and then I started physically trembling and hid my face in my hands. I did not want to be seen in this state. I was full of anger and shame and embarrassment, and ALL THE FEELINGS and the little parts were beside themselves too.
Anita, as usual managed to cut through and wondered aloud about what could be going on. She said it felt uncomfortable to her, but she didn’t know what had triggered it or what it was about. She expressed that she didn’t know if what she was feeling was hers, mine, or whether it was even real. She said she wanted to give me a hug but wasn’t sure whether that was for her or for me. To hear her think aloud about it and talk about her process in real time helped me a lot because it showed me that she was engaged and thoughtful and trying to find a way through for us both and it made me see that my behaviour was also having an impact on her not just me.
Even though I was giving off the biggest “Fuck off” vibes, Anita asked me if I would like a hug. I’ve told her a lot recently that when this part is about, I need her to do this because it’s what I want but so often that protective rage won’t let me anywhere near her and vice versa.
A miserable and quiet, “I don’t know” left my lips.
Arghhh. Yes of course I wanted a hug – but I was too ashamed to tell her after the performance I’d just given.
Anita gently asked, “Can you feel this as well, or is it just me?”
I nodded and stared down at the carpet in corner of the room. The atmosphere and disconnect was hard and I didn’t know how to step away from it.
“Yeah. It’s not nice” soothed Anita. That simple acknowledgment that what was going on wasn’t easy for her either, somehow felt connecting. So often Em would leave me struggling in my own misery and just observe me, untouched and unmoved by my pain or whatever it was these protectors were trying to express. Even on our last session when we terminated she watched me cry and said, “It seems you are experiencing a lot of emotion”… FUCK ME! It felt so isolating and like I was completely alone in that room. Well, I was…so…
Anyway, I looked over to Anita and quietly asked, “What’s wrong?” I didn’t mean “What’s wrong with you”, but “What’s wrong here? What’s going on with us?” – I couldn’t work it out. I was just confused and lost.
Anita used her really warm, soothing voice and gently replied, “I don’t know. I don’t know what started it, or where it came from. I’d like to know, but I’m not sure how we find out. I think I might have felt like I’d let you down somehow…”
“About what?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t had chance to read the blog you sent me…”
I had sent Anita a blog post the night before the session and I guess there’s a part of me that hoped she’d have read it and perhaps I was a bit angry about it knowing she hadn’t. Although up until that point I didn’t actually know she hadn’t sooooo??? I dunno.
It was the post about the False Adult and it’s interesting to me to track back and see that I had a session where the False Adult stole the show and the next session the teen was going berserk. It’s like the protectors are all out and doing their thing right now and I guess we need to try and understand why.
Anyway, what she said resonated and the teen part felt seen and heard which allowed that part to power down.
A little voice whimpered, “You feel really far away.”
And that’s when Anita really took the cue and joined the dots, “Yeah, I know. That’s what I’m feeling too, and I don’t like it…Have I felt far away over the weekend?”
The little one nodded.
Anita said something about never knowing how much of her stuff to share with me and what is useful and what’s not. She told me that it had been a busy weekend and that she had hardly been near her phone and by the time she saw my message about the blog it was so late, and she needed to go to bed because she was really tired.
She didn’t need to justify herself, or explain, but it did really help that part who felt like she had been ignored and side-lined over the weekend. I sat quietly taking it all in and felt myself thawing a bit.
Anita continued on, “It doesn’t mean I don’t care about you. Distance doesn’t mean not caring. It really doesn’t… does that make sense?”
I shook my head.
That young part was still so upset and now the teen had backed off I was left with that really vulnerable little one that just can’t understand where Anita has gone when I am not with her.
Anita went on to say that, “sometimes people get distracted by things in their lives, but it doesn’t mean that the love isn’t there. It doesn’t mean it’s gone. It doesn’t change. Not if it’s real. It doesn’t change. And it is real.”
This attempt to reassure and reconnect went such a long way. The confirmation that the love isn’t gone was all I needed to hear.
“Why are you so far away?” I whispered.
“Can I come closer?… Do want a hug?…this feels horrible to me too…”
I shuffled over to Anita and snuggled into her and silently cried into her chest. There was so much grief coming up and out. The pain of disconnection is so powerful and it’s really something watching it play out in the therapeutic relationship.
Fortunately, Anita is really patient and really understands what it’s like for the parts. She is so accepting of the angry teen and really wants to give her space to be in the room. She told me that she loves that part just as much as all the others and can really see how traumatised she is and how much care she needs. It’s a new thing for me to hear that the part that is so dismissive and stand-offish has her place and is welcome in the room with Anita. Em ran scared from her when she finally came forward, but Anita wants her to know she’s safe to be out and say what she needs to say.
As I was cuddled into Anita she said, “I think you are so vulnerable to rejection that you see my being distracted as a rejection. And that is the last thing I ever want to do [reject me]. Maybe I am scared of doing that, too, because I know how vulnerable you are to it. The last thing I want to do is hurt you.”
Anita held me closer into her and gently rubbed my back as I sobbed. Part of me felt so foolish for all the drama I’d created in the session because it’s so fucking obvious that Anita is not setting out to hurt me, or ignore me, or abandon me. How much more evidence do the protective parts require?? It’s so frustrating that sometimes I just cannot see her care or feel it or hold onto it when she’s not there.
I keep banging on about object constancy, here on the blog, but this really is it. That’s the problem. The parts get so spooked and are so poised for rejection that they haven’t yet got the memo that Anita really cares. I know she does. She doesn’t just care – she loves me. I feel it… just not all the time. And that’s the kicker.
Sometimes I sit in my room and look at my lamp, or my necklace, or breathe in the smell of my elephant and I can keep a sense of Anita, I can see all that she does for me. I can feel her love and care…and other times it’s just gone. I just get sucked deep into the black hole of the mother wound and it’s total doom.
“I’m scared” whispered the little one. I think it was the seven-year-old part.
Anita mirrored, “you’re scared?…what are you scared of?”
A barely audible response came out, “Something bad happening.”
Anita questioned, “In what way?… Bad between us?… Scared that the relationship might end?”
There was a barely perceptible nod into Anita’s chest.
“Yeah” she considered, and then so carefully and warmly said, “And I guess, inevitably, relationships do end at some point.” I could feel fear rising in my body fearing what she was going to say next, and I held on more tightly to her. Was she about to tell me we’d have to end one day soon? Panic coarsed through my veins. She continued on, “It could be through death… and it’s always sad when relationships do end… but I have no intentions of not seeing you. I really don’t! I guess none of us really know what life is going to throw at us…does this make sense?…but I have no intentions of going anywhere.”
By this point I was properly sobbing and moaned “It’s just really bad timing”. And it is. It was coming up to the anniversary of my dad dying, and then of course, my family disowning me as a result of what happened, and then my best friend from primary school is terminally ill and has very little time left, and one of my wife’s colleagues had just died of COVID over that preceding weekend despite being young and double vaccinated…and it just felt like everything was funnelling into a horribly scary place and the terror of losing A was huge.
Anita acknowledged that there’s a lot of loss around for me at the moment and at this time of year and reiterated that she wasn’t going anywhere and she said she understands my fear. She then told me I’m the only client she sees without a screen and that she does everything she can to keep herself safe (this in relation to the fear about COVID). I am amazed that she does this for me, then. I am astounded, really, that she is so able to see my need and knows just how triggering distance is for me and so has decided to work with me how I need and keep touch and close physical proximity as part of our work. I am so grateful to her for this.
“I’m sorry” I groaned.
I felt so stupid for how I had behaved. Everyday Anita shows me just how committed to our work she is and yet so often I get triggered and freak out. I guess it is part of the process and it’s really good that these parts are now able to express themselves freely and get the attention and care they need.
Anita responded with, “You don’t have to be sorry. I think it’s important it happens here. Because everything that happens with us is, all the time, helping you to see that it is ok. That’s what we’re doing. It’s like you said the other day, it’s like trying to reconfigure the computer. So, it really is ok. It’s just the protector going by what it’s learnt. It might not feel ok for you, but it really is for me. How I feel about you is not going to change.”
I cuddled further into Anita, content now that everything was ok. My body relaxed and I closed my eyes and focused in on the steady beat of her heart.
“I love you” I murmured.
“I love you too, I really do.” She replied.
The remaining time of the session was just holding and calming and soothing and then it was time to go. I felt utterly knackered once I got home! The emotional marathons are hard work and take their toll and so I climbed into bed for an hour when I made it home.
The next session (Friday) was different again and needs its own post for different reasons – there was no teen or protectors there – so I’ll leapfrog it and go to last Monday which was basically a re-run of the session I’ve just written here! FFS! WTF is happening?!!
Again, I found myself at a complete stand off with Anita. Just before the session I had messaged my best-friend and told her not to let me head into rupture zone this coming week. I could almost feel it bubbling under and was terrified that I would go into session and create a rupture that didn’t need to happen.
I sat down and everything felt really wrong. Something had happened that morning that had triggered me around my dad’s anniversary, and I just felt really shaky. Anita listened carefully but I just couldn’t really convey what I was feeling. It was all really messy. I started to disappear inside myself and once again became frozen staring into the corner of the room.
Within a minute Anita asked me if I wanted her to come closer, but already the protectors were up and alert and said, “No.” I knew from there on out I was in for a rough ride because that part was up and proving that she didn’t need anyone.
When Anita asked me what I was thinking, I told her I wanted to go home. Anita replied that I could go home because I am free to do what I want with her, but that she didn’t want me to go home. I could feel myself drifting further and further away. Everything felt so bad inside.
Anita kept gently trying to find her way in, she asked me if I’d like to read a story – I just shook my head. The little ones would have loved to have read stories together but the protector was having none of it. At one point Anita asked what I needed from her and I snapped at her that I just wanted her to, “Leave me alone.” I don’t know why I was so dismissive or rude – it’s really really not like me but like I say it just didn’t feel ok.
I sat pickled in shame and frozen in that disconnected agony again. After a little while Anita said something that completely cut through to my core and disarmed the protector in one sentence, “It’s hard for a rabbit to sit here and watch while you’re in so much pain – when all I want to do is take it away” she said, referencing the book that I gave her for our one-year therapy anniversary, ‘The Rabbit Listened’. When things feel bad, she sometimes sends me emojis or pictures of rabbits – because in the story it is the rabbit that sits patiently with the character as he cycles through all the negative emotions and waits with him and never leaves him. Anita has always been my rabbit from the beginning.
Note to self: Anita is the good guy in this!
I smiled inside and reached out to hold her hand, and then moved in for a cuddle and started to cry and Anita just held me to her and let me cry it out. Has anyone noticed how much I seem to cry these days?!
Over the rest of the session, we spoke a lot about the protectors and their role. At one point I asked Anita if that part of me, that is so horrible and pushes her away makes her want to go away. She emphatically replied that this was not the case at all and said that we all have these parts. She knows what it’s like to feel trapped and angry and threatened and attacked and have parts that try and sabotage relationships. She says it comes from trauma and the more trauma we have the louder those protectors can be. It’s needed to be like that to survive.
Then she went on to say, “Even though it’s really hard for them to engage with me, I have an awful lot of empathy for them. They’re so troubled and I get it. It doesn’t mean I can’t love them as much as I do the rest of you.” She explained that she knows that they come up because they are scared: scared of being too much, scared of being abandoned and rejected, scared of everything going wrong between us, scared of being hurt – and hopefully one day they’ll learn that she’s staying.
We had such a productive conversation in the end and the cuddles were very needed. I do feel like I am putting myself through the emotional wringer at the moment. Therapy is seriously hard work isn’t it?! Despite all this, I really feel like we are doing important work and bit by bit this repetitive, painstaking work with the various parts is somehow rewriting the narrative I had forged early on in life and reconfirmed in the therapy with Em.
I really feel like I landed on my feet finding Anita. I know this kind of therapy isn’t for everyone and is probably quite a departure from what a lot of therapists do, but it’s what I need and what works for me. And after years of being left out in the emotional wasteland with Em it feels so good to be brought in out the cold and be cared for by Anita. Her demonstrating that I am lovable is starting to make me believe it and I am far more compassionate towards myself as a result which has to be good thing.
So, following on from my last post here things got much worse and I found myself deep down the rabbit hole of doom! I felt so terrible by the time Sunday rolled around that I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Anita acknowledged my crying bear message in the afternoon on Sunday with what felt like a really formal ‘un-Anita-y’message. She asked if I was ok (uh no, not really) and then sent quite a long message that talked about discussing working out payment stuff and how she had meant to discuss it on Friday but how ‘obviously that didn’t happen’ (yeah, that’s because my session was cancelled…and I am still having a meltdown about it!).
The message landed badly. It felt really off because there I was feeling really upset and abandoned and disconnected and all the bad feelings over the session cancellation on Friday – wondering whether she had chosen to just cancel me rather than work online and here was a message about ‘boundaries’ and ‘therapy dynamics’ and admin, basically. Because I was so triggered already, the message felt cold and just really missed where I was at. I felt like I was invisible to her.
Even though boundaries are very important it can be such a triggering word to those of us with C-PTSD. I think it’s because so often when therapists start banging on about boundaries it can often seem to be something about distancing themselves from us. Like the boundary talk happens because we’re seen to be pushing boundaries, we’re trying to be too close. So, when there’s talk of boundaries from the therapist it often feels like barriers being put up etc…’here’s the boundary, don’t step over it’. Basically ‘back off’ – ‘I’m just your therapist’.
Looking back, I don’t think that’s what was intended and I really don’t ever feel like Anita is a ‘boundaries for boundaries’ sake’ therapist. I think A was just trying to put my mind at rest that we would find a way forward but phrases like ’I’m not going to just drop you’ still sent panic through my system especially as the messages over the weekend had so clearly missed what was going on after Friday and even the word ‘drop’ made me feel vulnerable because of course she could ‘drop’ me at any time.
I didn’t know what to do so I just sent Anita the link to the blog I’d just posted about all the shit that was swirling and asked her to read it. Thankfully, she read it and it clearly made sense to her because the response she sent afterward felt much more like the Anita I am used to. The problem was by the time she sent it, I was so tangled up in knots and had been putting all the jigsaw pieces from the last few days together and creating some kind of impressionist image – you know where the nose is where the ear should be and the mouth is up on the forehead. All the elements are there, just all in totally the wrong place.
My teen felt so wounded that I sent this:
and said ‘I think I need to stay away for a while’.
Anita was lovely and somehow coaxed me back out of that dark internal dungeon to a place where it felt possible to go to see her because I believed that she actually wanted to see me, too. Before that point I had convinced myself she was fed up and wanted away from me. I told her I needed a hug and she said she would give me one in person, I just had to come to my session. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time the weekend was over. Man this is hard going!
When I arrived at Anita’s on Monday morning, I hugged her as soon as she opened the door. I felt shaky and sad but also relieved to be there. Anita acknowledged that it must have been hard for me to come to the session and I agreed. It was. There were so many different activated parts that it’s so hard to know what to do for the best sometimes. I guess just keep turning up and giving myself the opportunity to talk?
Anita told me that she had had no idea where I was with everything until she’d read my blog. And this is the problem. I can drift so far away so quickly because on the surface I seem fine when, really, I am not. Things blow up inside and a lot of the time it is masked by my False Adult who glosses over everything ‘Ok’ and smiles to cover what’s underneath. Of course, if I am not even in the room and something happens then it’s even less visible.
I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.
Then the truth came out about Friday.
Anita was honest but…ouch.
She told me that she hadn’t offered me an online session on Friday because she felt like I would find it insulting (given how hard they have been over lockdown) and how far they are from what I really need. She apologised and said that she’d got that wrong and was really sorry not to have given me the option. I felt really sad about it, I’d really missed her on Friday and had really needed some reassurance that things were ok with us because the cancellation had let all sorts rip through my system. I was glad she wasn’t trying to paste over it but it was still painful.
I think she probably now understands that whilst online isn’t ideal, in that situation some kind of contact is much better than a complete severing of contact and whilst I might respond with ‘OK’ when I resort to short replies and don’t reach out, I am anything but ‘Ok’. It’s like the shutters go down and I go into self-protection mode. It was so painful on Friday and I couldn’t stop myself from spiralling down.
She acknowledged that she had been in a bit of panic about her daughter which is what I suspected. It felt ok having this conversation – or rather her telling me her side of things. She’s human, after all and we don’t always get things right but it’s not because we are deliberately trying to hurt the other person. I asked her if I could have a hug and basically just started trembling and crying. The impact the weekend, or last couple of weeks had had on my system was really something else. This feeling of abandonment stuff is really tapping into the deep mother wound and it’s fucking exhausting navigating it.
Again, I don’t remember much of that session. When the young parts are so activated and I am teetering on the edge of dissociation my memory seems to just go blank. I remember Anita saying something about how sometimes separation is good because we can learn that separation doesn’t have to mean abandonment but that what had happened in the last two weeks was too much, too sudden, and like I had been thrown in the deep end. I mean the reality is her dog had to go to the vet and her daughter might have had COVID but everything that got wrapped around those two events was massive. Anita said I had joined all the dots wrongly in my head (written in the blog) but that’s it’s not surprising because that’s what trauma does.
My system definitely started to settle and calm down throughout the session. I cried a lot and just snuggled into her. That’s really all the young parts need or are capable of when things have been so badly triggered. Calm care and reassurance are everything and settling my nervous system is essential before I can ‘think’ about what’s gone on. I saw something the other day from Margaret Atwood.
It’s true. And I think this is where talk therapy so often falls down. When we hit the deck and start sliding with the pre-verbal young stuff, words just don’t cut it and I am so grateful to Anita that she is ok with physical touch because it has definitely enabled the most wounded parts of me to feel safe to come out.
The time between sessions this week seemed to go by really slowly and whilst I felt like we’d repaired some of the hurt feelings and settled the young parts that had got so worked up over the weekend, in the Monday session, I’d still felt really vulnerable and exposed during the week and not very sure-footed. I went to see K for a cup of tea on Thursday and had broken down crying when speaking to her about what the last few weeks had been like and the stuff about the cancelled session on Friday with Anita. She saw immediately how impacted my inner child had been by the messages and cancellation, and was both validating and understanding and it took some of the shame and embarrassment out of my meltdown. By the time it got to Friday I was so ready to see Anita as things felt really wobbly.
My best friend had a horrific week this week as her work with her long-term therapist came to an abrupt end. I am absolutely devastated for her. It’s set some things jangling internally for me, too. Her therapist was so much like Anita in the early days of their work together -so attuned and holding – and over time things have just got more and more distanced, less and less caring, and I can’t help but panic. What happens if this happens with Anita? I’ve been terminated by Em for being a ‘tick’ (and I never showed her ANYTHING like as much as I do A) and now my friend has lost her therapist…it just seems like people like us end up hurt and abandoned time and again. It’s so painful…and terrifying to those parts that are so scared of being hurt.
What’s happened with my friend is absolutely not her fault, nor was what happened with Em mine, but it’s not the therapist that is left bereft and retraumatised when, yet again, the narrative of being too much and toxic gets replayed. They can just move onto the next poor, unsuspecting client, and here we are left trying to pick up the pieces again.
I spoke to Anita about that situation and said how frequently my friend had been misled and gaslit and how really you can’t bullshit clients like us, it’s better to be honest because we see through lies. Anita agreed. I could feel myself getting upset. I asked for a hug (check me out asking for what I need!). Things settled inside a bit and then Anita told me that she needed to tell me about the holiday she has coming up. Oh god. She said she was waiting for the right time to tell me but realised there’s no good time to let me know but wanted to give me plenty of notice. The reaction to the news wasn’t desperately bad inside but it wasn’t great either. Anita said we can text whilst she’s away and last year that was nice, and I didn’t drop dead during the break (much). I am thinking of asking her whether she’ll take the little blue elephant with her so he can see some of the places too.
Just as I’d got over my mini internal meltdown over the upcoming holiday I opened my eyes and looked up and wondered about a box on the shelf. It’s beautiful and ornate. For some reason I decided to ask what was inside the box – and this, my friends, is a lesson on not asking questions when you haven’t really considered what the answer may be! In the past I had asked about what was in another, bigger, carved, wooden box in the room. Anita had said there were colouring pens for when people do art or drawing/writing in their session. However, this box is high up, safely placed in the middle of the shelf and clearly would not be housing pens.
I don’t know why, but I was not ready for what was coming and yet clearly the answer was going to be something like this. Anita told me that one of her long-term clients (a trauma client like me) had given her the box for Christmas because it was important to her (the client), and inside it is a stone with the word ‘trust’ on it and I could have a look at it if I liked.
I’m guessing for most of you reading this that I needn’t say any more about how this felt.
I realise in this situation Anita really couldn’t win, earlier in the session we’d only just spoken about how you can’t bullshit clients like me/us because we see through it, but at the same time this revelation was just too much information and NO I did not want to look at the box.
I am so sensitive at the moment. After the session on Friday I text Anita and used the analogy that I feel like I am tiptoeing so carefully at the minute, trying to avoid danger, but no matter how I try almost every step I take I seem to set off a landmine beneath me…
…and this wasn’t just a landmine, this was a nuclear bomb going off inside.
Everything fell apart in that moment. I dissociated immediately. I was so far gone. It was awful. I felt like I was tumbling over and over through black space. It was dizzying and made me feel physically sick. The feelings of not being good enough, being insignificant, and unimportant flooded my system. It was the same stuff that was triggered the other week by Anita telling she was ‘mega busy’ when I suggested rescheduling because her dog was going to the vet, and also when my session got cancelled last Friday because her daughter might have had COVID.
The voice says that the relationship isn’t real – is meaningless – and I am deluded for thinking otherwise got really loud really quickly. And to be honest it has a point, because, when it comes down to it, I’m just one of many clients and not only that, I’m someone who can be left and let go because there are always going to be people who are more worthy and have more of a claim to Anita’s care and time than I do. Even when we think things are ‘safe enough’ it can turn sour in a matter of weeks and we’re let go, terminated, and left stranded. My experience with Em showed me that but also what’s happened to my friend this last week.
My body was frozen. I felt like I stopped breathing. I think it must’ve been a freeze response. I felt so sad and had no idea I was crying silent tears until I felt my hand was wet.
I think Anita felt the change in me. I was cuddled into her so she couldn’t see my face but I could hear her talking to me but I just didn’t have any words to respond to her and I think this is because what this episode triggered was down into that really young, preverbal stuff. She tried to check in with me about how I was feeling soon after she’d told me about the box but I couldn’t respond. She told me explicitly that just because she’s been seeing this other client a long time it didn’t make our relationship less than. She said something about her having a big heart. And I get it…or Adult Me does, sort of.
It’s like with my kids. When my son arrived, my daughter didn’t suddenly get half the love she had received before he was born because my finite supply of love now had to be split two ways. It doesn’t work that way. Our capacity to love is not finite at all. It’s something that keeps growing. I don’t love my son more than my daughter. I love them both ‘the same’ for who they are and because they are different. I don’t prefer one over the other or compare one to the other. And I guess this must kind of be how it is in therapy…maybe…but then I’m not her child I’m just a client and I come back to that horrible stuff about everyone else being better than me, less difficult, more lovable etc etc. I’m sure other clients have fewer tantrums, are less demanding, less needy…
A small voice said, ‘I want to go home’. It felt so broken at that point. It’s horrible how fragile everything feels. When it feels like that the only sensible option seems to be to run away and protect myself like I always have done before.
It would be so easy to say that this episode on Friday with the box is just a case of ‘jealousy’ and that client ‘sibling rivalry’ stuff that we feel sometimes – but when you dig beneath it it’s not as crazy as it all sounds… or at least I hope not! We all know we aren’t the only client a therapist sees and as much as we’d like to think we’re their favourite (thinking about LS here! 😉) it’s pretty unlikely. But it’s hard because our therapists are so important to us – I think it’s natural that we would want to feel important to them, too, especially when we have a lifetime of not mattering.
When I think about my own teaching work. I like all my students BUT there are some I look forward to working with more than others…and what if I’m one of those ‘less favoured and sometimes dreaded’ hours in Anita’s week? The thought of that really upsets me. And that’s why I am doomed because even Adult Me can’t convince all those hurting parts that everything is ok and that it’s not ‘pretend’ with Anita, because Adult Me has preferences about who I work with, too… and so I can’t help but feel like I am walking my way blindfolded into getting hurt again. Even if there is SO SO SO much evidence to the contrary (which there really is!).
To be honest, when I am like this, Anita must be banging her head up against a brick wall because she shows me ALL THE TIME in SO MANY WAYS that she cares and that I am important. She doesn’t just demonstrate it through her actions, she tells me she ‘loves me’ and ‘thinks the world of me’…so why can’t these scared young parts let that evidence override the doubting parts? Why do I have to let a fucking gift from another client derail my time with Anita?
I think it’s just going to take time and patience on both our parts – I just hope she doesn’t get fed up with me first. This work is like recoiling a spring the other way. It’s a repetitive process and sometimes the spring just pings back to how it was before…and it’s not surprising really. I learnt pretty early on that I wasn’t central and my needs didn’t matter. It continued on and on being left at childminders and never feeling like I was wanted or important enough to be made a priority. I just had to fit in and get on with it. I was seen as easy-going child and no trouble – amenable – but that’s because I had to be. There’s no point in acting up when nothing will change.
And this is really the legacy I’ve been left with. In some ways being adaptable is good, but so often it means I put my own needs at the bottom of the pile and try and make things right for everyone else. When I get hurt, I take that pain inwards and spare the other person the hassle of dealing with me. The other day Anita said she thought there were a lot of tears bottled up inside. And she’s right -there’s a lifetime of them. I never cried as a child…because what was the point? There was never anyone there to wipe them away. I learnt not to express my feelings and that runs both ways. I struggle even to show or feel joy. I have the best poker face.
Anyway, I don’t remember much about that session because I was so far gone and so upset. I felt like I had drifted away. What I do know is that Anita was holding me more tightly than usual and whilst I felt a million miles away there was a part of me that could feel how hard she was trying to help bring me back to her. She didn’t let me go until I was more together and settled – she is amazing like that.
I feel like such a bloody idiot after all this but I am trying to show myself some compassion. It’s been a hard few weeks/months…and I guess what’s happening is the young stuff is far closer to the surface than it’s ever been before and so it gets triggered more easily. In some ways it’s mortifying but I guess in other ways it’s progress. Noone wants to be a mute sobbing wreck in therapy but this is clearly a big indicator that this attachment and relational stuff is where the work is (as if we didn’t already know!) and it’s far better that it comes up with Anita where it can be worked on then pretending it’s all ok when something hurts and then going home and going through all the feelings alone and catastrophising even more.
Oh Man! Where do I start with this? Last time I was here I was circling the drain of doom where my system was basically in full meltdown. The young parts of me were in a total panic about the Easter therapy break (that wasn’t really a break at all) and I was edging into the place where part of me felt like quitting therapy in order to escape the painful feelings of abandonment but also to leave before I got left.
Over the course of that eight days, I had got myself so worked up. The fear of being abandoned or rejected by Anita was huge and felt totally real and possible (at least to some of my system). I was on high alert and had convinced myself that something had changed between Anita and I. I was sure that she’d had enough of me. I mean I laid it all out in the last blog so no need to go over it again too much. But jeez. It’s hard work.
I went through the cycle: young parts activated and distressed, teen trying to calm things down and feeling dismissive and angry, and the critic moving in to shut things down by attacking and shaming me. It’s thoroughly exhausting when this happens (did I ever mention that I am not keen on therapy breaks?!) and it’s so hard to ground and get my adult self to take the reins.
I think the thing I failed to mention about this cycle is that whilst it can seem quite linear a, b, c the reality is that it doesn’t get to c (critic) and everything go quiet with the young parts. Far from it! It can seemingly go in waves and a,b,c, a,b,c or a,b,a c, b, a, a… and sometimes all the parts are activated simultaneously…and god that’s hellish! When that happens the system is unsettled and noisy. It’s like there’s a house of different parts all screaming to get out of their rooms (apart from the teen – she’ll rot in her room with a razor blade). Imagine having a screaming new born, a toddler wailing, a four-year-old banging… etc etc…and then the critic going mad like some crazed warden from a Victorian orphanage. There’s no trauma-informed care here – it’s threats, and shaming, and “noone loves you and that’s why you’re here”.
Even if adult me can see what’s going on with the parts it’s pretty hard to step outside it because the felt sense in my body that something is dangerous and that bad things will happen is so real. I know it’s a hangover from the past and the relational trauma I have experienced with other people…but try telling that to my system when it perceives slight changes in Anita’s behaviour and then runs away with itself. Yikes!
What I found really disappointing – this break – is how quickly I slipped into believing the narrative that I was sure to be terminated when the break was over when there has been so much evidence to the contrary. It’s like having my brain and body hijacked when it gets that bad.
Usually, if I feel disconnected from Anita or panicked, I might reach out with a text (mostly a GIF from the young parts) and Anita responds to that and it settles things down. The thing is, this break, for some reason I couldn’t send the message. I couldn’t clue Anita in to how things were and so kept spiralling downwards. Convinced she was fed up of me and wouldn’t want to hear from me I continued to drown in the horrible feelings.
Then on Tuesday I sent Anita the link to my last blog post. I don’t know if she read it. And then, finally, on the Tuesday night I caved in. The youngest parts were really activated and broke free of the critic’s shackles. I simply sent a GIF:
And as you can see within a few minutes she’d responded and instantly my system settled. Why the fuck did I let myself get so worked up and not reach out and get what I needed earlier? I guess part of it was the shame. I felt embarrassed for needing her and I suppose it’s something about the holiday too. I didn’t want to be pathetic and needy when she wasn’t working. However, it definitely didn’t do me any favours letting things spiral so much.
I was also so unsettled by the fact that my sessions have not been able to be as regular over the school Easter holidays due to my childcare issues. Of course, I could have done online sessions but I really know that given how unsettled I was that there would have been a huge likelihood that screen sessions might have exacerbated the situation.
Once things came down a few notches out of ‘she hates me and is going to leave’ I was able to tell Anita about how I was feeling about the sessions I couldn’t have/make, and we managed to reschedule a Monday one that I couldn’t get childcare for to tomorrow and that eased things a bit. I was also able to tell her how I struggling and asked her not to let me float away in our session on Friday (last week) because I was finding it so hard. She said she understood and knows it’s a well-used defence mechanism and told me she was looking forward to seeing me and sent me another hug GIF.
And then everything felt totally doable.
I arrived at my session and was so ready to see Anita. You’ll remember how the weeks leading into the Easter break I started to retreat and my False Adult showed up and did all the talking and prevented the child parts from getting what they needed. Not on Friday. I literally sat down. Anita commented on my bracelet, I said something about my hair and then gave up. I’d been there less than two minutes when I said, “Can I have a hug please?” and she replied, “Of course. Come here.” I snuggled into her and she noticed that I was shaking and gently rubbed my back and hugged me close into her chest.
I was so glad to be there, so glad I had been able to ask for what I wanted and needed, but the legacy of the last week was still in my body. I could barely breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to focus in on the steady beat of Anita’s heart to regulate my system. After about five minutes I opened my eyes. I felt conflicted. I was both tense and relieved – this is what it’s like when more than one part is activated at the same time. It’s the disorganised attachment stuff in action. Anita wondered what was going on, she asked if the hugs were helping. I shook my head into her chest. She replied “Do you want me to stop hugging you?” again I shook my head and she held me a bit tighter to her.
Then I asked, “Have you cleaned your fish tank?” – you know, as you do!
And Anita told me she had. I said, “This is the problem, with my system, everything is so alert. Your fish tank wasn’t even dirty – it’s barely changed, but I notice EVERYTHING in this room. I’m guessing most of clients don’t comment on your tank?” (or the bloody light switches or painted doors…or all the other shit I notice and have to ask about. I literally know when she’s dusted and some of the items on the shelves have moved a centimetre or two. It’s fucking exhausting, but if I notice the room imagine what I am picking up on in Anita – if she’s a bit tired, a bit snuffly, a cut on her hand, or she smells different…FUCK!!). She said no but then really soothingly spoke to me about my hypervigilance and how it’s ok and expected after the trauma I have had.
Anita really normalises everything for me where other people tell me that I am ‘too jumpy’ or ‘scared of my own shadow’ and ‘need to chill out’, Anita understands why and tries so hard to ease things for me. Like she’ll text me if there’s going to be a different car on the drive or whatever. She just really gets it.
How many times have I said this before? And this is what’s so fucking frustrating about the last week on break. I just can’t feel any of that stuff when things get disrupted because my system is thrown into a panic. Or I can’t trust it. Or maybe I could trust that but it’s always possible for people to change!…
So much of my problem with breaks and object constancy stems from my mum being away in the week when I was small and then coming home and being volatile but I know she also had a really tough time when I was a baby with post-natal depression and so the likelihood is that she would have been inconsistent with me as a baby too. Like the title of the post, there’s an error code in my system and I really require an update but it’s just not as simple as going into the start menu and selecting ‘restart and update’. Therapy isn’t a quick fix but it is a fix.
I guess the positive about all this is that there is change. Sure, I got the rug pulled out from under my feet over Easter but the difference, now, is that I feel able to talk to Anita about my feelings around breaks and separation when we are together. I don’t just sit drowning in my toxic shame, mute and dissociated like I did with Em feeling steadily more disconnected and upset.
To be fair, Anita and I didn’t speak much in this 75-minute session compared with when False Adult was attending the sessions. But my goodness was it a healing and connecting session. Somewhere in the middle after a lot of holding I miserably said, “Sorry I am hard work.”
Anita hugged me closer again and replied, “You’re not! You’re really not. You’re really not! I know you feel it but you’re not. You’re just very hurt. And I know that the separation just opens all those wounds back up again, doesn’t it? It really is ok. I get it. You’re not hard work. I think is the saddest thing for me about you. The trauma kept changing right the way through for you and was there right from the day you were born. But it’s not you. It’s not your fault!”
I asked if we were still ok and if anything had changed. She softly asked, “Does it feel like it’s changed?”
I nodded into her chest.
“In what way?… Does it feel more distant? It hasn’t altered. It really hasn’t. I haven’t changed. We haven’t changed. This really is ok.” And then she likened me to her rescue dog (again!)…we have a lot in common! The simple but emphatic reassurance from Anita really helped the little parts feel safe. I like how Anita doesn’t over-complicate things when it is clear it is a young part speaking to her. She makes it simple and easy to understand and this really regulates the system quickly. Em used to spend ages asking me questions and never giving any kind of reassurance and it was so hard for the young parts.
After another little while I whispered, “You’re not a horrible person.” I had been thinking about what my brain had served me up in the week. Trying to make me think that A was somehow uncaring or whatever and how she was going to hurt me. But the young parts don’t believe it. Not at all. They miss her terribly when they can’t see her but she’s not doing it to reject them.
Anita spoke softly and said, “I’m not, no. And you’re not either. I’m not going to trick you. I do mean what I say. I’m guessing your brain is questioning all of these things. One day it might believe me.”
I can’t really put into words what it feels like when we have these conversations and I am snuggled into her like a bloody baby monkey. When I think about it now part of me wants to cringe – like ‘OMG I seriously don’t let myself be that fucking vulnerable and pathetic and needy with another human being do I?’ but there’s so many parts that finally FINALLY are getting what they need and there is no shame or embarrassment when I am that close to Anita.
It doesn’t feel weird or too much.
There’s an incredible amount of intimacy and trust that has been forged between us and I know to anyone in the normal outside world, perhaps people who have not done therapy, might have some opinions on it – but what happens in therapy is not like anything else I have experienced in life. It’s like some magic grove where little by little we glue all our pieces back together and make new pieces for parts that are missing. It’s a bit like that Japanese thing where broken pots get put back together with gold. The cracks are celebrated and the structure is solid.
Eventually, and I mean very eventually, after about an hour I felt my system completely relax. My body went heavy like all the tension just left. I was able to breathe regularly and deeply alongside Anita’s breathing rather than holding my breath or shallow breathing. I told her I was tired. She told me she knows how scared I am and how much of a struggle it can be and that it’s only when we feel safe that you can really feel the tiredness. When we’re no longer in flight mode and it’s safe to relax do we get hit with the exhaustion. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me too. Little by little it felt like everything was getting back on track. She said she could feel that I was more settled and continued to hold me.
And then my stomach started growling really REALLY loudly! Anita said it was a good sign. When you’re hypervigilant and in fight/flight/freeze everything is in a tight knot. Food isn’t on the agenda. So she sees it it’s a sign of things starting to relax.
I felt so relaxed and connected that I finally felt able to let out some humour and said, “Do I get the prize for most needy and clingy client?” Anita burst out laughing. I continued, “Because if I am going to do things, I like to be the best.” Anita giggled and responded laughing, “If you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to do it properly!”
Then there was a bit of silence.
“You avoided that well!” I poked.
More laughter from Anita. Then she composed herself. “Well, there’s all different types of needy aren’t there? You know? I think we can all be there. I know my three-year-old can kick off sometimes. More times than I would like her to.”
Ha! Good try therapist lady, I know I am the gold medalist!
And then it was the end of the session. I felt such a huge amount of relief after that connecting session.
Unfortunately, these last couple of days have felt tricky again and this is completely down to the fact that I couldn’t have my session yesterday and have to wait until tomorrow to go. It’s too long between the contact and too much disruption for my young parts. Whilst I don’t relish the end of the school holidays and being thrown back into the chaos that is my usual life I will be glad for my therapy schedule to resume…and hopefully get some handle back on my internal world!
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
So, last Monday’s session (where I found out that Anita was actually not now going to be here during lockdown so we can’t have our sessions face-to-face like she’d promised) triggered an EPIC meltdown on my part. I mean it was really something else!
I know how attached I have become to A but I really wasn’t expecting this from my system – or at least I thought I might be able to hide my response a bit if it did happen! – errr that’d be a no then!
I know it’s dramatic, but it felt as though I’d been betrayed on Monday. The rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet and I was left reeling, wondering what on earth had just happened and if what I feel to be true about mine and Anita’s relationship (that it’s real and solid and meaningful) was just lies and wishful thinking. If she could do a U-turn on something like this then what else wasn’t safe?
Needless to say, this week has been an emotional marathon (and I am really more of a 5km girl!!)
I left the session completely bereft. Crying in the car I just did not know what to do with myself. I couldn’t help but catastrophise. After everything that happened with Em it’s so easy to go into panic, fear the worst, lose trust, and this triggers complete survival mode and shut down from my system. The pain in this area – my attachment wound- is so sore that it can feel safer to run away then turn around and face it because what’s the point in trying? I have no control over the other person, I can’t change them or affect their response but I have control of whether I allow them close enough to hurt me, right?
And it’s not like track record for ruptures has been great (Ok actually, Anita has always been brilliant but…that’s not where my brain was at!!). If I try and tell someone how they’ve hurt me or let me down it doesn’t always end in a repair. I mean when Em likened my child parts to a tick, I tried so hard to tell her what was going on with me, in the hope that we could work through it, but instead it just got thrown back in my face and I got terminated. I was the problem. I was too sensitive. Too defensive. Ugh. I know that Anita is nothing like Em but there is a part of me that just doesn’t want to be open to being hurt anymore.
I drove home struggling with some many competing voices in my head and the somatic response was just agony – shaking, nausea, racing heartbeat. I called my friend and thankfully she was on hand to pick me up off the floor and try and help me get some perspective: yes this hurts but Anita is safe.
I was cycling through those really unbearable young feelings at mach speed. The angry mistrusting teen who just wanted to cut and run and the little one who just needs to be held close and told things are ok were so loud. It was like being pulled in two opposing directions. Adult me was nowhere to be seen. My system had gone into flight mode after the freeze response in session and it felt like the end of the world.
I simply cannot do this again. I cannot withstand losing my attachment figure…and whilst that sounds dramatic that is exactly how it felt.
After some discussion with my friend I decided that there was no way I could sit with this until Friday and try and work it through in an online session. I needed to let A know what was going on, I needed her to know the impact that our session had just had on me and to try and help me settle down. I mean I was cuddled into her crying for the last fifteen minutes of the session but I don’t know if she knew it was because I felt so hurt and let down by the news that she was going away for lockdown after promising she’d see me should we get locked down, or whether she thought it was just separation anxiety and I was going to miss her.
One of the many, many positives about my relationship with Anita is that she allows me to contact her between sessions so at least the panic and shame about reaching out isn’t there like it was with Em. I don’t have to jump a bunch of internal hurdles about whether I should contact her and that is such a huge relief.
By the time I was thinking about constructing a message to Anita, there was a message on my phone from her. It was lovely, but I think it shows that she had no idea that I was circling rupture zone:
I spent some time typing out a message on my phone and pressed send:
I know it’s unlikely at this short notice but do you have any free slots on Wednesday? I’m feeling really panicked but also really like I just want to run away and never see you again. The teen part that really believes that this is not real is having a field day – ‘I told you so. It’s all lies’. The other week when I was upset and feeling like things weren’t safe because I sensed a lockdown was inevitable you told me we’d be ok and that you’d still see me because it’s what I need. I wasn’t expecting today to find out that this wasn’t the case now. I understand why you are going away. It makes sense to my adult. But the youngest most vulnerable parts don’t understand at all. It just feels abandoning. It feels like it’s hard to trust what is real and what’s just empty words now. I hate that I am like this. I hate being so affected by things that normal people just don’t even notice. I feel embarrassed that I am so upset. I get that it isn’t easy for anyone and I absolutely don’t want to push you away but equally there’s a really strong pull for me to just cut and run. There’s also another part that feels terribly alone in the snow and the teen part will happily let her freeze x
She responded by offering me a time that I couldn’t make (ARRRGGGHHHH!!!), which obviously isn’t her fault, but it just sent me into a big huff. I was going to be sitting with this for a fucking eternity and there was no possibility of seeing her. I so desperately wanted to see her but I couldn’t possibly let her know! Jeez.
What comes next is the wheels falling off:
Oh sweet mother of God…help me! Or at least stop my hands! – text bomb:
Oh man. Reading it back now I am in proper ‘crawl into a hole and die’ mode. But as you can see I was proper activated. I continued on with my texts…ping ping ping… poor Anita!:
I just feel like nothing is real and it’s terrifying. I just really need a big hug and to make a plan on how to get through this next month…or longer. It’s worse than a break. And whilst I have sensed it coming it’s just too sudden for my system. And I feel like you’re gone. But also like I don’t know who you are ☹
She responded by telling me that she would love to give me a hug and that she was sorry and had herself had a wobble because she didn’t see it coming or that the plans would change, to let’s meet up on Friday and find a way forward followed by a hug GIF for the child parts.
Which helped no end! I could feel myself starting to settle a bit. The panic was subsiding. Things would be ok. She wasn’t abandoning me. I would be able to see her on Friday before she leaves and a face-to-face repair felt possible. Her willingness to engage with me, to try to make things better showed that she is the Anita I think she is. She is not Em. I was still massively hurting but could see now that whatever has happened hasn’t been deliberate.
But still the texts continued. FUCK ME…the shame…:
I know it’s really really hard for everyone – all of us – and I’m not trying to be a difficult pain in the arse psycho because I get that you are human too and it’s been an impossible fucking year – and we’re not unhinged (well I am!) is anyone’s guess. I did see it coming. I’ve just been surprised it’s taken so long. I’m always frightened of change because I don’t cope very well with it which is why everything is so controlled in my life and I need tonnes of notice and preparation to get my youngest parts safe before things happen. Adult me can, and will, power through this because that’s what I have trained into myself: keep going no matter what…. It’s just underneath it’s a fucking shambles. And there is so much stuff trying to work its way out at the moment internally that I feel like I have third degree burns all over my body – this last 48 hours (since lockdown announced) feels like I have been thrown into a vat of vinegar. I literally don’t know what to do because it’s so painful. I don’t want to feel like I can’t trust you – but that’s how sensitive my system is. Flight mode is pretty much default. I love you x
Anita replied with another kind message apologising and acknowledging that she had let me down, saying she really knows that she needs to be grounded and solid for me and that she hadn’t been in that session because of her own panic around the lockdown. It really helped to see her human side. I told her that I actually needed authenticity and the truth above anything else. I would rather her be her than attempt being solid when she isn’t feeling it. If she had told me she wasn’t feeling brilliant herself in the session it would have made sense – the mutual disconnect and the fact that she wasn’t really on the ball with letting me know what was going on or making any kind of plan.
I then told her that my meltdown simply stemmed from my being scared of distance, ‘I don’t like feeling far away from you and the littlest parts don’t feel safe unless I can hear your heart beating…which is just fucking cringey’. And that’s the reality, those youngest parts only seem to regulate when they are being held and I can actually hear her steady heartbeat. My breathing slows down, the tension in my system slowly ebbs away, and eventually my breathing matches hers – long and slow rather than rapid and shallow. It’s at this point that the young parts can really come out and tell her what’s going on for them.
The little four-year-old self can’t speak unless she feels contained and right now the only way that she feels safe is being physically close. This is why therapy with Em was so traumatic. The young part would be there, terrified, dysregulated, alone, and Em would just leave her…not just physically, but emotionally too. Being stranded in that pain is hideous. Anita recognises that and responds to it and it is so healing.
Anyway, there was more back and forth – honestly the poor woman got totally spammed on Monday! She reiterated that she really does care and loves me and that she would never purposefully hurt me and we continued working things through and we sort it all out on Friday.
I still felt out of sorts through the week but it would come in waves. Adult me was more available at times, but at other times I’d descend into panic again.
I had a really horrible dream- an old favourite- on Tuesday night where I was in a plane feeling scared, holding onto the seat and repeating ‘I am safe…I am safe…I am safe’ only everyone else was up in the aisles screaming at each other. I went and sought refuge in the toilet for some peace. It was different to a normal plane. There was window. As I looked out, I realised we were too low, skirting alongside some snowy mountains. Suddenly the plane nose dived and started corkscrewing down. I smashed my head on the ceiling and was terrified. The falling seemed to last forever and then suddenly the plane righted itself. Only, now there was another problem, the mountain range surrounded the plane on three sides. We were set to crash into the face of the mountain. The pilot pulled the plane up into an almost vertical ascent….and then I woke up!
Somehow, I made it through the week. I changed my craniosacral session to Wednesday from Thursday as it wasn’t completely clear whether K will be able to work. I needed to get some kind of nervous system regulation and talk about what had happened with A. K was incredible and if I get chance, I will write about these sessions with her soon because they too are soooooo helpful and holding in a different way. Body work has been such a brilliant addition to my talk therapy.
However, despite the lovely session with K, I didn’t sleep properly Wednesday night. The panic about Anita was ramping up. I genuinely felt like I was going to get a text to tell me she wasn’t going to be there on Friday. That she’d left on Wednesday night and we’d have to work online. I could feel the disappointment and rage flooding in. So, I text her and told her. She quickly put my mind at ease and told me she was looking forward to seeing me. Thank god.
And that is the frigging stress of the week before the repair session!! I’ll write another post about that as it’s loooooonng!!
I appreciate that there’s a window of a couple of HUGE weeks missing in this blog and reading between the lines here you’ll have probably worked out that the stuff that’s really changed has been about expressing love and the level physical holding in the relationship with A. It’s been transformational for me which is also why I have reacted so terribly to needing to return to online. The thought of losing all this is just totally overwhelming.
I have been reluctant to talk about it publicly due to the fact that so many people are struggling with remote therapy and having all kinds of new boundaries in place in the therapy room, losing hugs and touch, and I feel like it could be triggering for some and I really don’t want to make things worse for any of us in a pretty fucking unbearable situation.
I know, in the past this sort of thing (reading about the holding and expressions of love on blogs) has triggered me because I have so badly wanted this from Em and never got anywhere close. I am delighted for the people that receive it but I have felt literal pain in my stomach when I realise how strong the need has been in me and how painful it has been not to receive it. Throw in the pandemic and I don’t want to be seen as insensitive to other people. So, I will get to it, but as I said, it’ll probably be passworded.
There’s also a fear on my part. I just don’t want any backlash for what is happening in my therapy because frankly I have had years and years of shit, traumatising experiences in the room, and want to be able to celebrate what’s going on with you and feel good about it. And I know the vast majority of you will be cheering for me, but I also know that when we are struggling ourselves it’s hard not to project our own feelings of anger and dissatisfaction onto others – ‘this is wrong, she shouldn’t do that, social distancing…’ blah blah blah.
So, thanks for being patient but also sorry for the break in chronology and weird cryptic stuff! I just don’t know what to do for the best.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a therapy session with Anita – it was the third of three incredibly connecting sessions where the littlest most scared parts of me felt safe enough to come out and talk. We are getting right down into the toxic shame and the cringey stuff but also starting to heal it which is so great.
The trust has built so much and the level of intimacy has sky-rocketed in the last month. A has been so holding and containing – so attuned – which has meant that the little parts feel safe telling her what they need and can express pretty much anything – it’s like my adult filter has gone! Her responses are always so good that I take more risks in saying what’s happening for me. If I feel shame she quickly removes it and I’m learning to trust that it’s actually ok to be me with her.
It’s weird to think how different it feels in the room now compared to all the years with Em having the feelings but being too scared to really express them.
It’s no secret that I have massive attachment issues is it?!- and a big part of that hell zone is that I am terrified of being left and abandoned. Anyone that’s read this blog for a while will know how hard disruptions to my therapy feel – I mean I absolutely loathe therapy breaks! The recent-ish termination of my long-term therapy with Em left my youngest parts reeling, too. I have never felt so rejected and abandoned in my life. And so even when I feel relative safety with Anita there’s still the parts of me worrying about ‘when’ not ‘if’ things will go wrong. I think that dream I had last week is evidence of that deep-rooted fear. I am so conditioned to believe that I will end up being too much that it’s hard to imagine that what Anita says about not going anywhere could be true.
I’ve been feeling a bit low-grade panicked because now that Anita and I seem to be really ‘doing the work’ in our sessions I have been worrying what would happen if we had another lockdown and had to return to online therapy – which I really, really struggled with last time. It’s a concern that’s been grumbling away in the background for a while, in fact since we returned to face-to-face in September, but in recent weeks has got louder because I felt it was inevitable that we would be forced into another lockdown sooner rather than later and I know that the child parts that have finally made it into the room just will not cope with a lack of physical proximity.
I can’t remember what we had been talking about in the lead up to saying this in session, but the four-year-old part was there and about twenty minutes from the end of the I whispered, ‘I am worried’. Anita gently asked me what I was worrying about and I said, ‘you going away’ (losing the intimacy, holding, and containment). Anita immediately said that I was never going to lose her and that she had no intention of going anywhere. I barely let out any sound as I murmured, ‘you might die’ into her jumper. It was coming up to the anniversary of my good friend/mother figure dying and the young parts had been preoccupied with the loss. A again assured me that she was staying with me and then I said in a really little voice, ‘but we might get locked down again’ and she agreed, ‘we might’.
Anita was quiet for a few seconds and then said, ‘that is a possibility. To be honest I think if we did get locked down again, I know you’d look after you and I’d look after me. I wouldn’t offer this to anyone else because I know the rest of my clients would be ok online, but I’d still be willing to see you because I think you need it. I don’t work with two people in the same way. I do what feels right, for me and for them. So, we might get locked down but I am offering that to you. I wouldn’t see anyone else here I’d just see you so it would feel safer. Does that make sense?’
I honestly couldn’t believe my ears. To have that recognition that online therapy really doesn’t work for me and that actually she understands how traumatising it is for the young parts (especially now she’s really met them) was incredible. To know that she recognises my trauma and is prepared to find a way to not add to that was like the biggest balm for my soul and really made the young parts calm down inside.
The last few weeks I have been anticipating lockdown being announced. I knew it would mean some disruption to my work life and I’d likely lose K and my craniosacral sessions but otherwise things would remain largely the same. It would be hard not having my body therapy because my nervous system is a nightmare, but at least I would still have Anita twice a week and that would make all the other challenges just about bearable. I’m a real homebody and am quite risk averse and so actually haven’t been anywhere public like restaurants, cinemas, gyms, shopping or whatever since the last lockdown was lifted and so I wouldn’t miss that – or seeing people!
Anyway, fast forward to Monday. Lockdown had been announced on Saturday by BoJo. I had already moved my extra-curricular tuition online (as per guidance) but have kept my home-schooling work face-to-face (again there’s very clear wording on that). There seems to be a lot more flexibility around what can and can’t happen this time around in all areas. Last time we were all locked down weren’t we – DO NOT GO OUT! To be honest this time it just seems like hospitality, entertainment, and some shops are shutting – oh and you can’t go get a haircut or a tattoo! The government is encouraging us to keep medical appointments, we can even go to support groups of up to fifteen people etc. As I say, in many ways because schools are open my life doesn’t look any different.
I was jabbering away in session on Monday. Just filler. There wasn’t much deep stuff going on because I guess the part of me that had been in a panic about being ‘left’ was feeling safe. Ok work is now going be a Zoom doom pain in the arse but at least my Monday and Friday sessions are there. I will survive.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
About half an hour into the session I looked at A and she said, ‘you seem quite distant today’ and I think she meant, I wasn’t being emotionally vulnerable and my adult was very there and she finished the sentence, ‘maybe it’s in anticipation of the separation?’
What the actual fuck???!!!
My system shut down instantly and I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping through my system. I didn’t say anything. My facial expression didn’t change. But I was frozen. I literally couldn’t compute what she had just said to me. I was stunned. Two weeks ago she had assured me that she would be there if we were locked down because I ‘need’ it and now we have half an hour left of a session before a four week separation and this is the first I know about it! You have to be kidding me?
I can’t tell you how many voices were running wild in my head but there was a loud teen screaming ‘I knew it! She’s a fucking liar!’ and then there was the little four-year-old crying, ‘you told me you wouldn’t leave me’. It was absolutely horrific.
I couldn’t speak. I felt trembly. I wanted to run away but I couldn’t move. So, off I went. Dissociated.
Anita moved and sat closer to me but I couldn’t look at her. I don’t think she realised fully what was going on in my head. She didn’t join the dots from the conversation we’d had the other week to my disappointment now. And I couldn’t tell her. I felt ashamed. I felt so stupid. Why did I allow myself to believe what she had said? And if she had lied about that, what else was a lie? The ‘I love yous’?
All these weeks of steady encouragement to ‘come in out of the cold’ and then this. This is exactly why we stay distant. If you don’t people in they can’t hurt you can they?
A asked me if I wanted a hug. I didn’t respond. I could hear what she was saying but I just couldn’t speak or move. She asked again and I barely nodded. Child parts though, they outstrip the angry teen! She put her hand on my hand and pulled me in close for a cuddle. I didn’t speak. I think it was a kind of shock. I seem to have mastered dissociative crying where I don’t even know it’s happening until I feel the tears roll down over my lip, though.
She told me that she hadn’t decided what she was going to be doing yet but was probably going up to stay with her partner. I just held on tight and kept silently crying. I literally couldn’t believe she was going to leave me when she had so clearly promised not to. Adult me understands but adult me wasn’t there then.
Then the session was over and I realised that not only was I going to be working online for a month, but that we had no plan in place on how to help manage a month of hideous shit online. I was firmly in rupture zone (not that she knew that then). A said we can continue to text and have contact…but that is not enough. Not now. Not after the way we have been working for the last month. The young parts that are so exposed need some tangible reminder that she actually exists because when I am distressed the object constancy stuff is awful. All I can picture is a black void of where she should be -it’s right back into preverbal trauma.
I struggled to get up and leave. I said goodbye but I couldn’t meet her gaze. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I walked to my car, got inside, shut the door and let out a gut-wrenching howl. I sounded like a wounded animal. And then I sobbed. Convulsive crying. Just absolutely hideous levels of pain. It was a pain about being left, by her, by Em, by my mum all coming together at once. All those excruciating feelings about being unlovable, unimportant and forgettable came flooding in.
It’s fair to say it’s been a pretty shit week! I’m completely exhausted by this but also just completely embarrassed and ashamed to feel this. I did let A know what’s gone on but…ugh god… I just want to crawl into a hole and die. Talk about losing my grip!
* Just to say, thank you to everyone who has emailed me asking for the password for upcoming posts. I haven’t replied to anyone yet because I don’t have a password yet and I haven’t written any posts! Also, I genuinely thought about eight people were going to message me and it’s been loads of you. I will get back to you guys soon xx
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.