Reunited (at last!): Relief and Release

I am really aware that have been like a broken record for the last few months here, moaning on about how hard I have found lockdown without any face-to-face therapy and having to conduct my therapeutic relationships online. It’s sad really, that the difference between things in my life feeling manageable – or not – essentially boils down to having contact with a couple of therapists for a few hours each week in person. I guess though, that is the transformative power of therapy, it doesn’t take a lot of time, in the big scheme of things, to help to start shifting the balance in the right direction and helping the various traumatised parts feel a little more stable.

There’s really no good time for a global pandemic to hit (!) but I could cry about how poorly timed this one has been for me and my sense of emotional wellbeing. I mean, the hell that was December to February with Em was really something else, it floored my youngest parts. In fact, I still can’t really express how awful that ending with Em was and how massively impacted I have been by it. But at least I had both Anita and K in my corner helping to drag me through the worst of it. My sessions in February and March were absolute life savers, like strategically placed islands in the stream allowing me to catch my breath before being once more subject to the swirling currents of my feelings ‘outside the room’.

And then lockdown hit and all of a sudden everything stopped. Well, I mean face-to-face therapies. Anita and I started working online and K and I have been in pretty much daily contact throughout on WhatsApp…but it’s not the same [screech in whiny voice!]. At the beginning of lockdown, I could just about satisfy myself with the idea that some contact/therapy was better than none given the fact that it felt as if we were heading into the apocalypse. But, actually, as time has gone on, I’ve struggled more and more with feeling physically isolated, alone, and abandoned. Adult me gets that I have not been ‘left’ and am not ‘untouchable’…but the nature of lockdown has wreaked havoc with the young parts.

As I say, lockdown itself has been fine. I have largely enjoyed being at home, working from home, having a slightly slower pace of life, in a lot of ways not much changed but I have really missed going to see A and K. Especially K. I have really missed the holding that comes from doing the body work in craniosacral therapy. K seems to see me even when I am in hiding. Or maybe that should be ‘feel’ me? So, the longer lockdown has gone on the harder it has been for me to hold the really vulnerable, traumatised parts of myself because usually I get help with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I have given it a really good go (trying to self-care/meet the need of the young parts) but my god it’s been exhausting and pretty useless because when my adult self is AWOL and I am stuck in distressed ‘baby’ there’s nothing to be done. That baby has no idea how to soothe itself. All it knows is that everything is wrong and it is scary spiralling through the black abyss.

So, it’s felt like the level of need/distress has been steadily ramping up week on week until recently I felt as though those young parts were dying to be held. It felt like a whole-body ache…or as my friend described it the other day, like a ‘hunger. It sounds dramatic. I know it does. But she’s right, it’s like the biggest hunger or rather like being slowly starved to death.

Anyway, somehow or other I have got through it but I have felt increasingly like my rope is unravelling and I’m hanging on by the final frayed thread.

My nervous system has been in meltdown!

Honestly, I wish just for a day I could be without this stuff. To not carry this unbelievable weight would just be so freeing!

The last few weeks have felt especially tough. The screaming distress of the child parts has felt almost impossible to manage. Thinking about it, I am not surprised that it has been the last two weeks where the Inner Critic has moved in from the wings and got a bit more vocal. It’s a last resort. Someone needs to get things in order! Only, I am so aware now that following through on the demands of the Critic doesn’t do me any good in the long run. It thinks it’s protective – and sure it helps numb that young agony for a bit – but the thing I have learnt is that I can’t outrun it (that feeling that I am going to be annihilated if I feel and face pain of the youngest parts of me) forever, because when I inevitably crash and burn after a period of self-attack – it’s always there waiting, it never goes away. Ugh.

Sooooooooo you can imagine my absolute delight when a couple of weeks ago K said she was going to be slowly getting back to working face-to-face. Like I did a full on internal happy dance…until I realised that I have two children and a wife that works full time hours and it’s the summer holidays! In the usual run of things, term time, pre-Covid I’d see K on a Thursday at hers…but getting out anywhere alone in working hours is just not on the cards at the moment. Honestly, the realisation that I am not free until September was like a sucker punch. I could have cried.

I explained that I would absolutely love to see K but that I couldn’t because of the children. But you know. The story doesn’t end there. Because K is amazing – that’s no secret – she offered to come to mine to do a session. OMG! My kids have been really good at entertaining themselves when I have had my online tutoring sessions and therapy with so I knew they’d be ok gluing themselves to the TV for a little while.

Because we’ve kept in touch throughout lockdown K knew how it’s been for me, how big of a struggle it’s felt, and has been bombarded with various hug gifs and heart emojis over the last few months. Like it’s basically been four months of ‘I miss you’ and ‘I need a hug’. Bless her she really puts up with a lot from me! To know that I would see her soon, and get a proper hug, not a virtual one was amazing.

So finally, it got to Thursday and yay yay yay! I can’t even put into words how lovely it was to see K in person after so long…it’s only been four months but to the younger parts it’s felt like a lifetime! And to be able to have a hug the minute I saw her was just the best. I mean if there was a scale of hug 0-10 she gives 10s.

We sat outside on my deck, had a cup of tea and a chat and it was just so nice to feel normal-ish again and catch up a bit…and to be able to talk about the stuff that I can’t say to everyday people: like the struggle I’ve been having with online therapy, the disconnect, and other stuff that is sandwiched with shame.

To be back on the couch was brilliant. Almost immediately I could feel my system responding to K. I can’t really explain the sensation of craniosacral therapy on the body because lots of different things happen over the course of a session – but initially, to me, it felt like everything that had been blocked in my system started to flow again. When things start to feel more in tune it feels almost like a tide is running through my system – like a natural rhythm is restored. I know that sounds properly heebie-jeebie but it’s true!

Another thing that happens is a deep sense of coming back into the body, this often takes a good while to happen – especially if I have been hurtling around out in space. It feels a bit like being in an elevator and slowly coming down, down, down, until you land, grounded. I have been so ‘out of my body’ lately that to feel embodied again is amazing but also fucking heavy! Like oh my god I had no idea how exhausted I was! And the hangover from it on Friday was so big that I couldn’t really do anything!

And all that is amazing… but what I didn’t anticipate (you’d think I would know myself by now) was that parts of me were still defended and protected. There’s still this massive hangover from Em and all the stuff with my mum that prevents me from saying exactly what’s going on – but it’s not surprising when what comes up is so overwhelming and the need is so huge. Although, as I said, K seems to understand without me saying anything.

At the beginning on the session she had said that the session was for all the parts of me, however vulnerable, and especially the baby who had been essentially stuck in an incubator (which is a big trauma – 3 days in an incubator when I was born and no contact with my mum) for the last four months…so I guess she must have understood what was going on – to a degree.

Anyway, it was all going well, my body was doing its thing – coming back into itself- when K gently put her hand on my chest – and boom – fuck me it was like all the stuff I have been tightly holding onto for…well…a long time…not just lockdown came up and out. Jesus. There was no gentle tuning into it, or slow bubbling up – it was like a defibrillator shock into feelings that I generally can’t connect to, especially in the presence of someone else. Actually, the only person I get close to expressing these feelings with is K.

I don’t know how it happens, or why, or what gets unblocked but it’s sooooo powerful. All of a sudden though, I felt about two years old, vulnerable, exposed, and just wanted to roll onto my side and cuddle into K and be rocked. It was so young. Ugh. It’s fucking mortifying. Like seriously, the shame around this stuff is just too much to bear sometimes. It’s not lost on me that I am a 37-year-old woman with two children of my own … but sometimes I have a hard job remembering that when this stuff comes up because those young parts take over and it takes an almighty effort from the critic to override that stuff…which is where the shame and self-loathing come in!

Anyway, I have enough of a filter to not do that (thank god!) but it’s so hard then navigating these intense feelings. I’ve been in this place enough times with Em – feeling young and then being faced with the distance and being immersed in the shame and it being so overwhelming that I end up creeping off into dissociation. The positive with a body-based therapy is that there is at least some touch – some contact – and so whilst in the past I might be flooded with that overwhelming need to be held and Em would be half a world away in her chair at least K is actually right there, still.

The young parts settled a little bit as the session went on but, as K reached my head there was part of me that really just wanted to hold her hand. FFS! It feels really embarrassing. But I think it is a bit like what I was saying earlier – it feels like I have been starved of this for the longest time and now I realise just how bloody hungry I am. And you know that thing that happens in sessions when you are mentally aware of the time ticking away? Like sand slipping through your fingers? Well, I know that it’s really common for my younger parts to get panicked – like the anticipation of it all being over and being back on my own makes those parts want to cling on. It’s as though their life depends on it.

OH THE SHAME!!!

The session was so nice (aside from my inner gymnastics). I think the other thing I realised as time was ticking by is that I need to stop fighting whatever it is that’s going on inside because all the while I am trying to keep everyone in check I am missing out on the level of connection I actually need. The shame keeps me isolated. I am certain K could handle me saying, ‘I feel really young right now and I just want to hug you’ like it’s fine…isn’t it?…it’s just feelings. But ugh… I wish I wasn’t so terrified of being rejected or abandoned or left. I wish that what has happened with Em hadn’t have made me even more cautious and guarded. It feels like such an almighty ask of myself to risk those parts coming forward again. I literally cannot bear the same thing happening again and being hurt.

What I have to remember, though is that both K and A are NOT Em…they have the power to hurt me like she did but it doesn’t mean they will.

At the end I said goodbye to K we had another hug and I told her, ‘I’ve really missed you’…it’s so much easier to say that when you can’t be seen and are being held…although there was a part of me that didn’t want to let that out at all! To a ‘normal’ person that would be a pretty simple thing to say wouldn’t it? Like isn’t it normal to say things like, ‘I am so happy to see you’ or ‘I’ve missed you’ or ‘I love you’…but anything like that just feels like I’m some kind of creep. Like it would make the other person feel uncomfortable. That it’s too much. Expressing any kind of emotion – good or bad – is really hard for me and increasingly so since Em’s ‘tick’ comment. I never want to be thought of that way…although clearly, internally, it has stuck.

I need face-to-face therapy! …

“It’s like you’ve spent your whole life being told and believing that something is orange and here I am trying to convince you that it’s actually purple…what happened to you was not your fault RB. You were failed time and again by your caregivers. I know after what’s happened with Em that it’s going to even harder for you to trust me when I say this but your young parts have done absolutely nothing wrong. You are not too much. I am not going anywhere.”

That was the end of one of my sessions with A this last week…of which there were three! Eek.

I have lost track a bit of what’s happened since my last post, my chronology is out but that’s what lockdown has done to me – it’s just days and days and days and more endless days of the same stuff punctuated by staring at my therapist via a screen and wishing we were in person in the room!

To be fair, it’s not that bad. My day-to-day adult life is ticking along just fine. I have finished the bulk of my teaching for the summer (just going to do two sessions a week on a Monday) and we’ve had a pretty good few weeks in the nice weather as a family just chilling in the garden.

As usual, though, it’s not the ‘here and now’ that’s the problem and often what happens when my life slows down a bit is that it creates space for the old stuff, the trauma, to take centre stage. I think part of the reason stuff is coming up it is that I feel a lot closer to Anita since the session where we spoke about how massively impacted I had been by her not acknowledging some of my messages. Since then she has replied to everything I have sent – emojis are great for my young parts and a simple ‘lovely 😊’ is really enough to start to trust in the connection which has meant I have been braver in coming forward about some of the bigger things because I feel like she is there and safe.

I am so glad at A was able to listen to what I was feeling in that session, could take it all on board, and has committed to helping me in a way that works. It was so easy in the end. It’s such a contrast to how things were with Em. I feel so sad when I think about how there was never any collaboration or trying meet each other half way on things in that therapy. Everything I asked for was met with a ‘no’. And when I look back, I should have given up when even three dots midweek in a text was too much for her.

Anyway, back to me and A. I have had lots of dreams about her lately, pushing me away in various ways and have really struggled with sleep. The other day I was dithering at the beginning of the session, because you know, a bad dream makes it all feel unsafe!! A asked me how I had been sleeping. I told her ‘really badly’. And she asked me if I’d had any more dreams. It reminded me that last time I spoke about her rejecting me in a dream she had made it clear that in real life there is no way she’d respond to me or abandon me in the way she did in the dream and it was enough for me to tell her about the next one…and again she could quickly put my mind at rest which allowed us to dig into what was coming up for me in my dreams. Usual stuff…all traceable back to the motherwound!

The sessions have been good – so far as Skype goes (which is not the same as face-to-face). The only problem, of course, is that when you are nose deep ferreting through the shit together in session, it can feel like you are drowning when you are back out on your own!…hence the midweek 30 minute check in sessions over the last couple of weeks.

I woke up feeling particularly rubbish a couple of weeks ago on Wednesday – ‘Woeful Wednesday’. Bad dreams. Feeling very unsettled the moment I woke up. Trapped in that young place where there are no words and you need holding and containment but there is none. I outdid myself and sent a super cringey message with a gif:

Woeful Wednesday again. I just wish I knew why it is such a consistently terrible day x

She responded really warmly and asked me if I wanted a half hour session later that day. I absolutely did and it made a huge difference to the parts that were wobbling. Anita suggested that whilst we aren’t working face-to-face (how much longer?????)  that we could experiment with having a half hour session on a Wednesday and see how that helps. It makes sense so I agreed and that’s what we’ve been doing.

I resent the fact, though, that a lot of why I feel so destabilised is lack of face-to-face contact and so I am paying a fortune every week to try and maintain some sense of connection and that I just don’t need that when there’s face-to-face. It feels like I am haemorrhaging cash to get a 5/10 connection.

I am really grateful that she is trying to accommodate me and ease things as much as possible. The session itself on Wednesday might not allow for a lot of work to get done but it seems to make the Friday session quicker to drop into and it lets the young parts see that she is still there. The object constancy stuff is being worked on by doing this – and given the struggles I am having about feeling abandoned and rejected due to the limitations of Skype, more consistent contact has been good. It’s still not as good as face-to-face though.

I’ve felt increasingly like I am reaching the end of my rope so far as online therapy goes. I mean we have been doing some good work. Or, at least, she is really getting to see the map now.

I’ve told her a lot of stuff, the trust has really built and on Monday this week I dived into the really concealed stuff around my eating disorder and how difficult exercise can be because of the tendency to use it as a method of self-harm. I’ve been really open about how hurt I feel by not being ‘loved enough’ – it stung a lot when she referred to me having ‘an empty love bucket’! and we have explored a lot of early stuff…but I just know I need to be face-to-face. I can’t really connect with the feelings because I don’t feel safe to do it when I am on my own…through a screen.

Anita said this too, she is really clear that what’s happening for me is coming from a pre-verbal place and that the feelings that are needing to be felt and processed need to be held and expressed in safety so they can’t come out like this because my protective parts don’t want to be left – they need proximity and to coregulate with a safe person. She sees it. She hears me when I say how disconnected I feel. How I miss eye contact and just ‘feeling’ the energy in the room and yet still we have not had a conversation about when we might be able to resume working together in person.

I looked at the COVID stats online yesterday for the South West – and there have been no deaths recorded in nearly 4 weeks here. There have been 32 new cases for the whole of Devon and Cornwall over the last seven days. The population of this area is roughly 1.7 million people. To me 32:1,700000 or 1:53,125 doesn’t seem like the biggest terror factor. I get that there is a risk. I get why we need to wear masks in shops etc. I have no desire to go to the high street or the local Wetherspoons…but what I don’t understand is how it is ‘safe’ enough to go to places with huge groups of strangers mixing together under the influence of alcohol and yet I can’t go sit in a therapy room 1:1 with my therapist, with the window open, and sitting 2 metres apart – (guidance is 1m+).

I wish that people understood that for some of us with these particular injuries – CPTSD – that a protracted period of feeling isolated and distanced from our ‘attachment figure’ is really fucking hard and detrimental to our metal and physical wellbeing. Like the first month of it was ugh but some therapy was better than nothing…and yet as time has gone on, it’s got harder and harder to hold what’s inside. It’s exhausting trying to keep it all together and to be honest my rubber bands and chewing gum are feeling the strain.

I think, too, as society has opened up it’s got more difficult for my young parts to understand why I still can’t see Anita. Like why can I go and get my hair cut which requires close physical proximity…or like I say, how can I go rub shoulders with strangers in a bar (if I wanted to) and yet not get support with my mental health for trauma? Like my roots can wait but my child parts that are falling apart and need contact…they really can’t hang on indefinitely.

I feel frustrated.

Like why she hasn’t even mentioned what her plans for the future might be?….like are we talking the Autumn, Winter, 2021?? The unknown is really hard. And whilst the idea of months and months more of this feels impossible I would sooner know what I am actually dealing with.

Anyway… that’s that! I didn’t expect to descend into this rant!! Whoops! Maybe I could get myself a HAZMAT suit?

 

Navigating Our First Rupture…

I made it through last weekend a little haphazardly and as it got to Monday, and almost time for my session, I felt anxious. I had every intention of telling Anita that her not replying to some of my recent (vulnerable) texts had unsettled me in a big way. I mean surely the evidence was there that she is safe enough to express that with? She may not have replied to me but we had talked in sessions about what I had said, more or less, and when I had reached out in the middle of the week and asked for a check-in she’d accommodated that. If I don’t tell her what’s going on how is she meant to know…and how can we sort it out?

I took a deep breath and waited for Anita’s call to come in, 10:00…10:01…10:02…10:03… wtf? I started to feel pissed off, angry, forgotten about…abandoned…rejected…and then I closed down. I know this is not all about Anita, that everything she does is also filtered through the lens of how Em behaved, but I nose-dived really quickly, ‘She’s the same as Em. She doesn’t really care. You’re a fucking moron for hoping that this time things would be different because the problem is you…not them…’

So with the Critic ranting in my head and my body feeling I almost just left it, ‘Sod her. I don’t even care anyway…’

Only of course I do care.

Having stared at my home screen for the last four minutes I opened up my Whatsapp and saw that I had a missed called from A at 10:01. My phone hadn’t rung or notified me of the call.

Really?

For fuck’s sake! I returned the call and A picked up. I told her my phone had glitched and she said she was glad to see me and was worried something might have happened. You’d think that might have been enough for me to settle down, connect, and talk but of course it isn’t that easy. In the intervening four minutes between expecting the call and realising I had missed the call I had run the attachment gauntlet and my body was in flight mode.

I wish I had have been brave enough to say, ‘I thought you’d forgotten about me and I feel panicked’ but of course because I was hanging on to all the worry about the last two weeks and her not acknowledging those few texts it felt impossible. I was already armoured up and so I did the thing… I talked BUT NOT ABOUT WHAT WAS REALLY BOTHERING ME. I spoke about work, my daughter’s return to school, and you guessed it… COVID!

Give me fucking strength!!

I’m not saying that what I spoke about isn’t a concern or wasn’t helpful it’s just on my list of ‘what’s bothering me’ those things probably come about 15 places down. Like even if I couldn’t tell her about the fear surrounding being rejected or her seeming to have backed away, maybe I could have talked about the fact I was upset about the anniversary of my dad dying which was happening the next day having touched on it in our Friday session, or told her about the fact that I had looked at Em’s website over the weekend – you know how I like to self-harm – and had seen that she’s updated her page to specifically list the issues she deals with. There are tonnes but imagine my horror when she lists: attachment disorders, dissociation, eating disorders, and trauma…

I wanted to puke.

I knew the, ‘I have reached the limit of my competency’ and I do not have ‘the relevant skills or training’…was utter fucking bullshit when she said it. It’s like the therapist’s get out of jail free card. How can you argue with that? It’d be like a student asking me to teach them German – it just wouldn’t be possible. They’d have to seek support elsewhere. But to see that she is advertising her services in these areas tells me that she has learned absolutely nothing from what has happened between us. That she takes zero responsibility for her part in it.

To think that she genuinely thinks she has the skills to treat people with these issues is absolutely beyond words. I am upset. I am hurt. But I am absolutely terrified that she’ll do the same to someone else. Perhaps someone else who doesn’t have quite as much resilience as I have. And it might sound dramatic but it’s not beyond the range of possibility that someone might really hurt themselves facing the situation I did.

If it weren’t for my kids and the fact that I quickly found Anita just as things began to unravel (tick gate!) I think there would have been a strong possibility that I may have hurt myself…or worse. Because annihilating a person’s young parts when they have been exposed and vulnerable is just about the worst thing that can happen for people with attachment problems.

Everything went wrong when we were kids, we learnt to protect ourselves, often using maladaptive coping mechanisms that hurt us further, and in many cases the damage that was done to us as kids led to us developing problematic relational patterns…this all causes us problems in later life and that’s how we end up in therapy depressed, empty, anxious, hurting…

We are encouraged to try again at letting people in, trusting some with the most vulnerable parts of ourselves… and it took years for me to let Em see what I was struggling with, how badly hurt I was, and when she saw the full extent of the need and pain, she abandoned me…only this time it feels worse because unlike my mother, she’s also rejected my adult self, too, so I feel utterly heartbroken.

But no. I didn’t bring ANY OF THAT to the session…because people refusing to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces is clearly of greater concern for me! Jeez!

Anyway, the session ended it was fine, but not fine you know? I doubt Anita even knew I was keeping her at arm’s length. I felt so pissed off with myself afterwards, though. I convinced myself that she was fed up with me, disinterested in me, that I was wasting my time. And yet, there was still a part that wanted to connect.

On Tuesday I had a good day with work, back to face to face, but by the evening the grief around my dad loomed large. I had told Anita that I was really sad that this year I would not be able to go to the beach and ‘connect with my dad’ like I usually do, to mark the anniversary. I mean I know technically we are allowed to travel wherever we like but I don’t think that a trip out of county is essential right now.

On Tuesday evening I sent Anita some pictures I took from my trip last year with the caption ‘If Only…’

img_8103img_8079img_8101

And sure enough she did not reply.

And that is when my system went into full scale meltdown. Usually, before the message when I let her in, she would at least send an emoji and now nothing.

I had bad dreams all week. One where I was watching Anita with someone (aspects of me) at an outdoor café. As I watched I could tell that something wasn’t right. It looked fine on the surface but I just knew it wasn’t as it appeared. As she got up to leave, she handed me a rolled-up piece of paper that looked like a receipt and on it written in pencil were the words, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t work with you’.

Then I woke up on Thursday morning having had a dream about being on a paddle board with both my kids in a harbour (where I used to live). The paddle board had a puncture and was rapidly deflating. Neither of my kids (in the dream) were competent swimmers and I knew I couldn’t save both of them. I noticed Anita was on the harbour wall. I called for help and she turned and walked away.

I know they’re both dreams. Not reality. That these are my fears coming out. But it’s horrid because I ignored my dreams about Em and look what happened. What happens if my dreams are trying to tell me something again?

I felt so triggered and upset that I sent Anita a message to cancel the session on Friday. This is so unlike me. I never cancel sessions…ok so I cancelled that one with Em just before Christmas but never before! So I sent this:

Can we have a break tomorrow and talk on Monday instead? I feel really unsettled, disconnected, and that things aren’t ok/safe/something has changed between us. Bad dreams aren’t helping. Maybe it’ll feel less bad after the weekend. July is always hard.

I wasn’t sure what she would come back with but I wasn’t really expecting this:

Of course, that’s no problem.

I mean sure, I asked to not do the session but I explained why and for me to be saying I am feeling shit and unsafe in the relationship I basically did not need her to agree that it was fine to ignore that for another few days. The child parts felt so abandoned. I needed Anita to see past my defences and reach through to the little ones and she didn’t. I left it a few hours and felt really unseen and disappointed.

I am good at catastrophising and was really seriously thinking that this was it…it wasn’t going to work out – she just doesn’t get it. To be fair I also need make it clear that I was massively hormonal and I am never at my most rational when in the throes on PMS!

A few hours later I replied:

It doesn’t feel like no problem ☹

And then this came in:

No, I can hear that but not sure how to try and reassure you in a text. My guess is the closer we get the more your defences will try to sabotage the relationship to try and keep you safe. It’s a system that works as in it keeps you guarded but it also isolates you. I can hear July is a triggering month so maybe letting your defences step in for a few days is what you need and gives your defences the respect they deserve for trying to keep you safe. So try not to be too hard on yourself and try to give yourself the empathy you deserve.

Ugh. Yes. But. No.

Absolutely, the closer we get the more spooked parts will feel because the fear of loss and rejection becomes more acute but there’s more to it than that … and telling me not to be too hard on myself when I am depriving myself of connection feels like we’re letting the protector win when actually sometimes she needs to be shown that we’re ok and that it’s safe. But that message was enough for me to see that actually A is not trying to ignore me or disconnect…I don’t think… and so I asked if we could still have our session, feeling like a bloody dickhead!:

I hate feeling like this. And yes, you’re right. But I don’t want to feel triggered and then run scared from people because it is isolating. It’s that thing about leaving before I get left. I was hypervigilant before January but now it’s off the chart ☹ . I’m sorry. Is it too late to change my mind about tomorrow?

And of course, this is Anita we are talking about and she came back:

You really don’t need to say sorry and tomorrow at 10am is absolutely fine 😊

And so that was that. Fun times.

When it came to the session on Friday, I felt a bit nervous. I knew I had to tell her what was really going on if I was going to really sort it out. So we started and I said I was a bit embarrassed that I had made such a fuss and actually still ended up in the session…what a 24 hours! She was really warm and understanding. I asked her outright, ‘has something changed?’ and she was adamant from her side that no, nothing had changed, or yes, something had changed, but positively, she said she felt like we are getting closer.

I smiled.

Good. It’s not just me moving towards her then and her feeling repulsed and backing away.

She said that I had mentioned some bad dreams and asked me if I would tell her about them. So, I started with the one about the café and she said that sounded really hard and that she wanted to reassure me that she really has no intention of leaving and that I am not too much for her. She said she understood that might be hard to take on board, or believe, because Em will have said the same thing and then left (the warmth that she exuded as she said it is like nothing Em ever expressed in all the time I worked with her). It was easy to believe what she was saying because it felt real and genuine.

I told her about the second dream and she was really moved and replied that she could see how hard that was for me. Two dreams on the bounce where she’d abandoned me. She could understand my concern, what if I allowed myself to get into the water and it got emotionally overwhelming could I be sure that she wouldn’t let me drown, would she reach out and save me? And the answer to that was an emphatic ‘yes!’. We are in this together and she has absolutely no intention of letting me or my child parts drown.

I can’t tell you how much my body relaxed when she said that. I have never experienced any real reassurance in the relationship with Em. I’ve always been left second guessing, hoping for the best but fearing the worst…and then frequently hearing the worst. Anita isn’t like that. It’s so unbelievably refreshing. Healing.

She said that my protector is really strong and good at her job. I agreed but said, ‘the thing is Anita, I need you to be stronger than she is. I need to you to be able to meet her and diffuse her or at least side step her to get to the young ones because that will make her stand down.’ She repeated the idea she had said in the text about giving the protector space and respect. I said, ‘no’. ‘No?’ she wondered. ‘No. Because if we let her have free reign then the little ones lose out again, they remain isolated and unseen, and they’re the only reason she’s there in the first place’.

Anita asked me to explain further. I said, ‘my system works in a particular way. It’s always the same. If the young parts reach out and are vulnerable but aren’t met they are left in a whole world of pain, it’s awful. So in order for me to function, first the teen steps in with her bubbling rage which is externalised, and then if she can’t get a handle on it all,  the critic steps up and starts attacking me. The teen part is like a really angry big sister. When the young ones are abandoned, she loses her shit. There is absolutely nothing she won’t do to protect them from another unsafe adult hurting them. She’ll cut all ties before things get worse. She struggles to trust anyway but if the young ones are hurting it’s like all hell breaks loose.’

Anita really seemed to get it and said, ‘so what you need then, is for me to see the young parts and help them and the teen will step down a bit?’.

Bingo.

I think at this point she thought that the teen was having a meltdown because of the dreams. It felt like we were moving in the right direction but I still didn’t quite feel like I could tell her that I had been so upset about the texts. It felt stupid. Being face to face – or screen to screen – or whatever I could see that Anita was not trying to abandon me at all. I guess, though, there was a little bit of me that was thinking, ‘she only cares in the paid for time, outside that I don’t matter’… you know all the great stuff!

So instead I decided to tell her something else that I felt shame about but not quite as much shame as I did about overreacting to the texts… I decided to tell her that I had looked online at Em’s website earlier in the week. I waited for it…a raised eyebrow… look of disgust…an uncomfortable shuffle in her chair. Of course, none of those things happened. Just a look of care and understanding as though it were the most natural thing in the world that I’d be searching my ex-therapists website after terminating five months ago!

I expressed how upset I felt knowing that she had learnt nothing, took no responsibility, and basically that left me in no doubt that she absolutely thinks I was the problem. Anita empathised. I said I was angry. She asked me what I wanted to do with my anger and I said that I didn’t know right now, but that I was certain that I didn’t want to turn it in on myself…it’s not always possible but if I do that then she’s really won. Anita agreed and said she was glad that even though it was painful that I wasn’t abusing myself as well.

Anyway, we spoke about that and then I built up a bit more confidence…and asked again, ‘Are you absolutely sure that we are ok and that nothing has changed?’ She replied again ‘I’m sure’. I sat there quiet. ‘In the last few weeks you’ve taken steps closer to me’ she looked thoughtful for a second ‘and I really feel like we are getting closer… Do you think I have stepped back?’ I nodded. She told me that if I had felt that she is sorry but that absolutely had not been her intention. A little voice murmured, ‘but you’ve ignored me’. Anita looked shocked. ‘In session?’ she wondered. ‘No’ I whispered. I felt so small at that point and it was really clear to me that it was the young part that was talking to her. She was quiet for a moment. ‘Is this about texts?’ I nodded again. She thought for a few seconds and then started talking in a really open and vulnerable way,

‘I’m sorry if my text replies have felt not good enough or what you’ve needed. I think I told you before that I have really bad dyslexia. I almost couldn’t complete my training because of the written component of the course. I needed a lot of support from my supervisor and had to use voice technology to write my essays because I struggle so much with writing and typing. I could never offer email therapy for this reason. So, when I text I have to think really, really hard and the harder I try the less authentic it might feel because I lose myself in trying to get it right when I know I am likely to get it wrong. I’m sorry.’

Honestly, it was so heartfelt that I melted a bit inside. Like I really felt for her and was so pleased that she was able to be vulnerable with me. To have authentic communication modelled is really something. I hadn’t really thought about it from her side despite having been told in our first session together that she prefers to check in via calls rather than texts because she struggles with dyslexia and finds calls more connecting. I really heard it now, and realised that it probably feels especially pressured knowing I am an English teacher and will notice any errors in what she sends.

I suppose I tend to communicate in writing because it’s what I find easier but it’s also that I have not been allowed calls or any outside contact with Em and writing is all I had – even though I really shouldn’t text or email! In all the years we worked together we only had one phone check in…and it was a game changer for me…and yet the next time I walked into the room she raised the drawbridge and told me she’d stepped outside her role as a therapist by doing it. It was devastating.

I said to Anita that I really understood that, but actually I really didn’t have a problem with her texts, that her replies up until two weeks ago have been phenomenal, so holding, so attuned, and exactly what I had needed. I said that she had felt so connected, even when she might just reply with a smiley face emoji. I told her that two weeks ago, when I told her that my young parts missed her she stopped responding and since then every time I have reached out with something vulnerable she’s made no reply at all and it’s made me worry that something is wrong, that I am too much, and that she is backing away.

If I had said any of this to Em she would have thrown it back at me, telling me how I am just being sensitive and that the feelings are coming from the past and that it’s not how it is and that we need to keep communication inside the room and that this is her boundary. She could never step towards me in a rupture and instead left me hanging having to work through it on my own.

What did Anita do?

She leant in towards the camera and gently said, ‘I am so so sorry for letting your young parts down, I really didn’t mean to. I am so glad you’ve been able to tell me this because now I can make sure I don’t do it again. I have been really busy at home the last couple of weeks and I am sorry if it’s come across as me not caring. It’s not that, at all. I have been aware of how you’ve moved towards me and I didn’t want to get it wrong with you or give you an inadequate response’.

I explained that I really don’t need long or complicated responses to my texts and that I really understand the feelings around being exposed and not feeling good enough due to the dyslexia. I said I am not judging and that she’s always felt really authentic to me. My young parts just need to know that she’s still there when I reach out. I told her again about how I really struggle with object constancy and so that it really is the young parts seeking reassurance and an emoji can be enough…but getting no reply at all sends me into panic.

I told her that I genuinely thought she was trying to find a way to tell me she wasn’t able to work with me which is what’s been coming up in my dreams and why I had backed away on Thursday. She said she understood that there felt like there was safety in leaving before I got left. I said having just talked in the way we have it seems like a massive reaction to three texts being left hanging especially when in the same block of time I’d reached out and she had made time for a check in. I said it’s just really hard coming from a place where texts, emails, and calls hadn’t been allowed. I said how I had been ignored for years and years and it felt like a narrative repeating.

She reiterated that she is not Em but acknowledged how badly Em had hurt me in various ways and understands how sensitive this is. I said how I had worried that she’d been to supervision or peer support and she’d been told that she shouldn’t work with me in this way, and that if she took away the outside contact I’d really struggle because it’s been so important to me. I think she was genuinely surprised by my mental gymnastics and assured me that it was all ok and that she knows what I need now. She reiterated that the way we can keep moving forward together is by talking and communicating this stuff even when it’s tough.

I haven’t really done that exchange any justice at all but what I can say is that it is probably the single most healing moment I have experienced in talk therapy in all the years I’ve been doing it. Being listened to, seen, understood, and accepted (even if I was being dramatic and over the top)  is so healing. And it is such a contrast to being ignored, blamed, or shamed for how I feel. To effectively repair a rupture rather than be left holding the pain and upset is amazing. To know I can express how I feel and that be met well is so much healthier than feeling like there is no choice but to move through a rupture and let it go as it’s better than risking losing everything. I mean the last time I tried to sort a rupture I got terminated…but I couldn’t allow my therapist to think it was ok to call me a tick, could I?!

Anyway, after the session I sent A a short text thanking her for being real, and open, and hearing me. And she replied by thanking me for my honesty and signed off with a hug emoji.

And, that, my friends is how it is done! This tick is doing therapy! x

Outside Session Contact…

Anita didn’t acknowledge or respond to the message I sent her onSunday. Part of me knew it was because she would want to talk about it properly, in real time, on Monday. This latest communication had a different quality to it than the texts I have sent before. I had made it clear that my child parts are attaching to her and it was the first time I have really spoken about how the young parts feel in our therapeutic relationship. It felt much more exposing than anything that’s gone before, even discussing the feelings about Em, due to the fact I was now being honest about my feelings for her. I mean sure, I was only telling her my seven-year-old self missed her but that’s big deal, because those young child parts of me are bruised and battered after what happened with Em.

The fact that Anita didn’t respond to my message when generally, if I have contacted her, she has replied and usually with something holding and understanding really shook me up. Oh jeez. I wasn’t expecting the level of internal reaction I felt but it was really something! It surprised me just how intense the feelings were. I mean I’m more than familiar with how it feels when parts of me go into a blind panic but I just hadn’t thought it would happen with A just yet. It was noisy inside on Sunday evening, that’s for sure!
I couldn’t get away from the repetitive questions:

What if now that I have shown her a little of how I feel about her, she’s shitting her pants and feeling like she’s made a mistake in agreeing to work with me?

What if now that the attachment stuff is kicking in she’s started to feel negatively towards me and is starting to understand why Em acted in the way that she did?

What if she regrets communicating with me outside session before now and is about to raise the draw bridge and leave me stranded?

What if I am a tick?

It’s such an impossible bind when my brain starts down this path because the rational side of me can’t seem to do anything about the panicked feelings that start up and then quickly escalate into something completely unmanageable. By the evening, I was really stressed out. I felt physically sick. Part of me wanted to cancel the session and leave therapy with Anita before I got left again. Another part was genuinely terrified that she had had enough of me, and if I dialled into the session on Monday I’d get one of those god awful boundary talks that used to happen on the rare occasion that I would reach out to Em. Ugh.

I decided not to do anything drastic. I certainly was not going to fire off any messages – either seeking reassurance or raging because I felt abandoned. Instead, took myself to bed early, read a bit, did a meditation, but despite all that still struggled to sleep. When I did manage to sleep, I had nightmares about being surrounded by snakes (I hate snakes) and woke up feeling scared and stressed about that and then the reality of having to discuss stuff with A kicked in. I just wanted to run and hide.

Fortunately, I recognise my patterns now. I know that some of what I feel is absolutely rooted in a level of reality after what’s just happened with Em. Like I know that I can be too much for a therapist, I know that I can be abandoned, and that does tap into a level of real time fear. Of course, it also feeds into a lifetime of various kinds of being too much and being abandoned. And yet, there is a little part of me that still holds out hope. That part of me does trust Anita and really wants to have the opportunity to build a strong alliance with her. I can’t do that if I don’t talk to her and I have to acknowledge that the lens I am viewing her through is distorted and has nothing to do with how she’s behaved or any vibe she’s given off.

If I don’t ask for a reply, on a Sunday, we have a session the next day then really it’s fair enough… I can see that. BUT for some parts it’s not ok and so I need to bring this to session on Monday because if we don’t ‘talk’ then it’ll escalate into something unnecessary.

So, my session time came and I was nervous, like really nervous. Dry mouth. Nervous bladder. Heart racing… fun times! When I am in these emotionally heightened states, I would really prefer to be working face to face. The reassurance that eye contact and using the body to coregulate affords is so important and it just doesn’t quite translate on screen. But who knows when we’ll be back in the room?…and frankly the idea of returning to therapy in person where I will be considered a biohazard and the room needs to be sanitised after I leave it, does nothing to help my sense of feeling ‘toxic’ and being ‘untouchable’ so I’m in no rush to go back if that’s how it’s going to be. I just miss being with another human and feeling all the benefits of therapy.

Anyway, Anita started calling and I left it a good thirty seconds before I accepted the call. I braced myself for the worst whilst simultaneously hoping for the best. I immediately told A I felt shit, and anxious, and tired and not ok…and she said she could see that I was not ok. She asked me what was going on for me and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. She said that she received my message but thought that we should talk about it together in person and wondered if given how I felt, whether I felt able to. I shrugged again and agreed that we could try.

To be honest I can’t remember a great deal of the detail of it all and now that I don’t record my sessions because we use WhatsApp video and I can’t engage the recorder on my iPhone at the same time I can’t go back and listen. I might ask if we can start using skype so that I can use my laptop and my then my phone can record. But I have enough of it in my head to say that it was ok and we did some good work.

Anita quickly reassured me that things we going to be ok between us. She said it’s important that we keep talking and being honest with each other so that if stuff crops up then we can work through it before it becomes a big issue. She said appreciates how hard it is for me after what’s happened with Em and that she understands that those young parts who have been so badly hurt just need to be loved and cared for, but that it’s hard for those parts, and all the others inside to trust people – and trust in a therapist isn’t going to come easy. I agreed that it feels really hard now because I am really aware that she properly matters to me and I am scared of loving again after what happened with Em. It feels dangerous and stupid to even entertain getting close to her. I said I felt really conflicted.

She said she gets the feeling that I have a huge conference room inside and it’s total chaos in there – but not surprising given what’s happened. Some parts (the teens) are shouting over each other and raging (she did a brilliant impression of what she thought it might be like which made me giggle because it was spot on), some parts are refusing to engage, the youngest ones are scared, crying, and traumatised and there’s adult me trying to get their attention but no one even notices I am there…she said it must be exhausting. She said that having this structural dissociation is tough because it’s so hard to give everyone space when they all seem to need and want different things but that we just need to be aware of it and see if we can reach a place where I let the parts express what they need to. She said we can’t rush it and that we have time.

I know she’s right but at the same time I am so pissed off that I am having to tread this ground again with another therapist. I’ve been here, done this, and it didn’t work out. I’ve lost years of my life doing this and wasted so much money on therapy – it’s frustrating.

Anita said that it’s natural for there to be so much internal upset again because right now it feels like the parts have just about managed to escape a burning building (the end of the relationship with Em) and they’re burnt and hurt and then I’m taking myself to therapy with her, starting to attach, and basically that’s like saying, ‘go back in to the burning building and potentially risk the same thing.’ It makes sense that a lot of me is wary.

I talked about how hard it feels having these kinds of vulnerable conversations because my brain just wants to disappear because I am so programmed to expect the worst-case scenario: rejection and abandonment. I have such a huge somatic response the moment we get close to the vulnerable areas. I had stars and pins and needles and all sorts going on but I managed to stay present enough throughout (although it hasn’t all stuck in my mind) and I was tell her what was going on for me.

I explained that I simply didn’t think I could withstand being hurt again by a therapist. I told her that I know that saying that puts an awful lot of pressure on the relationship but I really feel like this is it, if it doesn’t work out then I am done with therapy. I said I feel sad that she is having to contend with the legacy of what’s happened with Em in our relationship but I guess that’s therapy all over – we go and view our therapists through the lens of our relational injuries.

Anyway, there was a lot to the session that I won’t recount here but I ended the call feeling reasonably settled and good despite it being hard. She asked how I was feeling and I said, ‘a bit ugh but ok, just tired’. She said it had been a big session and to look after myself, to go get myself a cup of tea and a biscuit and take a minute before I started teaching half an hour later.
Yes mum!

It feels like such a bizarre experience being seen and not being run from.

But then the session was over and of course there is always some kind of therapy hangover when this attachment stuff starts whirling about. Sometimes it feels like a no-win situation. When I feel like I don’t say what I need to and I talk shit for an hour (which is what I did on just Friday gone) I feel disconnected and disappointed which is hard to manage…but when I feel really connected and understood that brings its own set of problems.

Being seen, held, and safely contained in that hour is addictive. It feels so good, my nervous system that is wound up like a spring unwinds a bit and there’s a feeling of relative safety. But when the call ends that’s all gone. She’s gone. And then we are back in lack of Object Constancy 101 hell.

And fuck it’s really hard to manage…

Later on Monday when I had finished teaching I sent A a message…

Thank you for being so patient and listening today. It feels confused in my head and body – so much conflict between wanting to be close but being terrified of being really hurt. It’s so exhausting. Parts of the session feel like they have fallen into a black hole/vacuum and I’ve no idea what happened! I’m really glad I found you and I’m trying really hard to hear that I don’t frighten you…I frighten me.

And she didn’t respond…

Oh god…

And that set the cat among the pigeons in the biggest way.

I have always struggled in the middle of the week in between sessions even when I was working with Em. I has it’s roots in various losses – my mum being absent when I was a kid, but more recently my dad dying three days into a holiday. My friend and I talk about ‘Woeful Wednesdays’ and that’s exactly what it’s like. Even if I am doing ok on a Tuesday I can wake up on a Wednesday and it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet- to varying degrees. It’s shit.

Anyway, I didn’t even get to Wednesday before the shit started hitting the fan! I hardly slept on Monday and by Tuesday I was a mess. FFS.

MAKE IT STOP!

So on Tuesday, I decided to ask Anita if she had space for a check in.

She didn’t see the message til later in the day but replied and told me that of course we could have a check in and she’d check her diary when she was home and get back to me. She offered me a time on Wednesday and one on Thursday. I took the one on the Wednesday and felt instant relief. Only my wife came home from work and said she’d be working from home on Wednesday morning doing interviews on Zoom. I panicked. I don’t like doing therapy when she’s in the house. Sound travels and I don’t feel like I can talk freely. She wouldn’t listen in. She was busy. But there’s something about it, I dunno, maybe it’s shame that makes me feel like I can’t do it.

I text Anita and explained the situation but also that I couldn’t do the Thursday time as I teach back to back lessons on Thursday mornings and we’d talk Friday. She replied and said that it was a shame and that she’d look forward to speaking to me then.

I was like a bear with a sore head all night.

Again, I barely slept.

And I woke up at 5am and decided I needed that check in. So I asked if the time was still available and it was. I felt a bit anxious telling my wife that I had a check in arranged with Anita – I didn’t want her to ask why or what was wrong. I always feel a bit like I need to justify my need for therapy and so almost like I need to ask permission. I don’t. My wife isn’t like that. But it’s something in me. I worry I feel like I might not be allowed. It’s weird.

Anyway, fuck the worry. I decided to change tack. No more of this, ‘would it be ok for you to… whilst I …?’ Instead I said, ‘I have a ten minute check in with Anita at 11:15 and I’ll be going across the road in the car to do it. The kids will be fine, they’re watching tv, and I’ll be teaching from 11:30-1 so I’ll see you when I finish’. She was like ‘Ok. See you later. What do you want for lunch? I can have it ready.’

So much less stressful an interaction. No drama. I need to realise that I am entitled to space in my life and to do things that meet various needs. I don’t need to ask permission. But it’s going to take time to change my inner narrative!

The check in was fine. I talked about how everything seems to be disintegrating inside but that I hadn’t consciously realised that it was the anniversary of the time I last saw my dad that week and that the anniversary of him dying was coming next week. I said things feel unsettled. She made a link to the fact that as a baby I was taken abroad by my mum when I was 9 months old and that I didn’t see him until I was 2.5 years old (when he visited) and then I didn’t come home to the UK until I was nearly 4.

She said I would have felt this loss acutely when I was little, that babies really know who their caregivers are and given my dad was more of a mother to me than my mum it would have felt very upsetting. I had never really thought about that early disruption had been important. I have always been aware of how affected I was when my mum left to go study when I was little but not the earlier loss. And then I had to go and teach.

When I finished the lesson I had a bit of a realisation about the object constancy stuff. And I wondered if the reason I struggle so hard to ‘hold people in mind’ is because at the time when this would have been learnt everything went to shit, that particular developmental stage got disrupted or went wrong. I dunno.

And you know it…

I fucking text her AGAIN. I have zero impulse control. I know it’s connection seeking but ugh!

Thank you for earlier. It really helped to touch base. It’s not like I don’t know what’s happening. I just don’t know how to fix it. Lack of object constancy is just crap and so unsettling. Not only do I struggle to ‘hold in mind’ and fear that something bad has happened but there’s also the other side which is something about my being forgotten about … so it’s like you don’t exist but I don’t either. Speak Friday.x

And, of course, she didn’t reply…and so my nuts brain felt like that was it. A week of her not replying to texts that talk about ‘us’ and it has put the teens and protective parts on high alert. Don’t get me wrong, adult can see she was great in Monday’s session, gave me the check in I asked for, was connected in that…but someone there’s a niggling doubt with the others that are wondering what’s wrong. What’s changed? Is it really safe?

I know outside session contact can be a minefield and I know that this last week I have really contacted her a lot. I have been in a place where because so much has come alive I have needed to test her. See if she’s safe. If she’s even still there. And I (adult) think she is…it’s just going to take a bit of time to get the message to those noisy buggers in the conference room. Maybe I’ll make them a PowerPoint as they seem completely unaware of my presence!

The Aftermath…

When I received that final text from Em on Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, the initial reaction was one of panic, like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet but then I went numb almost immediately afterwards. In the moment, I knew that I couldn’t let myself feel the full weight of what was in the message, not when my family were outside waiting for me to come back to join them and be ‘Fun Mummy’.

Somehow, I managed to keep my mask on for the duration of the afternoon but it was difficult, and I could feel the young parts inside screaming, ‘She’s really gone GONE. Why doesn’t she care? What’s wrong with me?’ Everything was disintegrating on the inside so how I held it together on the outside I have no idea – years of practise, I guess.

However, by the evening I was really struggling. When I am tired, I find that my younger parts are much closer to the surface anyway, so given what had pinged on my phone earlier in the day I decided that the only viable option was to take myself off to bed early, wrap myself up in my weighted blanket, and grab my teddy (yes, totally trying to soothe the inner child parts).

Once I had attended to the young parts that were falling through the abyss, I somehow had the presence of mind to try and get some support put in place because I knew I was on a downward spiral.

Had I not taken myself up to bed and put myself in a ‘safe place’ I would almost certainly have opted to self-harm in the bathroom… and I promised myself that I would NEVER go back down that route no matter what happens. No matter how bad things feel (and they felt desperate) I refuse to physically hurt myself anymore. The eating side of things is still up for debate because I find it harder to not restrict food when things feel bad but I seem to be doing ok not with cutting and burning myself which is… a…MIRACLE!!

My daughter asked about a scar on my wrist, the other day, when I was reading her a story – I’ve got quite a lockdown tan going on and so it is more noticeable than usual. The scar came from a ‘not entirely accidental’ episode with a boiling hot baking tray a couple years ago when I was in a terrible place with the attachment stuff. I told her it had been an accident and that I had got burned when I was getting something out the oven and that you have to be really careful with hot things. I felt shit lying – not that I was going to tell an eight-year-old the reality- but I don’t want to do this to myself anymore and I know there are better options for me now.

I am clearer than ever in my mind that self-harm is not going to be my go-to coping strategy and I will not let what has happened with Em make me harm myself. It doesn’t solve anything – not really. The Inner Critic might think that it’s the only sensible option, after all, I am a worthless loser who has brought this whole situation on myself. A paid for therapist can’t even tolerate me and is so repulsed by my parasitic behaviour that she’s shut the door on any further communication, so why bother believing that I am deserving of love and care?

But…

There is another voice in there, she’s quiet but she’s definitely there and it’s a little girl, it’s Eleven I think, saying, ‘Please stop hurting us’. And because I seem to have a slightly more strengthened Adult Self now, I feel a bit more compassionate towards myself and all those little ones inside who I was repelled by.

I couldn’t get far enough away from their need for the longest time, the shame and embarrassment were big but there was also some disgust in there. I couldn’t bear to go near the pain, to have to really acknowledge it as my own felt like it would break me.

Then it changed a bit, and I wanted Em to look after those young part and love them, to help me carry the burden of it, but she was insistent that I had to do it myself. But I couldn’t, not at that point.

In recent months, both A and K have demonstrated time and again, care and compassion for those parts, they’ve modelled a kind of mothering that I’ve never experienced, and it’s like my brain has gone, ‘ Wait! What? Hang on. These parts aren’t scary, disgusting and too much after all? And actually, two people that I respect and value a lot, care for me not despite them, but because of them?? – whoa – revelation? Maybe I can take a better look at these parts and look maybe take a step towards them too?’ And it’s a bit tentative but it’s something.

Because a real sense of love and compassion has been extended towards those needy younger parts recently, I have instantly felt a settling in my system. I’m starting to see that I should not punish myself for these difficult feelings but try and channel whatever it is that A and K do for myself. I guess I am trying really hard to internalise their care. It’s not easy, though, it’s like accidentally sticking your car in reverse when you’re hurtling along in top gear at 80mph but I think with time I’ll get there.

I don’t need to attack myself for reacting so strongly to something that really isn’t my fault. My young parts were too much for Em but that doesn’t mean that I am too much for everyone and that’s a game changer. Not getting clouded by the negative experience in that relationship (even if it does replicate the original mother wound) and seeing it as ‘everyone’ when it was just ‘her’ is important. It’s a move a bit from the child’s experience of feeling responsible for everything that happens because it is too unbearable to think that parents might actually just be a bit fucking shit. Therefore, if we blame ourselves for the situation it somehow makes it more palatable because we can mould and change ourselves because we can’t change the other. It’s a survival strategy it’s just not fit for purpose now.

So, whilst I am not completely out of the woods – not by a long way – I can keep going and take life minute by minute and hour by hour until the pain recedes a little bit. I can commit to doing that even when things feel impossible. And my god, something that’s starting to trickle down into my consciousness is that self-care is not selfish! About Friggin’ time!! Maybe, just maybe, I am worth a bit of TLC and maybe it’s not being self-indulgent to listen to my inner voice and try and meet some of my needs! Feeding my body and nurturing myself is reasonable…honestly, I know it’s like ‘well duh’ but I really have struggled to self-care because I haven’t felt worthy of care and I haven’t had it modelled to me…and yet now, with K and A who are modelling it, I’m like ‘ahhh that’s how you do it!’

Anyway, that was a long ramble but basically what self-care looked like in that moment on Sunday evening was reaching out to Anita and asking for a longer session!…

I have therapy with Anita on Monday and Friday and so, fortunately, I knew my session was coming up the next morning. I just needed to sleep and survive the next few hours of internal chaos and pain. If I’d been beating around the bush a bit for the previous few weeks then I knew that there was no choice but to upfront and direct about exactly what had happened with Em and how it was making me feel. I was going to have to shelve the shame and embarrassment and let her see the mess I had created for myself.

Sessions with Anita are an hour long and I can’t explain how much better that has felt to me than the 50 minutes I used to have with Em. Part of it, of course, will be that I don’t lose half a session being dysregulated and dissociating but, equally, I feel like I have a good block of time with Anita which automatically sets me off on a much better footing. A 50-minute session always felt like there was a rush against the clock. It always took ages to settle down and get into the work and I could mentally feel the time ticking away which would panic the young parts who so desperately needed to be seen but took so long to come out.

It was usually 11 o clock (half an hour in) or even 11:10 (only ten minutes left of the session) before I might really talk about what was bothering me because it took that long to connect and feel anywhere close to safe enough to let stuff out. Sometimes, though, that sense of running out of time would mean I never even got started and that would then mean utter carnage in the time between sessions. It was crap!

Having a full hour means I start the session feeling calmer because I know I have time and so not only do I get to the work sooner because I am more settled to begin with, but if I do have a long and meandering ramble before I start to really open up there’s often still half an hour or more left of the session which means there’s always time to dig into the work. I don’t think I could go back to a 50-minute session now. I knew I needed more than an hour to deal with the fallout of Em’s message though!!

The nice thing about reaching out to Anita for this kind of thing is that I don’t get that instant rush of shame or fear the moment I hit send on a message. I know she will look at my text and I know that it’s ok to have contacted her and if she can accommodate me, she will.

I didn’t elaborate on why I was asking for more time, just asked if we might do a longer session, and she replied later in the evening and said that I’m the first client of the day and although she has a client after me we could start earlier in the morning if I wanted and asked how when I wanted to start. I decided to ask for an extra half an hour to make it a 90-minute session because I had walked into a fiery hell again and she said that was fine and said that she was sorry to hear that I was in such a horrible place.

I like how responsive she is and how genuine she feels. Like she said early on, she has to be her most authentic self in the therapy with people like me because we see through any bullshit. That’s not to say she is big on self-disclosure or anything, it’s just that she is aware that it’s hard for people like me to trust and so she has to be especially present and connected. I think she said something about relational depth, actually. And I can feel it. I can feel her in the room with me (when we are in the room!) – basically I don’t feel left or abandoned which means I feel safe enough to talk.

I struggled to sleep on Sunday night, turning over EVERYTHING that had happened between Em and I with the termination but was glad, at least, that I had someone safe to talk to the next day. In the morning I woke up and knew that it was going to be hard to get going with what I really needed to say to Anita. How do you start a session with, ‘I’ve exchanged messages with Em and she’s basically broken my heart again and I feel like a fucking idiot’… actually, I suppose that would be one way in!

About half an hour before the session I decided that I would give Anita the heads up so that she was armed with info if for whatever reason I couldn’t talk, or shut down, or dissociated or whatever.
I sent this:

So, this is why today needs to be longer. You know how it all disintegrated inside after finally writing about the hell that happened at Christmas/New Year and linking it to The Velveteen Rabbit on my blog a couple of weeks ago? Well, because I am a moron, that doesn’t ever learn, last Sunday I sent the link to it to Em and asked if she might read it because I felt like I needed her to know about it and hear just how brutal what happened has felt. Part of me felt relief that I had sent it and part of me felt like I’d opened myself up to being hurt because she’d likely ignore it.

By Friday everything that had been stirred up in the week had settled and I felt pretty ok. And then she responded that afternoon telling me she’d read the blog and that she understood how painful the ending had been. It threw me through a loop. I asked if we could talk – not to resume the therapy but just to put this to bed properly because the way it all ended was so awful. And then yesterday this came through which in part is fine but then in part is totally not.

I then forwarded the text from Em and waited for my session.

I was nervous as I waited for the video call but felt at least that Anita knew what was coming. When the screen went live I could see straight away that she was trying really hard to use her expression and body language to feel open and warm. She asked me how I was and I basically said I felt shit and she said she could really see why and that she was sorry. I moaned on about the message and wondered whether I was overreacting. She emphatically told me that I wasn’t and that what has happened has been utterly horrific and I deserved better from someone who is meant to care.

The session was really helpful and connecting. I used the whole 90 minutes and it was brilliant. I really dived into this stuff. No holding back. And it was great. I mean it was fucking painful and hard but great because I really feel like Anita is holding my hand through this, she challenges me when I attack myself and really reframes things for me. We spoke a lot about my mum and drew lots of parallels between my relationship with my mum and what it’s been like with Em. I said it feels like a bit of a cruel irony that I landed up in the consulting room of someone that is more emotionally withholding than my own mother! But that it makes sense that I stayed as long as I did because it was familiar and part of me felt like that’s all I deserved.

The other thing that has really settled me is that Anita doesn’t bat an eyelid when I say how I feel about Em. She is not freaked out by what I say. She doesn’t appear to be thinking, ‘oh fuck I have a complete disaster sitting in front of me’ and she says she can work with this – me. Rather than pathologizing my feelings she normalises them and contextualises them and that somehow makes it all feel more palatable and manageable. When the session finished, she asked me how I was, I said ‘fine, but tired’ and she agreed it had been a big session. She told me to take care and that if I needed her in the week then to reach out.

I had a pretty good week, settled, but then on the Thursday the fog moved in from the horizon again. I had a bad dream about Em… and then I was going through my notebooks from last year (whyyyy???) and came across the picture of me and Em I had drawn where she is tangled in barbed wire. I had said something about it to Anita when we first started working together, saying that I felt like I couldn’t get close to Em. I text A this:

The ‘everything is ok’ and ‘I know it’s not me’ and ‘I’m angry rather than blaming myself’ thing has come crashing down again to be replaced by the ‘I’m untouchable, unlovable, and forgettable’ narrative. I’m so over this feeling of being cut off and isolated because of Coronavirus. I think it’s such a big problem largely because it’s tapping into that feeling of being untouchable and unlovable (feeling contaminated/toxic in some way) – and whilst I get it’s the same for everyone (the social distancing) – I’m not sure everyone has this core wound so maybe the manage it a bit better. They don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them that makes people stay away. It’s not just feeling lonely but actually it feels like abandonment and rejection. I did this drawing last year – perhaps we can look at it together tomorrow?

img_0973

A few minutes later she text me back this – (she’s dyslexic so look past the errors!):

img_1060

What a contrast to the interaction with Em. After years of sterile texts or being totally ignored getting a short but warm message back feels really holding. I really feel like she gets how to communicate with people with C-PTSD and understands that we’re not cut from quite the same cloth as other people and need a slightly different kind of interaction. Reassurance doesn’t feed an insatiable addiction  – it really settles the system and I can go about my day. I feel like I can hold her in mind and like something is slowly starting to shift.

Another thing I really like about Anita, and it’s going to sound daft, is that she often uses emojis in her messages. For some reason, seeing a smiley face, a laughing face or a sad face or whatever it might be really feels connecting. I don’t know if it’s something about her seeming more human and less like a robot, or whether it somehow connects with the young parts who understand pictures better than words, but I really appreciate it. But that emoji on the text was… perfect… I feel like she gets it, sees me, and can interact with me in a way that my parts need right now… and it feels so healing.

I genuinely think I have found a therapist who is a good fit for me, who will be able to help me deal with the deep rooted stuff. As she said in our very first session – ‘if you imagine yourself and being like an egg, you have your shell which you show the outside world, you let Em in and you’ve been working in the white rationalising and understanding your story and trauma, but you know you need to really get into the yolk where all the pain is and it needs healing on a deeper level, on a felt level and it requires care and love and a deeper kind of relationship to do that…

AMEN TO THAT!

 

Calming The Hungry Baby

*I wrote this post earlier in the week when I was approaching that horrible territory where a massive meltdown/crisis was on the cards. I did end up in a really terrible place on Wednesday but I’ll talk about that in another post. I am, therefore, now aware how black and white the thinking seems here, but I’m not surprised given where I landed mid-week. I’ve felt very emotionally precarious for the last month or so. Fortunately, I have more than come out the other side of it now and feel largely fine…settled even…but it really gives an insight into how when I start to slide how rapidly and deeply I fall into feeling like everything is awful. I haven’t experienced such challenges with my mental well-being in a long, long time but I guess it’s not surprising given what’s going on in the world.
——
It feels like my internal world has descended into complete chaos and disarray this last week or so after finally writing the mammoth post on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ that had been swirling in my head for a few months. The result of getting those feelings out on the page in some kind of coherent form, and really thinking about how I feel about losing Em and all that happened, has meant that I have, once again, ended up down an emotional rabbit hole.

It’s that all too familiar feeling of spiralling and falling down through the abyss, young parts screaming inside, and feeling like there’s only one person in the world that might be able to make it better…only they’re not available anymore. Basically, I’m in attachment pain hell in a way that I haven’t felt since Em and I terminated. The level of pains is unreal. I thought I was past this but clearly not.

I know it’s all part of the process and I need to go through it, it’s grief, but it’s absolute hell and being unable to see my current therapists in person has really set the cat amongst the pigeons. And, of course, the only person I really want to see and make amends with is Em. Trying to process all that’s happened with someone else just feels impossible. Despite being in mess at the moment with the young stuff I have quite a few new insights and it feels crap that I can’t take them to Em and discuss them.

And yet, clearly, in light of what’s going on globally, my problems, in the big scheme of things, really are insignificant. I feel a bit of a dick sitting here lamenting how shit it feels inside when actually I am safe, healthy, and protected by my white privilege. Really, what have I got to complain about when there is utter horror going on outside my contained little world? But if therapy has taught me anything, I also understand that what feels big to me is important (at least to me) and I’m not in a competition with the rest of the world to see who is experiencing the worst trauma. I can hold feelings that feel overwhelming in my own life and also know that what others are enduring right is a massive deal.

When I see what’s happening in the USA right now I am in shock – only sadly, I’m kind of not. My body feels shock, but my mind isn’t shocked at all – I’m just saddened that in this day and age that people are still having to fight for their rights to be treated fairly as human beings. I mean wtf is that about? I worry about my friends that are based in the states. I feel useless. My black friends in the UK are really struggling and short of being there for them I don’t know what to do. Read more. Learn more. Listen more. Be more active as an ally. I sincerely hope that things are finally going to change for the better.

Even though I am based in the UK, the moment Trump was elected I had a real sense of foreboding – not just for the USA but for the world. And with every passing year it’s got worse and worse. The stuff he’s got away with seems almost unbelievable for a world leader in charge of (what’s meant to be) a democracy. His broken moral compass and frankly horrendous behaviour seems to have legitimised the conduct of the far right and white supremacists because if the president can get away with inciting hatred and be above the law so can everyone else – in fact it seems like he encourages it.

I wish I was surprised by the images I am seeing on social media showing the unbelievable brutality and suffering at the hands of the police and national guard on unarmed citizens, but I am not. I want to look away, because it is traumatising, but I can’t because I need to see this no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

So, as I sit here about to launch into what really feels like another self-indulgent look at my inner struggle please know that I am aware of the bigger picture. I just need to write because I feel like I am on an emotional knife edge and I don’t feel like there are many ways to help myself right now, other than splurge and get it out.

It’s been a really very hard month, or so. I haven’t been blogging (or doing anything) much – literally that one post for the whole of May -because I’ve felt so utterly flat and shit but also not really known what to say. I feel like a broken record. Or like I’ve been stuck in some kind of awful Ground Hog Day.

The whole of the lockdown period has been tough on lots of levels and I know I am not the only one who has been struggling. Trying to juggle the demands of my work, teaching my own kids, and having the added pressure of financial instability because my wife was made redundant has been really hard going without the actually worry of what contracting Covid19 might actually mean. Sometimes it feels so hard to just keep going. Like just as I get my head above water something comes along and dunks me under again.

It doesn’t take a lot to knock me off balance at the best of times, and let’s be fair, I was wobbly as hell having just lost Em before coronavirus and the world crumbling before my eyes. I guess I was lucky to, at least, find Anita before everything went completely to shit but I’m finding online therapy a real challenge. We are still building our relationship steadily but it just feels so distant on screen a lot of the time. I can’t help but keep making comparisons of how sessions feel online with A and how they felt with Em (who really knew me) and I feel like every session comes up short but that’s not surprising really, just disappointing.

I haven’t seen K in person since March, either…so it’s not great. My usual support systems are really not the same, or even possible (hands on craniosacral) and so I feel like I’ve had my crutches taken away whilst still being in a cast for a broken leg. I’m lucky that I am in almost daily contact with K via text and she is utterly amazing, but I really want to see her face-to-face. Basically, I need a big dose of co-regulation to settle my nervous system down because it feels like it’s off its tits on something! I think I’ll arrange a walk with her sooner rather than later. She has suggested it, but it’s difficult when I am home with the kids all the time and trying to work, too.

I have always thought that therapy (of some description) would be a lifelong thing for me. It’s not about getting ‘better’ or ‘fixing’ me. I see it more as something that helps me keep functioning, a kind of maintenance, so that I can do my life – as well as something that gives me insight into myself and ways of managing better. I don’t necessarily think I’ll be in talk therapy until the day I die (but it’s ok if that is the case) but part of my self-care will undoubtedly include some kind of input from the outside – and that could be craniosacral therapy, talk therapy, massage, or whatever else I fancy trying, at varying intervals because it does me good.

Up until March I was having a lot of input, doing twice weekly face-to-face psychotherapy and a session of CS therapy…and now I’m managing one, sometimes two teletherapy sessions and it’s not the same. Maybe I am just picky but I don’t find it as holding or containing and whilst it’s better than no therapy at all I feel like I’m sliding. I really rely a lot of physical signals in the room to judge how safe I can feel – body language and eye contact are so important and through a screen that gets lost.

I was ok(ish) with the disruption for a while, but now I am feeling increasingly like I need to see Anita and K face-to-face because I’ve been spiralling down and am running out of ‘coping’. I’ve tied a knot in the end of the rope but my arms are getting tired from hanging on.

I am so sick of circling this same pit of doom. All I seem to do is cycle through being ok enough (and trying to avoid the abyss), being stuck falling through the abyss, or crawling up out of the abyss. It’s exhausting and demoralising. I know I need to work a lot more on the young parts’ trauma stuff because that’s where the sense of annihilation comes from but it’s not easy doing that work over a screen because it is so BIG and needs so much containment. When I feel like my adult is more available, I can handle this stuff but right now I feel like all the young parts are synchronising and about to unleash havoc.

Last week it was bank-holiday in the UK and Anita took her first day off in all the time that we’ve been working (January). I suspect, like many therapists, she’ll have some clients that won’t have migrated online and so will have a slightly freer schedule and so hasn’t taken breaks in the same way but still kind of needs the income – being a therapist is her only job. She was due to have some time off in March but given we were in lockdown she didn’t see much point and continued to work.

Still, on Monday she took the day and that was fine…only it kind of wasn’t! I was fine not to see her and instead of my session I wrote that blog which needed to come out… but then I proceeded to have a terrible day on Tuesday – I’m sure because I’d stirred myself up by writing all about my experience with Em. On Wednesday I woke up feeling sick to my core. It was that familiar anxiety and blind panic that gets experienced by the young parts. I desperately missed Em. But she’s not here now. Ouuuuccchh. And so I had a choice to make – suffer on until Friday or reach out to Anita and see if that might help.

From the off, Anita made it clear that she works VERY differently to Em. She has told me it’s fine to check in via text if I need to and that she will try and respond when she can although it may not be straight away. I rarely text her because I don’t need to. Just knowing that I can seems to create some kind of magic calm inside. So, I text her in the morning and told her that I was really struggling and feeling like I was face down in shame. She replied by offering a session – which I took and I felt the anxiety start to lift almost immediately.

By the time I got on screen – about an hour later – I was in a slightly more adult place so it felt kind of weird trying to explain that only an hour ago I wanted to crawl into a hole and die from the pain of it all. I thanked her for making time for me. She said that she could hear the need and had the time so it was more than fine.

I said it felt really different having reached out and got a response and have the need recognised and met when, with Em, if I reached out she’d ignore me, radio silence, and then give me a boundary talk the moment I sat down in session. I understand the idea about trying to keep the work in the room and the importance of the therapeutic frame but even Em acknowledged towards the end that it was retraumatising my young parts.

Anita said that it felt like Em was only willing to deal with my child parts when it suited her. I nodded. She said that sometimes there’s a need and if it can be met it’s helpful and healing to those of us with C-PTSD because we require a different level of care and absolute authenticity. We struggle so much with object constancy and trust that small gestures of care can really help cement the relationship and start to build the secure base. She said she is also aware of having to be the most authentic version of herself because people like us see through smoke and mirrors and then lose trust or fail to build it. Anita isn’t big on self-disclosure but I know enough about her to be able to trust her.

She went onto use an analogy that Em has used in the past. Em had once compared me to a hungry baby that, for whatever reason, wouldn’t feed in sessions and then was left uncontained and starving outside them. But we never worked out what to do with that, either to help soothe that young part outside sessions, or find a way of getting the nourishment in session.

It’s a shame. The problem was evident but the fix wasn’t. It was a complex situation and really it all came down to feeling uncontained and then feeling ashamed when I expressed a need because I was repeatedly told that I had to keep the work in the room. I really tried. But it just felt like in the week I was stranded on one river bank and Em was on the other. I needed some stepping stones, not even a bridge, but there were none and so I kept ending up drowning when I tried to reach the other side.

Anita said that a baby doesn’t scream and cry when it’s hungry in order to be difficult and annoy its mum. It does it because it has a real and genuine need. If a mum decides that she will only feed the baby when it suits her, perhaps with the idea of establishing some kind of routine, then actually what happens is that the baby is still hungry, it just learns that no one comes when it cries, no one feeds it, so in the end it learns to ignore its need. And she felt that’s what had happened in therapy with Em, it had kind of reinforced that sense of my need being seen but purposefully ignored because mum knows better. I had finally learnt to feel and be aware of my needs and once again the pattern was repeated. No one comes. No one cares.

Needless to say, I felt like Anita had seen right into my soul with that insight and completely got it. And we talked about how it’s not about being there 24/7 which is what Em seemed to panic about – because that’s not how it is. We aren’t in need of a permanent breast or being drip fed, but sometimes the need comes and it can be met and soothed really easily. If it’s left all hell can break loose. Over time, because we get our needs met (a check in, a text, three dots even) we learn that the mother/therapist is there and is willing to meet our need occasionally we actually end up being less hungry overall, and with time, grow up a bit, and wean – learning to feed ourselves but we reach a developmental stage where we can internalise the mother/therapist and object constancy becomes less of an issue. Unfortunately, Em seemed to think meeting that need would feed an addiction.

I feel like so much of my injury comes from such a young age -K says it started before I was even born, and that asking me to feed myself when I am in that baby state is just impossible. I haven’t hit that developmental stage yet. I will. But it’ll take time. And I totally get that it seems like absolute nonsense – I am after all a grown up with my own children…but my brain is really wily and has a spectacular knack of turning off my rational, thinking brain, and plummeting back in time to the place of being a terrified kid. I wish, sometimes, that our bodies could morph into the child state we are in, maybe that would make it easier for people to understand how fucking awful it is. You wouldn’t ignore a terrified, lost, crying toddler but because they’re locked inside an adult body we’re just seen as attention seeking nutters.

Anyway, on that positive note, I’ll leave it here for now because my body is having a meltdown and I think I might cry! The somatic response to emotional upset is insane, these days. To think I never used to feel anything, and now it’s like the switch gets rammed on high and the flood gates have opened. I can feel it all! Let’s hope one day I’ll learn to regulate…but right now it feels like my young parts are fighting over a metaphorical pacifier!

Termination Of Long Term Therapy: ‘No More Tricks Up My Sleeve’

Well, what can I say? This last week, or so, since my last post has been an emotional marathon – and frankly, my current emotional fitness levels are really more geared towards a meandering, leisurely stroll interspersed with pitstops for cake than an endurance race in a freezing, barren wasteland with no clue when the finish line might be coming.

What is especially shit is just as I think I might be near the end of ‘the worst of it’ I turn a corner and the sign flashes up that there’s actually another 26 miles to go….I have to do another lap and it seems like it’s an unending fucking marathon…or recurring nightmare. FFS!

It’s really not good right now. I am desperate to crawl into a warm, safe space, and hibernate…shame that life in 2020 doesn’t really allow much of that!

I should probably have a sign that says, ‘approach with care’ or ‘beware- unstable ground’ or ‘caution – disaster zone’ tied around my neck because I am certainly not feeling myself right now. Or rather, the adult fronting self is having a very hard time keeping all the distraught child parts in check, and so my various selves are all simultaneously falling apart. I’m trying my best to hang it together with my trusty ‘rubber bands and chewinggum’ but it’s a gargantuan effort. I am exhausted by it.

When I am on my own it’s felt like the earth has fallen away beneath my feet. The tenuous safety I felt in the relationship with Em has been proven to be a complete sham and I am back to the reality (which I really don’t want to believe) – that nothing and no one is safe, and trusting people with your heart is really an idiotic thing to do. I am freefalling through the abyss. It’s so lonely. (Well that’s what several parts of me feel at the moment…although I know there is evidence to the contrary elsewhere in my life.)

I have cried so much (and we know I don’t do crying!). I’m not talking a few rogue tears escaping out the corners of my eyes, I’m talking about convulsive, gut wrenching, snotty, painful crying that comes like a howl from the heart and soul, soaks pillows through and doesn’t seem to stop without a massive conscious effort. There’s really no point in trying to stop it, though, because it keeps coming in waves….tsunami seems apt.

I am doing grief in a spectacular way. The pain is immense. I know this isn’t just about Em but also so many other losses and abandonments that I have experienced in my life. However, the sudden ending of the relationship with Em in such a cold way has acted as a massive catalyst for me to come face to face with the big wound and I realise, more than ever, that I am still on the bloody endless bear hunt and have absolutely no choice but to keep going, I ‘can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no, got to go through it’.

It’s disappointing because I feel like all I have done in recent years is wade through ‘thick oozy mud’, stumble through ‘big dark forests’, battle through ‘swirling whirling snow storms’ and yet at least I had company back then whereas right now I feel a little bit like I am trying to do some kind of lone survival event and it’s not a ‘beautiful day’ and actually I am scared.

I’ve been terrified of the mother wound this whole therapy – panicking about being left, rejected or abandoned has felt pretty awful and all-consuming at times, especially between sessions and on breaks, even when I have had my therapist there more or less every week. So now, to be actually living the reality of that fear coming true – I have been rejected and abandoned – well it’s even worse than I imagined it would be. That pain in my solar plexus, the anxiety headache, and feeling like I don’t know what’s going on is awful. I know these are young feelings but man it’s not easy.

I want to just say, too, that whilst it does feel bloody horrendous and lonely and overwhelming a lot of the time, I am really very lucky to have some amazing supports in my life right now (this merry band of mother wounded souls included!) without whom I would be in a much worse place than I am. I have been on my arse and yet I am fortunate to have the support of a couple of close friends (who live fucking miles and miles away – grr!) that I can trust with these feelings and who are holding my hand through it, the start of a new therapeutic relationship with Anita, as well as an absolutely incredible craniosacral therapist who has basically scraped me off the floor and offered so much love and holding in the last couple of months that I can hardly believe it’s real.

I wrote a while back here about having just gone back to seeing my craniosacral therapist, K, after a long long break (years!) because I was feeling more and more like lots of the healing I have to do needs to be done with my body and through touch which wasn’t possible with Em (who wouldn’t even sit near to me!). And I can definitely say, that’s absolutely the case. I get soooooo much from my sessions with K on a body level. It feels amazing when everything starts flowing and I can feel the shift inside myself when I get a bit of internal space and holding. But what I have also realised is that what I have always been seeking is an authentic connection with another human being and through that, a path to healing – it’s not just about the body, it’s not just about words, it’s about two people being with one another and feeling something, cocreating a relationship that feels real.

K is not afraid to connect with me and she seems to feel what’s going on in my body even when I am not saying anything. She gets me and accepts me in whatever state I am in. I’ve always really liked her loved her and felt safe with her but maybe in my late twenties/early thirties wasn’t quite ready to do the work that I now feel is unavoidable and essential. I’ve done the intellectual work with Em but now I am ready for the soul stuff.

K is so present. So warm and accepting. She has steadily encouraged me to be more vulnerable to allow her in which clearly feels so risky after years of being pushed away.  I can actually make eye contact again now which is lovely. Seeing K again has made me feel like I am valued and loved – but not only that, she makes me feel like I am cared about all the more because of my flaws and vulnerabilities. I don’t need to hide with her. It’s scary but also exactly what I need especially given what’s just happened with Em. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I went back to her when I did.

It’s written EVERYWHERE that the healing of relational trauma takes place in relationship and I have needed this kind of deep, holding relationship for the longest time. I’ve known for a while that Em and I were not going to last (but obviously have clung on to the hope that if I just behaved long enough, didn’t reach out etc she might meet me where I needed her to). In fact having been to see K again for the first time and then gone to therapy and told Em about it, she said, ‘Where does that leave this therapy?’ and I remember replying, ‘I don’t know’. Being with K was such a sharp contrast to the experience I have been having with Em that it really highlighted to me just how badly my young parts were being neglected.

My child parts are so connected to Em and it’s killing me right now, but really it’s a trauma bond – we all know that. There has been no holding. I haven’t really felt her care. I have been ‘like a tick’ to her and it’s basically been a retraumatising experience being in that therapy. I have tried and tried to make what was on offer enough, but it just wasn’t. I probably sound like I am doing black and white thinking here ‘amazing K vs terrible Em’ but it’s not like that. Not everything in my therapy has been bad but it has been really bad for my young parts and this ending has done nothing to help. I mean it’s trauma 101 inside. The narrative I have been trying to escape for all these years that I am too much has been completely confirmed. It’s so painful.

So, anyway, gushing on some more about K. I’ve been talking to her a lot about my therapy since I have gone back – there’s been lots of confusion and frustration, K has patiently held that with me, not telling me what to do, but understanding just how excruciating it’s been to have been so vulnerable and get nothing back….In fact, god, I can even remember popping over to hers for a cup of tea a few years ago and moaning about Em then and she said to me, ‘What is your therapist doing to hold this?’… and even then I couldn’t come up with any answers.

I’ve spoken a lot about feeling like I need to leave but also feeling like it is impossible due to how attached I am. K has been nothing but understanding as I have swung from one state to the other and I am so grateful to have had that space to work through what I feel and also what I need. K has basically made me realise that it’s ok to have needs and ok to want to get some of them met. What a revelation!

As we all know, in the end things came to a head much more rapidly than I had anticipated with Em and suddenly termination was happening – and not in the way I had hoped. The day I got the two line email from Em wishing me well for the future (aka ‘bye then’) I fell apart. It was so painful. I was a mess, crying on the kitchen floor. I text K and told her what had happened and she was so sympathetic but more than that, she did something incredible that I am still blown away by. Sensing my distress and need she offered to move some clients around in order to make space for me to be able to see her the next day.

I can’t even explain what that gesture did for me. I was drowning in abandonment and rejection feeling like I wanted to self harm, and I guess parts of me actually felt like they wanted to die, and here she was making an island for me to come and rest for a bit.

Thinking about it makes me want to cry. She didn’t have to do that and yet she did. It allowed me to maybe believe that I wasn’t actually completely unlovable and forgettable maybe I do matter…

Anyway, since then she has been amazing in so many ways, so kind, supportive and holding, she has repeatedly built me up and tells me how much strength I have and in a way I believe it when she says it. But I don’t want to talk her or it too much here because I feel really protective of the relationship. I feel like I have something really precious but also fragile and so I want to keep it safe inside me a while.

So that’s nice isn’t it?! Yay.

Alongside this I have been seeing Anita – and that’s going well but I will post about that separately later on.

I guess, what most people are wondering is what ended up happening with Em in the end?

Crikey.

Well, I couldn’t make a decision about what to do for a few days. Part of me was so angry and upset that I couldn’t see how it would be possible to go back only to face more of the same. As my friend said, it would be like walking my young parts in to be slaughtered if I went. To a degree she was right. But at the same time I felt like I should try and get some kind of ending and closure because I have had so many endings where I haven’t had a choice in it. If I never went back to say goodbye I’d be essentially left with all these feelings and keep beating myself up about it… because that’s what I do. This is familiar ground to me!

I spoke at length with Anita about it the week before and in the end I decided that it would be best to go to one termination session, try and end well, but then immediately come for a session afterwards with her to try and process it. Basically, a session with Anita after would act like a safety net. Whatever the session with Em was like it was never going to be easy and the pain I have been experiencing has been like a bereavement so I knew I’d need support.

All last weekend I had nightmares and felt sick to my core knowing that I was going to Em to say goodbye. I knew in my gut that it was going to be sterile and flat…that’s partly why we are in this place. But still part of me hoped that it would somehow be connecting, a reflection on the work we’d done and the relationship we have had all these years.

I arrived, and straight away knew it was going to be agony. She didn’t smile. She didn’t even look at me. Just sat in the chair staring off into middle distance. Still face exercise. Fuck. Child parts were scared and devastated. This is not what I wanted at all.

I started with, ‘well this is shit’. I think it was probably a teen part coming out. I literally didn’t know what to say her.

I felt so distant from her.

It was painful.

She felt robotic, using stock phrases, ‘I see you are feeling strong emotions’ , ‘I understand you are disappointed’, ‘this must feel rejecting’…bleurgh. But it felt like a stranger talking to me….when she did talk which wasn’t often.

Early on I said that I couldn’t believe we were in this place but also that this is what I have feared all along that would happen and now it is real. I tried to tell her how much she’d hurt me in the last session by likening me to ‘a tick’. I had hoped she might have tried to repair that but she simply said, ‘it was a metaphor and I stick by what I said about those parts and the unconscious behaviour’. I wanted to leave then. Like wtaf? The last session and she says that? She takes zero responsibility for her part in this. There was a lot of silence from then on. I mean there was no repairing the relationship but man, this was bad.

She said that she was sad that things had got to this point and was disappointed too…but it felt like the kind of disappointment you might feel when it’s raining outside and you’d planned to go out for a walk – nothing more. It wasn’t heartfelt. It felt flat. She said she could see this was painful for me and I said that she had ‘no idea’…as in she had no idea just how terrible this felt for me but no space was opened up to discuss the feelings. She didn’t want to know.

‘I’ve reached the limit of my competency to help you. I have no more tricks up my sleeve’ – I suppose at least she was honest but it also felt crap. Like, to me so much of therapy hinges on the relationship not what’s ‘being done’ and yet it feels to me like she is very much about strategies, ‘try this visualisation’, ‘follow this dot with your eyes’… blah blah blah. And this is always what’s made me feel disconnected. The only strategy she was unwilling to try was putting herself into the relationship. It’s sad really, because I don’t doubt that her ‘tricks’ might have worked if we could have built a solid enough relationship to build from.

She said she was glad I had come to end in person…and it shows how much I have grown to be able to do that and face the feelings. But again, it just felt like she was going through the motions. I noticed her eyes repeatedly glancing at the clock. I guess she was wishing the time away because it wasn’t exactly easy in the room.

I started crying.

I wasn’t beside myself (externally) because even in that moment when my heart was absolutely being torn in two she just didn’t feel safe to let it all out with. Big, fat, silent tears rolled down my face and I felt like I was going to explode trying to hold back the flood and started shaking. She said nothing for ages and then said, ‘I can see how full of emotion you are about this’. Like no shit! This is huge to me –  I HAVE NEVER LET OUT MORE THAN A SINGLE TEAR IN THIS ROOM….but clearly all this was only big to me not her.

She didn’t look at me or make eye contact and I felt so alone in my pain as I cried and she just sat there. It felt so abandoning. She was not prepared to meet me in that moment at all. And I get it, maybe she can’t.  I guess this has been the problem all along. Maybe she was trying to hold the space and that’s the best she could do. But it felt awful. Like I wasn’t expecting warm hugs and smiles because that is not where we are at (nor have we ever been!) but it couldn’t have felt worse really.

The only good thing was that I managed not to dissociate – I could feel myself trying to disappear and kept bringing myself back. I wanted to be present and in the room with her for the last time even if it felt like she had left the relationship already.

The icing on the cake was at the very end. I was still silently crying and sniffing she said, ‘We have to stop. I wish I could have done better for you, but it is what it is, and I honestly hope for the best for you’.  Through my tears I managed to say, ‘thanks’ and I got up and that was it. There were no more words. No ‘take care’, no ‘goodbye’ just the shutting of the door behind me. And that’s when the dam finally gave way and I broke down…

…on my own again.

 

Abandonment and Rejection: Part 2

Earlier in the week I had planned to transcribe Monday’s session with Em and put it in the blog but given how things are now, how the week has evolved, how my feelings have intensified, I can’t even bring myself to listen to the recording and be reminded of what’s happened. I can only summarise and paraphrase was said because I can’t even bear to hear her voice – it hurts too much.

I suppose it doesn’t really matter what was said now, because somehow or other it is now Sunday and we are no longer working together. I am beyond devastated. As the week has gone on I have gone through so many waves of this torturing grief interspersed with periods of denial and anger, and yet last night something shifted and the reality probably hit for the first time.

Suddenly, I feel like my whole life has been thrown into chaos. I feel like I am breaking in two. I am fearful of everything. Like I honestly feel like I can’t fucking cope with anything. I’m scared of what’s to come. I feel like I don’t want to be here anymore.
I know these must be the feelings of the young parts because I feel so powerless and small but my god it feels real and huge right now.

I am also feeling stupid and embarrassed and so much shame about how badly this ending has affected me. I am heartbroken and yet how am I meant to tell anyone about this because it’s clearly fucking mental to most people in the real world. She is/was just my therapist…but she was important to me. And as my therapist, if she is only someone to work out transference with, whoever she represents from my past – clearly my mother (#motherwound) – I am now feeling the full force of what it is to be rejected and abandoned by someone you love.

It’s no wonder I couldn’t withstand these feelings as a kid and dissociated them because feeling this, fully, in the here and now, is enough to make me want to die… this is annihilation.

I’m trying to keep one foot in adult but it’s hard. I need to process this. I need to write. But also, putting this down on the page must mean it’s real. I can’t try and pretend that it’s actually going to be ok, now. That it’s just a rupture and we’ll repair it and things will be better.

It’s over.

I guess, you’re all wondering what happened? Well, it’s been a cumulative process over months but it all sort of came to a head on Monday. Em had read the email where I had laid myself bare where I had explained how it feels to be ignored when I reach out, to have the Christmas gift rejected, and how hard it is to feel like there is a wall between us. The email ended by telling her:

It feels like we are on completely different pages right now. It feels like all the things I have worried about, about being too much is exactly right. It feels like you have taken a big step back from me when actually that’s opposite of what I needed. I can’t seem to fully explain what I mean but what seems really complex is actually really simple.

I need you to help me hold the feelings I have and normalise them and actually accept them. I need you to help me break through the shame I feel about needing connection to you and work with me to find workable solutions to the problems I have with outside contact when things get bad because it’s not going away. I need help to make breaks feel better. I need to feel like I am in a relationship with you and not in an observation tank. It just feels like we are perpetually re-enacting what happened when I was little. My mum and wider family were so emotionally and physically withholding that just being in the room with you feels traumatic because you feel so distant and even though you say that you aren’t, it’s still my experience.

I understand why you think that by trying to ‘think’ about where all this is coming from in the past might make it feel less horrendous with you in the present but so much of the time I am not able to access that ‘thinking’ brain and am caught up completely in my emotions. I can see where this stems from, I know why it gets triggered, but this doesn’t actually process the emotion in the moment. If it was about the logical, intellectual stuff I’d be fine…but it’s not.

I’ve read so much about this but it just isn’t moving because until I feel like the young parts are held safely and contained with you I think I’m going to be stuck in limbo.

I need you to know that despite how ‘much’ there is in those notebooks and here, and how intense my feelings seem I am not suddenly going to start texting you all the time, ringing you, turning up on your doorstep or whatever else it is that you think might happen because I would hope by now you would see that whilst there is a lot of trauma and the attachment stuff is massive, I’m not that crazy and I don’t want you to be anything but my therapist.

I have no idea what I am going to do on Monday and wonder if I am actually just beyond help…some reassurance would go a really long way right now because it’s a complete disaster inside.

Anyway, I walked in on Monday and I really hoped that things would be ok but I could tell that they weren’t, not really. Em had a huge clipboard and notes she had written with reference to the email. She asked me if there was anything I wanted to talk about or whether we should discuss the email. I agreed it made sense to talk about the email.

She started talking about it in a paragraph by paragraph way – well, picking out bits from the areas she thought were important. It was very factual and I felt really distant from her.

It wasn’t too bad until after about ten minutes she basically said that she feels like my young parts are ‘demanding’ and she feels like they are ‘adhesive’ (see adhesive attachment in psychoanalytical theory), that it feels like I ‘want to get inside her’, that I am ‘intruding’ when I contact her, ‘pushing the boundaries’, and that it feels like my need for her is ‘all the time’ … ‘like a tick needing a constant supply of whatever it wants’.

My brain got wedged on ‘like a tick’ but there was more, about if she were to give reassurance (which she ackowledged she doesn’t) it would be like ‘feeding an addiction’… ummm it just went on and on. She said the stuff about politics before Christmas (because I had written about it in the email) was actually her talking how the election was about democracy… I have the recording…that is not how it was. She made no mention of how I felt about the rejection of the gifts even though I’d written quite a bit about it, and flat out avoided talking about the bit I have added above about trying to find strategies that work for both of us to not keep getting in this mess.

I could barely talk once she’d compared my child parts to adhesive ticks – she said as much, ‘it feels like I have talked at you and you haven’t replied’…which is when with five minutes to go I managed to say, ‘how would you feel if someone you cared about likened you to a tick?’ She apologised, sort of, but said that I am very sensitive and get defensive, and it was just a metaphor. I said that it was a ‘shit metaphor’ and she apologised and said that perhaps she should have stuck with the word ‘adhesive’ as if that’s any fucking better!!

She said she was sorry if she had offended me and that she wasn’t talking about me as a person, or who I am but it’s how she sees the young parts… which is even fucking worse. The young parts that have been so terrified to trust, to open up, to let the feelings out – and when I finally do the kick back was spectacular.

She has retreated from me in the biggest way – I have felt it and yet she’s made out like it’s me and my attachment picking up stuff that’s not there…but it is!

She said that we can concertedly work with these parts but that it’s going to take hard work and maybe I just want to act out this stuff and not work out why this is happening. I felt devastated by what she was saying. Of course I want to work on myself…but I just don’t feel safe in the room. Surely there are ways of talking about this stuff without crushing someone’s sense of self.

I was clearly not in a great place when the session came to an end and to add insult to injury as I got up to leave she said, ‘that took me about an hour to read’. When I had sent the email I had said to let me know how long it took and to bill me for the time, but to be honest her telling me at that point wasn’t great timing. It just felt, yet again, that this is all about a transaction to her. I was breaking my heart and she was telling me I owe her and extra £60.

I left that last session in a complete mess. I burst into tears the moment I got in the car and cried all the way home. When I got near to home I pulled over into a layby on the single track lane and I spoke to my friend on the phone and cried at her, broken, desperate, and the child parts wailing. Then I sat and cried some more in the layby and waited for the tears to subside before driving home. My wife was working from home and the last thing I wanted was to have to explain why I was so late back and also why I had rivers of mascara running down my face.

Just to clarify – I am not a crier; I have found it impossible to let anything out in years… but the fucking dam is broken now and I have been bursting into tears IN FRONT OF PEOPLE! IN PUBLIC PLACES! WITH NO CONTROL! I am soooooooooo upset.

On the positive side of this, if there is one, is that this rupture/ending has tapped into my core wound in the biggest way and all the grief is flooding out now. I know this is not just about Em but right now it is and right now she is not helping me process any of my feelings or grief so if feels like this loss is just going to go on the pile of other rejections…which is not really what I had wanted from this therapy!

I had really struggled to stay present during the session because all I could hear in my head repeating over and over was, ‘she thinks you’re like a tick’. It was hideous. A tick? A fucking parasite? I mean why would you ever make that analogy about anyone, let alone someone you’ve known intimately for eight years in a therapeutic relationship? At a time when I really needed to be adult in the room and fight my corner I was gone and deep in the trauma and she just kept talking. It felt like every sentence confirmed that she has had enough of me and feels like I am too needy and demanding.

I felt like I wanted to die. The child parts were reexperiencing the feelings that are so familiar and were so devastated that it was Em that had made them feel this way. I was in a relationship with her to try and rewrite the narrative and yet somehow here I was being pushed away again for being too much. I felt unseen. Or maybe I was seen but now she’d seen me, as I am, with all my need, and was disgusted by me and wanted to get away from me. Maybe I have to accept that the person I think I am (trying to believe I’m not a needy freak) is actually not what everyone else sees and maybe they are correct after all.

I think maybe if I listened back to the session it mightn’t have been as bad as it felt in the moment, but the problem is, spouting theory at me is one thing (like perhaps it is adhesive attachment) but my feelings are still involved and how this is talked about is important. Somehow Em doesn’t frame things in way that doesn’t make me feel ashamed. I do understand that so much of what happens is down to my attachment problems and the parts but there surely are ways of saying things that don’t make the client feel worthless and crap. Like, surely she must’ve known I was struggling to be there and hear what she was saying?

I know at the end she tried to apologise but the thing is, the damage was already done. I was so far out of my window of tolerance that I couldn’t hear her…

Having spoken to my friend after the session and feeling so unbelievably hurt, I had resolved to take a break from therapy with Em for a while because it’s just getting worse and worse with every session. Something big is playing out and I don’t seem to have the capacity to side step it and look at it objectively when I am in the room with her. I basically walk in, look at her, and bam it’s trauma time.

As I pulled up on my drive I looked at my phone and an email from Anita had come in replying to the email I had sent her before the weekend:

Recap of my message:

Hi Anita,
Thanks for getting back to me and thinking about this. I suspected this is what your supervisor might say and do understand. It’s a complex dynamic.

I need time to think about what to do next. There are so many competing parts inside right now and it feels overwhelming. I really want to move forward and away from this horrible place of feeling rubbish all the time but the fear of the vulnerable parts losing Em is enormous – like annihilation and it’s not going to be a simple transition to another therapist after eight years with all that’s been triggered in the relationship.

The reality is that I don’t trust people easily and so it is a real barrier to leaving. I guess it’s something about better the devil you know and whilst I sense that you would be a good fit for me from what you have said there is definitely a voice that is saying, ‘what if she’s just the same and you get hurt again – at least Em knows you’.

I know, ultimately, it’s going to take a leap of faith now but any change is unsettling for me. I understand, too, that there’s a possibility that by the time I have managed to leave Em you mightn’t actually have availability or capacity to see me…which makes the whole process feel daunting. I guess I’ll just have to trust the universe on this one.

I don’t really know what else to say but I am grateful to you for trying to help find a way forward.

I’ll be in touch…soon… I hope.
RBCG

Anita said:

I really do understand RBCG and feel you need to look after the vulnerable parts of you.
My sense is you have done some really valuable & positive work with your current therapist and now ready for the next part of your journey and it’s hard to let go of one and to continue with someone else you don’t yet know.

I can also hear your concern regarding my availability which is also a valid concern but I will add Mondays & Fridays are usually my quietest days so I should be able to fit you in as and when you feel ready.

With very best wishes,
Anita

It felt a bit like the universe was aligning in that moment. On the Friday session with Em I had driven home and driven past Anita driving the other way. I would never usually notice oncoming vehicles or cars and yet I looked up and there she was and now, on Monday after the shit had hit the fan in came a message from her again. I jumped on the opportunity and emailed her immediately to see if I could arrange a second session:

Hi Anita,
Thanks for this. It couldn’t have been better timed, actually, as I have left therapy today in tears – the last two sessions have been hell (on top of the stuff that happened before) but even my really damaged, vulnerable parts that will tolerate almost anything can’t cope with my child parts being called ‘intrusive’, ‘adhesive’, and… ‘tick like’. Needless to say I feel like I want crawl into a hole and die right now but it’s given me the push I needed.
So, when can we arrange to meet?…and I honestly don’t think I am any of those things Em said.
RBCG

She responded and we scheduled an appointment for Friday.
I spent a lot of the day crying and speaking with my wife, which is unheard of, but I couldn’t hide how bad I was feeling. And even, she, as an unfeeling ‘man brain’ could see how the ‘tick’ reference would hurt.

Later that day (Monday) I drafted and email to Em, typing through my tears knowing that this was looking very much like the end of the road. I was in such a state.

Em,

I need a break from therapy with you for a while. Whilst I understand some of what you have been saying lately from an intellectual perspective – I get the theory – my feelings are still wrapped up in all this. I am not just some kind of case study to be analysed and hypothesised about. I can’t just absorb the stuff you’re saying and it not have an impact on me. To hear, today, that you feel that I am ‘intruding’, ‘demanding’, ‘trying to get inside you’, ‘pushing boundaries’ and that my wanting to be close to you or asking for occasional reassurance is me behaving like I have an unhealthy ‘addiction’ that shouldn’t be encouraged, and that I am ‘like a tick’ well, it really, really hurts.

I don’t ever really cry and yet today I spent an hour crying in a layby after the session because what you said hurt me so much. Saying that it’s not about me as a person but how you see the young parts doesn’t really make it feel any better because it’s the youngest most vulnerable parts that are tied up in this, it’s them that need to feel like they aren’t too much. I get how uncomfortable I have been making you feel and I am sorry that it’s feels so negative. Being thought of as adhesive is bad enough but parasitic is a whole other level of pain for me. I feel so stupid for letting you in and allowing myself to be vulnerable with you…to love you.

I know you can’t keep my session times free and until I can step outside my relationship with you and look at things without feeling anything there’s no point in doing this week in week out. So I guess we’ll just have to see what your schedule looks like in the future.

I am so sad that it’s got to this point.

Take care

On Tuesday evening at 7pm I received this reply:

Dear RBCG,

Thank you for letting me know about your decision and I am sorry that I was not able to help you. I wish you well for the future.

Em

And just like that my world fell apart. I had been crying on and off since the session but stupidly still held out some hope that she might read that email, see how hurt I was (even if she didn’t mean to hurt me) and meet me where I was at, in all the messy, confused, young, hurt feelings. But instead I got this. I’ve known this woman eight years and worked together with her for five of those…and this is how she ends it?? Two sentences? I was pretty much hysterical all night. Sobbing my heart out. I fell asleep crying and woke the next day with the sorest head. My body was killing me…and all I wanted to do was hurt myself.

Clearly, I was right. She really doesn’t care about me and there never was a relationship. I mean…wtaf? What should I be thinking here? That’s it? No termination sessions, no goodbye? She knows me. She knows how big a deal rejection and abandonment are and yet how could I possibly see that email as anything else but rejecting and abandoning?

I managed to formulate some thoughts in an email even though internally I was freaking out and again sat at my laptop crying my eyes out as I typed. I sent this on Wednesday evening:

Em,
I’m really confused and panicked by your email. Am I meant to read it as we’re actually done forever and not having a break/leaving door open so I can regroup and get myself together? And if this is the case (this is termination) that we are not going to have any time to create a reasonable ending to this therapy? I really wasn’t expecting to terminate via a two sentence email after all this time – it’s not what I want. I’m shit at endings anyway but this is not how I would choose to mark the ending of a significant relationship….which is what it is to me.

I know things are in a complete mess, hence wanting to take some breathing space but it seems like you’re finis hed. I know there’s a lot of negative countertransference here but I don’t think it’s ideal if this is how this ends.

Of course, only you can make a decision for you and if you’ve had enough you’ve had enough.

As for not being able to help me – that just isn’t the case at all. You’ve helped me with so much in the time that I’ve been seeing you. I am not the same person as I was when I saw you in the NHS or even a few years ago. I actually feel things now when I never could access my emotions at all before. I am actually making choices in my life that work for me rather running myself into the ground (ok this is new for 2020). I am still so grateful to you for being alongside me on my journey so far and whilst things are really hard right now I don’t think that the whole therapy has been useless or unhelpful.

Getting this email last night felt like I had suffered another bereavement – I can’t just have you gone with no chance to say goodbye.

x

By this point I wasn’t even sure if she would respond or not…I mean that last email felt pretty final.

But she did reply with this on Friday (talk about dragging this agony out all week!):

Dear RBCG,
Having thought a lot about the therapy with you, I have sadly come to the conclusion that we need to end the therapy, because, in my clinical view, I have come to the limit of my competence in my work with you. I would very much prefer to end in person and, would therefore suggest that we meet for between one and six weekly sessions at your old Monday time and starting at your earliest convenience. Please let me know whether you would like to have these sessions.
Em

More tears came. All I have fucking done this week is cried. And this just felt cold again…and perhaps like she was covering her back since it’s kind of protocol to offer termination sessions with clients to try and have a decent enough ending. Had I not emailed her querying what was going on, whether we had terminated, and if so what was happening, I think I would never have heard from her again. I had always hoped that my therapy would end positively and it would be a relationship that I would be able to return to periodically in the future.

I suspect I will always dip in and out of personal therapy throughout my life – almost like a car needs servicing. It might not be regular, and it might not be many sessions, but I had hoped that if any significant life events happened that caught me off guard or I had the occasional wobble in the future I would always have that door open to be able to return to Em. This is how I imagined I would get and exercise that earned secure attachment we are all seeking. The relationship can still exist years later even if we don’t see each other much at all.

But here I am staring down the barrel of another shut door.

I literally do not know what to do.

Should I go back and have a termination session or a few sessions? Or is it likely just to be more of the same?

Any ideas would be great because I have no fucking idea.

I don’t want to go in, cry like a baby and have her sit there and watch me in all my pain and go, broken again but equally if I don’t go and say goodbye will this just be another ending where I am left holding all the feelings and never getting any closure.

Thank you everyone for your support through this. It’s funny, I was reading my year ahead horoscope at the beginning of January and it said something about internet friends being massively important in the coming year… looks like that’s right! x

img_9793

 

Abandonment and Rejection: Part 1

img_6424

It’s clear to me, and I am sure to anyone who follows this blog, that probably two of the biggest fears I have in life are being abandoned and/or rejected. There have been so many times throughout my life where I have been abandoned (physically and emotionally). As an adolescent it hurt like hell to experience this rejection for simply being me (there was a lot of rejection when I came out when I was 17) and any rejections I have experienced as an adult hurt massively because it feels like my younger self is being wounded again and again. Ouch.

Having been in therapy for a gazillion years, I am obviously now much more aware of what happened to me as a younger child and it’s only now, as an adult, that I am feeling the full force of the pain of being left. As a kid I must have repressed those feelings or dissociated them because it was too much to cope with and I had to survive.

Clearly, the reason I struggle so much now with the feelings of inadequacy, being unlovable and forgettable stems from my ongoing childhood trauma. That’s what’s really done the big damage, or created a blueprint for how I imagine relationships will go in the here and now. The problem is, despite having many many, healthy, wholesome, caring, reciprocal relationships in 2020 I still have this niggling doubt underneath that say it’s all going to go to shit so maybe I should be cautious about really letting people in. Nowhere is this more apparent then in my therapeutic relationship with Em.

It’s been a nightmare lately. Unfortunately, events sometimes come together to create and almost perfect storm, setting me off balance and making me even more scared about being ‘too much’ and then I start panicking about left by the people I care about.

There’s no denying the recent time (since just before Christmas) in therapy has done nothing to settle my ‘freaking out child parts’ and there has also been a recent event in my family where people I had let back in (after cutting them off for spectacularly hurting me when my dad died) have actually rejected me again! All that old pain and sadness has come up and I feel both devastated and angry- devastated that I thought they might have changed, and angry that I let them in only to hurt me again. Will I never learn to trust my gut and see red flags?

Any reconfirmation of the narrative that people I love aren’t reliable and will actually disappear or threaten to leave (that I formed as a kid when my mum wasn’t around much) kind of intensifies the panic. It’s not surprising I had a breakdown when my dad died suddenly whilst abroad – it kind of lit the touch paper on all the stuff that had being weighing me down but I couldn’t see. I had just blanketed my problems under ‘depression’ rather than a fucking disaster of a childhood! I can see why the recent events with my grandparents (the latest rejection) have poured salt in the wound.

It really hasn’t helped that stuff with Em has felt so shaky, too. It’s felt so bloody hard inside myself lately. Adult me has carried on getting on with the job of life but deep inside the fear of the younger parts has been mounting on a daily basis and that clearly makes for all kind of crazy to seep out.

I have kept looking for reassurance from Em that the relationship is secure and when I find none, I become even more sensitive and scared than I was before. In fact, the last few weeks it’s been so bad in therapy that I have been convinced things are on a knife edge and I’ve been clinging on for dear life which actually only seems to make her back further away.

After the disaster Skype call first session back after Christmas I contacted another therapist to put out feelers about how it might work doing therapy with someone new. The idea of leaving Em was enough to send me over the edge and the young parts were terrified that this really could be the beginning of the end, but at the same time I was really aware that things are stuck and no matter how we try and work through it there’s some basic fundamentals that feel non-negotiable on both sides. Her boundaries are so rigid and my need for more containment and reassurance is getting worse rather than better because of the feeling that the door is closed on me. I feel more and more like I am not in a relationship with her and keep getting my feelings hurt- the recent gift rejection really hurt and her refusal to sit closer to me…well fuck…that’s a kicker.

So, I was reluctant to go and see this new therapist the other week but at the same time I needed to work out whether what I want in therapy is possible or whether my needs are just too much for any therapist and I should stop wishing for things that are unreasonable.

I mean to be fair, I read enough blogs to know that it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to get transitional objects, check ins, occasional hugs or hand holding, or at the very least to be sat next to when there is the need. However, I am very aware after my experience with Em that not all therapists do this stuff (she does none!) and some might do bits and bobs depending.

I guess I have a wish list and accept that probably not all elements might be met but what I am very clear that this time I need to know the lay of the land with any new therapist from the get go – what is and isn’t possible? I don’t want to stumble across boundaries somewhere down the line (like I have with Em) when my attachment stuff has already kicked in and then end up in the same position as now, wanting certain things and then finding out it’s a hard NO.

In my initial email to Anita I didn’t ask about that stuff but I explicitly asked about whether she has experience of working with C-PTSD and attachment and what kind of supervision she undertakes and how frequently. I even asked her if she considered that she had done enough of her own work. I mean, if I am gonna jump ship I need to know these things, right?

Her reply to my email was kind and warm and we arranged an initial appointment.
So much has happened since that session (I have a lot of blogging to do over the next couple of weeks!!!) that I can’t really remember much about it.

I felt a bit disloyal rocking up at Anita’s house having just come from a therapy session with Em but again my session with Em had been bleurgh – more talk of boundaries and the gift giving and I felt so far away from her.

First impressions of Anita when she opened the door were that she was warm and kind.
The therapy room is a good space. It’s comfortable, nicely decorated, and is the right size to feel close enough to the therapist. It’s not Em’s room, though, which is beautiful and really appeals to my aesthetic and academic sides with lovely natural wooden furniture and bookcases full of theory stuff. But I am not in therapy for the room, I am in it for the relationship with the person that sits in it! And let’s face it, if it was all about the room I would be fine!!

I know that I was distressed when I sat down, the weight of what has been going on hit and the reality that I was about to talk to a stranger and let them see the mess that I am in felt big. I figured that I have absolutely nothing to lose at this point so didn’t hold back and sort of unloaded all the stuff I’ve been struggling with in the therapeutic relationship with Em: how I feel like we’ve done all the intellectual work, I know what my issues are, but my feelings aren’t getting met, mirrored or held and so there’s a huge block and my child parts just feel perpetually retraumatised and abandoned every time they get close to the core wound.

I said how I feel shame every time I try and connect and get met with, ‘I’m just your therapist’ or ‘some therapists may do that but I don’t work this way’, and, ‘you know my boundaries and what I want’… you know the stuff, I write about her all the time, it’s not new news to you guys!

I spoke about my issues around breaks and disruptions and how bad it feels to be ignored when I very occasionally reach out. There was loads. And what was great was that because I wasn’t dissociative, or shut down, or being hypervigilant I actually made really good use of the time. I reckon I covered about five sessions worth of content in one!

I didn’t ask directly about any of the relationship stuff with Anita but from what I said about Em she kept stepping in and saying things like, ‘I understand how hard breaks can be for people with C-PTSD and so can I tell you how I work? I will write notes, do transitional objects, and I am available for calls and check ins if necessary on longer breaks because that’s how I think I need to work. Obviously not all clients need this but for those that do I offer that and always try and take a minute to make a call – my family know what I do for a job and so expect that’. She also told me that sometimes we really need someone to hold our hand in the pain (both literally and metaphorically) and that she sometimes feels like clients need hugs from her but of course will always ask first because some clients do not want that kind of contact.

Basically, she took all my cues and on every single sore point and came back with the response I was hoping for. She’s person centred, works with attachment, has experience of working with C-PTSD and dissociative disorders, she undertakes lots of CPD and brilliantly has been on Carolyn Spring’s trainings and has read her books (which are fab btw)…she’s basically got the package I am looking for. Only, she’s not Em…and Em knows me. I’d have to start all over again. Fuck me. I really don’t want to.

Anita said that it felt to her like Em had done some good work with me but now it seems I am in a place where I need to be really met and held in the work and my young parts need to feel loved and for whatever reason Em can’t/won’t do it.

She likened what we’ve done in therapy to being like an egg – we’ve gone through the hard shell, waded through the white, and now we’re at the most vulnerable part – the yolk, and she can’t do the work, or I can’t do it in the way that she works. And this is kind of how it feels…although for the longest time I have felt like it’s just me, my resistance, my defences that are the problem – because, of course, I will always turn it in and try and find where I am at fault for a situation, but actually I am coming to accept that what worked well for me before isn’t working for me now. It’s devastating, actually, but things can’t stay as they are.

The session with Anita felt really nice and I really got the sense that I could build something with this therapist…but it’d mean letting go of my attachment figure and that is fucking terrifying. I emailed her a day or so after the session to thank her for her time and to ask about how we might move forward. I was very aware that just cutting and running from Em would be almost impossible for the young parts and I wondered if we might do some kind of transition where I could build a relationship with her first before fully moving over – because what if it didn’t click and I was left dangling with no way back.

Anita responded and said she had an idea but she needed to run it by her supervisor first. Unfortunately, her idea was shot down by the supervisor – she had thought, given my trauma history and difficulty with attachment and trust that she might be able to function as a support whilst I left Em meanwhile building a relationship with me so that I didn’t have to abruptly leave Em knowing that would feel so hard to those attached young parts.

Her supervisor said it would possibly cause grey areas and so she couldn’t work with me until I was no longer working with Em. The email was really caring and understanding and whilst I felt gutted that her idea (which sounded so like what I needed) wasn’t possible it felt nice that she had at least tried to think of a solution and had cared enough to contact her supervisor. It shows she is keen to work ethically which is really important to me.

I responded to the email with this:

Hi Anita,

Thanks for getting back to me and thinking about this. I suspected this is what your supervisor might say and do understand. It’s a complex dynamic.

I need time to think about what to do next. There are so many competing parts inside right now and it feels overwhelming. I really want to move forward and away from this horrible place of feeling rubbish all the time but the fear of the vulnerable parts losing Em is enormous – like annihilation and it’s not going to be a simple transition to another therapist after eight years with all that’s been triggered in the relationship.

The reality is that I don’t trust people easily and so it is a real barrier to leaving. I guess it’s something about better the devil you know and whilst I sense that you would be a good fit for me from what you have said there is definitely a voice that is saying, ‘what if she’s just the same and you get hurt again – at least Em knows you’.

I know, ultimately, it’s going to take a leap of faith now but any change is unsettling for me. I understand, too, that there’s a possibility that by the time I have managed to leave M you mightn’t actually have availability or capacity to see me…which makes the whole process feel daunting. I guess I’ll just have to trust the universe on this one.

I don’t really know what else to say but I am grateful to you for trying to help find a way forward.

I’ll be in touch…soon… I hope.
RBCG

So I sent that and felt a bit sad. I felt like I had a choice to make. Leave Em and hope for the best with Anita or give it one last stab at throwing everything at Em and seeing what she came back with.

We had another really tough session on the Friday, I can’t remember why now (!!) but it was not easy. I guess my young parts were having a meltdown inside and so take pretty much everything as a rejection and a lack of Em wanting to connect to me.

Oh god.

It’s just come back.

I said that I was wondering whether we could recover from where we were at because it felt so bad. I said that I wasn’t sure that it was enough anymore and the therapy doesn’t feel holding enough. We sort of talked around what leaving might feel like and what parts might feel what but it didn’t feel good at all. She said that if I left she would feel ‘sad and disappointed’ that we hadn’t managed to get me into a better place and it wouldn’t be the ideal end, that’s when the teen piped up, ‘As if!’ and I rolled my eyes. Like, come on lady, you literally give no shits about me and don’t try and pretend after the recent shit show that you’d be sad to see the back of me.

I made some reference to her not caring and she did the usual, ‘If I didn’t care about you I wouldn’t be working with you, but I care about you as a therapist, and I get the sense that parts of you want a different kind of relationship’ then she started on about that think about me wanting her to be my partner or friend again and I was like ‘NO!’ and she then said that if it’s unconscious I wouldn’t know.

Ugh.

I get what she’s saying but honestly when she says the slightly caring stuff I just can’t feel it or take it in because it doesn’t seem very warm or genuine. It feels like I am perpetually asking her for reassurance and she gives the absolute bare minimum of herself. She keeps herself so far out of the room. I said, this, actually, ‘every time I try take a step towards you it feels like you back away’. She said that that’s because I haven’t had secure attachment and if I had I wouldn’t experience her that way. I said, ‘I know. But I DON’T HAVE SECURE ATTACHMENT AND IT IS HOW I EXPERIENCE YOU!’

I remember that she asked about the story I’d given her as a gift at Christmas and said that as an English teacher I must have lots to say about it. This pissed me off. Like why on earth would I want to share that deeply vulnerable stuff with her, and how and why the character’s journey to therapy when she’d basically rejected it the moment we got back from Christmas? I am so hurt by how she handled that that there was absolutely not a chance in hell that I could go to that vulnerable place…for what? To be knocked down or be told, ‘I am just your therapist’ again.

I left the session feeling unseen and desperate and she asked me to let me know if I make a decision about terminating but that she’d be there on Monday all the same. I didn’t know what to do. And started writing when I got home adding to the draft of stuff I had written about following the Skype session (in the last blog post) – it ended up being close to 4000 words! (see there are words inside I just can’t say them out loud!!). I emailed the letter to Em on Friday afternoon – knowing she wouldn’t reply but literally was so confused and unsettled that I didn’t know what else to do.

You know that perfect storm I was talking about at the start? Well it was picking up strength. So, imagine my surprise when Em responded that she would read my email before the session.

I felt nervous and a little more positive like maybe we could find a way through. I tried not to stress too much over the weekend and went into Monday feeling hopeful but also terrified. I know that all my attachment stuff is going berserk right now but it’s hard to explain why things feel so bad it’s a feeling perhaps more than what’s actually being said.

I’ll write what happened next bit in another post…

Shouldn’t Have Skyped…

I’m really aware that I have been AWOL here since before Christmas and have kind of left everything hanging for weeks on the ‘live rupture’ that started in the last session before the break. There are a few reasons for me not writing here, but the main one is I don’t even know where to begin. Things have been so bloody awful that I haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts or ideas about what’s happening.

I have been flipping massively between, ‘I have to leave therapy with M’ and ‘Maybe it’s just me and things can get better’… I guess deep down I have been hoping this stuckness we’ve been experiencing and the feeling of being on completely different pages might resolve and I could come back here and basically go, ‘Haha, look at me being an idiot, freaking out and creating another Christmas rupture… but it’s ok now.’ Only I can’t say that even a few weeks and sessions down the line and I am not sure that it’s all me. Lots has happened and it’ll have to go over a few posts which may take some time.

Also, I just want to quickly say a huge thank you to all the people who have been checking in with me on email. It means a lot that this community cares and we notice when people might not be ok. Also to my closer friends, thank you for putting up with me these last few weeks and not muting your WhatsApp but also being patient when I haven’t responded to you.

So here goes. I am the ‘ringmaster of the shit show’ right now. I saw a hoodie online the other day with that slogan and I am so tempted to buy it because that’s exactly how I feel.

Christmas break was a bit different this year. I wasn’t drowning in young parts’ attachment pain and managed to immerse myself in my family life (well until my wife had a meltdown and threatened to leave…the joys of menopause!). Actually,  I just had a huge resistance to even thinking about therapy on the break and had absolutely zero desire to go back to my sessions on the 3rd January.

Sometimes I can feel a bit distant and detached but as the sessions approach the needy parts come back online and I literally cannot wait to see my therapist. Not this time, though. I just felt so disconnected and disappointed by everything that had happened before Christmas that there was a part of me that just couldn’t face more of the same. There is only so much abandonment and rejection I can cope with. I am sure she wouldn’t see her behaviour as abandoning or rejecting but that’s how it felt to me.

As it turned out I couldn’t get to my session on the Friday because my wife was working and my kids hadn’t gone back to school yet. I spent a good while pondering  what I should do. Should I just cancel my session again like I did on holiday? Would it be better to wait til we were face to face to talk? But of course I am no so used to looking at things from a multitude of angles that I began to wonder whether I was just being avoidant and needed to push through and have the hard conversations.

On the morning of the session I text M and asked to Skype which she agreed to. I was not feeling all that great as I dialled in and the moment she popped up on screen I knew immediately that something was up. It was like the still face exercise – she didn’t smile and gave absolutely nothing away. Her voice was cold and it felt like she didn’t want to be on the line. I felt the same.

I didn’t know where to start the conversation so basically did a fill in about the stress that my wife having a meltdown on Boxing Day and how it had really unsettled the young parts who fear abandonment. She asked me how I felt about the Skype and I conceded that I wasn’t keen.

And then it began…

The boundary talk.

Again.

I could feel myself brace ready for what was coming next.

The usual stuff about keeping therapy in the room, how she doesn’t do outside contact and whilst other therapists may do all kinds of things (i.e when I text her cancelling the session from holiday I had said about other people getting check ins, transitional objects, notes, being encouraged to write, getting tangible reassurances, playing games, therapists sitting closer to clients etc etc) she doesn’t work like that, that I am self-sabotaging by reaching out and essentially I know her parameters. I felt like she had slammed a door in my face.

She made no reference to the difficult last session we’d had or the fact that I was clearly massively unsettled as the break began. It felt like it was all on me and nothing about what may have triggered me to reach out, cancel sessions etc… which is odd because I would have thought after nearly 5 years and never having cancelled on her that this might be something big on her radar.

She then decided to launch into some shit about me maybe wanting her to be my friend, or be partners, and that I might have erotic fantasies about her… honestly I nearly fell off the chair. Like WTAF?? And even if this were the case is this how to reconnect about a 3.5 week break that was in rupture? I felt like she was in total panic mode… ‘must reassert boundaries!’

She was so far off base. It felt like she’s read my notebooks, freaked out about the need of the young parts and suddenly thinks I want to move in with her and start fucking her. Talk about snowballing and overreacting.

And then it got worse.

The boundary talk became a gift talk…

I was already reeling from all that had just happened when she said: ‘I didn’t want to reject your gift when you gave it to me at the end of the last session but in future I think it’s best that you do not give me gifts. You pay me already and I am just your therapist. I am not rejecting you’.

Wow. Way to go M. Thanks. The young parts fell apart at that moment. It was like, what am I doing laying myself bare with this woman who clearly doesn’t give a shit. And honestly, not rejecting? How else would I see it after the last ten minutes of her talking at me?

She missed a massive opportunity to explore why I had decided to give her a present this year after all these years of working together and the meaning behind them. I gave her a copy of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ (which basically is a must read for anyone with attachment wounds and in therapy) and a glass snowflake Christmas tree decoration – because I have previously likened the therapeutic relationship to a snowflake: there are lots of snowflakes (clients) but each one is different and so each relationship is meaningful…

What could have been a connecting moment was just shat on.

I couldn’t cope.

And I couldn’t believe she was dropping this on me via Skype. Surely these kind of conversations need to happen in person.

Usually, I would dissociate at moments like this and internalise everything, feel bad, and just tolerate what was going on despite being massively hurt and angry. But I didn’t. I don’t know what came over me but I just felt so missed, so unseen, so badly judged that I said, ‘I don’t want to talk you to you’ and disconnected the Skype call at 10am with twenty minutes of the session left!

I sat staring a the screen for five minutes (felt like seconds- think I may have dissociated) hardly believing what I had just done and then I panicked.

Clearly she wasn’t going to dial back in but I could see she was still online.

So I typed into the message bar on the Skype:

Me (10:05am): I can’t do this over Skype. It’s too hard. You feel really far away.

M (10:06): Ok, I understand that it’s hard. See you on Monday.

[I couldn’t quite believe she was just going to leave it at that and panicked. I sat there for a minute and fell apart]

Me (10:08): I am sorry for hanging up on you. Everything feels wrong.

M (10:12): I think that the younger parts of you feel stirred up and ambivalent.

Me (10:16): Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just I feel completely at sea and like you actually don’t really care about any of it and it hurts. This is absolutely not how I wanted it to be after the break btw. I really missed you. It’s felt horrible. See you Monday.

M (10:20): Yes, I imagine that you didn’t want this and so it feels particularly hard, but I think it’s best to talk about it on Monday. See you then.

I felt sooooo upset after this. I haven’t gone into huge detail because I can’t actually face going back to the recording now to give a better account of it. All I can say is it felt shit and it was enough to make me make contact with another therapist and arrange an appointment.

giphy-4

I wrote the email below after the Skype disaster – but I haven’t sent it or taken it in to session. I don’t see the point really. It’s long and would take a lot of time to go through when it can be boiled down to some simple things. Since I wrote this I have verbally brought some of what’s bothering me to session and had some helpful discussion but I will post about that in another post when I get chance. For now, I am just trying to keep swimming and keep adult me front and centre. It’s hard.

M,

I don’t even know where to begin… Seriously.

My brain can’t even process what’s going on. I keep trying to make sense of it all but I’m so confused, angry, and overwhelmed by where things have got to this last month that it just feels like a massive mess and part of me can’t even see the point in trying to fix this. My gut is telling me to call it a day and yet part of me is thinking I should give things a chance to work out…I don’t know what’s best or even if things can mend?

It feels like the need to run away is perhaps just a trauma response and maybe I need to stick with it and try and create a different narrative… but then maybe keeping battling on is actually just another example of a trauma response because I keep trying to adapt to fit in with someone else when it doesn’t work for me and I’ve done that my whole life.
I don’t know how you think the lead into the Christmas break was, but from my side it was a complete disaster.

I was so upset at the end of the last session that I ended up texting you. I never want to text you because it makes me feel completely rubbish and full of shame because time and again you ignore me. I suspect you’ll say, ‘this is the boundary, and if you choose to ignore it, you’re knowingly walking into that rejection’. It’s not as simple as that, though, because that scared, connection-seeking part is already so frightened that something is terribly wrong in that moment that it can’t really imagine it getting any worse. Of course, it usually does.

With the break looming and my holiday just about to begin I knew myself well enough to know how it gets if things are left to escalate. I was already really unsettled and I absolutely did not want a repeat of Christmas break two years ago. I hoped that you would reply to me, say something reassuring, but no. It felt utterly abandoning and rejecting…and I think I used the word ‘punishing’ in the letter I put in with the notebooks. That is how it feels even though you say that’s not what you’re doing.

Things felt so bad that over that weekend that I was certain that if I Skyped from holiday it would be a complete shit show and I didn’t want to be stressing about how bad things felt all week whilst I was away. If we can’t connect in person then how likely is it to happen over the phone? And that’s why I sent the books to you before I left. It’s not something I would generally do and I get that it was stepping completely outside the regular boundary. I just felt like things have been so stuck for so long that maybe if you could see what it’s been like in my head it might move things along a bit.

I thought that I might change my mind as the week wore on and want to talk to you by the Friday but I absolutely didn’t want to have any contact with you at all and so that’s why I text you asking you to read the books instead.

Of course, I was worried about your reaction to what I had written but at the same time another part of me just didn’t care anymore. What is there left to lose when everything already feels so bad? You always ask me what I imagine the worst thing is that can happen if I tell you whatever it is that I am struggling with– it’s this: that you will finally confirm what I have believed all along, that I am too much for you, that you don’t care, and finally something will happen that’ll push one or other of us to terminate the therapy.

I have felt ill when I have thought about you actually reading some of what’s in the books. The fact that it’s taken a year for me to let you see that stuff shows how difficult it is to let you in and how unsafe I have felt in the room. I started writing in the books last year because my hope was that somehow, it’d contain what was going on and help stick within the no outside contact boundary. If I could write down what had been triggered in the room it would be out, to a degree, and then we could work with it in the sessions. It seemed like a reasonable plan because so much hadn’t been making it into the room because I dissociate the moment I get close to that stuff.

Only it hasn’t worked, has it? It’s been so rare that I have felt able to let you see any of what I’ve been struggling with because the parts that are so terrified of being abandoned haven’t felt like it’s worth the risk opening up to you. You say you aren’t frustrated or annoyed with me, and maybe you haven’t been, but I also haven’t felt like you really want to connect to those vulnerable, young parts either. It so often feels like I’m being observed rather than met where I am at– like you can see things are wrong, tell me even, but there is this huge wall that stops any real connection. I feel totally stranded and exposed and want to disappear because you feel so far away.

I was dreading Friday’s session and almost cancelled again. I felt off. It felt like everything was wrong. I knew that Skype was risky and so there was a potential that things could get worse but at the same time I am trying to be less avoidant and what if not talking to you is just running away? Now, I wish I had trusted myself and not bothered because now we are here.

I am so sick of you returning to the boundaries of the therapy and outside contact with me after almost every break. I get it. It’s rigid not flexible. There is nothing I can do to change it. You didn’t even really make any sense on Friday when you were trying to tell me why you still think it’s the best thing…you changed the subject telling me you were glad I’d let you see the notebooks. The idea that it’s best to keep the therapy in the room makes total sense to me. I don’t disagree with you. I am REALLY trying…hence the books. HOWEVER, no matter how many times you state this stuff about texting and emails it doesn’t help the parts that are sometimes terrified that something is wrong or that you’re gone. The problem I have with object constancy is real. And the shame I feel around this is massive. And I have no idea what to do to help make this feel better.

It’s not the case that forcing me into the room by refusing to acknowledge me out of it will somehow suddenly make me more engaged and trusting in the room. If that was working, I don’t think we’d be where we are right now. All that seems to happen is I dissociate more and more because nothing feels secure. I am trying to bug you as little as possible but that in itself is making this feel worse because the parts that are absolutely certain you don’t like me keep getting the same message – she’s not safe and she doesn’t care. This is absolutely hellish for me. I literally want to crawl into a hole and die because it’s so painful and embarrassing.

I am trying to do what you want but at the same time what do I with the parts of me that are really struggling – what do I do to help myself when the abandonment and rejection stuff is so live because nothing works? When things feel pretty ok with the relationship, I have zero desire to contact you. I don’t need to. I am fine. But when things feel really unsteady it escalates so quickly and then it’s awful because the moment I reach out to you all hell breaks loose inside. There is so much shame and self-attacking that goes on, but also so much sadness from the young parts that keep getting the same message – ‘you’re unimportant and she doesn’t care’. The worst thing is that when it gets bad I seem to reach out more and more. It doesn’t work for either of us. It irritates you and it just reinforces the fact that there is nothing for me to connect to and so then when I see you I don’t trust you.

It’s way more complicated than this but essentially it all comes down to being too much and also being easily ignored or feeling unimportant. I don’t want to text you all the time. I don’t want to do the therapy outside the room. But I am struggling with how to make things feel safe enough with you. The sad thing is that actually there have been some times when you have responded to me when I’ve reached out and it’s made a huge difference. It’s like a switch gets flicked and absolutely everything settles immediately. I know that sounds insane. It feels like this is an ongoing problem and we haven’t come up with any strategies to make this better.

I wish you could understand how bad it feels when everything is falling to pieces for those young parts. I know you can’t fix what’s gone in the past and you can’t fill the hole that I feel inside. But we need to find a way of settling that part that gets triggered sometimes, that fears that you’re dead or in some way not safe anymore…because it’s so bad when it’s happening. I can’t regulate that part very well…at all…and when it’s terrible I need to feel like you are there…and I don’t.

And yes, I know you are just my therapist, I’m not stupid. Oh god, and that’s something else…

You’ve said it a maybe two or three times over the years and I have always noted it as feeling ‘off’ but never responded to it, but I am genuinely really confused that yet again you have brought up the idea that I might want you to be my partner and that I have sexual/erotic feelings towards you. I don’t know what I have ever said to give you that impression but it really isn’t how I see you at all. It actually makes me feel a bit weird even trying to put you into that place in my mind.

The mother transference stuff is absolutely accurate but even then I still do know you are my therapist and not my mother – and not my partner, my friend, or anything else…and I don’t want you to be any of those things because I have all of them in my life already. I need you to be my therapist. However, I don’t think therapist should feel like it’s a nothing relationship – you are important to me and every time you say ‘I am just your therapist’ it feels so clinical, sterile even and what does ‘just’ mean, anyway?

All I can think of to make you say this again now (thinking I think about you in a sexual way) is that it comes from the dream I wrote about in the notebooks [*I was showing M my rearranged wardrobes and she asked me about my sex toys that were in a drawer!…CRINGE!] – but that wasn’t a sexual dream at all – it was like asking me what my favourite colour or flavour ice cream was – really matter of fact and at a time when I was showing you a reorganised wardrobe. And I think this dream has way more to do with the fact that we have never discussed sex at all in all the time we’ve been working together rather than it being something about the dynamic between me and you or having those kinds of feelings for you.

I don’t know?

And then this has made me wonder if you seem to be keeping your distance because you think I want to be with you and are in some way finding it awkward with me because of that. I’m gay and you are a woman…but you’re not my type!

Anyway, that all felt off because I am really clear about who you are in my life and I am not interested in the least about our relationship existing in any other capacity. However, I do very much need you as my therapist and I want you to help me work through everything. I want to be able to talk to you but something is wrong and I can’t fix the attachment stuff on my own. You often say that we can’t repair what went wrong when I was little. I get that I can’t change what happened and you can’t be all that I needed then but actually I know that repair can be made in the relationship because sometimes I can feel it happening. Sometimes you feel really present and connected and caring and it really helps…and then other times you don’t at all. You’ll probably say this is me projecting.

It feels like giving you those notebooks has fucked everything up even worse than it was before. First sessions back are never easy but again this one felt really bad. The fact that I disconnected the Skype should tell you how terrible it felt. I’m sorry I did that but I couldn’t bear it. I can’t understand how you might think that saying what you did when we weren’t actually face to face would be in any way helpful after what’s happened lately. I get that you have stuff to say and maybe it felt really important to you to restate your boundaries in the first session back but it just felt like you have put your walls up in the biggest way and you felt so cold.

It would be hard to tell over Skype what was going on for me. You probably wouldn’t be aware that my heart was racing from the moment I saw you on the screen, that I felt sick and shaky, that I wanted to hide because you didn’t feel safe to me, that I was trying really hard not to slip into dissociation, that the young parts were absolutely terrified and were hoping that you’d say something that would be connecting and settle them after what has been a hellish month but it just kept getting worse and worse. It felt like you were a stranger…which I guess, in lots of ways, you are.

I was reeling from the stuff about the boundaries and the relationship and then you added in the bit about gifts. And that was me done. Saying ‘I am not rejecting you’ doesn’t make it feel any less rejecting. I’ve known you eight years now and whilst maybe that doesn’t make any difference to you it means something to me. Without doubt, gifts are a communication and have meaning and it is important to work out what they are but all you seemed to do on Friday was reinforce your fortress. It is so hard to get close to you.

I didn’t want to hurriedly throw the gifts at you as I was leaving in December but the last session did not go in the way that I had imagined. I had wanted to give you the gifts at the beginning and explain why I had given them to you and what they meant – because there is a lot behind them.

You have told nothing about yourself in all this time – I mean you really excel at blank screen/Teflon – and then on that day spent twenty minutes animatedly telling me how you think Corbyn is a communist and the labour party is antisemitic and why the EU parliament is flawed and how Scotland wouldn’t get accepted into the EU and taking the piss out of the Lib Dem leader and how loads of people lie about needing benefits… I mean I wasn’t really expecting that to happen especially as it was our last session. Next time if you get the urge to reveal stuff can you maybe tell me something about the music you like, books you’ve read, or places you’ve travelled to instead?!

So much of that session was taken up with that, that there was no opening to discuss Christmas or how I might be feeling about the break. I mean I guess we both know by now that it’s never easy for me so what’s the point in going on about it but actually it needs to be talked about over and over again …because when we don’t it makes me feel like my feelings aren’t really welcome and that I must be embarrassing you and it just makes the anxiety I feel a million times worse. So, it’s little wonder everything was rushed at the end. I wish I hadn’t bothered now.

I don’t understand why, on Friday, you didn’t have the conversation with me first about why I had given these things to you, unpicked it, done the work round it. Instead it was just another pushback. You say you don’t want to hurt me but I don’t see how you think how you handled this would do anything but hurt me. You didn’t check in with who was there on Friday and just leapt in with both feet- it was really hard. It would have been hard to hear, anyway, but when I had just told you that [wife] had threatened to leave on Boxing Day I would have thought it would be clear that my system would have been activated and feeling vulnerable and worrying about abandonment and rejection.

It feels like we are on completely different pages right now – I don’t mean about the politics; I don’t really care about that. I mean about the relationship. It feels like all the things I have worried about, about being too much is exactly right. It feels like you have taken a big step back from me when actually that’s opposite of what I needed. I can’t seem to fully explain what I mean but what seems really complex is actually really simple.

I need you to help me hold the feelings I have and normalise them and actually accept them. I need you to help me break through the shame I feel about needing connection to you and work with me to find workable solutions to the problems I have with outside contact when things get bad because it’s not going away. It just feels like we are perpetually re-enacting what happened when I was little. My mum and wider family were so emotionally and physically withholding that just being in the room with you feels traumatic because you are so distant.

I need you to know that despite how ‘much’ there is in those books and how intense my feelings seem I am not suddenly going to start texting you all the time, ringing you, turning up on your doorstep or whatever else it is that you think might happen – I’m not that crazy and I don’t want you to be anything but my therapist. And also, just because I’ve let you see that stuff doesn’t mean it all feels ok or that I can just start discussing it because it’s out. I still feel really shutdown and fearful about it.

There’s loads I could say but I’ll stop now – it all feels shit.