‘Sibling’ Jealousy In The Therapy Room: Don’t Ask Questions You Don’t Really Want The Answers To.

So, following on from my last post here things got much worse and I found myself deep down the rabbit hole of doom! I felt so terrible by the time Sunday rolled around that I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Anita acknowledged my crying bear message in the afternoon on Sunday with what felt like a really formal ‘un-Anita-y’message. She asked if I was ok (uh no, not really) and then sent quite a long message that talked about discussing working out payment stuff and how she had meant to discuss it on Friday but how ‘obviously that didn’t happen’ (yeah, that’s because my session was cancelled…and I am still having a meltdown about it!).

The message landed badly. It felt really off because there I was feeling really upset and abandoned and disconnected and all the bad feelings over the session cancellation on Friday – wondering whether she had chosen to just cancel me rather than work online and here was a message about ‘boundaries’ and ‘therapy dynamics’ and admin, basically. Because I was so triggered already, the message felt cold and just really missed where I was at. I felt like I was invisible to her.

Even though boundaries are very important it can be such a triggering word to those of us with C-PTSD. I think it’s because so often when therapists start banging on about boundaries it can often seem to be something about distancing themselves from us. Like the boundary talk happens because we’re seen to be pushing boundaries, we’re trying to be too close. So, when there’s talk of boundaries from the therapist it often feels like barriers being put up etc…’here’s the boundary, don’t step over it’. Basically ‘back off’ – ‘I’m just your therapist’.

Looking back, I don’t think that’s what was intended and I really don’t ever feel like Anita is a ‘boundaries for boundaries’ sake’ therapist. I think A was just trying to put my mind at rest that we would find a way forward but phrases like ’I’m not going to just drop you’ still sent panic through my system especially as the messages over the weekend had so clearly missed what was going on after Friday and even the word ‘drop’ made me feel vulnerable because of course she could ‘drop’ me at any time.

I didn’t know what to do so I just sent Anita the link to the blog I’d just posted about all the shit that was swirling and asked her to read it. Thankfully, she read it and it clearly made sense to her because the response she sent afterward felt much more like the Anita I am used to. The problem was by the time she sent it, I was so tangled up in knots and had been putting all the jigsaw pieces from the last few days together and creating some kind of impressionist image – you know where the nose is where the ear should be and the mouth is up on the forehead. All the elements are there, just all in totally the wrong place.

My teen felt so wounded that I sent this:

and said ‘I think I need to stay away for a while’.

Anita was lovely and somehow coaxed me back out of that dark internal dungeon to a place where it felt possible to go to see her because I believed that she actually wanted to see me, too. Before that point I had convinced myself she was fed up and wanted away from me. I told her I needed a hug and she said she would give me one in person, I just had to come to my session. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time the weekend was over. Man this is hard going!

When I arrived at Anita’s on Monday morning, I hugged her as soon as she opened the door. I felt shaky and sad but also relieved to be there. Anita acknowledged that it must have been hard for me to come to the session and I agreed. It was. There were so many different activated parts that it’s so hard to know what to do for the best sometimes. I guess just keep turning up and giving myself the opportunity to talk?

Anita told me that she had had no idea where I was with everything until she’d read my blog. And this is the problem. I can drift so far away so quickly because on the surface I seem fine when, really, I am not. Things blow up inside and a lot of the time it is masked by my False Adult who glosses over everything ‘Ok’ and smiles to cover what’s underneath. Of course, if I am not even in the room and something happens then it’s even less visible.

I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.

Then the truth came out about Friday.

Anita was honest but…ouch.

She told me that she hadn’t offered me an online session on Friday because she felt like I would find it insulting (given how hard they have been over lockdown) and how far they are from what I really need. She apologised and said that she’d got that wrong and was really sorry not to have given me the option. I felt really sad about it, I’d really missed her on Friday and had really needed some reassurance that things were ok with us because the cancellation had let all sorts rip through my system. I was glad she wasn’t trying to paste over it but it was still painful.

I think she probably now understands that whilst online isn’t ideal, in that situation some kind of contact is much better than a complete severing of contact and whilst I might respond with ‘OK’ when I resort to short replies and don’t reach out, I am anything but ‘Ok’. It’s like the shutters go down and I go into self-protection mode. It was so painful on Friday and I couldn’t stop myself from spiralling down.

She acknowledged that she had been in a bit of panic about her daughter which is what I suspected. It felt ok having this conversation – or rather her telling me her side of things. She’s human, after all and we don’t always get things right but it’s not because we are deliberately trying to hurt the other person. I asked her if I could have a hug and basically just started trembling and crying. The impact the weekend, or last couple of weeks had had on my system was really something else. This feeling of abandonment stuff is really tapping into the deep mother wound and it’s fucking exhausting navigating it.

Again, I don’t remember much of that session. When the young parts are so activated and I am teetering on the edge of dissociation my memory seems to just go blank. I remember Anita saying something about how sometimes separation is good because we can learn that separation doesn’t have to mean abandonment but that what had happened in the last two weeks was too much, too sudden, and like I had been thrown in the deep end. I mean the reality is her dog had to go to the vet and her daughter might have had COVID but everything that got wrapped around those two events was massive.  Anita said I had joined all the dots wrongly in my head (written in the blog) but that’s it’s not surprising because that’s what trauma does.

My system definitely started to settle and calm down throughout the session. I cried a lot and just snuggled into her. That’s really all the young parts need or are capable of when things have been so badly triggered. Calm care and reassurance are everything and settling my nervous system is essential before I can ‘think’ about what’s gone on. I saw something the other day from Margaret Atwood.

It’s true. And I think this is where talk therapy so often falls down. When we hit the deck and start sliding with the pre-verbal young stuff, words just don’t cut it and I am so grateful to Anita that she is ok with physical touch because it has definitely enabled the most wounded parts of me to feel safe to come out.

The time between sessions this week seemed to go by really slowly and whilst I felt like we’d repaired some of the hurt feelings and settled the young parts that had got so worked up over the weekend, in the Monday session, I’d still felt really vulnerable and exposed during the week and not very sure-footed. I went to see K for a cup of tea on Thursday and had broken down crying when speaking to her about what the last few weeks had been like and the stuff about the cancelled session on Friday with Anita. She saw immediately how impacted my inner child had been by the messages and cancellation, and was both validating and understanding and it took some of the shame and embarrassment out of my meltdown. By the time it got to Friday I was so ready to see Anita as things felt really wobbly.

My best friend had a horrific week this week as her work with her long-term therapist came to an abrupt end. I am absolutely devastated for her. It’s set some things jangling internally for me, too. Her therapist was so much like Anita in the early days of their work together -so attuned and holding – and over time things have just got more and more distanced, less and less caring, and I can’t help but panic. What happens if this happens with Anita? I’ve been terminated by Em for being a ‘tick’ (and I never showed her ANYTHING like as much as I do A) and now my friend has lost her therapist…it just seems like people like us end up hurt and abandoned time and again. It’s so painful…and terrifying to those parts that are so scared of being hurt.

What’s happened with my friend is absolutely not her fault, nor was what happened with Em mine, but it’s not the therapist that is left bereft and retraumatised when, yet again, the narrative of being too much and toxic gets replayed. They can just move onto the next poor, unsuspecting client, and here we are left trying to pick up the pieces again.

I spoke to Anita about that situation and said how frequently my friend had been misled and gaslit and how really you can’t bullshit clients like us, it’s better to be honest because we see through lies. Anita agreed. I could feel myself getting upset. I asked for a hug (check me out asking for what I need!). Things settled inside a bit and then Anita told me that she needed to tell me about the holiday she has coming up. Oh god. She said she was waiting for the right time to tell me but realised there’s no good time to let me know but wanted to give me plenty of notice. The reaction to the news wasn’t desperately bad inside but it wasn’t great either. Anita said we can text whilst she’s away and last year that was nice, and I didn’t drop dead during the break (much). I am thinking of asking her whether she’ll take the little blue elephant with her so he can see some of the places too.

Just as I’d got over my mini internal meltdown over the upcoming holiday I opened my eyes and looked up and wondered about a box on the shelf. It’s beautiful and ornate. For some reason I decided to ask what was inside the box – and this, my friends, is a lesson on not asking questions when you haven’t really considered what the answer may be! In the past I had asked about what was in another, bigger, carved, wooden box in the room. Anita had said there were colouring pens for when people do art or drawing/writing in their session. However, this box is high up, safely placed in the middle of the shelf and clearly would not be housing pens.

I don’t know why, but I was not ready for what was coming and yet clearly the answer was going to be something like this. Anita told me that one of her long-term clients (a trauma client like me) had given her the box for Christmas because it was important to her (the client), and inside it is a stone with the word ‘trust’ on it and I could have a look at it if I liked.

I’m guessing for most of you reading this that I needn’t say any more about how this felt.

I realise in this situation Anita really couldn’t win, earlier in the session we’d only just spoken about how you can’t bullshit clients like me/us because we see through it, but at the same time this revelation was just too much information and NO I did not want to look at the box.

I am so sensitive at the moment. After the session on Friday I text Anita and used the analogy that I feel like I am tiptoeing so carefully at the minute, trying to avoid danger, but no matter how I try almost every step I take I seem to set off a landmine beneath me…

…and this wasn’t just a landmine, this was a nuclear bomb going off inside.

Everything fell apart in that moment. I dissociated immediately. I was so far gone. It was awful. I felt like I was tumbling over and over through black space. It was dizzying and made me feel physically sick. The feelings of not being good enough, being insignificant, and unimportant flooded my system. It was the same stuff that was triggered the other week by Anita telling she was ‘mega busy’ when I suggested rescheduling because her dog was going to the vet, and also when my session got cancelled last Friday because her daughter might have had COVID.

The voice says that the relationship isn’t real – is meaningless – and I am deluded for thinking otherwise got really loud really quickly. And to be honest it has a point, because, when it comes down to it, I’m just one of many clients and not only that, I’m someone who can be left and let go because there are always going to be people who are more worthy and have more of a claim to Anita’s care and time than I do. Even when we think things are ‘safe enough’ it can turn sour in a matter of weeks and we’re let go, terminated, and left stranded. My experience with Em showed me that but also what’s happened to my friend this last week.

My body was frozen. I felt like I stopped breathing. I think it must’ve been a freeze response. I felt so sad and had no idea I was crying silent tears until I felt my hand was wet.

I think Anita felt the change in me. I was cuddled into her so she couldn’t see my face but I could hear her talking to me but I just didn’t have any words to respond to her and I think this is because what this episode triggered was down into that really young, preverbal stuff. She tried to check in with me about how I was feeling soon after she’d told me about the box but I couldn’t respond. She told me explicitly that just because she’s been seeing this other client a long time it didn’t make our relationship less than. She said something about her having a big heart. And I get it…or Adult Me does, sort of.

It’s like with my kids. When my son arrived, my daughter didn’t suddenly get half the love she had received before he was born because my finite supply of love now had to be split two ways. It doesn’t work that way. Our capacity to love is not finite at all. It’s something that keeps growing. I don’t love my son more than my daughter. I love them both ‘the same’ for who they are and because they are different. I don’t prefer one over the other or compare one to the other. And I guess this must kind of be how it is in therapy…maybe…but then I’m not her child I’m just a client and I come back to that horrible stuff about everyone else being better than me, less difficult, more lovable etc etc. I’m sure other clients have fewer tantrums, are less demanding, less needy…

A small voice said, ‘I want to go home’. It felt so broken at that point. It’s horrible how fragile everything feels. When it feels like that the only sensible option seems to be to run away and protect myself like I always have done before.

It would be so easy to say that this episode on Friday with the box is just a case of ‘jealousy’ and that client ‘sibling rivalry’ stuff that we feel sometimes – but when you dig beneath it it’s not as crazy as it all sounds… or at least I hope not! We all know we aren’t the only client a therapist sees and as much as we’d like to think we’re their favourite (thinking about LS here! 😉) it’s pretty unlikely. But it’s hard because our therapists are so important to us – I think it’s natural that we would want to feel important to them, too, especially when we have a lifetime of not mattering.

When I think about my own teaching work. I like all my students BUT there are some I look forward to working with more than others…and what if I’m one of those ‘less favoured and sometimes dreaded’ hours in Anita’s week? The thought of that really upsets me. And that’s why I am doomed because even Adult Me can’t convince all those hurting parts that everything is ok and that it’s not ‘pretend’ with Anita, because Adult Me has preferences about who I work with, too… and so I can’t help but feel like I am walking my way blindfolded into getting hurt again. Even if there is SO SO SO much evidence to the contrary (which there really is!).

To be honest, when I am like this, Anita must be banging her head up against a brick wall because she shows me ALL THE TIME in SO MANY WAYS that she cares and that I am important. She doesn’t just demonstrate it through her actions, she tells me she ‘loves me’ and ‘thinks the world of me’…so why can’t these scared young parts let that evidence override the doubting parts? Why do I have to let a fucking gift from another client derail my time with Anita?

Trauma.

Simple.

I think it’s just going to take time and patience on both our parts – I just hope she doesn’t get fed up with me first. This work is like recoiling a spring the other way. It’s a repetitive process and sometimes the spring just pings back to how it was before…and it’s not surprising really. I learnt pretty early on that I wasn’t central and my needs didn’t matter. It continued on and on being left at childminders and never feeling like I was wanted or important enough to be made a priority. I just had to fit in and get on with it. I was seen as easy-going child and no trouble – amenable – but that’s because I had to be. There’s no point in acting up when nothing will change.

And this is really the legacy I’ve been left with. In some ways being adaptable is good, but so often it means I put my own needs at the bottom of the pile and try and make things right for everyone else. When I get hurt, I take that pain inwards and spare the other person the hassle of dealing with me. The other day Anita said she thought there were a lot of tears bottled up inside. And she’s right -there’s a lifetime of them. I never cried as a child…because what was the point? There was never anyone there to wipe them away. I learnt not to express my feelings and that runs both ways. I struggle even to show or feel joy. I have the best poker face.

Ugh.

Anyway, I don’t remember much about that session because I was so far gone and so upset. I felt like I had drifted away. What I do know is that Anita was holding me more tightly than usual and whilst I felt a million miles away there was a part of me that could feel how hard she was trying to help bring me back to her. She didn’t let me go until I was more together and settled – she is amazing like that.

I feel like such a bloody idiot after all this but I am trying to show myself some compassion. It’s been a hard few weeks/months…and I guess what’s happening is the young stuff is far closer to the surface than it’s ever been before and so it gets triggered more easily. In some ways it’s mortifying but I guess in other ways it’s progress. Noone wants to be a mute sobbing wreck in therapy but this is clearly a big indicator that this attachment and relational stuff is where the work is (as if we didn’t already know!) and it’s far better that it comes up with Anita where it can be worked on then pretending it’s all ok when something hurts and then going home and going through all the feelings alone and catastrophising even more.

I’ll end there because this is already long.

God give us strength!

System Error #128 – Update Required (or When Will My System Realise My Therapist Is Safe?)

Oh Man! Where do I start with this? Last time I was here I was circling the drain of doom where my system was basically in full meltdown. The young parts of me were in a total panic about the Easter therapy break (that wasn’t really a break at all) and I was edging into the place where part of me felt like quitting therapy in order to escape the painful feelings of abandonment but also to leave before I got left.

Over the course of that eight days, I had got myself so worked up. The fear of being abandoned or rejected by Anita was huge and felt totally real and possible (at least to some of my system). I was on high alert and had convinced myself that something had changed between Anita and I. I was sure that she’d had enough of me. I mean I laid it all out in the last blog so no need to go over it again too much. But jeez. It’s hard work.

I went through the cycle: young parts activated and distressed, teen trying to calm things down and feeling dismissive and angry, and the critic moving in to shut things down by attacking and shaming me. It’s thoroughly exhausting when this happens (did I ever mention that I am not keen on therapy breaks?!) and it’s so hard to ground and get my adult self to take the reins.

I think the thing I failed to mention about this cycle is that whilst it can seem quite linear a, b, c the reality is that it doesn’t get to c (critic) and everything go quiet with the young parts. Far from it! It can seemingly go in waves and a,b,c, a,b,c or a,b,a c, b, a, a… and sometimes all the parts are activated simultaneously…and god that’s hellish! When that happens the system is unsettled and noisy. It’s like there’s a house of different parts all screaming to get out of their rooms (apart from the teen – she’ll rot in her room with a razor blade). Imagine having a screaming new born, a toddler wailing, a four-year-old banging… etc etc…and then the critic going mad like some crazed warden from a Victorian orphanage. There’s no trauma-informed care here – it’s threats, and shaming, and “noone loves you and that’s why you’re here”.

Joy!

Even if adult me can see what’s going on with the parts it’s pretty hard to step outside it because the felt sense in my body that something is dangerous and that bad things will happen is so real. I know it’s a hangover from the past and the relational trauma I have experienced with other people…but try telling that to my system when it perceives slight changes in Anita’s behaviour and then runs away with itself. Yikes!

What I found really disappointing – this break – is how quickly I slipped into believing the narrative that I was sure to be terminated when the break was over when there has been so much evidence to the contrary. It’s like having my brain and body hijacked when it gets that bad.

Usually, if I feel disconnected from Anita or panicked, I might reach out with a text (mostly a GIF from the young parts) and Anita responds to that and it settles things down. The thing is, this break, for some reason I couldn’t send the message. I couldn’t clue Anita in to how things were and so kept spiralling downwards. Convinced she was fed up of me and wouldn’t want to hear from me I continued to drown in the horrible feelings.

Then on Tuesday I sent Anita the link to my last blog post. I don’t know if she read it. And then, finally, on the Tuesday night I caved in. The youngest parts were really activated and broke free of the critic’s shackles. I simply sent a GIF:

And as you can see within a few minutes she’d responded and instantly my system settled. Why the fuck did I let myself get so worked up and not reach out and get what I needed earlier? I guess part of it was the shame. I felt embarrassed for needing her and I suppose it’s something about the holiday too. I didn’t want to be pathetic and needy when she wasn’t working. However, it definitely didn’t do me any favours letting things spiral so much.

I was also so unsettled by the fact that my sessions have not been able to be as regular over the school Easter holidays due to my childcare issues. Of course, I could have done online sessions but I really know that given how unsettled I was that there would have been a huge likelihood that screen sessions might have exacerbated the situation.

Once things came down a few notches out of ‘she hates me and is going to leave’ I was able to tell Anita about how I was feeling about the sessions I couldn’t have/make, and we managed to reschedule a Monday one that I couldn’t get childcare for to tomorrow and that eased things a bit. I was also able to tell her how I struggling and asked her not to let me float away in our session on Friday (last week) because I was finding it so hard. She said she understood and knows it’s a well-used defence mechanism and told me she was looking forward to seeing me and sent me another hug GIF.

And then everything felt totally doable.

I arrived at my session and was so ready to see Anita. You’ll remember how the weeks leading into the Easter break I started to retreat and my False Adult showed up and did all the talking and prevented the child parts from getting what they needed. Not on Friday. I literally sat down. Anita commented on my bracelet, I said something about my hair and then gave up. I’d been there less than two minutes when I said, “Can I have a hug please?” and she replied, “Of course. Come here.” I snuggled into her and she noticed that I was shaking and gently rubbed my back and hugged me close into her chest.

I was so glad to be there, so glad I had been able to ask for what I wanted and needed, but the legacy of the last week was still in my body. I could barely breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to focus in on the steady beat of Anita’s heart to regulate my system. After about five minutes I opened my eyes. I felt conflicted. I was both tense and relieved – this is what it’s like when more than one part is activated at the same time. It’s the disorganised attachment stuff in action. Anita wondered what was going on, she asked if the hugs were helping. I shook my head into her chest. She replied “Do you want me to stop hugging you?” again I shook my head and she held me a bit tighter to her.

Then I asked, “Have you cleaned your fish tank?” – you know, as you do!

And Anita told me she had. I said, “This is the problem, with my system, everything is so alert. Your fish tank wasn’t even dirty – it’s barely changed, but I notice EVERYTHING in this room. I’m guessing most of clients don’t comment on your tank?” (or the bloody light switches or painted doors…or all the other shit I notice and have to ask about. I literally know when she’s dusted and some of the items on the shelves have moved a centimetre or two. It’s fucking exhausting, but if I notice the room imagine what I am picking up on in Anita – if she’s a bit tired, a bit snuffly, a cut on her hand, or she smells different…FUCK!!). She said no but then really soothingly spoke to me about my hypervigilance and how it’s ok and expected after the trauma I have had.

Anita really normalises everything for me where other people tell me that I am ‘too jumpy’ or ‘scared of my own shadow’ and ‘need to chill out’, Anita understands why and tries so hard to ease things for me. Like she’ll text me if there’s going to be a different car on the drive or whatever. She just really gets it.

How many times have I said this before? And this is what’s so fucking frustrating about the last week on break. I just can’t feel any of that stuff when things get disrupted because my system is thrown into a panic. Or I can’t trust it. Or maybe I could trust that but it’s always possible for people to change!…

So much of my problem with breaks and object constancy stems from my mum being away in the week when I was small and then coming home and being volatile but I know she also had a really tough time when I was a baby with post-natal depression and so the likelihood is that she would have been inconsistent with me as a baby too. Like the title of the post, there’s an error code in my system and I really require an update but it’s just not as simple as going into the start menu and selecting ‘restart and update’. Therapy isn’t a quick fix but it is a fix.

I guess the positive about all this is that there is change. Sure, I got the rug pulled out from under my feet over Easter but the difference, now, is that I feel able to talk to Anita about my feelings around breaks and separation when we are together. I don’t just sit drowning in my toxic shame, mute and dissociated like I did with Em feeling steadily more disconnected and upset.

To be fair, Anita and I didn’t speak much in this 75-minute session compared with when False Adult was attending the sessions. But my goodness was it a healing and connecting session. Somewhere in the middle after a lot of holding I miserably said, “Sorry I am hard work.”

Anita hugged me closer again and replied, “You’re not! You’re really not. You’re really not! I know you feel it but you’re not. You’re just very hurt. And I know that the separation just opens all those wounds back up again, doesn’t it? It really is ok. I get it. You’re not hard work. I think is the saddest thing for me about you. The trauma kept changing right the way through for you and was there right from the day you were born. But it’s not you. It’s not your fault!”

I asked if we were still ok and if anything had changed. She softly asked, “Does it feel like it’s changed?”

I nodded into her chest.

“In what way?… Does it feel more distant? It hasn’t altered. It really hasn’t. I haven’t changed. We haven’t changed. This really is ok.” And then she likened me to her rescue dog (again!)…we have a lot in common! The simple but emphatic reassurance from Anita really helped the little parts feel safe. I like how Anita doesn’t over-complicate things when it is clear it is a young part speaking to her. She makes it simple and easy to understand and this really regulates the system quickly. Em used to spend ages asking me questions and never giving any kind of reassurance and it was so hard for the young parts.

After another little while I whispered, “You’re not a horrible person.” I had been thinking about what my brain had served me up in the week. Trying to make me think that A was somehow uncaring or whatever and how she was going to hurt me. But the young parts don’t believe it. Not at all. They miss her terribly when they can’t see her but she’s not doing it to reject them.

Anita spoke softly and said, “I’m not, no. And you’re not either. I’m not going to trick you. I do mean what I say. I’m guessing your brain is questioning all of these things. One day it might believe me.”

I can’t really put into words what it feels like when we have these conversations and I am snuggled into her like a bloody baby monkey. When I think about it now part of me wants to cringe – like ‘OMG I seriously don’t let myself be that fucking vulnerable and pathetic and needy with another human being do I?’ but there’s so many parts that finally FINALLY are getting what they need and there is no shame or embarrassment when I am that close to Anita.

It doesn’t feel weird or too much.

There’s an incredible amount of intimacy and trust that has been forged between us and I know to anyone in the normal outside world, perhaps people who have not done therapy, might have some opinions on it – but what happens in therapy is not like anything else I have experienced in life. It’s like some magic grove where little by little we glue all our pieces back together and make new pieces for parts that are missing. It’s a bit like that Japanese thing where broken pots get put back together with gold. The cracks are celebrated and the structure is solid.

Eventually, and I mean very eventually, after about an hour I felt my system completely relax. My body went heavy like all the tension just left. I was able to breathe regularly and deeply alongside Anita’s breathing rather than holding my breath or shallow breathing. I told her I was tired. She told me she knows how scared I am and how much of a struggle it can be and that it’s only when we feel safe that you can really feel the tiredness. When we’re no longer in flight mode and it’s safe to relax do we get hit with the exhaustion. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me too. Little by little it felt like everything was getting back on track. She said she could feel that I was more settled and continued to hold me.

And then my stomach started growling really REALLY loudly! Anita said it was a good sign. When you’re hypervigilant and in fight/flight/freeze everything is in a tight knot. Food isn’t on the agenda. So she sees it it’s a sign of things starting to relax.

I felt so relaxed and connected that I finally felt able to let out some humour and said, “Do I get the prize for most needy and clingy client?” Anita burst out laughing. I continued, “Because if I am going to do things, I like to be the best.” Anita giggled and responded laughing, “If you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to do it properly!”

Then there was a bit of silence.

“You avoided that well!” I poked.

More laughter from Anita. Then she composed herself. “Well, there’s all different types of needy aren’t there? You know? I think we can all be there. I know my three-year-old can kick off sometimes. More times than I would like her to.”

Ha! Good try therapist lady, I know I am the gold medalist!

And then it was the end of the session. I felt such a huge amount of relief after that connecting session.

Unfortunately, these last couple of days have felt tricky again and this is completely down to the fact that I couldn’t have my session yesterday and have to wait until tomorrow to go. It’s too long between the contact and too much disruption for my young parts. Whilst I don’t relish the end of the school holidays and being thrown back into the chaos that is my usual life I will be glad for my therapy schedule to resume…and hopefully get some handle back on my internal world!

You’re Not My Mummy…But Parts Of Me Wish You Were.

This time last year I wrote a blog post titled ‘You’re Not My Mummy’ where I spoke about how the young parts of me hadn’t yet accepted Anita into the role of ‘replacement mum’ having only recently just terminated with my therapist, Em, after 8 years working together. I was still in a state of complete meltdown about the ending and the idea of having anything like the level of attachment to Anita that I had with Em seemed really unlikely. The attachment of those child parts is really fixed on one person at a time for me. It really is like an infant relating to its mother.

Look, before anyone starts rolling their eyes and tutting, I absolutely know our therapists are not our mothers! I understand transference. I read a lot! I don’t actually believe my therapist is my mum. I don’t want her to adopt me (much!). My adult doesn’t see Anita as a mum, at all, but there’s absolutely no point in denying that the little ones definitely do…now! (Oh the irony!)

For ease of expression and writing here, I think it’s fair to simplify things and say, that for me at least, a lot of the work I do to process my mother wound and childhood trauma is largely achieved by letting my young parts relate to my therapist as though she is like a mother to me. Of course, my adult is there in the room too (sometimes!). A and I unpick a lot of what goes on together from all angles and different parts’ experiences and it’s amazing how many parts can come floating in and out during a session. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the way I get to really process my childhood trauma is by having those child parts activated in the relationship with Anita.

When the feelings are live, they can get metabolised, understood, and healed in real time. I have spent years talking about my childhood and narrating it through my adult and there’s so much distance and disconnect there. It’s a filter that has served me well in life because I haven’t ever expressed feelings (that’s safer) but actually in the end, I almost couldn’t feel anything as stuff was so deeply internalised. Allowing EVERYTHING and EVERYONE to have their place in the room with Anita has been a gamechanger for me. I mean I really cannot believe how much I have been able to bring to her that has been locked away for a lifetime and shrouded in shame.

I remember saying, last year, how part of me hoped I would avoid getting stuck in the transference with Anita and maybe I’d be able to circumnavigate it altogether because it felt so nice not being caught up in all the negative attachment stuff that I had experienced with Em. It was such a relief to do therapy with someone that didn’t instantly trigger me and who felt safe and accepting. We were doing some great work and laying the foundations of what I thought could be a strong working alliance but part of me dreaded the possibility of finding myself back in the familiar territory of dissociation, disconnection, and high anxiety that was so big a part of therapy with Em.

Looking back now, I feel really sad that I thought that was what could be in store for me. Like if I attach to someone then, ultimately, it’s bound to be a shit show of pain and hurt no matter how much I want it to be healthy and healing because that’s my relational pattern. I am a tick, after all.

But that’s not how it is.

Attachment doesn’t have to be agonising ALL THE TIME!

It wasn’t until June when the young parts switched their allegiances and fell face first into the attachment zone with Anita. I remember I was ironing one afternoon and a little voice inside said, ‘I miss Anita’ –

‘Oh shit’, I thought, ‘here we go again’. The thing is, because Anita and I had been steadily building safety and trust in our relationship I was actually able to tell her how I felt. I didn’t get filled with shame or embarrassment for having the feelings (I mean to be fair she’d already seen a fair amount of the crazy in the aftermath of Em and I ending), they just were. And she was not in the least bit bothered and told me that she thought we were definitely getting closer and it was normal to feel this in an emotionally intimate relationship especially when young parts were involved. I love how she has always normalised my experiences rather than pathologising them – it’s so refreshing.

Anyone who’s followed me for a while will have seen how transformational this therapy has been for me in building me back up and helping me see that I am worthy and valuable and not some freak with too many complex issues who needs to be kept at arm’s length. I am astounded that I can safely feel ALL OF MY FEELINGS with Anita and she accepts ALL OF ME. It’s so strange to really experience ‘unconditional positive regard’ (or love as I prefer to call it!). I can’t believe I can cry…and not just cry…but sob my heart out with her having never shed a single tear with Em until the final session when it had all gone up in flames.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a long way to go, still! But therapy with A feels therapeutic not torturous. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns by any means. We have had ruptures but they get repaired so quickly and I can express how I feel when things A says or does upset me. She is never defensive or attacking and is open to hearing whatever it is I bring to her (especially when a teen part is having a meltdown). I do get that that is how it’s meant to be but it’s a change to what I have been used to.

I am deep in a pit of young attachment need right now after my life just collapsed and nothing feels safe in my adult world. Thankfully, it feels safe with A in the room and in that relationship especially for the young parts. I genuinely feel like Anita is holding the other end of the rope and is holding on. She said the other day that she is holding out her hand and will be there to stop me disappearing. I know therapists can’t rescue you, and I have to dig my way out my own hole but there is something really lovely hearing, ‘I can see how hard things are for you and I really wish I could take it all away for you. I know I can’t but I am right here with your for the whole of the journey and you can lean on me’. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her right now…and of course that ‘without her’ felt like it could be a very real possibility a few weeks back.

When my wife lost her job at the start of February, we were plunged instantly into financial insecurity and instability which has sent my system through a massive loop. I don’t do change very well and I certainly don’t like not feeling secure. The week following the job loss my wife also had to have an operation with a two-week recovery period and she is due another in a couple of weeks – all time she can’t work. I’d already spent weeks stressing myself out during isolation so really it’s been a hellish couple of months now.

In order to cover the immediate shortfall income, I have basically maxed out my credit cards but obviously that only delays the agony where debt is concerned…which again stresses me out. My wife will be able to work again soon but agency work is sporadic and far less well-paid than what she was doing previously. So even if things work out well with reasonably regular shifts we’ll still be about £800 a month down until something more suitable comes along. FFFFFUUUCCCCKKK.

In terms of stress, it’s been epic and I just haven’t coped. Last week was so bad I felt borderline suicidal which was really scary for me as it’s been a very long time since I have felt so awful – like when my dad died over a decade ago and I had a breakdown. I felt paralysed with fear and couldn’t see a way out of it so just spent hours feeling anxious and incapacitated. It was horrific. I even did the NHS anxiety and depression score thing (as if I needed confirmation of how shit is all was) and scored a fabulous 24/24 on the depression and 17/21 on the anxiety… I have always liked to do well on tests! Lol!

When my wife lost her job I text Anita and told her that we’d have to stop our sessions after the session we had booked in for the next day because we just can’t afford anything right now and then we’d pick up when things improved. It felt really awful and I was so so sad about it. Anita responded really warmly and told me we’d find a way forward together when we met in person and not to worry. She’s so different to Em, who, when we were in a similar situation a couple of years ago (honestly so much bad luck!) didn’t bat an eyelid when I was worrying about how we’d pay our bills and I was clearly really distressed. Therapy twice a week a £50 a session meant we accrued quite a lot of additional debt at that time and it was really hard feeling like I needed my sessions but also knowing I was putting us further into debt.

So, back to 2021, I arrived at my session that evening feeling crap but also really dissociated. I was so overwhelmed by all that had happened that I had to step away from it a bit and the only way I seem to know how to do that is to disappear. The weeks of stress and anxiety I had felt worrying about my wife when she had COVID and panicking that she’d lose her job had taken its toll and then to have my worries confirmed…well, it was too much and I was thoroughly exhausted.

I tried to be adult in that session but after a catch up on the latest elements of ‘new shit and stress’ I just couldn’t hold it and fell apart and into Anita’s arms where I trembled and sobbed and for ages and she held me until I settled listening to her steady heartbeat. She continued to hold me until it was time to leave. There have been so many sessions like that lately that I can’t really say what’s happened from session to session in any great detail but the level of holding and containment has been essential as I’ve let so many tears out even if the words have been relatively few.

In this session Anita said that she thought pausing our sessions was a bad idea and insisted that we could make it work. She said that pausing would be traumatising for my system when things are so bad already and I really need the therapy. She told me she could reduce her fee and I could pay when I could afford to, but that I needed to keep coming (if that’s what I wanted).

Honestly, the relief was massive. It felt like Anita really genuinely is invested in the work we are doing and that she really cares about me. I mean I knew this already; she demonstrates it week in week out in how she is with me. But I think dramatically reducing her fee so that I could keep coming really showed me that it’s not about the money to her. I felt so much shame about not being able to afford to pay her properly and yet it really wasn’t a dealbreaker for her. It’s taking some time to get my head round!  

We agreed a fee for the next two months rather than per session and to do 75 minutes face-to-face and reduce the Friday online session to a 15 minute check in – which was fine by me (at the time) as I don’t get a lot from the online but touching base is good. This is largely how it had been anyway, over lockdown, where I have only been going once a week in an evening to fit around home-schooling and childcare. It’s not been ideal this year but I have kind of accepted that something is better than nothing and there are so many people who aren’t able to see their therapists face-to-face that I know I have it really good.

I have missed the twice-a-week sessions in the room since Christmas, but to be honest I’ve just been grateful to see A at all, especially after the having to isolate for two weeks and then thinking would have to stop altogether it’s felt like winning the lottery having any time!

This last couple of weeks has felt hard as I started sliding on the black ice of depression and anxiety on speed. The time between sessions has felt looooong and my young parts have been really struggling with that. The object constancy stuff is a real problem for me and I just can’t seem to hang onto the sense of safety and her care and warmth for seven days. I feel like such an idiot saying that when there is clearly so much evidence to the contrary. I’m still wearing the groove in my brain, though and it’s like recoiling a spring but in the opposite way to how it’s been set. It’ll take time.

There was one session where I was so desperate to connect with Anita but I just couldn’t. My protectors were fronting and I could feel my little parts screaming inside. It was agony. I couldn’t look at her and was frozen. Anita was patient and kind and so reassuring letting me know she was there, that she was waiting for me to let her in, and that she wasn’t going anywhere. She was already sitting beside me, within touching distance, but I said it didn’t feel like she was there and she said, ‘I know, and I think it’s been hard only seeing each other once a week hasn’t it?’ Sometimes she just sees exactly what the problem is and it cuts through all my defences. I just crumbled on the sofa into a flood of tears and she pulled me into her and held me again as I cried and cried.

These sessions probably sound like nothing much is happening but actually SO MUCH healing has gone on in them. I’ve been at my lowest, stripped bare (not literally, obvs!), and allowed myself to be really seen and that is massive. To be responded to with care, compassion, and love has been so huge. Anita is so responsive to my need. Last week I text her on Thursday evening. ‘I miss you’. That was it. She replied shortly after with, ‘Would you like to come here tomorrow morning?’ When I picked up the message I was stunned. I asked if that would be ok, and she said of course and she’d look forward to seeing me in the morning.

With my wife being off it means I have childcare and so I think Anita realised that and knows how helpful the second session is to me… especially after my performance earlier in the week. And that second session did make a huge difference. I came away feeling so much more settled despite more tears and trembling. I’m seeing her twice again this week, and although my child parts have been feeling really needy and unsettled (because of life) knowing that I only need to hold it until Friday is massive and feels more possible.

Anyway, that’s a huge ramble without a lot of detail, I’m afraid. There’s more to say but this is long so I’ll get myself back in the zone for the next post!

Thank you, guys, for all the support you’ve sent my way in recent weeks (and months). It’s meant a lot to me xxx

Post-session Meltdown!

So, last Monday’s session (where I found out that Anita was actually not now going to be here during lockdown so we can’t have our sessions face-to-face like she’d promised) triggered an EPIC meltdown on my part. I mean it was really something else!

I know how attached I have become to A but I really wasn’t expecting this from my system – or at least I thought I might be able to hide my response a bit if it did happen! – errr that’d be a no then!

I know it’s dramatic, but it felt as though I’d been betrayed on Monday. The rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet and I was left reeling, wondering what on earth had just happened and if what I feel to be true about mine and Anita’s relationship (that it’s real and solid and meaningful) was just lies and wishful thinking. If she could do a U-turn on something like this then what else wasn’t safe?

Needless to say, this week has been an emotional marathon (and I am really more of a 5km girl!!)

I left the session completely bereft. Crying in the car I just did not know what to do with myself. I couldn’t help but catastrophise. After everything that happened with Em it’s so easy to go into panic, fear the worst, lose trust, and this triggers complete survival mode and shut down from my system. The pain in this area – my attachment wound- is so sore that it can feel safer to run away then turn around and face it because what’s the point in trying? I have no control over the other person, I can’t change them or affect their response but I have control of whether I allow them close enough to hurt me, right?

And it’s not like track record for ruptures has been great (Ok actually, Anita has always been brilliant but…that’s not where my brain was at!!). If I try and tell someone how they’ve hurt me or let me down it doesn’t always end in a repair. I mean when Em likened my child parts to a tick, I tried so hard to tell her what was going on with me, in the hope that we could work through it, but instead it just got thrown back in my face and I got terminated. I was the problem. I was too sensitive. Too defensive. Ugh. I know that Anita is nothing like Em but there is a part of me that just doesn’t want to be open to being hurt anymore.

I drove home struggling with some many competing voices in my head and the somatic response was just agony – shaking, nausea, racing heartbeat. I called my friend and thankfully she was on hand to pick me up off the floor and try and help me get some perspective: yes this hurts but Anita is safe.

I was cycling through those really unbearable young feelings at mach speed. The angry mistrusting teen who just wanted to cut and run and the little one who just needs to be held close and told things are ok were so loud. It was like being pulled in two opposing directions. Adult me was nowhere to be seen. My system had gone into flight mode after the freeze response in session and it felt like the end of the world.

I simply cannot do this again. I cannot withstand losing my attachment figure…and whilst that sounds dramatic that is exactly how it felt.

After some discussion with my friend I decided that there was no way I could sit with this until Friday and try and work it through in an online session. I needed to let A know what was going on, I needed her to know the impact that our session had just had on me and to try and help me settle down. I mean I was cuddled into her crying for the last fifteen minutes of the session but I don’t know if she knew it was because I felt so hurt and let down by the news that she was going away for lockdown after promising she’d see me should we get locked down, or whether she thought it was just separation anxiety and I was going to miss her.

One of the many, many positives about my relationship with Anita is that she allows me to contact her between sessions so at least the panic and shame about reaching out isn’t there like it was with Em. I don’t have to jump a bunch of internal hurdles about whether I should contact her and that is such a huge relief.

By the time I was thinking about constructing a message to Anita, there was a message on my phone from her. It was lovely, but I think it shows that she had no idea that I was circling rupture zone:

I spent some time typing out a message on my phone and pressed send:

I know it’s unlikely at this short notice but do you have any free slots on Wednesday? I’m feeling really panicked but also really like I just want to run away and never see you again. The teen part that really believes that this is not real is having a field day – ‘I told you so. It’s all lies’. The other week when I was upset and feeling like things weren’t safe because I sensed a lockdown was inevitable you told me we’d be ok and that you’d still see me because it’s what I need. I wasn’t expecting today to find out that this wasn’t the case now. I understand why you are going away. It makes sense to my adult. But the youngest most vulnerable parts don’t understand at all. It just feels abandoning. It feels like it’s hard to trust what is real and what’s just empty words now. I hate that I am like this. I hate being so affected by things that normal people just don’t even notice. I feel embarrassed that I am so upset. I get that it isn’t easy for anyone and I absolutely don’t want to push you away but equally there’s a really strong pull for me to just cut and run. There’s also another part that feels terribly alone in the snow and the teen part will happily let her freeze x

She responded by offering me a time that I couldn’t make (ARRRGGGHHHH!!!), which obviously isn’t her fault, but it just sent me into a big huff. I was going to be sitting with this for a fucking eternity and there was no possibility of seeing her. I so desperately wanted to see her but I couldn’t possibly let her know! Jeez.

What comes next is the wheels falling off:

Oh sweet mother of God…help me! Or at least stop my hands! – text bomb:

Oh man. Reading it back now I am in proper ‘crawl into a hole and die’ mode. But as you can see I was proper activated. I continued on with my texts…ping ping ping… poor Anita!:

I just feel like nothing is real and it’s terrifying. I just really need a big hug and to make a plan on how to get through this next month…or longer. It’s worse than a break. And whilst I have sensed it coming it’s just too sudden for my system. And I feel like you’re gone. But also like I don’t know who you are ☹

She responded by telling me that she would love to give me a hug and that she was sorry and had herself had a wobble because she didn’t see it coming or that the plans would change, to let’s meet up on Friday and find a way forward followed by a hug GIF for the child parts.

Which helped no end! I could feel myself starting to settle a bit. The panic was subsiding. Things would be ok. She wasn’t abandoning me. I would be able to see her on Friday before she leaves and a face-to-face repair felt possible. Her willingness to engage with me, to try to make things better showed that she is the Anita I think she is. She is not Em. I was still massively hurting but could see now that whatever has happened hasn’t been deliberate.

But still the texts continued. FUCK ME…the shame…:

I know it’s really really hard for everyone – all of us – and I’m not trying to be a difficult pain in the arse psycho because I get that you are human too and it’s been an impossible fucking year – and we’re not unhinged (well I am!) is anyone’s guess. I did see it coming. I’ve just been surprised it’s taken so long. I’m always frightened of change because I don’t cope very well with it which is why everything is so controlled in my life and I need tonnes of notice and preparation to get my youngest parts safe before things happen. Adult me can, and will, power through this because that’s what I have trained into myself: keep going no matter what…. It’s just underneath it’s a fucking shambles. And there is so much stuff trying to work its way out at the moment internally that I feel like I have third degree burns all over my body – this last 48 hours (since lockdown announced) feels like I have been thrown into a vat of vinegar. I literally don’t know what to do because it’s so painful. I don’t want to feel like I can’t trust you – but that’s how sensitive my system is. Flight mode is pretty much default. I love you x

Anita replied with another kind message apologising and acknowledging that she had let me down, saying she really knows that she needs to be grounded and solid for me and that she hadn’t been in that session because of her own panic around the lockdown. It really helped to see her human side. I told her that I actually needed authenticity and the truth above anything else. I would rather her be her than attempt being solid when she isn’t feeling it. If she had told me she wasn’t feeling brilliant herself in the session it would have made sense – the mutual disconnect and the fact that she wasn’t really on the ball with letting me know what was going on or making any kind of plan.

I then told her that my meltdown simply stemmed from my being scared of distance, ‘I don’t like feeling far away from you and the littlest parts don’t feel safe unless I can hear your heart beating…which is just fucking cringey’. And that’s the reality, those youngest parts only seem to regulate when they are being held and I can actually hear her steady heartbeat. My breathing slows down, the tension in my system slowly ebbs away, and eventually my breathing matches hers – long and slow rather than rapid and shallow. It’s at this point that the young parts can really come out and tell her what’s going on for them.

The little four-year-old self can’t speak unless she feels contained and right now the only way that she feels safe is being physically close. This is why therapy with Em was so traumatic. The young part would be there, terrified, dysregulated, alone, and Em would just leave her…not just physically, but emotionally too. Being stranded in that pain is hideous. Anita recognises that and responds to it and it is so healing.

Anyway, there was more back and forth – honestly the poor woman got totally spammed on Monday! She reiterated that she really does care and loves me and that she would never purposefully hurt me and we continued working things through and we sort it all out on Friday.

I still felt out of sorts through the week but it would come in waves. Adult me was more available at times, but at other times I’d descend into panic again.

I had a really horrible dream- an old favourite- on Tuesday night where I was in a plane feeling scared, holding onto the seat and repeating ‘I am safe…I am safe…I am safe’ only everyone else was up in the aisles screaming at each other. I went and sought refuge in the toilet for some peace. It was different to a normal plane. There was window. As I looked out, I realised we were too low, skirting alongside some snowy mountains. Suddenly the plane nose dived and started corkscrewing down. I smashed my head on the ceiling and was terrified. The falling seemed to last forever and then suddenly the plane righted itself. Only, now there was another problem, the mountain range surrounded the plane on three sides. We were set to crash into the face of the mountain. The pilot pulled the plane up into an almost vertical ascent….and then I woke up!

FUCKING STRESS!!

Somehow, I made it through the week. I changed my craniosacral session to Wednesday from Thursday as it wasn’t completely clear whether K will be able to work. I needed to get some kind of nervous system regulation and talk about what had happened with A. K was incredible and if I get chance, I will write about these sessions with her soon because they too are soooooo helpful and holding in a different way. Body work has been such a brilliant addition to my talk therapy.

However, despite the lovely session with K, I didn’t sleep properly Wednesday night. The panic about Anita was ramping up. I genuinely felt like I was going to get a text to tell me she wasn’t going to be there on Friday. That she’d left on Wednesday night and we’d have to work online. I could feel the disappointment and rage flooding in. So, I text her and told her. She quickly put my mind at ease and told me she was looking forward to seeing me. Thank god.

And that is the frigging stress of the week before the repair session!! I’ll write another post about that as it’s loooooonng!!

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I appreciate that there’s a window of a couple of HUGE weeks missing in this blog and reading between the lines here you’ll have probably worked out that the stuff that’s really changed has been about expressing love and the level physical holding in the relationship with A. It’s been transformational for me which is also why I have reacted so terribly to needing to return to online. The thought of losing all this is just totally overwhelming.

I have been reluctant to talk about it publicly due to the fact that so many people are struggling with remote therapy and having all kinds of new boundaries in place in the therapy room, losing hugs and touch, and I feel like it could be triggering for some and I really don’t want to make things worse for any of us in a pretty fucking unbearable situation.

I know, in the past this sort of thing (reading about the holding and expressions of love on blogs) has triggered me because I have so badly wanted this from Em and never got anywhere close. I am delighted for the people that receive it but I have felt literal pain in my stomach when I realise how strong the need has been in me and how painful it has been not to receive it. Throw in the pandemic and I don’t want to be seen as insensitive to other people. So, I will get to it, but as I said, it’ll probably be passworded.

There’s also a fear on my part. I just don’t want any backlash for what is happening in my therapy because frankly I have had years and years of shit, traumatising experiences in the room, and want to be able to celebrate what’s going on with you and feel good about it. And I know the vast majority of you will be cheering for me, but I also know that when we are struggling ourselves it’s hard not to project our own feelings of anger and dissatisfaction onto others – ‘this is wrong, she shouldn’t do that, social distancing…’ blah blah blah.

So, thanks for being patient but also sorry for the break in chronology and weird cryptic stuff! I just don’t know what to do for the best.

Enjoy your Sundays x x

Broken Promises

A couple of weeks ago I was in a therapy session with Anita – it was the third of three incredibly connecting sessions where the littlest most scared parts of me felt safe enough to come out and talk. We are getting right down into the toxic shame and the cringey stuff but also starting to heal it which is so great.

The trust has built so much and the level of intimacy has sky-rocketed in the last month. A has been so holding and containing – so attuned – which has meant that the little parts feel safe telling her what they need and can express pretty much anything – it’s like my adult filter has gone! Her responses are always so good that I take more risks in saying what’s happening for me. If I feel shame she quickly removes it and I’m learning to trust that it’s actually ok to be me with her.  

It’s weird to think how different it feels in the room now compared to all the years with Em having the feelings but being too scared to really express them.   

It’s no secret that I have massive attachment issues is it?!- and a big part of that hell zone is that I am terrified of being left and abandoned. Anyone that’s read this blog for a while will know how hard disruptions to my therapy feel – I mean I absolutely loathe therapy breaks! The recent-ish termination of my long-term therapy with Em left my youngest parts reeling, too. I have never felt so rejected and abandoned in my life. And so even when I feel relative safety with Anita there’s still the parts of me worrying about ‘when’ not ‘if’ things will go wrong. I think that dream I had last week is evidence of that deep-rooted fear. I am so conditioned to believe that I will end up being too much that it’s hard to imagine that what Anita says about not going anywhere could be true.

I’ve been feeling a bit low-grade panicked because now that Anita and I seem to be really ‘doing the work’ in our sessions I have been worrying what would happen if we had another lockdown and had to return to online therapy – which I really, really struggled with last time. It’s a concern that’s been grumbling away in the background for a while, in fact since we returned to face-to-face in September, but in recent weeks has got louder because I felt it was inevitable that we would be forced into another lockdown sooner rather than later and I know that the child parts that have finally made it into the room just will not cope with a lack of physical proximity.

I can’t remember what we had been talking about in the lead up to saying this in session, but the four-year-old part was there and about twenty minutes from the end of the I whispered, ‘I am worried’. Anita gently asked me what I was worrying about and I said, ‘you going away’ (losing the intimacy, holding, and containment). Anita immediately said that I was never going to lose her and that she had no intention of going anywhere. I barely let out any sound as I murmured, ‘you might die’ into her jumper. It was coming up to the anniversary of my good friend/mother figure dying and the young parts had been preoccupied with the loss. A again assured me that she was staying with me and then I said in a really little voice, ‘but we might get locked down again’ and she agreed, ‘we might’.

Anita was quiet for a few seconds and then said, ‘that is a possibility. To be honest I think if we did get locked down again, I know you’d look after you and I’d look after me. I wouldn’t offer this to anyone else because I know the rest of my clients would be ok online, but I’d still be willing to see you because I think you need it. I don’t work with two people in the same way. I do what feels right, for me and for them. So, we might get locked down but I am offering that to you. I wouldn’t see anyone else here I’d just see you so it would feel safer. Does that make sense?’

I honestly couldn’t believe my ears. To have that recognition that online therapy really doesn’t work for me and that actually she understands how traumatising it is for the young parts (especially now she’s really met them) was incredible. To know that she recognises my trauma and is prepared to find a way to not add to that was like the biggest balm for my soul and really made the young parts calm down inside.

The last few weeks I have been anticipating lockdown being announced. I knew it would mean some disruption to my work life and I’d likely lose K and my craniosacral sessions but otherwise things would remain largely the same. It would be hard not having my body therapy because my nervous system is a nightmare, but at least I would still have Anita twice a week and that would make all the other challenges just about bearable. I’m a real homebody and am quite risk averse and so actually haven’t been anywhere public like restaurants, cinemas, gyms, shopping or whatever since the last lockdown was lifted and so I wouldn’t miss that – or seeing people!

Anyway, fast forward to Monday. Lockdown had been announced on Saturday by BoJo. I had already moved my extra-curricular tuition online (as per guidance) but have kept my home-schooling work face-to-face (again there’s very clear wording on that). There seems to be a lot more flexibility around what can and can’t happen this time around in all areas. Last time we were all locked down weren’t we – DO NOT GO OUT! To be honest this time it just seems like hospitality, entertainment, and some shops are shutting – oh and you can’t go get a haircut or a tattoo! The government is encouraging us to keep medical appointments, we can even go to support groups of up to fifteen people etc. As I say, in many ways because schools are open my life doesn’t look any different.

I was jabbering away in session on Monday. Just filler. There wasn’t much deep stuff going on because I guess the part of me that had been in a panic about being ‘left’ was feeling safe. Ok work is now going be a Zoom doom pain in the arse but at least my Monday and Friday sessions are there. I will survive.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

About half an hour into the session I looked at A and she said, ‘you seem quite distant today’ and I think she meant, I wasn’t being emotionally vulnerable and my adult was very there and she finished the sentence, ‘maybe it’s in anticipation of the separation?’

What?

What?!

What separation?

What the actual fuck???!!!

My system shut down instantly and I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping through my system. I didn’t say anything. My facial expression didn’t change. But I was frozen. I literally couldn’t compute what she had just said to me. I was stunned. Two weeks ago she had assured me that she would be there if we were locked down because I ‘need’ it and now we have half an hour left of a session before a four week separation and this is the first I know about it! You have to be kidding me?

I can’t tell you how many voices were running wild in my head but there was a loud teen screaming ‘I knew it! She’s a fucking liar!’ and then there was the little four-year-old crying, ‘you told me you wouldn’t leave me’. It was absolutely horrific.

I couldn’t speak. I felt trembly. I wanted to run away but I couldn’t move. So, off I went. Dissociated.

Anita moved and sat closer to me but I couldn’t look at her. I don’t think she realised fully what was going on in my head. She didn’t join the dots from the conversation we’d had the other week to my disappointment now. And I couldn’t tell her. I felt ashamed. I felt so stupid. Why did I allow myself to believe what she had said? And if she had lied about that, what else was a lie? The ‘I love yous’?

All these weeks of steady encouragement to ‘come in out of the cold’ and then this. This is exactly why we stay distant. If you don’t people in they can’t hurt you can they?

I felt like the little parts of me were disintegrating. Just like the teen had said in my dream the week before, ‘it’s just a game, that’s her job, it’s not real – none of it is real’.  I was really distressed and dissociated.

A asked me if I wanted a hug. I didn’t respond. I could hear what she was saying but I just couldn’t speak or move. She asked again and I barely nodded. Child parts though, they outstrip the angry teen! She put her hand on my hand and pulled me in close for a cuddle. I didn’t speak. I think it was a kind of shock. I seem to have mastered dissociative crying where I don’t even know it’s happening until I feel the tears roll down over my lip, though.

She told me that she hadn’t decided what she was going to be doing yet but was probably going up to stay with her partner. I just held on tight and kept silently crying. I literally couldn’t believe she was going to leave me when she had so clearly promised not to. Adult me understands but adult me wasn’t there then.

Then the session was over and I realised that not only was I going to be working online for a month, but that we had no plan in place on how to help manage a month of hideous shit online. I was firmly in rupture zone (not that she knew that then). A said we can continue to text and have contact…but that is not enough. Not now. Not after the way we have been working for the last month. The young parts that are so exposed need some tangible reminder that she actually exists because when I am distressed the object constancy stuff is awful. All I can picture is a black void of where she should be -it’s right back into preverbal trauma.

I struggled to get up and leave. I said goodbye but I couldn’t meet her gaze. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I walked to my car, got inside, shut the door and let out a gut-wrenching howl. I sounded like a wounded animal. And then I sobbed. Convulsive crying. Just absolutely hideous levels of pain. It was a pain about being left, by her, by Em, by my mum all coming together at once. All those excruciating feelings about being unlovable, unimportant and forgettable came flooding in.

It’s fair to say it’s been a pretty shit week! I’m completely exhausted by this but also just completely embarrassed and ashamed to feel this. I did let A know what’s gone on but…ugh god… I just want to crawl into a hole and die. Talk about losing my grip!

* Just to say, thank you to everyone who has emailed me asking for the password for upcoming posts. I haven’t replied to anyone yet because I don’t have a password yet and I haven’t written any posts! Also, I genuinely thought about eight people were going to message me and it’s been loads of you. I will get back to you guys soon xx

Dreaming Of My Therapist… Again

The last few weeks in therapy have been absolutely incredible/transformational (sorry if I sound like a broken record here!) and I absolutely plan to write about what’s going on in a few password protected posts soon – but before that happens I need some time to really process it all properly with A.

This, as you’ll see, is not a protected post. I’ve just woken up from the most winding, random, emotionally-charged therapy dream and whilst it’s fresh I think I’ll write about it here before I forget it – although I don’t think I’ll forget that all too familiar feeling of sadness and shame it’s left me with. I definitely need to take it to session tomorrow because I am still jangling inside even though I know it’s just my brain having a good sort out!

I seem to have a thing about dreaming about my therapist/s don’t I? I think over the years I have written about handful of them here. In fact, I am struggling to think of a title that isn’t the same as all the others! Why am I writing about dreams again? Well, I’ve noticed that the blog posts that seem to get the most traction here are the ones about ‘dreaming of my therapist’, ‘touch in therapy’ , ‘eye contact’ and ‘ruptures’ which just goes to show that these things concern a lot of us in therapy. It’s not really surprising that we process relational stuff in our dreams and that this crops up in the form of our therapists with whom we are processing our attachment issues.

I used to feel huge amounts of shame when I’d have these BIG dreams and keep quiet about them for weeks and months on end letting the feelings steadily eat away at me – but this was because Em never really knew how to handle what I was saying. I remember the time I finally told her that I dreamt she’d violently thrown my three-year-old son out the back of an ambulance that was parked on her drive so that he injured himself as he landed on the concrete. She’d stepped over him and gone back into her house and shut the door on us both. I was left holding him unconscious in my arms …fuck me why did I not listen to what my mind was trying to show me then – talk about a clear message about my inner child!!

She was so distant, so unmoved, so analytical ‘what does this episode remind you of?’ Being curious about dream content is fine and useful, but sometimes when my mind is serving me up trauma 101 I just really need to hear, ‘that sounds really upsetting and I am sorry that I hurt you in the dream.  Can we look at the feelings that have come up for you around this? I wonder what your dream is trying to tell us?’

It’s really not easy unpicking upsetting dreams ABOUT your therapist WITH your therapist – especially when you’re still reeling from feeling rejected or abandoned and so it’s really important that a sense of safety is established first. Anita is really good at this – thank god. But it’s so alien after years of feeling so much shame if Em even made it into a dream and often not saying anything because it would just pour salt in the wound.

It’s been a little while since Anita has made it into my dreams – in fact I think it’s got to be back in June or something, when we were in the thick of lockdown and online therapy sessions. I was feeling unsettled and was caught up in a panic, worrying about the various ways that she would abandon me and tell me she couldn’t work with me anymore. God the abandonment narrative never gets old does it?!

I’ve found that taking these hard dreams to A has been really helpful. We work through them and the underlying fear (being left/abandoned or being too much) and it really seems to help solidify the relationship and help build trust, because of course my brain is replaying long-standing fears and imagining the worst that could happen in the relationship in these dreams. Anita doesn’t have a problem with giving reassurance (remember how Em wouldn’t AT ALL?) and even though it takes a lot (A LOT!) of repetition what she is saying IS starting to go in a little bit. At least part of me is starting to believe that she’s not planning on running off into the sunset screaming ‘fucking leave me alone you freak!’.

They say that it takes the brain thousands of repetitions of an action in order to make a new neural pathway so it’s going to take a lot of ‘I care about you, I am not going anywhere, and I love you’ for it to really stick and start create its own track in my brain. Oh help!… imagine that also needing to happen for all the different parts of me – because it’s not always the same part present that hears the affirmations!

ARRRGHHHH!

For the longest time it has felt like I get told these lovely things and they almost bounce off me, or slip through my fingers and are suddenly gone. K said to me the other day that there’s a part that really struggles to take in love and care, like that part literally has no idea what to do with it, and she’s so right. I so desperately want to find a place inside myself to put this care and love because now that I am finally experiencing what has been lacking my whole frigging life I don’t want it to disappear. And yet I have nowhere to store it…which is hilarious because there feels like an endless black hole in my heart area that needs filling! Ugh.   

Anyway, back to dreams – recently, I had a dream about Em (yeah, that relationship and its ending is still giving me the occasional nightmare even 9 months down the line) that affected me so badly that I really couldn’t hold myself together at all. I forewarned A in a text before my session about what had happened and what I needed in the session from her – basically to stay close to me so I didn’t dissociate.  

No surprises that A was phenomenal that day – just completely saw what I needed – and that’s where the passworded posts will begin. To have that horrible sense of feeling rejected and abandoned when it’s completely live and unfiltered, witnessed by A felt hard, but allowing that pain and young stuff, to be truly seen by A was what triggered to move into this new therapeutic space we are now in. The level of emotional intimacy has ramped up and the most vulnerable parts are finally getting seen, held, and contained which is both great and fucking terrifying.

After several really wonderful holding sessions this month where the young parts have been seen and worked with, the untrusting, angry, self-loathing critical part who is pickled in shame turned up to therapy on Monday and it was utterly horrendous. I completely shut down. My body language was so closed, knees pulled up into my body, head down, completely rigid. I couldn’t look at A at all. The longer I was in the room the harder it got. A was so kind, consistent, and present and it just made things worse (for a bit!).

Every time she asked a question or said something kind, I wanted to scream at her to leave me alone. I did tell her to ‘shut up’ at one point! Eek. I couldn’t bear to be seen and if I could have curled up in a ball and hidden from her view I would have. Anita believes in letting the protective defensive parts have their say, and to be in the space, but also talks to them and understands the situation enough that she is able to disarm them a bit. In the end my defences shattered and that protector backed down and the vulnerable that feels so much shame came out but again was met with exactly what it needs.

Anyway, all that’s for the other posts but I’m not surprised that I had the dream I had this morning having had the voice that says, ‘You’re too needy. This isn’t real. This isn’t safe. She’ll realise she’s made a mistake and leave soon’ being so present on Monday.

The dream:

I was due to see Anita for a therapy session at the end of the day. She lived at the top of a very long, steep hill, and for some reason I had parked at the bottom of the hill. I walked up the tree lined street. It was heading towards sunset and the view back down the road was lovely. I thought I was going to be late and so started running up the remainder of the hill – I was exhausted by the time I reached the house!

The house was built into a hill (I used to live somewhere like this when I was a teen) – it was an upside-down house with the living room and kitchen upstairs and there were steps spiralling round the outside of the property to get to the front door at the top. There was a large veranda off the back and when I arrived there was a village gathering going on – like a ‘bring and share’ sort of thing with heaps of people milling around chatting. There was a long table laid out and I was invited to sit down but A wasn’t there. I was totally confused. I didn’t feel like I should be there but people insisted that I stay and it was fine that A had said I would be there. I felt awkward and embarrassed.

People kept talking to me and I got on fine, cue my chameleon skills, but inside I was wondering what the fuck was going on. I looked around and noticed that Anita was sitting at the far end of the table on the corner about two seats down from me. When I saw her, I got the absolute jealous rage! There was a friend of mine (not someone I actually know in real life) who was about 17 sitting perched on her lap and laughing her head off. She seemed really confident and happy and just one of those people that seem to have it all. A and this girl clearly had a deep relationship and I felt so unbelievably angry.

I had no idea that they knew each other and was furious that this person, my friend, seemed to be so connected to A, that it was so easy for them both to laugh and joke and be close. I got up quietly from the table, glanced again at A – we made eye contact and I could feel the tears coming. I quickly left the house and ran off down the hill. I felt so sad but also massively abandoned, too. I didn’t want to have some crap second rate pretend relationship with Anita when clearly my friend didn’t.

There was no reason I should know about my friend knowing A but I didn’t feel like I could trust Anita anymore because she’d let me walk into that situation. Surely, she must know that would hurt me. I ran out of energy and the rage dissipated. I sat down on someone’s front lawn at the bottom of the hill under a tree and just sobbed like my heart was breaking. I felt so sad that yet again things were going to shit with someone I care about – someone I love -there was no way I could continue to see A if this other girl was involved.

Anita came walking down the road and sat down beside me. She tried to comfort me but I just couldn’t hear what she was saying. I couldn’t feel it. I was so shutdown. I needed to protect myself from more hurt. She handed me some old pieces of paper and pictures and explained to me that she was still with me and that nothing had changed and to read these things she’d given me and I’d see that our relationship was important to her, that the relationship she had with the girl was different but not more important. I felt slightly better but I still hurt. I knew it wasn’t rational but I felt like I had lost everything.

A neighbour called to Anita from across the street and she went to over to see them. The 17-year-old friend came towards me and sat down. I said, ‘I didn’t know you knew Anita?’ and the girl told me she’d know A for years and that they were really close. She said that A was good at making clients feel special but it’s just a game, that’s her job, it’s not real, none of it is real. She pointed at the pieces of paper that A had given me and said ‘Oh yeah, I’ve seen all those before’. I couldn’t contain my sadness and got up, leaving the papers behind me and ran off again. I had to get away.

Anita saw me go and shouted after me, but I didn’t look back and just kept running. I ended up in a school, in a changing room cubicle and sat with my feet up on the bench so that I couldn’t be seen by anyone walking by outside. I opened my eyes and there was a little girl in there with me, maybe four years old, in a grey pinafore dress. She was clearly lost and looked really sad. I asked her name and she couldn’t speak. I asked her if she was lost and she nodded. I sat her next to me and told her that it would be ok although I didn’t really believe it either for her or me.

At that moment I heard Anita and the 17-year-old enter the changing room. I put my finger to my lips and gestured for the little girl to be quiet. I could hear Anita talking about me, ‘She’s intelligent but she’s an emotional wreck and really so needy, I’ve never come across anyone like her. How do you know her and why on earth would you spend time with her?’ And the girl said that we went to college together and agreed that I was a bit strange but nice enough.

I felt really betrayed hearing Anita talking about me to this other person in this way and just sat there stunned. The little girl’s shoe poked out from under the door and Anita and the 17-year-old knocked and I had to open it. I looked up at Anita and burst into tears and the little girl ran into the arms of the 17-year-old – they were sisters.

I don’t remember how it ended but man…. I have woken up really exhausted. I feel like I have done an emotional workout before the day has even begun and whilst adult me knows that none of it is real there’s that horrible hangover that just niggles in the background ‘what if?’.

So, there we are. Hopefully I won’t go into shutdown tomorrow and can actually just see that this is ‘the fear’ doing its thing.

Honestly, my poor little brain needs a rest! Remind me why I do this to myself!! x

This Is What Healing Looks Like To Me or ‘Why I need Chocolate NOT Pears (Or Ice Cubes!)’

For those of you have followed this blog over the last few years you’ll know that I have poured blood, sweat, tears, and thousands and thousands of pounds into my healing journey. The ironic thing is, it is only in the last year, since I went back to my craniosacral therapist K, and then found Anita in January, (just as my relationship with Em started to properly disintegrate) that there has been any sense of healing – like a proper felt sense that things can and are getting better on that deeper level.

I have done years of ‘therapy’, religiously going to see Em week in week out, two sessions a week and repeatedly being triggered into a place of huge pain and dissociation. It has been so hard to endure. Part of me wonders why I stayed for so long when everything felt so off. My attachment to Em was so strong, though. My child parts were completely invested in the relationship (or wanting to feel like there was a ‘relationship’) that I put myself through emotional hell – a familiar hell – of feeling so deficient, unlovable, and untouchable.

This experience of therapy with Em just poured salt in an already gaping mother wound. It was trauma bonding 101. A complete re-enactment of my childhood and a re-experiencing of the cold, distant, but shaming relationship I had with my mum. Deep down part of me knew that, but I couldn’t leave, it was familiar territory and what I had grown to expect…but just like with my mum, I really really hoped that one day things would turn around and I’d get what I needed.

I wanted to believe there was something better for me and maybe it would materialise if I just tried harder, didn’t ask for too much, and was patient. But this didn’t happen. I was shown time and again that my needs weren’t important – or even acknowledged as being valid- and that I had to take what was offered…which was very little.

It wasn’t until Em likened my young parts to a tick and had verbally rejected the gift (or said that she didn’t want to accept gifts in future and shouldn’t have taken the one at Christmas) that I knew I couldn’t go on any more. Em had hurt me and my child parts so badly that even though I loved her (and still do) I physically couldn’t put myself through it any more. As it was all coming to a head from my side it was clear that she was more than done too – as I had suspected – and she made no attempt to try and work through it with me, willing to let me go on a perfunctory two line email…after 8 years!

Looking back, I just wish I had made a clean break the day I went to see Anita to test the waters about a different therapy/therapist. I knew instantly that A was a good fit and that I wanted to work with her but I also wanted to try for a ‘decent ending’ with Em– that illusive thing! I wish I had have taken more heed of the concerns A raised about Em’s conduct and just cut my losses before things had chance to get any worse.

If only I had just walked away then rather than waiting to see what might happen, giving it one last go at trying to work it through, and STUPIDLY handing her the power back, then the biggest injury would have been avoided. I would have felt rejected and abandoned whatever happened but I wouldn’t be stuck with this sick feeling of people I care about seeing me as a parasite.

Ouch.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? I guess I hoped that she would reflect on what I told her about how hurt I was about the session leading into Christmas, the break, and the first session back, accept her part in things, acknowledge my feelings, and find a way to move forward – rupture and repair in action. But no. What happened was horrific, her response telling her how hurt I felt was, ‘your young parts are like a tick’ and before I knew it everything was unravelling at speed.

Clearly, I am still not over what happened in this therapy and every time I get close to Anita there’s a voice in my head that says, ‘This is dangerous, don’t let her too close, don’t let her see the need because you’ll frighten her away – she’ll think you’re a tick, too’. And I hate that. I hate that what Em said still hurts like hell all these months on, but I also hate that it impacts how I relate to Anita.

I cannot really explain how different it feels being with Anita. She makes me feel safe and cared for and yet even when there is real closeness between us we’re lumbered with the legacy that Em has left. I know it is going to take a lot of therapy and care to repair the damage done because Em has basically shattered all the young parts of me that were trying to trust and heal, but not only that, she’s also taken a huge swipe at my adult self. I am so grateful that A is on my side though, and willing to do the work with me….as slow and painstaking as it is.

I guess in some way I am grateful to Em (am I?!). I learnt a lot about myself in the therapy with her. Parts of myself I didn’t even know existed made themselves known to me through being in ‘relationship’ with her. Unfortunately, these vulnerable young child parts were abandoned in that room. She frequently told me I was abandoning my young parts but if that was true, then so was she. I have so often felt like I am on the verge of drowning just trying to keep us all afloat and taking myself to therapy was not an act of abandonment on my part. It’s hard living an adult life without having to carry the terror and pain of a minibus full of activated child parts too – therapy was meant to help with that (and it does now- phew!).

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time researching and finding out more about my ‘stuff’. I guess I used that well-worn strategy ‘intellectualising’ to try and make sense of the situation! I have read so many books on attachment, trauma, shame, dissociation, and the therapeutic relationship – and, of course, blogs – looking for the answers, learning how to move forward and heal, and whilst that didn’t happen with Em, I feel like I at least know myself now and confident that I am not the only person on earth struggling with this stuff. I know what’s wrong. I understand what the injury is. AND I know what I need to heal it. I’ve always known – I just haven’t been able to get what I needed until now.

After years of being told what I need by Em, like she was some magic oracle that knew what ‘people like me’ need to heal I can categorically say what I need is not what was on offer with her! Maybe her strategies work with some clients, but I struggle to see how anyone with Complex Trauma would have responded well to her ‘techniques’. As I mentioned recently in another post, I saw something by Carolyn Spring that says that when we are in distress, we don’t need strategies or techniques, we need a person. And it’s that simple. It’s not rocket science, it it? Relational trauma needs healing in relationship. Em didn’t really do relationship. She watched me as I struggled and suffered – like some kind of poor rodent in a science experiment.

I have talked and talked and got nowhere and over time replaced talking with more and more dissociation. Simply being in the same room with Em triggered me. I’d feel dysregulated before I even arrived at the session but I was always so hopeful that maybe this time I’d get what I needed having hung on desperately through the week in attachment hell waiting to see her.

I don’t think people that haven’t got this kind of trauma/injury have even the slightest idea of how bloody harrowing it is being stuck in the attachment hell zone – feeling like the world is literally falling apart, like you can’t breathe for the pain of it, and being completely terrified. When it gets bad like that I know, for me, it’s largely pre-verbal and it is so scary feeling completely abandoned, uncontained, and as though you are falling through some kind of internal black abyss. That’s crappy, but then there’s all the other feelings that can come in from other parts- the apathy, the rage, the self-loathing, the wanting to cut and run…it’s just awful.

My window of tolerance became so small in the end that I felt unsafe being with Em. I was always braced for more rejection, more shaming, more disconnection. My body was always so tense – so much so that it would hurt. More than anything I wanted to feel safe with her and that’s why I kept going – the child parts hoped that one day she’d help them and so they hid behind the sofa, peeking out, waiting and waiting to be seen and cared for. Only when she did get glimpses of who was there she freaked out, put walls up, and distanced herself even further. It was though I would sometimes be brave enough to take one step forward and she’d immediately take two (twenty!) steps back.

I don’t know what it is about that young parts that triggered her so badly but I do wonder if there is unresolved childhood trauma for her that my stuff tapped into and she just couldn’t bear to be near it. Or maybe she just didn’t like me and was content to keep taking the money. Long-term clients with attachment disorders coming twice a week are certainly a reliable source of income. We don’t ever not turn up! lol.

There is so sadness about this. At times it got so bad that I came close to destroying myself. My go to coping strategies were so active – some of the worst periods of anorexic behaviour and self-harm happened whilst in the therapy with Em because I couldn’t cope with the pain of the attachment and how alone I felt. I feel so upset about it all because it could have been so different. Handled well, it could have been so healing.

I tried really hard to do what Em said. I wanted to believe that what she suggested could work for me. I don’t want to feel this way forever – that’s why I am in therapy in the first place! I tried to engage with whatever she asked: the visualisations- ‘just imagine holding your distressed child parts’ – but it wasn’t me the child parts wanted or needed at that point– and she knew that and shamed me for it.

When it was really bad and I was heavily dissociated somewhere out in the cold alone, embodying that exiled child part, there was no adult self to help me and Em just left me stranded – sometimes for the entire session. I don’t doubt that someday soon I will be able to hold and contain these young parts for myself but back then there was no chance. I didn’t know how.

When you are terrified and in a child state you can’t just pick yourself up and make it better for yourself – especially if there’s no template to work from. How can you imagine being held and feeling safe if you’ve never experienced being held or feeling safe? It’s not just visualisations, though. I’ve done all sorts; I made my eyes follow blue dots on an I-pad over and over (yet another tool to avoid talking about what was going on between us in the room). I have tried everything Em threw at me and yet none of it worked.

I have tried to believe that being ignored during the week between sessions was for the best, that somehow my massively distressed young parts who feared that she was never coming back (like all those years where my mum was gone in the week when I was little) or perhaps dead (like my dad) would learn that she was there in session. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a transitional object, check ins…the list goes on and on …because she was unwilling to concede an inch so maybe I must stupid for thinking these things might help and how dare I ask for anything more than the bare minimum – clearly, she knew best – deprivation and isolation was best?! But I did need more and now that I am getting those things, it really really makes a massive difference.

I have never been able to feel safe in therapy because what I needed more than anything was a person. I needed a relationship in which to begin to build trust and someone to feel safe with. I needed someone who realised and accepted that there were lots of parts of me (some really badly hurt) and they each need something different and communicate in different ways. My child parts were reluctant to come to session with Anita- and who can blame them after what happened in January- but I’ve found they are pretty good at communicating with Gifs and emojis! I have sent more texts in the last week to A than I did in the entire time I worked with Em – eek!

Anita’s willingness to allow those young parts to tentatively take steps towards her from outside the room and for her to have responded in a way that they understand, has meant that now, they have felt safe enough to come to therapy and are well and truly in the room…I could not have done that if we hadn’t spent the last 9 months laying the foundations via text. Em was blank screen. Teflon. She wanted no contact. Anita is present, real, and connected. She actually seems to like me…better than like me (yay!)…which is nice but it means that what and who needs to be work with can safely turn up.

I wish I had been able to advocate better for myself with Em. Deep down we all know what we need to heal. Sometimes that doesn’t align with what the other person can do, it doesn’t fit their training or system of working, their personality – and that is fine – we can’t force a therapist to be someone they’re not (even if they seem to want to force a square peg through a round hole where we are concerned!). I just wish they’d say something early on like, ‘What you need and want is completely valid and understandable as you’ve had so much wounding but I can’t offer that’ and refer us out rather than saying things like, ‘The time for getting what you need has passed and you need to learn to hold this for yourself. I won’t collude with those young parts. If I did what you wanted it wouldn’t help you in the long run.’

Whilst I understand I can’t get a new childhood or a new mum, I can have a relationship with my therapist that is safe, caring, and loving in order that the wounding from my childhood can be gently healed. I can have someone who is on my side ready to hold my hand and support me when I go to the really dark places. It is ok to expect to be in a relationship with someone who you share the most vulnerable and wounded parts of yourself. I can’t express it strongly enough – it is the relationship that heals not the theory.

And so what happened with Em? I stayed, sort of believing her narrative that I was not trying hard enough to heal (even though I work so fucking hard both inside and outside of sessions)– that I was in some way treatment resistant so just need to try harder, let her in more, stop dissociating. And then when I did that, when I gave her my notebooks, her reaction was so bad that it ended.

Here’s a crap analogy for what my therapy has been like…buckle up we’re on course for one of my extended rambling metaphors!:

I think it’s a bit like when you’re a kid and you feel sad and want a treat. You may really want a bar of chocolate – know that a bar of chocolate is what would make you feel better- and yet the parent keeps offering you a pear because ‘they know what’s best for you’. You chew on the pear but really, deep down you wanted chocolate. I mean, of course, there are some similarities between a pear and a chocolate bar- both are sweet- but we all know a pear is not a reasonable substitution for a chocolate bar no matter what they say about the health benefits!

Imagine being a child, and every week asking for chocolate and every week being told ‘No – you can only have pear! You may think you need a chocolate bar, but you’re wrong. Pear is what you need. Pear is all that’s on offer. You’ll soon learn that pears are the best thing for you.’ And that’s hard to take on board because it feels impossible that that can be true…

But it gets worse, alongside this, whilst you’ve got acid indigestion from so much fucking pear, the parent repeatedly tells you how much chocolate you’ve missed out on in your life so far. Then saying that despite having some chocolate right there with them, that they won’t give any to you ever, and maybe you could find some way to imagine what it would be like to taste chocolate whilst you’re struggling to stomach the pear.

The pear is definitely not what you want but you are naturally compliant and so take it and wonder why you aren’t good enough to be given the chocolate. Week after week you’re handed pear but you’re quickly sick of it, the taste, the texture, how it makes you feel sick inside- everything about pear feels wrong. It’s not chocolate. At this point you’d even settle for a cocoa dusted slice of pear…but no…you’ve got pear and pear only.

Eventually, it reaches a point where you just cannot put another piece of pear in your mouth. And the parent keeps on, ‘How about we try this shaped pear today? Or perhaps we could juice it?’ as though it would be any different from all the other slabs and slices and cups you’ve forced down your neck over the months and years. You internally groan. You’re not stupid though, you stopped asking for the chocolate a long time ago because it just got painful being refused it over and over again.

You clearly don’t deserve chocolate and so now you’ve tried to convince yourself that chocolate is bad and dangerous because that’s what parent has said… but it’s never really worked because your soul knows what you need. And part of you hoped that if you kept up with the pear long enough, maybe one day you’d be rewarded with just a tiny square of chocolate. The parent thinks they’ve won the battle because you don’t ever talk of chocolate now, but inside you’re really sad – why is a bit of chocolate so forbidden? How can something that tastes so good be wrong?  

Time goes on and by now you’re so sick of pear, that it’s reached the point where it’s making you sick and you have nightmares about being handed pear. Just the thought of it makes you want to gag and you cry. Until one day you crack. You can’t do it any more, the revulsion to the pear is so severe that you vomit it back up all over the floor, and it’s not just pear, it’s years of emotional pain spewing out, and you scream ‘I DON’T LIKE PEAR! I hate pear. I have tried it. I really have. But it’s not helping me. It actually makes me feel ill. I really just need some chocolate!!’ and the parent looks at you with disgust and coldly says. ‘I don’t do chocolate and if you won’t eat pear then you’ll have to go’. It’s as simple as that.

So, you go somewhere else, a foster home, crying, sad, not really knowing what you need anymore, what you are entitled to ask for. You don’t even really care about chocolate now, you just know you can’t stomach another pear and you pray that this new home doesn’t force feed them to you too.

You walk in the door and the new parent talks to you kindly, it’s bizarre, so alien!… and immediately says that chocolate is completely ok in this house like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, they offer you a chocolate bar. You don’t even have to ask for it! Apparently a plentiful supply of chocolate bars are what is needed when a child like you has been deprived chocolate all its life. And it’s ok to want that and ask for that. And, furthermore, if you don’t like pear then you never have to eat it again. When you leave the house and look in your bag you see that the new parent has even slid a chocolate bar in your lunch bag. You cannot believe your luck.

And this is what it’s been like seeing Em and A. I mean that’s a bit of an ‘out there’ analogy. My friend actually said I ought to have used ice cubes for Em rather than pears… as she was stone cold and there was no nutritional value to the therapy!! haha. The moment I met A, she was on my page – ‘you know what you need, you’re inside you, and who am I to tell you what you need? I might not be able to give you everything you need but those needs are valid and ok’… turns out she also has a stack of ‘chocolate’ and it’s really good chocolate so my inner child is delighted! Lol.

Anyway, that’s all for now…this is unexpectedly long. I’m trying to work out what to do with writing this blog at the minute. Therapy has gone to a whole new level for me these last couple of weeks -it’s incredible but also massively vulnerable work – and so I feel like right now, I don’t want to detail what’s going on because actually I feel really protective of it. I feel like I need to talk to A about it too. I get it’s my therapy, that the blog is anonymous, etc but I might have to take a bit of time before I publish anything. That’s not an intentional cliff-hanger, it’s just I feel like I need to keep everything safely contained in the room for a bit. x

The Queen Of Avoidance

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It’s no secret that when it comes to expressing difficult feelings – or even positive ones like the ‘L’ word – in therapy I can sit on my throne, The Queen of Avoidance, for weeks or even months (years!!!) on end not really saying what’s going on for me! I think I frequently come over as aloof, stand-offish or perhaps even cold and unfeeling – because whilst I can be ‘feeling all the feelings’ inside, I’d sooner sit in stony-faced silence than admit that I like you, care about you, or say that you are important to me. Considering how much I hate the still face experiment it’s kind of funny that I sit with my poker face glued on so much of the time in therapy.

I’ve spoken at length with my friend (who kindly drew the illustration above) about this, she’s one of the few people I have truly let into my inner world, and have lamented how sad it is that to me it feels more dangerous to express love than it does to express anger or rage in therapy. Revealing and communicating loving feelings feels so risky. I guess because when we do that, the armour is off and the protectors are standing down. When we express love we are wide open and vulnerable to being hurt and this is even more the case if the feelings being articulated are coming from a young part.

Whilst it’s what I crave, it’s also not surprising that I avoid this kind of emotional intimacy. We all want to be loved, need to be loved, but there have been a couple of significant times in my life where I have finally built up the courage to tell someone how I feel and it’s gone badly. I am programmed expect the worst, ‘you’re too much’ or to get no response at all – especially after growing up with a mother who does not show any warmth whatsoever. And so any time I enter the arena of feeling the BIG feelings and wanting to express them, it triggers those really painful feelings of rejection and abandonment and so I’d sooner say nothing at all and sit in my own discomfort rather than be negatively judged or rejected by the other.

It’s funny, I saw a tweet months ago that I sent to Anita at the time which said:

All I ask is for you to get to know me on a deep, intimate level while I resist and obstruct your every attempt to do so.

And this absolutely nails it. Queen Of Avoidance! I tried so hard to break this pattern with Em but actually working with her cemented my fears and doubts about being unlovable, increased my levels of dissociation, and crushed the youngest parts of me… which is unfortunate to say the least.

Wow – that’s a massive understatement!

I’ve been working with Anita for 8 months now. I see her twice a week so I guess we must have had about 60 sessions over this time. I noticed towards the end of June a shift in how I felt with A. I guess it was around then that the child parts who had been so much in hiding after being so badly hurt by Em attached to her. And of course this signalled the start of ‘react like a baby to the slightest thing’ time. It was like having a scab torn off and the open mother wound exposed again.

Once the young parts (including the teens) activate in therapy it’s a whole other world of fun isn’t it? And when I say ‘fun’ I really mean ‘shame’!

A has been nothing short of amazing with me in the time we have been working together. I know I am not an easy client to work with (another massive understatement!) but she’s been so calm, consistent, and validating of my feelings that it’s hardly surprising that since returning to face to face sessions it feels more intense. After months working online, and having had the break, being back in the room feels so nice. I feel more seen and more connected which in turn settles my system down.

Only it also does that other thing…SHAKES IT UP!!

Argh!

Because A makes me feel safe when I am with her it activates all the attachment stuff and young need. Like I feel so grateful to her for what she does for me but now it feels like all the little ones are wanting to rush forward and hug her especially after the break – stampede style!

The children inside have all been left unattended for so long that it’s a shit show. In January the little ones were abandoned, screaming, and the teen part was left babysitting. She had no idea what she was doing and basically spent the food money on litres of coke and sweets to bribe the little ones to shut up- and now the littlest ones are hyper but also overtired and need a story and to be put to bed!

This last couple of weeks has been really hard going. I have barely hung it together in my adult life and it’s massively impacted my internal system. Everything feels overwrought and I feel like I am spread way too thin. My resources are massively depleted. My nervous system has been off the chart…and generally it’s felt really awful. Like I have wanted to cry but haven’t been able to let the tears come – although crying is not something I find very easy. Apparently the average woman cries 3.5 times a month…I barely manage that in a year even when I have been terminated my by attachment figure! I have felt like I have wanted to self-harm but haven’t…but because I haven’t gone to my ‘go to’ coping strategies there has also not been any release.

I think I have come over as a complete basket case in my sessions. Manic and repetitive. I’ve done nothing but moan. And then underneath the immediate everyday life stuff there’s been this swirling terror that I don’t talk about, can’t talk about, because I just can’t hold that too and keep going with the day to day.

I feel a huge panic in my system that any minute A is going to go. Part of it is I think COVID dread. I am really worried about us ending up in lockdown again and not being able to see her… but this then spirals down into the feeling of her being ‘gone’ like properly gone. And I guess this is something to do with what it is like working online for the young parts. I think the preverbal stuff is really difficult to work with online and so because that littlest self can’t really get what it needs on screen it feels like its been abandoned… I dunno I need to think more on that.

Despite everything feeling massively precarious – being in the room with A has been the glue that has held my pieces together lately… or, maybe the scaffolding around my renovation project. And getting a hug at the end feels like the parts of me that are crumbling are momentarily held in place before I go back out into the world and try not to disintegrate.

I outdid myself this week after my session. I felt so seen and held that I sent A a message afterwards – basically saying just that…but then ugh…I rounded it off with a GIF that said ‘p.s I love you’.

Because I do.

So what am I left with after sending that? Well, I feel embarrassed, ashamed, and like I want to run away. My protector parts are ready, my armour is on, and my avoidant self is back online. Like what was I actually thinking? Why on earth did I bloody open myself up to being hurt amd rejected again?

I feel sick inside.

And this is what’s really depressing. Surely it should feel ok to tell someone that they are important to you and love should not feel bad. But this is where my wounding is and I feel like I’ve just run back into a burning building and it’s hurting like hell…which is kind of ironic given how burning myself was a go to method of self harm!

Therapy Break #1: You’re The Other Side Of The World To Me.

Ugh, noooooooooooooooooooo!!!! Here we go again. Somewhat predictably, as I find myself nearing the end of a therapy break, having almost survived it, the feeling of panic has taken root in the young parts of my system and the last couple of days I have found that I am perpetually on the verge of tears and feel completely overwhelmed but also totally incapacitated. It’s bloody awful but not unfamiliar.

The result of this shifting gears down into inner chaos is that I literally cannot cope with the smallest thing. When I say ‘smallest thing’, I really mean it. My system is so sensitised that the slightest noise from anyone else in the house is making me feel a combination of irritation, agitation, and anxiety. Even the noise of my kids eating some raw carrots with their dinner downstairs earlier, when I was upstairs in my bedroom, made my nerves jangle and I wanted to scream, or walk out the door, or rage for them to ‘shut the fuck up!’ I didn’t, which is obviously really good news, I just stayed upstairs willing it to be bedtime. But this really demonstrated to me how my resources are so lacking and I feel like I have no skin – no resilience.

I understand that the rage and frustration is just a defence against what’s really happening. Underneath all the desire to take flight is the need to feel connected, contained, and secure and I don’t feel any of those things right now which is why I feel like everything is too much.

Another example of this being too wound up has just this second happened…My wife has been out all day and I knew she was on her way home because she called to say she was leaving, and yet the noise of her quietly walking through the front door saw me jump out my skin: my legs actually left the couch, I jolted upright as though an electric current had been passed through my body, and now my hands and feet are fizzing. It’s fucking horrendous and I just don’t know how to help myself. Even craniosacral with K didn’t seem to touch it. Everything feels wrong.

Part of me desperately wants to be alone but actually, I also want peace and to escape from all the noise inside. I have listened to what all parts are saying but there’s no way of soothing them. I have no choice but to accept what I am feeling but it is so hard to live with when you have the responsibilities of an adult, of a parent.

I really need a reset right now. I need a hug and to be reassured that things are ok – but I can’t get that and they’re not – and I can’t see things getting any better for a couple of weeks. I have too much swirling in my brain, too much to do, too much stress and anxiety (not just mine) to absorb and the panic is getting worse rather than better.

I hate this!

I realise how bonkers this sounds, but I genuinely feel like the big red button has been pressed and the alarm is sounding. EVACUATE! EVACUATE!

I feel as though I am hurtling through black space, internally. It’s terrifying. It’s like all the parts of me have decided to form a skydiving team and have, yet again, completely overestimated their ability to dive safely, in formation. At this stage they should really only be attempting tandem dives with a trained professional and yet I think because they’ve done so many dives (breaks) they kind of thought they’d be ok this time. But it turns out that things are even more precarious than usual and, if I am honest, I am not sure my lot have even remembered to pack a parachute! Or maybe they have one, but there’s one parachute between…err…thirteen parts!

Shiiiiittttt!!!!

And where the hell has my adult gone? – she’s not plummeting with the rest of them… but then I wonder if she already hit rock bottom? – she’s burnt out – already crashed and burned? I mean I literally could not get out of bed until 2pm today (I mean I got up to feed the kids and checked on them, but kept finding my way back into bed because I just couldn’t face doing anything) and have just felt completely suffocated in the thick fog of depression for days. And that’s why I am left with this chaos, because there’s no glue to hold all the pieces together – I don’t even seem to be in possession of my rubber bands or chewing gum!

It’s felt almost inevitable that I would crash out at some point. To be honest, I don’t think this is about just this two week therapy break, I think this is the culmination of the last nine months (or really, eighteen months) of emotional stress and anxiety that I have been trying to carry and survive without falling apart. It had to catch up with me eventually, and so I suppose it’s not really surprising that the moment I am left to my own devices and have time to stop and reflect a bit, but have also just started down the track of new stresses (back to work and back to school), that something would give.

How it feels now is just like that hideous dream I had the other week, spiralling downwards from space towards the earth, completely out of control. I guess the only saving grace this time is that I won’t crash land on Em’s driveway and then have her slam the door in my face….because I have already been there and done that in February – and am still nursing my injuries. Part of me can’t actually get my head round what happened. I cannot believe that I will never get to work this out with her. I cannot believe she cut me dead.

Honestly, I feel so bloody bruised from that experience. It’s almost like the shock of the initial injury has worn off now and I am just left with that deep gnawing ache of bones that haven’t set quite right. Occasionally, I move in a way that I shouldn’t and white hot pain courses through my system (and that’s what’s happening now) but largely I just feel battered. Wounded.

I said, in my last post, this break has a different quality to it, partly because it is the first one Anita and I have had, but also because it has fed directly into everything that happened at Christmas with Em – the last therapy break I had signalled the unravelling of an 8 year therapeutic relationship and I can’t help but feel worried that it might happen again.

Breaks before now, with Em, have felt bad because I’ve been panicking about the ‘what if’ situations and fearing abandonment which really had no basis in the reality of the relationship with Em… [ha you should hear what a part just screamed as I typed that! – they certainly have other views!: ‘She perpetually abandoned us week in week out for years – and we were right to fear she would leave because she was never really there in the first place!’] whereas now I feel like my fears have actually got some validity because they became a reality because of what happened earlier in the year.

I guess with Em I was viewing the relationship through an historical lens with a child’s eyes and fearing something repeating that had happened a long time ago – whereas now I have all that fear and anxiety from the past, but also a real adult experience of having been dumped. And so it’s like every single part of me has been rejected…even the bits that I thought were likeable enough and that’s really hard to come to terms with.

Yeah, I get it. Anita is not Em.

Repeat: Anita is not Em…

But we’re not dealing with the rational side of me right now. This stuff is so young and so hard to settle. No matter what I do – and I have an extensive self-care list- I can’t ease this horrible gut level sense that something is very very wrong and I am not safe. All of a sudden I have a bunch of inconsolable child parts losing their shit.

I feel lost.

I want to see Anita but also I am worried that something has changed. I should be able to keep in mind that I had similar anxieties about whether it would be ok returning to face to face, and it was all fine – better than fine. But I guess I am worried that because we’ve had contact through the break she’ll be feeling like she’s had enough…‘Give me a fucking break already! Leave me alone!’

There’s definitely something big going on with the object constancy stuff too. Some of the lyrics KT Tunstall’s ‘Other Side Of The World’ keep coming into my head. The song is about long distance relationships but actually feels quite apt for breaks, too. I know A isn’t on the other side of the world, she told me where she is, which has helped those young parts a bit because that must mean she’s not actually disappeared and still exists!

There’s this verse:

Can you help me? /Can you let me go?/ And can you still love me when you can’t see me anymore?

And I think this really captures that feeling of panic that young parts have of separation. I don’t for one minute think that A loves me but the feeling of potentially being forgotten about or not being kept in mind is the worry that the youngest parts have – and this is because they too lose connection on breaks. It’s so shit. Anyway, here’s a link to the song – the whole thing is great! x

I’m frustrated with myself too because I literally feel as though I have sleep-walked my way over the edge this time – like it’s happened in slow motion or something. I knew from the beginning that this couple of weeks were going to be ‘interesting’ and yet I really couldn’t face what was coming up for me again. The grief around the loss of Em, of being rejected and abandoned is just too painful. So I tried to power through, kept going, pretended that everything was fine but that has been achieved by a shit tonne of avoidance and keeping too busy! And that is a recipe for disaster because I can’t outrun this forever and it always catches up eventually.

I literally finished painting my house on Monday and then was back into work on Tuesday all day. There has been no down time but then I knew that if I stopped this was all here waiting for me. In some ways it’s not surprising that I would try and avoid feeling this way – it’s thoroughly unpleasant and exhausting.

To be fair, teaching was fine that day but then in the afternoon I was stationary in a line of traffic, leaving a car park and a car ran in the back of me. There wasn’t any damage done but again my system went into meltdown – the bang was so loud! -my hands and feet were buzzing for hours afterwards and my heart was racing.

Then straight, after this, I was driving to the national park with my kids and the dual carriageway I was on had a huge accident on the other side which meant the road was closed. I drove past the scene, and instantly knew something very bad had happened from the amount of emergency vehicles and the fact that traffic was being turned around and sent back up the carriageway. I later discovered that a man had been killed walking his dog when a tyre had come off a moving vehicle at speed and hit him.

I think that Tuesday was the start of things starting to not feel ok inside. And by ‘not ok’, I mean bad. I wanted to talk to A about it all. I felt so shaken up. But really what is there to say? These things happen all the time (I mean the car accident in the car park, not the freak accident on the road.) and I need to not be so sensitive.

So, this week it’s as though I have been on some kind of conveyor belt that’s headed towards the drop off and into the horrible place where everything feels terrible and scary and yet I’ve not been able to get off. I really didn’t want to do a sky dive right now. I just wanted to chill out in a hammock somewhere and be brought snacks and have someone wrap me in a blanket and read me stories!! But my life seems to have other ideas…

I wish I felt more equipped to cope with what’s going on/coming than I do. I guess it’s just going to have to be a case of taking one day at time and celebrating small wins…and hopefully I’ll feel more settled and in a routine soon.

I feel more like a damaged rescue dog than ever! I saw this the other day and it made me laugh – so apt! haha…sigh!

‘I’m Still Here…’

I woke up this morning feeling sick to my core, again. This has happened quite a lot lately. I become aware of it in my sleep, when I am dreaming (usually about something painful), and then when I wake up, I feel ill. It’s hard to explain because it’s not the sort of feeling I would usually associate with being anxious/stressed/dissociated/the attachment stuff – you know that familiar deep, tight ache in your solar plexus and a heaviness in your chest? It’s really different to that. It’s like the whole of my torso feels ‘sick’, like a whole-body nausea rather than specific patches of ‘ache’.

I’m not ill (I don’t think…although it would be funny if I am making all this fuss and it turns out I have a bug?!), and yet, there’s nothing major going on in my mind today – at least not consciously… having said that, the last few days have been rammed with worry and stress – I’d literally forgotten that I just went for my lovely cancer follow up at the hospital which was fine but is always so draining! – so perhaps it’s just a late move by my system to somatise it all and give my head a break? Who knows?! Either way it dragged me out of bed at 6am on a Sunday morning because lying down made it worse.

Rather than wallow in self-pity and achieve nothing, I dragged my family out for an early morning walk by the river. It was really beautiful today. Autumn seems to properly have arrived now. I love the season but hate what it represents – a long slog of teaching until Christmas, dark evenings, and a big dose of SAD! But I still have a day of holiday left before I have to put on my teacher hat and so this morning, I tried to shove the anxiety to the back of my mind and take in- and enjoy- my surroundings. The air was crisp and the sky was that perfect blue that comes at this time of year. It was great to get out and get some fresh air and it distracted a bit from the nausea…until the ride home with the wet dog stinking in the back! Ha.

I’ve been meaning to write all week but every time I think about sitting down at the laptop, I get a mental block. I have stuff to say but at the same time I haven’t had the energy to go there and look at what’s happening. It’s the worst kind of procrastination/avoidance. Instead of sitting with myself and my feelings I have gone all out with avoidance …so much so, that in two days I have completely decorated a big chunk of my house and had a mad one sorting out the garden.

I like to be productive, and the house has been a job I have been putting off for a couple of years, so spending hours mindlessly painting whilst listening to playlists on iTunes meant I didn’t have to be with ‘myself’ too much and that’s what I needed.

So, what’s been going on? What’s prompted this mad phase of action? Well, part of it is trying to avoid back to work dread (and there is a shit load of it – I genuinely feel like crying) but also, I’m half way through a two-week therapy break – the first one I have had with Anita.

Eye roll.

You all saw that one coming, didn’t you?

A hasn’t had a break since I started working with her in January so she certainly deserves some time out but it’s stirred up some unexpected stuff and that’s not easy. The good news is that wheels haven’t completely fallen off just yet! It remains to be seen if I crash and burn as the week progresses and work picks up, though. The heightened anxiety paired with tiredness (oh and PMS week) is sure to throw a few spanners in the works- I already feel a bit wobbly.

There have already been a couple of flat days, but I don’t think that’s purely down to the break, I think it’s my life in general catching up with me and my feeling overwhelmed by it…oh and the hormones of course. They don’t help! I’m beginning to realise that I can’t underestimate the power of the veil that shrouds my rational self when PMS hormone hell is ravaging. I suppose at least I am aware that it’s week where I seem able to blow stuff up in my head to apocalyptic levels of doom: two months ago it was freaking out about feeling like A was ignoring my texts (she wasn’t!), and then last month it was the jealous hell about the walk with the other client…pray for me that I keep my shit together this week as I am really done with overreacting and having the emotional resilience of a fractious three year old!

I didn’t really help myself leading into this break, either. I got to see Anita in person again for our Friday session. Yay, right? Err…yes and no. I didn’t even realise what was happening until about ten minutes from the end when it became blindingly obvious that I had spent the whole session hiding. It was that horrible thing where more than anything I want to connect but there’s that part of me that packs up early and gags all the parts that need to be seen before a holiday. So the needy young parts that are terrified that something bad is going to happen during the break and need reassurance get left high and dry. Then I feel like there is no connection – even though it’s me that has run away from connecting! FFS.

Anita was sitting right opposite me – and we all know how big a deal not being able to be with her in the room has felt during lockdown – but she might as well have been on the moon. I could barely look at her and whilst I was talking, it wasn’t really talking…………….. well it was, but I’m so well practised at filling space with what seems like important stuff, I have such a good disguise, that it’d be impossible for her to know that this ‘stuff’ isn’t the ‘priority stuff’ because there’s just too much fucking stuff! I manage to seem like I am letting her in when actually I am holding her at arm’s length….

FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!

I talked a lot about how bad it’s been feeling in my body; about a horrible dream I had where I was falling towards the earth from space without a parachute, having to fashion something makeshift so I didn’t die, and then landing with a thud on Em’s driveway. She opened her door, looked at me, and then slammed it shut (ouch); feeling like having insight into why I am the way I am is worse than being ignorant of it because I realise there is soooooooooooooooo much wrong and sooooooooooooo much to heal and it feels overwhelming; how internally it’s like a school corridor on change over between lessons – it’s complete carnage…

See, it looks like the important ‘stuff’ doesn’t it?!

And we talked a lot about all these things and A was really lovely but sometimes even her tentatively asking me a question to see what is possible is enough to send my system into lockdown. She asked me if maybe we could ask the parts in the corridor to get in a line because when they’re all stuck together it’s really hard to see who is there and who needs help – especially as there are so many little ones in there alongside the rowdy teens. And whilst that makes loads of sense and is what I need – we need to work with a part or two at a time – it put the protectors on full alert. No way are they going to let that happen ……………..AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!

I so wish that I could take a step forward when I am invited to. I wish I was able to really look at what’s going on but those gatekeepers are so bloody fast and strong. I wish I had been able to talk because there’s the story that doesn’t get told because it just feels excruciating to feel so vulnerable and needy. I wish I could say:

‘I’m anxious about the break because the last therapy break I had was a disaster and ended with Em and I terminating. Our relationship completely disintegrated over two weeks. Part of me is frightened that you might go away and something will happen whilst you’re gone. I’m worried that the narrative will change from ‘I am happy to work on this with you and the therapy will only end when you want it to, or if there are unforeseen circumstances in my life’ (just like she said) and you’ll go away, realise I am too much to cope with, be reminded of how nice it is to not have to see me, and you’ll come back and end it saying something about how you’ve reached the limit of your competency (like she did).

I know it’s mental, but the youngest parts of me are terrified and recent history has really made this feel scarier than it might otherwise have felt. I am not very good with breaks anyway – fear of abandonment was massive before this year but now it’s…huge. Part of me wants desperately to cling on to you but another part doesn’t want to freak you out with the need and then push you to the point where you terminate. I know this is really messy and comes from a really young place – it’s so embarrassing and totally overwhelming’  

So, I guess that’s what I would have said if the words had have been available to me, or if the protector part of me hadn’t have shut things down so that the young parts were locked away.

However, it wasn’t a complete disaster because the light flicked on near to the end and I became aware of what was happening with my inner dynamics, like I came out of autopilot and was in control of the plane again. And there was the realisation: ‘Ooooh fuck, it’s this bloody shit pattern again’. I told A that I felt like I wasn’t there and felt disconnected. She asked if part of me felt threatened and so had taken myself away (when she’d suggested making the parts line up). Yes. Always yes. But not only then…

I managed to tell A that I had disconnected early, because even though she was sitting opposite me, she would be going away. A was really understanding and said how it made sense that part was getting ready because it feels like it’s protecting me. I said I understood this but that it isn’t helpful. I didn’t say it, but I do this so often. I go into shutdown early, batten down the hatches readying myself for the storm, but in doing so I deprive the youngest parts of myself the connection they need and so that actually makes any separation much harder.

When will I learn?!

It was time to finish and A said I could write to her if it would and asked me if there was anything she could give me do for me before I went…

Ha…we know where this is going, right?

The ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything, teen part’ stepped up and was so dismissive (she’s only trying to protect the littlest ones). I don’t think I could have been any more combative in the, ‘like what?!’ answer I gave. Oh god I just want to die of shame thinking about it! But I have to love Anita, she didn’t seem put off and asked if I maybe wanted to take something from the room like a stone or a shell…but after the hell six months with the pebble with Em the idea of a hard transitional object like this just feels awful. It’s too much of a reminder of what happened before. And when the youngest parts are falling apart they just want to curl up in a blanket or cuddle a soft toy that has some kind of link to A– but voicing that just feels cringey.

Anyway, I declined the transitional object because I am a grump, but also because I don’t think it would really have helped the parts that struggle with breaks… I dunno.

Whilst all this was going on there was a total meltdown happening inside with the little parts, ‘What if she doesn’t come back? What if she forgets us?’ Etc. I think A must’ve noticed because as I got up to leave, she asked me if I wanted a hug.

There is only ever one answer to this question!

Yes.

And fortunately, the dismissive, connection severing part of me sat back down and folded her arms and waited for the other parts to get what they needed. As we were hugging, A said, ‘I’m still here’ – and that was so soothing and reassuring.

I don’t think I can really put into words what getting a hug with A is like – because whilst it is just a hug, it feels like so much more than that. It feels like it repairs a little bit of the feeling of being untouchable and unlovable that has been so present in my relationship with my mum (who has only hugged me once in the last 23 years… and that was the day my dad died). It also makes me feel like the feeling of being physically and emotionally abandoned time and again over the last 8 years with Em when I have been distressed and dissociated might have been more about her rather than there being something inherently wrong with me… anyway, it’s a big HUGE area…and there’s a lot of work to be done round it in the therapy – oh god…I can’t wait for that! LOL.

I walked away from the session feeling a bit frustrated with myself but also so much more connected than I had earlier in the session. It really is amazing how something as simple as leaving on a hug can do enough to settle the young parts who worry so much about whether the relationship is real but also who are freaking out about a separation. Anita actually asking me if I wanted a hug makes those parts that feel untouchable think that perhaps she is safe, and perhaps she isn’t disgusted by them… it feels nice.

Physical touch really does help when stuff feels off and I think this is because when young child is terrified and having a tantrum you don’t try and have a big dialogue right in that moment. First, you pick it up, hold it, help it regulate, and then when it’s settled you try and talk things though and make sense of it all. And I think this is where I have got so lost for so long in therapy.

My system is so fragmented and there have been so many times where the attachment stuff has been activated in a session and then I’ve been stranded in a very young, often pre-verbal dissociated state and have been expected to find my way out of that by myself. It’s impossible. It’s abandoning and traumatising being in that state and having a therapist do the still face on you, or tell you that you need to hold that part for yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one minute that I see myself as some kind of ‘adult baby’ …it’s fucking mortifying enough experiencing the range of feelings so intensely and having to talk about it – BUT – there are definitely times when words are simply not enough and being physically held really helps regulate the system and bring the adult coping parts back online so that maybe we can work out what’s going on. The work can’t be done when you’re not in your window of tolerance – and as I have said before, my window is more like a letterbox!!

Anyway, that was our last session. I’ve checked in a few times with A via text since then…and that is another thing that has made this break more bearable. For the parts that genuinely can’t hold her in mind she almost ceases to exist and so these little reminders, that ‘she’s still here’ really help.

I feel like A understands how this stuff works, like she speaks my language…and that really is amazing.