holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
I am finding this therapy break really, really hard. We’re only 9 days in, still 8 days to go…and it’s like my brain has chosen this holiday to have a complete processing malfunction and fall to pieces. I’ve been having several nightmares each night: graphic stuff around my dad dying, my grandad dying, my estranged relationship with my grandmother, childhood trauma memories coming up, health anxiety stuff, and of course rejections/abandonments by Anita…it goes on and on. I am thoroughly exhausted now, and that’s just the stuff when I am asleep!
Shoot me now!
Waking up with either a jolt and my heart racing or crying in desperate sobs multiple times through the night is just fucking hideous. I mean it really is just bloody awful. My whole system is in chaos and disarray. This weekend I have been getting up when I wake up at dawn and the light is just creeping over the horizon because I can’t bear to be asleep any longer and don’t want to chance another nightmare. To be honest, I would rather have the very scary haunted house nightmares I was complaining about in my last post, than these ‘real life relationship’ horror interactions.
The more exhausted I get and the further into the break it is, the more my system is freaking out. It’s really bad. I feel so unbelievably disconnected from A that I genuinely feel like I won’t go back next week. Or at least that’s how it’s feeling for the teen part that feels like the system has been abandoned and so she just feels like setting everything on fire, running away and then having an enormous rage at Anita via text (so mature…so teen!).
For the youngest parts, it feels Anita has completely disappeared, and it’s really rattled and sent shockwaves through my system. I don’t understand what’s going on – or if there is something wrong. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago, she said she had been looking for the right time to tell me about knowing how difficult things were at the time and how hard I find breaks (but acknowledged there’s never really a good time). She told me it would be ok and that we could still have contact and text whilst she was gone. The idea of her going away wasn’t great but the reassurance that it wouldn’t be zero contact and radio silence helped ease things a bit.
Last year when A was on holiday, she texted me several times and sent some photographs of where she had been staying. This really helped to maintain the sense of connection and the photos especially helped me see that whilst she wasn’t ‘here’, she was still ‘somewhere’ and not dead which is what part of me panics about having had my dad die whilst away on holiday (anniversary of that is a few weeks away).
I wasn’t so upset or unsettled by the break last year – we’d literally just returned to the room and had two face-to-face sessions after the loooooooong first lockdown, so I was used to her ‘not being here’ and I was nowhere near as attached to her as I am now. The contact over the break, then, was a real bonus and just steadied everything and so I got on with what I was doing…painting my house! And whilst I missed seeing her, I just looked forward to being back in the room after the holiday. It wasn’t a distressing experience for the parts like this one has been.
Sometimes in the week between sessions or on weekends Anita will send me pictures of where she’s been on her walks, or something in the garden, and even though they aren’t pictures of her (it’s usually the dog or some beautiful scenery or something she’s been making) if feels like she’s letting me into part of her world and it feels like she actually gets how hard it is for the young parts who struggle so much with objects constancy and gives them just enough to hold onto.
On Tuesday evening I sent Anita a GIF which had two clocks on it. One that was standing still and one that was moving at speed. Basically, it said the one that stands still is what happens when we are apart and the one that accelerates is when we are together. Underneath I said, ‘I miss you’. And that was that. I could have written an essay about how shit it’s all felt (but that’s what this blog is for!) but I also really aware that A is on holiday and so there’s no point in burdening her – she needs space and time to rest and recharge.
The next evening A replied with a GIF that had a bear on it gesturing a hug that said ‘sending you a big hug because you are beary special to me!’. I replied with ‘thank you, I really needed that.’
And that’s great, isn’t it?
Well, yes and no…
Like I know loads of you will read this who suffer with the same attachment problems as me and will work with therapists like Em who don’t allow outside contact or whose messages are very clinical/sterile and would love to receive a message like that…but over the course of 9 days separation, that just is not enough for the parts that are struggling so much especially an entire day later.
It’s so hard!! FFS. I can hear how bratty and ungrateful I sound – but it is how the young parts and teen are experiencing things right now and that’s what I am chronicling here today.
I’ve spoken about this stuff (breaks/outside contact) over the years with various friends who have therapy and I think what therapists often don’t get is that for those of us with complex trauma, children who have grown up not knowing whether they are coming or going and never feeling safe, is how important consistency is and how hard change is for us. I’m sure many people (people who don’t experience the issues we do) would think that a two-week holiday is no big deal – but like I said, it’s not actually two weeks.
The therapist might be taking two weeks leave, but the time between sessions our is longer. In my case this time, it’s 17 days between my sessions. When I worked with Em and we were seeing each other once a week it would actually end up being three weeks if she had a two week break. And that is a long time for people like us…or people like me, at least!
The problem is not just about the length of time of breaks, though. It’s about the change in routine. Sure, 17 days isn’t all that long in the big scheme of things (I really get that!), but it equates to four missed therapy sessions and a lot of outside contact that won’t happen. So, if you view breaks through that lens rather than days, it’s a significant amount of lost contact time and that invariably shocks the system.
Let’s be clear, there is a reason I have two sessions a week and have a therapist that allows between session contact…I don’t have this intensity of therapy because I have nothing else to do and love losing two whole mornings a week travelling to and from the sessions. I do it because without that level of intervention I really struggle…so of course breaks are hard for me.
Don’t get me wrong. Anita more than deserves and needs her holiday. BUT I can’t lie. It is very hard when therapy stops and contact becomes minimal because my system is always so alert anyway, looking for signs of change or readying itself for abandonment and rejection. Breaks do feel like an abandonment and lack of contact feels rejecting – even though they are neither abandoning or rejecting it is how my system experiences it.
I get that this is my issue to work through – THIS IS THE WORK!!! It’s all about attachment – GROAN! I understand I have to do the best I can to hold and contain the young parts over breaks. BUT my system is how it is and that’s not easy. I have ‘insight’ into why I am the way I am and why I react the way I do but that’s not always a whole lot of help when my teen is running rampage and is ready to quit because these last few days is evidence that as she sees it,
Anita only really cares when she’s in the room. She’s spent ages trying to get me and the young ones to trust her, coaxing them out, saying she won’t leave or abandon us. And when, finally, we let the most vulnerable self/selves out and attach to her the reality is the relationship is only ‘real’ (not real!) in that room at a specific time each week.
When it comes down to it, we are just clients. We are disposable. RB doesn’t matter and neither do the rest of us. Anita can just disappear – switch her ‘work brain’ off and leave us behind until she’s ready to become her therapist self again. Meanwhile we’re all left hanging – because this relationship doesn’t have an ON/OFF switch for us.
It’s all great when life is going as it should and the ‘therapy play’ can run as it’s mean to, but throw in an unanticipated lockdown and promises about staying because we ‘need to be face-to-face’ become meaningless. If something happens her end, a session can be cancelled outright despite the fact the she is still working online that day (still not over that one!)…basically – the reality is we don’t matter ‘that much’ and we are just her ‘job’. To think that there’s anything more is completely delusional.
It’s so hard because we are just one of her many ‘clients’ and yet to us her presence in our life is essential. Actually, no – fuck that – the little ones need the therapy and the holding. Adult thinks she needs the therapy. I don’t need anyone and am sick of the others putting me through hell! Why don’t they understand that people are unreliable, and their word means shit?
It’s better being alone. If you don’t let anyone in no one can hurt you. It’s easier that way.
Soooo….the teen part is in a really good place right now – ha. It’s not funny, though. It’s painful.
I’m going to leave that here because bleurgh… I don’t want to bring the rest of you down with me and I’m sick of my own whining and sadness.
Raise your hand if you’re dreading the holiday season and the mass exodus of your therapist/s over the summer months?!
So, the summer therapy break has gone live, now…it’s two weeks…and, ugh, I think I’m going to be in for quite a rough ride!
Earlier this week I went to see K as my nervous system was already in tatters just anticipating Anita’s holiday. Before I got on the table for craniosacral, K asked me what I was feeling in my body. My False Adult had done quite a good job of sitting on the sofa chattering away for the preceding half an hour generally just catching up with her about ‘light’ stuff, but I was avoiding the thing that was really on my mind for fear of breaking down either then, or later on. When I tuned into my body, I could feel the somatic experience of what I was running from: the break with Anita.
There’s no point in pretending to be ok with K. I can paste a brave face on all I like but she knows, and the moment her hands touch my body she can absolutely feel things are amiss and where in my body I’m holding stuff. Sometimes she’ll say things like, “I can feel a real tightness on the back left side of your head” (when her hands are on my feet!) and it blows me away. So, I told her what was going on.
“Anita is going away for two weeks from Monday” I sighed and broke eye contact whilst sinking down into the couch and then drawing my knees up into my chest. I felt so exposed and vulnerable. I tried to describe the body sensations and told K that it felt like I had a huge watery sink hole inside my chest (like a big hole plunging down into the ocean floor) and that it was sucking all my parts into it.
I explained that the feeling of trying to stop myself getting pulled into that dark endless pit of doom was exhausting and the young parts of me were terrified. I said it felt like there was an inevitability about ending up in that horrible dark scary place and that I was doing everything I could do avoid it…which up until that point was literally avoiding talking about it or acknowledging it!
K really empathised and put her hand to her chest and let out a sort of pained exhale and said she could feel how painful and frightening it was for the little ones inside. She and I speak the same kind of emotional language, so I never feel weird going into huge winding metaphors about my inner experience or body sensations or simply telling her the baby or other young part is in distress.
I’m sure most people must say that a particular place aches or is buzzing when she asks how they feel in their body…but not me! K says it’s one of the things she loves about working with me, my authenticity and ability to tune into my feelings and body – which is so funny as years ago I felt so numb.
K says my images make total sense to her. I know, now, from the years of working with her and the friendship that has developed over the last 12 years that she has experienced a similar wounding – she knows the mother wound intimately. She’s done her work, though, (she’s now in her sixties) and I love working with her because she ‘knows’ what I mean because she’s been there and felt it. It is so great to be in the presence of one of those amazing, grounded matriarchal women and it gives me hope that one day I too might be in the place that she is. I mean that’s the goal, right?!
Like Anita she is really good at ‘unconditional positive regard’ – she never looks at me like I am a crazed lunatic when I tell her stuff. She mirrors me so well and it’s been working with her over the years that has really made me see how bad things have been. To see her moved and saddened by my story and express care for my young parts made me see that it was as bad, if not worse, than I thought. This was especially the case in 2019 when I started seeing her again properly after a break of several years. Going each week in a terrible state, my nervous system in survival and telling her what was going on with Em made me realise that it really wasn’t ok.
Having someone genuinely express care and acceptance was everything I needed at that time (and now! – thank god for A and K!). I learnt with K that it is ok to have feelings and express them. It is human to care about people and feel love. K is always so expressive towards me and has modelled how to say what you feel. It’s so funny, she always shouts down the street as I leave, “I love you RB!” I can’t help but smile when she does this, given Em never even said goodbye when I would leave hers, often distressed or dissociated.
Anyway, where am I going with this? Body sensations and the pain of the mother wound…
Not long ago I was on the table and all sorts of intense stuff was making its way up and out. I think my body had stored a lot over the lockdown and it’d been such a long time since I had seen K to do actual body work and not just pop over for a cup of tea. It was around the time that Anita had cancelled my session when she thought her daughter might have had covid and I was in a right state about it. K completely got it which made me feel less embarrassed and ashamed about my HUGE reaction and EPIC meltdown.
She told me how she could feel how painful it was for my inner child to be left and have her need overlooked, and how abandoning it must feel when the young parts are trying so hard to trust A. She could see how it taps so readily back into my experience with my mum as a child.
However, it wasn’t just a pile on. K also said that she can see such a massive change in me since I have been working with Anita. She says I am so much more resourced and embodied DESPITE the huge amounts of shit that I have had to field in my life in the past year. She told me that A would not have wanted to hurt me and that hopefully I could see that, too, because she can see what an amazing connection we have from what I have told her. She often tells me how glad she is that I finally have a therapist who can do the work with me having seen first-hand how damaging it was with Em. That always feels nice to hear. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all just in my head (the closeness between A and I) but I suppose having seen me recount my experiences with Em it would be hard not to see the difference!
Anyway, this particular day I could feel that ‘hole in my chest’ so painfully – it was excruciating. It’s where the mother wound and the grief of my dad dying and my family cutting me off so many other losses are. The blackness was powerful that day that I felt like I was going to fall headfirst into it. Only on this day I could also feel its edges – sore and molten hot.
It’s horrible feeling like there’s an enormous void where your heart is. The endless black is awful, but the edges of this hole feel like a combination of a huge mouth ulcer – the stinging, searing pain is unbelievable. And then there are some areas that are sort of crusted over – like when a volcano has been spewing lava and the top layer starts to cool and goes black, but the cracks show that it’s still molten red hot a few centimetres down…
I don’t know what’s worse really, being sucked into the abyss or the searing pain of the edge.
So anyway, that’s what it’s been like these last couple of weeks on a physical level…it’s really nuts how somatised the trauma is and when the attachment stuff is triggered how agonising it feels.
I seem to have rattled on loads about that when actually I wanted to talk about how therapy with Anita has been. It’s been largely fine. I’ve disappeared or come close to disappearing a few times but that’s not surprising given we were so close the therapy break.
We were talking about the black hole/inner void the other day and Anita asked if she might hold my hand to stop me falling in. I was quite shut down at that point and refused. It’s that horrible situation where I’m so desperately in need of a hand or a hug and Anita will offer it, but it feels impossible for me to accept it in the moment. I feel so far away and disconnected that I can’t reach out. It’s almost like Anita isn’t there…or I am not there.
Parts of me are screaming and yet I am frozen. The protective part has total control over the rest of the parts- when it’s bad like this it feels like a prison guard, really.
And the prison is fucking horrible, too. Cold, metal, damp…soooooo lonely.
It’s terrible for those parts locked inside, too:
The baby: is screaming on the floor on a blanket, hungry, cold, and in desperate need of holding and soothing. The distress is palpable.
The toddler: is standing still, facing away from me. She doesn’t make a sound. She already knows there’s no point in crying because no one comes. She looks so neglected and so lacking in love. She’s another little one who really needs a cuddle from A.
The four-year-old: is sad and is trying to seek comfort from the older teen but she’s ignored and pushed away and doesn’t understand why no one wants to look after her. She wants A but has no idea where she is.
The seven-year-old and eleven-year-old: are sitting in the corner playing ‘rock paper scissors’. They don’t make a fuss and are used to making the best of a bad situation. Eleven is pretty self-sufficient and although she’d love the attention of a caring adult like A she knows when there are so many other younger, needy parts she goes unnoticed.
The younger teen: is fed up. She doesn’t know what to do to make things better for herself. She looks at eleven and sees what a good girl she is and wonders what chance she has of someone loving and noticing her if even the ‘perfect’ girl is neglected and abandoned.
The older teen: has her headphones in her ears listening to her soundtrack of angst and is staring blankly at the wall. She’s chronically depressed. Thoughts of self-harm and anorexia run on loop in her head, and she wants to die and escape the pain of never being good enough and no one caring.
So…yeah…that’s fucking fun!
Fortunately, Anita is solid and present and persists with me and eventually things feel safe enough to come closer. The other day she said, “I feel like I want to give you hug and ground you again. I can feel you are going further away. Would that be ok?” And the protector opened the gate and let all the needy parts out. Well some of them, anyway!
I don’t know why I can’t just get the memo that Anita is safe from the start. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I can sit down and ask for what I need almost immediately but then I guess the closer the break has got, the harder it has felt because those parts that fear abandonment were fast approaching an abandonment (even though that isn’t really what it is).
I think part of it is also that my mum used to disappear and was never the same when she returned. There was no solid base to land on or build on. Who knew what kind of mood she’d be in on a Friday? – and so this is the legacy playing out with A. I have to be careful and check that things are ok and safe…because they haven’t always been (growing up). It’s like starting from scratch over and over again.
A says that, “it doesn’t have to be scary anymore” but it’s so hard when the reality is it is scary for those parts when she goes away…because what happens if she doesn’t come back?…What happens if she goes away and realises how easy it is without me bothering her?…What happens if she comes back and has finally reached her limit?
There’s been a lot of reassurance going on in recent sessions and outside them. She tells me I am not too much and that she is not fed up with me. She’s assured me (repeatedly) that “nothing is going to change” whilst she’s gone. She says, “I will be back. And I won’t have changed. We won’t have changed. It’ll still be exactly the same” on a loop!
And it really does help. Although listening to me rattle on here I’m guessing it’s hard to see evidence of that!
On Friday, just gone, I had horrible headache. It was definitely tension and anxiety about the break causing it. I so badly wanted the final session to feel connected and holding. I had read a chunk of our WhatsApp thread of messages the night before the session, and I really wanted to go in and tell Anita how thankful I am to her for being so consistent and caring even when I have been throwing everything at her. Seeing message after message demonstrating her care even when I was being a pain in the arse really hit home. The testing that went on during the lockdown in November was really something else and the scale of the meltdowns were – yikes!
How she didn’t just turn round and say, “FFS RB what more do you want from me? In how many ways and how many times do I have to prove that I care about you to you? Are you stupid or something? – just look at the evidence!” But she never has. She never makes me feel like I am a burden or annoying for it taking my parts so long to get on board and trust. She doesn’t get frustrated treading the same ground over and over week in week out and it really has made a massive difference to how I feel.
I wanted to go in, sit down and tell her all of that but I just couldn’t look at her. She obviously knows that this break is proving hard (before it’s even begun), but I didn’t want her to look at me and see it in my eyes. I didn’t want to be so exposed. The sadness about her going away overshadowed my ability to tell her how grateful I am to her for being awesome.
Even though I couldn’t say what I had planned, I managed to ask if I could hold her hand and reached out across the sofa. It wasn’t long until I was cuddled into her, and she pretty much held me for the entire session as I cycled through all the feelings. It felt really healing at times just being quiet together and then it’d flip into being really painful. The young parts could feel time ticking away and it felt horrid knowing that she’d be gone really soon.
I felt like I was trying to absorb every second of the time with her. It was like I was trying to pour the feeling of being safe and held into a container inside me so I would have it when she wasn’t there anymore. I really wish it were possible to do that! So often it feels like this lovely connected, safe feeling just slips like sand, or water, through my fingers and is gone.
Knowing she would be gone on holiday also tapped into all the fear about her maybe going away and dying just like my dad did. It’s creeping towards the anniversary of that trauma, too, so I always find the summer breaks most difficult of all the therapy breaks.
K noted, last week, that there’ve been so many different disruptions over the last year (not just usual run of the mill therapy breaks which we all are used to). It’s been so on and off with lockdowns – moving back and forth from online to face-to-face back to online etc. And for some people I know that has been totally fine, they even report preferring remote therapy…but I am not one of those people! I hate it (*sidenote – I don’t hate it as much as no session/contact at all and sometimes a check in online is really helpful!). So, it’s not surprising that breaks might feel a bit harder this year because it’s an additional disruption after having had so many already.
Don’t get me wrong, Anita needs her break and she more than deserves it, but I am not going to beat myself up about feeling sad and lost over this because whilst she hasn’t had many ‘holiday breaks’ in the time we’ve worked together (not enough by any stretch of the imagination), there has been an unusual level of disruption and interruption to the therapy because of the pandemic. So, I think I can extend myself a bit of compassion and say it’s ok to feel off when my attachment figure is gone – even if it is only for two weeks.
Towards the end of Friday’s session, I asked if we could read stories together as I thought this might help the youngest parts before the holiday. It was so lovely listening to Anita read the books and looking at the pictures together and being close. The young parts really enjoyed it. No one ever read to me as a child, and I feel like I really missed out – I feel like bedtime story time is probably the most important time of the day with my kids (and not because there’ll be peace in half an hour once it’s over!).
Anyway, the session was soon over, and I felt that sadness land heavy back in my stomach which had been gurgling noisily all session! When it was time to leave Anita reminded me to take Elephant with me. It was sitting on the side waiting for me when I walked in the room, and I couldn’t help but smile inside when I saw it. At the end of Monday’s session, I had asked A if she might wash it for me before she went away and she said, “Of course” as if it was a completely normal and reasonable request.
It felt like quite a big thing to ask for – vulnerability overload – and I can only imagine the look of horror and disgust on Em’s face had I ever had taken a soft toy to a session or, God forbid, ask her to do that for me and then braced for the “No” and the “I don’t work in that way” speech. But as usual Anita wasn’t fazed by my request at all. I guess she knows why I wanted her to do it. I always say to her how I like how she smells and the steady beat of her heart … well, a little part of me does, anyway!
I’ve said, here, before how when she cuddles me that one of the things I find really soothing is how she smells – it’s fresh laundry and clean hair…it’s Anita…and now I associate that smell with being safe and feeling at ‘home’. I knew this break was going to be super hard for the smallest parts of me and so I thought that if she washed the elephant, it would smell familiar and safe – comforting – when things felt overwhelming.
It does really work, too. I’ve had a fucking nightmare of a weekend –I’ve been hugely unsettled during the day and had absolutely terrifying nightmares. I always have bad dreams/nightmares anyway, but they’ve not been as bad as this since I stopped therapy with Em (the first time) in 2013 on the NHS (too soon – but time limited therapy is like this!) and had six solid weeks of night terrors. I’m back in the realms of the decaying dead bodies of children, life-threatening illness, and being destroyed by people exerting power over me in spooky, haunted houses in the dark again now – but at least Anita hasn’t featured in them just yet.
I woke up at 2am this morning, my heart was racing, I was physically shaking, and I was utterly terrified. I felt so scared and upset when I woke up from the nightmare that I reached for my elephant and cuddled it tight. It instantly started to ground those parts who were so frightened because it makes it feel like A is actually real, still. I can almost imagine that I am safe cuddled into her – and really that’s what those young parts need.
I know that must all sound pretty bonkers but meh, fuck it, do you know what? I don’t even care anymore – I’ve been through the emotional wringer for years feeling so lost and abandoned during breaks so seeing as it works for me, I’m taking it as a win!
Don’t get me wrong. The elephant isn’t going to solve everything. I know I am in for a rough ride over the next couple of weeks and I guess I’ll just have to be curious and conscious of what’s going on. Not going to lie… kind of willing time forward to June 21st and trying, at the same time, to not panic and freak out about how I will see Anita over the school summer holidays when my kids are off.
I know the longer the break goes on the harder it is going to be. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago she said we could text when she was away, but then she didn’t say anything about it on Friday so I’m feeling like perhaps I shouldn’t…
It’s been an ‘interesting’ couple of weeks in therapy, but I can’t tell you much about any of it because there are huge voids where the memories should be, still. I don’t know what’s going on, really. Everything is just a bit of a blur and whilst I am aware that I have had quite difficult emotional periods over the last week I am not entirely sure what’s triggering it – other than the upcoming break.
I suppose it’s not just ‘other than the upcoming break’ because the reality is that breaks are a BIG DEAL to the young parts, especially as those little ones haven’t experienced a two-week therapy break since last summer. At that point they weren’t as ‘in the relationship’ with A as they are now because the therapy was still quite new. I wasn’t so attached back then, and we were working online in that first (endless) lockdown, so the absence wasn’t quite as striking as it is when there is a disruption to my face-to-face therapy now.
We all know that I’ve been crap and grumpy when Anita and I have had to revert back to online therapy for some bits of the more recent lockdowns. I can’t help it, I miss the physical contact and the energy in the room…I miss Anita…and the cuddles! The lockdowns weren’t great (understatement) but I didn’t even cope especially well recently even with that one missed/cancelled session when A’s daughter might have had covid…so imagine how it’s going to be with four missed sessions!
Although, to be fair, if you dig beneath all these disruptions to my therapy and the resulting meltdowns there’s more to them than meets the eye. It’s not just because I can’t see A. I freaked out in lockdown two because Anita had promised she’d see me and then ended up going away to bubble with her partner – it felt like she’d lied to me and it felt so abandoning. The mess up with the recent covid cancellation hurt because Anita was actually still working but just didn’t think I’d want to work online…and that stung because it felt like she didn’t see my need.
Shoot me now!
Anyway, it’s bank-holiday this weekend and even though Anita and I have scheduled a session for Tuesday that wasn’t without its stresses/miscommunication either.
Weeks ago, A and I arranged via a text that we would do 10am on Tuesday instead of our regular Monday time. That felt fine…until Friday, last week, when Anita text me after our session and said, ‘I hope your day is improving. I have just realised we haven’t talked about another day for BH Monday. Can you do Tuesday 1st at 11:15?’
This text immediately set the cat amongst the pigeons internally. She’d obviously forgotten we’d made the plan and whilst the 11:15 was no big deal – the time was fine – to parts inside it felt massive. She’d obviously now booked the 10 o clock session with someone else…and that felt…like… I had been replaced I guess….but also forgotten about and not kept in mind. I dunno. I know it’s not actually a big deal really and so I replied and said that yes, that was fine and that we had had the conversation but 11:15 was fine too. Anita apologised and that was that.
She has no idea how much this tiny thing actually affected or how much it’s been niggling away at me since but really, I can’t even be bothered to go into it with her. She’s so great so much of the time that surely, I can cope with the physical reminder that there are (of course) other people that Anita sees. LOL.
I can’t lie, though. I was disappointed. I guess it’s because I already worry about being forgotten about anyway, and this message seems to confirm that Anita had forgotten me (or at least believed she had).
Also, I quite like the fact that I am the first client of the day. I guess I feel like Anita is fresh/ready for the day ahead and not already on the treadmill of work counting down the hours/clients (not that she probably does this anyway, but…). I also don’t get any sense of anyone else having been there in the room – no perfume, warm chairs or anything like that (which would send me off my rocker – remember the box the other week?!). I guess, also, if I am honest, I know that she hasn’t touched or cuddled anyone else yet that day. The idea of cuddling into her after someone else might have been crying on her just feels…ugh…I dunno…
I am basically just a spoilt brat with massive sibling jealousy. Can you tell I am an only child?! Lol.
So, anyway, because of this timetabling mix up I have been pretty discombobulated this week. On Monday I think (having had a conversation about it on Friday with Anita because I couldn’t remember anything that happened – it was just a black hole) it was False Adult that was fronting for a long time in my session, and it wasn’t until about fifteen minutes before the end that I felt like I connected to A and let my vulnerable self come out. I obviously didn’t tell her about the upset about the session for Tuesday … and now I wonder if that’s what was stopping me connecting. Probably. Ugh, maybe I should bring it up…but…oh the SHAME!!!
The way the session went left me feeling quite out of sorts for the whole of Monday. I am so conscious of the fact that everything is getting unsettled, and the break is coming and I really want to feel safe and connected before Anita goes away and not disconnected and far away.
For most of Monday after the session I could feel that angry part who wants to cut and run fronting. Maybe it was the teen? Even though the young parts were in meltdown this protective part was determined not to reach out to Anita or give her any indication that things felt off between us…or at least with me. ‘What’s the point? She’s leaving soon, right?’ –
Ugh. That voice!
When will she give up?!
Anyway, by about 9 o clock I was in bed. I was so so tired. I had my salt lamp on (birthday present from A) and I was cuddling into my big dog. The critic and teen or whoever it was had powered down and all I was left with were those little ones who felt desperately sad that they had not been able to get enough of what they needed in the session that morning. Without even thinking I text Anita. I didn’t expect her to respond but I felt better for having let those young parts let something out.
This is the exchange:
It felt so settling and I went to sleep with no bother at all… and no bad dreams for the first time in ages! Win! I know that this is a million miles away from most therapies. I mean I did years with Em stone cold in that room with no contact outside contact at all and I can imagine that this probably feels to some people like there are no boundaries in this relationship. But there are and I am really clear on what they are. Boundaries don’t have to be barriers and the key thing for me doing this work is authenticity. For those of us with complex trauma I think it’s really helpful when we get to see a bit of a real person with feelings and emotions.
You’d think that exchange would have been enough for the week to run smoothly.
Because we are right in the thick of my wounding now and the messy attachment stuff. It’s basically developmental trauma #101!!
As the week went on, I felt increasingly disconnected from Anita again. The woeful Wednesday separation anxiety kicked my arse and the young parts were freaking out. Honestly, the anxiety about this summer break is so bad for them but I am not surprised as we have been looking a lot at my early years and how it was with my mum lately so that stuff feels really live. On Thursday night I actually felt like cancelling my Friday session. Things felt that bad.
I text Anita a GIF of a character having a meltdown with their face under a pillow…basically me. And a photo of something I had just let the young parts express:
I had tuned into what was going on and wrote it out. I can’t believe I sent it but hey, there we are – these things happen now and it’s ok. There’s no boundary talk, instead there’s engagement about what it is I am trying to say.
Anita saw the message and told me she was sending me a ‘big hug filled with love’ and a really reassuring message that said we could start earlier on Friday if I wanted as she thought it would be a good idea. There was still so much conflict going on inside that I didn’t actually respond to the message until Friday morning but when I woke up, I was feeling so much better and so relieved that A had suggested we could do a longer session.
Anita says it’s important that we pay attention to all the parts of me and listen to what they are trying to say. She’s sure that at the moment my protectors are doing their best to sabotage the relationship because they think it’s better to leave than get left…and that’s really how it is…EVEN THOUGH IT’S JUST A HOLIDAY AND NOT A FUCKING ENDING!
Sometimes I feel like my protective parts are just arseholes but, I do know they are trying to do their job. It’s just a bit mortifying when this stuff is playing out in your late thirties and not your mid-teens. Although those parts don’t know I am here and are locked back in 1998!
Anyway, I am meandering slowly toward the point here… there’ve been a couple of sessions lately where I have been really unsettled and no matter what we do I just feel like I am cycling through heaps of uncomfortable states. It’s like I’m trying to land myself in my ‘letterbox’ of tolerance but it’s windy and stormy and so the plane keeps missing the spot and instead lands in hypo or hyper arousal. I feel like I am not in the room. Like Anita is not there. My body hurts. I feel sick. I feel dizzy. I go numb. It’s dark. I feel shaky. The parts inside are screaming. You name it and I’ve probably been there in those sessions.
So. Friday was ugh. Not because Anita was distant, or I was a million miles from her – that wasn’t how it was. I hugged her the moment she opened the front door and snuggled into her within a minute of getting in the room. There was nothing at all wrong in that regard and yet still I couldn’t properly settle. We spoke about it. Tried to pinpoint what was going on. Dipped in and out of a lot of different conversations. We laughed. I cried. But despite all this I felt really really agitated and disconnected – or at least a key part did. It was as if I couldn’t relax into this calm, nurturing space properly……………… WHY?? ….. well, probably because that calm nurturing space isn’t there on Monday and then won’t be there for two weeks soon.
Anita wondered if I felt frustrated that I couldn’t connect in the way I wanted and I said that was the case. She asked me if I wanted to do some drawing because we had spoken about how maybe doing something creative might help when it feels like this. I said I didn’t want to. Basically the idea of being even slightly separated from her in the room felt awful…again right now it’s the really young stuff being triggered.
A couple of weeks ago when I was in a similar state Anita read me a story I had brought in called, ‘Barbara Throws A Wobbler’ by Nadia Shireen and it really settled those child parts.
Listening to a story read by A, written in language that was accessible to them and with pictures to look at grounded those parts and I felt way more connected and present in the room.
I sometimes feel like my young parts are just outside the door or are suspended just out of reach looking in and it’s horrible until they can get inside and close to A.
I had seen the book not long after having a massive wobbler in a session earlier that week and it really captures just how awful it feels when that angry tantruming part takes over and freaks out over really small things. In the end, the main character realises that this big scary Wobbler is actually a part of her, and she has the power to shrink it rather than be taken over by it. She knows it will come back but she isn’t frightened of it anymore.
At the end of the book there are pictures of a bunch of other characters (that don’t have their own story) and I asked if maybe we could draw our own versions of these character soon. I had said my Wobbler wasn’t a red angry jelly and was more like a black smoky Dementor out of Harry Potter but I thought there was probably some good work to be done here.
So, on Friday when I was struggling to connect despite the closeness A wondered if maybe it’d help if she read me another story rather than drawing? I bought her ‘The Rabbit Listened’ on the first therapy anniversary and we haven’t looked at it together yet, and at Christmas I gave her ‘The Hug’. I joked that one day I would stop giving her kids’ books. Although probably not just yet!
Whilst I really did want a story the idea of Anita getting up and moving even to the other side of the room felt unbearable. I said to A, “I don’t want to let go.” A wondered whether I thought that if I let go I might disappear and I nodded into her chest and murmured – “or you might.” A held me close for a while and I settle more and eventually I said that I would like a story. She asked which I’d prefer. The Hug was already in the room on the shelf and the other books were in another room. I opted for The Hug – less far to go.
Anita sat back down on the sofa and I cuddled back into her and she read the story to me. Her voice was so soothing, and she did the voices of the characters and everything. No joke, all that agitated shit I’d been battling just disappeared and I landed in the room and into the moment with a gentle thud. It was so nice to feel the tension leave my body and feel fully present (all the parts).
Up until that point I felt like even though I had been cuddling A, listening to her heartbeat, talking, laughing etc there had been a part of me holding myself so tightly inside. It’s almost like being in a full body shackle – it protects that most vulnerable bit of me but it’s hideous. But the story did something and all that just fell away. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures and felt so held and contained.
I haven’t read the story before but have seen snippets of it online and knew enough about it to want to send it to Anita at Christmas. It’s really lovely and simple. It’s about a hedgehog and a tortoise who are both desperate for a hug but all the animals they meet won’t give them one. They’re too busy for a hug, but also, as it turns out people are put off by the hedgehog’s spikes and the tortoise’s hard shell. The book runs half-way on the hedgehog’s story then you flip it over and read the tortoise’s story from the back to the middle. In the centre pages of the book the two characters meet and get to hug each other because they are perfect for each other. The book says ‘there is someone for everyone’.
Anita finished the book and said, “hugs are really really important, aren’t they?” I didn’t say anything but seeing as I was cuddled into her body and had been for the entire session I wasn’t about to disagree!
After the story the young parts told Anita about my tortoise that I had been looking after for someone, but they have given him to me. It was small talk, but it felt really connecting. I guess because I felt so much more present and connected.
I left feeling so much better than I had done when I arrived and throughout the week. I feel settled even though it’s a BH weekend. I’ve been productive in my garden – turning the meadow back into a lawn! Can I get a shout out for the sunshine? After a month of solid rain and cloud here I hardly know myself now there is blue sky and wall to wall sunshine.
I hope you guys are all making the most of it too (UK readers obvs as no idea what it’s like elsewhere on the planet!)x
This last couple of weeks I have had a really bad run of TERRIBLE ‘therapy dreams’. I bloody hate it when this happens. I have nightmares most nights but lately Anita has been making her way into them more and more. I find this particularly stressful. My therapy dreams are rarely warm and fuzzy (unlike my actual therapy sessions!) and instead throw up situations where I am left emotionally and physically abandoned or rejected by my therapist, Anita (or in the past, Em). There’s no denying it, these night time events are complete head fucks.
Over the years I have written a few blogs where I have talked about dreaming about my therapist/s. I think they’re Here and Here and Here and Here and Here (there are probably more!) These dreams are not ‘quick’ dreams. They’re usually really detailed and feel like I have done a full-on workout when I wake from them. Even now, dreams from years ago are still so vivid and etched into my memory as if they had really taken place in real life.
It’s not just the memory of these dreams that lingers for ages, the physical impact is utter shit too. I frequently wake up shaking and feel ‘off’ for such a long time afterwards. No matter how I ‘know’ these dreams aren’t real, and are just my fears playing out, my body – my nervous system- just doesn’t get the memo. I can really struggle for hours and sometimes days with the fall out of bad dreams and just as I think I have got myself together it’ll be a real-life therapy session and it’s like I am thrown back into it the moment I walk in the room.
The bonus of working with Anita over Em (and there are many!) is that at least when I have these scary, unsettling dreams I can usually tell Anita (or at least say I have had a nightmare with her in even if I can’t say what’s happened) and we can work it through and take steps to try and settle my system and get grounded together.
With Em I was always so worried about her thinking I was weird for even dreaming about her that I would just sit with these horrible feelings stirred up by a dream and then let them eat away at me. Week on week, I would arrive in the therapy room and seemingly get confirmation from her cool and distant behaviour to support the events in the dreams as being possible in real life and so I really struggled to let her know what was upsetting me for fear of something similar happening in reality…and let’s face it, the way the end of that therapy went was total nightmare material!
Anita soothes away my fears (even if they aren’t founded in reality!) and is patient with me when I am in a total mess. Thank god. I can feel so much shame and embarrassment about how badly I get affected by these dreams but at the same time, they are clearly messengers from my inner world. Lately, the dreams have all had a similar vibe, there’s often water (which I think is meant to symbolise emotion?!). I keep having the same one that takes place round the edge of a swimming pool where Anita will turn her back on me or completely ignore me. But then there’s also dreams in the room where A simply doesn’t ‘see’ me or ‘forgets’ about me – i.e mistakes me with someone else’s story or doesn’t remember my narrative.
The dreams that take place out in the wider world are crappy, but I especially hate the ones that happen in the room. One of my recent dreams was so upsetting that I really struggled to be in the room for my next ‘actual’ session. When I arrived, I found even walking to the door made me feel sick. Throughout that session I kept closing my eyes and opening them checking that everything was ok. OMG I sound insane! Even though Anita was brilliant there was this ongoing gnawing ache inside as the memory of the dream replayed over and over. Would I end up sat crying on her door step having run out the room?!
On Friday (just gone) I arrived at my session in a complete state after another horrible dream the night before where Anita had made me jump/pushed me off a high wall on a disused/derelict dockside (loads of rusting metal on the water’s edge) and into a murky pool of sea water that was churning about. She said she wouldn’t see me anymore if I didn’t push myself and be brave and said I needed to swim over to the other side of the river, and she’d meet me there. I really didn’t want to go in the water. It was already a cold, wet, grey day, and I knew it wasn’t safe to be venturing into this particular stretch of water.
Even though in real life I am a very strong swimmer, in this situation I was really struggling, and my head kept going beneath the surface. My mouth kept filling with this disgusting, toxic water, and I was pretty much drowning. Somehow, I managed to swim to the edge, where Anita was, and as I reached the muddy bank, exhausted, I asked for her help to get out the water having complied with what she’d asked of me. Instead of helping me, she looked at me with absolute disgust and contempt, took a step towards me and then pushed me down and held my head under the water to the point where I thought I was going to die. I managed to struggle free and as I got my head above water, she turned her back to me, and walked away.
It was so bad.
I woke up shaking and crying and it took a while to ground myself in my room.
So, when I arrived on Friday I wasn’t in an especially great place but figured it’d be ok – because as I have said a million times before Anita is not the person that turns up in my dreams. She couldn’t be more different! My nervous system doesn’t update quick enough, though. I sat down and told Anita that I didn’t feel great. I could feel myself shaking and felt like my nervous system was having a total meltdown. I felt sick and didn’t feel at all grounded and really just wanted to run away. I couldn’t even look at Anita.
Anita asked me if she could give me a cuddle, and even though that was exactly what I needed in that situation, because my system was almost in a flashback to the horrible dream, Anita just didn’t feel safe to quite a few parts of me and so I refused it. It was like each of my recent dreams was playing in my head and I felt really unsafe. But having refused the cuddle I also set off an additional shitstorm inside with the youngest parts who really really needed that holding.
Don’t you just hate it when you can’t win for your system?
There were so many competing voices/feelings in that moment and when I’m distressed it’s so hard to navigate my way through it because my Adult isn’t really there.
Of course, Anita was her usual calm, understanding, soothing self and told me that she thought maybe a lot of this is coming up because we are approaching a break and that it really “wobbles” me.
Uh huh… of course a lot of this is tied to the upcoming break but man…what do I do about it?!!
I sat there and I felt like I was going to explode – but with tears not rage…and yet I really didn’t want to cry. I was so overwhelmed.
Anita asked gently, “Can you tell me what happened in the dream?”
All I could respond with was, “I don’t feel very good.”
“No, I can see that” replied Anita.
My heart was racing and my mouth was dry. I was in a complete panic. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I didn’t want to be seen – part of me wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor. It was utterly horrendous.
Tentatively, Anita said, “Nothing has changed. In reality, nothing has changed. This room is the same, [dog] still barks!…”
I could feel myself smile a bit inside because yes, dog is the same! And that seemed to shift something just a little bit inside me. I guess it reorientated me to the space and the here and now rather than the hell of my dream.
“I just feel really shaky.” I whispered.
“Dreams can feel so real, as well, can’t they?” soothed Anita.
Like I said, Anita’s endless patience and understanding is so helpful to me. If I were in her situation, I’m sure I’d be thinking ‘for fuck’s sake, get over it…!’ But she isn’t like that at all. She never pushes me to a place that I can’t go. I don’t know how to explain it but often Em would leap in with both feet asking questions and often it would just overwhelm my system even more because I wasn’t ready to go there. I wasn’t grounded or safe, or…connected…and so would then hot foot it into dissociation.
“Can I have a hug, actually?” I asked. And the laugh is, this must in reality have been maybe two minutes since Anita offered me the hug I declined!
As usual Anita replied, “Of course, come here.” And as I cuddled into her, she said, “I am still the same. I haven’t changed.”
I tried to tune into her heartbeat and her steady breathing. I felt like I was holding myself tightly inside and even though I was cuddled into her it felt like I wasn’t connected, and this is absolutely terrifying for the child parts. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to start to settle and by the end of a session I feel much better.
You’d think after all the good work we do together I wouldn’t get railroaded by my system now, but I actually think that because I feel safe with Anita my system just doesn’t know what the fuck to do with that. There’s also that part that is absolutely terrified of losing it/her now. I think, unfortunately, this stuff will happen over and over again until my system learns to relax and feel safe in this ‘new’ way of being and relating. It’s not comfortable but it is the work.
The other day I can’t even remember what was going on, but I remember asking Anita what she was thinking. I was so relaxed and settled (I had almost fallen asleep on her) and we had barely spoken – but it’s not awkward silence at all. Sometimes it really takes a good twenty minutes for me to settle enough to get in touch with my words and I have learnt that it’s really important for me to feel safe and grounded before I attempt to talk about anything distressing, otherwise I’ll be out my window of tolerance in a flash (that’s if I was even in it to begin with!).
I had been so agitated and worked up in the days before seeing her (and had so many nightmares) that when I finally came out of that flight mode and grounded, I realised just how utterly bone tired I was. Anyway, after getting me in the room safe I asked A what she was thinking, and she said that she had been thinking how really the only communication that my young parts understand is cuddles. She said it’s like babies, they really just need a few simple things: holding, feeding, smiles and cooing- but really it’s all in the holding and the co-regulation and that’s how she feels it is with me. Words don’t cut it/aren’t enough. But then of course so much of this stuff is so very young – it’s preverbal. It’s funny really, though, isn’t it? Because this is talk therapy and yet so much of the work we are doing right now is with the parts for whom there are no words.
My words come when those young parts are attended to and are soothed and settled. I can almost feel that tiny new-born baby that’s still inside me somewhere – who was left in the incubator for three days, having nearly died being born, left with no nurturing touch or breast feeding in those first 72 hours – now bundled up in a tiny ball asleep on Anita’s chest. Rather than being in a state of absolute terror she’s safe and then the words and narrative of experience and feelings come.
Friday turned out to be quite a big session in the end. I didn’t end up talking about the dream where Anita drowned me because there’s been a lot coming up from my childhood this week with lots of violent and traumatic experiences leaping into the front of my mind.
I said how everything just feels so heavy at the moment. I am coming face to face with so much trauma that I have dissociated away in order to survive. I said that I feel a bit like one of those crazy dudes who goes on ‘World’s Strongest Man’ and tries to pull a truck behind them…only I have the truck hidden under Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak and so no one has any idea of what I am dragging along behind me.
We spoke a lot about different times and events where I have been really scared as a child, and how having my own kids is really shining a light on the difference between my experiences and theirs. Sometimes I feel so sad for all the ‘little mes’ seeing first-hand exactly what I didn’t have growing up. Anita often tells me how well I am doing (parenting) and how different an experience I am offering my children. I am still convinced that I am going to fuck my kids up, but I am trying so hard to give them a better emotional and physical experience than I had.
Tears kept coming on and off throughout the session. I feel like there is a damn about to burst before long but I guess I’ll face that when it happens.
Anita makes me feel like I am not a weirdo for being upset by things that have happened. In fact, she really makes me see and understand that what has happened wasn’t ok. It might have felt ‘normal’ but it’s not normal.
When she is so full of empathy and care for me, I can’t help but struggle inside. There’s always a part of me that wonders why Em, who knew sooooo much about me, could do what she did. It feels so cruel. And then of course my brain starts to panic. Surely, soon, I will end up reaching the point where I am too much for Anita, too.
It was getting near the end of the session and a little voice said, “Are you fed up with me?”
With so much feeling Anita replied, “My goodness no! That’s not going to happen, that’s really not going to happen. I’m not going to leave you. I’m really not. You’re not too much. I’m not fed up.” And she held me closer into her as I cried.
“I love you.” I murmured into her chest.
“I love you too. And I am not just saying that. I am not going to abandon you. I have no plans to. Nobody can be sure what the future holds but I have no intentions of it.”
And then it was time to go. I felt like I had run a marathon but in a good way. It’s hard facing the mother wound in all its goriness and delving into the trauma – not just working with the transference in the room.
I’d hoped that after that I’d have settled a bit inside but I think even though I left the session feeling calm and contained there’s just so much swirling about right now that it’s not surprising it’s all leaching into my dream world.
Last night, I had ANOTHER therapy dream. Again, we were having a session but this time high up in the roof of an old four-story building. It was like an attic space that had been renovated to create a huge open plan living room. The session was ok, easy enough, but also nothing came to mind to talk about so it was just chat, really. Then about ten minutes before the end Anita’s daughter walked in covered in paint and started discussing something about connecting a TV and laptop in the room. It was really random, but also super uncomfortable. Anita got up and moved away from me and became very engaged in the conversation with her daughter and so I got up to leave and then walked out.
As I reached the door Anita said, “Oh are, you going? Well, you seem ok, anyway, so I’ll see you next week.”
At that point, with my hand on the door the fog/dissociation that had been on me all session lifted and I remembered what had happened before I arrived. I replied, “Actually, I’m not ok my mum has just xyz [trauma stuff]”. A didn’t respond and continued talking with her daughter.
The memory that had just come to mind really upset me and leaving A like that felt awful, too. I ran down the stairs and noticed that on the middle landing the wall had been just painted with a first layer of paint covering a load of writing that I had done (on the walls!). There were loads of separate messages that Anita and I had never looked at and now wouldn’t be able to because you could hardly make them out.
I was really upset. For some reason I was soaked to the skin now (despite still being indoors) and needed to change but knew I had to leave. And so, I ran out the door, slamming it behind me and ran as fast as I could away. When I reached my car, it was my first car that I got when passing my test and when I looked down, I realised that I was my 17-year-old self. In the safety of my car I burst into tears.
I saw Anita leaving the building in a set of waterproofs. She saw me and gestured for me to stay where I was and that she was coming. I felt so deflated that I just broke down further.
And then I woke up.
And that’s the kind of fun times I am having right now even despite really connected sessions where I am held, or we read stories (which I will keep for a separate post as this is so long again). I mean it’s not rocket science to unpick what these dreams relate to, but I could just really do without my brain serving me up piles and piles of this emotionally draining, unsettling crap right now.
There’s a bank-holiday coming up next week and so a bit of a disruption to sessions and then Anita is off on a two-week break. She has more than earned a proper spell of time off. She hardly ever takes weeks off… like it’s May and she hasn’t had a break since that small bit over Easter and then, before that, Christmas. My adult can cope with all this, but I know the young parts are going into a panic about it!
I don’t really know what to say or do about it because really nothing is going to make it much better. I am just going to have to tough it out, I think. Maybe we’ll be able to do a slightly longer session before the break as I find those 75/90 minute sessions so much more containing. Ugh, I dunno.
I just hope I don’t get sucked into the doom zone tomorrow following this latest dream. It’s just too many one after the other right now. I wish my head would give me a break! I’m so so tired tonight that I just want to dissolve into nothingness…what do you reckon the chances of that are?!
This post should really be called ‘I don’t know if…’ because everything is in flux and I seem to have no concrete understanding of what’s going on with me. I couldn’t even think of a title for this post – it’s like my brain has turned into gloopy porridge.
My memory is really, really bad at the moment, too. I don’t know why it’s happening, but it’s making everything quite challenging. Imagine teaching and not being able to bring technical language or specific details in texts to mind (in exam season!). I have been coming back to this blog on and off all week (don’t seem to have the attention span to sit down and bang a post out) and I have to keep rereading it each time I sit down at the laptop because I have no clue what I have already written!
I was laughing (crazed, nervous laugh) about this stuff with K last week. When she asked how I was doing, I said that I felt like was having a relatively calm time, internally. I said I felt pretty chilled, but didn’t know whether I was genuinely ok or just dissociating a lot of the time (especially as I can’t remember anything!). Sometimes it’s hard to know. Trauma really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?! In the moment I thought I was calm, felt quite still and grounded, but then about half an hour later I burst into tears and was physically shaking (it felt like it came out of left field – there was no obvious trigger) and K ended up holding me until it passed.
This episode made me realise that there’s still a lot buried under the surface that is needing to come up and out. The little girl/s inside are still very distressed and the pain hasn’t really gone away. Those child parts can still arrive out of nowhere and hijack my adult…which is a bit scary!…but then I suppose it’s not necessarily hijacking if it happens in a therapeutic space???
Like I say, I don’t know if I am just massively dissociated or whether my feelings are just more fluid than they used to be and so I experience periods of genuine calm and being more embodied but then the internal tide can change and the other painful stuff comes up and I’m back in the danger zone and stuck in survival mode. I definitely don’t feel locked in a perpetual state of distress and panic and abandonment where my stomach and solar plexus ache ALL THE TIME now. Yay! There’s definite movement in and out of that horrible place. I think, too, that my system is learning that there are safe people to experience these difficult feelings with. So when I feel contained and cared for and supported with, and by, those safe people, I can get in touch with the feelings more fully and have them witnessed and attended to.
I have no idea, really! I am just making this shit up as I go along! Lol!
Don’t get me wrong, the distressed child parts still make enough appearances when there’s no one around to soothe them. Sadly, I’m still frequently left feeling small and lost and on my own in the week between sessions. Wednesdays are still fucking hideous and I don’t know what to do about that…
So things aren’t perfect but they are much much better than they were a couple of years ago.
Anyway, as I said a minute ago, whole chunks of time are just gone from my mind at the moment. I don’t know whether it’s because after months and months of intense stress that my life now appears to be settling down (please let that be the case!) and so because it’s ‘quieter’ I feel like I’m missing stuff. But perhaps, I am not forgetting stuff because maybe there’s just fuck-all going on! Or nothing that is going to threaten my actual existence, anyway…
I have no idea…
Anita asked me on Monday about my weekend and it took quite a long time to dredge up the memory of the preceding 72 hours. In the initial moment there was just a void where memory should be and this is also how it feels when I try and bring the last few therapy sessions to mind, too. Again, I don’t know whether it’s because things are actually really ‘ok’ and therefore not memorable or whether it’s just gone into the black zone.
I’ve always been someone who has an almost photographic memory for situations and conversations – who knows when you might need a soundbite to back up an argument?! – but lately this is happening less and less…it’s a bit unnerving to be honest.
I guess I’ve either got early onset Alzheimer’s, a bad bout of dissociation, or maybe, just maybe, my system is beginning to settle down here and there when I am with Anita (or K) and so feels safe enough not to be on mega alert ALL THE TIME and therefore doesn’t have to remember everything that happens between us in finite detail. I am leaning towards the last one because when I think about it and do a body scan at the same time, there is nothing freaking out inside (well not today anyway!).
Right now, (I think) I feel settled inside…but hey, it could be dissociation, couldn’t it?! I think the parts are quite calm today (Monday) because I have just had a really grounding connected time with Anita and so it’s as close as it gets to feeling safe inside as it can. It doesn’t last all that long (yet) because invariably those little parts start missing her and begin to panic when they can’t see her and then freak out believing that they’ve been abandoned or that she’s dead – but for now, today – it feels nice. So, I’m trying to make the most of it.
I know I was really unsettled last weekend when I blogged here. Partly because of the episode with the ‘box’ the week before and all the cumulative shit that had gone on since Easter break, the ‘vet’ thing, the ‘being busy’ thing, the ‘COVID daughter’ thing, the ‘session cancellation’ thing the ‘break in June’ thing…bleurgh…
In and of themselves these are all small things but as I text Anita on Friday it’s what it all taps into that makes all this stuff feel enormous and scary:
And that kind of sums it up. I know why this stuff triggers me but it really doesn’t make it any easier when it’s happening. I’ve felt like a rag doll in a washing machine for a lot of the last month but thankfully I seem to be more or less over it! The majority of the ‘small’ stuff that was bothering me had sorted out by the end of the week which left the main ‘big’ thing that was upsetting and unsettling me ready to be looked at on Friday.
What’s the big thing?
Well, it’s my friend terminating with her therapist of many years under horrible circumstances. I’m sure she’ll write about it soon, here, so I won’t go into details because it’s not my story to tell – but I feel so sad for her as none of what’s happened is her fault. What’s happened to her has brought all the stuff with Em back to the surface again and then, of course, has led me to feel really scared about the relationship with Anita because my friend’s therapist used to be so much like Anita.
In fact, it was my friend’s relationship with her therapist that made me realise that I could expect more from therapy and saw that it is possible to bring all the parts to therapy and have some of your needs met by someone else. You don’t have to be left squirming and alone in the room and can be in a caring relationship. So, of course, now that it’s all blown up parts of me are terrified that if I really and truly let my guard down, fully show all of myself and the extent of the wounding, then it’s inevitable that Anita will get overwhelmed and disappear, too…because even the good therapists can’t go the distance.
It’s so hard to feel safe when it feels like everywhere you look there’s some poor client being harmed in therapy and it’s all just too close to home right now. The Em stuff is still so recent and unprocessed for lots of my younger parts that what’s happened has lit the touch paper on my fear and sent everyone inside into meltdown.
When I went to see Anita on Friday, I felt like everything was wrong inside. It feels like everything is being shaken up and it makes me feel sick. Adult me knows she’s safe and trustworthy and the youngest parts feel like she is, too, but the teens and other protectors inside were freaking out,
“We cannot withstand another rejection or abandonment like what happened Em…or H…it’s not safe…we’re still not over what happened last year…please be careful with us all.”
And then young parts started wailing,
“Don’t keep us locked away in the dark. We don’t like being alone. It’s scary. Anita feels safe and when she can’t see us it feels horrible…and she’s going away soon and then we will really be alone.”
I am so aware that when I go into a panic about being rejected or abandoned it can really go one of…errr… three ways. First is, I disappear altogether into the black abyss frozen and silent; second is the False Adult takes charge and does some kind of smoke and mirrors exercise to keep Anita off the scent; and third – if the wind is blowing in the right direction- I can tell her what’s going on, or what the parts are trying to do and thinking.
On Friday, I let her know what was happening and how bad it felt and we talked it through. And as usual she was so calm and understanding and REASSURING that it allowed those really shaky, scared parts to calm down and regulate. Where I would have felt massive amounts of shame and embarrassment with Em (because she was so uncomfortable discussing our relationship) and so I’d keep this stuff to myself, I can feel it with Anita and let it out in the room with her. She gets it and helps process it.
I don’t feel like a massive weirdo telling her that the breakdown of a therapeutic relationship is painful and talking with her takes the edge off the panic. She’s been so understanding about what happened with Em and again just really tuned into why what’s happened to my friend has sent things into freefall.
As the session was ending and I said,
“It’s going to get easier, isn’t it?”
We had already discussed how for the young parts it feels really scary when the same stuff seems to happen over and over as if it’s evidence that it will happen again to me. Anita couldn’t have been more emphatic or straightforward in her reassurance. She held me closer to her and replied, “Yeah. I’m a great believer in that. I’m not going to go anywhere. You’re not too hard work. And I have no intentions of ending.”
She went on, “That’s what I mean [referring to what had happened with my friend]. It fucks it up for everybody. Excuse my language! But it really does. It takes all that trust from everybody. That’s what makes me so angry [harmful experiences with therapists]. It’s so fragile. It takes a long time to build trust…”
This last week Anita told me that we are on this journey together and she’s signed up for the whole ride not just the easy bits. I joked/groaned that she thought she was getting the bus to the beach and instead we’ve ended up in a swamp with a flat tyre. Anita said that she knew from my very first e-mail that the journey wasn’t going to be straightforward, that there was a lot of trauma, and that sometimes the best memories come from hard journeys that don’t go exactly as you’d planned.
She said in real life she likes walking off the beaten track and through brambles because you often find surprising things and beautiful things and it’s the same with the therapy. She said she gets a lot from the journey, too, it’s not just me that is changed by the relationship and that we are learning together. She said that she won’t always get it right but that she will always be alongside me. And I really believe her when she says it. It’s not meaningless platitudes and empty reassurances. I genuinely feel like she means what she says. Anita feels really authentic and human and that’s great after so long working in a vacuum with a blank screen. And sure, sometimes she gets it wrong BUT she always does her best to put it right when she does and her apologies feel genuine.
I haven’t described any of that very well but basically recently Anita’s been on a loop of ‘don’t panic, you’re not too much, and I’m with you for whatever comes our way’ lately. Personally, I’d quite like to go to the beach but am resigned, now, to the fact that sometimes we go off-roading through the shit and are slowly making it through the swamp! – can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no, we’ve got to go through it!
I know I say it a lot, but the reason so much of this work can be done is because Anita lets me so close to her. The fact that I go in and she sits beside me rather than on the other side of the room in her chair goes such a long way to settling and regulating my system. Those parts that have felt so alone and abandoned and full of shame, see that this person is not put off by them and is happy to come close despite the narrative that has been playing for a lifetime about being too much, and unlovable, and untouchable… and more recently ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’.
We sometimes laugh together about me being like a rescue dog but it’s true – although I think I bark a little less than her actual rescue dog! Anita keeps holding out her hand to me and using the soothing voice and little by little the scared parts are moving towards her. She said in our very first session that she knew it would take time for me to trust being in therapy (and with her) after what happened with Em. She said I was brave for even trying therapy again.
She said she would wait for me to feel ready to come to her because if she forced it, it would be like her telling me to put my hand back in a fire having just sustained third degree burns. I’d have to be mad to do it! And so, she waited and honestly, I cannot believe how things are with her now. She’s not a fire though, she’s a fire blanket – the complete antithesis to Em. She puts out the fire and makes it safe to be there with her. There is nothing at all threatening about Anita. Pretty much everything I get panicked about is served up by my own trauma brain running to worst case scenario, not actually any genuine vibe that Anita has given off.
These last few weeks, I have been stressed about her getting fed up with me and wanting to get rid of me – especially because finances have been a real problem. Despite working things out with that, and her promising she’s here for the long haul, I feel even less worthy of her care. Like, surely, if someone who is less complex (and that’s basically any other person who wants counselling!) and demanding comes along and can pay her full fee then she’d be stupid not to take the money and ditch the stress, wouldn’t she?
It’s shit feeling this way.
Anita assures me that I am worthy of her time and care, that I am lovable and all the nice things but ugh…it’s tough, because there are so many parts in play, and there are so many that already have such a low opinion of themselves that it’s going to take a lot of repetition for it to wear a deep groove inside.
Having this conversation, the other day, Anita turned things round and said, “You might get fed up with me.” I felt every part of my system shake their heads. Like, “Not gonna happen, lady!” Anita said that perhaps sometimes when I text her and she doesn’t always reply I might feel fed up. She said that she does try to reply because she’s aware of how unsettled I get with this kind of thing but also acknowledged that sometimes she’ll see a message and be in the middle of something and mentally register to reply when she’s free and then will forget.
She said that she has a terrible memory (looks like that’s both of us then!) and that if she doesn’t reply to a message, it’s not because she doesn’t want to, or doesn’t care, but sometimes she just forgets. It was a really human interaction and it went a really long way down into those parts who so often feel like maybe something has changed or gone wrong if there is no reply when actually it’s just life. We all do it.
I don’t tend to text long deep stuff very often, it’s more about checking in (‘are you still there?’), I am the queen of GIFS (have you noticed?) and so largely communicate through pictures – but to hear that Anita isn’t staying away or being distant because I’m too much or ‘bombarding’ her is huge.
These conversations would have felt (were!) impossible with Em and yet they just happen with A. She really thinks about how this stuff and what she says and does (or doesn’t do) impacts me. It’s not about how my texts are a hassle to her or are a boundary crossed. Being able to call that conversation to mind these last few days (we’re at Thursday now!) has been really helpful as the really painful feelings of being lost, alone, and abandoned landed with a thud yesterday morning and were chased up by a horrible dream about Anita so I’ve felt really vulnerable and needy.
Nearly all the time now, (unless something really is really triggered) I can ask Anita for a cuddle and she never says no or pushes me away. If I am triggered, shut down, or far away she always finds a way to get to me. So, whatever happens the young parts get what they need. Anita holds me for as long as I need and even comments on how much I need the holding which makes me feel less like a tick clinging on than I might otherwise have felt. She says how she can feel the change in my body/system as the session goes on and how grounding it is for me to have that closeness and proximity.
It takes quite a long time to ‘land’ in the room and I think this the case for quite a few of us with C-PTSD. It’s often not until the 45-50 minute mark that my system settles fully.
This is why 50 minute sessions just didn’t work for me (alongside having had a therapist that didn’t care!). Even an hour feels a bit too short and I seem to finally arrive and then suddenly it’s the end. I find when we do 1hr 15 minute sessions I feel way more settled and grounded because it really gives those young parts time to rest and feel safe in that holding before having to go back out into the outside world and go it alone.
When everything feels like it’s swirling about inside being physically close really helps bring things back to a manageable level. The young parts, especially the ones that have no words, get such a lot from the cuddles. I’ve said before how listening to Anita’s steady heartbeat feels really settling. I have noticed, too, how often, when I am upset, I barely breathe and yet over time mine and Anita’s breathing becomes synchronised – I mean I start to breathe, not that she holds hers! It’s coregulation in action.
The other thing that brings my system into the window of tolerance aside from the touch is smell. Oh god this is cringey, but it’s true.
Anita smells really nice. It’s the smell of fresh washing and I associate it now with feeling safe and connected. I was thinking about this the other day – and whilst it might sound really weird going on about how she smells (!) and why I like it, I think on a biological level there’s something in this.
When babies are born, they can’t really see very well, but they know who mum is, they know her smell and they’re like little breast/milk seeking missiles. I know when I had to give up breastfeeding (so I could start chemo) I couldn’t be anywhere near my son whilst my wife was transitioning him onto a bottle and formula. She’d be feeding him, he’d be snuggled into her, but even if I quietly entered the room he’d rear up and try and move towards me and get unsettled because he wanted me (or at least to be breastfed not bottlefed) – I’m guessing we must give off some kind of mummy milk smell that trumps the bottle.
Anyway, I think in some kind of way this is what happens with smell now. I associate Anita’s smell with feeling safe and secure. Obviously, it’s not the same as a baby seeking a breast but I think on a biological and unconscious level there are at least some similarities. I think this is why so many people find either spraying something with their therapist’s perfume or taking a scarf/item of clothing or some other item that smells like their therapist helpful on breaks. One of my friend’s therapist gives her a blanket that she washes specially just before a break and it really helps her. When the young parts are wobbling and dysregulated closing your eyes and being able to breathe in that smell that is associated with feeling safe and held must go a long way.
I’ll just leave that there as feel like I have probably descended into the ‘eyebrow raising’ area for some readers! – although I know that many others will be nodding in agreement and completely get it and so this is for you guys!
Ummm. Even though I am on my arse today and struggling with the separation and young parts are not having a good time at all, it’s not because I think Anita has changed or is about to abandon me (which is what used to happen). Now it’s more about missing her and just wanting to be contained in that safe bubble.
I think for the longest time I have carried everything on my own. It’s been hard and uncomfortable but it’s known. Now, I am starting to trust someone else and let them hold some of the pain with me and it feels really good when I am safe and secure in the room but it’s just really hard being outside that space. Rather than being stuck in perpetual pain and powering through, it’s like swinging on a pendulum. So now when the hard stuff rears up and I am on my own, it feels even more difficult because I know now what it is to feel safe with someone but I can’t access that when I need it.
I know this is all part of the process right now, and it’s just the stage I am at but ugh… help!!
When things feel hard it’s not surprising that I want to retreat into the sanctuary of the therapy room and be with Anita because she feels safe on so many levels. We talk about all kinds of shit. Like, literally, we can swing between serious trauma stuff, to dogs rolling in diarrhoea in the blink of an eye. I love how it feels so easy and connected. I like how we laugh together (or perhaps she’s just laughing at me!) and the serious stuff sits alongside the lighter stuff. It always felt so painful with Em. So sterile and formal. So isolated. With Anita I feel like the experience of just being together in the room is so much of the work regardless of what we’re talking about. All the time I am with her my system is learning what it is to be with someone safe -someone who accepts me in whatever state I am in.
Healing takes place in relationship and Anita is giving me one amazing relational experience.
So, following on from my last post here things got much worse and I found myself deep down the rabbit hole of doom! I felt so terrible by the time Sunday rolled around that I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Anita acknowledged my crying bear message in the afternoon on Sunday with what felt like a really formal ‘un-Anita-y’message. She asked if I was ok (uh no, not really) and then sent quite a long message that talked about discussing working out payment stuff and how she had meant to discuss it on Friday but how ‘obviously that didn’t happen’ (yeah, that’s because my session was cancelled…and I am still having a meltdown about it!).
The message landed badly. It felt really off because there I was feeling really upset and abandoned and disconnected and all the bad feelings over the session cancellation on Friday – wondering whether she had chosen to just cancel me rather than work online and here was a message about ‘boundaries’ and ‘therapy dynamics’ and admin, basically. Because I was so triggered already, the message felt cold and just really missed where I was at. I felt like I was invisible to her.
Even though boundaries are very important it can be such a triggering word to those of us with C-PTSD. I think it’s because so often when therapists start banging on about boundaries it can often seem to be something about distancing themselves from us. Like the boundary talk happens because we’re seen to be pushing boundaries, we’re trying to be too close. So, when there’s talk of boundaries from the therapist it often feels like barriers being put up etc…’here’s the boundary, don’t step over it’. Basically ‘back off’ – ‘I’m just your therapist’.
Looking back, I don’t think that’s what was intended and I really don’t ever feel like Anita is a ‘boundaries for boundaries’ sake’ therapist. I think A was just trying to put my mind at rest that we would find a way forward but phrases like ’I’m not going to just drop you’ still sent panic through my system especially as the messages over the weekend had so clearly missed what was going on after Friday and even the word ‘drop’ made me feel vulnerable because of course she could ‘drop’ me at any time.
I didn’t know what to do so I just sent Anita the link to the blog I’d just posted about all the shit that was swirling and asked her to read it. Thankfully, she read it and it clearly made sense to her because the response she sent afterward felt much more like the Anita I am used to. The problem was by the time she sent it, I was so tangled up in knots and had been putting all the jigsaw pieces from the last few days together and creating some kind of impressionist image – you know where the nose is where the ear should be and the mouth is up on the forehead. All the elements are there, just all in totally the wrong place.
My teen felt so wounded that I sent this:
and said ‘I think I need to stay away for a while’.
Anita was lovely and somehow coaxed me back out of that dark internal dungeon to a place where it felt possible to go to see her because I believed that she actually wanted to see me, too. Before that point I had convinced myself she was fed up and wanted away from me. I told her I needed a hug and she said she would give me one in person, I just had to come to my session. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time the weekend was over. Man this is hard going!
When I arrived at Anita’s on Monday morning, I hugged her as soon as she opened the door. I felt shaky and sad but also relieved to be there. Anita acknowledged that it must have been hard for me to come to the session and I agreed. It was. There were so many different activated parts that it’s so hard to know what to do for the best sometimes. I guess just keep turning up and giving myself the opportunity to talk?
Anita told me that she had had no idea where I was with everything until she’d read my blog. And this is the problem. I can drift so far away so quickly because on the surface I seem fine when, really, I am not. Things blow up inside and a lot of the time it is masked by my False Adult who glosses over everything ‘Ok’ and smiles to cover what’s underneath. Of course, if I am not even in the room and something happens then it’s even less visible.
I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.
Then the truth came out about Friday.
Anita was honest but…ouch.
She told me that she hadn’t offered me an online session on Friday because she felt like I would find it insulting (given how hard they have been over lockdown) and how far they are from what I really need. She apologised and said that she’d got that wrong and was really sorry not to have given me the option. I felt really sad about it, I’d really missed her on Friday and had really needed some reassurance that things were ok with us because the cancellation had let all sorts rip through my system. I was glad she wasn’t trying to paste over it but it was still painful.
I think she probably now understands that whilst online isn’t ideal, in that situation some kind of contact is much better than a complete severing of contact and whilst I might respond with ‘OK’ when I resort to short replies and don’t reach out, I am anything but ‘Ok’. It’s like the shutters go down and I go into self-protection mode. It was so painful on Friday and I couldn’t stop myself from spiralling down.
She acknowledged that she had been in a bit of panic about her daughter which is what I suspected. It felt ok having this conversation – or rather her telling me her side of things. She’s human, after all and we don’t always get things right but it’s not because we are deliberately trying to hurt the other person. I asked her if I could have a hug and basically just started trembling and crying. The impact the weekend, or last couple of weeks had had on my system was really something else. This feeling of abandonment stuff is really tapping into the deep mother wound and it’s fucking exhausting navigating it.
Again, I don’t remember much of that session. When the young parts are so activated and I am teetering on the edge of dissociation my memory seems to just go blank. I remember Anita saying something about how sometimes separation is good because we can learn that separation doesn’t have to mean abandonment but that what had happened in the last two weeks was too much, too sudden, and like I had been thrown in the deep end. I mean the reality is her dog had to go to the vet and her daughter might have had COVID but everything that got wrapped around those two events was massive. Anita said I had joined all the dots wrongly in my head (written in the blog) but that’s it’s not surprising because that’s what trauma does.
My system definitely started to settle and calm down throughout the session. I cried a lot and just snuggled into her. That’s really all the young parts need or are capable of when things have been so badly triggered. Calm care and reassurance are everything and settling my nervous system is essential before I can ‘think’ about what’s gone on. I saw something the other day from Margaret Atwood.
It’s true. And I think this is where talk therapy so often falls down. When we hit the deck and start sliding with the pre-verbal young stuff, words just don’t cut it and I am so grateful to Anita that she is ok with physical touch because it has definitely enabled the most wounded parts of me to feel safe to come out.
The time between sessions this week seemed to go by really slowly and whilst I felt like we’d repaired some of the hurt feelings and settled the young parts that had got so worked up over the weekend, in the Monday session, I’d still felt really vulnerable and exposed during the week and not very sure-footed. I went to see K for a cup of tea on Thursday and had broken down crying when speaking to her about what the last few weeks had been like and the stuff about the cancelled session on Friday with Anita. She saw immediately how impacted my inner child had been by the messages and cancellation, and was both validating and understanding and it took some of the shame and embarrassment out of my meltdown. By the time it got to Friday I was so ready to see Anita as things felt really wobbly.
My best friend had a horrific week this week as her work with her long-term therapist came to an abrupt end. I am absolutely devastated for her. It’s set some things jangling internally for me, too. Her therapist was so much like Anita in the early days of their work together -so attuned and holding – and over time things have just got more and more distanced, less and less caring, and I can’t help but panic. What happens if this happens with Anita? I’ve been terminated by Em for being a ‘tick’ (and I never showed her ANYTHING like as much as I do A) and now my friend has lost her therapist…it just seems like people like us end up hurt and abandoned time and again. It’s so painful…and terrifying to those parts that are so scared of being hurt.
What’s happened with my friend is absolutely not her fault, nor was what happened with Em mine, but it’s not the therapist that is left bereft and retraumatised when, yet again, the narrative of being too much and toxic gets replayed. They can just move onto the next poor, unsuspecting client, and here we are left trying to pick up the pieces again.
I spoke to Anita about that situation and said how frequently my friend had been misled and gaslit and how really you can’t bullshit clients like us, it’s better to be honest because we see through lies. Anita agreed. I could feel myself getting upset. I asked for a hug (check me out asking for what I need!). Things settled inside a bit and then Anita told me that she needed to tell me about the holiday she has coming up. Oh god. She said she was waiting for the right time to tell me but realised there’s no good time to let me know but wanted to give me plenty of notice. The reaction to the news wasn’t desperately bad inside but it wasn’t great either. Anita said we can text whilst she’s away and last year that was nice, and I didn’t drop dead during the break (much). I am thinking of asking her whether she’ll take the little blue elephant with her so he can see some of the places too.
Just as I’d got over my mini internal meltdown over the upcoming holiday I opened my eyes and looked up and wondered about a box on the shelf. It’s beautiful and ornate. For some reason I decided to ask what was inside the box – and this, my friends, is a lesson on not asking questions when you haven’t really considered what the answer may be! In the past I had asked about what was in another, bigger, carved, wooden box in the room. Anita had said there were colouring pens for when people do art or drawing/writing in their session. However, this box is high up, safely placed in the middle of the shelf and clearly would not be housing pens.
I don’t know why, but I was not ready for what was coming and yet clearly the answer was going to be something like this. Anita told me that one of her long-term clients (a trauma client like me) had given her the box for Christmas because it was important to her (the client), and inside it is a stone with the word ‘trust’ on it and I could have a look at it if I liked.
I’m guessing for most of you reading this that I needn’t say any more about how this felt.
I realise in this situation Anita really couldn’t win, earlier in the session we’d only just spoken about how you can’t bullshit clients like me/us because we see through it, but at the same time this revelation was just too much information and NO I did not want to look at the box.
I am so sensitive at the moment. After the session on Friday I text Anita and used the analogy that I feel like I am tiptoeing so carefully at the minute, trying to avoid danger, but no matter how I try almost every step I take I seem to set off a landmine beneath me…
…and this wasn’t just a landmine, this was a nuclear bomb going off inside.
Everything fell apart in that moment. I dissociated immediately. I was so far gone. It was awful. I felt like I was tumbling over and over through black space. It was dizzying and made me feel physically sick. The feelings of not being good enough, being insignificant, and unimportant flooded my system. It was the same stuff that was triggered the other week by Anita telling she was ‘mega busy’ when I suggested rescheduling because her dog was going to the vet, and also when my session got cancelled last Friday because her daughter might have had COVID.
The voice says that the relationship isn’t real – is meaningless – and I am deluded for thinking otherwise got really loud really quickly. And to be honest it has a point, because, when it comes down to it, I’m just one of many clients and not only that, I’m someone who can be left and let go because there are always going to be people who are more worthy and have more of a claim to Anita’s care and time than I do. Even when we think things are ‘safe enough’ it can turn sour in a matter of weeks and we’re let go, terminated, and left stranded. My experience with Em showed me that but also what’s happened to my friend this last week.
My body was frozen. I felt like I stopped breathing. I think it must’ve been a freeze response. I felt so sad and had no idea I was crying silent tears until I felt my hand was wet.
I think Anita felt the change in me. I was cuddled into her so she couldn’t see my face but I could hear her talking to me but I just didn’t have any words to respond to her and I think this is because what this episode triggered was down into that really young, preverbal stuff. She tried to check in with me about how I was feeling soon after she’d told me about the box but I couldn’t respond. She told me explicitly that just because she’s been seeing this other client a long time it didn’t make our relationship less than. She said something about her having a big heart. And I get it…or Adult Me does, sort of.
It’s like with my kids. When my son arrived, my daughter didn’t suddenly get half the love she had received before he was born because my finite supply of love now had to be split two ways. It doesn’t work that way. Our capacity to love is not finite at all. It’s something that keeps growing. I don’t love my son more than my daughter. I love them both ‘the same’ for who they are and because they are different. I don’t prefer one over the other or compare one to the other. And I guess this must kind of be how it is in therapy…maybe…but then I’m not her child I’m just a client and I come back to that horrible stuff about everyone else being better than me, less difficult, more lovable etc etc. I’m sure other clients have fewer tantrums, are less demanding, less needy…
A small voice said, ‘I want to go home’. It felt so broken at that point. It’s horrible how fragile everything feels. When it feels like that the only sensible option seems to be to run away and protect myself like I always have done before.
It would be so easy to say that this episode on Friday with the box is just a case of ‘jealousy’ and that client ‘sibling rivalry’ stuff that we feel sometimes – but when you dig beneath it it’s not as crazy as it all sounds… or at least I hope not! We all know we aren’t the only client a therapist sees and as much as we’d like to think we’re their favourite (thinking about LS here! 😉) it’s pretty unlikely. But it’s hard because our therapists are so important to us – I think it’s natural that we would want to feel important to them, too, especially when we have a lifetime of not mattering.
When I think about my own teaching work. I like all my students BUT there are some I look forward to working with more than others…and what if I’m one of those ‘less favoured and sometimes dreaded’ hours in Anita’s week? The thought of that really upsets me. And that’s why I am doomed because even Adult Me can’t convince all those hurting parts that everything is ok and that it’s not ‘pretend’ with Anita, because Adult Me has preferences about who I work with, too… and so I can’t help but feel like I am walking my way blindfolded into getting hurt again. Even if there is SO SO SO much evidence to the contrary (which there really is!).
To be honest, when I am like this, Anita must be banging her head up against a brick wall because she shows me ALL THE TIME in SO MANY WAYS that she cares and that I am important. She doesn’t just demonstrate it through her actions, she tells me she ‘loves me’ and ‘thinks the world of me’…so why can’t these scared young parts let that evidence override the doubting parts? Why do I have to let a fucking gift from another client derail my time with Anita?
I think it’s just going to take time and patience on both our parts – I just hope she doesn’t get fed up with me first. This work is like recoiling a spring the other way. It’s a repetitive process and sometimes the spring just pings back to how it was before…and it’s not surprising really. I learnt pretty early on that I wasn’t central and my needs didn’t matter. It continued on and on being left at childminders and never feeling like I was wanted or important enough to be made a priority. I just had to fit in and get on with it. I was seen as easy-going child and no trouble – amenable – but that’s because I had to be. There’s no point in acting up when nothing will change.
And this is really the legacy I’ve been left with. In some ways being adaptable is good, but so often it means I put my own needs at the bottom of the pile and try and make things right for everyone else. When I get hurt, I take that pain inwards and spare the other person the hassle of dealing with me. The other day Anita said she thought there were a lot of tears bottled up inside. And she’s right -there’s a lifetime of them. I never cried as a child…because what was the point? There was never anyone there to wipe them away. I learnt not to express my feelings and that runs both ways. I struggle even to show or feel joy. I have the best poker face.
Anyway, I don’t remember much about that session because I was so far gone and so upset. I felt like I had drifted away. What I do know is that Anita was holding me more tightly than usual and whilst I felt a million miles away there was a part of me that could feel how hard she was trying to help bring me back to her. She didn’t let me go until I was more together and settled – she is amazing like that.
I feel like such a bloody idiot after all this but I am trying to show myself some compassion. It’s been a hard few weeks/months…and I guess what’s happening is the young stuff is far closer to the surface than it’s ever been before and so it gets triggered more easily. In some ways it’s mortifying but I guess in other ways it’s progress. Noone wants to be a mute sobbing wreck in therapy but this is clearly a big indicator that this attachment and relational stuff is where the work is (as if we didn’t already know!) and it’s far better that it comes up with Anita where it can be worked on then pretending it’s all ok when something hurts and then going home and going through all the feelings alone and catastrophising even more.
*I started writing this last week and so I suspect the tone changes midway through where I picked it up again this morning as things feel so flat today.
It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions this last few weeks (again!). In part, it’s been down to the change in therapy routine over the school holidays but by my last post I was just about finding my equilibrium again – still a bit wobbly but not in a complete meltdown about it all like I had been… and then that fragile sense of safety was smashed by a combination of two things hitting almost simultaneously…and then another body blow on Friday just gone.
The first issue is the reality that financially our life isn’t what it was before my wife lost her job in January, and despite her having found another position we are now a further £500/month down from where we were at the start of the year (and £1100 from where we were this time last year!). That’s huge. I mean it’s really massive. We regrouped and changed things quite dramatically after the redundancy last year. It was tight but manageable but now this…Fuck.
I wrote a while back about how difficult things were financially – basically we had two months of my wife on zero money and so in order to get through that patch I maxed out all the credit cards and hoped for the best. Like many people in their 30-40’s we have no savings but we are lucky enough to have a house (unlike a lot of our friends) but the mortgage is eye-watering- and bills are insane. The council tax alone is over £200/month over 12 months. Whoa.
Compared with a lot of people we are very very lucky but the sudden and dramatic shift in finances has been really hard and it’s stressful. I think financial insecurity is stressful for a lot of people. I was only talking to a friend yesterday and she was saying how she wishes that the constant burden of juggling money (or lack of it) would go away as it’s like carrying an enormous weight all the time. I agreed. That is how it feels.
Anyway, two weeks from payday I looked at the bank account and we were already headed head first into our overdraft. Shit. This is not good at all. Still two weeks left to get through and no money. Straight away my system crashed. I’ve literally crawled my way through the last few months, and the Easter break, hanging on, and now, just as life should hopefully get back on an even keel the reality is there is not enough money to do the things I need to do to keep afloat. That’s gutting. I mean it’s not totally desperate in that I can’t do therapy at all and have to stop altogether but realistically we can only afford for me to go once a week and not twice and I’ll have to give the craniosacral a miss once K is back from lockdown but that’s ok…ish.
I was feeling really emotionally triggered by the situation that day, though – young parts in a panic – but resolved to make the best of my therapy session on Friday (17th) because if that was to be the last session until payday I couldn’t afford to leave it feeling upset or unsettled. I hoped I’d get through a couple of weeks on no therapy if I could at least go in and have a connecting session to say goodbye. The previous session had been so holding that I was hopeful we’d temporarily be able to hold things together with rubber bands and chewing gum.
You know what I am like!
As it crept towards the session the internal noise from the young parts was nuts. It’s the object constancy stuff again. There’s a reason that two sessions a week space Monday and Friday work for me and why breaks send everything off!! I just don’t do well with separation. Anita knows how hard it is for me but we’re both hoping that over time my system will learn that separations aren’t the catastrophe they used to be for me when I was a child. However, it’s going to take a lot to rewrite the book on that given that from the beginning my life was all about separation and the reuniting was rarely positive.
Then on Thursday night before my Friday session I got a text from A saying she had to take her dog to the vet in the morning and to prewarn me that she might be a couple of minutes late to my session.
No big deal, right?
I didn’t want A to have to rush and I also know that whilst adult me understands why she mightn’t be there on time the child parts would go straight to that abandoned state if she was very late. So, I suggested that maybe we should change the time so she didn’t have to concentrate on anything other than her dog. Anita replied and said that she had got ‘mega busy’ and had no other times. And something massive switched inside.
I mean massive panic and meltdown.
Instead of just sticking with my time because I felt so triggered, I said to A that I would see her at our next session the following Wednesday instead and it was fine to cancel. Given what I have just said about object constancy you can probably see what an insane thing that was to say. But what was going on in my head right at the moment was really messy. It didn’t help, then, that Anita didn’t see the message I had sent until late at night and so I didn’t pick up her reply until the next morning – I had barely slept and felt really out of sorts.
Basically, my system freaked out. And through the night I had been really upset. I knew I was about to have to pause my sessions until the end of the month and then after that probably reduce session frequency – this in itself was unsettling (understatement) but then to be told that Anita is now ‘mega busy’ everything and everyone inside melted down. It was a horrible internal conversation and even typing this now I feel like I could cry:
“She doesn’t care that I am not going to see her tomorrow. She’s probably glad of the break.”
“Why can’t anything ever just be settled for me?”
“What happens if she gets so full and busy that she suddenly finds working with me too much of a drain and terminates?”
“If she’s more tired from seeing more clients then she’ll be less available then she has been. It’ll feel more distanced. She’ll be less attuned… and that feels like abandonment. I’ll be back in that horrible place I was in with Em where it feels like survival mode and dissociation is the norm…and ruptures happen.”
“I am not stupid. Clients like me are not easy and if she can fill up her week with less demanding clients then why wouldn’t she? Why would she bother with me anymore?”
“It’s over anyway. The wheels keep falling off my life and what I need, I simply can’t have anymore.”
“Why do I always shoot myself in the foot rather than ask for what I need?”
And then of course there was the wailing of the young parts who just felt like everything was broken and felt desperate.
Basically, I was sliding on black ice and into rupture territory and none of it was Anita’s fault. It’s not her fault my situation has changed and I’m sure she’s more than capable of managing her caseload, but the young parts had this sick feeling inside that there is an inevitability that things are going to go wrong and change and simply being told that she is busy made me feel like sooner or later I’d get overlooked, forgotten about, basically not kept in mind…and I suppose this is exactly what happened as a child. I was always at the bottom of the pile. My parents’ work took priority. I never got the time or care that I needed…etc etc.
Anyway, that tiny episode raised my hypervigilance up and few notches and I’m basically now wedged in flight mode which has totally screwed this weekend…but I’ll get to that in a minute.
So, it spiralled very very quickly down into that horrid place of feeling unworthy and I was basically pickled in shame and really fed up. When I turned my phone on in the morning there was a message from A telling me she was sorry that she hadn’t replied until late and that she thought she’d be back in time for our session or, if I wanted to, I could see her on Saturday morning. I wanted to see her on Friday but I was so exhausted from not sleeping and catastrophising through the night that I knew I wouldn’t be safe to drive to her that day so instead I asked to see her on Saturday.
It was so kind of her to see me on the weekend – she doesn’t usually work then (I don’t think) and so at least some of the parts of me that were certain I was on course for being relegated to the side lines realised that someone that doesn’t care doesn’t do this kind of thing. It’s just really really hard to hold onto that when everything feels like it’s going to be ripped away from me.
I don’t really remember anything about that session…
Oh… hang on…
It’s coming back…
I arrived and two dogs were barking. A told me her daughter was there with hers and was going to take them both out in a minute. I felt bad about that. On a sunny day I am guessing Anita would rather have been out walking with her daughter than sitting with me. It felt hard to settle and, in part, this was down to knowing I had to tell Anita that I wasn’t going to be able to see her for a while.
When I walked in, I noticed that the two books I have given Anita in the time we have been working together were out on the table (I had asked her if we could look at them in a text earlier in the week). I was glad she’d remembered but also knew that today was not going to be the time to look at them and that was sad for the young parts that needed that kind of connecting experience.
I told Anita I felt off. She asked if it was something about maybe thinking she didn’t want to see me after the messages with the vet stuff. That wasn’t really it at all, but I didn’t elaborate on all the stuff about her being busy and what that felt like. And I wasn’t ready to talk about having to stop the work.
I was edging closer to a dissociative state.
My head felt floaty and like I wasn’t in the room. I kept trying to focus on items in the therapy room but it was like being in a fog. Eventually, I told Anita that I wasn’t going to be able to see her. I think it came over as adult, but it was the ‘False Adult’ who can talk and seems ok. I was not ok, though. Inside it was absolute carnage and I felt really far away and like Anitwas a million miles away. too. I felt so disconnected and it just kept getting worse. But this is what happens. It’s that pre-empting separation and backing away and shutting down. I know it’s me. It’s my stuff. But when it’s like that it feels like A isn’t there, isn’t connected, doesn’t see me…and that’s not good.
When I explained what was going on. Anita said we could work something out – we have before and we can again. She said that she thought it was important that I keep coming and we’ll find a way forward. She said she was glad we had seen each other that day and not had to wait until Wednesday (my kids were still off school on Monday so couldn’t make my session).
That was a relief and I could feel my system settle a bit. We still haven’t worked out the details of the money stuff and so that needs looking at because I’m already working myself up about not paying ‘enough’ and then that’ll be another reason for things to go wrong between us. I ended up cuddled into A after that ‘big talk’ and just wanted to fall asleep after all the emotional effort the last few days had been.
Wednesday’s session was fine. I gave Anita a present that I had bought for her a while ago for her birthday and she seemed to like it so that was nice. It wasn’t a ‘big’ session but it was nice to be there. I knew there was stuff circling but Wednesday is a massive day for me workwise – I’m flat out until 9pm and so I didn’t want to open up Pandora’s box and then be left with everything spewing out all over the day. Besides, my next session was only two days away. It could wait.
On Friday I had just dropped my kids to school and was about to head up the road to Anita’s when I saw a text from her:
‘My daughter has had a bad headache for the past three days and woken up this morning with no taste. I have been seeing her so thinking maybe we should cancel today. She is booked in for a test this morning. Fingers crossed she is ok. X’
I didn’t really know what to say in that moment, I felt sad and kind of numb but also realised the it’s just unfortunate, so simply responded:
‘Ok. Hope she feels better x’
What else could I say?
As I drove home in the car it all started churning around and the information filtered down through my system. Obviously, I couldn’t see Anita if her daughter might have Covid. I completely understand that and I really hoped that her daughter was ok because having seen how bad it can be when my wife had it and losing my grandad to Covid pneumonia I know worrying it is. I know in that moment, as a mum, Anita would have been worried and panicked probably. I guess that morning she would be sending out texts to anyone she sees face-to-face and just sorting the admin side of things…
By the time I got home, though, the Critic had taken root – to shut the noise down inside from the young parts who felt devastated.
Was Anita taking the day off work to look after her grown up daughter or was she just cancelling her face-to-face sessions to be safe? And if she was still working then why didn’t she ask if I wanted to do online instead? I have no idea what the situation actually was with A, I don’t know what she was doing. I don’t know whether she was working or had just completely cleared her diary to give herself some headspace…but that’s the thing, because I don’t know my brain did that horrible speculating.
“She just doesn’t want to see you online. After the pain in the arse you’ve been with online sessions she’ll never offer those again…right now she can’t deal with you and has enough on her plate without you having a tantrum over this.”
And yes, I am not a fan of online sessions but I would rather have had some kind of contact than none. The last-minute cancellation was far more disruptive to my system than having to do a video call would have been. To be honest, even a ten-minute check in would have helped. But of course, I couldn’t respond and ask for that because if she wasn’t working then that it would have felt like I was being demanding and intrusive and I just didn’t want that. Surely, I can just cope until…well…when…a few weeks away if Anita had to isolate.
And so it spiralled further.
When I got home there was another message:
‘Thank you. I am sorry but better safe than sorry. I will keep you updated. If she is positive, I will get a home test for myself x’
I suppose at least that took the doubt of whether I should ask to talk on the phone out of the situation.
I didn’t reply to that message.
It’s unusual for me not to have contact with Anita but I was so conscious of not being a handful that I just drifted away from her. The sense of connection was decimated.
I know how extreme that is. Adult me is fine. I get all of it. But the traumatised child parts are in freefall and so the teen has bundled them up and taken them away.
The next day Anita text me twice – one an update about the Covid situation (negative) and another saying she hoped I was enjoying the sunshine and a big smiling/laughing face emoji.
It took me the day to reply despite having seen it when it came in. I simply wrote a simple sentence saying I hoped her daughter was ok. Because… no… I was not enjoying the sunshine. I was brooding and feeling like everything was unsafe…or at least enough parts of me were to significantly impact my ability to enjoy the day. I was grumpy too. I mean properly snappy with everyone. Part of it is PMS but part of it is that when it’s all crumbling inside I just can’t be the calm, patient mother. I just want to scream and run away.
Then Anita sent me another message saying she hoped I was having a good weekend and more big smiley face emojis.
There was no laughing going on internally for me.
I felt so sad.
I really needed a heart or a hug gif – something that feels connecting and holding and instead it’s like everything is fun and happy and that’s a world away from where I am right now. I wonder if she just has no idea that I might be responding like this?
I absolutely don’t want to be an arsehole over this. It’s embarrassing enough being like this, feeling this stuff, and I would like to think that Anita will understand. BUT there’s that doubting bit which thinks because she’ll be worried and stressed about her daughter the last thing she needs is me having a meltdown over a cancelled session.
In the normal run of things she’d be able to hear it, but what if she’s worn out and stressed out? I am not doing a great job with my kids right now because I am stressed out so it stands to reason that my child parts might just be too much right now too.
It’s a minefield.
Last night I felt so sad that I simply sent this GIF.
The moment I sent it I realised I had just set myself up for another period of feeling abandoned or disconnected. Who knows when Anita might see the message, or even if she would respond…and when…she needs a break and it’s the weekend.
So, that’s basically it. I feel flat and fed up…and just so over having to manage the legacy of the childhood trauma. I wish the message about cancelling on Friday had no impact…or those since. But it’s just not how it works.
I don’t even know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go. I had awful dreams therapy last night – what a surprise…
Oh Man! Where do I start with this? Last time I was here I was circling the drain of doom where my system was basically in full meltdown. The young parts of me were in a total panic about the Easter therapy break (that wasn’t really a break at all) and I was edging into the place where part of me felt like quitting therapy in order to escape the painful feelings of abandonment but also to leave before I got left.
Over the course of that eight days, I had got myself so worked up. The fear of being abandoned or rejected by Anita was huge and felt totally real and possible (at least to some of my system). I was on high alert and had convinced myself that something had changed between Anita and I. I was sure that she’d had enough of me. I mean I laid it all out in the last blog so no need to go over it again too much. But jeez. It’s hard work.
I went through the cycle: young parts activated and distressed, teen trying to calm things down and feeling dismissive and angry, and the critic moving in to shut things down by attacking and shaming me. It’s thoroughly exhausting when this happens (did I ever mention that I am not keen on therapy breaks?!) and it’s so hard to ground and get my adult self to take the reins.
I think the thing I failed to mention about this cycle is that whilst it can seem quite linear a, b, c the reality is that it doesn’t get to c (critic) and everything go quiet with the young parts. Far from it! It can seemingly go in waves and a,b,c, a,b,c or a,b,a c, b, a, a… and sometimes all the parts are activated simultaneously…and god that’s hellish! When that happens the system is unsettled and noisy. It’s like there’s a house of different parts all screaming to get out of their rooms (apart from the teen – she’ll rot in her room with a razor blade). Imagine having a screaming new born, a toddler wailing, a four-year-old banging… etc etc…and then the critic going mad like some crazed warden from a Victorian orphanage. There’s no trauma-informed care here – it’s threats, and shaming, and “noone loves you and that’s why you’re here”.
Even if adult me can see what’s going on with the parts it’s pretty hard to step outside it because the felt sense in my body that something is dangerous and that bad things will happen is so real. I know it’s a hangover from the past and the relational trauma I have experienced with other people…but try telling that to my system when it perceives slight changes in Anita’s behaviour and then runs away with itself. Yikes!
What I found really disappointing – this break – is how quickly I slipped into believing the narrative that I was sure to be terminated when the break was over when there has been so much evidence to the contrary. It’s like having my brain and body hijacked when it gets that bad.
Usually, if I feel disconnected from Anita or panicked, I might reach out with a text (mostly a GIF from the young parts) and Anita responds to that and it settles things down. The thing is, this break, for some reason I couldn’t send the message. I couldn’t clue Anita in to how things were and so kept spiralling downwards. Convinced she was fed up of me and wouldn’t want to hear from me I continued to drown in the horrible feelings.
Then on Tuesday I sent Anita the link to my last blog post. I don’t know if she read it. And then, finally, on the Tuesday night I caved in. The youngest parts were really activated and broke free of the critic’s shackles. I simply sent a GIF:
And as you can see within a few minutes she’d responded and instantly my system settled. Why the fuck did I let myself get so worked up and not reach out and get what I needed earlier? I guess part of it was the shame. I felt embarrassed for needing her and I suppose it’s something about the holiday too. I didn’t want to be pathetic and needy when she wasn’t working. However, it definitely didn’t do me any favours letting things spiral so much.
I was also so unsettled by the fact that my sessions have not been able to be as regular over the school Easter holidays due to my childcare issues. Of course, I could have done online sessions but I really know that given how unsettled I was that there would have been a huge likelihood that screen sessions might have exacerbated the situation.
Once things came down a few notches out of ‘she hates me and is going to leave’ I was able to tell Anita about how I was feeling about the sessions I couldn’t have/make, and we managed to reschedule a Monday one that I couldn’t get childcare for to tomorrow and that eased things a bit. I was also able to tell her how I struggling and asked her not to let me float away in our session on Friday (last week) because I was finding it so hard. She said she understood and knows it’s a well-used defence mechanism and told me she was looking forward to seeing me and sent me another hug GIF.
And then everything felt totally doable.
I arrived at my session and was so ready to see Anita. You’ll remember how the weeks leading into the Easter break I started to retreat and my False Adult showed up and did all the talking and prevented the child parts from getting what they needed. Not on Friday. I literally sat down. Anita commented on my bracelet, I said something about my hair and then gave up. I’d been there less than two minutes when I said, “Can I have a hug please?” and she replied, “Of course. Come here.” I snuggled into her and she noticed that I was shaking and gently rubbed my back and hugged me close into her chest.
I was so glad to be there, so glad I had been able to ask for what I wanted and needed, but the legacy of the last week was still in my body. I could barely breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to focus in on the steady beat of Anita’s heart to regulate my system. After about five minutes I opened my eyes. I felt conflicted. I was both tense and relieved – this is what it’s like when more than one part is activated at the same time. It’s the disorganised attachment stuff in action. Anita wondered what was going on, she asked if the hugs were helping. I shook my head into her chest. She replied “Do you want me to stop hugging you?” again I shook my head and she held me a bit tighter to her.
Then I asked, “Have you cleaned your fish tank?” – you know, as you do!
And Anita told me she had. I said, “This is the problem, with my system, everything is so alert. Your fish tank wasn’t even dirty – it’s barely changed, but I notice EVERYTHING in this room. I’m guessing most of clients don’t comment on your tank?” (or the bloody light switches or painted doors…or all the other shit I notice and have to ask about. I literally know when she’s dusted and some of the items on the shelves have moved a centimetre or two. It’s fucking exhausting, but if I notice the room imagine what I am picking up on in Anita – if she’s a bit tired, a bit snuffly, a cut on her hand, or she smells different…FUCK!!). She said no but then really soothingly spoke to me about my hypervigilance and how it’s ok and expected after the trauma I have had.
Anita really normalises everything for me where other people tell me that I am ‘too jumpy’ or ‘scared of my own shadow’ and ‘need to chill out’, Anita understands why and tries so hard to ease things for me. Like she’ll text me if there’s going to be a different car on the drive or whatever. She just really gets it.
How many times have I said this before? And this is what’s so fucking frustrating about the last week on break. I just can’t feel any of that stuff when things get disrupted because my system is thrown into a panic. Or I can’t trust it. Or maybe I could trust that but it’s always possible for people to change!…
So much of my problem with breaks and object constancy stems from my mum being away in the week when I was small and then coming home and being volatile but I know she also had a really tough time when I was a baby with post-natal depression and so the likelihood is that she would have been inconsistent with me as a baby too. Like the title of the post, there’s an error code in my system and I really require an update but it’s just not as simple as going into the start menu and selecting ‘restart and update’. Therapy isn’t a quick fix but it is a fix.
I guess the positive about all this is that there is change. Sure, I got the rug pulled out from under my feet over Easter but the difference, now, is that I feel able to talk to Anita about my feelings around breaks and separation when we are together. I don’t just sit drowning in my toxic shame, mute and dissociated like I did with Em feeling steadily more disconnected and upset.
To be fair, Anita and I didn’t speak much in this 75-minute session compared with when False Adult was attending the sessions. But my goodness was it a healing and connecting session. Somewhere in the middle after a lot of holding I miserably said, “Sorry I am hard work.”
Anita hugged me closer again and replied, “You’re not! You’re really not. You’re really not! I know you feel it but you’re not. You’re just very hurt. And I know that the separation just opens all those wounds back up again, doesn’t it? It really is ok. I get it. You’re not hard work. I think is the saddest thing for me about you. The trauma kept changing right the way through for you and was there right from the day you were born. But it’s not you. It’s not your fault!”
I asked if we were still ok and if anything had changed. She softly asked, “Does it feel like it’s changed?”
I nodded into her chest.
“In what way?… Does it feel more distant? It hasn’t altered. It really hasn’t. I haven’t changed. We haven’t changed. This really is ok.” And then she likened me to her rescue dog (again!)…we have a lot in common! The simple but emphatic reassurance from Anita really helped the little parts feel safe. I like how Anita doesn’t over-complicate things when it is clear it is a young part speaking to her. She makes it simple and easy to understand and this really regulates the system quickly. Em used to spend ages asking me questions and never giving any kind of reassurance and it was so hard for the young parts.
After another little while I whispered, “You’re not a horrible person.” I had been thinking about what my brain had served me up in the week. Trying to make me think that A was somehow uncaring or whatever and how she was going to hurt me. But the young parts don’t believe it. Not at all. They miss her terribly when they can’t see her but she’s not doing it to reject them.
Anita spoke softly and said, “I’m not, no. And you’re not either. I’m not going to trick you. I do mean what I say. I’m guessing your brain is questioning all of these things. One day it might believe me.”
I can’t really put into words what it feels like when we have these conversations and I am snuggled into her like a bloody baby monkey. When I think about it now part of me wants to cringe – like ‘OMG I seriously don’t let myself be that fucking vulnerable and pathetic and needy with another human being do I?’ but there’s so many parts that finally FINALLY are getting what they need and there is no shame or embarrassment when I am that close to Anita.
It doesn’t feel weird or too much.
There’s an incredible amount of intimacy and trust that has been forged between us and I know to anyone in the normal outside world, perhaps people who have not done therapy, might have some opinions on it – but what happens in therapy is not like anything else I have experienced in life. It’s like some magic grove where little by little we glue all our pieces back together and make new pieces for parts that are missing. It’s a bit like that Japanese thing where broken pots get put back together with gold. The cracks are celebrated and the structure is solid.
Eventually, and I mean very eventually, after about an hour I felt my system completely relax. My body went heavy like all the tension just left. I was able to breathe regularly and deeply alongside Anita’s breathing rather than holding my breath or shallow breathing. I told her I was tired. She told me she knows how scared I am and how much of a struggle it can be and that it’s only when we feel safe that you can really feel the tiredness. When we’re no longer in flight mode and it’s safe to relax do we get hit with the exhaustion. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me too. Little by little it felt like everything was getting back on track. She said she could feel that I was more settled and continued to hold me.
And then my stomach started growling really REALLY loudly! Anita said it was a good sign. When you’re hypervigilant and in fight/flight/freeze everything is in a tight knot. Food isn’t on the agenda. So she sees it it’s a sign of things starting to relax.
I felt so relaxed and connected that I finally felt able to let out some humour and said, “Do I get the prize for most needy and clingy client?” Anita burst out laughing. I continued, “Because if I am going to do things, I like to be the best.” Anita giggled and responded laughing, “If you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to do it properly!”
Then there was a bit of silence.
“You avoided that well!” I poked.
More laughter from Anita. Then she composed herself. “Well, there’s all different types of needy aren’t there? You know? I think we can all be there. I know my three-year-old can kick off sometimes. More times than I would like her to.”
Ha! Good try therapist lady, I know I am the gold medalist!
And then it was the end of the session. I felt such a huge amount of relief after that connecting session.
Unfortunately, these last couple of days have felt tricky again and this is completely down to the fact that I couldn’t have my session yesterday and have to wait until tomorrow to go. It’s too long between the contact and too much disruption for my young parts. Whilst I don’t relish the end of the school holidays and being thrown back into the chaos that is my usual life I will be glad for my therapy schedule to resume…and hopefully get some handle back on my internal world!
Warning: this is quite long and I’m not convinced it makes much sense – my brain is in meltdown!
So, it’s Easter break…which, actually, is not really an Easter break at all, so far as what I have previously had to contend with in therapy goes! Em used to disappear for two or three weeks over Easter and that was that. No contact. Radio silence. It was like she ceased to exist – and this triggered me on so many levels. In addition to this, there was no preparation for the break – I knew when it was coming in advance, but nothing was ever done to help get my system safe and settled before a holiday. The was no talking to the parts about how the break might feel. There were no transitional objects (ha – the pebbles debacle is case in point). There was just silence (which breeds shame) and then absence.
I used to dread the breaks (and I still do, actually) and the closer they got the more my young parts struggled. A few days into a holiday and those little parts felt abandoned (and completely terrified) and then to add insult to injury, adult me would panic because my dad died suddenly whilst away on holiday (when I was 25) and so feared something similar would happen again with Em (hello PTSD response!).
So basically, breaks in therapy have always set off an internal ‘bad weather’ event – it just comes in varying degrees: very breezy/light rain (mildly inconvenient), gale force/heavy downpour (wasn’t equipped for this but I’ll survive!), or complete tornado/shit storm (Run for your life! Take cover! I’m gonna die!). Like I say, sometimes breaks feel just about bearable, just a little bubbling of anxiety and feeling unsettled and other times it feels like it’s unsurvivable danger to the young parts who wailing and feeling completely overwhelmed.
Guess which version it is this year?
It’s disappointing, to be sure. You’d think after everything I have written lately about how good my therapy feels, that my attachment to Anita would be so strong that I would sail through a week off. Only that’s not how it is AT ALL. Far from it. It’s crap, actually. I want it to be ok, but the truth is, I miss her a lot. I’m not surprised though, my life is a real struggle at the minute and my therapy has really been a lifeline so for that to ‘disappear’ (albeit temporarily) it’s totally stirred things up.
When things feel bad on breaks there’s a clear trajectory through the holiday. I know the pattern – I just don’t know what the hell to do about it! To be clear, I also know that it’s my stuff, not the reality of the situation or a reflection of the relationship with my therapist.
So, what happens?
The beginning part of the break sees the youngest parts crying and the attachment stuff is so painful. I have an image of a two-year-old part screaming, alone, abandoned in an endless grey space and it is so powerful. She feels so scared and lost. I can’t reach out to that part- she’s got her back to me. And even if I could reach her, it’s not me she wants. I’m not the attachment figure (yet – but hope to be one day). My body physically hurts and I feel completely ungrounded. It’s basically all the horrible stuff about not mattering, being forgettable, and unimportant swirling around – and it’s just so cold and depressing and lonely. Basically, it’s abandonment and rejection 101 and it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day.
As the break progresses that young stuff becomes completely unbearable. I feel like I am juddering inside and then nightmares start – usually about the therapist being burnt out, changing, and then rejecting me – which is what happened last night. Groan.
It won’t be long, now, until I move into the next stage where the teen steps in to try and get a handle on the littles. It’s when she steps in that I feel like ‘fuck the therapy, I am done with it!’ I woke up this morning and my instinct was to cancel my session on Friday. I don’t want to feel all this hurt and pain that has so vividly just played out in my nightmare. The anger I feel about the situation is massive – but it’s just a mask for absolute sadness and devastation. The teen feels so let down. So stupid for trusting and attaching to the therapist when actually the reality is it’s easy to leave me and the little parts and I just have to be ok with that.
BTW I get that this is all ‘me me me’ but that’s the teen’s feelings. Adult me understands breaks just fine. We all need them! Our therapists have earned them (mine more than most!) – but I am not talking about my rational adult self here – I am talking about the fucking nightmare that happens for my system on breaks! I wish I could just switch into adult and have all the various parts powered down. It just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately!
So, the cycle continues…
Once teen has had a try and failed to get things under control, I end up with screaming little parts and now suicidal teens who feel like self-harm might be a really good idea, or a trip into anorexia (I am making light of it here – but it’s anything but funny) and then it gets really nasty inside. It is so hard to focus on my life. I try and keep busy and productive but inside it’s just awful. Nothing is contained or safe and it’s agony, actually.
So, as I approach the point where it’s all totally fucked inside, the Critic steps in and shuts everything down. The level of self-attack and shaming is just utterly horrendous. It makes the little parts want to die. The teen is already there. And so, it’s just like being in a torturous boot camp. The Critic is so mean.
This is where the narrative about Anita not caring, it all being fake, that I am too much and that’s why she’s gone away comes in. It says that actually Anita’s glad to see the back of me, I’m responsible for burning her out and now she won’t come back. I am stupid for hoping things would be different – because ultimately, I am the same ‘tick’ that Em saw and anyone in their right mind would find me too much and want to escape eventually.
Even though she’s a complete tyrant I do realise now that the Critic is just trying to protect me from getting hurt. Shut down the vulnerability, hide the need, and cope…I can do it on my own…I always have.
Only the little ones don’t want to be alone anymore.
So it feels like I have ended up on the emotional waltzers again. Waltzers are way worse than the rollercoaster.
I’ve been thinking about what has happened that has made this break feel so hard. It all started a couple of weeks ago. I knew the holidays were coming (I count the weeks down for time off work!) and I was glad that I would be able to rest and recharge a bit as it’s been so so hard lately – in fact I was looking back over messages to see and it’s been 5 solid months of hell now. I need to sleep. I am so so tired. The thing is, holidays don’t feel restful because whilst my work goes on a low gear my maintenance plan stalls.
When it’s school holidays I am automatically plunged into a childcare situation, or rather ‘lack of childcare’ and so therapy gets disrupted and so my ‘rest time’ actually feels massively stressful because that consistent therapeutic space for me is just gone and so the system gets thrown into chaos. Anita is only taking the bank-holiday off, but I still can’t see her as much as I’d like because I simply can’t get to her in the daytimes. In some ways this feels worse than if she wasn’t working and was unavailable. The little parts know she is there and it’s just them that can’t see her when other people can. This stresses me out and sends the little parts into a really bad place.
It’s horrible because I really don’t want to be ‘that client’ (or this client!). I don’t want to be having a meltdown over this. I don’t want to be so unbearably needy. I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that neither of us can do much about. It’s just embarrassing and I am so over it! So, I try and hide what’s going on inside. And this is where my ‘False Adult’ steps up.
The last couple of weeks I have gone to session and talked…and talked…and probably seemed fine. I have, I think, come across as mildly annoyed about stuff in my life, tired, and same same…but also pretty ‘together’ given what’s been going on. Anita probably has no idea that there is anything going on underneath, probably thinks I am doing pretty well all things considered.
Only, it’s that swan analogy – on the surface everything seems fine enough but underneath the legs are going like the clappers.
I am not ok.
So, what do I do when it’s like this? First thing is retreat. Part of me knows I am not going to be able to see or be close to Anita over the holiday so I start protecting myself from that loss before it happens and go into hiding (which is bonkers).
There was a session recently where, despite desperately wanting to reach out and ask for a hug, I just couldn’t. If I am shutdown and dissociated, I think it’s pretty clear what I need and Anita generally offers me a hug or to hold her hand in order to bring me back. This False Adult is different, though. I seem ‘fine’ and engaged and there are no silences. I think I even do a pretty good job at masking how I feel with ‘reasonably relaxed’ body language. On the surface it seems like I am coping and don’t look as though I need anything. It’s smoke and fucking mirrors, though.
Inside the young parts are still there and wanting connection and holding so badly, but I just don’t let them out. I guess I know just ‘how big’ the need of those young part is and I don’t want to be too much for A, or overwhelm her before her break. I don’t want her to go on her break and it be such a huge (and welcome) contrast/rest that she realises that working with me is draining and so she decides not to come back or to refer me on.
It’s stupid though (and I really know this – but am trying to show the process in all its bonkers), because all that happens is this young, needy stuff builds and builds and then when the break comes it explodes all over the shop and is more likely to encroach into the break. Realistically, it’d probably annoy Anita more reaching out during a break than if I was just needy and clingy in the time leading into a break. So why does it still happen? I don’t think what happens before breaks is conscious but it’s definitely a pattern. It’s easier to pretend that I don’t need Anita than actually have to say, out loud, ‘I miss you already and I hate that I feel like you’re gone and it scares me’… because … ugh… puke. Vulnerability overload and eeekkk it’s not safe!
It’s certainly not much fun feeling like I am at the emotional fairground. It’s like part of me can see exactly what’s going on and just wants to cringe in the corner because it’s so predictable, so familiar. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel some compassion for myself. It’s such an exhausting situation. I just want some time out from my system and to properly rest. I feel so sad that this happens over and over again.
So, I seem to have digressed a bit. The day False Adult turned up I talked my way through the entire session…because that’s therapy, right? But no. It was the first session (face-to-face) in months and months that I hadn’t had a cuddle with Anita during the session. And OMG was that a massive problem afterwards! As I got up to leave, I gave Anita a hug but…it wasn’t the same, or enough, or what I needed and the young parts were in bits.
The time between sessions that week was fucking hideous. I mean, really bad. It was me that didn’t reach out and yet, somewhere in my poorly wired, misfiring brain, it felt like it must be something wrong with me. Maybe Anita didn’t want to be near me anymore. Maybe she was glad that I didn’t ask for a hug. Maybe she was relieved that she could keep her distance. Maybe something has changed between us. My mind went to town on me and it sent the child parts into freefall. They couldn’t understand what had happened and why Anita hadn’t seen them.
It was agony.
And this, remember, is all because a break was coming up. The lens I view myself and the therapeutic relationship through at this time distorts everything… and I hate it.
After that session I felt awful. I almost text Anita the morning of the next session to ask her to keep an eye out for the young parts and to ask if we could have a cuddle at the beginning of the session so that they knew it was safe to be there. But I didn’t. It felt too exposing. Too vulnerable. I hoped I would be able to ask for that myself.
I didn’t leave this next session or those thereafter without a hug but it took me a really long time to ask and to get what I needed. And before I knew it, it was time to go. And when that happens it’s like being ripped out of the safety before I’m ready. I know this is my own fault. I know that Anita isn’t going to shame me for wanting to be close to her or for struggling with separation anxiety – but there’s a part that is terrified of exactly that. There is so much inner conflict.
Just writing this makes me feel mental.
As I said, adult me can see what the processes and patterns are…but insight doesn’t actually help much when I feel like this. It’s only Tuesday today and so it’s a few days until I get to see A. I have managed to get a friend to have the kids for me this week so I can get to my session, but god knows what I am going to do next week – and that stresses me out when I feel so unsettled.
I realise all I have done here is moan in a confused way. I’ve actually really struggled to write this so I do wonder if I am a bit dissociated because I can’t hold anything in mind properly. I’m trying to work out what to do next but also trying to work out what I could have done differently leading into the break to maybe make this more of a ‘breezy with a bit of drizzle’ break rather than a total ‘shit storm’.
I guess, I should have told Anita how I was dreading the break (that isn’t really even a break). I should have been honest about what was going on for the young parts because that might have invited a conversation about why they are so terrified and perhaps we could have put something in place to make it feel less bad. I should have sent the text before the session knowing it was likely that False Adult would turn up and hide the reality of what was going on.
I am so lucky. I really know that. I am reminded every day of Anita’s love and care. Sitting in bed writing this by the glow of the light she bought me for my birthday is a huge transitional object, as is the gorgeous necklace she gave me after the Nov/Dec lockdown but right now, the youngest most traumatised parts just feel like she’s gone…dead gone. It’s the object constancy stuff again and I don’t know how to get round it. I know it’s not all my system that is having a meltdown (thank god) but when this really young stuff is activated it’s just pure hell. I am so tired of feeling overwhelmed. Right now, I just want to listen to a bedtime story and fall asleep. I know some people have voice recordings of their therapists reading stories, or saying something reassuring and I do wonder if this would help those very young parts…but again, it’s hard to ask for that when you’re drowning in shame and feeling like you’re already too needy and demanding.
I’m trying to shake off the horrible feelings I have been left with after last night’s dream/nightmare. I hate when I dream of A and she embodies all the things I am panicking about. To be rejected in a dream is just so painful…and waking up it just adds fuel to the fire.
It’s been a few weeks since it was Mother’s Day, here, in the UK. I had wanted to write this back around then, but have got so far behind with the blog that it just hasn’t been possible. I’m still hanging on by a (very frayed) thread and to add insult to injury it’s the Easter therapy break (well – a whole 8 days without a session!) and so there’s all sorts of overtired, young parts’ feelings swirling about that that need to come out somewhere – and here seems like a good place rather than bothering Anita (arrrghhhh it’s a struggle!)! However, to at least keep some kind of sense of chronology going, I will get this written and posted up first. I should have a bit more time to write over the next couple of weeks as it’s school holidays and I am not tutoring many students through the break … thank god!
Anyway – that’s a bit of a preamble. Let’s get down to business.
I don’t know about you but I really struggle with Mother’s Day. It always falls on or around my birthday (I was actually born on a Mother’s Day – oh the irony!) and so it kind of creeps into that -and I almost don’t enjoy my birthday because it’s overshadowed by Mother’s Day. I don’t necessarily mean by having to see my mum – it’s more like if we (my wife and I) plan to go out somewhere, or do something, on or around my birthday, everywhere is just filled with mums and daughters and I can’t escape it.
No matter how much I try and ignore them, I can’t get away from how many people there are out there that ‘seem’ have close relationships with their mums. Spas and restaurants are rammed with relaxed-looking, smiling mums and daughters who are clearly enjoying each other’s company. There’s a kind of intimacy and connection that I simply do not have with my mum, and I can’t help but feel a bit…I dunno…sad…jealous…disappointed…hurt… There’s all sorts of emotions around it and try as I might to not let it get to me, it does.
Since becoming a mum, myself, I think Mother’s Day has become a bit less hard because I see it as a time to celebrate being a mum to my own babies. I can’t lie, though, the moment the pink cards with sickly sweet, sentimental pictures and messages hit the shops there is a definitely a part of me that baulks at it. I think it’s probably the teen. For her, especially, the mother wound is still gaping open and so Mother’s Day, or March in general, is just like being prodded with a stick deep down into that painful place, with a mocking ‘look what you didn’t get and what you’ll never have’.
I find it hard picking out a card for my mum. I have to find one that is maybe artier and fewer on words because, frankly, a card with two figures hugging that says something like ‘you’re the world’s best mum’ or ‘Thank you for being an amazing mum’ just feels… Wrong. And don’t let’s get started with the ones that have lengthy verses inside!
My mum doesn’t touch me – we’ve had two hugs in the last 13 years – one when my dad died, and more recently when her dad died and she was in tears at the hospital so I held her. Touch and holding has never been a part of our relationship – well, certainly not since when, at 14 years old, I reached out to hold her hand and she said. “Don’t do that people will think we are lesbians”…
So, yeah, that was a big kicker wasn’t it?
Especially as I was gay (not that she knew it then).
Don’t get me wrong. We have a relationship that works for both of us now. She is good with my kids and we ‘get on’…it’s just not…enough…or it is enough… because the really sad thing about it is that if, tomorrow, my mum came along and was suddenly full of love, hugs, and attunement, I simply don’t want any of it from her now. That ship sailed a really long time ago. My young parts have taken themselves away and don’t come near. It wasn’t safe as a kid and I sure as hell won’t put them out there again. It’s interesting though, because it’s not even like attachment is really a choice. You can’t make yourself feel something about someone if it’s not there but equally you cannot ‘unfeel’ feelings that ARE there!
And this is why therapy has for so long been so hard (pre-Anita). The child in me had transferred all that need and longing to be held and seen and loved onto someone else (Em) and like my mum, Em was cold, withholding, and would not come anywhere near me. It left me feeling inadequate, unlovable, and untouchable. Basically, I was both deficient and too much. It was incredibly painful but also incredibly familiar to be experiencing this stuff in the therapy. I think that’s why it took me so long to get out of that situation. It was a complete re-enactment of my relationship with my mum and I thought that was all I could expect, all I was worthy of.
It’s such a shame because I think, in fact, I know, that working with maternal transference and handling it sensitively and with care can be a real game-changer. Doing the work on the mother wound can be so profoundly healing. I get that it can feel intense and overwhelming for both therapist and client at times. There are a lot of big feelings and a lot of needs that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time. Not only that, needs and feeling that are already mixed up with shame because that’s what we learnt as kids. Having several clingy needy kids and angry, depressed teens coming out and expressing ALL THE FEELINGS is a lot to deal with. I can understand why therapists can find it difficult to see beyond the adult body that is sitting in front of them BUT making repairs in this area of wounding and creating a safe attachment with all those younger parts is ‘the work’ for so many of us.
I think what many therapists fail to realise, or really acknowledge, is that it is such a huge thing for us to even dare to attach to a therapist and to show them our most vulnerable and wounded selves. It often takes a lot of time to build up enough trust to show ourselves, and if that happens it’s not something to run screaming from it’s something to be celebrated! If we let a therapist see all those wounded and damaged parts then I think, actually, they should be a bit honoured because we’ve spent our whole lives with these parts in exile, hidden away and shrouded in shame.
Therapists: when we (and our parts) attach to you, we need you to lean in, not freak out. It’s normal for humans to want to be in relationship. There’s nothing weird about having loving feelings towards someone with whom you do such intimate work. And yet, there is so much pathologizing of people like me (and the community here). My last therapist called me ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and it’s done more damage than I can ever put into words…although, clearly, I keep trying as it comes up frequently here in this blog!!
My last therapy was completely retraumatising which is why I feel so lucky to have met Anita who is the complete antithesis to Em – not only is she healing the mother wound with me she healing the harm done in the therapy with Em…of which there was lots. Anybody that’s been following this blog over the last year will see how transformational working with Anita has been for me. It’s like being bathed in shame remover and then being put out in the sun to dry.
Anyway, just before Mother’s Day I was online looking for cards for my mum and I scrolled past this:
Instantly, there was a part of me that wanted to give it to Anita. I took a screenshot of it and sent it to my friend and explained how I wanted to give it to A but realised how risky it could be. My friend and I have both experienced what it is like to have this kind of gesture thrown back in our faces – gifts refused etc (although not at Mother’s Day as never done anything here before!) and my poor friend was told that her therapist ‘already has her daughters’ (OUCH) and so this stuff can be excruciatingly painful. My friend has been to hell and back with me over what’s happened with Em over the years and so she was really trying to protect me from getting hurt. I am so glad I have her. And I get it, for some therapists any kind of step into mother comparisons might signal red flags etc and suddenly we’ve tiptoed into the crossing a boundary territory and it all goes to shit. I mean look at what happened with Em.
However, for both me and my friend (and I am guessing lots of you too) it’s not about wanting the therapist to actually be our mothers. We don’t want adoption papers signed! We don’t want to move in or spend Christmas with them – we have our own lives, partners, kids etc. In fact, we don’t even want the relationship to exist outside that room. Sure, we might want more time with the therapist (an hour or two a week isn’t really enough with C-PTSD) but we are pretty clear that what happens, happens in that safe container.
We know we get the best version of our therapists in sessions. Outside the room they’re probably just like the rest of us: grouchy, tired, needy, and a bit ‘over it’ – and we don’t need that! But what happens in the room can be magical and transformative and it’s the closest experience we have ever got of healthy mothering. Why wouldn’t we want to acknowledge that and express thanks for that…especially at time that is usually so fucking painful?
So, despite clearly knowing it was a risk even acknowledging Mother’s Day I decided to buy the card for A. I didn’t write it or give it to her the session before the weekend because I thought that it might a bit uncomfortable, but decided that I would give it to her the Monday after Mother’s Day. As it turned out, it was on that Friday session when I had been really shut down and struggling to connect (there’s been a lot of that recently but largely due to the stress I am under outside therapy not because A has done anything wrong!) where Anita gave me a birthday present and I kind of knew at that point that what we have and what we are doing wasn’t going to be ruined by a card.
So, I wrote this:
My friend told me not to give you this card, she said it would probably lead to a conversation I didn’t want to have and that would trigger all the young parts and cause a rupture between us. I mean, I get it, I’ve thought about that too, but still, there’s a part of me that wants to send you this because the statement is true.
In this last year you have been more available, present, and caring than my mum. I know you are my therapist and not my mum but what I have learnt over the years is that mothering comes in lots of different forms, from lots of different people and I wanted to acknowledge that and to thank you for being amazing. I really don’t know where I would be right now had you not been in my life.
You asked on Friday whether I felt like you were letting me down. I know I barely responded, I felt so far away and disconnected, but internally it sent all kinds of shock waves through my system. I couldn’t really get my head round why you would say or think that. No. You haven’t let me down at all. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
I don’t even really have the words to describe how far from ‘letting me down’ you are (what is the opposite of that?!). Even when things have felt impossible and desperate and I have been distant, disconnected, or dissociated you always find a way to bring me back and connect with me and that’s huge. I never leave you feeling like there is something wrong between us.
I cannot believe how patient and kind you are even when I am pushing you away. I don’t mean to. It’s not what I want to do AT ALL but there’s definitely a massive fear about being too much right now and so I back away in order to stop that.
I wish my brain could hold onto the feeling of safety and care between sessions but it just doesn’t, or can’t yet. It feels frustrating to repeatedly feel like everything is brand new every time I see you… well, kind of. I guess I am on high alert looking if something has changed.
Anyway, I guess this is the work. Thank you for everything you do for me and for the best hugs. I love you. Big hug xxx
So, I got to the session on Monday and spoke about the crap that was going on with my wife’s medical stuff, job, blah blah more shit and more unexpected trapdoors. I was so deflated by it all and we talked about a lot about it all. And then I reached a point half an hour in and said, “I don’t even know what to say!” I was done with talking about the day-to-day stuff and whilst we were connected it’s different when it’s all adult. You know when you have the young stuff needing to be seen and worked on too just bubbling away inside? Well, it was that and I knew the card was sitting in my bag waiting. I felt safe enough to get it out and said, “Can I give you this? You might need your glasses!”
Anita went and got her glasses opened the card and immediately smiled and said, “That is gorgeous!”
As she sat and read it, despite her positive reaction to the front, I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping up and over my body. Shame. Embarrassment. Fear. All the stuff. This is definitely the hangover from so many times with Em where I would write something, take it to session, be so incredibly vulnerable, and then she’d finish and it would feel like the door was being slammed in my face. She’d never take a step towards me and instead say something like, “I’m just your therapist” or “Your young parts might want to be held but that won’t happen here”. Blah blah. You all know the drill!
When she finished reading, Anita looked up, smiled at me and said with so much warmth in her voice, “That is lovely. Thank you. And I am glad you gave it to me. It really is lovely.”
I was silent almost in a freeze, I think. I could hardly breathe.
Anita continued, “I’m glad you feel like that. Because for me that is what that is what this work is about. Helping your system start to trust.”
More silence and freeze from me. Then in a tiny voice, “It doesn’t feel very good.”
“Your system at the moment?” Anita asked gently.
A barely perceptible nod from me.
And then with so much gentleness in her voice, A said, “I should imagine it was quite scary to give me that card wasn’t it?”
I moved my eyes from the spot on the floor and turned to Anita and said, ‘Yeah’.
She looked and me leant towards me a little and said, “But I have read it, how you said it. And I really have. I feel honoured. Really honoured. Thank you.”
“It just feels really scary” whispered the little voice.
“It’s ok…but nothing feels ok at the moment does it? I wish I could keep you safe from all of it.” Anita just really gets it. It’s not just what she says but how she says it. As I have said so many times it’s like being doused in soapy shame remover being with her.
And then all the parts of me knew it was safe. That she is safe. That I am safe with her and that we are ok.
I know it’s like doing the hokey cokey in therapy – the parts going in and out with trust and testing. But over and over again Anita is there and when we get to the chorus, we join hands and run into the middle together!
The little one asked, “Can I have a hug?”
And as usual, and with so much care and warmth in her voice Anita replied, “Of course”.
And then, after what felt like quite a big session, I just snuggled into her for the remainder of the of the time and listened to her heart beat. I find this holding so soothing. I can feel my nervous system relax and regulate. I can’t do that on my own, or for myself, and I am so glad that Anita realises how important co-regulation is for the young parts of my system. That half an hour was so so healing…and this is why my therapist is ‘better than my real mother’!
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.