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.
As 2022 draws to a close I just wanted to pop in and wish you all a …well, I guess I want to say Happy Christmas/Happy Holidays and a fabulous New Year…but I know for many of us this time of year is really difficult and sometimes that upbeat message can fall flat or feel almost like a full-on smack in the face dose of toxic positivity (and I really don’t want to do that!). We look to be happy at this time of year, long for it even, but the truth is this- Christmas can be massively triggering and for many of us it can feel more like survival than the joyous time the movies would have us believe it is/should be. At this time of year, we spend a lot of time trying to look ‘fine’ when we are anything but.
I’ve worked hard over the years to create a Christmas that I want rather than one that feels obligatory (with family)- but it’s been hard won! Really, for as long as I can remember, Christmas has always felt tough – well certainly since my parents separated when I was a kid. Splitting Christmas between mum and dad was tough. Feeling like my loyalty was split. Then being carted off to my mother’s boyfriend’s parents’ house on Christmas day and feeling like an outsider as the ‘real’ grandchildren were spoiled by their grandparents and I sat there feeling like a cuckoo in the wrong nest – it was hard.
Then there was returning to my actual family on my dad’s side a couple of days later and being overlooked by my own grandparents. I was frequently gifted things from charity shops that didn’t fit or were so well-worn they had to go in the bin. Yet, at the same time, I’d get dragged around the city Christmas shopping with my grandmother who would gift herself diamond jewellery and expensive perfume: “Don’t tell Grandad, if he asks say it’s Cubic Zirconia.” I’m not knocking charity shops at all, what I am saying is that my grandmother always put herself first no matter what. And in a family that couldn’t express love in words they were also pretty shit in deeds…but then of course it wasn’t love. As much as I wish it wasn’t the case – sometimes family is just biology and blood doesn’t mean love.
Looking back, there was no Hallmark quality to those childhood/pre-teen years.
Then as an older teen I felt just…what?…desperately lost and alone, isolated, unseen – and that, of course wasn’t solely restricted to Christmas but I think it all becomes glaringly apparent in the holiday season doesn’t it? It’s a time when you look around you and see ‘seemingly’ happy families enjoying time together and there I was…out in the emotional wasteland. It feels a bit like that 80’s show Bullseye, when the host would say, “Look what you could have won!” as the contestants stared at the speedboat and ‘his and hers’ shell suits disappointedly having failed to answer a question correctly. Only we didn’t long for the speedboat – for us the prize was that… magical thing, the bond, the love, the feeling of belonging, being safe in ourselves and held safely by others…it’s the absence of that thing that has left that gaping hole inside us all these years that seems impossible to fill or repair. And the laugh is, it shouldn’t be a prize to be won, something that some people are blessed with, and others aren’t. But it is. And the fall out is hard to put into words…but if you know you know.
OMG I am really a Debbie Downer today aren’t? Thanks RB for the uplifting Christmas post!
Thankfully, meeting my wife changed things up massively so far as Christmas goes and having my kids has been a massive game-changer, too. But despite the special family Christmas and the new traditions I have created with my little family I still find this an incredibly tough time. I am already bracing myself for the period between Christmas and New Year which I guess I should really refer to as my ‘Signature Depression Zone’ because without fail, that lull point hits me really hard. I am much better at self-care for all the parts of me now but no matter what I do, there is a still a little voice in there somewhere that wants someone else to bring the love.
This year’s Christmas build up has been hard, too. Anita and I found ourselves navigating a complicated rupture over the last month (fucking wonderful!). It has dragged on a bit and has taken a lot of talking and processing. I haven’t got around to writing about it yet and I didn’t want post anything whilst we were in the thick of it because it seemed to be so dense and hard to make sense of and at times I was really triggered and didn’t even make sense to myself but I will get to it now that we seem to have come through the thick of it (just in time for the CHRISTMAS THERAPY BREAK!)
I think (now that I have come out the other side a bit) the ‘Mother Wound’ stuff all started coming to a head with Anita because once again the relationship with my own mum was thrown into sharp relief. Or should I say the lack of the relationship? Oh and of course it’s the anniversary of the shit hitting the fan with Em (ex-therapist) which is essentially ‘mum’ stuff. So, yeah, it’s been a tough month, really. Of course I got to play out stuff with Anita that was maternal transference 101 – which I guess is the work. I just don’t think I realised quite how much my relationship with my mum is hurting me even now.
I genuinely thought I was getting better at managing how she (my mum) affects me. But this year, once again, I feel like that little girl who’s been left: not important enough, not valued, not kept in mind. As I say adult me does a cracking job of looking after my kids and as part of that, I give my inner child all kinds of experiences that I know she would have loved and it goes some way to a repair for that sad little part of me. A visit to see a Father Christmas show and meeting the Big Guy in his grotto this week was enjoyed by me probably more than my kids!…but it doesn’t completely take the edge off for that little girl that just wants her mum to fucking show up and care.
The end of November and December have been hard (not just the rupture with A). We’ve been running the gauntlet as a family with various illnesses – the flu-like cold from hell was bad (still dragging on) but then norovirus was the absolute fucking pits. I won’t drag it out here but basically, it’s been another occasion where my mum just hasn’t been there in any tangible way. I have told her how hard it’s been and how much of a struggle we’ve had. Silence. Asked if there’s anything she wants for Christmas. More silence. Adult me doesn’t care – but I feel her lack of interest and care for my kids acutely. Her disregard for them feels like a repeat of the disregard she had for me.
It’s also really compounded when I’ve been going to see K and she’s said she is so sad for me and wishes she could be a mum/granny to my family as we deserve so much better. And despite the recent wobbly bits with Anita, again she has, as I repeatedly say, given me a more consistent and positive experience of mothering than anyone else. She has been there now for nearly three years and seen and held more of me, my pain, than anyone.
Today is Christmas Eve and yesterday I finally received a reply to my messages to my mum from mid-December (one of which was about my brakes completely failing on ice on the school run…literally had nothing!) “Sorry for the delay…” to tell me she’s bought a present and will get it to us in the New Year. Again, adult me doesn’t care…but kids at Christmas? You have grandkids. Do better. That’s what Amazon is for. Tbh I am just so done now. And to be honest it’s not even about gifts. We don’t need things. We don’t need money spending on us as proof of care. Like I said the other week my love language isn’t gift giving. All we have ever needed is quality time, care, to be celebrated for who we are… a relationship. But it isn’t forthcoming.
I realise the only person that can break this cycle of pain and disappointment is me. I have to find a way to stop letting this stuff hurt me over and over – because I am repeatedly allowing my young parts to be hurt and keep in a pattern that was forged long ago – but the one I am in the therapy trying to heal. And I have to make it so that my kids don’t end up hurt too. I’m not sure how to do it though? How do you stop caring that your mother really doesn’t want you?…even as an adult.
Anyway, this wasn’t a therapy post was it? But it’s the core wound again. I won’t babble on too much longer as it’s just morose and depressing.
Thankfully Anita is solid. We had our final session of the year yesterday which was really nice, settled, calm…which I am very glad of (you’ll see why once I post about the rupture stuff!). We had a story and a really lovely long cuddle and easy chat that felt really connecting. It felt like just putting everything to bed for a bit…or at least trying to. Anita is off until the 9th so it’s a pretty long stint and I know it’s not going to be easy this year.
It’s sad that my therapists both gave me Christmas cards sending their love and presents this year – and my mum hasn’t. I am trying really hard to take on board that I am valuable and worthy of love and care, and am recognised by people that mean a lot to me. But the stab of rejection feels so acute by my mum. Does anyone else feel this way at this time of year?
When I opened the package from Anita yesterday, one of the items was this coaster:
And honestly, I love it. I love it because it’s true. And I love it because she gets it. And I love it because it represents so much of what we have built together and shows how simple a need it is. There is no shame to be had from needing that or expressing love through touch. And I am so lucky to have found her. However, she’s not my mum, she’s not family, I can’t access her when I need her. I can’t call her up and say, “A I don’t feel good can you come?”…because it’s therapy. But then I don’t have that with my family either so…it’s better than nothing isn’t it? A lot of the time it is easy to get caught up in what therapy isn’t or can’t be…but actually what it IS is A LOT.
Anyway, sending so much love to you all this holiday season. Take good care of yourselves wherever you are and whatever you are doing. Solidarity to those of you in complex family situations, trying to fit in and yet feeling like you stand out like a sore thumb. Love to all your young parts who are reminded of the pain of your childhood and navigating triggers whether through being in contact or not. And sending care to everyone who feels alone whether in actuality or emotionally. We’ve got this – our adult selves can be there hopefully enough to hold the hands of the little ones that feel so sad x
A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast by my favourite astrologer, Molly McCord, and she spoke briefly about something she called ‘relational laziness’. I’d never heard to term before but essentially (I think) what she was saying is that some of us are on this earth and really prioritise relationships, relational experiences, and emotional intimacy, connection and all that that entails (hell?!) and others of us centre our lives round other factors such as jobs, financial security, projects…etc. This second group of people are less impacted or affected by relationships, of course they have them – it’d be hard to live on the planet and not have relationships – but they aren’t the be all and end all for them.
I’m paraphrasing and massively condensing but she basically said something along the lines of: we are not all here on the same journey and those of us who are really motivated by relational depth can often end up feeling crappy when we come across people who aren’t on the same relational wavelength that we are on. Being in a relationship with someone who isn’t relationally motivated or is ‘relationally lazy’ can sometimes feel rejecting or abandoning. We feel like we are putting in all the hard work whilst they coast through life, dipping in and out of ‘us’ whenever suits them and seemingly not really valuing us or the connection.
This got me thinking.
I think it’s fair to say I’ve met a few relationally lazy people in my life…hello Mum! But then I started to wonder, am I relationally lazy? Or, at least, could I be perceived as relationally lazy?
My first response was – No – I am not relationally lazy but then thought – Yes- I could be perceived as relationally lazy.
But how can I answer both yes and no? I’ll get to it in a minute.
So, I continued pondering this stuff a bit further and it made me think about our ‘perception’ of both ourselves and others in the relationships we have – which then made me think of the love languages.
Yes, my mind jumps around like a bouncy ball and my thoughts resemble a tangled ball of string so that’s why these blogs are always so random!
I guess in relationships it tends to help if you mix with people who understand and speak your own love language/s. Essentially it makes sense that you’d feel happiest around people that communicate their love in the way that you do – and in the way your value. This is a bit tricky, though, because we are obviously drawn to people and connect with them and it’s not always immediately apparent you don’t talk the same language or, at least, prioritise the same things.
If you haven’t heard of this stuff before then there are, apparently five love languages:
Fortunately, I don’t think many people only speak one language which is a relief, or we’d all be screwed especially when you factor in our differing attachment styles too! But simplifying these ideas a bit. I guess, someone who demonstrates their love care through ‘quality time’ or words of reassurance and ‘affirmation’ probably won’t be all that impressed by the person whose primary love language is gift giving. To them they might feel like it’s ‘buying’ love or ‘just’ a gift and yet to someone that expresses love through gifts it is actually a huge gesture of care and love because of what the gift represents. It’s not just a gift but a symbol of thought and love. Equally, someone whose love language is ‘touch’ is probably not going to feel especially loved and connected when someone else’s love language is ‘acts of service’.
I just did the quiz on 5lovelanguages.com and was actually really surprised by the outcome:
I really wouldn’t have said my dominant love language would be acts of service but then I guess it’s come out in my career choice as a teacher and then over the years as I have become a wife and then a mother… a lot of my life has been acts of service – doing things for other people that may seem inane to some but are clear demonstrations of my care: there is a lot of love that goes into daily packed lunches, school runs, swim lessons, and the laundry – especially when it comes at the expense of ‘me time’.
I guess now that I am running too fast in the hamster wheel of life, I really now do value when someone lightens my load more than a gift – that is ultimate love. And yet years ago I probably would have said my dominant love language was gift giving. I would show people how I cared through gifting and would equally feel valued through gifts I received. That’s really not how I am now. I really don’t care about presents but I do care about ‘presence’.
Interestingly, touch is right at the bottom at only 10%. It makes me wonder if this stems from a deficit in touch that I had as a child. Like maybe I don’t see it as important as other languages because I didn’t experience it enough as a child to register it as a love language. But then that seems off/wrong, because look at how I am with Anita. My child parts’ love language by FAR – like 80%- is touch closely followed by words of affirmation and quality time. Those are absolutely essential to feeling loved and cared for and good enough in my relationship with A. It has been the lack of touch, quality time, and affirmations growing up that has led me to feel so unlovable and untouchable in the first place. Those are the core wounds.
So, I wonder, then, if I speak to the various parts of me and check in, if they have different love languages. As I said, the young parts are absolutely fixed on touch, time, and affirmations – basically keep throwing the cuddles and reassurance their way please AND LONGER SESSIONS! But what about the teen? What does she need? Probably quality time and words of affirmation and not so much the touch. This is something I will keep thinking on.
Anyway, I am really rambling – but I guess getting back to my original point. Am I relationally lazy? No. But could I be perceived as relationally lazy? ABSOLUTELY yes. I think this is really more down to love languages and also TIME.
Over the years most of my friends and I have walked down similar paths. Years ago, we used to be able to meet up regularly coffee, lunch, dinner, go for weekends away, spend loads of quality time together but that’s less and less the case as we get older. This has nothing to do with the love and care we feel for each other.
Life gets in the way.
We all have kids and busy demanding jobs.
And anyone with kids (and no childcare) knows that planning get togethers with friends can be a real struggle.
My oldest and best friend from university lives about two hours away. We put our diaries together in September via WhatsApp and have found a weekend in February 2023 where we are both not committed and can sort childcare to have a weekend together.
That’s just how it is.
A few weeks ago, I ran into another really good friend at a school open day (our kids are the same age). We used to meet up every week when the kids were little but somehow, it’s been two years – pre-covid since we last saw each other. We both now work more than we did when the kids were little. There are no blocks of time on weekdays off for a cheeky swim and a coffee and throw in the 45-minute drive to get to one another it all just gets a bit tricky! Yet we made a massive effort and met up last weekend and it was like no time had passed.
This week I managed to see a friend who lives in my city, and lives literally 10 minutes away. She’s my kids’ godmother and one of my very best friends. We haven’t seen each other since January and spoke on the phone May.,,like wtaf?!
Crikey I have been busy being social– which is obviously why I am on my arse. LOL.
Sometimes I feel really guilty about not being social ‘enough’ or checking in enough with people but actually when we get together, we are all in the same boat. I don’t think my friends suddenly don’t care because they haven’t text in a few months because I haven’t either. BUT because our lives are running down similar tracks, we all understand and are singing from the same page. We are all exhausted, hanging it together by a very frayed thread, verging on burn out, and the ‘to do list’ never gets any shorter -and at the bottom of that list is often our friends and loved ones.
Difficulties, I think, can arise when people’s lives don’t align in similar ways. If one person has no time to fart and is literally cramming stuff into every available minute, then someone who isn’t under those pressures mightn’t get it and might feel rejected or not prioritised enough when they would like to talk and hang out. AND of course, throw in the mix our varying attachment styles and quite frankly we’re all fucked aren’t we??!
The irony is not lost on me about what I am about to say now.
Why it is then that with my friends I can totally understand that they care for me, I can keep them in mind, and don’t need continual evidence of their care because I am a busy person too… I don’t see them or myself as relationally lazy….and yet…oh CRINGE…when Anita is busy and is less available, I literally have a fuck off meltdown?! Like why is she so busy? Why can’t she find time for me? Cue big dumping of toys out pram!
Honestly, it’s been fucking embarrassing this last week or so. I had a full-blown wobble this week and then today and it was just agony in session. I will blog about it over the weekend if I get chance. I mean, I get it, things work differently with Anita she is my attachment figure, I relate to her in a different way to my friends -she’s ‘just’ my therapist, but man it’s just bloody painful.
Argh – so I began writing this on the 17th October…and then…well… time evaporated again and it’s now midway through November and it’s just been festering in the hard drive like so many other blog posts I’ve started over the last year or so. So much for the idea of being able to find the time to post more ‘regularly’! – Ah well, rewind a bit and I’ll take you back to the first session post two-week therapy break!
So, this morning I felt a bit out of sorts as I drove towards therapy. No bloody surprises there! It was the first session back after the break and here I was, again, nursing those horrible feelings of isolation and disconnect that I am so familiar with. I guess, it was self-imposed, forged out of panic. My system so massively fears the potential of there being a true isolation and disconnect enacted by Anita (which essentially amounts to an abandonment) that I get in there first. It’s a protective withdrawal on my part. If my system checks out first, it beats Anita to it, and therefore, she can’t hurt me. Only…my being distant ‘first’ does hurt me…so how is that any better?!
Of course, it’s not better, ESPECIALLY when Anita ISN’T trying to be disconnected or distant -far from it. She wants to be there for me and to connect. But when will I stop reacting from a place of fear whenever we come back from a break? Not today, it seems. Sadly, that anxiety spring is coiled tightly in my nervous system and it’s taking a long long long LOOONNNGGG time to convince my system that in the here and now things are ok, and that Anita is not going to repeat the relational pattern I have come to expect.
I am so shit at this (therapy/relationship) game of snakes and ladders, aren’t I? Honestly, I really messed up when the rules of life and relationships were being explained to me. I must have been napping at some of the crucial junctures because I keep hitting the same pitfalls over and over again. More often than not, I roll the dice I land on a snake and go sliding on my arse back to the beginning again. The thing is, I don’t think this is all my fault – I am trying so hard to navigate the board, to make it so that I go up ladders, make positive forward movement and dodge the snakes…but it just doesn’t always work out.
I think, perhaps, the problem came from the fact that relationship rules were explained to me by people who also didn’t understand how to play the game (my family) – and yet, because we all followed the same ‘made up rules’ it wasn’t apparent there was anything wrong until I ventured out into the world and tried to play the game with other people and they were like, “This isn’t how to play the game!” So, in order to make it through life and relationships, I’ve found some work arounds – paid attention to how it’s meant to be done. I continue on in the game but not, always, in the usual way, I don’t think – especially when there’s been a break.
I trusted that Em knew how the game worked, but it turns out that she, too, had some random, off brand, version of the rules and so that was really fucking confusing for me because I tried to play the game her way but it wasn’t right. Anyway… that’s a fucking bizarre metaphor that’s run out of legs…sorry!
I arrived a bit early to Anita’s and sat in the car scrolling through my phone – trying to settle the parts that were having a bad time, panicking that it wouldn’t be ok when I went in, fearing that something might have changed, and dreading a rupture because the parts were not in a good place. I had elephant ready in my bag to take in, but there was a part that was baulking against taking it to the session. I knew, however, that if I left elephant in the car there would be zero chance I would let the young parts out. Even if elephant stays in the bag in the therapy room it’s very clear it’s in there and if Anita has eyes (reader- she does) then she’ll know young parts are at least somewhere in the vicinity and hopefully will be able to reach through protective barriers and to the parts that so need reassurance and reconnection.
As I walked up the drive, I felt a bit checked out, on that path towards dissociation but not quite fully there. I was kind of apathetic and “What’s the point?” You know – disgruntled teen. Anita opened the door and smiled at me and asked me how I was, “tired” I replied flatly. That is my go to…because I am ALWAYS tired but also it’s just how it is: no energy, done in, running on empty. I wandered into the room and sat down on the couch. From what I could see, everything was still the same, my story books were out on the side, Anita sat on the couch beside me, there wasn’t anything ‘obviously’ different. I had no idea how it was going to be, though. I felt a bit overwhelmed and was all set for false adult to dive in and take the session and then for the teen to shut it all down at some point, but the moment I sat down A said, “I’ve got something for you from my trip” and handed me a little fabric bag with a chocolate lolly attached to it.
I was not expecting that. At all.
I said, “thank you” and put it to one side without looking in the bag and immediately asked for a cuddle. Whilst I was intrigued to see what was in the bag, I was more desperate to physically reconnect with A after the break. That couple of seconds together, to hear she’d thought of me on her trip, took a sledgehammer to my apathetic self and the young parts just wanted to be as close to her as possible (Cringe!).
I’m not a big fan of Autumn and Winter (I’m actually really struggling with SAD this year really badly -it’s either that or a colossal whack of post-viral fatigue) but the one positive about the changing season is that the temperature has really dropped these last few weeks and so there was no fear about it being ‘too hot’ to touch (hug) which is what happened over the summer and triggered the young parts…
The young parts immediately relaxed into being with her. It felt so nice to snuggle into her warm body, to be back in that familiar safe space, to hear her heartbeat, to breathe in her comforting smell of fresh washed clothing and clean hair (look don’t judge – you know how it is!). All the armour was off, everything I had been holding for the last few weeks could be put down, and I could just rest for an hour. So, that’s how it was for the entirety of the session – I just cuddled into Anita and it was exactly what I had needed.
We chatted about all sorts of stuff: her holiday, my being very ill, an episode with a wetsuit, my delinquent puppy and menace of a kitten, random life stuff – it was just really nice and connected. We laughed a lot. Anita asked me midway through if I wanted to look at what she’d given me and said that it wasn’t much, but she’d thought of me. Even half an hour in I just didn’t want to move from the safety of her arms. I guess after the separation I felt like I needed a huge top up of touch. I told A that I didn’t want to let her go and didn’t want to move, which I would have had to do to get the bag, and she held me tightly to her and instead told me about the pebble and shell that she’d found on the beaches whilst on her holiday and that she’d brought home for me. When the pebble is wet it sparkles from the quartz that is dotted on it.
She said that she’d been walking, the tide had just gone out, so the pebble was wet, and it had shone out on the beach reflecting in the sun. Knowing I collect pebbles (I had given her one that I had found for her from my favourite beach recently) she picked it for me. Then she told me about a beach she had been on that was completely made of shells and had picked one for me too. She also collects pebbles and shells and so it’s something we connect with. It’s a fucking world away from pebblegate with Em, that’s for sure!
I can’t really explain how cared for I felt in that moment with Anita but it felt healing. During the week before the session, she’d sent me a video of where she’d been, and then to know she’d consciously been thinking of me when I was out of sight (and I feared ‘out of mind’) was really, I dunno, special? I so often believe I am forgettable, unlovable, and frankly just not very important and yet here was really clear evidence (again) that that wasn’t the case at all. It was so nice because I have been wobbling such a lot over recent months on and off – almost creating a narrative that Anita wasn’t interested in me anymore – and yet here was a clear demonstration that Anita, the Anita I have built a relationship with over nearly three years, really is still there – invested – and she really cares.
I know that the doubting and the anxiety and the protectors are all there on loop. And whilst it is sometimes (always!) frustrating that despite doing this steady reparative work for so long, I still get plunged into the hell zone because of the attachment trauma, I guess there’s another part of me that can see that my panic and fear of abandonment can be heard, seen, and metabolised with Anita. I don’t have to live in fear of even telling her what’s going on for me (like I did with Em…WTAF was I doing in that therapy?!). Now, lots of the time my system is settled. Being with Anita is lovely, we do the work, her presence and care is so regulating for my system – there are plenty of ladders. But when stuff is triggered and awful and painful and I am sliding my ass down the snakes, there’s something really comforting in knowing that no matter how bad it might feel in the moment, A isn’t going anywhere. She tells me this often enough. And enough of me must believe it to have to meltdowns and throw ALL MY crazy into the ring.
In one of our very first sessions together we talked about the importance of building strong foundations so that we could weather whatever storms came our way – and we have done just that. The number of times I wanted to tell Em how I was feeling, to be able to express the most vulnerable parts of myself to her but got choked and dissociated was just hideous. It’s so different with A.
Towards the end of the session, with about ten minutes to go, and after a few minutes of calm silence, a young part quietly murmured, “I missed you” into Anita’s chest. She responded with, “I know.” Part of me baulked at this and that perfect peace was fractured. To at least some part of me it felt, I don’t know, dismissive somehow. I guess, it’s that thing about having unrequited feelings; fearing that my feelings are too big, too much, not reciprocated in any way. There I was being vulnerable and rather than replying with “I missed you too” which is what Anita has said a million times before, she came back with that. Had something changed? It was literally a split-second reaction in me – but it really goes to show how instantly the system can be triggered despite all the evidence to the contrary. The next words out of Anita’s mouth, literally continuing on the sentence were, “I’m back now. I still love you and still care about you…very much…I really, really do.” And with that the panic that flared up dispersed and everything was ok. BUT MAN…what a reminder of the work there is to do.
Of course, there’s been nearly a month since this first session back…and it wouldn’t be me if it had been plain sailing – lol – but it’s been ok. More than ok. There’s been lots of attending to the young parts through reading stories, plenty of hugs, and plenty of connected silence where nothing needs to be said because so much is ‘felt’. I’ve been so used to excruciating, dissociated, painful silences in therapy over the years but I have to say, I love that quiet, connected, safe silence where there are no words needed, when it’s just calm and safe. And frankly it’s good that we are in this sort of semi-rest phase because I have nothing at the moment. I am running on fumes.
Of course, there’s just one bloody problem – and the irony isn’t lost on me! – It’s going well, it’s safe, connected, and loving but MY FUCKING GOD it’s SOOOOOOOOOO hard to leave A and be thrown back into the real world to face the relentlessness of life. I am on hyperdrive in my day-to-day life and I am really on the edge of burnout after being so poorly and so of course the young parts are activated in the week and are yearning for that safe, holding space with A more than ever. Yikes! I really really need it to be Friday.
I hope you’re all hanging on in there. Yet another ‘brief’ 2500 word update! So concise 😉
So, the last blog post was really about how bumpy and unsettled things felt over the summer with therapy sessions all over the place, and lack of touch due to the sweltering heat wave we experienced, and then about returning to the more regular schedule of my Monday and Friday sessions when school started back up. And basically, the fucking meltdowns I experienced! (ARGH!) It’s nuts, really, how delicately balanced things are and how little it takes to throw not just a spanner, but a whole tool kit, in the works where my sense of safety and connection to Anita goes.
Hang on. No. Not quite that. That’s not adult me. Adult me is fine, and trusts that Anita and I are fine and can get through whatever comes our way…so no, it’s not the whole ‘I’ or ‘Me’- it’s the young parts that really struggled with the frame being wobbled a bit and not getting the physical connection they are so used to. Adult me realises that sessions of long sweaty hugs would be grim, but the child parts don’t care about heat!! They just want mummy cuddles and stories…and to them, Anita is that attachment figure. Any sense of distance in the room sends terror down through the system and panic that something has changed…yeah RB – it’s the weather, the weather has changed…everything else is fine. I am not a big fan of winter but I can tell you I AM SO PLEASED to be entering hoodie and beanie season because that means cuddles are on the cards! (What a loser!)
Anyway, this won’t be a long post (ha! – relief!) because really there’s not all that much to report. Anita and I have continued to navigate the wobbles and now we’re on ANOTHER break. Oh man, I swear breaks and disruption will be the end of me. Summer break, Queen funeral BH, and now another two weeks, alongside a few reschedules…GIVE ME STRENGTH!
I want to get up to speed, here, before Monday as I’d like to be able to get back into posting a bit more regularly and not just these randomly spaced dumps of half-remembered stuff that’s happened. I miss blogging and as winter approaches and the dark and the cold sets in, I need to really up my self-care and part of that, I think, comes in writing. Taking an hour to sit, process, have a cup of tea, and sit by the fire is helpful. Sure, there’s piles of ironing to do and lessons to plan, but I need to take some time back because it’s starting to feel a bit like the balance is off in my life.
My wife has recently started a new job which means she’s away two or three days/nights a week and so everything has fallen to me and frankly I’m finding juggling two kids, clubs, work, the house etc a bit much. It wouldn’t be so bad if a lot of my work wasn’t also in the evenings but it’s a right nightmare trying to get kids fed and into bed around teaching three lessons each evening when they’re home from school. I’m going to have to rejig a bit before something breaks…and that something will be me!
So, what happened since the last post? Lots of talk. Circling the same stuff over and over. Abandonment, rejection, has something changed? Why do I feel so disconnected…on loop. It’s so weird, too. Like one session everything can be fine – cuddles, stories, talking, connection – and then the next it’s like I can’t connect at all and I can’t even see that Anita is the same person she was last session. To say that it’s upsetting is an understatement. But what I have noticed (once I can get a bit of adult online) is that there’s a lot going on for a lot of the different parts right now. It feels like they are all activated and jostling for attention in various ways. Everyone wants to be loved, but as we all know, different parts have different ways of expressing themselves- and the teen is especially good at shutting things down and giving massive ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ vibes when in fact what she wants is A to reach out and take her hand and tell her she’s ok.
Anyway… ha…ha…not funny haha but groan…
So, we were plodding along a few weeks ago and then the wheels just fell off big time. I didn’t know what triggered it at the time. I thought it was probably the hangover from things just not feeling quite settled enough over the last few months and the upcoming break, but actually it turned out I was getting sick…really sick…I have been really unwell for about a month now but at the time things started to shake inside I was just on the verge of getting poorly. I think that on top of the usual stuff just sent things into freefall. You jnow where it you just can’t keep the plates spinning any longer…well it was that.
I am usually pretty together (don’t laugh, it’s true!). I can manage the feelings that come up in the week between sessions. I can tune into the parts and hear what’s going on for them and then try and put things in place to settle things down. But this particular week no amount of cancelling my work, or taking a nap, or giving the littles space to snuggle elephant and feel what was going on helped me. I just needed Anita. You know? Like nothing else was going to cut it. And man, that is a bloody bind because I can’t have her whenever I want!
So, once again I faced a tricky dilemma. Should I reach out? In the past I would have had no qualms at all about asking for a longer session, or a check in, or an extra session in the week but these days I don’t. Part of this stems from feeling like I don’t deserve it and so I feel I shouldn’t ask. Because I pay a fixed monthly fee to Anita, I feel like I can’t ask for more than the usual number of sessions now because it feels like I am already not paying her what she charges so how can I possibly ask for more contact time even if I need it? (I think this is a problem for a lot of us on reduced fees and something that therapists probably aren’t even aware of – but money shame is huge). Another reason that I also struggle to ask for more time with A is because longer sessions were taken off the table in February.
I’ve been navigating this weird space where I might ‘want’ her but I don’t necessarily ‘need’ her and have been managing with the odd rupture blowing up here and there as a result of it all. Only what came up that week was different. It was that feeling of crisis where EVERYTHING was wrong, and I felt like I was disintegrating (well I was – my body just gave up!).
And so, after several nightmares on Monday night and as things continued to get worse I decided to ask Anita if we could check in or bring our session forward from Friday on Tuesday morning. I knew that wouldn’t help things later in the week but you know what, in that moment I didn’t even see how I would get to Friday. Of course, Anita was Anita, you know the one I fear doesn’t exist anymore… and offered me a session f2f on the Wednesday which I grabbed with both hands. Despite having that safe space booked in for less than 24 hours ahead, that day was bloody awful. I felt like I was unravelling (I was, but I was getting sick too).
I’ve said a million times that I am not a crier but that night I found myself in bed sobbing my heart out for three hours straight. It just wouldn’t stop. You know, that snotty, convulsive, gives you a headache and makes you feel sick crying? It was just so bad. I felt so sad and lost and little…basically it was an almighty grief dump that seemed to come out of nowhere.
But crying is good, right? No. Not in this instance. On my own it didn’t feel cathartic. It felt overwhelming and I was plunged back into that grey space where the little four-year-old girl is standing with her back to me on the barren wasteland. Oh great. Even though I knew I would see A the next day there was absolutely no consoling the desperately sad, abandoned parts. As I say, I know now that I was starting to get sick and not actually having an epic breakdown – I just didn’t know it in the moment.
The next day I drove to Anita’s and basically collapsed into her arms and spent the entire session cuddled into her. We had some stories and I really let her in in a way that I probably haven’t for several months. It was really hard but also really necessary. A was incredibly attuned and I felt her right there with me. I asked her if she has always been there like that in recent months and she insisted that she’s been there the whole time waiting for me, trying to connect. That felt hard to hear. I know my defences are strong and easily triggered – but here was A saying that she’s not changed and she still loves me and it’s been hard seeing me suffer so much…
It felt so good to feel so connected to her. It’s that feeling I think I am always searching for – and hope one day to feel that connected to myself. But right now I look for it in my relationship with her. To feel totally safe and totally held… it’s like being able to drop all the baggage, take off all the armour, and just be… it’s just great. Only of course sessions are not infinite, and I noticed I started to feel tense when I noticed the clock had five minutes to go. The idea of peeling myself away from A, leaving the safety of her arms and the room. I just wanted to cry…especially as I had forfeited my Friday session in order to see her which meant there was now a five day stretch of no contact ahead.
Imagine my delight then when Anita said to me that she was really, really glad we had had the session that day and how important it had been – but that she had kept my session open on Friday if I wanted to come. I can’t really explain what that did to my system, the system who for months and months felt like I was not as important to A as I had been previously, and that I wasn’t as worthy of her time as before. I asked, “Are you sure?” and she held me close to her and said, “Of course”. I left that session feeling so much better than I did when I arrived and felt so bloody grateful for Anita’s steadiness and care in what has been quite a bumpy few months.
You’d think, then, that that would be the end of the craziness for a while, wouldn’t you? – that things would settle down? But you do know who is writing this right? You know me! I am a magnet for disaster…and so it wasn’t long before the next rupture hit.
And deep breaths RB. The next session was different from the intensity of Wednesday and the visit down into the deep well of pain and grief. Instead, the session was connected but essentially small talk and stories and cuddles. It was lovely. When I left, I worried that A would think I had been wasting her time that week – having a MASSIVE crisis and then essentially being ‘fine’ by the Friday. Only it wasn’t that. I had needed that Wednesday to be able metabolise things and then be ok on Friday. The Friday session felt like I had finally found that calm space in which to rest away from the trauma and just be connected. I text A afterwards to tell her I hoped she didn’t think it was a wasted session and how nice it was to feel so close after such a long time – she agreed that it was not a waste of time AT ALL.
So, what the hell happened after that?
More disruptions – the Queens funeral day was a BH which unsettled my system – not that I could have gone to my session anyway because I got very sick following the Friday session with what we now think was Flu. I felt like utter dog shit and was not myself at all. I had to cancel work and was basically bedridden. It’s been a pretty ropey month and it’s taken a long while to start to bounce back. It definitely had an impact on the therapy.
Anita was still there (she sent some really kind, caring messages) but I felt so out of myself and so the way I read out communications was through a very distorted lens. I think basically I just really wanted mothering and it was painful to know that she will never be able to do that other than from a distance – it’s lovely having messages telling me to drink lemon and honey and stay warm in bed…but…well… you know…sometimes it would be nice to have actually had someone who would have done that as a child, someone to look after me.
It sometimes feels like a perpetual walking over the things that were missing and then having a meltdown about it in the here and now, despite knowing these things can’t happen and that it’s coming from the past.
I had a session booked in for Wednesday and by the time it arrived I was feeling out of sorts. I text A and said, ‘I am feeling anxious and small. Are we ok?’ To which she replied ‘Of course we are’ with a heart emoji. I don’t know why that wasn’t enough to settle things and the next two sessions felt ‘not good’ and disconnected. Or perhaps not quite connected enough rather than disconnected which basically amount to the same thing to the young parts. I was struggling to connect to Anita and asked if we could read a story. She asked which one and I said I didn’t mind. She started reading it, but I was still on the other side of the sofa. It sent panic further down through the system. Usually, Anita will ask me if I want to snuggle in. But she didn’t. I started to dissociate and felt awful. She had no idea. In her mind she was doing what I had asked for…only for the little parts it felt abandoning. FFS!
I do think that sometimes there is an internal pressure after very connected sessions to be searching for the intensity all the time. It’s not realistic to expect that, but I think a system that has been so deprived for such a long just desperately seeks that feeling of complete safety, and love, and care. Why wouldn’t it? Anita would say she’s the same all the time, but the parts can so easily freak out over perceived small changes and then make them seem like massive problems. I mean, it was literally sitting less than two feet from her having a story on the couch…but man, it sent shock waves. Then the Friday session wasn’t great… (although actually, probably fine!)
I can’t remember the details, but I know that after session I sent this:
Obviously, things felt pretty bad because I clearly felt like we were drifting apart. Or that I wasn’t seen. Or that she didn’t care… Honestly, I wish I had the clarity of mind that I have today in those triggered moments, but I was genuinely so poorly that I was thrown into survival and panic. I like the fact, though, that because we have so much shared experience, I can reference some of the books we read, and she knows what I mean, ‘The Invisible String’ and ‘The Rabbit Listened’ are two of ‘our’ stories in the now massive pile. We have that connection and that means a lot- especially to the young parts that wobble so much.
In another one of my recent ‘everything is falling apart’ moments before the break I drafted a text that was clearly coming from a young place…and I am glad, in a way, I was able to express it and let all that had been brewing come up and out because it’s really demonstrated to me just how bloody sad it is for the young parts to have been so damaged. They say you’re only as needy as your unmet needs and here was an epic list of unmet needs from the mouths of babes.
Adult me can see it for what it is. Anita can too. She isn’t scared by this level of outpouring. She gives it space and we work through it. I know Em would have (and did) run a mile when we came into contact with these parts and this need. Anita, however, realises that the changes to our therapy, the bumpy summer, the disruptions in scheduling, and her upcoming holiday would all have fed into this heightened panic and neediness and allows space for it all and meets me with compassion.
The irony is, in the moment when I was churning out the message it really felt so black and white…but of course when I went back over messages with my sane, untriggered, adult eyes – Anita has been responsive, she has checked in, she has said goodnight sometimes, she has held me close to her, she does tell me she loves me, she does talk to the young parts. It’s not all gone. But in that moment, or in those moments where adult isn’t available and something ‘bad’ has happened it’s really scary for the young parts and it all falls apart.
Tbh I am bored of saying it because it’s embarrassing – but it’s acutely clear that we are really in the thick of working with the ‘stuff’ now. And I am buckling up tight.
We’re on a break now. It’s been two weeks (and three days!). Back tomorrow. Anita has been away, but she sent me a message midway through the first week and then sent me another this week with a video of where she’d been. It’s been ok. I have been staggering my way through being really ill. In the first week I had a massive fever and vomiting. It was like my body just went into shock after so many weeks of having been so poorly with the cough, and sinuses and body aches and and and woe is me! The day after the big sick and fever I couldn’t walk properly. I experience peripheral neuropathy post-chemo, anyway, but it was as though all my nerves were set into a painful jangle in the whole of my body. It wasn’t much fun that’s for sure.
I spent the entire day in bed unable to do anything, dragged myself to pick up kids, and then had to order a pizza as had no energy to cook. We were all in bed by 6:15 that night! My wife was away for work, so it was hopeless. Again it was one of those times where I could really have just done with a mum to come and take over – like so many of my friend’s mums do. Someone who would pick the kids up, sort out dinner, and check I was ok. My mum doesn’t even know I have been ill. We have so little contact…and of course this all feeds into what happens between A and I.
Anyway, there’s not much to say now, more than, I’m glad the break is done. I hope that tomorrow is ok as I feel a bit ‘unsettled’. It’s just that end of break thing where the teen parts come up and get pissed about having been left at all and then want to push back and reject because they feel rejected. Fortunately, adult me knows this pattern. There is enough adult around to gently roll my eyes at myself and tell the teen I’ll make her a hot chocolate and we can watch a movie later. I’ve told the littles I’ll do my best to let them get what they need tomorrow and tell false adult to stay in her box so we can make the most of the hour.
Essentially, tomorrow I am taking elephant with me, and I need to make sure I ask for a hug and stories immediately. Wish me luck…because you never know how it’ll go when the minibus arrives on the doorstep!
I’m still here – just very very busy but also plagued with procrastination where my writing is concerned. I started this post AGES ago and yet here we are in October…two months between posts, whoops!…
Anyway – here goes:
Oh, the fucking irony! I’ve got to laugh, really. Last time I was here rabbiting on, I said that I thought I’d finally got through/over the ongoing feeling of disconnect that had been caused by the rupture that was triggered in February when Anita took a step back and stopped our longer sessions.
Boy, was I wrong!
Oh, well, I guess that day-and-a-half of relative calm was nice while it lasted! Lol.
As you can see from the title of this post, things hit the skids in a big way just as the break was about to begin. Ugh. Are you guys getting as bored of this pattern as I am?
It feels a long while since this all happened so it’s not especially fresh in my memory but from what I can remember it was, once again, sweltering for my Monday session and so, yet again, there weren’t hugs (even though I had promised myself I would ask for one…) That’d been the norm for a lot of the summer, but after the session the young parts were massively triggered, especially as Anita’s looooooonnnnngggg break was creeping ever nearer. It was that panic, “We only have one more session and then there will be no cuddles with Anita for AGES.”
Adult me knew the lack of hugs wasn’t a rejection, had I have asked, Anita would certainly have given me a hug, but honestly the heat – it was like being in hell at 30 degrees and so adult just chatted away and the session felt light and fine… but of course you don’t have to dig too deep beneath the surface to see the shit starting to hurtle towards the full speed fan when there’s a break looming and the inner creche isn’t attended to! [We’re on a break again now so I really am going to have to pull my finger out and get caught up!]
Whilst the evening sessions have been a lifeline this summer, when I have ‘lived the day’ somehow, I find it hard to peel back the many layers that shroud my vulnerable parts. I really wanted this summer to be a time to ‘do the work’. When I am not at work myself and manically trying to squeeze every last drop of productivity out the day whilst juggling the kids, it frees up headspace and time to really focus on the therapy…or it would, if I could only have got there on the schedule I am used to.
As I said in my last post, I was fortunate to be able to see Anita but it wasn’t in the usual routine, and so the ‘frame’ felt wobbly. I didn’t know most weeks whether I would see her once or twice in person and the times I could see her twice meant the spacing was off…and I’ve come to realise over the years just how important that structure is. 10am Monday and Friday…that’s MY time! (more on this in a minute!)
So, lack of touch was a trigger but then so was lack of talk about the actual break. I can’t remember what we spoke about that final Monday, just ‘stuff’ – you know ‘filler’ when really what I needed was a way in to talking about the underlying panic about being left, how we would manage the break, you know a bit of housekeeping before three LONG weeks apart. Anyway, it didn’t happen and I left feeling a bit annoyed with myself.
Thankfully, Anita had washed elephant for me, which was a massive bonus so at least that was one thing that was settling for the upcoming break but that’s about all.
Unsurprisingly, the wheels started to fall off a bit on the Tuesday as my final session approached on the Wednesday. It felt like there was going to be an impossibly long separation of 3 ½ weeks (how many times have I said this is a long break here????!!!) and the anxiety began to creep in like the tendrils of Dementors. I badly WANTED to see Anita on the Wednesday because I felt like I was unravelling inside but I was also very conscious of the length of the break.
My plans for the week had changed as my wife was now going to be at home rather than working on the Friday and so she was available and could look after the kids. I asked if I could see Anita on Friday instead of the scheduled Wednesday because I thought it would be better to cut the break down. To be honest I really wanted to see her both days…or to do a longer session, but I didn’t ask because I don’t want any more ‘Nos’ and it would have made the unsettled feeling even worse. However, that is what I needed and when things settle a bit again I am going to have to really talk this through with Anita so that this doesn’t happen again.
Still, as it turned out, no matter how I tried to avoid triggers I somehow managed to seek them out like dog shit in long grass. And so, it began…
Anita replied to my message that she could see me on Friday but that “Unfortunately, I have booked someone in at 9:30” so could I do 10:45 instead?
Reader… it was like a bomb went off inside me. Scrap the dog shit analogy, I’d walked over a fucking great landmine…or setting off something nuclear inside. (I am nothing if not dramatic!)
Of course, it was possible that Anita would have filled ‘my’ time but 9:30??? She’d told me in February that our early starts had had to stop because they put too much pressure on. And yet, here she was booking someone in half an hour before my usual start time. And I get it, before her break she was probably trying to squeeze people in here and there, but it triggered the shit out of me. And then hot on the heels of that message came:
Also noticed the Monday after my break is a BH so wondered if you could make 12 noon or 8pm on Tuesday 30th?
This was a like pouring petrol on an already blazing fire. Internally, I was really upset. Had she only just realised that HER break carried into a BH? Like honestly? I had clocked it when she told me the dates, ages ago. Knowing that I was facing a massive break I had decided to go away until the Thursday and be back in time for my Friday session and now here, at the eleventh hour she’s offering me a session.
I tried to play it cool:
Yeah that’s fine. I’m not here until the Thursday after your break so it’ll be a while until I can see you.
Oh, Ok, I didn’t realise that (with a heart).
And this is when it started to boil over inside. No, Anita, you didn’t realise it because we’ve done absolutely nothing around this break…and so things then erupted:
It was then that I realised just how much I had been holding in and holding back from the parts that feel so hurt and abandoned. As I have said lots of times Adult me gets what’s happened and why. I really do understand capacity changes, life events, and all the rest of it because I have had lots shift in my world lately, BUT the thing to remember her is that I am largely in therapy to address and heal the young parts, the past trauma, the stuff about feeling unimportant, forgettable, unlovable and all the rest of it that stems from childhood. Anita is not responsible for that wounding, but our relationship triggers it A LOT and we need to actively work with what comes up when it does… and we do…but fuck me it’s hard work and agony when it’s all live.
The message exchange went on a while, and I was throwing every single toy I had out the pram. Anita kept steady but it felt like she wasn’t there and to the parts in panic it felt like things were desperately bad. My Adult had was offline and I was operating from inner child chaos. I told her I was ‘done’ and it was fucking painful but when I say ‘done’ I mean I can’t tolerate how bad it feels. Anyway, long story short is I had my tantrum, asked her if she still loved me even if I was losing my shit and she came back with, Of Course. And that was enough. Simply that. She had not gone. She still cares.
So, of course (!) I went to the session on Friday, and it was hotter than hell again. Anita told me she was so glad I had come and that she knew it took guts to come when I felt like this. My heart was racing, and I felt shaky, it was almost like a panic attack (I’m getting this a lot at the moment). Anita ‘seemed’ to be Anita, the one I love, the one with the voice, the one who gets it. (I know she exists all the time but sometimes parts of me don’t feel her or can’t allow myself to access her because I am scared).
Anita asked if I would like a story (yes please!) and I chose ‘The Wobbler’ which seemed apt given what had happened that week. I really was channelling my inner Barbara!
And so, I ended up snuggled into A for a rather warm hug for the story and remained like that for the rest of the session. We settled the young parts and then just talked – although I can’t remember really what about…
It was one of those sessions where once we had ‘reconnected’ and dealt with the blow up that had happened it just felt really easy and safe and just what my nervous system required. I would, of course, like to not have to keep experiencing this horrible feeling of disconnect and intense feeling of abandonment but I realise this is my work and sadly I am going to get triggered. We just need to keep meeting it and working with it when it happens.
I decided to take Anita up on the offer of the Tuesday evening session at the end of the break and adjust my holiday, so I was back in the area to see her. It seemed like a good idea, and I started the break feeling pretty good all things considered.
The break itself was pretty fine, too.
It was actually really fine.
I wasn’t saturated by thoughts of Anita, of missing her, or of that deep ache and longing that can happen with separation where the young parts are screaming inside and need to be picked up and held – and that was a huge relief. I thought of her, of course. She is a big part of my emotional world. But I wasn’t wracked with that desperate need to be with her, to be physically held safely by her, or repeatedly needing to reach out and find some sort of connection. We exchanged a couple of messages here and there through the holiday (I’d just got a new kitten and wanted to show her) and she initiated a few ‘I’m still here and thinking of you, sending a big hug’ type messages but otherwise I got on with my summer holiday and enjoyed myself.
I think being away in a place I love also really grounded me. Being able to be where my fondest memories of my dad and share in that with my kids did something to me inside. Em used to always want me to create visualisations to help ground me and I never could. But recently, I have found that when I feel anxious and stressed, I can close my eyes and transport myself to that special place, I can feel myself on my favourite beach with my bare feet sinking into the wet sand and water lapping my ankles. I can feel the hot sun on my back, and I feel like I am ‘held’ in nature and return to my ‘happy place’.
And that’s great.
Alongside that I am also now more able to feel Anita when I am away from her. I mean if things are really fucking triggered there’s no chance (like in that rupture where it went tits up in seconds!) but if I can catch myself when the young parts are just feeling a ‘bit’ needy in the general run of things, I can soothe myself by imagining being close to her, hearing her heartbeat, and feeling safe with her.
I can ONLY do this, of course, because I have a template for it. I KNOW how it feels for her to hold me and to be able to hear her heartbeat, for her to tell me she loves me, and to be able relax into feeling ‘safe’ – it’s in my memory not just my imagination. It’s not always easy to hook back into that when I can’t see her, but I do, at least, have a reference point now, and this is especially helped by my soft elephant that Anita washes for me at intervals.
My elephant smells like her and so when I am feeling ‘off’ I can grab it and breathe in the smell to help ground myself. It’s not just the smell of the elephant (Anita) that helps but it’s the fact that I have a therapist that will do this for me. Anita has never batted an eyelid when I asked her to wash elephant. She’s never shamed me for wanting or needing this level of connection to her and that is something I can hold in my mind when things feel bad, “Look RB you are holding a soft toy that your therapist has washed for you because she cares about you enough to want to make your separations as easy as possible”. Actions speak louder than words sometimes – and I have actions and words.
I know some people will raise eyebrows at this, but I don’t care because I know a lot of you ‘get it’ and if I am a needy weirdo then so be it, because I am certainly not alone in this. When you think about this need through the lens of child development (and of course this is something A and I do for my child parts) then it makes sense. Babies have a really powerful sense of smell. They can ‘smell’ their mothers before they can even focus in on them with sight. It’s a biological imperative. When I got sick and had to stop breastfeeding overnight to begin chemo I couldn’t be in the same room as my baby when he was due a feed because he would arch his body over to me (and the smell of breastmilk) rather than take a bottle of formula from my wife. It was awful and heart-breaking…but that’s a whole other story.
The importance of smell and how it intertwines with safety is seen as children get bigger, too. My kids both have snuggly items they sleep with. I am not ‘allowed’ to wash them because they don’t smell ‘right’ if I do. There’s something about cuddling up at bedtime with an item that is both soft and smells familiar. So, this is why elephant works for me, it’s a throwback to that young child stuff. Anita feels safe and I associate her smell with safety and elephant smells like her.
Frequently, therapists want us to conjure images of safety up out of nowhere to help us ground but when you don’t have them to draw on in the first place it is upsetting and frustrating. Em never really understood this, and insisted over and over that I must be able to think of a time I felt really safe… what she didn’t get was that at that time I didn’t need to be imagining a time I watched a comedy and felt good (do you guys remember that? GROAN!) but actually I needed to feel her, as my attachment figure, I needed to be able to connect to that/her when we were apart.
Of course, she didn’t want me to be reliant on her for any sense of emotional safety or foster ‘dependency’ and was intent on her blank slate approach and placed a cavernous distance (both physical and emotional) between us. The most she gave me was a visualisation to imagine us sitting in ‘the consulting room’ together which obviously missed the mark for the upset young parts who couldn’t understand the language of the message. Anyway, lots has changed since then – thank goodness for Anita!
So, because I can now bring to mind and almost ‘feel’ Anita I can use that when I most need it. It’s often when I am really tired at bedtime where this makes the biggest difference – again just like kids needing their comforter. I used to really struggle with that felt sense of being completely alone and abandoned at bedtime and fall into that black hole of attachment pain and doom. The physical searing sense of ulceration in my chest that and deep sick feeling in my stomach was agony. I would get more and more distressed as time went on and then fall asleep to nightmares.
I guess things being most difficult at night is because when I am tired my adult is least available but also, bedtime as a child was a time when my mum wasn’t there…for 6 years. I would put myself to bed, read my own stories, and feel chronically alone. The young parts that needed my mum and maternal nurturing had to make do with a short phone call on a Wednesday. It simply wasn’t enough.
Anyway, this is not new news.
Sooooo…the break came to an end and whilst I was looking forward to seeing Anita. I wasn’t desperate, though. In fact, I was almost late getting there. The weather had been amazing at the beach and part of me wished I hadn’t decided to come back two days early and had have stayed surfing instead.
The thing is, I never know how things will be. Breaks usually are a real trial and the idea of three weeks gap was just too much at the start of it. But by the end, well, I could easily have stayed away a bit longer. Which is why what came next is so bloody infuriating!!!
That first session back was adult, as they usually are. I brought Anita up to speed with what had been going on for the last few weeks and it was completely fine. The hour sped by and when I got up to leave, I gave her a kind of lack lustre half hug at the door. The session was, ummm, I don’t know how to put it really – it was ok – one of those ones where it wasn’t especially connecting because it wasn’t about ‘us’, it lacked any real emotional intensity or intimacy, but then at the same time it was comfortable and ok, you know? I guess the child parts weren’t ‘there’ and so it had a different quality to it.
I wish I was better at coming back from breaks and being vulnerable and could let the most vulnerable parts out, but it takes time, and unless Anita is massively attuned and guides the conversation to say something like, “It was a long break, how was it for the young parts, and how does it feel for them coming back today?” I will stay in hiding. It takes a while for my system to judge if things are still the same and if everything is ok for all the parts to come out.
When we were talking Anita asked me if I was back now and around on Friday. I sort of semi-clocked it but just shrugged it off and said “Yes” and carried on with whatever I was talking about. When I was about halfway home my phone rang, I saw it was Anita but couldn’t pick up immediately because I was driving and I don’t like driving and talking using the car phone setting as the quality is pretty shit. I pulled over and called Anita back confused. “Hi, did you mean to call me?” It was 9:30 at night so I thought maybe she’d misdialled.
No. It was deliberate.
When I had had my meltdown before the break and ‘cancelled’ everything until the 5th September she hadn’t clocked that we had clearly sorted out the rupture and I had come to my session on the Friday and booked in to see her on that Tuesday. It was a diary malfunction but OMG it set off another landmine. I didn’t say anything at the time. Anita apologised and asked if I could make a 6pm session instead. I said I could and put the phone down abruptly.
Suddenly ALL THE FEELINGS came up and my calm ‘break’ mentality was gone. Instead, I was furious and upset. Yet again, she’d booked someone in ‘my session’ time. It was a cock up and not deliberate but to the young parts and protectors it sent the message that she doesn’t keep me in mind and doesn’t have her eye on the ball.
Anita text me to apologise and thanked me for moving my session. I didn’t reply. Then the next day to make matters even worse she texted me again to ask me to move the following week’s Friday session because she’d just found out she had a funeral to attend. Part of me wanted to rage but another part of me could really see that this was just a lot of bad timing. So, I told her I could move the session and agreed a time.
By the time it reached Friday everything was a mess inside. I felt really unsettled and generally like everything was going to shit. I sent Anita a picture message about needing to talk and she replied by saying she understood but that the relationship needed to feel safe first. She’d clearly picked up on things not quite being back to how they normally are and so I asked, “How does that happen when everything feels chronically unsafe?” She sent me a hug gif and said, “Let’s talk about this this evening”.
When I arrived I was not in a great headspace. I was overtired, overwrought, and the young parts were desperate to connect but I felt like Anita wasn’t there. I felt abandoned by her (AAAARRRRGHHHH please just give me a break, already). I felt panicked and shaky and like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t look at Anita and I couldn’t let her close. I could feel everything unravelling at pace and slid off the sofa and sat on the floor with my knees up and my head in buried into the and covered my head with my arms. I was dissociative as fuck.
The only reason I know what happened in the session is because I have a recording of it. In the moment I was in complete agony. My body was trembling. I felt sick. My heart was racing. I felt like I was totally alone.
Anita and I couldn’t find each other at all. It was bloody awful. The time disappeared and it was time to go. A asked me what I was thinking and I said I felt like I wouldn’t come back. It felt that bad. Anita said she’s be sad and disappointed if I left but it just felt empty. I left feeling awful and like a baby whose mother was mis-attuned and had left the baby screaming.
It was far from ideal.
I cried all the way home from the session. I think in reality it was a culmination of the whole summer. Feeling like we hadn’t really connected properly throughout. The lack of touch. The break… I was just feeling vulnerable and needy and it’s taken a lot of time to recalibrate into the relationship…there’s more (yes MORE!) However, I’ll leave that here for now as it’s another epic post with not much to it.
I will get my shit together eventually… in all areas…but probably AFTER this current break. Two weeks… based on the above, I wonder how I’ll get on. Place your bets!
Well, blimey, where did July go? Ah, yes, work, work, more work, the kids, a bit of therapy thrown in here and there…and a lot of time at the beach! #Heatwave. You’d think July would be the time for things easing off and winding down in teaching but, honestly, it was like everything went on overdrive both with my work and all the stuff I needed to organise or attend for my kids: sports days x2, residential for my daughter, end of year assembly, random parents’ evening, school taster days, and end of year parties. It was full-on and I was on my knees a couple of weeks before term finished (honestly, some days I was close to tears I was so knackered) but somehow, I got to the finish line in one piece – or a collection of pieces deftly held together with rubber bands and chewing gum!
It’s week two of the ‘holidays’, now, and this is the first day where I have actually stopped and given myself permission to do nothing – it’s the anniversary of my dad’s memorial and picking up his ashes from a driveway next to his dive gear (don’t ask!) and so I feel a little fragile. I’m a long way on from that initial grief and pain of fourteen years ago, but I still find this time of year difficult. I get plagued by nightmares and I can’t help but remember just how bloody awful that time was.
Fortunately, I have Anita to take this stuff to and so I feel pretty ok having been able to let it out. I’ve had a cry and I feel sad to think how much I’ve missed out on with my dad over the years, but I can now see things in a different light. Watching my kids enjoy the waves and share in the place that my dad and I loved so much is so special and healing after so many years away from it – I can almost feel his presence when we’re there. I am loving being back on my surfboard and in the water enjoying the coastline where my soul feels most at home.
So, even when things feel unbelievably tough (which they really have done recently – our life seemed to just get wiped-out and body-slammed all at the same time), somehow, I am finding ways to not sink altogether and also trust in the fact that the universe will deliver, eventually. It’s not always easy to do that, especially when you suffer from anxiety. It is so easy to get caught in the endless spiral of doom when things are going wrong because it’s such a felt sense of panic, it triggers the flight response (for me at least) and the associated somatic experience is just fucking awful…
I have made it through every tough part of my life so far, and frankly even though the money stuff isn’t great (I have always really needed a sense of financial security to feel safe but am learning again that safety comes from within and not only from what you have) I’ve been through worse. It’s not a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, and it’s not critical illness and a year of cancer treatment. THOSE things were the big deals. Money makes the world go round and that sucks but currently I have my health, a partner, two great kids, wonderful friends, and a roof over my head so really, I am winning at life. My bank balance is pretty ummm…’low’ (read empty!)…but I can work more hours (might have a breakdown in October though!).
This year, unfortunately, I am working a full day each week with a student in the break (fortunately one of my home-school kids wanted lessons – phew) so it’s not quite the long holiday I had envisioned earlier this year but it’s a financial imperative after everything that’s happened with my wife’s work and so I’m making the best of it. To be honest, doing 7.5 hours once a week is way less stressful than my usual 25 (28 in Sept – eek!) hours contact time plus school runs etc so I can’t moan. The fact I only have to get up early one morning a week is a game changer and the fact I am lying on my bed in my pjs at 11am on a Thursday…well, that’s pretty good. So, yeah, all in all it’s ok. Great, in fact.
Don’t get me wrong. I have had weeks and weeks of stress and panic about our situation but there’s another part of me that’s trying to have a chat with those freaking out parts who is saying, “Look, right now, we’re still afloat. We’re doing what we can to make the situation better. The winter is going to be difficult, but we can’t change anything more right now so try and enjoy what we do have and make the most of the summer” — I don’t know who this pep talker is but right now the other parts are paying attention. I think the reality is that adult me knows I am going to be up against it in a huge way in September and I need to go into the new academic year as refreshed and recharged as possible or I don’t stand a chance.
Anyway, what else? I’ve been away from the blog for a long while. As usual I haven’t been posting because I haven’t had the time to write but I have also been thinking about the blog, too, and social media in general, lately. In recent weeks I have spent much less time on SM and I have to say I think it’s done me the world of good. Despite my best efforts to keep the majority of the SM content that I access light and uplifting (thinking Instagram here – cue astrology, spirituality, and comedy…oh and crazy animals!) I have found in recent months that my feeds across other social media platforms have been really negative. And it’s not surprising. Life is hard for so many people right now and everywhere you look there is injustice and that is playing out on the internet.
I am socially minded, and politically…what’s the word??… Appalled?! And so, I find it hard to switch off from it altogether because I don’t think we can live in a bubble. I like to know what’s going on, even if it is heart-breaking. However, I am finding places like Twitter and the comment feed on news posts really depressing. It feels like there are so many angry and disenfranchised people out there on all sides that take to social media and let it all out – but at strangers. The projection and the vitriol are really horrific. It reeks of bullying behaviour. And to be honest, I don’t think it’s doing me any good absorbing it in large quantities which is why I am spending less time online.
I think too, that what I have realised more and more is sometimes I want to respond to stuff online or defend someone or something but sometimes it just fuels a fire, and it isn’t worth it. Thankfully, I think WordPress falls into a different category where this is stuff concerned (thank goodness). In my experience over the years blogging here, it is rare to see abusive content or bullying or personal attacks. I think I can remember two or three pile-ons over the years on some accounts I follow (from people being in very bad places or who are massively triggered) but otherwise I have always found it to be a welcoming, supportive place. And I am grateful for that but I am also aware that these public platforms are open and so you’re never completely immune to someone wading in.
So yeah, I can wholeheartedly recommend a social media cleanse every now and then.
And therapy, what of that?
Well, you’ll probably be pleased to hear the Anita and I are out the other side of that epic rupture that was triggered in February when the time and contact boundaries changed. To be honest we’ve just been ticking along doing the work. It’s been ok enough. Sometimes it’s felt disconnected but that is linked to touch (or lack of it). Since the holidays started the sessions have been disrupted which has been a bit stressful, but so far I have managed to see her twice a week (Monday and Tuesday evenings). I’m not massively keen on the spacing – it feels like there’s a huge gap between the sessions after Tuesday but at the same time I am seeing her in person twice a week when I had thought I would only see her Monday. I still don’t know about next week.
It’s been so hot here that it’s caused the young parts a few problems here and there. As I said, I haven’t been hugging Anita in sessions because frankly it’s like a sauna here right now and it would just be too uncomfortable. Of course, the longer this has gone on the more the young parts have started to activate and wonder what’s wrong? Why doesn’t Anita want to be near them?…blah blah blah…which of course is not what’s going on but you know how little ones think!
Fortunately, though, it’s not been too loud and boisterous because a few weeks ago there was a slightly cooler evening and having refused the offer of a hug when I sat down (ffs RB!)) I broke my walls down for the last fifteen minutes and snuggled in and it felt lovely and deeply connected. I told Anita I had missed her, and she told me she’d missed me too. Sometimes those small interactions are everything and do so much to solidify things. The heat has definitely been the biggest driver for not asking for a hug but there is also another part underneath that is starting to retreat in preparation for the upcoming break.
Since that evening it’s been a bit of a touch drought and it’s just now starting to feel a bit eeek because Anita is off on holiday after next week for two weeks but I won’t actually see her for three weeks. This is going to be the longest I haven’t seen her I think (excluding the lockdowns – but then we were at least working online). Again, I am trying to employ the ‘don’t panic’ stuff and face it when it comes – but I know it’s going to be messy on Monday! Heat or not I think I’m just going to have to suck it up and ask for a sweaty snuggle!
I asked for stories at the end of the session on Tuesday after spending 45 minutes having a huge sweary outpouring about my mum, so the young parts are at least getting something but we need to make next Monday count. It must have seemed really incongruous, “Fuck this, fuck that, FFS…” and on and on and then…“Can we have a story?” I text Anita yesterday and acknowledged just how much I was swearing in my session and how really my anger is a body guard for sadness. I am free flowing with my ‘fucks’ in therapy but Tuesday was something else – there was more than one ‘c’ bomb and even for me I was like “whoa I am mad!!” Anita text me back this infographic and said I think there’s more than sadness under your iceberg with two hearts:
Of course, she’s right. And I knew this. And a part of me chuckled at how ‘therapisty’ that reply was.
Last Monday night as I was leaving Anita asked if she could give me a hug (thank god)…so it’s not that she’s not wanting to touch me it really is the heat and it felt good for her to reach out to me when I have retreated from it. I will be so glad when autumn comes, I can tell you!
So, the touch stuff has been a bit of an issue and then, to add insult to injury, on Tuesday my new puppy (yes, I am mental – but he’s a rescue and I couldn’t say no! especially after the heartbreak of losing our pup on Father’s Day) stole elephant and covered him in drool. You cannot even begin to imagine the internal meltdown the young parts had. I cried.
At that point I didn’t know I would see Anita that evening and though that I would only have one face-to-face session before the big break…and elephant would be stinking and untouchable because there was no time to get it washed by Anita. Mannnnnnn! It was very bad. I text K about it because she is one of the few people who really get it. She responded with such understanding that it took away any shame I was feeling but not the disappointment of having my transitional object out of action.
However, as luck would have it, Anita had a cancellation and offered me a session that evening and so elephant is now with her being washed ready for Monday and so the break …well, it’s going to be tough, but it’s a whole lot less tough when elephant is there and smells right!
Anyway, that’s about it I think. Bit of a boring, non-post but that’s sort of life right now. I’m sure to get in touch with my feelings from next Friday and then we’ll see what kind of carnage ensues!
So, the last time I was here talking about therapy– rather than how my day-to-day life is on the rocks- I wasn’t in a great place AT ALL. I had written a letter to Anita that I was debating sending it to her as a voice note outlining just how desperate it was all feeling. We were on a therapy break and everything just felt desperate and like the foundations that I thought we had built our relationship on over the last couple of years were not, in fact, rock solid but actually built on sand. It was terrifying and crazy making.
The session before the break I had walked out and it just felt like Anita wasn’t there anymore, didn’t care, you know…all the stuff??! It was bad but things had been escalating for a while. I was tying myself in ever tight knots and feeling more and more distant from A. I longed to be close to her but my protectors were on sentry duty and there was nothing I could do, or A could do, to get round them.
Tbh it’s not surprising. It had felt like Anita and I were stuck spiralling in a never ending rupture that had been triggered when I had got back from holiday in February. Things had been plodding along, I knew what was what, and then suddenly the longer sessions were off the table and outside contact felt dramatically reduced. Looking back now I think that my sense of texts being lack-lustre and not enough was driven by how terribly I took not being able to do 75-minute sessions. Anita was still responsive but the lens I viewed our less frequent interactions through was through about scarcity and abandonment and I literally could not see the wood for the trees.
All at once it felt like Anita had withdrawn – taken herself away from me, or worse, taken herself away from the young parts who need her so badly. She insisted that her need to step back was nothing to do with me and all about her life (which has shifted dramatically), and how she needed to reconfigure things to be able to give anything at all. Adult me could hear it but the child parts were devastated.
I mean to have the sense of someone being so close to you, so connected, so safe and then to be hit with that all too familiar feeling of being pushed away is hard. But it’s especially difficult for those of us with childhood trauma and attachment issues. It felt like a re-enactment, yet again here is a mum who is too busy for me, I am not ‘important enough’ to make time for, I just have to fit it with what’s available. And I get that – I am a client after all, Anita’s job, but the young parts that were affected, the parts of me that need the therapy, don’t see Anita as just a therapist, they see her as the caregiver, the attachment figure… they see her as mum and it was heartbreaking.
And so, unsurprisingly, being flung back headfirst into the motherwound I had a long long long meltdown about it. Every time I thought I was rounding a corner and getting my feet back on the ground, something would trigger me and it all went to shit again. It was like climbing up a hill, nearing the top, and then losing my footing and rolling right back down to the bottom again.
There was a lot of silence and tension. Lots of feeling like Anita ‘wasn’t there’, ‘didn’t care’, was ‘rejecting’ me and FUCK it was uncomfortable (understatement) for both of us. I felt she was pushing me away she felt I was pushing her away…it was utterly horrific. There was a lot of testing. And pushing. And withdrawal. And dissociation. Desperation. Tears. Walking out the sessions!! (ffs RB!)… Oh, look I don’t need to explain to you guys, you know the drill!!
So, when I wrote that letter it was from a place of feeling completely at sea, not waving but drowning, and like I was losing Anita…or had already lost her.
And I so hadn’t.
I so HAVEN’T.
But I just couldn’t feel it.
I couldn’t feel her. And that feeling of disconnect feels like annihilation to the young parts.
Throughout all this time, Anita has remained steady and present. I’ve just looked back over messages from this time and honestly, she really bloody dug deep and tried to show me she was there I just couldn’t see it – as I said, I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t take her love and reassurance in because my armour was keeping her out. My teens were locking everything down and couldn’t trust or be vulnerable because they felt so hurt.
It wasn’t ideal, and I am not sure it was helpful for Anita to tell me this, but her supervisor had mentioned that with Anita’s change in schedule and how badly I was reacting to it that maybe she should refer me out to someone who could give me all of what I need. This set the cat among the pigeons in a massive way. Anita told me that she didn’t want to do that, that she hoped that she could be enough for me, that she loved me, but that if she wasn’t enough then we had to look after me and do what was best for me because this is my therapy and not about her or her needs. I remember crying and whimpering into her chest “I don’t want anyone else” and her holding me tightly and saying, “I don’t want you to have anyone else, but I don’t want you to be hurt if I can’t give you all that you need, I need to look after you.”
It probably sounds like a complete shitshow these last few months and it’s felt it!- but oh my god it has also been so fucking human, so real, and so intimate. Like we really have gone deep into the trenches – face first into the shit together – and somehow come out the other side. And dare I say it, there’s been healing in it all…but it’s been hard won.
The stuff with the supervisor really wobbled me but it was also a moment where I took stock and thought, what the actual fuck am I doing here?! (working through a lot of triggered trauma obv!) Am I really going to let Anita go because she can’t do the odd extra 15 minutes in a session every now and then and isn’t texting quite so frequently (but still very regularly) ? How many therapists out there give anything like what Anita gives me? Two sessions a week at a massively discounted rate, outside contact, touch, presents for the young parts, washing elephant so it smells right, reading stories…and ALL the other things… and I think I’d find the answer is NOONE.
When I was able to take a slight step out of the feeling of being abandoned and triggered, get a little bit of Adult online, I realised that Anita is the person I want to work through this with. It takes a long time to get to the point where the shit comes to the surface and all the mess is laid bare. I could go to another therapist and eventually these same triggers would come up again and would need working through. I don’t want that… and actually… I don’t need that. I want and need A.
During this period since February I have had a no holds barred fuck off meltdown on and off on repeat. I mean it was VERY bad. Part of me (probably the Teen) felt like I was going to be got rid of because I was reacting to the changes strongly and having a full-on wobbler even though that is not ever what Anita had said. I was so angry that the supervisor seemed to be saying that I should be moved on and not taking into account how fucking damaging this would be given what happened with Em and how much time A and I have had building trust and the relationship.
Anita totally got it and fought hard for me I think, she said that her supervisor is there to discuss thing with but can’t tell her what to do, and that after twenty years as a therapist she can make her own choices and work with what is best for the client. I told her just how awful being referred on would be and what message that would send to the young parts. Anita was very clear that she wasn’t trying to get rid of me, wanted to work with me, thinks we can do this work but that I need to do what’s right for me and if that means finding someone else then she’d support me in that. But in that moment, snuggled into her and feeling both seen and held in the pain of it all there was absolutely no way I was going anywhere.
After that emotional session where we’d finally reconnected really powerfully after weeks of distance I messaged her with a picture of a rabbit:
You have been, and will always be, my rabbit that listens. I don’t want anyone else. I don’t want to replace you – because it’s simply NOT possible to replace you! – that’s not how this works and anyone that thinks otherwise really doesn’t understand deep attachment work. I know it’s not been easy lately and it’s been really messy (total carnage!) but then relationships aren’t easy – and I think this is the work. I genuinely think we can come through this – because from my side (at least) the love is there (soooo much) and I hope we’ve done enough foundation building so far to be able to survive big earthquakes. I just need a lot of handholding whilst I learn to stand up in the wobble. A you are so important to me and the reason I have lost my shit so badly is because this relationship matters such a lot to me. I love you x
And so, we have carried on working through bits and hitting more landmines on repeat…and somehow it is nearly July!
Anita couldn’t always reach me over this long drawn out rupture, but she has really tried. And that is one of the benefits of the messages and of having recordings of the sessions. Sometimes I was so triggered and so dissociated that I really and truly believed that Anita had abandoned me in the room, that she had given up, that she was happy to let me suffer (hence the running out of the session before her break and losing my shit). But when I have listened back to the sessions – there was lots of silence (mine)- but I could hear Anita trying so hard to break through and reach me. So often she’d ask if I wanted a hug – of course I did. But I responded with a venomous ‘NO’ and refused to look at her and so returned to feeling trapped in my own misery.
Anita and I definitely need to find a strategy when things are like that because of course she has to respect my ‘no’ even if that ‘no’ is only from a protector and the rest of the rabble inside is wailing ‘yes’ and wanting to be held close but we do have these conversations – we can talk about the hard stuff. It’s such a huge contrast to sitting in agony with Em and just feeling chronically abandoned always.
So, it’s nearly 2000 words in and here we get to the bit with ‘what happened next?’ I am clearly not good with the economy of words. Lol!
After so many of you guys coming forward with supportive comments to the feelings spurge I had written, I felt so much better than I had done. Honestly, this space has been such a lifeline over the years, and you really are fab cheerleaders 😊. So, later in the week I sat down and recorded the letter as a voice note for Anita…all 27 minutes of it! The voice note is so helpful as there is no way A would get through reading that with her dyslexia and hearing it, I think, connects us in a different way. She can hear my voice and the feeling behind what I am saying.
I waited until the Friday to send the voice note as A was on holiday- not away- but not in work mode and I knew she needed time out as she’s been so stretched and . I didn’t expect A to reply before our session but she sent a holding message on the Friday and Saturday and Sunday:
I felt worried and anxious about how she might respond but she was fine. She’d really listened to the message and this was demonstrated through a reassuring message on the Sunday of a photograph she’d taken of where she had gone away for the weekend. Since then things have been much more settled. There’s been contact between sessions (probably the same as it’s been since February!) but how I am reading it is so different. I feel like Anita is there again…or… I am connected again. Whatever it is, it feels much better.
So much of what has happened has been my processing and my trauma responses flaring in a big way. Because my life has been so up in the air I’ve felt like Anita and I weren’t safe too. But we are. She has been so lovely these last couple of weeks since the puppy died and when I can let myself be present and connected with her I see that nothing is wrong, nothing has changed, and I have a rock in A.
Don’t get me wrong, I know this will all go up in flames again shortly – as we hit another trigger point but what I can see is that Anita isn’t going anywhere. She is in it for the long haul and will be there alongside me even if I won’t let her in, waiting until I can.
So I’ve come up for air and am not drowning as we speak!
I have other things to write about – I’ve experienced somewhat of a parallel process with what’s happened in my therapy and what happened with my friend ending our friendship. It’s interesting how things play out and give you a different understanding and perspective. Because of what’s just happened with my friend I feel a different level of compassion for Anita’s situation now. All the times she’s told me that she is trying hard to make it so that she can be as good a therapist as she can, but that her life has changed and that’s meant there’s some things she can’t do, have left me feeling rejected and abandoned and like she doesn’t really care.
No matter how many times she has said her feelings for me haven’t changed, it’s her situation that has changed, I have struggled against it with a voice saying “if I really mattered then she’d make the time”. But then a similar thing has happened with my friend. I am not able to be as present or available as I once was but have been trying my best with the time that I have but ultimately my family have to come first right now.
I can see that can be read as not giving adequate time and care to nourish the relationship, though. And what I can offer isn’t enough. But losing a friend when my feelings never changed, my love and care are still as strong as they ever were – well it’s gutting, really. But then I guess that is life. Relationships are complex because there are two people in them and people have different needs and expectations of what they want and need in a relationship. I decided to stay with A because even though I get ‘less’ than I perhaps used to, what I do get is so valuable to me. Other people would make different choices, I’m sure.
But losing a friend has given me a weird kind of security in my relationship with A. I know I love my friend – I always will. Even if we are not connected anymore I am grateful for the time we did have and will always hold that dear. So even though I am busy I know my feelings didn’t change and therefore I know that A loves me even though her life has changed beyond recognition. I feel it.
My goodness, time just keeps accelerating, doesn’t it? … whilst strangely seeming to stand still, too. I can’t believe it’s been so long since my last post. I have been meaning to follow it up sooner than this, because it was clearly a crisis post and so many of you were so kind and supportive in your comments and have subsequently checked in, but I have been so bloody busy that I just haven’t had any time to fill you back in.
I am on burnout right now. The tank is totally drained. It’s gone 6pm on Saturday and I have been in bed all day trying to recuperate after yet another brutal week. It’s survival…but barely.
I spend so many hours staring at my laptop, teaching online, and some days most days, Adult me is literally coaching myself out loud through the day. I’m staring at the ‘start meeting’ button on Zoom and every fibre of my body is railing against it, “Come on RB. You’ve got this” I say, whilst the very tired and strung-out younger parts cry, “We don’t want to. We need to snuggle and a nap and cookies.” There are days where I am holding back tears because it’s just ‘too much’.
That quite literally is the story of my life at the moment and has led to some really crap outcomes. I have wanted to write but the idea of spending another minute at the laptop during the week is revolting and, frankly, when I teach until 8:45 most nights I am almost catatonic, and words fail me – I couldn’t string another sentence together if I tried! There are things I need to attend to but simply haven’t the time to do them properly and so it’s all sort of falling apart.
My ‘busy’ isn’t through choice. It’s through necessity. I was planning to scale back my work and allocate more time to ‘me’ and just resting. Ha. Universe thought otherwise. Things have blown up again with my wife’s work and she’s just changed jobs but at a massive cut in pay but, hopefully, a reduction in stress for her. She was on the verge of a breakdown and a job is better than no job right now…well…
Somehow, though, we need to find around £800 a month from the shortfall and …frankly… I don’t know how to make that happen. And seeing as everything is also going up: food, petrol, utilities, oh and my mortgage has just increased by £100 even going straight back into a fixed rate I just don’t know what to do because I am already on my edge. There’s only so much you can cut. You can shop in the cheap supermarkets but even then, the cost of food is going up and up and up. My car used to cost £45 to fill, on Friday it was £80 and I use a tank a week….FUCK ME!
The cost-of-living crisis is real – even for two reasonably well-paid professionals so I have no idea how people are coping on low incomes. Well, they’re not. It’s heating or eating, not using the car, being plunged into poverty. It’s absolutely sickening and just should not be happening.
I’ve juggled everything to be as tightly aligned in my week as I can, getting the kids to and from school etc, and reckon I have space maybe for another three more students in my week which would take contact time up to thirty hours (which is more than a full-time teaching contract), but I am already at breaking point now. Thing is, I don’t see that there’s a choice here, even then it’s not going to be enough. I have to keep a roof over our heads and do whatever is necessary, though. So it’s dig deep and try not to collapse.
I have to protect my therapy with A for as long as I can (already on a discounted rate), as without it I just won’t function, but I have had to scale back my time with K. My body needs the craniosacral but the stress I feel going when I know I can’t afford it drastically outweighs the benefits of the work. K said she’ll reduce the fee further but as a single, self-employed person I know how she needs the money so it’s better if she can fill my time. Ugh. I am so sick of everything revolving around money, or lack of it.
So, the financial stuff and work stuff has been massively stressful, but I am resourceful and will do my best to find a way through it. Because of all this I’ve been really struggling with anxiety and stress, not sleeping properly, you know all the stuff that goes to shit when things get too hard? I’ve had to withdraw into myself just to keep going and have nothing left to give. I prioritise my children and wife, but everything and everyone else has gone on ‘hold’.
So that’s been crap but not completely unfamiliar. I have had a lifetime worrying and feeling unsafe, so this is nothing new. However, there’s been the added weight of grief thrown into the mix. I don’t think I mentioned it, but three months ago we had to have my elderly dog put down. It was heart-breaking and she left an enormous hole. I don’t think non-pet people get how much a part of the family animals are.
By chance a friend of ours had had a litter of puppies and we welcomed a gorgeous boy into our home 8 weeks ago (this was just before the financial shit hit the fan). He was an absolutely lovely little fella and he really picked me up and was a wonderful companion. Last weekend though- father’s day- we were driving home in the evening and he had a funny turn in the car, vomited, started breathing erratically and died – just like that…my wife tried to resuscitate him but he was gone.
I haven’t coped very well, the timing was appalling, and to be trying to save a baby dog stuck on the moors in the middle of fucking nowhere and losing him…jeez. I mean it really devastated us. The kids witnessed the whole thing and we basically spent most of this last week in tears. The vet thinks it was heart failure which was hard to cope with given that’s how my dad died. I feel like there is so much loss right now. I’ve also lost a close friend too which has been an interesting experience as an adult as I’ve never had a friendship ‘end’ before. So, yeah, lots to grieve. My mum is still AWOL and not responding to any messages but there’s a part of me that just can’t cry any more tears about that. She simply doesn’t care or want to be in our lives so I need to let it go.
So as much as I have wanted to come here, and put something out there, and touch base because I find writing cathartic and therapeutic, I just haven’t been able to fire out a therapy blog in 15 minutes which is the longest break I get in a week now -and this week has just been flatlining.
I appreciate none of this is about therapy or what happened with Anita which is why you are here – but I will get to that in my next post (maybe tomorrow). I guess this is just to put my head above the parapet and say “I’m still here” and things are ok, good in fact, with Anita. The recent events over the last month have made me really take stock and see things in a different way. If anything we are more solid than ever …which given everything else is a huge relief!
Anyway, I will be back really soon, but I don’t think shoving a big therapy post on top of this already 1400 words is a great idea.
Take care and hope you guys are hanging in there…especially with the horror of abortion rights being repealed. What the actual fucking fuck?
The Handmaids Tale was not a fucking road map, nor was 1984…and yet here we are. x
Hi everyone – it’s been ages since I have blogged. And even this, today, isn’t really a blog, it’s a letter that I have written that I am debating recording in a voice note for A. We are on a break (ffs!). Things have been horrible for ages now. This ongoing rupture is bloody agony and is driving me crazy. My life is also falling apart… not because of therapy but the instability in the therapy is certainly not helping matters.
I don’t know what to do, really. I appreciate I sound like a brat in what comes below (which is why I have put it here first whilst I decide what to do). I get that this feels quite out of context as it’s been such a long time since I have posted and so the background isn’t there and there’s a lot of ‘big feelings’ coming out.
Anyway, I’m hoping to write something and catch up soon as I have a few days off now. I am sorry I haven’t been commenting much on your blogs. I just haven’t been here…although looking at my reader today, I think a lot of us are AWOL. I’d like to think it’s because things are going well for everyone but I suspect it may be that people are worn out and on their edge. Big hugs x
A, everything is a right mess and I don’t know what to do about it. I’ve written something in order to try and process things a bit but I don’t know if it makes any sense because I feel so upset. I’m going to read it anyway because I need you to hear it.
The first time I contacted you to see about starting therapy with you I grilled you on whether you thought you were able to work with complex trauma and if you had done enough of your own work to work with someone like me. I remember sending the email and thinking I was probably asking a bit much, probably overstepping what was acceptable to ask a new therapist, but it was all heading south with Em and there was no way I was going to go blind into another therapeutic relationship and I really needed to be sure that any new therapist really understood what they would be dealing with.
You assured me that you had experience of working with CPTSD and that having received my message you had thought carefully about whether you had the capacity to take on a complex client because you understood the need and how delicate the work is …but yes, you thought you could and you commended me on trying to take care of myself in asking those questions and so we arranged to meet.
Our first session felt so different to anything I had experienced in therapy before. It felt like you were really ‘there’ with me and for the first time in ages I felt seen and heard. But not only that, I felt ACCEPTED and UNDERSTOOD. There was no sense of being judged, you just felt warm, and open, and perhaps someone who might be safe enough to work through a lifetime of trauma with. The relief I felt was palpable, but I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy transition leaving Em…little did I know at that point just how bad it would get and the lasting damage that would be done.
Em’s tick analogy has lodged inside me like a jagged piece of shrapnel. It is so painful. I feel sick and tearful every time I think about it – which is daily, and to be honest it’s not even conscious thought, instead it’s like a shadow that follows me around, or worse, a deep sense of shame that I carry inside me. I’ve told you about that thick tar that I feel like I am coated in and runs through my veins – well it’s that. Even though all this happened a couple of years ago, it’s not gone away, and I am not sure that it ever will.
I don’t know if you know how much this enduring sense of shame and of being ‘too much’ is present in the room when we are together and in our relationship in general? Whenever I want to be close to you, to hug you, or to see you, or now simply reach out and text you my brain serves me up those words “It’s like you want to be inside me, your young parts want a constant drip feed of what they need, a permanent breast, they are adhesive, like a tick…” and I am floored. I can’t really explain how bad it is, but it makes that vulnerable part want to curl up and die.
The steady work we have done together on building trust and safety had silenced that voice a lot, the one that tells me I am draining you dry and am an unwanted parasite – the one that says I need to be careful, or you’ll leave. But it’s got louder and louder again in recent months since you’ve stepped back. The part that feels ‘unlovable’ and ‘too much’ is always looking for confirmation of that and so not being able to do longer sessions and you not replying to my texts is taken as evidence that I’m finally too much for you too, and it’s so painful. As much as I try and work round it it’s playing out in our sessions over and over again.
I know you say your need to retreat isn’t about me and you have tried to reassure me that this is your stuff and Adult Me can hear that and gets it. But the young parts, the bits that actually need to be in therapy, don’t get it and I need you to understand what’s been happening for me since February because things aren’t ok. Well, clearly, they’re not. I’ve run out of the therapy room so many times now because it feels unbearable being so disconnected, and other times I have struggled to make it into the room. I know things aren’t going to change but we still need to look at this because whilst you probably think it’s settled down now, it hasn’t, I’ve just taken it inside and it’s eroding my sense of safety in the relationship.
I feel so far away from you now. My protectors are on high alert because when they look for evidence that you’ve gone, it’s all they can find. The week before your break I texted you and told you I missed you. You didn’t acknowledge it. Then I asked if we could find a way to connect so that I didn’t feel so alone, and you said “absolutely” – but then the Friday session happened, and it felt like you hadn’t understood how desperate it actually felt. On Thursday before our session I sent you a picture of a crying child. Nothing. You used to send me messages saying things like, “looking forward to seeing you” before our sessions but you don’t now and so when I have already spiralled off it feels really precarious coming. Like do you want to see me or am I just another thing on the list that you have to get through?
The week leading into Friday’s session was awful. I was falling apart. Massively. For the first time in years, I seriously considered self-harming. My brain was wandering into not being here anymore. Things felt so bad, and I just felt like there was no way through it. I felt so alone and scared. You couldn’t have known from the messages I sent you how bad it was because I didn’t say it explicitly, but there would have been a time when I would have text you and told you that, or at least asked to check in or if we could do a longer session. But I don’t ask now because I know you don’t have capacity and so instead, I try and hold it on my own.
I didn’t self-harm but it was there like a shadow all week. What I did slip into like a comfy pair of slippers was not eating. I didn’t even know it had happened until Friday when I realised I hadn’t actually eaten a meal all week and had just been dashing about and had a few biscuits here and there. Fortunately, I caught myself quickly and have been on top of it. The last thing I want to do is go back down that road- especially on autopilot. Things are really bad at the moment – it doesn’t really get much scarier than thinking you could lose everything, but it’s been compounded by feeling like I am on my own now. I felt like I had dragged myself through the week and just needed to be able to put it all down for a bit and be safe with you but that didn’t happen. I worry that telling you that makes me sound manipulative but it’s not, I’m not trying to make you do or feel anything, it’s just a reflection of how bad it’s been feeling and I think you need to know because I always seem to be ‘coping’ when actually I am so far from it.
I miss feeling connected to you and I know I have to learn to find another way, but it feels like a big shock to my system. I miss the goodnight messages you would send. I miss the photos of places you’d been that helped bridge the gap when you were away. I miss you checking in with me when things were difficult. And I know it’s not like that’s completely stopped but I miss feeling like you were ‘there’ and I hate that you being ‘gone’ makes me feel like it’s happened because I am not important enough or worthy enough of your care and attention. Things are really bad at the moment, terrible in fact, and it feels like you just don’t care at all.
I know all this is hurting much more than it should because of how things used to be when I was little. But it’s very hard for the young parts who grew up without a mum in the week. You had begun to feel ‘real’ and I had started to get a sense that there was something maybe a bit solid and safe in the relationship even when I can’t physically see you. I was heading towards the sense of there being an ‘invisible string’ and I felt myself relaxing and beginning to breathe in the relationship. But now – to go back to what they’ve always known – well it’s like being body slammed. I know that seems extreme, but it is how I am experiencing it.
The young four-year-old part of me that had started to cry and reach out has gone back to silence and hiding because no one cares, and no one comes. She’s used to coping alone…surviving…and so it’s returning back to what is known. The baby is still screaming to be picked up and soothed but again it’s a scream that is going unheard and cry that will eventually stop. You told me once that a baby doesn’t try and annoy its mother by crying when it’s hungry and that needs don’t work on a timetable – but now we are trying to work on a timetable and it’s so hard because so much of the upset I experience is triggered from being left. It’s the sense of abandonment is what sets everything off inside. I try and get through the week and not be ‘too much’ and not contact you ‘too much’, but the internal chaos and upset is intense.
I try and coach myself and all the young parts through the week. I tell the parts to “hold on” and say that, “it’ll be ok” when I see you and that “nothing has changed”- but more often than not, when I arrive now, the despondent older child parts (especially the teenager) won’t let you anywhere near. They feel rejected and abandoned in the week so why would they let you close in person? That’s what happened on Friday. I was in complete agony, trapped and terrified. I don’t think you really got how bad it was, I could hardly speak and it was an effort to tell you anything at all. When I say things like “my body is in pain”, it’s physically excruciating and a symptom of how much emotional distress I am in.
Earlier that week I had I told you I needed cuddles in a text. I feel really stupid asking for anything like this, stories, whatever, but what you tend to get in messages is the youngest parts’ needs being expressed. They’re the ones that get imprisoned in the room and can’t reach out easily. So even if I arrive and seem stand-offish or shutdown or whatever it is that keeps you far away as you said, “keeping you at arm’s length” (which incidentally is how I feel about you – I feel like I am being pushed away and that’s why I am so protected) I need you to reach through that and get to those young parts. I know you asked if I wanted stories but I was already so far gone that I couldn’t get back to you.
I need you to know that when I say “no” to a hug it’s only the protector saying “no”. There has never been a time in the entire time I have been seeing you when I have not wanted you to come closer to me or hug me or hold my hand or give me some physical signal that things are still ok. I don’t know how we get round this, but I think I said before, maybe you could ask, “Is that what all the parts of you want, or is it a protector trying to stop the little ones from getting what they need because it thinks you’ll get hurt?” That sort of thing really cuts through that protective part that feels like it’s unsafe and you don’t want to be with me. When you acknowledge the young parts it gives the protector permission to step back.
I know how nuts that sounds – and I think you asked me twice on Friday if I wanted a hug. So I do get you were trying. You’d think I would be able to respond to that, wouldn’t you? And I REALLY wanted to. I wanted to shuffle over to you and snuggle in and just feel safe. You’d think I would understand that you asking me more than once if I want a hug means you aren’t trying to get away from me or push me away, but I get frozen in fear. I don’t want to be too much and the longer we are far apart and silent the worse that feeling gets.
I can see the time ticking away and I feel desperately sad. Those little ones have been hanging on all week to see you and then this happens. It’s so painful, and so reflective of what it was like when I was a child. I needed my mum to look like she was pleased to see me when she came back after a week away, to give me some kind of physical cue that everything was ok, that I was still wanted…and this is what is playing out with us and going so badly wrong at the minute.
I am so filled with shame for needing you so much that I can’t even look at you now. I don’t know what your facial expression is like so can’t read what’s there, but it feels too scary to look at you or make eye contact. When I am frightened, we hardly talk so I can’t even judge your tone of voice and I read your silence as frustration, anger, or lack of care. I really, really just need for you to reach out and let me know it’s safe. I need for us to find a way to connect quickly at the beginning of sessions so it doesn’t spiral into something terrible where I feel like there is no option but to leave.
I’d told you I felt like I was drowning in that last session. You told me that people who are drowning usually put their arms out for help. That might be the case – but when I feel like you are not even ‘there’ I don’t register that I can reach out. That’s how bad it feels. The level of dissociation was off the chart. I genuinely felt like I was in freezing water, in a choppy, grey sea, and was totally alone. I might have looked like I am with you, but I was nowhere close. Adult me is a really strong swimmer but when it’s like that, and I tell you I am drowning I’m little and I am scared and I can’t swim.
You said once that you wouldn’t let me drown. You said there would always be space for me with you. You told me that I didn’t need to stay out in the cold. And I trusted that. You told me I was brave for trying again and you understood that coming to therapy was almost like asking me to run back into a burning building when I have already have third degree burns. It felt like you got it, but now I tell you it feels like you are watching me drown and you tell me it’s because I’m not accepting help. It feels like you don’t really care. If I was able to reach out and ask for help I would.
It feels like such a long time since you laughed and told me that you had a cupboard full of chocolate. With Em I had been told the cupboards were bare and that statement felt like you really saw me, understood the trauma I had experienced and knew what I needed. You said I needed a different experience of relationship – I was looking to do the deep relational work and you said you could do that with me. I don’t know if that’s how you feel now, or whether I’m too much for you. I get that all this is probably a reflection of the depth of the relationship we have. It’s messy and sticky and covered in feathers not neat and clean…and maybe this is where the healing will come but right now I am face down in the pain.
You have never shamed me for my big feelings, you say that I am not too much, and sometimes you say you love me… but not as frequently as you used to. After years and years of feeling chronically unsafe things had begun to settle but now… it feels like I’ve lost you or I am losing you. Or as I said last week, like I am lost. And it’s scary. I don’t even know if I am making sense it’s such a mess inside.
When it’s really bad, I sometimes wonder if I was sitting in floods of tears instead of frozen and silent whether you would still stay away from me? My silence and freeze is how I express overwhelm – that is my crying. Sometimes I cry with you but it’s not even a tenth of what’s stuck inside, it’s still ‘controlled’. I wish I could just fall apart and let it out but it wasn’t safe to cry as a child, and I learnt early on that no one comes anyway. But that’s the reframe that needs to happen – if I am silent and still, I am not keeping you at arm’s length, I’m massively distressed and need you to come close. I know this is a difficult area but we need to figure something out because I can’t keep getting to the place where it feels so intolerable that I can’t bear to stay and run out because it feels like I am being abandoned and that is how it feels.
When I said I was going home last week you didn’t say anything – I guess you’d had enough too – but the message it sent to the young parts, again, is that you just don’t care. Rather than try and fix things you let me leave and then stayed to chat with whoever it was that was sitting on your front step. That really didn’t help. I guess it’s my fault for leaving before the session was over, but that whole episode just made me feel exposed but also highlighted that other people are more important to you even if I am falling apart.
With a break coming up it was always going to be tricky, but it really couldn’t have been a worse way to leave with a long break looming. Usually, I would have given you my elephant to wash just before a break but I didn’t this time. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it’s because I didn’t feel like I could, it didn’t feel safe for the young parts to express that need…and that’s where I am at. It feels like those young parts have been completely forgotten about and abandoned. There’s been no preparation for the break and now I just have to tough it out and frankly it’s not been going all that well.
It’s Thursday now and this is the longest period of time we’ve ever had no contact and I suspect that you won’t contact me before Tuesday’s session. It feels like a punishment. I get you need a break. I get that you are tired. I get that you have a lot on. And I get that I am hard work…but it gets to be even harder work when the young parts aren’t attended to, and it feels just like total confirmation that you have had enough. You’ve totally backed away. And I get why you are doing it – a bit – but the impact it’s having on me is enormous. I get you have to look after you, of course you do, and I have to look after me but so much of my looking after me comes through the relationship I have with you right now. I get I need to ‘individuate’ and take care of the little parts inside and I am getting better at that but we are still in the thick of this work and …I don’t even know what to say.
The fact that you and your supervisor have had discussions about referring me on makes me so unsafe because I feel like if I don’t do what I am meant to do or I get too upset about how different things are you get to decide to get rid of me. In so many ways I feel like the rock I was standing on has turned to quicksand. And none of this is meant as a criticism. I don’t want you to hear it in that way at all. I know this is the work. All these triggers and feelings need working through. This is life. But I need you to know that this is really painful and I am bracing myself for you to tell me that you can’t work with me anymore after this holiday… which on top of all the stuff that is going on in my day-to-day life feels horrendous.
There’s a part of me that feels like I should just tell you I am not coming anymore and protect myself from more pain because I can’t see how it’ll be anything close to Ok on Tuesday as things stand. There is so much hurt right now. And I don’t know if you are meaning to hurt me or whether is accidental but either way I am struggling. If things can be mended, then I really need us to find a way to connect in our sessions and to have a plan for when things hit the skids because I am finding it hard enough to adjust to feeling like you’re gone in the week without also feeling like you’re not in the room with me. I need to feel like you have your end of the rope, or invisible string, and lately it feels like you’ve taken scissors to it and I am left completely alone.
For once – brace yourselves for this- I’m going to write primarily about my mum and the mother wound, rather than wax lyrical about my therapist! Of course, the work I do in therapy relates so much to my relationship (or lack of one) with my mother, but usually I’m here talking about what’s been triggered when I see Anita and how that works out rather than stuff in the here and now with my mum.
However, my most recent rupture with Anita was so powerful and so painful and it coincided so neatly with something that happened with my mum that it was so obvious to see that what I was bringing into the room, to Anita, was decades old hurts from another relationship altogether. Afterall, my therapist not being able to offer slightly longer sessions really should not have triggered the colossal meltdown/s that it did. I mean it’s literally been a solid two months (and still going strong!) of internal chaos and anxiety and frankly, that’s disproportionate to what the trigger actually was.
When you dig beneath the surface, though, and get curious about what the feelings in mine and Anita’s rupture were about: feeling unimportant, easy to put down, and being unworthy of Anita’s time and care, it’s not hard to see why this triggered such a big meltdown. Those feelings are so huge and so raw and yet SOOOOOOOOOOO fucking longstanding and familiar. The sense of being unlovable and inadequate has covered me like a second skin. It’s like being doused in a thick tar of shame. It’s bloody awful.
The need to feel… loved… is (still) so massive. For years and years, I felt like there was something wrong with me for needing connection and that I must be fundamentally lacking in whatever it is that makes people want to be close. No. Not people. People do love and care about, and for, me – I have great friends and a wonderful partner… what I really mean is a mum. A mum that loves me. Is proud of me. Wants to spend time with me. Is interested in me as a person. Feels protective of me. Is there. Available. Attuned. Someone whom I can be myself around. Someone who can give physical affection. Someone who is safe.
That’s a big wish list isn’t it? Perhaps as an adult, yes, but as a child, they are the basic fundamentals, surely.
But then is it really too much to expect – no, not really. I am a mother and these things come naturally. Sure, my kids wind me up and drive me fucking mad – but they are also bloody amazing, and I love them more than anything. There is absolutely nothing I would not do to ensure their happiness and felt sense of safety and being loved. My kids roll their eyes when each day I say, “Guess What?” and then reply “We know Mummy, you love us!” But I love that. I love that there is no doubt in my kids’ minds that they are loved. I love that they come to me when they are hurt or scared or just plain bored. I love the fact that they witter on for hours about boring shit but know that I’ll listen and not just send them off so I can have some time to myself. I love that they know that I will be there every single day to pick them up from school, to read a story, to put them to bed…
They probably have no concept of what this time means because it forms part of the fabric of their existence, but having not had that growing up I can say it has left a massive hole. The sense of being ‘left’ as a child has been hard. I know and understand the reasons my mum went away and her achievements have been significant, but the impact it had on the little girl who was left behind was significant too. And that’s been a big part of my therapeutic work. The coping mechanisms I put in place over the years to deal with that gaping hole inside have been huge and massively detrimental to my health. As I wrote recently, I am through the eating disorder stuff now – but it has taken the best part of 25 years. 25 fucking years. I mean hell, wtf?
As I have said before, my relationship with my mum isn’t perfect but it has been something that evolved and has worked for us both over the last decade or so since having my children. We don’t see much of her, but it’s felt like there has been a reasonable level of contact. There’s not been any drama or fallings out since I announced my first pregnancy and I have come to accept that my mum will never be a hands-on grandparent like my friend’s have. She’s not someone who will take the kids for days out, or have them for holidays or whatever but it’s been ‘good enough’…well…no…it’s been what it is. I feel sad for my children, having had a set of grandparents who were so much fun and child-orientated myself, but I give them these experiences as their parent so it’s not desperate.
Only recently, I don’t know what has happened. It feels like something has shifted and changed and I have no idea why. Like I just can’t put my finger on it. Before Christmas I mentioned that my mum seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth – and at that time I started trying to figure out what was going on. Had I said or done something to account for the radio silence? I couldn’t put my finger on anything and started dredging up things like, ‘could she somehow have found my blog and taken offence about what was in it?’ but then out of nowhere she rang me and it was as if nothing had happened. It was a total head fuck to be honest with you.
So, fast forward to now. And we’re in similar territory. I think I mentioned in one of my recent posts how she’d taken a few weeks to reply to a text but had prefaced her reply with the fact she’d had covid. I mean, she hadn’t had covid the entire time and let’s be honest, a quick message on WhatsApp doesn’t take a second but – whatever. And then it was my birthday and the thing about having not been able to get out to get a card- fine. Whatever. Whilst I was away on holiday in February, I had sent a message asking if she could have the kids for a day in July and she replied that she couldn’t as she might be doing something…nothing in the calendar yet, but you know, something might come up as a priority. This message coincided with all the stuff with Anita and the stopping longer sessions and it just really triggered the stuff about being completely unimportant and inadequate.
Anyway, I sent flowers and a card for Mother’s Day – and she sent me a message then….but that’s it since. I have sent several messages (5 if we’re keeping tabs) over the last month – and the ticks have gone blue but there’s been no response at all. It’s been the kids’ Easter holidays and in the past we’ve done Easter egg hunts in the garden and she’d bring them an egg. Not this year. No acknowledgment at all. And whilst I may or may not have done something to offend my mum (literally no clue – other than having this blog) I can’t understand why she would not want to make and effort or spend time with her grandchildren. They haven’t done anything wrong…but then neither have I.
I find myself tying myself in knots trying to second guess what’s going on. It feels so reminiscent of my teenage years, trying to make sense of a situation and work out my part in it. Like it makes no sense to stonewall someone unless they’ve done something wrong – so what is the thing I’ve done to deserve this?
Of course, there’s another part of me that feels like I need to stop trying so hard. If she doesn’t want a relationship with me or her grandchildren then that’s fine. Let her get on with it. I need to stop putting myself out there to be rejected or ignored. Every time I message her and there is no reply I am engaging in this weird dynamic. I keep knocking at a door that is locked and bolted. It’s like Em and the empty cupboard. Get the message RB – if she wanted to engage with you she would reply to you. So I need to stop, don’t I?
Some people have asked why I don’t just ring her up and call her out on this, but it doesn’t feel as easy as that. For someone who is usually really assertive and articulate, I just can’t do it when it comes to talking to my mum. I mean I’ll go head to head with her Tory Brexiteer bullshit but when it comes to, “Mum, I feel really sad that we don’t have a good relationship and I’ve really struggled over the years to understand what it is about me that makes you be so distant”… you know, why put yourself out there to be shot down in flames? Especially, if the narrative that still runs loud inside is, “You think you’re so perfect. Who do you think you are? I wish you’d never been born!”
I may not be great at ignoring the triggers or coping with the anxiety that some unreturned messages evoke but I sure as shit will not put myself out there to be hurt further. And I can see the whole thing being turned on its head, that I am somehow the aggressor, and she is the victim, “You have no idea how hard it was for me, what I sacrificed for you…” and it’ll become a character assassination. I am not here (on the blog), trying to blame her for anything – but how things were as a child has left an imprint on me (and that’s what I write about). It’s been really fucking hard, and the mother wound is painful. I’m nearly fucking forty and yet, here I am after more than a decade of therapy writing about how painful it is to be ignored by my mum, and by extension – my therapist (even though A doesn’t ignore me).
Perhaps I am deficient and too needy and am ‘mental’ and pathetic. Perhaps that’s what she sees?
But I’ve done enough work now to challenge that narrative. The Inner Critic that was forged from my mother’s voice can get back in the box. I don’t need it anymore. I have a level of self-compassion that can counteract it. I developed the critic to protect me. By being my own biggest critic and attacking myself meant that nothing anyone else could say or do to me could be worse. I had my own trump card. But now I have seen the role of the critic, and realised I don’t need it anymore. What I need to do is look at WHY it developed in the first place and look at what I was trying to get away from – the mother wound – of course.
So, what do I do now? I guess, I keep taking this stuff to therapy and working through in the safety of the room with Anita. And I stop putting myself out there with my mum. If she chooses to get in touch then great, but I am not going to keep flogging a dead horse – for want of a better expression. What would you do? It’s one of those situations where I wish I could just take the bull by the horns and ask what’s happened – because ultimately if there’s a bad reaction what am I actually losing? I can’t be any more anxious or confused than I am now. I guess, though, right now I can feel some sense of it not being ‘my fault’ and if I confront her the likelihood is the situation will be made ‘my fault’ and then I’ll start doubting myself… in some way, backing off and ‘letting it go’ is the best I can do right now.
Anyway, I’ll leave that here. I’m just off the back of a therapy break and so I’ve been grappling with that alongside this mum stuff. Unfortunately, there’s quite a few bank holidays coming up in the UK over the next few weeks and so there’s more disruption to the therapy but I’ll get through it. I always do.
Last night I was driving to therapy and Destiny’s Child’s ‘Survivor’ came on my random playlist. That album was the soundtrack to my second year of A Levels – and, man, did I turn up the volume last night and belt it out – I was 18 and it was 2001 again!…
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.