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.
It’s been a complicated, stressful, and emotionally messy week. ‘No change there, then’, I hear you say! To be honest, I thought I was close reaching my breaking point these last few weeks. It’s certainly felt like I was at rock bottom – but as it turns out, there was a hidden trapdoor I didn’t know anything about just waiting to spring open and give that extra little bit of depth and doom to plummet down into. I really need to stop saying, ‘how much worse can it get?’ because invariably the universe seems to think I am issuing it some kind of challenge.
My wife came home sick late last week with a fever and by early Monday morning we got the confirmation that it’s COVID – we knew anyway, the rapid deterioration and the developing symptoms were there and clear to see. This is unbelievably stressful on many levels- she’s actually very unwell with it, struggling to breathe and I can see that’s she’s scared – and nurses don’t tend to get scared with health stuff because they’ve seen so much shit in their careers that they shrug most stuff of as ‘you’re not dying so you’re fine!’ To see my wife in tears via FaceTime (because she’s isolating) is heart breaking. She is the solid rock in this household and suddenly she’s more like a jelly than a chunky bit of granite.
I’m trying not to let myself run away with what could happen but it’s hard not to – you all know what I am like. I know it won’t help anyone if I start catastrophising and so I keep on keeping on because I have to hold it together and remain calm for the kids, but there are things that are a disaster already just a week in. Like me, if my wife doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. She doesn’t get sick pay in her job and SSP doesn’t come anywhere close to covering what’s not coming in from her salary. So, once again, we are on a really financially precarious footing. We’re still not recovered from her losing her job last year and every day she’s not in work is another bill that becomes a challenge. Like many people in their 30’s and 40’s we have no savings and a lot of unsecured debt.
I text and cancelled my Monday session with Anita on Friday because that’s the only area where I can cut anything from our budget– everything else is already on a knife edge, every pound accounted for. It felt rubbish because, now more than ever, I really need my sessions. I am not in therapy twice a week because it’s ‘something to do’ I am there because without it I don’t function. Therapy is a huge part of my maintenance plan but also my fucking healing!
I really hate that mental healthcare is so exclusive and based on your ability to pay for it. I hate that my system is so traumatised that without that routine of my Monday and Friday sessions I swiftly fall into a place where I don’t cope. I did once-a-week sessions for years with Em and it was horrific for those young parts that just don’t have any sense of object constancy. I spent the whole time anxious and spiralling in the abyss between the appointments. Twice a week is much better but even that’s not perfect.
I know I am not the only one that feels like this. I feel angry that I am saddled with the bill for trauma that was done to me and it’s the reality for so many of us we’re left footing this enormous bill. When you exhaust your ‘quota’ of NHS therapy you’re left to manage by yourself. Discharged. ‘Goodbye and good luck!’ A lifetime of trauma doesn’t just get resolved in 12 months of once-a-week sessions with a psychologist (and that’s if you are even lucky enough to be given that and not just 6 sessions of CBT). When I start reeling off my history and the coping mechanisms I have built over the years it’s clear as day that this isn’t short-term work.
So what do you do when you hit the end of your NHS entitlement? Essentially, you’re faced with a choice – accept that this is the best it’s going to be for you or take on the equivalent of another mortgage to try and help yourself some more…and cut everything unnecessary out of life to facilitate it.
If you had a broken leg that wasn’t healed the hospital wouldn’t say, ‘well, you’ve had one cast, and that’s your lot – hobble on’, they’d look again at how to try and mend you. When I had cancer they didn’t say, ‘We thought based on your initial scans that you would need 8 rounds of chemo. However, looking at your most recent scan we can see the treatment is working and the tumour is shrinking but the cancer’s still there. We now think you need another 4 rounds of chemo and radiotherapy, but tough, we don’t have the budget…’ I mean, can you even imagine? – Of course they booked me in for more chemo and the radiotherapy and because of this I am still here. And yet when it comes to mental health it’s tough shit and that withdrawal of support feels so abandoning and rejecting which again taps into a lot of the trauma for childhood – not being worthy of care and support, being too much etc.
It’s hideous, really.
It stresses me out to think about how much debt we have accrued over the years just so I can go to therapy. Sometimes it feels counterintuitive because the financial lack of safety negates the benefit of therapy. I hate feeling unsafe and financial insecurity really impacts my well-being. I panic about money a lot. I take on more and more work to try and cover the shortfall but in turn I feel exhausted and burnt out. It’s a vicious cycle but I literally don’t know what else to do.
My wife can never understand how we never have any money when we both work so hard, don’t drink, don’t eat out, don’t socialise, don’t buy presents for each other even at Christmas and birthdays. We make sure the kids have what they need but it stresses me out when their feet grow or they need new clothes (which seems to be all the time!). Our holidays (which we didn’t have any at all for 6 years) go on credit cards piling on the mountain of existing debt. It’s hard to explain to her that all this is down to the fact that she is married to a basket case whose system is so fucked that therapy is like life support.
I feel bad about it, but what’s the alternative?
Anita text me on Sunday evening to see how I was and said we could do our session if I wanted and arrange payment later. When I cancelled my session with her I told her that we just couldn’t afford it. I declined her off because it’s not like there’s a magic money tree in the garden that I can shake in a few week’s time and miraculously find another £50 hanging off a branch. It was kind of her to offer but really it just moves the problem.
We got confirmation in the early hours of Monday morning that my wife did have COVID and by Monday lunchtime she had deteriorated so much that I text A in a panic and asked if we could check in during the week. Maybe there’s a treasure chest lurking under the patio?! Suddenly, everything just felt really unsafe and out of control because the COVID diagnosis directly impacted another medical procedure and ugh…it’s just too precarious…but of course it also sent my brain on ‘we just cannot afford this’.
Anita and I fixed up a time to talk on Wednesday and I just ploughed on in survival mode – feeling increasingly ‘not ok’ and also panicky and disconnected from A. The last session we had face-to-face had been a nightmare for my system and the fallout from it has been huge. I feel like I am just fizzing with nervous energy. My nervous system is wound up like a tight spring and I feel like I am going to either explode or collapse soon.
I have been trying hard to look after myself through all this – eating properly etc (which is a fucking miracle given my ‘go to’ under stress is to starve myself) but even with self-care I was totally done in and exhausted by Tuesday evening and took myself to bed early – like 8pm. I couldn’t sleep, though. My brain was whirring and I just felt like talking to Anita online was going to make everything worse. I have been hanging it together with rubber bands and chewing gum but this is only possible because the child parts have been locked away. There was a very real possibility that an online session could trigger them, there’s no space here right now, no privacy I could end up falling down another trapdoor.
I felt incredibly unsettled – so much so – that I text Anita at 10pm to cancel our session:
A, I’m really sorry but I don’t think I can do tomorrow. I’m sorry it’s short notice to cancel. Things here are really hard and I just haven’t stopped running since Friday. I’m completely exhausted, stressed out, and drowning. Tomorrow is my crazy busy day and we’ll be up home-schooling from 7am. I can’t see how I can fit it is and talk to you – there’s no private space to speak to you either. I can’t escape to my room.
Also, I know that I am on my edge and as much as I want to talk to you, I think given how bad things feel it might actually make things worse because distance doesn’t help and I feel really far away from you already. It’s that thing where my brain doesn’t even think you exist or believes you are dead. I’ve sort of thrown all the non-coping parts in the cupboard because I can’t do my life right now. I need to be armoured.
I don’t know if you got the email I sent you last week but it’s very much in the needing to survive it by going it alone. I know that that’s not ideal but, actually, I can’t give space to the parts that are terrified and spiralling because I can do nothing for them – but what I can do is not trigger myself further by putting a screen between us. I cannot afford to fall apart. I hope you understand. X
She replied a little later with:
I am so so sorry to read your message and do totally understand. Please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Think of you with lots of love xx
I didn’t reply as it was 11pm and there was nothing to say anyway.
I could not sleep despite being absolutely exhausted. I tossed and turned and felt absolutely awful. My brain wasn’t consciously thinking of anything but my body just would not relax. I got cramp in my feet. I felt hot and cold. The anxiety was horrendous. That feeling of falling through the black abyss, the young stuff about being unsafe and uncontained was massively activated but it wasn’t really in regard to Anita even though I felt somewhat disconnected from her. It was 4:45am the last time that I looked at the clock and then I finally fell asleep for an hour and promptly had a plane crash dream (and have had it every night since).
I woke up feeling terrified and my heart was racing. And then my brain clicked. 20th January. A year since the horrible session when Em compared me to a tick, and the session that led to our termination on the 3rd February. This time last year was absolutely fucking horrific. It’s been on my radar that January was the anniversary of it all going to shit but somehow the date of ‘tick gate’ crept up on me. Of course, I am worried and stressed about the here and now but there’s also a big undercurrent of anxiety about this stuff with Em and that, I think is why I feel like everything is life and death. It’s that early annihilation stuff being tapped into.
I responded to Anita’s text when I woke up. Honestly – I’m like the tide changing all the time. I briefly outlined what I had realised when I woke up and asked if we could speak at the time we had arranged. We spoke yesterday for half and hour. It was very adult and I didn’t mention any of the stuff about Em or the attachment stuff or feeling disconnected because opening it up didn’t feel like a brilliant idea given I had a solid run of 10 hours ahead of me juggling my kids and teaching my lessons. However, it was connecting enough and I am so glad I have her in my corner.
I don’t know when I will get to see Anita face-to-face again. I have to isolate until Sunday and so far, I feel fine…so fingers crossed I don’t get sick, too. But ugh. It’s all too much stress not knowing how things are going to work out and money…fucking money man…
I know this is just a rant but actually I realised that money is such a huge thing and I know for a fact that I am not the only one struggling with the price of trauma – and therefore the price of therapy. I think what’s hard, too, is that we value our therapists so much that it’s not a case of thinking the therapy is ‘too expensive’ or ‘not worth it’ – it’s just simply unaffordable sometimes and that’s far from ideal when you REALLY NEED IT! It’s not easy to talk about this, either. I feel incredible amounts of shame around being unable to afford therapy – and this leads to all the stuff about not being worthy of it, deserving of it, good enough…it’s a vicious cycle but then £100-150 a week for years and years and years is just not realistic for lots of us is it? But like I said before, what other options are there?
I hate to be so doom and gloom but I just feel rubbish right now.
This is hard and I am struggling. It happens, without fail, every year. The period from the 27th December to the start of the new school term is a complete emotional disaster zone. I can trace this feeling back over at least the last twenty years, if not longer. It’s become part of the season just as much as Santa and Christmas films. I think a lot of people feel this way (do they?) – but even if there’s a lot of people in the same boat, it doesn’t help because what I feel right now is so incredibly isolating.
I desperately need time to recharge and given how hectic my day-to-day life is surely now, of all the times in the calendar, this should be the time I kick back and relax and have pj days. Nobody is expected to do much – I mean there’s the joke about not knowing what day it is and feeling like there’s no purpose – only it’s absolutely no joke feeling the way I do now. This isn’t relaxing. It’s harrowing. Yes, I am in my pjs but it’s because I have no energy or will to get dressed.
I feel so depressed. Everything feels a huge effort and I feel overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks. I should go and empty and reload the dishwasher, or at least get in the shower, but I can’t. I will do it at the very last minute before my wife gets home from work so as not to arouse suspicion of the fact that I am not functioning.
I feel so lonely and unsafe… I don’t mean that I am going to self-harm (although that has been a feature of this time of year before) I just mean I feel scared and not ok, not safe in my body. My nervous system is in tatters. I feel incapacitated. Frozen. Paralysed.
It’s at this time, every year, when all my fears rise up and I just feel desperately sad but also worthless and useless and all of those other horrible things that I struggle with so much. I can’t escape it and I can’t shift it – in fact, thinking about it, a decade ago it was this time that signalled my complete emotional breakdown which saw me off work for 17 months. It’s not a good time!!
As much as I want to ‘cheer up’ and find some energy and joy I just feel emotionally and physically wiped out. I know, now, that this is the very young stuff – pre-verbal- activating. It’s the feeling of that endless painful black hole in my chest that I wake up with, the panic, the emptiness, the tears that won’t come, the overwhelm and the detailed relentless bad dreams night after night.
And I can’t soothe it, that part of me. I just feel like I am in my own emotional prison and I don’t have the key to unlock the door and get out.
Thinking about it, I am not surprised that over the years it’s been this time that has signalled the start of a rupture with Em. Things feel so desperate. I mean it’s as bad as it gets for me, and I’d reach out when I shouldn’t and then get radio silence which obviously triggered more pain, more shame, more of the ‘I am not worthy of care or love’. And this is where I am at again – now. Only I am writing this in a blog post in order not to create a rupture or to push you away. I don’t want to be ‘too much’ but this stuff, these feelings are too much for me and it’s hurting…and we’re only at the midway point.
It’s a negative downward spiral.
I know you’d probably say something like ‘try and do something nice for yourself’ but I don’t even feel like I have the capacity to exist right now. I know that’s dramatic. But ‘self-care’ feels like asking me to start speaking Chinese. I simply can’t do it.
I feel so stupid. In my last post here I wrote about how I genuinely thought this break would be ok because things are so much more secure and settled in my relationship with you. What I failed to recognise was the part that was around then is settled but this part, here, now is not. This part is the one that cannot take anything positive in. It’s the one who has no sense of object constancy. It’s the one who feels desperately alone and scared and has no words – it feels like a matter of life and death. I guess, given how bad it feels in my body it has to be the baby. It is the distress of a child who needs holding and is left out in the cold.
I don’t think how I feel is triggered by the break alone. It doesn’t feel like that…but when this stuff becomes live, it’s the break – the lack of contact – that makes it so much worse. My mental health maintenance plan is on ice – you and K aren’t there. In the usual run of things if I felt this way, the longest I would have to wait to see you is three days. I could text you and ask for a check-in and we’d probably be able to speak within 24 hours, and you’d respond with something holding in the meantime. But it’s different now. This is your holiday and I don’t want to burden you with my mess. It’s only been 9 days since I saw you but to these little ones that are panicked that feels like a lifetime ago.
Adult me is trying hard to just count it down and get through the days until we meet again. The thing is, this year I don’t even feel like I can take comfort in the fact that I am seeing you on Monday, 5 days from now. I really need to see you. I need to hug you and to cry and let some of this stuff out…but there is no guarantee that will actually happen. I am usually panicked enough on a break that my therapist won’t come back or that something bad has happened or things will go wrong (and they did last year!) but whilst I think you will come back because you care, we still might not get to see each other.
The COVID numbers are going mad here in the UK and I genuinely think we will be put in a strict lockdown again. It’s only a matter of time. And whilst there have been more provisions made for supporting mental health face-to-face in recent lockdowns, even if you don’t choose to go away and bubble with your partner, if schools revert to online learning as of next week, I will be home, here, looking after my kids and still won’t be able to see you face-to-face because I’ll be unable to get out in the daytime. As daft as it sounds there is a part of me that hopes you do go away because the idea of you staying here and my being unable to see you during the week when you are just down the road feels utterly unbearable. I could cry.
And so there it is. All my usual annual Christmas stuff playing out, the attachment pain, break struggles, and the extra cherry on top of the doom of potential lockdown just to add insult to injury. 2020 has been so hard and yet I fear there’s not a great deal to look forward to going forward.
I am so sick of hanging on by my fingertips. Survival mode is … overrated.
Well, here we are, it’s Christmas Eve, and well done to us, we’ve almost made it through the shittest, shitty, shit heap that has been 2020! I mean what a year it’s been, and it’s not even done yet. It seems like it’s the year that wants to drag every last drop of misery out of itself – here in the UK a new, more virulent strain of COVID is doing the rounds and more of the country is about to go into a tier 4 lockdown as of Boxing Day. Great stuff.
Still, I am not here to go on about the state of all things Covid related – we all know what’s going on, we’re all in the storm together, although to be fair we’re definitely not all in the same boat. Some people are clearly doing ok on their super yachts, others of us are in leaky rowing boats, but there are so many others who are clinging on to driftwood desperately trying to stay afloat. I feel incredibly grateful for what I have this year even though it’s been tough.
Never has this blog name been more apt than in 2020, as I quite literally have been holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum. I know it’s been hard for loads of you guys, too, so I really hope that you are able to have a decent time this Christmas – when, let’s be fair, it’s not always the easiest time even on a ‘regular’ year. I guess maybe one saving grace this year is that many of us will not be forced into hideous family celebrations and might actually be able to Christmas our way…pjs and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s anyone?!
Work has now ended for the term. I’ve just about got on top of the house (although with kids it never lasts!) and am near enough Christmas ready, and so it’s that time where my brain starts reflecting back over the year trying to make sense of what’s happened and how things have changed…and this year, thank goodness, lots has changed for the better. I can’t really believe how different things are now but what a journey it’s been getting here. Sweet Jesus!
This time last year, I was in yet another rupture with Em – it hadn’t spiralled as far as ‘tick gate’ and ‘I shouldn’t have accepted your gift’ just yet (those delights came in January) but we’d started the Christmas break on a really bizarre and uncomfortable footing. You might remember that she came out in a big 30-minute rant as a Tory (!) in our final session before the break suggesting left wing leaders were ‘communists’ and openly mocked one of the female leaders as ‘Jo Swimsuit’.
That session left me stunned and shocked. I mean I had already worked out we were on different pages politically, but up until now I had never experienced anything like this with Em. Mrs Blank Screen was so vehement in her opinions and ranted at me that day. It certainly wasn’t what I wanted or needed heading into a long break and it also set off a few more alarm bells.
Despite having repeatedly asked to do some work to help stabilise things for the young parts before the break she made no attempt to help me with it whatsoever (too busy ranting!), and when I fell apart after that session, she left me suffering for the three weeks. That’s a really potted history but you can always go back to December 2019 if you missed the steady descent into termination. Ugh!
Anyway, I was just rereading those posts as I was interested to see what was going on (although on reflection it seems like a bit of a wilful act of self-harm as nothing good was going to be there!) and to compare it to now.
Two things I wrote stick out to me. One was a text I had sent to Em on the Friday of my holiday. I was meant to Skype her, but it was just not on the cards so I sent a rather long text of which this is a part:
I suspect that you’ll say something about difficult feelings being stirred up and how you’re ‘just my therapist’. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong after nearly 8 years (on and off) because I feel further away from you than ever right now. It seems like at a time when lots of people like me struggle some therapists are bringing in transitional objects, writing notes, encouraging parts that struggle to communicate verbally to write, offering up text check ins, playing games, sitting next to clients and generally being reassuring etc and I get that’s not how you work but yet again we’ve landed upon a break and it’s, ‘if we don’t speak, I think we’re back on the 3rd or 4th’ and it’s just a world away from what I needed. I hate that it feels like this and disruption is so hard.
Reading this again makes me so sad and I remember how painful it felt. The somatic feeling of rejection and abandonment is just so awful and just gnawed away at my solar plexus and chest. I wish I had known before I got deep into that therapy that absolutely everything I listed above (and touch that I was too ashamed to mention in the text) was ‘off limits’ with her. It was really only once I was deeply attached to her that it become clear she was unwilling to meet me where I was at. I mean it took six loooongg excruciating months to get her to even write some words on a pebble – and they had to be my words, not even hers!! – to serve as a transitional object. I should have left then!
For those of you that have followed me for a long time, you’ll know how hard I tried to fit my square peg into the round hole that was on offer with Em (haha – no pun intended!) – even if it meant distorting myself and shaving bits off. I tried to reduce my needs to the absolute bare minimum: remember the three dots in a text that she wouldn’t do? I look back now and just can’t believe I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me for wanting a real and genuine connection with her. I can’t believe that I tried so hard to fit in a mould that wasn’t right because I was told that was what was best… more pears!
In the same post I wondered:
The question I guess I have to ask myself is whether the things I feel like I’m missing out on are deal-breakers or whether or not I think what is on offer with heris enough. What I do know is that I have given so much time and energy to this therapy and yet I feel like I’m stuck. I feel like I’m trying so hard but just keep running into walls which makes me reinforce my own walls.
And that was it, wasn’t it? No matter how I tried to make what Em was offering ‘enough’ it simply wasn’t. I was never safely held in that therapy and it just left me in a state of perpetual ache and anxiety. It was retraumatising and kept me stuck in what felt like a huge re-enactment of being unimportant and unwanted as well as being too much… but despite knowing this, there was still part of me that wanted to believe if I just tried a bit harder then maybe it’d be ok, that at some point something in me would shift and it would feel better…it was just part of the process.
There was another part of me that was steadily gathering momentum and was slowly reaching the point where actually I couldn’t do it to myself anymore. Those things I mention above weren’t complete deal breakers but the no touch boundary was killing me – it was a fast track into dissociation time and again, and the key ingredient that was missing was that actually I just didn’t feel cared for. I wanted a therapist that was prepared to think outside the box a bit. I wanted to feel connected to Em. And I get that there are a zillion ways to forge a connection but being in the emotional dead zone for so long I was willing and wanting to try anything – in reality it shouldn’t have needed anything in the listed stuff above. Those individual things aren’t deal breakers, but feeling genuinely cared for is!…and that was what was lacking.
It was over this Christmas break that I realised I needed something different and started looking around for another therapist. Anita had been on my radar for a couple of years (!!) but I had never taken the leap to contact her, which looking back now is a huge regret – imagine how much better things could have been! Still, I am a great believer in things happen when they are meant to.
The first session back with Em in the new year was a disaster and at that point I approached Anita to arrange an initial meeting to see how it felt and try and work out of a way of moving forward. It went really well and I wish-wish-wish that I had gone with my gut at that point and left Em- that way the ending would have been completely on my terms. Instead, I decided that I wanted to try and work things out with Em and, although I knew I would probably have to leave, I thought it would be better to work through the rupture and create a decent ending and transition into therapy with Anita in a more gradual way…I guess a kind of weaning off process!
It obviously didn’t work out that way in the end as we rapidly descended into her calling my child parts a tick and then her telling me she’d reached the limit of her competency when I challenged her on it…and then terminating via a two-line email… before conceding that maybe a termination session might be ok! January was absolutely fucking horrific!
My system is still in shock about it all and I still have to do a lot of work on this with Anita- but really this year has been mainly about stabilising and creating a sense of safety and trust in the new therapeutic relationship, which is easier said than done when having just experienced harm in the previous therapy!
I feel so lucky to have met Anita. I genuinely feel like we are a good fit- a great team…and it’s not just because of the hugs (but of course they help)! It’s been a complete revelation to be in a therapy where, as she told me the other week, ‘I am in the driving seat’, where I can express my needs and know that they will be listened to, probably met, but if not, I’ll certainly not shamed for them.
Therapy doesn’t make me feel ill or sick or anxious like it used to. I mean I literally used to drive to Em’s with my heart pounding and feeling like I was going to be sick. The attachment stuff is there with A (a lot!), and it gets activated (especially when we’ve been working online) but the difference is Anita responds to me with care and compassion and like it’s ok to be attached to her. It used to repulse Em. And because I feel safe with A, all the parts do – the youngest ones, the angry teen, the protectors- there is a LOT less dissociation in sessions than there ever was with Em. I don’t need to leave so much now because I am not left feeling endlessly alone. Anita is attuned to me and comes and takes my hand before I disappear.
I said recently about how it feels like she has a big bucket of ‘soapy shame remover’ and keeps steadily dousing me in it. It is working. More and more I am able to ask for what I need. I don’t need to get swallowed up in shame for wanting connection or holding. I don’t get flooded with shame when I send her a text. I don’t feel unworthy of her care and attention. I know that I am accepted and loved as I am. I don’t need to pretend to be anything other than who I am with her. And that’s incredible.
I’m not going to write up my recent sessions because there’s really not much to say that’s any different from the others, recently. They have been holding and helpful and deeply connecting. I feel settled. For the first time in years, I can say that I feel ok about the Christmas break. The little parts of me miss her already, of course they do, but what’s different this year is that the separation is bearable because I know, deep down that Anita is going to come back, that she cares about me, and that I am held in mind.
I am loved.
And it is through Anita’s love and care (And K’s too!) that I am beginning to see that I am worthy of love and care. My internal narrative is starting to change bit by bit…finally! And it is because of the transformative power of relationship. Anita doesn’t do anything fancy, doesn’t bombard me with theory, or techniques…she’s just highly present and connected, she’s doesn’t hold herself back from me and she gets me, gets it, and for a child that has been emotionally abandoned and neglected this is therapy gold.
After our last session on Monday she sent me this…
and alongside my beating heart necklace and all the patient hours Anita has sat with my witnessing my pain I feel that my little heart that has been so badly hurt on so many occasions is safe now.
I wrote most of this last night and have just finished up this morning…I find it staggering how much my mood can change in just twelve hours. Yesterday I was stuck in the pit of doom – it was awful, and today I feel fine. It’s like bloody Jekyll and Hyde. Or rather, today I think my adult has come back online after a week of being dictated to by the young parts and the protector. I am not going to go back and edit this again to reflect my, now, better mood!
It’s been one of those weeks where everything has just felt terribly wrong and shit. I’ve been drowning in shame and loneliness, and generally just feeling crap in my body: overwhelm, panic, dissociation… the usual attachment stuff – disaster zone!…
And then just to top it off today, the blog post I was about twenty minutes from finishing and posting has disappeared from my laptop without a trace. I hadn’t saved the Word document (I always write on Word first) but usually these things are retrievable… not this time! I mean it’s not the end of the world, losing the post, but having spent a good couple of hours writing I feel like part of me just wants to say, ‘Yeah, the return to face-to-face again has been interesting – good, bad, crazy, and things are going ok-ish’.
I’m actually exhausted and honestly feel like I am playing in my own little orchestra and creating a cacophony of noise with tiny, whiny, little violins! 😦
Anyway, no one wants to hear me rattle on like this, so let’s give this post a whirl (again). Come on RB – get your shit together (my mantra for the last twenty years!!)!
So, last Thursday saw the return to face-to-face therapy (thank god!). Usually, I see Anita on Mondays and Fridays but I am such a monumental loser that I couldn’t actually wait until Friday to see her after how the three weeks online had been. I have been hanging on by a thread and was just desperate to see her again and wanted to try and fast track my way out of the pit of doom and disconnect that I had fallen into online. Frankly, my nervous system needed a break. It’s been in perpetual flight mode this whole time (although that’s pretty much my default…along with freeze!) and needed regulating.
My heart was beating rapidly as I walked up Anita’s drive. I was anxious but another part of me felt like I was coming home after the weeks away and working online. She had decorated her garden with Christmas lights and my inner child – who loves sparkly lights and snowmen – was delighted. Anita opened the door and I hugged her immediately, she told me it was great to see me and I smiled inside and then walked into the room and sat down.
It was so nice to see her but a part of me was terrified that things would have changed, that my complete meltdowns online would have pushed her away (even if she says she’s a boomerang), that I would go in and face some kind of ‘talk’ about boundaries and being ‘intrusive’ and ‘demanding’ – the painful narrative that is branded into my brain.
I appreciate none of this is coming from anything Anita has said or done – I have Em to thank for this – but I’m noticing more and more that I am struggling with the fears around being rejected and abandoned as we’ve moved into December. I guess it’s hardly surprising as we approach the anniversary of everything going wrong with Em, but it’s not easy to cope with. It’s exhausting in fact. No matter how many times I tell myself that it’s going to be ok, or Anita does, there’s that young part inside that is just absolutely beside herself in a panic…and that can set off a chain reaction inside where all the parts lose their shit!
After all the time online, I really desperately wanted to reconnect with A in our session. The young parts just wanted to cuddle into her and find some sense of safety again after what has been such a destabilising time.
Oh, if only it were as simple as that!
I have been on overdrive panicking about being ‘too much’, ‘too needy’, and ‘too intense’ and so whilst I really wanted to be close to Anita, there was a part of me warning me to stay away because they are terrified of everything going wrong. I may really need and want to be held by Anita but surely at some point she’s going to get fed up of me and push me away. The idea of being rebuffed or kept at arm’s length sends me into a shame spiral – so it’s easier to keep my distance – at least that way I am in control. It might cause me a lot of pain to keep back but at least it’s me that’s causing it.
I know how mental this all sounds but it really is the product of my system being flooded with genuine terror that history is going to repeat itself this year. I’ll lose another therapist…unless I tone it down a bit. And so over this last week, on and off, there has been a desperate battle inside: there’s the part that just so badly needs touch and holding and reassurance and the other part who is trying to make sure we don’t lose that by being too much now- the need is still there but I am trying to hide it – and failing miserably and feeling shit in the process.
I told you I was mental! I understand what’s going on inside but I seem absolutely powerless to do anything about it in the moment. As I have said so many times, adult me just isn’t bloody there when she needs to be and it’s the younger parts and protectors battling it out in the room.
Anyway, back to the room. Anita had sat down in her chair and immediately my system had gone into a panic. ‘Why is she over there? What’s changed? Why does she want to keep her distance?…’ It’s amazing how the smallest of things can trigger and internal meltdown. Anita was warm, open, smiling and yet because she’d sat in her chair everything fell apart inside. Somehow, I managed to tell A that I didn’t want her to sit where she was and she came and sat beside me. It was better, but because my system had triggered into worrying that she wanted to be away from me, it still felt like she was a desperately long way away. I couldn’t look at her and internally it was mayhem.
I felt awkward and just incredibly needy. I wanted to reach out, but there was that internal resistance kicking in fuelled by the doubt of those beginning couple of minutes. What if she doesn’t want me near her now?
I was determined not to get sucked into a huge dissociation and tried to dig myself out before I disappeared. During the break, if you can call it that, I had ordered Anita a sloth Christmas decoration and card to give her when we finally got back to the room and I had it ready to give her when I saw her.
I can’t remember what I wrote inside the card but it was something about thanking her for putting up with me recently (!!!). The sloth was a throwback to a kind of ‘in joke’ we have about having an inner sloth sometimes (all the time!). I really wanted to give it to her because I wanted her to know that I value her and am grateful for what she does for me and that I am aware of how challenging it must be working with a fruit cake like me.
I wish it was as simple as just handing these things over – but it’s not. I felt a wave of nausea and shame engulf me as I gave Anita the envelope. This is the legacy of working with Em and what happened last Christmas and the rejection of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. There is now so much anxiety around giving gifts that it feels utterly awful – which is such a shame because I definitely think my love language is gift giving. When I give people things it’s never about the cost, it’s about the symbolism, and so a rejection of the gift by Em last year felt like a rejection of me and my love. It’s little wonder I feel nervous now giving A things. Having said that, she seemed to really like the crystal egg I gave her when the first lockdown ended so that’s a start of repairing the damage.
I really need to get it into my head that Anita, is not Em (repeat repeat repeat…when will it sink in?!) and she responded so positively to the card and sloth. You’d think that would be enough for me to go, ‘Phew! It’s safe! She’s the same. Nothing has changed. The relationship is real. There’s no need to be scared.’ But that would be far too logical and straightforward. Because I had been braced for rejection, even when Anita was anything but rejecting, I found it hard to take her in. She felt a million miles away – or I did. I guess I was protecting myself for a possible rejection and had retreated.
It wasn’t her, it was me.
The intense shame I feel for needing her, needing to be close to her, was rising and I could feel myself slipping away.
Anita said, ‘It hasn’t been difficult to put up with you’ – in reference to what I had written in the card.
‘It has. It has been difficult to put up with me’ I moaned.
Anita was using the calm, soothing voice – you know the one – and replied, ‘I think it would be if I didn’t understand it but I do. I really do.’
And I know she gets it. She frequently demonstrates just how much she understands complex trauma and why I am the way I am. As I have said before, she has this amazing capacity to drain the shame away. She talks to me like there’s nothing wrong with me, that how I am is completely reasonable given what’s happened to me. It’s a world away from the pathologising that happened with Em at the end.
‘It’s been hard for you hasn’t it?’ Anita asked.
‘It’s really good to see you’ she said.
I could hear her words but I just had nowhere to hang them.
Overwhelm was creeping in.
Anita was giving me all the cues that things were ok and that we were ok still, and yet there was this part of me that just couldn’t move towards her. When it’s like that I need her to physically reach out to me and give me a definitive green light that it’s ok to be close.
I sat there frozen saying nothing for a while. My body felt tense and I wanted to cry. It was agony being so close to A but essentially as far away as ever. ‘What’s happening for you now? You look like you have an internal battle going on’ she wondered. A small voice said, ‘I don’t feel like I am here’ I felt like retreating deep inside myself – I guess trying to find some sense of safety.
With so much understanding and warmth A said, ‘You are here and I am here…. But it feels like it’s not real?’ I sighed. Inside the little part was longing to be told it was ok to come closer. The possibility of sitting there feeling disconnected for very much longer made me feel sick. ‘I don’t feel very good.’ I groaned.
I still hadn’t managed to look at Anita. I think if was able to make eye contact it’d probably make things feel much better but again there is that part that is too scared to look in case there’s something negative to read in her expression – or maybe worse still – no expression at all. Still face is so triggering to my young parts.
Gently Anita asked, ‘Do you want a hug?’
‘Come here and have a hug.’
Hooray – green light, right?
Yes. But no.
I was fixed to the spot. I so badly wanted to move but I couldn’t allow myself to go. You can imagine the wailing that was coming from the little ones inside. How can it be that Anita is reaching out with open arms and yet there is a part of me that can’t trust it, or actually it’s not that, it just doesn’t want to risk it being withdrawn – and I suppose the reality is, in not a great deal of time, the next break begins and so there’s a part that wants to protect against the vulnerability and attachment because when she’s gone the child parts are all at sea again. It makes sense, but disconnecting when I’m in the room makes things so much worse outside it- and yet it’s a pattern I fall into time and again.
‘I’m not going to push anything on you’ she soothed ‘I am here for when you’re ready – a bit like the story with the rabbit, I’m here to be whatever you want me to be’.
I don’t think I have mentioned about the book, ‘The Rabbit Listened’ here yet, but recently I came across a children’s book (oh but of course!) about a child that was having a bad time, lots of animals came to offer advice on how to get through it but none of it helped. In the end a rabbit showed up and just sat and waited until the child was ready to do whatever he needed to move forward. In the end because it was on the child’s timeline and not the animals’ that had given advice, and he could do all the grieving and raging and feeling that he needed.
I sent Anita the link and told her that she was my rabbit, and just like the sloth had been one of ‘our things’ the rabbit is now another. My young parts really like it when she signs a message with a bunny emoji.
Do you know, writing this now, I feel like such a colossal dickhead behaving the way I have this last week– because thinking about all this here just really demonstrates how safe Anita is. I just wish my system would get the memo and file it somewhere rather than keep getting stuck in this agonising hell hole.
Anita told me a story about a time with her grandson when he’d hurt himself and he’d pushed her away and how she had waited on the floor next to him until he was ready and then eventually he hugged her. She said she felt like what was going on with us, now, was similar. ‘I don’t know what you need’, she said, ‘but you do, so I’m just going to sit here. I can guess what you need and can offer it, but only you know. It might be hard to access it…does this make sense?’
But, still, I was frozen. I so desperately wanted to reach out. But I was so dysregulated that it was reaching the point where I wanted to run away because it felt like I was torturing myself. It is so fucking painful when this stuff happens. It’s like being trapped. Why is it so hard to be vulnerable and get what you need- even when it’s being given to you on a platter? I mean thinking back to an earlier metaphor, Anita was literally showing me the cupboard full of chocolate, offering me it, had actually unwrapped a bar, and yet the part of me that is so conditioned to only being allowed pears couldn’t reach for it.
‘What’s happening? What are you thinking?’ she wondered. ‘I can’t come into your world if you don’t let me… What do you need?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know.’ I whispered. At this point I was so far gone that there weren’t even the words to say, ‘I need a cuddle’ but actually whenever I go silent and frozen that is what I need. Always. Touch is such a powerful tool. It tells me I am safe, that I am accepted, and that I’m ok as I am. It reaches through the protector and soothes the youngest parts.
It was quiet for a while and Anita asked me again what I was thinking. I managed to tell her that I didn’t feel safe. I don’t know what wasn’t feeling safe, I think probably the feeling of being disconnected and alone. I find that really scary. Being in the presence of another person but being unable to connect with them feels really awful to me even when it is me that is in hiding. Anita asked me what would help to make it feel safe and again I couldn’t respond because there is so much shame wrapped up in, ‘I need you’.
‘I want to tell you’ Anita said, ‘I’ve bought you a present as well. I’ve bought you your own beating heart necklace. I just haven’t collected it yet…’
I literally could not believe what I was hearing. I mean…that’s huge…MASSIVE huge…in that couple of sentences it was like Anita had taken a great big sledgehammer to the wall that I had built around myself and was showing me in no uncertain terms that she cares about me – a lot. I mean I honestly cannot believe that she would do this for me. I couldn’t even drag so much as ‘I care about you’ out of Em and here is A thinking about me and buying me something that is meaningful and significant. Blown away doesn’t even cover it.
I felt really stupid for sitting there silent and distanced when it was clearly not coming from Anita. I mean I do get it, this is my messy system doing it’s thing, but here was yet another enormous reminder that Anita is real and genuine…and gets me…and isn’t going anywhere.
I instantly moved over to her and cuddled her. My body was shaking and all the stuff I had been holding for the last few weeks came up and out. The tears…oh my fucking god…for someone that has never cried in therapy until this year I seem to be crying quite a bit! The rest of this session was lots of crying and sniffing and generally being an emotional wreck and feeling all the feelings. All the grief and the stuff about fear of abandonment was right there but I was only able to get to it because I was close to A. The littlest parts can’t say what’s wrong or let themselves express this stuff if they aren’t held. I guess this comes from a lifetime of no one being there and so learning it’s not safe to feel.
‘I feel stupid’ I moaned.
A replied, ‘You’re hurt, that’s what it is, you’re not stupid.’
And having gone from feeling like I was on a completely different planet to A a few minutes before I now felt so connected that I was able to tell her that I loved her.
‘I love you too, I do’ she said.
That was exactly what I needed to hear and it felt so settling but then behind that, a sadness washed over me. I told A what I was feeling. She asked me what the sadness was about but I didn’t know or have words for it at that point. I think it’s something about how kind and nice Anita is to me and yet Em was repulsed by me and my child parts. Trying to take in the love and care that Anita gives so freely is bittersweet, in a way, because the contrast against what I am used to is so enormous.
How can one therapist be so cold, mean, and dismissive (her last words to me were, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t help you but it is what is and it’s time to stop’. There wasn’t even a ‘goodbye’ or a ‘take care’.) and the other so warm and loving… when I am the same? Or actually, I am a fucking clingy, needy nightmare now (!) and yet Anita still loves me despite all this. I am really, really struggling with it because to hold the idea that Anita actually can love me means that I have to change the patterning that is ‘there is something fundamentally wrong with me’ and somehow adjust it to, ‘it wasn’t my fault’ (what happened with Em).
Easier said than done, that’s for sure.
As the young parts had settled in and felt safe, the gushy stuff flowed, ‘I missed you’ I whined. I find it amazing that I can even say that, when expressing anything remotely vulnerable used to make me feel sick because it was never met well.
‘I missed you too.’ Replied Anita ‘And you’re right it’s not the same as on a screen’ and she hugged me closer into her body. I said how hard it had been working online and A acknowledged it and agreed that it has been tough for me.
The conversation shifted and we spoke about all sorts of stuff from books to emails from my blog readers.
‘I’m sorry’, I said. Sometimes I smack face first into the reality of how I have behaved and reacted and I realise just how bloody difficult I have been. I don’t mean to be. I am not planning to be a nightmare but so much has been triggered lately that it’s been hard to hold it. It’s all coming out in a tangled mess.
With so much feeling and kindness in her voice A said, ‘You don’t need to be sorry. You haven’t chosen any of this. It’s not your fault. And you’re ok. And I’m ok with you. I really am. I don’t have to be here. I am here because I want to be. There’s a big difference. And you are worth it.’ Those words felt like another warm, soapy bucket of ‘Shame Remover’ had been thrown over me and it felt so nice. I appreciate it’s nuts just how much reassurance I seem to need but these buckets need to fill an empty reservoir and it’s going to take time.
A and I both seem to like nature. Or at least we both own dogs and have to go outside quite a lot! Sometimes we send each other photos of the walks we have been on and recently A sent me some of a place she had been where lots of trees had been felled. It looked so barren and empty. I don’t know why I asked about it in the session but somehow it came up and we spoke about how it looks awful now but it will make way for other things to grow. A said that actually that was a good metaphor for me, ‘Once the scars of the abuse have been healed you’ll see how beautiful you are.’
The problem is, it feels like that healing is such a long way off. I mean part of me knows it’s not. Part of me sees it happening every day, in little bits…but sometimes when things feel so desperately hard and I am struggling to keep all my plates spinning and am down to my last spoon, healing this complex trauma feels like an impossible task.
The other week I sent A something about Object Constancy – it really explained how it feels to not be able to hold ‘the other’ in mind and the panic that happens as a result. I asked A how she thinks something so fundamental can heal. Like if you miss a foundational developmental milestone then how on earth can you mend it?
‘How does it fix?’ A asked. ‘I’m going to sound like Carl Rogers here, but I really believe it’s all in the relationship, it makes a huge difference.’ She talked about how the need for unconditional love was important because that’s the area where the damage had occurred. Our parents should have done this and yet instead this is where things went wrong. She talked about how our relationship was different from others in my life which is something we had spoken about at the very beginning when we met. I told her, then, that I wanted a real and genuine relationship that felt connecting but that I needed her to be my therapist…after Em I was clear what I was looking to avoid!
Anita continued, ‘I want to say it’s a healing relationship -because that’s what I want it to be. I really want it to be that.’ She went on, ‘I know sometimes along the path -as I have already- I’ll say and do things that may not be helpful, but it can be healing if we work with it well.’ Essentially, I think what this comes down to the transformative power of relationship, the healing capacity of rupture and repair, and the balm of ‘unconditional positive regard’ or what the rest of us like to call ‘love’. Anita commented that she thinks that Em works differently to her and we giggled. I mean talk about chalk and cheese!
We talked a lot over the next few sessions about how painful it has been, being separated and working online, how it hooks into so many painful areas of my past. As I said there was a lot of crying alongside the cuddles but also there has been a surprising amount of narrative coming out that I hadn’t shared with Anita before.
Talking about needing to collect my kids on time led to a load of stuff about how no one was ever there for me as a child and about all kinds of horrible experiences of being left and the craziness that has been part of my growing up. We’ve touched on the eating disorder, self-harm, the violence, hiding under the bed…I mean it’s all leaking out now! It’s funny, really, how you get used to your own story and sometimes it’s only in the retelling that you realise that it was completely fucked up. I mean we know it’s damaged us, but it’s not until you share it that you understand just how messed up things have been.
There’s been a lot of grieving in the last week. I feel so sad for the little parts of me. Nearly every session has felt like a battle at the beginning. I have wanted to be close to A but the fear of her getting fed up with me and leaving has escalated session on session. Anita has been patient and sat with me in it, reassured me, ‘I’ll be here no matter what’, but the toll it takes on my system is immense.
The other day I was frozen AGAIN and the young parts were crying out (inside) to cuddle into her and yet the powerful feelings of being too much and possibly pushing her away were just totally debilitating. As Christmas approaches this panic is escalating. Anita held out her hand to me and yet I couldn’t take it. I told her she felt far away and she offered me a hug and again I couldn’t accept it. It feels like I am punishing myself for having a need and yet in those moments I can do nothing to help myself. On Friday she put her hand on my leg and I still couldn’t feel it. When it gets bad, I retreat so deeply into myself that it’s like being lost in the dark and I need someone to come in and grab me and shine a light on the pathway out. Fortunately, we always seem to get there in the end and so I don’t walk out the room feeling completely bereft.
On Monday Anita handed me a little package wrapped in tissue paper. It was my beating heart necklace. I opened it and it is gorgeous. I absolutely adore it. I love silver, and blue is my favourite colour so it could not have been better for me.
I gave her a massive hug. I felt completely overwhelmed. I am still utterly stunned that A would do this for me. I don’t know if she realises how massive it feels to me or the impact that it has had on me. I wear it all the time. It’s a reminder that we are connected and evidence that she is not freaked out by my need to be close. Hearing her heart beating settles the young parts (I still cannot believe I told her this) but when she’s not there I have this beating heart from her.
I think some of my panic this week is really coming from what it would mean to lose her now. Anita has seen me at me most vulnerable and needy…and horrid! (eek) … and the attachment to her is strong. I feel like I don’t want to put a foot wrong by being too much because the loss would be just unbearable and so as I said at the top, there’s a part that feels it’s better to brace for it, even if it hurts.
I guess it’s just going to take time to settle and I’ll need to be patient with myself over the next few weeks. Maybe I should keep a diary of all the nice things A says to me so when I am freaking out that she’s going to leave I can remind myself that she says things like,
‘I wish I could have been there when you were small and made things different for you back then, I wish I could take the pain away, then but I am here now.’
The last session before the separation for lockdown was not quite as I expected it would be – well not to begin with anyway! Fortunately, Anita and I had, again, booked in a longer session (75 mins) so that hopefully things could end feeling as held and contained as possible. I’m so glad we had arranged this because the weekend leading into the Monday session threw up some real-life adulting shit that was massively unsettling and destabilising for me. I can’t really say what it is about in much detail because it’s so specific it would be highly identifying. Needless to say, though, I am so over significant health stresses that can have an impact on our financial security and stability. Ugh.
I had text Anita on the Saturday when I found out the situation with my wife so she knew what was coming on Monday and we spent the first ten minutes talking about this unexpected crisis. Adult, or False Adult, was there joking her way through it all – upbeat. I tend to do this when something very scary is happening in my here and now. I do that buzzy ‘it’ll be fine’ stuff when actually inside I am crumbling and terrified. FFS!
And then it just stopped. Silence. I’ve noticed I do this a lot. I just run out of performance and realise that I don’t need to do this with A. Sure, it was important to me to talk about what had happened but actually I didn’t need to do it in the ‘make light of it’ way because there is no bright side to this situation. It’s utterly crap.
After a minute of saying nothing and feeling the energy drain out my body, I just whispered, ‘I don’t really know what to say…’ all the animation had gone from my voice. It was just flat – which was exactly how I was feeling. The reality of having to navigate the next few months with a significant stress hanging over our heads coinciding with Anita going away just felt unbearable. The child parts were frightened. Adult me was frightened too. How on earth was I going to function with all the day-to-day crap that I struggle with at the best of times with this additional worry and A gone too? It’s just not fucking fair how life seems to keep knocking me down.
Anita felt a long way away in her chair. I hate how just a couple of metres can feel like such a huge distance – especially to the youngest parts who just need her to be right there beside me. Even now, I don’t think I could ask her to come and sit next to me from the beginning of a session. I appreciate this is bonkers given how close we have become, but I think this has more to do with my worry at the start of a session that maybe something will have changed. Perhaps she won’t like me anymore. Perhaps she’ll want to stay away. And I hate to keep coming back to it (it’s boring for us all – I know), but I am so scared of being perceived as a parasite – a tick- that I won’t ask for her to come and will wait for the offer of proximity because I couldn’t actually bear her to say no or to think I am too needy.
When will that bloody conversation and that fucking word leave my psyche?
So, I sat there, the deep pain of feeling disconnected and alone rising up and the child parts getting increasingly distressed inside.
Anita’s voice was soft and warm as she asked, ‘Are the younger parts starting to come through, or are they there? Because for me, when you arrive, I never know whether to sit here or to sit there. And it’s almost like the adult part is ok for me to be over here but I think when the younger parts come up I need to be closer to you – is that how it feels? Am I right with that?’
THANK GOD FOR THIS THERAPIST!!
A barely audible, ‘yeah’ came out. I looked up and met Anita’s gaze. The child parts had landed with a thud and the need felt massive. How many of you get that feeling where you just wish you could crawl into your therapist’s lap when the child parts come up? I mean it wouldn’t be ideal, a great big adult body squashing them, but that need when it gets like that is so young isn’t it?
Anita continued on, ‘I think that’s why I start here [in her chair], because when you first come in you’re in adult and it feels like I am ok to be here, not always though, and I want to check out if I am reading this correctly… or would it be better if I always started over there?’ [on the sofa with me]
I nodded. I felt so much relief that she really gets it…and not only gets it but is able to have these open conversations with me. She takes the shame right out of the situation…and that’s massive.
I really hate it when we get in the room and she sits in her chair. I know she always comes to me when I need her but starting the sessions so far apart straight away makes the young parts go into panic. What if she doesn’t come this time? What if she abandons them? I know how nuts that sounds – we are, after all, in the same room together, but this is the legacy of years of work with Em, that two metres could have been the Grand Canyon and so any distance feels kind of rejecting.
I really love how Anita responds to me, sees me, and is so attuned to what I need. She got up from her chair and said, ‘In that case I’m going to come over there now because I never know where to start. And sometimes I can feel the younger vulnerable parts. I guess they’re always there just below the surface – it’s that swan isn’t it?’ [we’ve talked about how on the surface I look like I have it together but underneath it’s a shit show of panic for the littles]
She sat down beside me and I sighed. Silence. More silence. I couldn’t look at her because the need was just so fucking huge and overwhelming. I was so pleased she was closer …but it was just not close enough.
‘How are you feeling? What’s happening for you?’ wondered A.
‘I’m shaking.’ I replied.
With no pause or hesitation, Anita opened her arms to me and gently invited me to, ‘Come here.’
And just like in the preceding sessions, that green light was all I needed, I shuffled over to her and cuddled in close to her body.
Then there was quiet but stillness too. The panic and shaking subsided really quickly as I tuned into her heartbeat and her slow, steady breathing. It’s that coregulation stuff. Magic.
There was nothing much going round in my mind, nothing conscious that I wanted to say, I just needed to be with her in the moment. After ten minutes, or so, I asked Anita what she was thinking. She said something about how we would both come through the other side of this [lockdown/separation] and that it will be ok. And how she wished she could be in two places at once, and how hard it must be for me.
Man! I wished that, too.
Anita then asked me what I was thinking. I didn’t answer straight away but then simply said, ‘I’m going to miss you’ – because that’s all there was in my head, all that had been in my body, just the huge sense that I was going to miss this amazing woman when she wasn’t here and that it was going to be really hard.
A hugged me tighter, ‘I know, and I will miss you too. I really will.’ She paused for a minute and then said, ‘it really has been a shit year hasn’t it?’ I laughed and agreed.
There was a long pause – maybe two or three minutes – and then I said ‘It hasn’t been all shit…’
Anita instantly understood what I meant, ‘I guess we met this year didn’t we?’
And do you know what? It has been a really fucking hard year but I wouldn’t change it if it meant that I didn’t have Anita. Looking back to this time last year, where the wheels started to get dangerously loose with Em it felt like things would never get better. The pain of our termination in February took me into a place of such deep grief and pain that I can barely look at it even know– it still hurts so much. The rejection. The abandonment. The lack of basic care.
Covid and lockdown and fucking everything has been so hard but I feel so blessed because I have built a relationship with someone who I genuinely think I can do the work with, who understands me, and is committed to me. The world has felt like it’s been falling down around my ears at times, my wife losing her job at the start of the first lockdown, the latest health problems, but I feel like I have Anita on my team and that is huge.
Listening back to this last face-to-face session, there’s a lot of silence but it’s not awkward or uncomfortable which can sometimes happen when you’re sitting across from someone. When we’re just cuddling there isn’t always a need to talk. The words come sometimes and the parts talk, and sometimes there are no words but the holding is still so healing.
After another while I murmured, ‘I love you’ into her chest.
Anita immediately responded with, ‘I love you too… is it hard to believe it?’
I thought about it for a second. I scanned my brain and my body and there was no doubt in my mind, no voice inside my head doubting her feelings for me. I know she loves me. I feel it deeply.
‘No’ I replied.
A kissed the top of my head. I love it when she does this. It was quiet again. Anita checked in with me and asked if I was wanting to say something but struggling to find the words to say it. I shook my head. I was just content to be with her. A said, ‘sometimes I don’t always think we need words, sometimes I just think we need to show, and to do, and to feel.’
I told her I felt really shaky all week and it had been hard. Anita asked if there was anything she could do to help. This is where I should have said, ‘please can you give me something like a scarf or a jumper that you wear that smells like you’… and I am pretty sure she would have said yes…but there’s this part of me that still worries and cringes – like what if I say that and she is freaked out and disgusted by me? What happens if I lose it all? I know this is pretty unlikely given how I have spent the last month like a baby monkey clinging on to her, but still… I just don’t want to be so weird that she backs away.
I started to cry. Anita rubbed my back gently and held me close to her. I was aware that time was ticking away and the grief of her going away was really coming up now. We had about thirty minutes left of the session and as wonderful as it had been just to go in and spend the time connecting and being held, there was also a real sense of that in a few minutes it was all going to be ripped away and it was overwhelming for the young parts.
A small voice said, ‘I just feel really sad’.
‘I know… and it is sad’ soothed Anita. She gently stroked my back as I cried. To have someone hold me in my pain and grief was so incredible – but so alien too. I feel a bit embarrassed now, thinking back to this, sitting there and crying about my therapist going away for three weeks like it was the end of the world…but that is how it felt, and has felt to the young parts. I anticipated the struggle that this separation would be. I know attachment pain well. And I was right. To be honest, if I had known just how fucking hard it was going to be, I would have been wailing and convulsing in her arms rather than shedding slow, steady tears!
‘Why are you so kind to me?’ I wondered aloud. After so many years with Em who would never give me the slightest thing to grab onto to ground myself in the safety of the relationship, Anita just exudes care and kindness. It doesn’t feel forced or fake – it’s lovely – but my head sometimes has a hard time understanding how the two relationships are so different because I am the same. My needs are the same. In fact, if anything I am more demanding, more needy, more of a pain in the arse than I ever was with Em and yet Anita is steadily there, consistent, calm, warm, and loving.
I know therapy is not all about reassurance and making you feel good. It’s not always plain sailing with Anita, but what the relationship is built on feels so much more solid and so I feel like we weather our little (and sometimes bigger) storms more easily or, at least, more safely. I was clinging onto a bloody piece of driftwood being battered by the storms with Em watching from a ship and yet with Anita I feel like we are together in a lifeboat. It still feels a bit scary, I don’t like storms or boats, but at least I feel confident that we are in the best suited boat to the situation.
Anita replied with, ‘You’re beautiful in so many ways, inside outside, you really are that’s why I am so nice to you. There’s nothing wrong with you. And I know that may be really hard to hear and believe but there isn’t it. And I know I sound like a broken record, but you’ve been let down in so many ways and the way you respond is a normal response to what’s happened to you. And you’re ok, you really are. I don’t suppose there’s many people who don’t like you.’
Unfortunately, it hit a raw nerve. ‘There’s one or two’ I moaned. And then the grief of Em just flooded in like a tsunami. The reality is, yes, I do have some great people in my life and I am well loved by my friends BUT there’s that wound, the mother wound, and what Em did last year has thrown a bomb into it. The feeling of being unlovable and unlikeable and not good enough has been brought into sharp focus and I am trying to pick the shrapnel out of myself – thank god I have Anita with me helping.
I cried and cried. I don’t think A had any idea what was going on in my head. It didn’t matter, though. I didn’t have the energy to start harping on about how hurt I am about Em just before the break – no point in raking all that up further with only ten minutes to go. It was enough to cry and be held. And I will talk about this when we get back in the room later this week. So much stuff has been stirred up this last month relating to being left and abandoned and Em that it’s unavoidable…but certainly best done face-to-face.
I continued to cry cuddled in to A. ‘I feel like I could hold you all day’ she said. ‘I don’t want to let go… You really are very special you know, and I think a lot of people would agree with me.’
I really love this woman. (Is it obvious?)
It’s strange. Even when she says these affirming, validating things there’s sometimes another part that comes up and needs to check it’s real.
‘Do you think I’m weird?’
I’m not sure which part that asked that, or feels so weird, is but I suspect it’s the younger teen, maybe 14.
Again, Anita responded in the perfect way. ‘I don’t think you are weird, far from it… or hard work…before you think that one too! I don’t think you are hard work either. It’s when we’re hurt that we become more vulnerable and want that reassurance which makes perfect sense, and also wary, again, it makes perfectly good sense- doesn’t it?’
This sad, young, teen part said, ‘I don’t want you to turn on me.’ That part is so used to people not being quite who they say they are or changing, and it’s not surprising after what happened with Em that she’s wary. Everything disintegrated in less than a month last year with Em. We went from ‘we need to focus carefully on the parts’ to ‘I’ve reached the limit of my competency and your child parts are like a tick’.
Anita reassured me, ‘I’m not going to turn on you or hurt you. I’m not going to hurt you – not purposefully. I might [hurt you] but it would never be on purpose. I might make mistakes again. Like I say, I am only human. But I would never purposefully reject you, and if I do make mistakes, I hope that you can be honest – as you have been- so we can work through that. It’s important that we own mistakes and to apologise when we make them. I can’t say I won’t make mistakes and won’t hurt you, but it will never ever be because I don’t like you or because I have done it on purpose or I want to attack. I promise you that. I just hope we can be honest with each other and it will help us to get through that…which we have done.’
I let out a long sigh of relief and jokingly said, ‘It’s not short-term work is it?!’ and A completely agreed with me. We would be in it for the long haul and there is no rush, it’ll take as long as it’ll take and she finished up with, ‘I do love you. I really do.’
Then the time was up. Ugh. I hate that. Time to wipe my tears, set my coping face, and go off and manage for the next god knows how many weeks. I squeezed Anita tightly and thanked her. I felt so much better than I had the same time last week on learning she was going away. It wasn’t going to be easy but at least we weren’t parting on a rupture. She replied with, ‘Thank you. It takes a lot of guts to be like this with a therapist, so thank you.’ I smiled inside.
In amongst the shame and embarrassment that’s been there for so long, there’s a little nook inside me where I am starting to house the feeling of being a tiny bit proud of myself. This therapy business isn’t easy and for someone who has been so guarded for so long I am astounded that I am turning up and being authentically me… I mean I have Anita to thank, I know that, it is her that has made it feel safe enough for me to bring it all…and I am so grateful to her.
I moved and got up and my back had seized up! Fucking great. That’s what an hour-long cuddle does! It was funny and lightened the mood a bit. We joked about how our bodies don’t match the age in our heads. I genuinely expect to have the flexibility and stamina and youthful looks of a twenty-year-old and am always shocked to learn I am heading towards forty, have the body of a woman who has birthed two babies and done twelve rounds of chemo. The mirror doesn’t lie, though…nor do the aches and pains!
I left the session feeling…ok. Happy sad. Happy that we are so connected but sad that I was going to have to cope without all that amazing stuff until she came home…whenever that might be.
Later that afternoon I sent a text to A:
Thank you for meeting me exactly where I am at and for ‘seeing’ me – or is it ‘feeling’? I dunno. Both I guess. 2020 has been a complete shit show but I got to find you in it and so feel sooooo lucky because you make me feel safe. These next few weeks are going to be really tough and I’m going to try really hard to not have another meltdown, but I apologise in advance for myself, now, just in case! Please take elephant with you and don’t forget about me xx
Oh, if only you knew the painful irony in that message after what came next!!…meltdown should have been meltdowns…let’s go for the plural. Groan!
This is basically what I have been like for the last three weeks!
My last two posts here have scooted back in time to October (and completely messed with the chronology of the blog!) to the time when my therapy with Anita took a huge leap into the unknown – proper extended physical holding in sessions and the child parts really coming up and talking to A. Having those parts speak and express their worries and fears, and then have them validated and responded to with care by A has been massive and so healing.
Until recently, I might have been able to say what those younger parts feel through my adult. She tends to filter and take out some of the cringey bits in order to avert some of the shame! The thing is, as much as adult thinks she’s saving me a whole world of pain, shame, and embarrassment what she actually does is distance me from my feelings. I end up talking like it is someone else’s experience, and so it rarely feels like those needy parts get properly seen or held in their distress.
When I do this, emotionless recounting, I don’t/can’t cry. I can’t get in touch with my feelings on a felt level at all. I am just numb to it because that’s the only way (until now) that I have been able to tell my story – from a distance- because I know what getting to close to it means, and when there is no one there who is safe to hold that then it’s a dangerous proposition opening it up. I have survived doing things this way in life and in therapy for a long time, but the pain doesn’t get processed, the grief isn’t metabolised, and I feel like a spectator….well I did…but I don’t now…not now RB has levelled up in the therapy room!
It is incredible really, what having Anita in closer proximity to me and the safe physical touch has done. I have to say therapy (before this latest lockdown and return to online sessions – groan) exceeded my expectations of what was possible for holding and healing the most wounded parts of myself. My defences came down and the vulnerability levels were off the chart, but each session just seemed to build on the last and it really felt like I was on a fast-track of healing. Mind you, it’s been like snail pace for the previous eight years, so maybe it’s just normal speed – almost a year into therapy with a competent and compassionate therapist?!
I have talked about stuff that I have never spoken about in therapy, some of the most painful wounded parts of myself have talked to Anita and it’s been great. What hasn’t been great, though, was opening all that stuff up only to have the face-to-face therapy put on hold. It has been a massive problem to my system. It’s kind of like being in theatre for surgery, we’ve just made some big incisions and are in a critical part of the procedure and now the surgeon has been called away…mid operation. Not ideal! Ugh!
I’ve been reflecting a lot this last couple of weeks, and even though online has been tough, I haven’t completely lost sight of the good stuff. I can really see how the steady, consistent work Anita has been doing with me since January is paying off. We’ve laid the foundations and I feel like they are solid. I have been having epic meltdowns online (more on those soon!) but it shows me that all my parts feel like she is safe enough to act out to really bring what’s there. I was so scared of being abandoned by Em that I never told her how angry or hurt I was – and I was clearly right not to given that when I did, I got terminated!
It’s so different with A. She’s explicitly told me that she loves all the parts of me, especially the ones who want to ‘kick off and stamp their feet’ which has meant that those parts have been able to express some of their anger about the move to working online. When I rage, I often freak out afterwards, ‘what if I am too much?’, ‘what if I push her away and she leaves?’ but she offers enough reassurance that I know that I am still safe to bring what is there – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Last week I was desperately pushing Anita away online, it was defensive, and she said, ‘You can push me away as much as you need to, but I am like a boomerang, I’ll keep coming back until you genuinely don’t want or need me anymore. But I know right now you’re hurting and this is a defence. I’m still here. I still care and love you and we’ll be ok’.
I genuinely can’t believe it. Like, what? I can express dissatisfaction and the tables aren’t suddenly turned on me? I’m not going to be told I am deficient in some way, or ungrateful, or too much? Honestly, it’s a revelation…I can express MY FEELINGS AND ALL MY FEELINGS ARE VALID AND WELCOME.
Anyway, what I am saying in a roundabout way is that I don’t think Anita’s going anywhere (well, I mean apart from fucking off up the road for lockdown and leaving me!) and this means I can feel safe enough to do the work now.
She’s always said that it’ll take time to build trust in the relationship and to believe in and feel her care. She’s acknowledged that it can’t be rushed. I am like a rescue dog that has been abused repeatedly but am finally, finally, maybe, in a foster home with an owner that doesn’t mind my jumpiness and wariness and occasional biting, and has been patient enough to wait for me to be ready to come towards her. Part of me is staggered that I have been able to let A in after all that’s happened – in my life, and more recently with Em – but I do trust her. I genuinely feel her love for me but how can I not when she so readily tells me how she feels. I was cuddled into her the other week, doing more of the deep stuff, and she said to one of the little parts ‘you’ve had a too many pears, they’ve done you no good…I have a huge cupboard full of chocolate here.’ She’d read my blog post and was demonstrating, again, using my words, my analogies, that she gets it and understands and is HERE.
And because I genuinely believe that she cares, is invested in the relationship, and is committed to our work together, the ruptures we have get repaired so quickly that they don’t really get to wreak any significant damage – in fact the repairs that happen are so timely, genuine, and connecting that I get the benefits of ‘rupture and repair’. In the end the process is healing…which is a world away from therapy with Em which retraumatised me and I would have to hold on in emotional and physical agony between sessions. Anita is human, she makes mistakes, sometimes what she does hurts me (it’s not intentional), but once I am able to tell her she tries very hard to understand and make things better. I can’t ask for more than that.
Anyway, I’m here to talk about the rupture repair that happened after I learned that Anita was going to go away to bubble with her partner and wasn’t actually going to see me face-to-face as she had promised a few weeks previously (you can read about the news and the meltdown here!).
Sorry about the massive preamble! I probably should have made this two posts. Maybe go get a cup of tea now…!
During the string of messages – aka ‘mega meltdown’- following the revelation in our Monday session that face-to-face therapy was over for now, Anita said that she wasn’t going to be leaving straight away and that if I wanted, I could see her in person to try and work things out before she left. Of course, I (well a part of me) jumped at the chance, there is no way I wanted to face the next four weeks online with this horrible feeling hanging over me.
I text A and asked if we could start slightly earlier to make the session a bit longer so we had chance to repair. I panicked on the Wednesday (woeful Wednesdays!) fearing I was going to get a text from A to tell me that she’d changed her mind and already left. I told her this in another text and she responded by telling me she was going to be there and that she was really looking forward to seeing me and understood how wobbly I was feeling.
I arrived at Anita’s doorstep at 9:45am. As she opened the door my heart was beating fast and I felt like I was going to dissociate. Usually, I’ll walk to the therapy room straight away, but that day I put my bag down and reached out to hug her. As I hung on tightly to her I said, ‘I don’t feel ok’ and she said, ‘I know. I can feel you shaking’. I was trembling. It was as though all the stress and anxiety that I had been holding onto since the Monday session was coming out in a somatic response.
I let go after about thirty seconds, just about enough time to stop shaking, and made my way to the room and sat down on the sofa. It was good to have had some physical connection before we got started with the session but as I sat down, I felt the protective parts of me rising up again. I couldn’t look at A. I was both ashamed and embarrassed by my strong reaction earlier in the week but I was also reeling, and braced for (what feels like) rejection and so the angry teen part wasn’t far away. When it’s like that it is like being trapped inside a glass box. I can see out but I just can’t connect at all.
Anita immediately came and sat beside me on the sofa rather than sitting in her chair. I couldn’t speak. I just sat there panicky, my breathing was really rapid and shallow and I just felt the force of what her leaving meant. We sat together saying nothing. After a minute she gently asked me what I was thinking and a small voice said, ‘I don’t know what’s real anymore.’ It felt like my heart was breaking. The little part that so trusted Anita just had no idea if it was all just rubbish now. Broken promises are hard for the youngest parts of me and now they were left wondering if anything was real. Did she really care about me? Love me? Or was it just part of the therapy game?
Anita replied, ‘I guess that’s because what I have said and then gone back on it, it’s hard to know…is any of this real?…It is real… I haven’t purposefully done this to hurt you. I really haven’t. I shouldn’t have made that promise to you without knowing 100% that that was how things were going to go’. She sounded so apologetic, so genuine. I really felt it but I also just felt so unbelievably sad. The apology doesn’t change the fact that I won’t see her for almost a month. It doesn’t change the fact I have to do therapy in a way that really triggers my young parts. It’s doesn’t change the fact that the very thing I need, physical holding, can’t happen.
She told me that she had thought that she would be bubbling with her mother, like last time, or her daughter who’s just moved back into the area, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be the case. She had never expected to be on her own during lockdown. Adult me understands – of course I do but this explanation didn’t do much to help the little ones who just felt like mum was going to disappear again.
‘I’m so sorry I let you down’ she said gently. ‘What can I do?’
I looked at her for the first time and said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know’ because actually what could she do?
I sat there, motionless.
‘Are you scared to let me in, to get attached because you’ll have to detach again?’
‘Yeah…I get that’ she reassured, and rubbed my arm gently.
That small gesture of touch felt so nice and I realised I was sitting there depriving myself of what I needed most. I had a choice. I could sit there ‘protecting myself’ and then walk away at the end of the session feeling shit or I could be vulnerable and let A help me and get what I need, so I moved closer to her, she opened her arms, and hugged me.
My breathing was rapid again, which is unusual because lots of the time when I am out my window of tolerance, I am frozen. I barely breathe at all. But this was a bit different. I couldn’t hide the panic in my body. I was shaking. I felt so sad. I wasn’t angry or anything, in that moment, the self-righteous teen that had been holding the fort all week had gone on a break. All that were left we the little parts who just didn’t want her to go away.
‘This feels realty bad’ I murmured.
‘I know. I know. I can feel it’ she soothed ‘Is your fear that it won’t come back to this again? [this level of intimacy and closeness] because it will. I know it’s probably hard to believe anything I say at the moment but I genuinely don’t think lockdown will last forever’. She held me close and I cried.
Eventually, my breathing began to slow as I listened to her steady heartbeat. A little voice said, ‘I’m sorry.’
Anita responded emphatically, ‘Don’t be sorry you’ve got nothing to be sorry for! You really, really haven’t. As I have said before you’re not too needy. If you hadn’t have been let down you wouldn’t be where you are. It’s not your fault. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You don’t want to feel like this. I know you don’t.’
‘I feel stupid’ I moaned.
‘You’re not stupid!’
I groaned, ‘I feel embarrassed’ and buried into her further. It’s excruciating being so bloody vulnerable and knowing that I’m behaving like a kid who has no ability to reason things out.
Anita doesn’t seem in the least bit phased by it or working directly with these parts. She wondered, ‘I think this is all the different parts sometimes going in conflict. The young parts needing it, adult parts saying “this is ridiculous” but we know the young ones are crying out for it. And it’s ok. It really is ok.’ She paused a moment and then said with so much feeling and sadness in her voice, ‘I’m so sorry that I have let them down’ and held me tighter to her.
‘Is this real?’ I asked. The concern that’d been there all week coming up again, needing reassurance. If Em and I had even managed to do this level of work I imagine she’d have said ‘what do you mean by real?’ or ‘what is real to you?’ and those conversations are fine when you are in your adult and in the window of tolerance, but when you’re dealing with a four year old part that’s scared, sometimes what we need is,
‘This is real.’
I was so happy to hear that and replied with, ‘I love you’.
I wasn’t expecting a response but Anita really knows me, really understands how much reassurance parts of me need and said, ‘I love you too. I really do. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care and I truly do care. I make mistakes. I said to you at the beginning I would make mistakes… everyone makes mistakes in relationships but it’s how you work with those mistakes that’s important. It doesn’t mean the love isn’t there when you make a mistake. I have made a mistake but it doesn’t mean I don’t care and it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It just means I’m not perfect. I did it wrong and for that I am truly sorry. I love you.’
I can’t explain what that kind of heartfelt, honest apology and love bombing did to my system. It’s not enough to say that I could feel my system settling down or that I felt safe and held because it is so much more than that, but I am guessing if you feel these wounds then I don’t really need to elaborate on how that felt.
I then told her how it’d been a horrible week and again Anita was so warm and lovely, ‘I am so so sorry. If I could take that pain away I would’. I wasn’t fishing for apologies I was just telling her how it was, but she really understood, she felt what it had been like.
I then told her about a dream I had in the week about being in a plane and spiralling out of the sky and how it had really impacted me. Anita’s take on it, ‘All that you believe in came crashing down… I didn’t mean to cause you that harm. I shouldn’t have promised something I wasn’t 100% sure I could deliver. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you all this pain.’
‘Will you take elephant with you?’ I asked.
Don’t you just love how conversations with the child parts run?? It’s like, Ok, things are fine now, so my brain has jumped onto something else. Obviously, a few weeks before I had asked her to look after my little elephant at her house so we weren’t forgotten and at that moment the child parts were clearly joining dots in their own way, ‘if she leaves elephant here she’ll forget about us’.
As usual, A didn’t bat an eyelid at yet another unusual request, ‘I will. I will’ she repeated.
‘I’m sorry I’m hard work’ I wailed.
Again, A replied emphatically, ‘You’re not hard work…well no more hard work than anyone else! I can be hard work too, just ask my partner! In real in-depth relationships it’s so easy to hurt the other person without meaning to – without wanting to. In meaningful relationships, there’s feelings and emotions involved and we’re very open and very raw and sometimes that comes out in particular ways but that doesn’t mean we are hard work’.
I didn’t want Anita to think that my performance this week had come from being deliberately difficult or nasty and said, ‘I don’t want to be horrid. Or critical. That’s not how it is. I do get it [why she’s going away and why she can’t see me] It’s just hooked right into a really sore wounded bit and it makes my system shut down.’
Does it feel a bit like, ‘Here we go again?’
I nodded and told her how I realise how black and white the thinking is but that it’s because it’s not coming from an adult place. The reaction to her breaking her promise is not from my 37 year old adult self who knows what life is like and how sometimes our well-intentioned promises don’t come off. I mean I have let a lot of people down in my time too but to the child parts it’s huge. We spoke about the window of tolerance for a minute and then Anita asked if there was anything she could do to reassure the young parts.
And this is what came out…CHILD PARTS MAN!!
‘Can we go to Madame Tussaud’s and get a wax work made of you? Or build a bear and put your heart beat in it….or a clone you?’
We laughed quite a lot at that and then Anita said, ‘that would be really cool wouldn’t it?’ There’s no shaming from her. She literally responds to me like I have said the most normal thing in the world when clearly, I am off my frigging rocker! But because she is so at ease with me, she puts me at ease too. I then told her, ‘This [her going away] is so hard because it’s not just what you say that makes a difference to me. It’s not what settles my system…’ And Anita finished my sentence, ‘It’s this. (hugs) It’s this which was missing for years isn’t it?’
This led to a conversation about how when I was little (5-11 years old) my mum was gone Sunday to Friday and how I’d speak to her on the phone on a Wednesday (makes sense why I hate Wednesdays now!). This was in the late 80’s -early 90’s pre mobile phones. The thing that we don’t have to worry about when speaking to people on the phone today is conversations being rushed or cut short because the money runs out. As a child my enduring memory of calls with my mum was the beeps giving warning that we’d be cut off and the feeling of disconnection and never having enough time to tell her what I wanted. I wasn’t seen or heard.
Anita kissed the top of my head and said, ‘I’m so sorry that… that’s how it feels when we do online and we aren’t connected…it hooks right back into that, doesn’t it?’
Anita commented that for a child of that age that kind of prolonged separation feels like an eternity and we spoke more about my mum’s volatility when she was home, and the fighting, and how I never knew what to expect or what was coming and how when I see Anita it’s like starting from scratch, checking she’s safe. There was a lot of good work done and A really got it.
I asked Anita if I could have something of hers before she went away and she said she had been wondering if I would like to look after the necklace she was wearing. It’s called ‘beating heart’ and the stone inside moves like a beating heart. It couldn’t have been more perfect really after the conversation we had just had.
Anita then asked if there was anything I had in mind, ‘was there anything you wanted to take, differently, is there anything else you’d like? You’re ok to ask you know.’
And my god, I cannot believe these words actually left me lips but I said, ‘Can I have something that smells like you?’
‘What can smell like me?’ A wondered.
I lay snuggled into her chest. How was I meant to say, ‘errr something you wear that smells like your washing powder’? Anita smells really fresh and clean but it’s not a perfume smell but it is really soothing. One day I came home from a session and my top actually smelled like her and it was so soothing to those young parts.
Honestly cannot believe I am writing this here. Part of my is cringing so badly.
Again, A was not in the least bit weirded out by my request which is so funny given how I couldn’t even get Em to write a message on a fucking pebble for well over six months!
‘I can’t think of anything that might smell like me except for me, and it’s funny isn’t it, how you can’t smell your own smell. Was there anything in particular that you wanted?’
Time was coming to a close and A said that she’d still be here on the Monday if I wanted to come and we could talk more then. It felt so good to have been seen, heard, and met exactly where I was at. I have always known that Anita would never deliberately do anything to hurt me, just sometimes things happen that hurt don’t they?
As I left, I gave her a hug at the door and said, ‘I really love you’ and Anita replied, ‘I love you too. I really do, and I don’t want you to feel like a plane crash. I am hoping I can rescue out of the plane crash a bit before I go away’.
This is bloody 4000 words long! How did that happen? So sorry!
After the previous incredibly holding, intense, vulnerable, and intimate session I felt a bit weird going to the see Anita on the Monday. Part (ALL) of me hoped that everything was going to be ok still, but parts of me wondered whether A might have regretted holding me and saying what she did. Maybe on reflection she’d find me too clingy, too needy, and want to take a step back from me. I was braced for rejection despite the fact that Anita had sent me a picture on Saturday morning of my baby elephant sitting with some monkeys to keep him company in her home.
The fact that she did this totally delighted the young parts. It feels like she really gets what those parts need to feel connected and accepted. It is such a stark contrast to the way Em worked that part of me feels like I have to pinch myself – is this even real? And whilst parts of me are trusting that the relationship with Anita is safe and genuine I still felt a bit nervous going back to the room because the idea of having that closeness taken away (for whatever reason) is just traumatising (which is why the online therapy is tanking so badly – I feel abandoned and rejected and whilst adult me understands, the young parts feel like they have done something wrong and that’s why she’s gone).
If I’m ever in doubt with how to start a session I can say that a well-used plan for me is start with small talk (ugh TIME WASTING! – so frustrating). It seems very adult but what I am coming to see is that its’ actually a ‘false’ adult who is trying to ‘appear’ normal and is actually a bit avoidant, maybe a protector of sorts, but definitely not proper adult self. This part turns up and fronts because it takes a while, sometimes, to land in the room and settle.
Whilst I was jabbering about the weekend, beneath the surface, the child parts were tentatively peeking out trying to work out how things stood: was last session a mistake? Does she regret coming close to me? Will that amazing sense of connection and holding be a one off?
The thing that is a nightmare about ‘false adult’ is that she can witter on for ages and not notice the time is going. She’s doing her job, keeping vulnerability at bay. Then I glanced at the clock and realised that we were already twenty-five minutes into the session. What??? The child parts freaked out. ‘Don’t let the session disappear – please don’t hide us again – we need her to see us and hold us’ – and I think in that moment I just stopped talking altogether. It’s hard to know because time is weird in therapy especially when you’re dissociated but I reckon I must’ve been silent for a minute.
Anita continued to talk to me – or the adult – and mentioned that I hadn’t had a holiday, I think linking into something about how I had said I was exhausted and burnt out. But by the time she said this adult was gone and I had no idea what she was talking about. I was just mentally crying about how far away she seemed.
The child parts were there frozen. I don’t think I was really breathing. I think it was in part caused by panic. Panic that maybe she was going to stay away, over the other side of the room in her chair, and all the shame around needing her to come close was running wild in my head. All the horrible stuff about being too needy and disgusting was starting to get louder and I felt desperately alone.
Anita noticed the shift in me, her tone changed, and she gently asked, ‘What are you thinking? What’s going on for you?… Is it too hard to say?’
I couldn’t speak. I just sat there silent. Frozen. Anita wondered aloud, ‘Does it feel distant between us at the moment again? Do you want me to come sit over there? I am quite happy to.’
I nodded. There was so much relief flooding in but the shame was crippling. Anita got up and came and sat beside me on the sofa but I couldn’t look at her. It’s such a horrible feeling wanting to be close to someone but not knowing if it’s ok. I mean, clearly, reading between the lines it is ok but parts of me are so expecting rejection that they literally need to be given a huge flashing green light.
‘I guess it feels hard to come to where we are, after last Friday?’
‘Thank god’, I thought, ‘she gets it’. Our relationship changed so much, so quickly in the last session that it was almost dizzying. I sat there silent and unmoving. A then told me she was feeling a bit coldy and I replied that I didn’t care. I probably sounded like a complete dickhead. I corrected myself, ‘I do care, but I don’t care about the cold’ A understood what I meant and offered me a hug. I didn’t need her to stay away because of a cold.
Like a heat-seeking missile I snuggled in tight to her again. In that moment I literally didn’t want to be anywhere else. Neither of us said anything for a few minutes and I just waited for my breathing to settle, listened to her heart beating, and let the child parts get what they needed. This holding feels so healing and containing, I can’t really even describe it. But there’s also a grief that comes up alongside it is really hard and it comes in waves. Like I have needed this for my entire life and yet it’s not until now that I am receiving it.
Suddenly my breathing felt erratic and I felt panic. The shame that is so present was just kicking my arse. I can’t help but think of Em when the lovely stuff is happening and just feel so sad that she just did not care for me at all. The contrast between A and Em is so vast it’s insane.
A gently spoke into the top of my hair/head, ‘I know’ she soothed. The part of me that was struggling replied, ‘You don’t know’ and to be honest I don’t think I even really knew what I was feeling but if I didn’t know then how could she? ‘Can you tell me?…Does it feel horrible being this vulnerable?’ A softly asked. ‘Are you feeling very small?’
The child part whispered, ‘I didn’t think you’d still like me’. Anita’s body shifted slightly and she took in a shocked breath and held me tighter to her body, ‘Oh my goodness. I don’t just like you, I really love you. There’s nothing about you not to like. Not that I have seen. I know sometimes it can be hard to believe that – there’s lots of parts of you that are scared and feel unlovable but that’s because they haven’t been loved by the right people. I love them. All of them. Even the ones that want to kick off and stamp.’
Miserably, I replied ‘That’s not what my head says’ and A tried to reassure me, ‘I know. I know. And I don’t know how to make those parts believe me but I think it’s probably just got to be time and me showing you that it’s ok. Is there anything I can do to help build that trust?’
I shook my head. A said that it’s just going to take time and that’s ok with her, she’s not going anywhere.
A young part told her that ‘it’s silly’ (needing this). Anita replied, ‘It’s not silly. I guess it’s the different parts of you isn’t it? The child parts might really enjoy it but the adult part is like ‘why do I feel like this?’ but it’s the young parts that really need it – they were so neglected of it and that’s why it’s not silly. And it might feel alien but nice at the same time. Does that make sense? There’s so many different types of love aren’t there? And nurturing love – we all need it.’
A held me close and rubbed my back, I held her hand with one hand and hugged her with my other hand, there’s something really young, like a baby or toddler, when it’s like this. It reminds me of when my kids were little and they just want every inch of themselves to be touching. God it’s cringey isn’t it?! We didn’t say anything for a minute or two but it was starting to get louder in my head.
Then I said, ‘I wish my brain would shut up’. I was really battling with the inner critic who was trying to pull the entire thing apart, ‘A is a liar. She’s doesn’t care. She’ll see me in the same way Em did. I am too much’ etc etc etc. It was pure agony.
‘What’s it saying?’ questioned A gently, ‘My guess is that “this isn’t ok”. But it is.’
And then the saddest, little voice said, ‘I don’t want you to think I’m like a tick.’
And there it was. Right there. The damage. The pain. The excruciating feelings of rejection and abandonment. It was so raw. I just wanted to die coming in touch with those feelings so acutely. I buried my face deeper into A’s chest and held on tight.
Again A’s shifted, almost jolted, shocked, I could feel the response in her body and hear the sadness in her voice as she emphatically tried to reassure me, ‘Oh my god I don’t! Far from it!’ She let out a big exhale and then said, ‘I choose to give to you. That’s my choice. You don’t take from me. I give. A tick takes. You don’t! You didn’t ask me to come over here. I could still be sat in that chair over there. I want to give. Because you are worth it. Because I love you. It’s completely different to a tick.’
To have her so clearly refute what I was saying/worrying about and tell me how she felt was exactly what I needed. I can think of times when I might have said something to Em that felt painful, like the time I was struggling with wondering how she felt about me and it took me weeks to say, ‘I don’t even know if you like me’ and she stayed silent – or other times when I’d express something similar and she’d reply with something like, ‘what makes you think that?’ or some other thing that is designed to make you squirm in your own agony. And sometimes that’s fine but sometimes you just need to be love bombed…that’s where the healing is….well, for me at least!
I continued on, ‘It’s such a horrible thing to say.’ (Em calling me a tick)
Anita agreed, ‘Yeah. I can’t believe she said that to you. And the thing is, it shouts doesn’t it? It’s not you can forget about it. It really stuck. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to say. And so abusive. And you’re not like a tick. You’re really not. My guess is she’s so closed she doesn’t know how to give.’
I started to cry, ‘she never let me anywhere near her – which is why it seems such a really unfair thing to say’. I felt so sad. The grief was huge but I felt safe with A expressing it. She was holding me close and it allowed me to really feel the pain in a way that I haven’t really been able to before now, in the room. When I’ve been sitting across from Anita and talking about Em I have still held myself together and so haven’t really been able to get deep down to the deep pain that I feel about what happened.
A told me that she thinks that it’s strange that Em is in the profession she’s in given how little she gives of herself and that what she did was horrible. And what happened is not because there’s something wrong with me but instead that she let me down. It was not my fault.
Anita has an amazing way of speaking to the little parts and I felt so understood that I started sobbing, ‘I just don’t get it. I would get it if you said it to me’ (because I have so much access to her and check in with her most days via text and could understand if she felt bombarded or like I just never let go like a parasite)
A replied, ‘I’m not going to say it!’
We argued back and forth a bit:
RB: But it would make sense!
A: No it wouldn’t!
RB: Yes it would!
A: No it wouldn’t!
RB: It would!!
Anita changed tack then and said, ‘I think this is the hardest thing. It’s the child parts in you. Children think it’s all about them because that’s how children think. But it’s not about you. It’s her. And I know that’s really hard to believe. I would never say that. I’m not perfect. I have different flaws to her. She just doesn’t know how to give it.’
I told her that it wasn’t just that, but that I worry that it’s in some way wrong (this level of holding). I think because touch in therapy has been such a sore area for me with Em and she basically wasn’t even open to discussing it, I now feel like I am in some way wrong for wanting it or needing it. It’s also such a contentious area with therapists too – I mean how many of you have googled ‘touch in therapy’ or ‘will my therapist hug me?’ when this attachment stuff starts kicking off. The internet tends not to come up in favour of ‘touch’ which is weird really given how much we are now learning about somatic responses and child development.
Some sites/therapists are totally anti touch and say it’s dangerous and god knows what else, others are somewhere in the middle and will maybe give the occasional hug at the end, and then there’s the rare few that aren’t scared by it and see how beneficial it can be for particular clients. In our first session we discussed touch and she was clear then that it’s always guided by the client and their need but that for some people it makes a huge difference. She assured me that it’s not wrong to want this touch and that it’s completely fine to ask for hugs. Honestly it’s like a lottery win!
That seemed to settle the young parts who then went off on a tangent, you know how kids do, ‘oh my knee isn’t bleeding anymore… can we get doughnuts?’ and decided to ask A what her flaws were, which she told me, and then I asked her star sign (which I had already guessed) and we had a chat about our signs and how they match our personalities. It felt really nice and a departure from the emotional marathon that had just gone before.
I’ve said a few times, now, about how the young parts are more able to communicate with A when we are physically close to her. I think part of it is that I feel physically safe and contained. Another part of it is that when I am snuggled into her, I can’t see her face and she can’t see mine, and so it kind of offers more of an opportunity to say things that feel embarrassing. Anita can feel me but she can’t see me and this gives those parts that fear being seen and judged negatively chance to talk. Like in our rupture repair sessions (that I haven’t written about yet) I was able to tell her I’d like something as a transitional object that smells like her!! (CAN YOU IMAGINE ME SAYING THAT FACE TO FACE?!?!?)
Anyway, it was coming to the end of the session and Anita asked me how I was feeling. Just like in the last session she told me that she feels like she could hold me all day and felt like I need a lot of holding. I replied, ‘I feel safe with you. I can’t just come here for cuddles though’. Inside my child parts were screaming ‘why did you just say that???! We’ve just started to get what we need and your saying you don’t need it!’
Thankfully, A can see through my shit now and came back with, ‘But I believe that you have to do what feels right. It feels like at the moment we’re just reassuring and being safe which is what needs to be there for the rest of the stuff to come out. It doesn’t feel like we’re not doing anything in the cuddling. Does that make sense? It’s important for you to feel this safety and to feel that I can hold you and that’s what I am doing. And it’s what you need. You didn’t have enough of this ever’ then I felt something on the top of my head. ‘Did you just kiss my head?’ I wondered out loud as I turned to look at her. ‘I did’ she smiled.
It felt so great. So, so great. I got up and told her that I didn’t want to leave, she hugged me again and said ‘I know. And remember, I wanted to give it to you. You didn’t take. There’s a huge difference.’
And I left that session feeling amazing. Emotionally wiped out but also like some really healing work had been done. I am not a tick…but my friend has jokingly called me a baby monkey after these sessions!
I know I am like a broken record here but when work like that happens with the youngest most hurt parts it’s no wonder that online now feels so hideous. Try as we might those parts just can’t get what we need on a screen.
Ah man! Things are a freaking mess! Anita and have been back to online therapy for the last two sessions and all I can say is that it is going even worse than I imagined it would – the fact we also had a 40 minute check in midweek (woeful Wednesday) before we’d even gone online should tell you how it’s been. Help!
The youngest parts of me feel like they are spiralling through the abyss. I can’t seem to ground or find safety and staring at my computer screen trying to connect to A is just horrendous. The child parts feel unseen, invisible, trapped (even though A is trying to reach them and reassure them) and then they feel more and more disconnected, more and more desperate, and then just really sad because the moment the call ends that’s it – I am left dealing with the fallout of that painful disconnect in the time between sessions. Again, I am not actually alone because A has been there, really been there, but to those parts anything short of physical proximity just doesn’t cut it.
It’s so noisy inside: my system is having an epic meltdown. It’s so frustrating. I feel so sad inside. So alone. But also these last few days I’ve felt grumpy and angry (raging) and generally just out of sorts. I am snapping at everyone. I can’t seem to keep my cool. I can’t tell you how many times I have muttered the words, ‘Please just shut the fuck up!’ under my breath.
I don’t want to be like this. I don’t like this version of myself but I know it is a product of being stretched and stressed beyond my limits and so am trying to exercise a bit of compassion towards myself…which is easier said than done.
Really, my rage is just a mask. Actually, I just want to run away and hide so that I don’t have to interact with anyone and can avoid an argument but can also just howl into the void and loneliness. Or, truthfully, I just want to be in Anita’s therapy room, with her, trying to get me back into some kind of window of tolerance…but that can’t happen so for now I swing between rage and avoidance.
It’s thoroughly exhausting being like this. I hate that I am so easily destabilised. I cannot believe that I have gone from feeling so safe, so held, so contained, to completely abandoned and unsafe in the course of a couple of weeks. I should be more equipped to deal with these feelings because this was what it was like for most of the therapy with Em.
The thing is, my system was just beginning to settle, beginning to be a little less on ‘high alert’, it was starting to trust and relax into the relationship with A….and now it’s fucked again! I mean, it’s not totally wrecked, I do trust her, I do believe she’ll come back. I do believe she really cares about me – loves me…but right now there’s parts that are so shook up that it’s hard to hang onto that.
I am so far behind with my posts now that I don’t know what to do, where to start, or even what to say. I’ve been sitting on the floor by my fire all day, paralysed. My laptop has been on the sofa and I just haven’t even known where to begin with it all. I could talk about the two positive ‘repair’ sessions before A went away last week, but as good as they were/felt I realise that now she’s gone we essentially stuck a band aid on a wound that needs stitches and heavy duty dressings. I could talk about the return to online therapy but ugh… it’ll just upset me more. So…what I think I am going to do it post about the stuff that I had the wobbles over.
Loads of you have asked for the password for this stuff and I really thank you for reaching out, sharing your stories with me, and letting me know that you’ve found my blog helpful in some way. Sometimes when I am sitting here in the depths of hell watching words appear on my laptop I wonder if anyone reads it. There’s a few of us die hard bloggers that have been here for ages and actively comment but other than that the only evidence we have are the blog stats- it never makes much sense that there might be seven or eight comments on a post but 150 views each day for the first few days when I post?
Anyway, this hasn’t got a password but I may retrospectively add one depending on how things feel. I am hoping that seeing as I am now drowning in attachment pain like everyone else doing online therapy they won’t begrudge what have felt like some really magical, transformational, ‘waited all my life for this’ sessions.
It all started with a horrible dream involving Em…bloody therapy dreams eh?!! I felt so awful that I just couldn’t calibrate. I felt like I was going to fall apart. It made sense to give Anita the heads up in advance so that I didn’t go in and sit there in false adult passing the time when really it was falling apart inside. So I sent this:
I’m all over the shop – and it’s been topped with a really painful dream that’s left me reeling:
At Em’s. It was really calm. I was talking to her about how much she’d hurt me. It was clearly my four year old part speaking and it was like Em could finally see what she was dealing with – a very hurt child, and she changed her tone completely. She let the little girl hold her hand whilst she talked which made it easier to say what she needed. Then Em took the soft pink rabbit that I was holding was me and held it to her. She talked about it, asked its name, and said how lovely it was. Then she hugged it to her, kissed it gently, stroked its ears then handed it back to me. I told her I still loved her (the little girl part). And she held me. I cried. She told me she still kept me in her mind and hadn’t let me go. I asked her about the marble that 11 year old part had given her. She said she still had it. This brought that part out and she asked ‘Why did you reject me?- abandon all of us?’ Em said she didn’t know.
I haven’t dreamt about Em since the dream where I went in disguise to see her and she got angry. I’ve woken up feeling really sad and young again. It’s so painful that I feel like I’m dissociating. Yesterday in my craniosacral session that young four year old child part landed in my body with a thud, K noticed and said that the pain she can feel that part is holding is immense – so much so that I don’t even breathe properly as though that little girl is too scared to take up any room, be noticed etc – it’s hiding in a flight mode terrified.
We need to work with her. I need you to be close today as otherwise I’ll retreat because I feel so vulnerable and sad but am also reeling from the dream and the feelings of rejection abandonment is so live. I feel like I need to cry but I don’t know how to access the tears.
I feel like I’ll try and hide because this stuff is so wounded that I avoid it but it seems like I don’t have a choice but to tentatively look at it now. However the shame that floods in around all this makes it really difficult as it’s like a gag.
By the time I arrived at Anita’s there was a text in my phone:
I understand and will really try to be what you need x
I felt hopeful but also massively exposed and nervous as I knocked at the door. I walked in, sat down, and could feel myself disappearing, I was shaking and told her I felt like my entire system was juddering and I felt wobbly. Anita replied, ‘these dreams really impact you don’t they?’ and I nodded. Then she said, ‘It feels like we’re a long way apart, that there’s a lot of distance, and that’s not what you need. Usually we hug at the end of the session but I’m wondering if you’d like one now? And maybe I can sit next to you on the sofa?’ I nodded. She really understood what was happening and I was so relieved that she was so attuned to me.
Anita came and sat beside me on the couch. I have needed this for so many years. I have needed the therapist to take a step towards me when I am disappearing and when I feel unlovable and untouchable – I have needed the presence of the other to help pull me back. I could barely believe that it was as simple as someone coming from their chair to mine. All those years of longing for Em to cross that couple of metres that felt like miles and there was A calm and present beside me. I struggled to make eye contact. I felt so embarrassed by my message before session and despite having A right there, clearly receptive, exactly where I wanted her to be, close to me… I felt like I was drifting away.
Anita asked me, then, what that little four year old part needed? Could she say? I shook my head. There were no words just a cavern of need inside me. I’ve felt like this so many times and had Em just stare at me from across the other side of the room.
And then Anita said she felt like she just wants to hold that part and make her feel safe. She said it felt like there is so much grief to process. I nodded and said, ‘Can I have a cuddle?’ It was definitely the young part who would never use the word ‘hug’. A smiled warmly, opened her arms to me and I snuggled in close with my head on her chest. I could hear her heart beating slow and steady and I kind of had hand my hand resting on her chest – like a baby. None of it was conscious – I was so little in that moment.
It was so different from the goodbye hugs which have been great but also kind of sad because they signal the end of the session and being back out in the world- it’s not really the child parts getting hugs at the end. I lay there barely able to breathe – she gently told me it was ok and I was safe with her and that it’s ok to breathe. I could feel my system really struggling. She said, ‘She really hurt you didn’t she?’ (Em) And I held on tighter, I felt the grief rising and wanted to let her in but was also fighting it.
She kept saying really reassuring things but mainly just held me. Eventually after 5-6 minutes (but felt much longer) I relaxed, I could feel my defences letting go and my body was less rigid, and my breathing matched Anita’s – coregulation in action. I felt like I might fall asleep. It was so calming. I cannot think of a time in my life where I have felt so safe and contained…which is utterly tragic.
Then eventually I pulled away. I told her I felt embarrassed that I need that so much. ‘There’s no need to be embarrassed. We all need hugs. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like cuddles… especially young parts. It helps them to feel safe. I think you needed a lot more than you got.’
I reached out and I held her hand for the next twenty minutes on the couch. It’s hard to describe the level of emotional intimacy that was happening or the vulnerability but it felt so safe that I just said exactly what I was feeling …which is huge! The anxiety and stress and shame of being judged that was so present in the room with Em just isn’t there with A.
I said, ‘I really like you’ and then corrected myself, ‘No. I love you.’ And she replied, ‘I really love you too’ as if it was the most natural thing in the world to say. She told me she wasn’t going anywhere and couldn’t imagine leaving me ever and that even when she’s old she’s going to have a practice because it isn’t about money to her.
Again A was just full of reassurance and care and more stuff about how hard it is to have an adult life when the child is so present and so in need. Whilst cuddled into her I asked her if she thought I was weird. It’s amazing how the young parts can talk when being held in a way that has never been possible before. She said ‘not at all’ and said she thought I was unbelievably brave and courageous and have been so badly let down by so many people that it’s not surprising I am how I am -so scared of being hurt-but that it’s never been me or my fault. And again that she loves me.
I said ‘you don’t know me. I spend so much time hiding’ and she replied ‘I love who I see. Do you think if I see more of you I won’t like you any more?’ I nodded into her chest. She said ‘I can guarantee that won’t be the case and I think I know you better than you think’. I didn’t realise it but I was crying – little silent tears.
I whispered, ‘Why are you so nice to me?’ and A replied, ‘because you’re lovely. You’re wounded. You’re hurt but that doesn’t make you horrible. People have let you down, you haven’t let them down. That’s the difference. It feels like that to you but it doesn’t to me. It’s not your fault. People have let you down badly.’ She said that she wished she could hold me forever – as long as I needed. And then said she wanted to tuck that little girl into bed, make her feel safe, and take her to the beach and get her an ice cream and just play- be free to be a child.
‘Wouldn’t it be lovely to be a child?’ questioned A. ‘It wasn’t safe being a child’ I murmured in reply. A agreed, and said that she meant that she would like to give those parts the space to feel relaxed and safe now and maybe we can go out one day and spend some time playing at the beach. She rubbed my back gently and I breathed her in. I let out a big lumpy exhale. ‘You need more of this (cuddles) don’t you? Calmness. Feeling safe. Or as safe as you can?’ A soothed.
A tiny voice said, ‘I love you’ again and A said ‘I really love you too’.
Honestly, this woman. Thank fucking god for her!
Then a tiny voice said ‘will you look after my elephant?’ And without any hesitation she said ‘yes’… despite having no idea what I was talking about! I had brought two toy elephants with me – mum and baby – and basically the young part wanted her to keep hold of the baby so she doesn’t forget us. It’s another reverse transitional object.
Anita took the little elephant and held it to her, ‘and you keep looking after the big one’ (clear metaphor there eh?!). I said, ‘you can put him in a drawer – he won’t know’ and she replied, I feel like I want to give him a cuddle and tuck him into bed.’
I didn’t realise I was crying at this point but then I felt the tears run over my lip and gave a big snotty sniff! It was such an emotional release. To be really seen, really held, to be safe.
It was the end of the session. I got up. I smiled. And then asked for yet another hug. I said, ‘Noone has ever cuddled me like you have cuddled me today’ – my god it was vulnerability overload. ‘And that’s what you’ve missed out on isn’t it?’ said A, as she squeezed me tightly.
It felt so healing. I mean if I could have written up a fantasy therapy session this basically would have been it.
And the next session was great too!!
This is why I am trying to hang on tight to these memories as I fail to connect online. But it’s hardly surprising is it? The young parts have become used to this level of attunement, holding and safety and then suddenly have a 2D image on screen and it sucks. There is no heartbeat, there is no touch, there is none of the sensory stuff – like smell that help ground the young parts. It’s so hard!…so hard in fact that I disconnected our first online session after 5 minutes! Tantrum!
Anyway, I will get up to speed over time with this. Man I need to be back in the room!
So, last Monday’s session (where I found out that Anita was actually not now going to be here during lockdown so we can’t have our sessions face-to-face like she’d promised) triggered an EPIC meltdown on my part. I mean it was really something else!
I know how attached I have become to A but I really wasn’t expecting this from my system – or at least I thought I might be able to hide my response a bit if it did happen! – errr that’d be a no then!
I know it’s dramatic, but it felt as though I’d been betrayed on Monday. The rug had been pulled out from beneath my feet and I was left reeling, wondering what on earth had just happened and if what I feel to be true about mine and Anita’s relationship (that it’s real and solid and meaningful) was just lies and wishful thinking. If she could do a U-turn on something like this then what else wasn’t safe?
Needless to say, this week has been an emotional marathon (and I am really more of a 5km girl!!)
I left the session completely bereft. Crying in the car I just did not know what to do with myself. I couldn’t help but catastrophise. After everything that happened with Em it’s so easy to go into panic, fear the worst, lose trust, and this triggers complete survival mode and shut down from my system. The pain in this area – my attachment wound- is so sore that it can feel safer to run away then turn around and face it because what’s the point in trying? I have no control over the other person, I can’t change them or affect their response but I have control of whether I allow them close enough to hurt me, right?
And it’s not like track record for ruptures has been great (Ok actually, Anita has always been brilliant but…that’s not where my brain was at!!). If I try and tell someone how they’ve hurt me or let me down it doesn’t always end in a repair. I mean when Em likened my child parts to a tick, I tried so hard to tell her what was going on with me, in the hope that we could work through it, but instead it just got thrown back in my face and I got terminated. I was the problem. I was too sensitive. Too defensive. Ugh. I know that Anita is nothing like Em but there is a part of me that just doesn’t want to be open to being hurt anymore.
I drove home struggling with some many competing voices in my head and the somatic response was just agony – shaking, nausea, racing heartbeat. I called my friend and thankfully she was on hand to pick me up off the floor and try and help me get some perspective: yes this hurts but Anita is safe.
I was cycling through those really unbearable young feelings at mach speed. The angry mistrusting teen who just wanted to cut and run and the little one who just needs to be held close and told things are ok were so loud. It was like being pulled in two opposing directions. Adult me was nowhere to be seen. My system had gone into flight mode after the freeze response in session and it felt like the end of the world.
I simply cannot do this again. I cannot withstand losing my attachment figure…and whilst that sounds dramatic that is exactly how it felt.
After some discussion with my friend I decided that there was no way I could sit with this until Friday and try and work it through in an online session. I needed to let A know what was going on, I needed her to know the impact that our session had just had on me and to try and help me settle down. I mean I was cuddled into her crying for the last fifteen minutes of the session but I don’t know if she knew it was because I felt so hurt and let down by the news that she was going away for lockdown after promising she’d see me should we get locked down, or whether she thought it was just separation anxiety and I was going to miss her.
One of the many, many positives about my relationship with Anita is that she allows me to contact her between sessions so at least the panic and shame about reaching out isn’t there like it was with Em. I don’t have to jump a bunch of internal hurdles about whether I should contact her and that is such a huge relief.
By the time I was thinking about constructing a message to Anita, there was a message on my phone from her. It was lovely, but I think it shows that she had no idea that I was circling rupture zone:
I spent some time typing out a message on my phone and pressed send:
I know it’s unlikely at this short notice but do you have any free slots on Wednesday? I’m feeling really panicked but also really like I just want to run away and never see you again. The teen part that really believes that this is not real is having a field day – ‘I told you so. It’s all lies’. The other week when I was upset and feeling like things weren’t safe because I sensed a lockdown was inevitable you told me we’d be ok and that you’d still see me because it’s what I need. I wasn’t expecting today to find out that this wasn’t the case now. I understand why you are going away. It makes sense to my adult. But the youngest most vulnerable parts don’t understand at all. It just feels abandoning. It feels like it’s hard to trust what is real and what’s just empty words now. I hate that I am like this. I hate being so affected by things that normal people just don’t even notice. I feel embarrassed that I am so upset. I get that it isn’t easy for anyone and I absolutely don’t want to push you away but equally there’s a really strong pull for me to just cut and run. There’s also another part that feels terribly alone in the snow and the teen part will happily let her freeze x
She responded by offering me a time that I couldn’t make (ARRRGGGHHHH!!!), which obviously isn’t her fault, but it just sent me into a big huff. I was going to be sitting with this for a fucking eternity and there was no possibility of seeing her. I so desperately wanted to see her but I couldn’t possibly let her know! Jeez.
What comes next is the wheels falling off:
Oh sweet mother of God…help me! Or at least stop my hands! – text bomb:
Oh man. Reading it back now I am in proper ‘crawl into a hole and die’ mode. But as you can see I was proper activated. I continued on with my texts…ping ping ping… poor Anita!:
I just feel like nothing is real and it’s terrifying. I just really need a big hug and to make a plan on how to get through this next month…or longer. It’s worse than a break. And whilst I have sensed it coming it’s just too sudden for my system. And I feel like you’re gone. But also like I don’t know who you are ☹
She responded by telling me that she would love to give me a hug and that she was sorry and had herself had a wobble because she didn’t see it coming or that the plans would change, to let’s meet up on Friday and find a way forward followed by a hug GIF for the child parts.
Which helped no end! I could feel myself starting to settle a bit. The panic was subsiding. Things would be ok. She wasn’t abandoning me. I would be able to see her on Friday before she leaves and a face-to-face repair felt possible. Her willingness to engage with me, to try to make things better showed that she is the Anita I think she is. She is not Em. I was still massively hurting but could see now that whatever has happened hasn’t been deliberate.
But still the texts continued. FUCK ME…the shame…:
I know it’s really really hard for everyone – all of us – and I’m not trying to be a difficult pain in the arse psycho because I get that you are human too and it’s been an impossible fucking year – and we’re not unhinged (well I am!) is anyone’s guess. I did see it coming. I’ve just been surprised it’s taken so long. I’m always frightened of change because I don’t cope very well with it which is why everything is so controlled in my life and I need tonnes of notice and preparation to get my youngest parts safe before things happen. Adult me can, and will, power through this because that’s what I have trained into myself: keep going no matter what…. It’s just underneath it’s a fucking shambles. And there is so much stuff trying to work its way out at the moment internally that I feel like I have third degree burns all over my body – this last 48 hours (since lockdown announced) feels like I have been thrown into a vat of vinegar. I literally don’t know what to do because it’s so painful. I don’t want to feel like I can’t trust you – but that’s how sensitive my system is. Flight mode is pretty much default. I love you x
Anita replied with another kind message apologising and acknowledging that she had let me down, saying she really knows that she needs to be grounded and solid for me and that she hadn’t been in that session because of her own panic around the lockdown. It really helped to see her human side. I told her that I actually needed authenticity and the truth above anything else. I would rather her be her than attempt being solid when she isn’t feeling it. If she had told me she wasn’t feeling brilliant herself in the session it would have made sense – the mutual disconnect and the fact that she wasn’t really on the ball with letting me know what was going on or making any kind of plan.
I then told her that my meltdown simply stemmed from my being scared of distance, ‘I don’t like feeling far away from you and the littlest parts don’t feel safe unless I can hear your heart beating…which is just fucking cringey’. And that’s the reality, those youngest parts only seem to regulate when they are being held and I can actually hear her steady heartbeat. My breathing slows down, the tension in my system slowly ebbs away, and eventually my breathing matches hers – long and slow rather than rapid and shallow. It’s at this point that the young parts can really come out and tell her what’s going on for them.
The little four-year-old self can’t speak unless she feels contained and right now the only way that she feels safe is being physically close. This is why therapy with Em was so traumatic. The young part would be there, terrified, dysregulated, alone, and Em would just leave her…not just physically, but emotionally too. Being stranded in that pain is hideous. Anita recognises that and responds to it and it is so healing.
Anyway, there was more back and forth – honestly the poor woman got totally spammed on Monday! She reiterated that she really does care and loves me and that she would never purposefully hurt me and we continued working things through and we sort it all out on Friday.
I still felt out of sorts through the week but it would come in waves. Adult me was more available at times, but at other times I’d descend into panic again.
I had a really horrible dream- an old favourite- on Tuesday night where I was in a plane feeling scared, holding onto the seat and repeating ‘I am safe…I am safe…I am safe’ only everyone else was up in the aisles screaming at each other. I went and sought refuge in the toilet for some peace. It was different to a normal plane. There was window. As I looked out, I realised we were too low, skirting alongside some snowy mountains. Suddenly the plane nose dived and started corkscrewing down. I smashed my head on the ceiling and was terrified. The falling seemed to last forever and then suddenly the plane righted itself. Only, now there was another problem, the mountain range surrounded the plane on three sides. We were set to crash into the face of the mountain. The pilot pulled the plane up into an almost vertical ascent….and then I woke up!
Somehow, I made it through the week. I changed my craniosacral session to Wednesday from Thursday as it wasn’t completely clear whether K will be able to work. I needed to get some kind of nervous system regulation and talk about what had happened with A. K was incredible and if I get chance, I will write about these sessions with her soon because they too are soooooo helpful and holding in a different way. Body work has been such a brilliant addition to my talk therapy.
However, despite the lovely session with K, I didn’t sleep properly Wednesday night. The panic about Anita was ramping up. I genuinely felt like I was going to get a text to tell me she wasn’t going to be there on Friday. That she’d left on Wednesday night and we’d have to work online. I could feel the disappointment and rage flooding in. So, I text her and told her. She quickly put my mind at ease and told me she was looking forward to seeing me. Thank god.
And that is the frigging stress of the week before the repair session!! I’ll write another post about that as it’s loooooonng!!
I appreciate that there’s a window of a couple of HUGE weeks missing in this blog and reading between the lines here you’ll have probably worked out that the stuff that’s really changed has been about expressing love and the level physical holding in the relationship with A. It’s been transformational for me which is also why I have reacted so terribly to needing to return to online. The thought of losing all this is just totally overwhelming.
I have been reluctant to talk about it publicly due to the fact that so many people are struggling with remote therapy and having all kinds of new boundaries in place in the therapy room, losing hugs and touch, and I feel like it could be triggering for some and I really don’t want to make things worse for any of us in a pretty fucking unbearable situation.
I know, in the past this sort of thing (reading about the holding and expressions of love on blogs) has triggered me because I have so badly wanted this from Em and never got anywhere close. I am delighted for the people that receive it but I have felt literal pain in my stomach when I realise how strong the need has been in me and how painful it has been not to receive it. Throw in the pandemic and I don’t want to be seen as insensitive to other people. So, I will get to it, but as I said, it’ll probably be passworded.
There’s also a fear on my part. I just don’t want any backlash for what is happening in my therapy because frankly I have had years and years of shit, traumatising experiences in the room, and want to be able to celebrate what’s going on with you and feel good about it. And I know the vast majority of you will be cheering for me, but I also know that when we are struggling ourselves it’s hard not to project our own feelings of anger and dissatisfaction onto others – ‘this is wrong, she shouldn’t do that, social distancing…’ blah blah blah.
So, thanks for being patient but also sorry for the break in chronology and weird cryptic stuff! I just don’t know what to do for the best.
A couple of weeks ago I was in a therapy session with Anita – it was the third of three incredibly connecting sessions where the littlest most scared parts of me felt safe enough to come out and talk. We are getting right down into the toxic shame and the cringey stuff but also starting to heal it which is so great.
The trust has built so much and the level of intimacy has sky-rocketed in the last month. A has been so holding and containing – so attuned – which has meant that the little parts feel safe telling her what they need and can express pretty much anything – it’s like my adult filter has gone! Her responses are always so good that I take more risks in saying what’s happening for me. If I feel shame she quickly removes it and I’m learning to trust that it’s actually ok to be me with her.
It’s weird to think how different it feels in the room now compared to all the years with Em having the feelings but being too scared to really express them.
It’s no secret that I have massive attachment issues is it?!- and a big part of that hell zone is that I am terrified of being left and abandoned. Anyone that’s read this blog for a while will know how hard disruptions to my therapy feel – I mean I absolutely loathe therapy breaks! The recent-ish termination of my long-term therapy with Em left my youngest parts reeling, too. I have never felt so rejected and abandoned in my life. And so even when I feel relative safety with Anita there’s still the parts of me worrying about ‘when’ not ‘if’ things will go wrong. I think that dream I had last week is evidence of that deep-rooted fear. I am so conditioned to believe that I will end up being too much that it’s hard to imagine that what Anita says about not going anywhere could be true.
I’ve been feeling a bit low-grade panicked because now that Anita and I seem to be really ‘doing the work’ in our sessions I have been worrying what would happen if we had another lockdown and had to return to online therapy – which I really, really struggled with last time. It’s a concern that’s been grumbling away in the background for a while, in fact since we returned to face-to-face in September, but in recent weeks has got louder because I felt it was inevitable that we would be forced into another lockdown sooner rather than later and I know that the child parts that have finally made it into the room just will not cope with a lack of physical proximity.
I can’t remember what we had been talking about in the lead up to saying this in session, but the four-year-old part was there and about twenty minutes from the end of the I whispered, ‘I am worried’. Anita gently asked me what I was worrying about and I said, ‘you going away’ (losing the intimacy, holding, and containment). Anita immediately said that I was never going to lose her and that she had no intention of going anywhere. I barely let out any sound as I murmured, ‘you might die’ into her jumper. It was coming up to the anniversary of my good friend/mother figure dying and the young parts had been preoccupied with the loss. A again assured me that she was staying with me and then I said in a really little voice, ‘but we might get locked down again’ and she agreed, ‘we might’.
Anita was quiet for a few seconds and then said, ‘that is a possibility. To be honest I think if we did get locked down again, I know you’d look after you and I’d look after me. I wouldn’t offer this to anyone else because I know the rest of my clients would be ok online, but I’d still be willing to see you because I think you need it. I don’t work with two people in the same way. I do what feels right, for me and for them. So, we might get locked down but I am offering that to you. I wouldn’t see anyone else here I’d just see you so it would feel safer. Does that make sense?’
I honestly couldn’t believe my ears. To have that recognition that online therapy really doesn’t work for me and that actually she understands how traumatising it is for the young parts (especially now she’s really met them) was incredible. To know that she recognises my trauma and is prepared to find a way to not add to that was like the biggest balm for my soul and really made the young parts calm down inside.
The last few weeks I have been anticipating lockdown being announced. I knew it would mean some disruption to my work life and I’d likely lose K and my craniosacral sessions but otherwise things would remain largely the same. It would be hard not having my body therapy because my nervous system is a nightmare, but at least I would still have Anita twice a week and that would make all the other challenges just about bearable. I’m a real homebody and am quite risk averse and so actually haven’t been anywhere public like restaurants, cinemas, gyms, shopping or whatever since the last lockdown was lifted and so I wouldn’t miss that – or seeing people!
Anyway, fast forward to Monday. Lockdown had been announced on Saturday by BoJo. I had already moved my extra-curricular tuition online (as per guidance) but have kept my home-schooling work face-to-face (again there’s very clear wording on that). There seems to be a lot more flexibility around what can and can’t happen this time around in all areas. Last time we were all locked down weren’t we – DO NOT GO OUT! To be honest this time it just seems like hospitality, entertainment, and some shops are shutting – oh and you can’t go get a haircut or a tattoo! The government is encouraging us to keep medical appointments, we can even go to support groups of up to fifteen people etc. As I say, in many ways because schools are open my life doesn’t look any different.
I was jabbering away in session on Monday. Just filler. There wasn’t much deep stuff going on because I guess the part of me that had been in a panic about being ‘left’ was feeling safe. Ok work is now going be a Zoom doom pain in the arse but at least my Monday and Friday sessions are there. I will survive.
Or at least that’s what I thought.
About half an hour into the session I looked at A and she said, ‘you seem quite distant today’ and I think she meant, I wasn’t being emotionally vulnerable and my adult was very there and she finished the sentence, ‘maybe it’s in anticipation of the separation?’
What the actual fuck???!!!
My system shut down instantly and I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping through my system. I didn’t say anything. My facial expression didn’t change. But I was frozen. I literally couldn’t compute what she had just said to me. I was stunned. Two weeks ago she had assured me that she would be there if we were locked down because I ‘need’ it and now we have half an hour left of a session before a four week separation and this is the first I know about it! You have to be kidding me?
I can’t tell you how many voices were running wild in my head but there was a loud teen screaming ‘I knew it! She’s a fucking liar!’ and then there was the little four-year-old crying, ‘you told me you wouldn’t leave me’. It was absolutely horrific.
I couldn’t speak. I felt trembly. I wanted to run away but I couldn’t move. So, off I went. Dissociated.
Anita moved and sat closer to me but I couldn’t look at her. I don’t think she realised fully what was going on in my head. She didn’t join the dots from the conversation we’d had the other week to my disappointment now. And I couldn’t tell her. I felt ashamed. I felt so stupid. Why did I allow myself to believe what she had said? And if she had lied about that, what else was a lie? The ‘I love yous’?
All these weeks of steady encouragement to ‘come in out of the cold’ and then this. This is exactly why we stay distant. If you don’t people in they can’t hurt you can they?
A asked me if I wanted a hug. I didn’t respond. I could hear what she was saying but I just couldn’t speak or move. She asked again and I barely nodded. Child parts though, they outstrip the angry teen! She put her hand on my hand and pulled me in close for a cuddle. I didn’t speak. I think it was a kind of shock. I seem to have mastered dissociative crying where I don’t even know it’s happening until I feel the tears roll down over my lip, though.
She told me that she hadn’t decided what she was going to be doing yet but was probably going up to stay with her partner. I just held on tight and kept silently crying. I literally couldn’t believe she was going to leave me when she had so clearly promised not to. Adult me understands but adult me wasn’t there then.
Then the session was over and I realised that not only was I going to be working online for a month, but that we had no plan in place on how to help manage a month of hideous shit online. I was firmly in rupture zone (not that she knew that then). A said we can continue to text and have contact…but that is not enough. Not now. Not after the way we have been working for the last month. The young parts that are so exposed need some tangible reminder that she actually exists because when I am distressed the object constancy stuff is awful. All I can picture is a black void of where she should be -it’s right back into preverbal trauma.
I struggled to get up and leave. I said goodbye but I couldn’t meet her gaze. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. I walked to my car, got inside, shut the door and let out a gut-wrenching howl. I sounded like a wounded animal. And then I sobbed. Convulsive crying. Just absolutely hideous levels of pain. It was a pain about being left, by her, by Em, by my mum all coming together at once. All those excruciating feelings about being unlovable, unimportant and forgettable came flooding in.
It’s fair to say it’s been a pretty shit week! I’m completely exhausted by this but also just completely embarrassed and ashamed to feel this. I did let A know what’s gone on but…ugh god… I just want to crawl into a hole and die. Talk about losing my grip!
* Just to say, thank you to everyone who has emailed me asking for the password for upcoming posts. I haven’t replied to anyone yet because I don’t have a password yet and I haven’t written any posts! Also, I genuinely thought about eight people were going to message me and it’s been loads of you. I will get back to you guys soon xx
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.