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.
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.
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!
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
For those of you have followed this blog over the last few years you’ll know that I have poured blood, sweat, tears, and thousands and thousands of pounds into my healing journey. The ironic thing is, it is only in the last year, since I went back to my craniosacral therapist K, and then found Anita in January, (just as my relationship with Em started to properly disintegrate) that there has been any sense of healing – like a proper felt sense that things can and are getting better on that deeper level.
I have done years of ‘therapy’, religiously going to see Em week in week out, two sessions a week and repeatedly being triggered into a place of huge pain and dissociation. It has been so hard to endure. Part of me wonders why I stayed for so long when everything felt so off. My attachment to Em was so strong, though. My child parts were completely invested in the relationship (or wanting to feel like there was a ‘relationship’) that I put myself through emotional hell – a familiar hell – of feeling so deficient, unlovable, and untouchable.
This experience of therapy with Em just poured salt in an already gaping mother wound. It was trauma bonding 101. A complete re-enactment of my childhood and a re-experiencing of the cold, distant, but shaming relationship I had with my mum. Deep down part of me knew that, but I couldn’t leave, it was familiar territory and what I had grown to expect…but just like with my mum, I really really hoped that one day things would turn around and I’d get what I needed.
I wanted to believe there was something better for me and maybe it would materialise if I just tried harder, didn’t ask for too much, and was patient. But this didn’t happen. I was shown time and again that my needs weren’t important – or even acknowledged as being valid- and that I had to take what was offered…which was very little.
It wasn’t until Em likened my young parts to a tick and had verbally rejected the gift (or said that she didn’t want to accept gifts in future and shouldn’t have taken the one at Christmas) that I knew I couldn’t go on any more. Em had hurt me and my child parts so badly that even though I loved her (and still do) I physically couldn’t put myself through it any more. As it was all coming to a head from my side it was clear that she was more than done too – as I had suspected – and she made no attempt to try and work through it with me, willing to let me go on a perfunctory two line email…after 8 years!
Looking back, I just wish I had made a clean break the day I went to see Anita to test the waters about a different therapy/therapist. I knew instantly that A was a good fit and that I wanted to work with her but I also wanted to try for a ‘decent ending’ with Em– that illusive thing! I wish I had have taken more heed of the concerns A raised about Em’s conduct and just cut my losses before things had chance to get any worse.
If only I had just walked away then rather than waiting to see what might happen, giving it one last go at trying to work it through, and STUPIDLY handing her the power back, then the biggest injury would have been avoided. I would have felt rejected and abandoned whatever happened but I wouldn’t be stuck with this sick feeling of people I care about seeing me as a parasite.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? I guess I hoped that she would reflect on what I told her about how hurt I was about the session leading into Christmas, the break, and the first session back, accept her part in things, acknowledge my feelings, and find a way to move forward – rupture and repair in action. But no. What happened was horrific, her response telling her how hurt I felt was, ‘your young parts are like a tick’ and before I knew it everything was unravelling at speed.
Clearly, I am still not over what happened in this therapy and every time I get close to Anita there’s a voice in my head that says, ‘This is dangerous, don’t let her too close, don’t let her see the need because you’ll frighten her away – she’ll think you’re a tick, too’. And I hate that. I hate that what Em said still hurts like hell all these months on, but I also hate that it impacts how I relate to Anita.
I cannot really explain how different it feels being with Anita. She makes me feel safe and cared for and yet even when there is real closeness between us we’re lumbered with the legacy that Em has left. I know it is going to take a lot of therapy and care to repair the damage done because Em has basically shattered all the young parts of me that were trying to trust and heal, but not only that, she’s also taken a huge swipe at my adult self. I am so grateful that A is on my side though, and willing to do the work with me….as slow and painstaking as it is.
I guess in some way I am grateful to Em (am I?!). I learnt a lot about myself in the therapy with her. Parts of myself I didn’t even know existed made themselves known to me through being in ‘relationship’ with her. Unfortunately, these vulnerable young child parts were abandoned in that room. She frequently told me I was abandoning my young parts but if that was true, then so was she. I have so often felt like I am on the verge of drowning just trying to keep us all afloat and taking myself to therapy was not an act of abandonment on my part. It’s hard living an adult life without having to carry the terror and pain of a minibus full of activated child parts too – therapy was meant to help with that (and it does now- phew!).
Over the years, I have spent a lot of time researching and finding out more about my ‘stuff’. I guess I used that well-worn strategy ‘intellectualising’ to try and make sense of the situation! I have read so many books on attachment, trauma, shame, dissociation, and the therapeutic relationship – and, of course, blogs – looking for the answers, learning how to move forward and heal, and whilst that didn’t happen with Em, I feel like I at least know myself now and confident that I am not the only person on earth struggling with this stuff. I know what’s wrong. I understand what the injury is. AND I know what I need to heal it. I’ve always known – I just haven’t been able to get what I needed until now.
After years of being told what I need by Em, like she was some magic oracle that knew what ‘people like me’ need to heal I can categorically say what I need is not what was on offer with her! Maybe her strategies work with some clients, but I struggle to see how anyone with Complex Trauma would have responded well to her ‘techniques’. As I mentioned recently in another post, I saw something by Carolyn Spring that says that when we are in distress, we don’t need strategies or techniques, we need a person. And it’s that simple. It’s not rocket science, it it? Relational trauma needs healing in relationship. Em didn’t really do relationship. She watched me as I struggled and suffered – like some kind of poor rodent in a science experiment.
I have talked and talked and got nowhere and over time replaced talking with more and more dissociation. Simply being in the same room with Em triggered me. I’d feel dysregulated before I even arrived at the session but I was always so hopeful that maybe this time I’d get what I needed having hung on desperately through the week in attachment hell waiting to see her.
I don’t think people that haven’t got this kind of trauma/injury have even the slightest idea of how bloody harrowing it is being stuck in the attachment hell zone – feeling like the world is literally falling apart, like you can’t breathe for the pain of it, and being completely terrified. When it gets bad like that I know, for me, it’s largely pre-verbal and it is so scary feeling completely abandoned, uncontained, and as though you are falling through some kind of internal black abyss. That’s crappy, but then there’s all the other feelings that can come in from other parts- the apathy, the rage, the self-loathing, the wanting to cut and run…it’s just awful.
My window of tolerance became so small in the end that I felt unsafe being with Em. I was always braced for more rejection, more shaming, more disconnection. My body was always so tense – so much so that it would hurt. More than anything I wanted to feel safe with her and that’s why I kept going – the child parts hoped that one day she’d help them and so they hid behind the sofa, peeking out, waiting and waiting to be seen and cared for. Only when she did get glimpses of who was there she freaked out, put walls up, and distanced herself even further. It was though I would sometimes be brave enough to take one step forward and she’d immediately take two (twenty!) steps back.
I don’t know what it is about that young parts that triggered her so badly but I do wonder if there is unresolved childhood trauma for her that my stuff tapped into and she just couldn’t bear to be near it. Or maybe she just didn’t like me and was content to keep taking the money. Long-term clients with attachment disorders coming twice a week are certainly a reliable source of income. We don’t ever not turn up! lol.
There is so sadness about this. At times it got so bad that I came close to destroying myself. My go to coping strategies were so active – some of the worst periods of anorexic behaviour and self-harm happened whilst in the therapy with Em because I couldn’t cope with the pain of the attachment and how alone I felt. I feel so upset about it all because it could have been so different. Handled well, it could have been so healing.
I tried really hard to do what Em said. I wanted to believe that what she suggested could work for me. I don’t want to feel this way forever – that’s why I am in therapy in the first place! I tried to engage with whatever she asked: the visualisations- ‘just imagine holding your distressed child parts’ – but it wasn’t me the child parts wanted or needed at that point– and she knew that and shamed me for it.
When it was really bad and I was heavily dissociated somewhere out in the cold alone, embodying that exiled child part, there was no adult self to help me and Em just left me stranded – sometimes for the entire session. I don’t doubt that someday soon I will be able to hold and contain these young parts for myself but back then there was no chance. I didn’t know how.
When you are terrified and in a child state you can’t just pick yourself up and make it better for yourself – especially if there’s no template to work from. How can you imagine being held and feeling safe if you’ve never experienced being held or feeling safe? It’s not just visualisations, though. I’ve done all sorts; I made my eyes follow blue dots on an I-pad over and over (yet another tool to avoid talking about what was going on between us in the room). I have tried everything Em threw at me and yet none of it worked.
I have tried to believe that being ignored during the week between sessions was for the best, that somehow my massively distressed young parts who feared that she was never coming back (like all those years where my mum was gone in the week when I was little) or perhaps dead (like my dad) would learn that she was there in session. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a transitional object, check ins…the list goes on and on …because she was unwilling to concede an inch so maybe I must stupid for thinking these things might help and how dare I ask for anything more than the bare minimum – clearly, she knew best – deprivation and isolation was best?! But I did need more and now that I am getting those things, it really really makes a massive difference.
I have never been able to feel safe in therapy because what I needed more than anything was a person. I needed a relationship in which to begin to build trust and someone to feel safe with. I needed someone who realised and accepted that there were lots of parts of me (some really badly hurt) and they each need something different and communicate in different ways. My child parts were reluctant to come to session with Anita- and who can blame them after what happened in January- but I’ve found they are pretty good at communicating with Gifs and emojis! I have sent more texts in the last week to A than I did in the entire time I worked with Em – eek!
Anita’s willingness to allow those young parts to tentatively take steps towards her from outside the room and for her to have responded in a way that they understand, has meant that now, they have felt safe enough to come to therapy and are well and truly in the room…I could not have done that if we hadn’t spent the last 9 months laying the foundations via text. Em was blank screen. Teflon. She wanted no contact. Anita is present, real, and connected. She actually seems to like me…better than like me (yay!)…which is nice but it means that what and who needs to be work with can safely turn up.
I wish I had been able to advocate better for myself with Em. Deep down we all know what we need to heal. Sometimes that doesn’t align with what the other person can do, it doesn’t fit their training or system of working, their personality – and that is fine – we can’t force a therapist to be someone they’re not (even if they seem to want to force a square peg through a round hole where we are concerned!). I just wish they’d say something early on like, ‘What you need and want is completely valid and understandable as you’ve had so much wounding but I can’t offer that’ and refer us out rather than saying things like, ‘The time for getting what you need has passed and you need to learn to hold this for yourself. I won’t collude with those young parts. If I did what you wanted it wouldn’t help you in the long run.’
Whilst I understand I can’t get a new childhood or a new mum, I can have a relationship with my therapist that is safe, caring, and loving in order that the wounding from my childhood can be gently healed. I can have someone who is on my side ready to hold my hand and support me when I go to the really dark places. It is ok to expect to be in a relationship with someone who you share the most vulnerable and wounded parts of yourself. I can’t express it strongly enough – it is the relationship that heals not the theory.
And so what happened with Em? I stayed, sort of believing her narrative that I was not trying hard enough to heal (even though I work so fucking hard both inside and outside of sessions)– that I was in some way treatment resistant so just need to try harder, let her in more, stop dissociating. And then when I did that, when I gave her my notebooks, her reaction was so bad that it ended.
Here’s a crap analogy for what my therapy has been like…buckle up we’re on course for one of my extended rambling metaphors!:
I think it’s a bit like when you’re a kid and you feel sad and want a treat. You may really want a bar of chocolate – know that a bar of chocolate is what would make you feel better- and yet the parent keeps offering you a pear because ‘they know what’s best for you’. You chew on the pear but really, deep down you wanted chocolate. I mean, of course, there are some similarities between a pear and a chocolate bar- both are sweet- but we all know a pear is not a reasonable substitution for a chocolate bar no matter what they say about the health benefits!
Imagine being a child, and every week asking for chocolate and every week being told ‘No – you can only have pear! You may think you need a chocolate bar, but you’re wrong. Pear is what you need. Pear is all that’s on offer. You’ll soon learn that pears are the best thing for you.’ And that’s hard to take on board because it feels impossible that that can be true…
But it gets worse, alongside this, whilst you’ve got acid indigestion from so much fucking pear, the parent repeatedly tells you how much chocolate you’ve missed out on in your life so far. Then saying that despite having some chocolate right there with them, that they won’t give any to you ever, and maybe you could find some way to imagine what it would be like to taste chocolate whilst you’re struggling to stomach the pear.
The pear is definitely not what you want but you are naturally compliant and so take it and wonder why you aren’t good enough to be given the chocolate. Week after week you’re handed pear but you’re quickly sick of it, the taste, the texture, how it makes you feel sick inside- everything about pear feels wrong. It’s not chocolate. At this point you’d even settle for a cocoa dusted slice of pear…but no…you’ve got pear and pear only.
Eventually, it reaches a point where you just cannot put another piece of pear in your mouth. And the parent keeps on, ‘How about we try this shaped pear today? Or perhaps we could juice it?’ as though it would be any different from all the other slabs and slices and cups you’ve forced down your neck over the months and years. You internally groan. You’re not stupid though, you stopped asking for the chocolate a long time ago because it just got painful being refused it over and over again.
You clearly don’t deserve chocolate and so now you’ve tried to convince yourself that chocolate is bad and dangerous because that’s what parent has said… but it’s never really worked because your soul knows what you need. And part of you hoped that if you kept up with the pear long enough, maybe one day you’d be rewarded with just a tiny square of chocolate. The parent thinks they’ve won the battle because you don’t ever talk of chocolate now, but inside you’re really sad – why is a bit of chocolate so forbidden? How can something that tastes so good be wrong?
Time goes on and by now you’re so sick of pear, that it’s reached the point where it’s making you sick and you have nightmares about being handed pear. Just the thought of it makes you want to gag and you cry. Until one day you crack. You can’t do it any more, the revulsion to the pear is so severe that you vomit it back up all over the floor, and it’s not just pear, it’s years of emotional pain spewing out, and you scream ‘I DON’T LIKE PEAR! I hate pear. I have tried it. I really have. But it’s not helping me. It actually makes me feel ill. I really just need some chocolate!!’ and the parent looks at you with disgust and coldly says. ‘I don’t do chocolate and if you won’t eat pear then you’ll have to go’. It’s as simple as that.
So, you go somewhere else, a foster home, crying, sad, not really knowing what you need anymore, what you are entitled to ask for. You don’t even really care about chocolate now, you just know you can’t stomach another pear and you pray that this new home doesn’t force feed them to you too.
You walk in the door and the new parent talks to you kindly, it’s bizarre, so alien!… and immediately says that chocolate is completely ok in this house like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, they offer you a chocolate bar. You don’t even have to ask for it! Apparently a plentiful supply of chocolate bars are what is needed when a child like you has been deprived chocolate all its life. And it’s ok to want that and ask for that. And, furthermore, if you don’t like pear then you never have to eat it again. When you leave the house and look in your bag you see that the new parent has even slid a chocolate bar in your lunch bag. You cannot believe your luck.
And this is what it’s been like seeing Em and A. I mean that’s a bit of an ‘out there’ analogy. My friend actually said I ought to have used ice cubes for Em rather than pears… as she was stone cold and there was no nutritional value to the therapy!! haha. The moment I met A, she was on my page – ‘you know what you need, you’re inside you, and who am I to tell you what you need? I might not be able to give you everything you need but those needs are valid and ok’… turns out she also has a stack of ‘chocolate’ and it’s really good chocolate so my inner child is delighted! Lol.
Anyway, that’s all for now…this is unexpectedly long. I’m trying to work out what to do with writing this blog at the minute. Therapy has gone to a whole new level for me these last couple of weeks -it’s incredible but also massively vulnerable work – and so I feel like right now, I don’t want to detail what’s going on because actually I feel really protective of it. I feel like I need to talk to A about it too. I get it’s my therapy, that the blog is anonymous, etc but I might have to take a bit of time before I publish anything. That’s not an intentional cliff-hanger, it’s just I feel like I need to keep everything safely contained in the room for a bit. x
Well, blimey, it’s been hard this week. I knew things were approaching the ‘danger zone’ but I genuinely didn’t think the wheels were going to fall off in such a spectacular way mid-week! It felt like I hit a patch of black ice on Tuesday and then started desperately careering around the road on Wednesday only to crash out on Thursday.
I managed to get through all my teaching commitments this week but I could feel how thinly stretched I was. Half term cannot come quickly enough. The child parts inside were all activated and I just wanted to cry most of the week. It felt desperate. Everything felt too much. Never have I relied more heavily on my rubber bands and chewing gum to hold it together!
By the time it got to my craniosacral session with K on Thursday morning I was hanging on by a thread. It was so good to see her, to be safe in the space with her for that window of time, and to get some much needed care and attention for my nervous system…and myself! She sees right through me – which is both terrifying and a huge relief. It means that there is no point in acting like things are ok or pretending that I am hanging it together because she feels what’s going on in my body whatever I say!
I’ve noticed the harder I am struggling to juggle things, the more I put on a coping front with people. I paste on the smile and say ‘it’s fine’ when actually everything is falling apart inside. The performance aspect of myself, the part that allows to me to teach and exist in the outside world gets jammed on and I feel almost like I am in some kind of out of body experience. I guess it’s a form of dissociation. And it works…to an extent.
However, whilst this ‘coping, high functioning self’ ensures I can function out in the world, it comes at an enormous physical and emotional cost to the rest of me, or should I just say ‘me’? That seemingly extroverted, happy, self that takes care of everyone else’s needs runs on overdrive, draining every last drop of energy, leaving absolutely nothing in reserve for everyone else inside and then, inevitably, the shit hits the fan!
When I am on the edge, running on adrenaline, ‘in role’ I actually do some of my best work. I know my lessons are really good. But it’s insane. When I need to dial it down to my conserve energy I ramp up. Panic. Panic. PANIC! I can’t let anyone see how desperate things are, so here, have the all singing all dancing version of me. I’m fine…it’s fine…fine…FINE!!! (It’s not fine…not fine at all)
And so when that manic, crazed, state is on and I find it quite hard to land back in myself because the distance between appearance and the reality is immense. When I stop and really stare into the truth of the situation I know I am on empty. Burnt out. And the young ones are beside themselves. And it’s too scary to go there…because if I stop, and acknowledge the reality, the vulnerability, the fact that I need someone to help me and I am left open and exposed…what happens if I can’t get what I need? What happens if I can’t pick myself back up and get going again? I’ll have a proper breakdown… and I CANNOT GO TO THAT PLACE AGAIN.
I told K how crazy it’s all been and she invited me to take time to land and then asked what was going on inside/underneath. I felt so exposed. But also so pleased to be able to remove the mask for a bit. I told her that my four year old self was terrified and I feel like I am falling apart. There’s been a lot of adult life stress going on recently with my family that taps back into old wounds and triggers the child parts so it’s been feeling tough. Adult me can just about cope but the child parts are not doing so well.
I have this image that frequently comes up when Four is around. She’s standing in the middle of a country lane in just her nightie. It’s grey, wet, dark, and cold. She has no idea where she is. She is totally lost. She’s scared. She’s hungry. And yet she doesn’t make a sound. There is no point in screaming for help because she’s learnt that no one ever comes. Was there ever more fitting an image of an exiled part than her?
It’s really painful when this little one gets live and it’s no wonder that I spend so much of my time trying to outrun this stuff. I mean, all these little parts are always there in varying states of distress and need, but most of the time I can hold it together enough to not be floored by them. I can function alongside the internal hell. But not this week.
I don’t know what happened or why, but I felt really held by K in the session. I mean physically. And yet there was absolutely nothing different to any other session. It’s a body-based therapy and so I am physically held every week. But for some reason it felt different on Thursday. All I can think is that my usual defences just weren’t there in the same way? I had nothing to armour myself with and so just felt it all. I couldn’t quite hold myself and so sunk into being held. I don’t know.
I know it sounds bonkers that even with one of my safest, most trusted people my system still has a degree of armouring. I guess it’s all about survival and protection. No matter how badly I want to trust that things are properly safe, my system just can’t fully let go. I’m so terrified of being rejected or abandoned that the closer I get to someone the scarier it feels – well, at least to some of the parts. I guess there’s so much more to lose when you really care about someone and need them. I know K isn’t going anywhere. I am safe with her. But this stuff is unconscious…it’s the internal autopilot doing its thing and it’s going to take a while to reprogramme.
Still, it felt like my system was more ‘trusting’ than it has been in a while or just so tired that it couldn’t function which meant that the young stuff was right on the surface! I had been complaining about a pain in my hand and wrist and K asked if she could hold my hand. I said yes. It was bizarre. When she took my hand it was like little Four landed with a thud inside me. I was no longer watching her from a distance, that poor tiny child, isolated, bare foot on a lane. Instead she was in me… and oh my fucking god it was so painful. I just wanted to burst into tears, get up off the couch, and cuddle into K.
K noticed that I was barely breathing and asked about the little girl. Did she feel like it was dangerous to take up space? Was it safer to her to not be seen and stay out of the way? Yep. K asked if I could try and take a few deep breaths. I couldn’t and just shook my head. She asked if I could allow myself to feel this stuff in the moment, allow Four to be there just for a minute…and I froze. It was so overwhelming. Being so consciously aware of the pain that is there, that I have been holding for so long is just so hard….even in the presence of a trusted other.
At the end I sat up on the couch, drew my knees up into my chest, buried my face in the blanket and hid behind my knees. I just didn’t have it in me to be ‘fine’ because I was not fine. That little part was right there. K came over and hugged me and rubbed my back until I managed to get to get enough adult back online.
K said I had gone really deep in the session. Of course, she was right. As I left she asked if she could hold me, and we hugged. It’s so hard leaving though…because it’s in those moments where my system starts to relax but then the reality hits… it’s time to go….back out there…and somehow I need to put the mask on when I really don’t want to.
It’s really a double-edged sword. Because this is the work that absolutely needs to be done (exposing and working with the young parts)…and yet I can only access this stuff, be open and vulnerable when I am on empty, when my defences and protectors can’t function enough to hide everyone. So it’s a pain. I can’t function as I am long-term but equally I need to be able to access the parts to be able to heal and move forward.
I spend so many hours in therapy hiding/protecting these parts and feel frustrated with myself because I know what I need. I know what needs to be done. BUT the reality of being so vulnerable, so exposed, is hard. It feels dangerous. It’s no wonder my system has built up such strong defences! It fears total annihilation of the self.
Only what I think I am learning, slowly, is that some people can be trusted with my most vulnerable self. And whilst I have been hurt…a lot…and recently too (with Em) I can be how it is and that be ok. Some people don’t need my performance and love me just the way I am. It’s going to take a while to get my head around that. But I think what happened with K on Thursday enabled me to take a massive risk with Anita yesterday…so that’s good right?! – spoiler alert…it was sooooooo good 🙂
My battery warning light is flashing red now. Power saving mode has been engaged for months but despite this, I’m still reaching that near dangerous level of energy depletion. The weekend is almost gone (noooooo!) and it has felt like the hours have rapidly slipped through my fingers. Like trying to cup water in my hands, each minute has just trickled away and now tomorrow everything starts up again and I simply haven’t had enough time to relax and recharge. I feel like I could cry as I stare down the tunnel into what I have to get through in the coming week.
For the first time in a very long time, I have taken some proper time out this weekend – literally spent the entire time in pyjamas sitting by the fire (apart from a rainy tip run this morning!) but it’s not enough. I still need more time to recover…not just from the last couple of weeks, but from 2020 as a whole (and there’s still 3 months to go!! FFS!). Actually, I feel like my body is crying out for me to hibernate until April – and honestly if I didn’t have a mortgage and bills to pay then that’s exactly what I would do! Imagine having six months off but still being paid. I can’t even begin to imagine what that would be like.
My friends who have been furloughed since March and who don’t have kids are bursting with life despite the pandemic. They have been living in a protected bubble and are ‘so chilled’ and ‘fit’ and ‘happy’ having finally had time to meditate, do the couch to 5k, read endlessly, cook, and basically practise self-care on an epic level…and yet I feel like I have been slogging away since lockdown began (and even before that – with the therapy termination with Em) trying to juggle my regular life of work, transitioning to online teaching (and therapy), my wife being made redundant and the stress that entailed, all alongside home-schooling my kids. And whilst the children are thankfully back in school and my wife is back in work there has been no break, no holiday, and I we/have simply run out of steam now.
I so need a spa day!
I get being furloughed won’t have been stress-free for everyone, far from it, and the above statement about some of my friends (and my flippant spa day comment) probably highlights how privileged, middle-class, secure, and sane they are/I am, so I apologise if that felt blinkered. I understand that as furlough ends it’s going to be hard for a lot of people. I guess, really what I am trying to say is that sometimes it’s hard not to compare oneself to others and wish for a moment that you had what they had.
I suppose, really, I am jealous. Jealous of the carefree photos, the texts about ‘relaxing coffee’ and screen shots of the latest book. Jealous of the holidays. Jealous of the fact that it is only now that work is coming back onto their radar. My jealousy is really a symptom of the burnout I feel – both physical and emotional. I don’t begrudge my friends these things – far from it. I just wish sometimes my life felt a little easier.
I need some time off without the worry of what happens if I don’t work. I was really sick a couple of weeks ago. So dizzy that I couldn’t even stand up without falling over, and repeatedly vomited from the motion sickness associated with the dizziness. I had to cancel all my students that day – 5 hour’s worth of work. It’s one of my biggest working days. Being self-employed that’s money that is gone for good – can’t claw it back. I don’t get sick pay. Simply taking one day off work massively impacts the finances for the month and it’s so stressful.
Time has literally flown this weekend which feels so bloody unfair, too. When I am in the middle of the week (woeful Wednesday) it feels as though time is almost standing still, like I am suspended in some kind of awful, endless nightmare. I have to coach myself through the day, work on an hour by hour basis so that I don’t hit complete overwhelm.
It doesn’t help that the young parts of me are always massively activated in the middle of the week – it feels such a long way from the safety of the therapy room and adult me just hasn’t got capacity to look after those small ones when it’s taking every ounce of strength to survive my adult life! I feel so blessed to have both Anita and K on my team now, though.
In the past when I have felt in this kind of area (stress, anxiety, and overwhelm) I have also had to navigate the added stress of having a therapist who was unresponsive, unavailable, and if we are honest about it, totally uncaring. I felt perpetually triggered and dysregulated both in and outside of the sessions. It was agony. Torture, actually. And I don’t have that now.
What I have now is so much better. Therapists who see me and all my various parts. Care about me. Support me. And love me. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. The other week at the end of an amazing craniosacral session with K she quickly scribbled some notes about some pain in my shoulder she pulled out a card from her folder and said, ‘You gave me this in 2010, do you remember?’ – I couldn’t believe she’d kept it.
I was a bit embarrassed knowing that I was so defended back then, but I’m guessing I must have said something unfiltered (as is usually the way when I write!) and actually back then she was one of the few people I let in and allowed to see the pain. To be honest she can feel it anyway so there’s no point in hiding! I think I said something about being intense even back then, and she laughed and said she is honoured to work with me and thinks I am courageous. As I walked off down the street she shouted, ‘I love you RB!’ from her front door. I turned around and smiled, feeling so warm inside and said, ‘I love you, too, K’. It was so easy. So natural.
And to think I got myself in knots for so long with Em, never once being able to tell her how I felt. I suppose maybe it’s easier to express feelings when they are in some way reciprocated. It feels much more dangerous and exposing having feelings for someone who is clearly struggling to tolerate you and sees you as a parasite. Ugh. Never mind. That was simply the most spectacular re-enactment wasn’t it?!
Anyway, what I think I am trying to get to in a round about way is that I feel so supported having K and A in my life. When things feel tough, or activated, or just plain bloody attachmenty, I know it’s not a big deal to either of them if I reach out and text them something and that they want to help me. More often than not it’s some kind of GIF. My best friend teases me about this. ‘RB is feeling something: send the therapist a GIF!’ And it’s so true. But these communications are mostly coming from the young parts and it’s their way of checking in – ‘Are you still there?’ So when they reply with a GIF back it really settles those parts. They both seem to understand that they’re dealing with my most vulnerable, needy parts and aren’t disgusted or put off them. In fact they both understand what I need and it’s really helped build the trust and safety.
What I’m trying to say is that despite feeling completely knackered I don’t feel like I am on the verge of a breakdown when I know in the past I would have been teetering on the edge because the parts are more held. I am more held! Therapy now feels therapeutic, helpful, and holding which in turn is modelling how to hold myself.
In fact, the other day my wife even asked me if I was even going to therapy anymore. I asked what she meant. She explained that I have been so much more settled in myself, and even though I am clearly under a lot of stress and pressure I haven’t fallen apart or been hard to live with. She said that it used to be really difficult when I was seeing Em because for the two days leading into therapy I would be so wound up and snappy that it was like treading on eggshells with me. And I saw Em twice a week!
That wasn’t easy to hear but I know she was right. I thought I was doing a better job of hiding it than I was, but clearly that level of intense pain and dysregulation was just too much to contain and still function. It was exhausting – for all of us. Anytime my wife questioned whether therapy was actually helping me I’d get defensive and shut her out. I didn’t want to believe that Em and I weren’t making progress. I didn’t want to acknowledge that the level pain I was in about the relationship was unusual in therapy. I thought it was just the nature of the transference.
I would say that ‘things have to get worst before they get better’ not knowing that actually it’s supposed to feel safe with the therapist. I know that sounds dim. But what I mean is I have a huge mother wound so I kind of thought it all feeling so painful with Em was the work…and it was…but you can heal the mother wound in another way. Withholding isn’t healing. Shaming isn’t healing. Pathologising isn’t healing. Empathy and care is healing. Acceptance is healing. Love is healing.
Anyway, I had to concede that my wife was right. What Em and I were doing wasn’t helping me. In fact it had really hurt me. And I told her that, yes, I was still in therapy and that my new therapist is great and I feel much more contained. She said it really shows and is so happy that I am finally getting what I need because she sees how hard I am trying to heal. My wife was the one who encouraged me to go back to K last year. And it was K who gave me the strength to question what was happening with Em. The contrast between seeing them in a week was so stark. Without K I would never have considered seeking out Anita.
Earlier this week I sent both K and A a variation of this message after making some tough choices about my estranged family with their support:
I hope you know that you’ve been instrumental in helping me move into this, still wobbly, but much more solid place in the last year. I know for certain had I not been seeing you I’d still be stuck with Em and letting people be horrid and believing that’s all I was entitled to. Thank you for showing me that I deserve better and have value because it’s helping me make better choices for myself. x
They both replied with hug GIFs!
I literally don’t know how got through to Friday but I was so relieved to see A. It was a crappy day. Stormy, cold, wet and the drive had been horrid. I arrived at therapy, promptly took my blanket out my bag, wrapped myself up in it and told Anita that I can’t do ‘it’ any more I really feel like there needs to be eight days in the week. ‘In order that you can actually get a day off?’ she questioned. I nodded.
I think I start nearly all therapy sessions with, ‘I’m exhausted’…and it’s true. Only I am really really exhausted now. Hence taking a fleece blanket to my session and basically curling up on the sofa for an hour. It was an ok session. Very adult. And in the past, with Em, I would have felt like that was somehow ‘crap’ because my child parts were always hiding behind the sofa on alert waiting like heat seeking missiles desperately trying to lock onto some semblance of warmth and care. I would always leave feeling disappointed when there was none and believed that because I had kept my child parts hidden that the session had fallen short because Em didn’t get to see them. I mean let’s be fair if they did creep out I would dissociate instantly and then things were bloody horrific.
Anyway, what I have realised with A is that it doesn’t matter who is there, who fronts, because actually I feel safely held and contained both inside and outside of the sessions with her. So even if the child parts don’t make an appearance it doesn’t matter because they feel safely held in mind by her. I’m not explaining this very well. I guess it’s something like therapy doesn’t feel so ‘high stakes’ anymore. It just is. I don’t get the therapy shits any more. I don’t feel like I am going to gag brushing my teeth the morning of a session. I don’t feel my heart racing as I walk up to A’s front door. I just feel content and happy that I am going to be in a room with a safe person who can handle whatever I tell her.
I feel like my blog has reached a level of beige these days – but oh my god I am so glad to not have the drama. Don’t get me wrong. My child parts are totally in the mix, there have been (and undoubtedly will be more) ruptures but now I have the confidence that my therapist/s can handle me, are invested, and because of that my youngest parts don’t feel ashamed for existing now.
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.