The Mother Wound

Oh man, where do I start with this one? The Mother Wound. It’s a biggie isn’t it? Part of me feels like I should just throw this out there to all you therapy bloggers and we could do one of those exercises where we each write a single line on the paper, fold it, and then pass it on to the next person and by the end we’d have collected a story about the Mother Wound. The paper part would be tricky but maybe we could do it in the comments box?

I’m referring to a ‘Mother Wound’ here, but essentially what I am talking about is the damage inflicted on a child by the lack of one, or more, caregiver’s reliable care, emotional holding and containment. It could be a deficit in care or sometimes abuse/neglect by mum/dad/grandparent/other guardian or the entire family (I guess). It’s the damage that is caused by lack of safety- either emotional, or physical, or both. It’s attachment/relational trauma.

Even though everyone’s life experiences are different, and their relationships with their mothers/primary caregivers unique, from what I can work out there are quite a few of us battling very similar demons caused by this early emotional injury. I can only talk accurately about my own experiences and causes of my particular Mother Wound but I will also try and bring in some of my observations from hearing/reading the stories of others too.

The effects produced by the mother wound on an individual seem fairly standard on first inspection: at times intense feelings of anxiety and/or depression, a fragile sense of self, difficulty with trust in relationships (attachment issues), fear of rejection and/or abandonment, low self-esteem, an over-developed self-critic which often has led to the development of one or more negative coping strategies: eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol abuse, drug dependency to name but a few things. And sometimes it gets really very dark and the thought of suicide or even possible attempts at suicide become part of the fabric of life. Oh, and the shame. I can’t forget that! A deep deep sense of shame around the expression of feelings and emotion.

I understand that it’s not the case for everyone and not all elements I’ve listed above are relevant to all people and, of course, there are more issues that I haven’t mentioned. I, for one, don’t drink alcohol or do drugs anymore but this is largely because I think I have quite an addictive personality and would probably end up in real trouble if I did now. I think it is quite telling that I am so controlled where drugs and alcohol are concerned. I think people must think I am quite boring but actually I just know what I can manage and remember what I was like in my early twenties. The idea of a hangover is enough to put me off!

We are all different but when I read these blogs the one thing that stands out is that that there is so much vulnerability and longing out there. There is so much emotional pain. People, fundamentally, just want to be loved, and to love, and yet the pursuit of this ‘love’ is anything but straightforward because of what has happened in the past. The lens through which we view intimacy is faulty and distorts everything. Our perspective is tainted, even as adults, and it negatively impacts on our ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. I find all that information both comforting and utterly devastating.

I have no problem whatsoever with forming friendships but I struggle to really let people in. I am that reliable person that others turn to in a crisis, the level-headed one, the grounded and sensible one, the one that throws a good party but is also the person that sits listening to heartbreak on the phone at midnight. I am a good friend to others but I can count on one hand the people who ‘know’ me and I have let close to me.

I am not interested in making hundreds of acquaintances. I can be life and soul of the party (when I can be bothered) but more often than not must seem aloof or stand-offish in social settings. I just really don’t like big crowds and small talk. I just don’t see the point in it. I’d rather be on my own.

Since I started blogging in the summer, for the first time I feel as though I am not completely alone in my feelings and as though I finally have a space where I can express exactly what feels so wrong with me/in me. Not only that, that what I have to say is accepted and met without judgement but actually, more often than not, a huge amount of empathy and compassion. That’s massive.

To be able to finally start getting the words out after all these years and say how it feels is, in itself, enormous but for other people to go, ‘yep, it’s really tough, and I get it. You are not alone’ is life-changing, because frankly sometimes these feelings feel terribly frightening and unsettling and isolating. I really want to be able to talk stuff through with my therapist but it’s not easy when so much of what I feel is triggered by being in therapy with her. It’s so difficult. There are parts of me that desperately want to connect with her but other parts that are too scared to for fear of being mocked and then abandoned.

Sometimes it is easy to be swept up and away with how bad it all seems. It can feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, and there is no point in continuing. It can quickly become a negative downward spiral. A (perceived) bad therapy session can leave me feeling desperate and helpless and adds fuel to the fire of intense and difficult emotions I’m already battling.

To know that I am not alone in this kind of struggle makes me feel less weird, a little less like there is something very wrong with me, and is helping me move towards the realisation, that ‘f*ck!Things weren’t right when I was small and IT WAS NOT MY FAULT!’ How I am now is a product of what was done to me. What an enormous revelation that is!

It’s also comforting to know that other people are struggling with the constraints of therapeutic relationship (argh boundaries!), feeling deeply attached but also terribly vulnerable, repairing ruptures, having good and bad sessions, cancelling and uncancelling sessions, sitting in silence, raging and longing, moving and stagnating. We’re all giving it a good go and it really isn’t easy! I certainly never imagined therapy could be like this when I entered into it years and years ago.

Over the years, I have seen so many therapists and yet I have never got to this place with any of them – which is both a blessing and a curse! I am finally connecting with emotions after years of talking about the events of my life in a detached way – like whatever I am talking about has happened to someone else. But now I feel like I am caught up in something that I am entirely unprepared for. That’s unnerving.

I like to be in control and therapy doesn’t feel like that right now because adult me isn’t there all the time. There are young ones in the mix now and they are not quite so adept at filtering the feelings that come up. They act out. They are clingy and needy at times and at others completely shut down and avoidant. I really struggle with disorganised attachment: sometimes I totally trust and feel safe with my therapist and at other times I feel like the therapeutic relationship is dangerous and is ultimately going to hurt me.

Reading your blog posts is comforting but also totally harrowing at times: how can it be that there are so many incredibly lovely people out there feeling this way? Why should it be that such vibrant, intelligent, caring individuals who have so much to offer are living day-to-day struggling to exist in the wider world trying to pretend that they are not wounded? The attachment wound it so big it is overwhelming and yet it’s as though it doesn’t exist, or isn’t allowed to exist.

It’s like Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet when he has been mortally wounded by Tybalt. Benvolio asks if he is hurt and Mercutio replies:

‘Ay, ay, a scratch, a scratch’

(Romeo and Juliet Act 3:1)

And that’s what we do most of the time. We play it down. We cover it up. This is not for our benefit, but rather to try and keep up appearances, to not rock the boat, to not let people down…and strangest of all, to not let the perpetrator of the damage know we are even hurt.

We don’t ever allow anyone close enough to show them how damaged we really are because somehow the culture in which we have been raised makes us feel that there is something inherently wrong with us. So we try very hard to carry on with life, and we do a pretty good job at living with the wound (indeed some of us have even managed to block it from our consciousness). It’s always there, though, and depending on how we move and flex our minds and bodies dictates how able, or not, we are to go on with the show.

My goodness aren’t we great actors and don’t we have insane levels of stamina? But sometimes it gets too much doesn’t it? It’s too real, too painful, too exhausting, too bloody gory and we just cannot carry on. We finally reach a point where we must discover and face our own truth. We can’t live like this any more. We need to be honest and tell someone about our injury. We need help.

In Mercutio’s case it’s his best friend Romeo to whom he tells the truth:

ROMEO: Courage man, the hurt cannot be much,

MERCUTIO: No tis’ not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but ‘tis enough. ‘Twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me grave man.’

Mercutio admits that he has been injured and that he will die as a result.

Sometimes it is not immediately apparent to us where our wound has originated from because over the years there have been many, many wounds inflicted and so that the attachment wound gets overlaid with other things and becomes simply ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ or ‘stress’ or ‘self harm’ or ‘x y z’.

Eventually the inevitable happens: we can’t really function. We reach a time where it becomes almost life and death and we are teetering on the edge. Sometimes the breakdown is averted and other times a breakdown is exactly what drives us into therapy.

Often it is in therapy that we finally realise what the problem has been all along. Sure there are loads and loads of other life experiences that we work through and process. I would hazard a guess and say that most people don’t walk into the therapy room for the first time, sit down and say, ‘So here’s the thing, I am suffering with the fall-out of developmental trauma and my attachment systems are causing me to struggle in relationships and in my life in general’. How wonderful it would be if we did though?! I’d have saved thousands of ££$$ if I’d have really known what I was dealing with in the beginning.

Instead, over time we gently peel back the scab layers that have sort of healed over but not quite. And then we reach it. The core wound. And my god it’s fucking enormous. It’s like staring down into the abyss. How was this level of injury ever survivable? How could a small child endure such damage and still live? Well in my case it came through shutting down/dissociating, repressing memories, and freezing that little girl back in time as well as attacking myself, in various ways, for years.

I have grown up now. I have an adult body. From the outside I have the trappings of a successful adult life: some decent qualifications, nice house, wife and children. But there are certainly parts of me that have not emotionally matured. There are several parts loose and unhappy inside.

When faced with the wound, instinct tells you to run far away and try and forget about what you’ve seen. It’s too much.  At the same time another part of you awakens the moment that gaping wound is exposed to the air. Despite everything, the child is alive still. Its need for love and care and holding is still there as much as it ever was back in the past and it is terrifying to the adult. The feelings are enormous. The need is overwhelming. What on earth do you do with that?

How can you care for that smallest part of you when it isn’t your care that the child wants? Indeed, that child has no idea that you even exist. The child wants the love and care of the person who has helped uncover the hidden it. It is that caregiver to whom the child is now attached. They want the person who has taken the time to draw that wounded small child out to rescue them. Session after session of steady work, of calm, understanding, validating conversations lead to this moment. The child loves the therapist how could it not?

The child’s hopes of being loved, held, and contained unconditionally reawaken in a flash, and there it is. Hope is ignited. Maybe this time that hole, the wound can be filled with the therapist’s love. If we can just get enough of it…

Oh, if only it were that simple!

It’s only natural that when you realise that you are severely injured that you would want to pack the wound, fill it, and close it over. The desire for the wound to heal is huge and it often feels like the only way to heal it is for the therapist to pour more and more love, and time, and evidence of care into it. If we could only get more contact with our therapist, more sessions, contact between sessions, more tangible verbal reassurances, physical holding, and emotional containment then perhaps this wound will heal up. We scream out for ‘more more MORE!’ of the good stuff…

There’s a problem, though. This wound is like a bottomless pit isn’t it? No matter what you throw into it, no matter how you try and pack it, it never fills. It can’t be filled by the therapist’s love alone. We can’t sit back and watch and hope that this person can magically fix us. We have to turn around and look deep into that hole and see how it is constructed because it is us that holds the tools to be able to heal and mend it.

It is agony staring down into that dark place. Realising just how much pain it contains is enough to send you insane. Somehow bit by bit that hole will fill and we won’t feel so empty, one day. We will learn to love ourselves and feel good enough and steadily those edges will close in. There will always be a scar, though. We can never fully take away the injury. I’m nowhere near healed. In fact writing this I can feel that hole gaping wide.

From what I can tell, not many of us feel comfortable exposing this wound to friends and family in any real depth. We might be able to talk about feeling depressed, or even allude to how bad things were when we were growing up. But when it comes to the intense feelings we feel towards our therapists and how much that impacts us on a day to day…well, it’s little wonder we don’t share that. It’s totally cringeworthy.

A lot of the time we struggle to admit the feelings we have about our therapists even to them in a therapy session so there’s not much hope of letting that out to others! We can’t face the shame, embarrassment, or the pitying looks but also the lack of understanding we are so often faced with.

Despite all the recent publicity and trying to normalise mental health issues in the media it just doesn’t always filter down into families. It feels like this in my wider family: ‘yeah, mental health issues need to be talked about and there needs to be more funding for it. Isn’t it terrible? It’s lucky that no one in our family struggles with their mental health. We’re all jolly and normal aren’t we?…what breakdown? Oh no, that wasn’t a breakdown it was a gap year, she didn’t want to work. She’s fine. Anorexia? No, no, she’s naturally thin and athletic…’

There is so much denial in my family about what has and hasn’t happened, who does or doesn’t struggle, that it’s almost funny. I can sort of accept the wall of pretence from outside the house and notch it up to ‘my dysfunctional blood relations’. I find it far harder when I face criticism and/or lack of understanding at home.

I’m sure it’s not just me that gets these kind of wonderfully helpful soundbites directed at them when the blood starts to seep through a bit and the ability to hide the gaping hole is lessened:

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’

‘You need to learn to let this go.’

‘You can’t change it so don’t let it bother you.’

‘Why can’t you see all the positives you have in your life?’

‘Why am I not enough for you?

‘Why don’t you let me in?’

‘Your depression isn’t getting any better.’

‘I won’t watch you destroy yourself again.’

How much therapy does one person need?’

‘Your relationship with your therapist is unhealthy.’

‘I don’t see any improvement in you since you’ve been in therapy, if anything I think you are worse.’

‘You need to try harder to be happy.’

‘I feel like there’s a huge part of you that I just don’t know, why won’t you talk to me?’

‘Can’t you just put it all in a box and forget about it?’

I could go on and on and on but I’m sure you get the idea and have several of your own to throw in there.

When, periodically, faced with those kind of statements it makes it incredibly difficult to open up and be honest about how things are. I think this is, in part, why the therapeutic relationship becomes so important to so many of us. We just do not have anyone who really, genuinely, can listen without judgement. It’s hard to be your real self when your true self isn’t what people want to deal with. They like the one that hides the wound and soldiers on.

Sure, our loved ones love us and care deeply about out wellbeing, but it is also so hard for them to witness how bad things can be for us. It’s not easy witnessing so much pain and being powerless to really help. They can’t fix us. They don’t really understand us. They don’t see the child inside or if they do, what on earth are they meant to do with it? They are desperate for us to be well and happy but it’s not a quick solution…and often in therapy things get worse before they get better. I think that must be terrifying for them and so it is understandable that, at times, frustrations air.

The problem for a lot of us is that we fear abandonment and rejection so much that these kind of statements can make us hide and build our walls even higher. I, for one, am a highly sensitive person and so any kind of criticism like that really hurts me. I feel like the emerging self is not the one that people want to know. The high-functioning adult is far more appealing than the vulnerable one who can’t just cope with anything that’s thrown at it.

I’m aware that this is a massive ramble and I haven’t really said all that I want to. It is certainly a subject to come back to at some point. As I have been writing this I can feel the little parts have really started to stir. I felt very much in my adult when I began and now I feel very small and sad and lost.

The little girl inside realises, yet again that Mummy isn’t coming and the idealised replacement mummy isn’t really a ‘mummy’ to her at all. Ouch!

And so, I guess, this is the bit where my therapist would say that I somehow need to summon up my adult, the one that is a mummy to two beautiful small people, and get her to pick up that little girl and hold onto her tightly, tell her she is loved, and that she is safe. I so want to be able to do that for her. I absolutely want to soothe that part of me but right now all I seem to be able to do is watch her suffer. I have no idea how to make things better for her. I know before long I will end up attacking myself because the pain is so overwhelming and that doesn’t help anyone.

The mother wound is gaping today.

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Cancer: the thief

*Trigger warning: cancer, cancer treatment, and death spoken about in no uncertain terms.

One of my closest friends is, as I type this, dying in hospital and it’s only a matter of time until the phone call comes to tell me that she is gone has died today.

When I started thinking about, and writing, this post this morning it was from the position of knowing that my dear friend was receiving end of life care in hospital and I wanted to express how sad, angry, and frustrated I feel about what has happened to her, and how unfair life seems sometimes.

It seems like an odd thing to be doing, carrying on with this piece of writing now, but I need to process this loss and writing is all I can manage right now. Every time I talk I burst into tears. I’ve cried and cried all day and now the tears have temporarily abated there’s a huge part of me that is grieving but another part that wants to tell everyone about this wonderful lady whilst I shake my fist and rage at cancer.

*

I feel like I am perpetually being robbed by this fucking hideous, persistent, crafty, bastard thief we know as cancer. I live in fear of it every day of my life, like so many of us. We (my family and friends) try to pretend like it doesn’t exist and that I am/we are unlikely to be burgled again, but I know the truth: it is only a matter of time before someone I love is taken from me or that I will be taken from my loved ones because cancer just won’t leave us alone. It can’t. It’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our existence these days. With 1 in 2 of us now being subject to some form of cancer diagnosis in our lifetime, there is a sad inevitability about it: you will be robbed blind, it just remains to be seen in which way, will it be your life or the life of someone you care about that is targeted…or both?

The fact remains, if you’ve been burgled once you’re likely to be the victim again. Just like my beautiful, darling friend. She had breast cancer fifteen years ago and then got diagnosed with Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) in 2015… and now she is dying. I guess some people might say that she was lucky to survive the breast cancer and get more precious years with her family and friends but it’s hard to see it that way right now when for the last two years I’ve watched the bravest woman I know try every line of treatment available only to watch it fail. We all hoped desperately for success and yet one by one saw each treatment was unsuccessful – now there is nothing left to be done, in her own words to a mutual friend, ‘we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now’.

I have known this woman for a decade now and feel utterly blessed to have had her in my life. She was an English teacher, like me, and when I took up my first teaching job she promptly took me under her wing and supported me in any way she could. At the end of the first year of teaching my dad died suddenly and she was the one who delivered flowers to my doorstep and planned my cover lessons. She was there for me all through my subsequent mental breakdown. She has always been there. She has two children around my age and she became a great friend but also a mother figure. She never dodged the difficult questions with me. She noticed when I was sinking into anorexia or depression and would always say something caring but not intrusive. She always made me feel normal and cared for and SAFE. Later she supported me in my return to work and then through my pregnancy when I was teaching. Since then she’s been there through it all with me, another baby, my own cancer diagnosis and treatment, and now, sadly, I have also seen her through hers.

I have watched a beautiful, loving, kind, and vibrant soul have her life stolen from her bit by bit by the cancer thief. I was devastated to find out she had been diagnosed with Myeloma just around the time I was confirmed in remission with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had more chemo and radiation to go but I knew that my treatment was effective and it spurred me on. The relief I felt to have been successful in my own cancer battle was short-lived because I knew now what lay ahead for my friend. I couldn’t take it away for her and I knew that her odds and stats were not in her favour. My cancer was curable, hers only treatable.

So whilst at the beginning we thought she might get 5 years or more with her and were ready to cheerlead her through her treatment, we are now less than two years in and she is at the end of her life, there are possibly days left but more likely hours remaining. There have been no good spells for her because she has not responded successfully to any of her treatment. She has been fighting a losing battle but hell has she put up a huge fight.

This warrior woman is a rock and an example to us all on how to live life and how to cope when facing death. Now barely sixty years old she has faced her diagnosis with a grit and determination that I know I would have struggled to muster. I know, in all likelihood, somewhere along the line I will either relapse in my Hodgkin’s or get another cancer diagnosis as a side-effect of the ‘kill or cure’ treatment I’ve already had. I am terrified of that happening but my lovely friend has shown me it is possible to smile and live through hell. I just don’t want to. I am scared.

I’m not going to dress this up and if it’s too much for you then stop reading. Cancer treatment for Myeloma is hideous. The treatment regime has been gruelling. I have felt so powerless as I have witnessed her go through bone marrow biopsies (this is the worst pain I have ever experienced) chemo after horrid failed chemo, blood transfusions, infusions, injections, poison after poison in pill after pill, and none of it has been effective. She’s suffered hair loss/thinning (the least of her worries), severe jaundice, crippling exhaustion, desperate anaemia, neutropenia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, aching, balance issues, weight loss, bloating, insomnia, physical weakness and pain….and so much more. To watch someone keep going in the face of total agony is harrowing. She has always put a brave face on and yet I’ve known how hard it’s been. There’s a look in her eye: fear, I think, that she doesn’t show to many people but because I have been through cancer treatment she knows I get it, she doesn’t need to hide from me.

Less than a month ago I sent her a message to see how she was as she’d just started on another (last chance) line of treatment and got this in reply:

‘You know the score more than anyone: bad taste in mouth, tired as hell, and a belly like a poisoned pup. Lots of fluid retention with this one so looking pregnant! Hey ho, what a week! At least I got through the five days of treatment. Three weeks to recover now’

Despite the horror of it, and believe me this treatment is horrific she was still chirpy. I have messaged several times over the last few weeks and then two weeks ago my friends and I got a blanket text:

‘Unfortunately I’m in hospital. I’ve been here since Friday and I’m not sure when I’m going home. You know how I feel about that! Hope all well with you x’

I was in hospital on Wednesday 18th in the haematology centre having my regular consultant follow up. Fortunately I am still in remission (phew). I knew my friend was on the ward literally through the door, but that she was too ill for visitors. Since then I have been texting and getting no replies, like everyone else.

On Thursday when I was house hunting in Cornwall I received a call from my friend’s husband saying that she was now too ill even to reply to messages and that he would keep us informed. In my head I couldn’t process what he was saying at all. I couldn’t read between the lines. Maybe I didn’t want to.

I spent some of my therapy session talking about my friend and how I felt about what was happening. I said how I am not ready to lose her yet and that I always thought having time to say goodbye to someone would make it in some way easier when the time finally came. I can tell you now – it doesn’t. I can safely say that watching a person suffer and deteriorate before your eyes is no easier than losing someone unexpectedly. Unfortunately, I now have experience of both types of loss. What I do know is that losing someone you deeply love generates a pain and grief that is inconceivable until it happens.

After my session on Friday I went to Tesco. I was ambling round the shop in a post-therapy daze when another ex work friend/mum replacement (I try and collect these mothering older women!) text me to say that our friend had further deteriorated and is now on end of life/palliative care. As I read the message I felt my world start to crumble. Things suddenly became real in a way that they hadn’t until now. I left my trolley and walked out the store and sat in my car crying. Despite knowing that treatment isn’t going well and that she is desperately ill in hospital, I am not ready to say goodbye to a woman who has seen me through the best and worst times in my life. I can’t lose another person whom I love.

In the early hours of this morning I had a dream about my friend. I was visiting her in the hospital and she was unresponsive in her bed, as she is now. I sat there holding her hand when another version of my friend walked in the door and sat with me. She was as I have known her before her illness, full of life, vibrant, exuding warmth and love. She came in and sat beside me and said:

‘This body in the bed isn’t me, darling. It’s just my shell. It’s what’s left of my earthly body. I am here with you now in the way I always have been. I’ve had a good life. I’ve been so happy. I want you to tell people about me. I was a good teacher, wasn’t I? We had a laugh didn’t we?’

and I replied:

‘We absolutely did! You were the best teacher but you are so much more than that. You are an unbelievable wife and mother. I am proud and blessed to call you my friend. You are without doubt the kindest soul I have ever met and my life is all the richer for having had you in it. I love you so much.’

she replied:

‘I love you too. I’ve got to go now but I’ll see you soon’.

I woke up sobbing my heart out and couldn’t stop crying for a couple of hours.

*

I found out that my friend died early this morning.

So today is a bad day. It’s right up there among the very worst days of my life. I am beyond devastated and I miss my friend so very much. I will always miss her but I will always carry her in my heart.

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‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am’ – on sharing my blog with my therapist.

 

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Last week was pretty terrible for me by all accounts. I felt like I was on a slippery slope and heading towards a really bad place mentally. I was completely caught up in my internal hurricane and devastated by the damage it was doing to me, but by the time I had finished writing the last post ‘I’m watching the weather channel and waiting for the storm’ I think I had gone some way towards processing what is/has been going on for me and felt a little better about it all.

Sometimes just having a bit of clarity on the situation eases the pressure even though nothing is actually resolved. I know I am not out of the storm yet. I have been batting away some pretty negative and persuasive thoughts about my body and am trying not to slip into not eating or self-harming.

Despite this, it does feel like the storm is losing its power: it has been downgraded from a category 5 to a 3, or something like that. The anxiety that was completely overwhelming me has ebbed and now I just feel a bit flat – less anxious more depressed- I suppose. I don’t feel sick and my headache has gone. It’s not great, by any means, but it is certainly a good deal better than it was.

I mentioned at the end of the last post that:

‘ I feel that overwhelming need to contact my therapist and tell her how bad things feel but know there’s no point because she won’t respond to my messages and has told me to write it all down or draw it and bring it to session to talk about. I just don’t really know what to write or draw. I have so much to say but also don’t know how to say it.’

I don’t know what possessed me to do it, maybe I temporarily took leave of my senses (very likely!) or perhaps, finally, after a total 31 months of therapy something in me feels that now is the time to be a bit braver and stop hiding the really awkward and difficult stuff from my therapist. Like I said, I don’t know what happened, but a few hours after publishing the post online I was thinking about what I should write to take in to therapy but I kept drawing a blank. I didn’t feel like drawing anything. There isn’t enough black and grey paint to express how stormy and shit things felt!

I knew that that the post I had just written basically told it like it was, there was no concealing anything. I wasn’t avoiding the bits that are hard to say in it because, although there ‘is’ an audience for what I write here, the blog is also just a space for my thoughts. I don’t really have to face any judgment for what I say, think, or feel. Or so far, at least, the feedback has been positive, kind, and understanding.

What I wrote in the post was brutally honest – the truth. It was exactly what has needed to be said in therapy and what I have been steadily trying to articulate over the last few months but struggling to. I feel like I get so far but somehow the overall picture gets lost. I don’t know why that happens. I think there are just so many parts of me competing for attention and space to talk that sometimes nothing gets said.

I’ve been aware that a blog is a great space for letting stuff out and that’s why I finally got myself together during the break to start writing –I definitely needed an outlet when my therapist was away. (I guess it was one positive to come out of the break!) I am mindful, though, that some of what I write is really what I should be discussing in session, in person, with my therapist. Some of this is the stuff I might be running from saying in session because it is too hard, too painful, too exposing. I know I need to be careful not to splurge everything here and then not talk to her. So, what did I do? I sent her a text with a link to my blog and said that I’d bring my laptop in to go through it together in session.

The moment I sent the message I was like, ‘Oh fuck! What the fuck have I just done? She’s going to really think I’m really mental now. Oh god. What a fucking idiot. Shit! Fuck! Shit!’ But at the same time there was a sense of relief having put it out there. There was a part of me that felt a bit more pragmatic about it and was almost kind to myself, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? If I’m going to work with her long-term she needs to know about this stuff or I’m just wasting my time. This is how it is. This is how I feel. I can’t hold this for myself and I need help with the little ones. It’s time to tell her, really tell her how it is.’

There is one positive (ha, I can’t believe I’ve just written that!) about the agreement that we have about outside of session contact, which is that if I text her she might scan read it but won’t take in the detail or read fully, and she won’t reply unless it’s something about timings or session changes – admin basically.

This boundary was necessarily reinforced after a big rupture via text that happened a few months back leading into a break. We’d had a really good therapy session but I guess it had subconsciously stirred up a lot of stuff. The next day, on the surface, I was feeling positive and buoyant and so I sent her this picture text:

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What happened next was deadly. She responded to it but I thought, from what she said, that she was talking to someone else and had somehow messaged me by mistake. I got totally pissed off because SHE NEVER RESPONDS TO ME when I message her (only this time she had!) and so suddenly I felt like I didn’t matter and that she didn’t care about me as much as some other client. The Green Eyed Monster came out in full force. It wasn’t good.

She thought the picture was like an epitaph or something and was concerned enough about my safety based on what I’d said in session and from the message to check in with me. Whereas I saw the image and words as a positive, a sort of ‘I may be going through hell but I am in control, fuck you Inner Critic’, and therefore I assumed her message was a miscommunication.

I ‘calmly’ replied to tell her that I thought she’d sent me a message intended for someone else but then heard nothing back from her to confirm either way. Basically after a couple of hours all the stuff about being abandoned, not worthy of her care, being unimportant, and that it’s a fake relationship just reached boiling point. I ended up firing off a massive rant, I threw all my toys out the pram and said I was terminating therapy! I was so hurt and sad. Obviously that exchange just tapped into a really deep wound that I hadn’t been fully aware of until then.

Fortunately, she handled it really well, apologised for the misunderstanding and didn’t acknowledge the ‘I’m done’ bit and offered me another couple of sessions to work things through. I still cringe when I think about it all. It was embarrassing but it totally highlighted how sensitive I am to change and breaks. It also showed me how important face-to-face communication is and how easily even well-intended messages can cause upset. Written communications, particularly texts, lack depth and all the subtle nuances of face-to-face communication.

Part of the reason my therapist says it’s best to keep things in session is that she can pick up on the feelings and vibe in person even if I’m not saying anything. She can check her understanding and clarify with me. She says that there is always a danger in written communication in her honing in on the wrong thing or missing the point entirely which can make me feel like she isn’t attuned and that I am not being heard and that is best avoided. As an English post-grad and English teacher I can’t really argue with that.

Don’t get me wrong. I do completely get it and the adult part of me is in total agreement with what she is saying BUT I’m not going to lie, I don’t find this outside contact boundary easy at all. In fact, I’d got so far as to say I HATE IT. I find it incredibly painful most of the time. This is because the bit of me that needs her, wants her between sessions isn’t my adult, it’s the young child parts and to them it feels like she just doesn’t care about them at all and is perfectly happy to leave them in emotional limbo between sessions drowning in attachment trauma and feeling totally terrified and abandoned. It feels cruel.

I wish there was the occasional ‘we’re still ok, and I am still here’ message midweek. Maybe I’ll get round to asking for that again. That’s all I really want. I don’t want to enter into a huge dialogue outside session. I don’t need check in calls. I just want a simple reassurance that nothing bad has happened and that she hasn’t disappeared. My object constancy is crap and so I genuinely feel like she is gone and has left me during the week and even after all this time I am never really sure that she’ll be there on a Monday.

So, anyway, that’s a bit of a detour! Back to Friday, based on the outside session communication rule/boundary, I knew that she’d see the text but wouldn’t have read anything in the blog or even followed the link – she’d just be aware of something coming on Monday. Because of this ‘not reading stuff outside of session’ thing, I also know that I can still write freely here because she won’t read this blog unless I am there with her and want to share a specific post in session.

I’m not sure how I feel about that, actually. I guess it’s good because there are certainly things I’ll probably want to share on here that I don’t necessarily want her to see yet… but at the same time I guess the very fact that I have now given her the link to the blog, and the content of it is purely about the therapy, indicates that at least some part of me wants her to really know what’s going on. It’s complicated! I know if it was me and I discovered that someone was writing about me and my relationship with them I would just have to know what they were saying. My therapist just isn’t that interested, I don’t think.

So, finally, to Monday…

My adult (she’s quite good at this kind of thing) went to session with the laptop and handed it over for my therapist to read the post. I had thought I would be nervous or anxious when it came down to it, as previously when I’ve taken things in that I have written I have felt a bit sick or worried, sitting wondering how what I have said will be received. When you are in the room there is nowhere to hide except in silence.

I know that the fear that I might be rejected or abandoned by my therapist for expressing my feelings stems from when I was small. It’s a kind of negative maternal transference, but it absolutely doesn’t make it any easier knowing this. All the rationalising in the world about why I feel this way doesn’t change the fact that I am attached to her in the here and now, and all the fear about potential abandonment I feel is real in the here and now. The worst of it is that those feelings that have been dredged up from the past still carry the intensity of my inner child’s feelings that were hurt so badly when I was little. The adult can’t get round it.

I’m not sure why Monday felt less intense and less stressful, then. Perhaps I’ve done it enough times now and have always been met with a positive response that it feels a little bit less scary showing her my thoughts in writing. Perhaps it’s because in my head I’ve reached a point now where I know that I have to push things forward because I just cannot keep getting caught up in emotional hell over and over due to how I feel about her and the therapeutic relationship. I’ve got to stop expecting her to be psychic and know what’s bothering me.

I think a lot of the time I feel like my therapist should know what’s going on with me because so many of my internal thoughts are taken up with thinking about therapy and about what I want to say to her. I have to remember that she is not in my head and so unless I explicitly say what’s going on for me she won’t have the full picture. She is very intuitive and gets it right a lot of the time without me having to say anything but the finer detail needs spelling out. I am glad I did it.

So, bit by bit we worked through what I’d written. She asked how I felt about letting her see my writing and how it was different from speaking to her. I said that I have so much going on in my head that the detail often gets lost and my head turns to mush when I try and speak, whereas with writing I can process what I need to say beforehand and then build on it in session.

I often get blocked in session, especially after a break and so we agreed that maybe writing is a good way to get round this before the connection is fully restored and that I should/can bring things in to work through.

We talked through possible ways of trying to make things better, especially when there is a disruption, i.e trying a different strategy with a handwritten message on a card maybe and work on the content together in sessions so it works for me. You know I still want a teddy, though, right?! Lol.

She seemed to understand how and why the visualisation had missed the mark and how it hadn’t helped the little ones feel safe at all;  the language wasn’t right and that a visualisation was just too much at the moment. She said it is complex because she also needs to talk to the adult (that’s what she was trying to do in the visualisation) to try and integrate all the parts but by the end of the session acknowledged that it is really difficult because there are so many parts in play and they are all hearing and taking different things from what she says. She said that she knows she needs to talk to the little ones.

One of the best bits of the session, for me, was at the very end listening to the song that I had attached to the post. I love music and I often find that I get a song as an internal soundtrack that reflects where I am emotionally; it was Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide the other week, Sheryl Crow’s Weather Channel last week and this week there are a couple of Counting Crows songs doing the rounds…read into that what you will! So listening to the song and the lyrics together gave the session another dimension for me. Not only did I get to share a song that carries a lot of meaning for me and essentially summarised the feelings in the blog post, but it was a bit of quiet reflective time too after what really was quite a lot of processing and discussion.

I’ve been really struggling to settle down in sessions lately and we’ve talked about trying to find some strategies for calming me down and making me feel safe in the session at the beginning to enable me to talk. Based on how I felt on Monday, I think that maybe listening to a track together at the start of our sessions each week would be a really good starter – partly because it allows a few minutes to settle but also functions as a talking point. Usually the song of the moment has some kind of relevant emotional meaning. So, I think I might suggest this on Monday and see what she says.

God, this is long again and I haven’t written that out very well. To be honest, the session all feels a bit of a blur now. I guess what I can say is that we talked through loads and it was positive. I didn’t feel awkward or too embarrassed. She made me feel safe and as though all my feelings have a place in the therapy and that she isn’t going to reject me because of them. I know there is still a long way to go but as a result of sharing that blog post I now know that we are on the same page. Or at least, she knows what’s in my book

In the words of KT Tunstall, ‘It took me so long to get here, but here I am!’