Reunited (at last!): Relief and Release

I am really aware that have been like a broken record for the last few months here, moaning on about how hard I have found lockdown without any face-to-face therapy and having to conduct my therapeutic relationships online. It’s sad really, that the difference between things in my life feeling manageable – or not – essentially boils down to having contact with a couple of therapists for a few hours each week in person. I guess though, that is the transformative power of therapy, it doesn’t take a lot of time, in the big scheme of things, to help to start shifting the balance in the right direction and helping the various traumatised parts feel a little more stable.

There’s really no good time for a global pandemic to hit (!) but I could cry about how poorly timed this one has been for me and my sense of emotional wellbeing. I mean, the hell that was December to February with Em was really something else, it floored my youngest parts. In fact, I still can’t really express how awful that ending with Em was and how massively impacted I have been by it. But at least I had both Anita and K in my corner helping to drag me through the worst of it. My sessions in February and March were absolute life savers, like strategically placed islands in the stream allowing me to catch my breath before being once more subject to the swirling currents of my feelings ‘outside the room’.

And then lockdown hit and all of a sudden everything stopped. Well, I mean face-to-face therapies. Anita and I started working online and K and I have been in pretty much daily contact throughout on WhatsApp…but it’s not the same [screech in whiny voice!]. At the beginning of lockdown, I could just about satisfy myself with the idea that some contact/therapy was better than none given the fact that it felt as if we were heading into the apocalypse. But, actually, as time has gone on, I’ve struggled more and more with feeling physically isolated, alone, and abandoned. Adult me gets that I have not been ‘left’ and am not ‘untouchable’…but the nature of lockdown has wreaked havoc with the young parts.

As I say, lockdown itself has been fine. I have largely enjoyed being at home, working from home, having a slightly slower pace of life, in a lot of ways not much changed but I have really missed going to see A and K. Especially K. I have really missed the holding that comes from doing the body work in craniosacral therapy. K seems to see me even when I am in hiding. Or maybe that should be ‘feel’ me? So, the longer lockdown has gone on the harder it has been for me to hold the really vulnerable, traumatised parts of myself because usually I get help with that.

Don’t get me wrong, I have given it a really good go (trying to self-care/meet the need of the young parts) but my god it’s been exhausting and pretty useless because when my adult self is AWOL and I am stuck in distressed ‘baby’ there’s nothing to be done. That baby has no idea how to soothe itself. All it knows is that everything is wrong and it is scary spiralling through the black abyss.

So, it’s felt like the level of need/distress has been steadily ramping up week on week until recently I felt as though those young parts were dying to be held. It felt like a whole-body ache…or as my friend described it the other day, like a ‘hunger. It sounds dramatic. I know it does. But she’s right, it’s like the biggest hunger or rather like being slowly starved to death.

Anyway, somehow or other I have got through it but I have felt increasingly like my rope is unravelling and I’m hanging on by the final frayed thread.

My nervous system has been in meltdown!

Honestly, I wish just for a day I could be without this stuff. To not carry this unbelievable weight would just be so freeing!

The last few weeks have felt especially tough. The screaming distress of the child parts has felt almost impossible to manage. Thinking about it, I am not surprised that it has been the last two weeks where the Inner Critic has moved in from the wings and got a bit more vocal. It’s a last resort. Someone needs to get things in order! Only, I am so aware now that following through on the demands of the Critic doesn’t do me any good in the long run. It thinks it’s protective – and sure it helps numb that young agony for a bit – but the thing I have learnt is that I can’t outrun it (that feeling that I am going to be annihilated if I feel and face pain of the youngest parts of me) forever, because when I inevitably crash and burn after a period of self-attack – it’s always there waiting, it never goes away. Ugh.

Sooooooooo you can imagine my absolute delight when a couple of weeks ago K said she was going to be slowly getting back to working face-to-face. Like I did a full on internal happy dance…until I realised that I have two children and a wife that works full time hours and it’s the summer holidays! In the usual run of things, term time, pre-Covid I’d see K on a Thursday at hers…but getting out anywhere alone in working hours is just not on the cards at the moment. Honestly, the realisation that I am not free until September was like a sucker punch. I could have cried.

I explained that I would absolutely love to see K but that I couldn’t because of the children. But you know. The story doesn’t end there. Because K is amazing – that’s no secret – she offered to come to mine to do a session. OMG! My kids have been really good at entertaining themselves when I have had my online tutoring sessions and therapy with so I knew they’d be ok gluing themselves to the TV for a little while.

Because we’ve kept in touch throughout lockdown K knew how it’s been for me, how big of a struggle it’s felt, and has been bombarded with various hug gifs and heart emojis over the last few months. Like it’s basically been four months of ‘I miss you’ and ‘I need a hug’. Bless her she really puts up with a lot from me! To know that I would see her soon, and get a proper hug, not a virtual one was amazing.

So finally, it got to Thursday and yay yay yay! I can’t even put into words how lovely it was to see K in person after so long…it’s only been four months but to the younger parts it’s felt like a lifetime! And to be able to have a hug the minute I saw her was just the best. I mean if there was a scale of hug 0-10 she gives 10s.

We sat outside on my deck, had a cup of tea and a chat and it was just so nice to feel normal-ish again and catch up a bit…and to be able to talk about the stuff that I can’t say to everyday people: like the struggle I’ve been having with online therapy, the disconnect, and other stuff that is sandwiched with shame.

To be back on the couch was brilliant. Almost immediately I could feel my system responding to K. I can’t really explain the sensation of craniosacral therapy on the body because lots of different things happen over the course of a session – but initially, to me, it felt like everything that had been blocked in my system started to flow again. When things start to feel more in tune it feels almost like a tide is running through my system – like a natural rhythm is restored. I know that sounds properly heebie-jeebie but it’s true!

Another thing that happens is a deep sense of coming back into the body, this often takes a good while to happen – especially if I have been hurtling around out in space. It feels a bit like being in an elevator and slowly coming down, down, down, until you land, grounded. I have been so ‘out of my body’ lately that to feel embodied again is amazing but also fucking heavy! Like oh my god I had no idea how exhausted I was! And the hangover from it on Friday was so big that I couldn’t really do anything!

And all that is amazing… but what I didn’t anticipate (you’d think I would know myself by now) was that parts of me were still defended and protected. There’s still this massive hangover from Em and all the stuff with my mum that prevents me from saying exactly what’s going on – but it’s not surprising when what comes up is so overwhelming and the need is so huge. Although, as I said, K seems to understand without me saying anything.

At the beginning on the session she had said that the session was for all the parts of me, however vulnerable, and especially the baby who had been essentially stuck in an incubator (which is a big trauma – 3 days in an incubator when I was born and no contact with my mum) for the last four months…so I guess she must have understood what was going on – to a degree.

Anyway, it was all going well, my body was doing its thing – coming back into itself- when K gently put her hand on my chest – and boom – fuck me it was like all the stuff I have been tightly holding onto for…well…a long time…not just lockdown came up and out. Jesus. There was no gentle tuning into it, or slow bubbling up – it was like a defibrillator shock into feelings that I generally can’t connect to, especially in the presence of someone else. Actually, the only person I get close to expressing these feelings with is K.

I don’t know how it happens, or why, or what gets unblocked but it’s sooooo powerful. All of a sudden though, I felt about two years old, vulnerable, exposed, and just wanted to roll onto my side and cuddle into K and be rocked. It was so young. Ugh. It’s fucking mortifying. Like seriously, the shame around this stuff is just too much to bear sometimes. It’s not lost on me that I am a 37-year-old woman with two children of my own … but sometimes I have a hard job remembering that when this stuff comes up because those young parts take over and it takes an almighty effort from the critic to override that stuff…which is where the shame and self-loathing come in!

Anyway, I have enough of a filter to not do that (thank god!) but it’s so hard then navigating these intense feelings. I’ve been in this place enough times with Em – feeling young and then being faced with the distance and being immersed in the shame and it being so overwhelming that I end up creeping off into dissociation. The positive with a body-based therapy is that there is at least some touch – some contact – and so whilst in the past I might be flooded with that overwhelming need to be held and Em would be half a world away in her chair at least K is actually right there, still.

The young parts settled a little bit as the session went on but, as K reached my head there was part of me that really just wanted to hold her hand. FFS! It feels really embarrassing. But I think it is a bit like what I was saying earlier – it feels like I have been starved of this for the longest time and now I realise just how bloody hungry I am. And you know that thing that happens in sessions when you are mentally aware of the time ticking away? Like sand slipping through your fingers? Well, I know that it’s really common for my younger parts to get panicked – like the anticipation of it all being over and being back on my own makes those parts want to cling on. It’s as though their life depends on it.

OH THE SHAME!!!

The session was so nice (aside from my inner gymnastics). I think the other thing I realised as time was ticking by is that I need to stop fighting whatever it is that’s going on inside because all the while I am trying to keep everyone in check I am missing out on the level of connection I actually need. The shame keeps me isolated. I am certain K could handle me saying, ‘I feel really young right now and I just want to hug you’ like it’s fine…isn’t it?…it’s just feelings. But ugh… I wish I wasn’t so terrified of being rejected or abandoned or left. I wish that what has happened with Em hadn’t have made me even more cautious and guarded. It feels like such an almighty ask of myself to risk those parts coming forward again. I literally cannot bear the same thing happening again and being hurt.

What I have to remember, though is that both K and A are NOT Em…they have the power to hurt me like she did but it doesn’t mean they will.

At the end I said goodbye to K we had another hug and I told her, ‘I’ve really missed you’…it’s so much easier to say that when you can’t be seen and are being held…although there was a part of me that didn’t want to let that out at all! To a ‘normal’ person that would be a pretty simple thing to say wouldn’t it? Like isn’t it normal to say things like, ‘I am so happy to see you’ or ‘I’ve missed you’ or ‘I love you’…but anything like that just feels like I’m some kind of creep. Like it would make the other person feel uncomfortable. That it’s too much. Expressing any kind of emotion – good or bad – is really hard for me and increasingly so since Em’s ‘tick’ comment. I never want to be thought of that way…although clearly, internally, it has stuck.

I need face-to-face therapy! …

“It’s like you’ve spent your whole life being told and believing that something is orange and here I am trying to convince you that it’s actually purple…what happened to you was not your fault RB. You were failed time and again by your caregivers. I know after what’s happened with Em that it’s going to even harder for you to trust me when I say this but your young parts have done absolutely nothing wrong. You are not too much. I am not going anywhere.”

That was the end of one of my sessions with A this last week…of which there were three! Eek.

I have lost track a bit of what’s happened since my last post, my chronology is out but that’s what lockdown has done to me – it’s just days and days and days and more endless days of the same stuff punctuated by staring at my therapist via a screen and wishing we were in person in the room!

To be fair, it’s not that bad. My day-to-day adult life is ticking along just fine. I have finished the bulk of my teaching for the summer (just going to do two sessions a week on a Monday) and we’ve had a pretty good few weeks in the nice weather as a family just chilling in the garden.

As usual, though, it’s not the ‘here and now’ that’s the problem and often what happens when my life slows down a bit is that it creates space for the old stuff, the trauma, to take centre stage. I think part of the reason stuff is coming up it is that I feel a lot closer to Anita since the session where we spoke about how massively impacted I had been by her not acknowledging some of my messages. Since then she has replied to everything I have sent – emojis are great for my young parts and a simple ‘lovely 😊’ is really enough to start to trust in the connection which has meant I have been braver in coming forward about some of the bigger things because I feel like she is there and safe.

I am so glad at A was able to listen to what I was feeling in that session, could take it all on board, and has committed to helping me in a way that works. It was so easy in the end. It’s such a contrast to how things were with Em. I feel so sad when I think about how there was never any collaboration or trying meet each other half way on things in that therapy. Everything I asked for was met with a ‘no’. And when I look back, I should have given up when even three dots midweek in a text was too much for her.

Anyway, back to me and A. I have had lots of dreams about her lately, pushing me away in various ways and have really struggled with sleep. The other day I was dithering at the beginning of the session, because you know, a bad dream makes it all feel unsafe!! A asked me how I had been sleeping. I told her ‘really badly’. And she asked me if I’d had any more dreams. It reminded me that last time I spoke about her rejecting me in a dream she had made it clear that in real life there is no way she’d respond to me or abandon me in the way she did in the dream and it was enough for me to tell her about the next one…and again she could quickly put my mind at rest which allowed us to dig into what was coming up for me in my dreams. Usual stuff…all traceable back to the motherwound!

The sessions have been good – so far as Skype goes (which is not the same as face-to-face). The only problem, of course, is that when you are nose deep ferreting through the shit together in session, it can feel like you are drowning when you are back out on your own!…hence the midweek 30 minute check in sessions over the last couple of weeks.

I woke up feeling particularly rubbish a couple of weeks ago on Wednesday – ‘Woeful Wednesday’. Bad dreams. Feeling very unsettled the moment I woke up. Trapped in that young place where there are no words and you need holding and containment but there is none. I outdid myself and sent a super cringey message with a gif:

Woeful Wednesday again. I just wish I knew why it is such a consistently terrible day x

She responded really warmly and asked me if I wanted a half hour session later that day. I absolutely did and it made a huge difference to the parts that were wobbling. Anita suggested that whilst we aren’t working face-to-face (how much longer?????)  that we could experiment with having a half hour session on a Wednesday and see how that helps. It makes sense so I agreed and that’s what we’ve been doing.

I resent the fact, though, that a lot of why I feel so destabilised is lack of face-to-face contact and so I am paying a fortune every week to try and maintain some sense of connection and that I just don’t need that when there’s face-to-face. It feels like I am haemorrhaging cash to get a 5/10 connection.

I am really grateful that she is trying to accommodate me and ease things as much as possible. The session itself on Wednesday might not allow for a lot of work to get done but it seems to make the Friday session quicker to drop into and it lets the young parts see that she is still there. The object constancy stuff is being worked on by doing this – and given the struggles I am having about feeling abandoned and rejected due to the limitations of Skype, more consistent contact has been good. It’s still not as good as face-to-face though.

I’ve felt increasingly like I am reaching the end of my rope so far as online therapy goes. I mean we have been doing some good work. Or, at least, she is really getting to see the map now.

I’ve told her a lot of stuff, the trust has really built and on Monday this week I dived into the really concealed stuff around my eating disorder and how difficult exercise can be because of the tendency to use it as a method of self-harm. I’ve been really open about how hurt I feel by not being ‘loved enough’ – it stung a lot when she referred to me having ‘an empty love bucket’! and we have explored a lot of early stuff…but I just know I need to be face-to-face. I can’t really connect with the feelings because I don’t feel safe to do it when I am on my own…through a screen.

Anita said this too, she is really clear that what’s happening for me is coming from a pre-verbal place and that the feelings that are needing to be felt and processed need to be held and expressed in safety so they can’t come out like this because my protective parts don’t want to be left – they need proximity and to coregulate with a safe person. She sees it. She hears me when I say how disconnected I feel. How I miss eye contact and just ‘feeling’ the energy in the room and yet still we have not had a conversation about when we might be able to resume working together in person.

I looked at the COVID stats online yesterday for the South West – and there have been no deaths recorded in nearly 4 weeks here. There have been 32 new cases for the whole of Devon and Cornwall over the last seven days. The population of this area is roughly 1.7 million people. To me 32:1,700000 or 1:53,125 doesn’t seem like the biggest terror factor. I get that there is a risk. I get why we need to wear masks in shops etc. I have no desire to go to the high street or the local Wetherspoons…but what I don’t understand is how it is ‘safe’ enough to go to places with huge groups of strangers mixing together under the influence of alcohol and yet I can’t go sit in a therapy room 1:1 with my therapist, with the window open, and sitting 2 metres apart – (guidance is 1m+).

I wish that people understood that for some of us with these particular injuries – CPTSD – that a protracted period of feeling isolated and distanced from our ‘attachment figure’ is really fucking hard and detrimental to our metal and physical wellbeing. Like the first month of it was ugh but some therapy was better than nothing…and yet as time has gone on, it’s got harder and harder to hold what’s inside. It’s exhausting trying to keep it all together and to be honest my rubber bands and chewing gum are feeling the strain.

I think, too, as society has opened up it’s got more difficult for my young parts to understand why I still can’t see Anita. Like why can I go and get my hair cut which requires close physical proximity…or like I say, how can I go rub shoulders with strangers in a bar (if I wanted to) and yet not get support with my mental health for trauma? Like my roots can wait but my child parts that are falling apart and need contact…they really can’t hang on indefinitely.

I feel frustrated.

Like why she hasn’t even mentioned what her plans for the future might be?….like are we talking the Autumn, Winter, 2021?? The unknown is really hard. And whilst the idea of months and months more of this feels impossible I would sooner know what I am actually dealing with.

Anyway… that’s that! I didn’t expect to descend into this rant!! Whoops! Maybe I could get myself a HAZMAT suit?

 

Navigating Our First Rupture…

I made it through last weekend a little haphazardly and as it got to Monday, and almost time for my session, I felt anxious. I had every intention of telling Anita that her not replying to some of my recent (vulnerable) texts had unsettled me in a big way. I mean surely the evidence was there that she is safe enough to express that with? She may not have replied to me but we had talked in sessions about what I had said, more or less, and when I had reached out in the middle of the week and asked for a check-in she’d accommodated that. If I don’t tell her what’s going on how is she meant to know…and how can we sort it out?

I took a deep breath and waited for Anita’s call to come in, 10:00…10:01…10:02…10:03… wtf? I started to feel pissed off, angry, forgotten about…abandoned…rejected…and then I closed down. I know this is not all about Anita, that everything she does is also filtered through the lens of how Em behaved, but I nose-dived really quickly, ‘She’s the same as Em. She doesn’t really care. You’re a fucking moron for hoping that this time things would be different because the problem is you…not them…’

So with the Critic ranting in my head and my body feeling I almost just left it, ‘Sod her. I don’t even care anyway…’

Only of course I do care.

Having stared at my home screen for the last four minutes I opened up my Whatsapp and saw that I had a missed called from A at 10:01. My phone hadn’t rung or notified me of the call.

Really?

For fuck’s sake! I returned the call and A picked up. I told her my phone had glitched and she said she was glad to see me and was worried something might have happened. You’d think that might have been enough for me to settle down, connect, and talk but of course it isn’t that easy. In the intervening four minutes between expecting the call and realising I had missed the call I had run the attachment gauntlet and my body was in flight mode.

I wish I had have been brave enough to say, ‘I thought you’d forgotten about me and I feel panicked’ but of course because I was hanging on to all the worry about the last two weeks and her not acknowledging those few texts it felt impossible. I was already armoured up and so I did the thing… I talked BUT NOT ABOUT WHAT WAS REALLY BOTHERING ME. I spoke about work, my daughter’s return to school, and you guessed it… COVID!

Give me fucking strength!!

I’m not saying that what I spoke about isn’t a concern or wasn’t helpful it’s just on my list of ‘what’s bothering me’ those things probably come about 15 places down. Like even if I couldn’t tell her about the fear surrounding being rejected or her seeming to have backed away, maybe I could have talked about the fact I was upset about the anniversary of my dad dying which was happening the next day having touched on it in our Friday session, or told her about the fact that I had looked at Em’s website over the weekend – you know how I like to self-harm – and had seen that she’s updated her page to specifically list the issues she deals with. There are tonnes but imagine my horror when she lists: attachment disorders, dissociation, eating disorders, and trauma…

I wanted to puke.

I knew the, ‘I have reached the limit of my competency’ and I do not have ‘the relevant skills or training’…was utter fucking bullshit when she said it. It’s like the therapist’s get out of jail free card. How can you argue with that? It’d be like a student asking me to teach them German – it just wouldn’t be possible. They’d have to seek support elsewhere. But to see that she is advertising her services in these areas tells me that she has learned absolutely nothing from what has happened between us. That she takes zero responsibility for her part in it.

To think that she genuinely thinks she has the skills to treat people with these issues is absolutely beyond words. I am upset. I am hurt. But I am absolutely terrified that she’ll do the same to someone else. Perhaps someone else who doesn’t have quite as much resilience as I have. And it might sound dramatic but it’s not beyond the range of possibility that someone might really hurt themselves facing the situation I did.

If it weren’t for my kids and the fact that I quickly found Anita just as things began to unravel (tick gate!) I think there would have been a strong possibility that I may have hurt myself…or worse. Because annihilating a person’s young parts when they have been exposed and vulnerable is just about the worst thing that can happen for people with attachment problems.

Everything went wrong when we were kids, we learnt to protect ourselves, often using maladaptive coping mechanisms that hurt us further, and in many cases the damage that was done to us as kids led to us developing problematic relational patterns…this all causes us problems in later life and that’s how we end up in therapy depressed, empty, anxious, hurting…

We are encouraged to try again at letting people in, trusting some with the most vulnerable parts of ourselves… and it took years for me to let Em see what I was struggling with, how badly hurt I was, and when she saw the full extent of the need and pain, she abandoned me…only this time it feels worse because unlike my mother, she’s also rejected my adult self, too, so I feel utterly heartbroken.

But no. I didn’t bring ANY OF THAT to the session…because people refusing to wear face coverings in enclosed public spaces is clearly of greater concern for me! Jeez!

Anyway, the session ended it was fine, but not fine you know? I doubt Anita even knew I was keeping her at arm’s length. I felt so pissed off with myself afterwards, though. I convinced myself that she was fed up with me, disinterested in me, that I was wasting my time. And yet, there was still a part that wanted to connect.

On Tuesday I had a good day with work, back to face to face, but by the evening the grief around my dad loomed large. I had told Anita that I was really sad that this year I would not be able to go to the beach and ‘connect with my dad’ like I usually do, to mark the anniversary. I mean I know technically we are allowed to travel wherever we like but I don’t think that a trip out of county is essential right now.

On Tuesday evening I sent Anita some pictures I took from my trip last year with the caption ‘If Only…’

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And sure enough she did not reply.

And that is when my system went into full scale meltdown. Usually, before the message when I let her in, she would at least send an emoji and now nothing.

I had bad dreams all week. One where I was watching Anita with someone (aspects of me) at an outdoor café. As I watched I could tell that something wasn’t right. It looked fine on the surface but I just knew it wasn’t as it appeared. As she got up to leave, she handed me a rolled-up piece of paper that looked like a receipt and on it written in pencil were the words, ‘I’m sorry. I can’t work with you’.

Then I woke up on Thursday morning having had a dream about being on a paddle board with both my kids in a harbour (where I used to live). The paddle board had a puncture and was rapidly deflating. Neither of my kids (in the dream) were competent swimmers and I knew I couldn’t save both of them. I noticed Anita was on the harbour wall. I called for help and she turned and walked away.

I know they’re both dreams. Not reality. That these are my fears coming out. But it’s horrid because I ignored my dreams about Em and look what happened. What happens if my dreams are trying to tell me something again?

I felt so triggered and upset that I sent Anita a message to cancel the session on Friday. This is so unlike me. I never cancel sessions…ok so I cancelled that one with Em just before Christmas but never before! So I sent this:

Can we have a break tomorrow and talk on Monday instead? I feel really unsettled, disconnected, and that things aren’t ok/safe/something has changed between us. Bad dreams aren’t helping. Maybe it’ll feel less bad after the weekend. July is always hard.

I wasn’t sure what she would come back with but I wasn’t really expecting this:

Of course, that’s no problem.

I mean sure, I asked to not do the session but I explained why and for me to be saying I am feeling shit and unsafe in the relationship I basically did not need her to agree that it was fine to ignore that for another few days. The child parts felt so abandoned. I needed Anita to see past my defences and reach through to the little ones and she didn’t. I left it a few hours and felt really unseen and disappointed.

I am good at catastrophising and was really seriously thinking that this was it…it wasn’t going to work out – she just doesn’t get it. To be fair I also need make it clear that I was massively hormonal and I am never at my most rational when in the throes on PMS!

A few hours later I replied:

It doesn’t feel like no problem ☹

And then this came in:

No, I can hear that but not sure how to try and reassure you in a text. My guess is the closer we get the more your defences will try to sabotage the relationship to try and keep you safe. It’s a system that works as in it keeps you guarded but it also isolates you. I can hear July is a triggering month so maybe letting your defences step in for a few days is what you need and gives your defences the respect they deserve for trying to keep you safe. So try not to be too hard on yourself and try to give yourself the empathy you deserve.

Ugh. Yes. But. No.

Absolutely, the closer we get the more spooked parts will feel because the fear of loss and rejection becomes more acute but there’s more to it than that … and telling me not to be too hard on myself when I am depriving myself of connection feels like we’re letting the protector win when actually sometimes she needs to be shown that we’re ok and that it’s safe. But that message was enough for me to see that actually A is not trying to ignore me or disconnect…I don’t think… and so I asked if we could still have our session, feeling like a bloody dickhead!:

I hate feeling like this. And yes, you’re right. But I don’t want to feel triggered and then run scared from people because it is isolating. It’s that thing about leaving before I get left. I was hypervigilant before January but now it’s off the chart ☹ . I’m sorry. Is it too late to change my mind about tomorrow?

And of course, this is Anita we are talking about and she came back:

You really don’t need to say sorry and tomorrow at 10am is absolutely fine 😊

And so that was that. Fun times.

When it came to the session on Friday, I felt a bit nervous. I knew I had to tell her what was really going on if I was going to really sort it out. So we started and I said I was a bit embarrassed that I had made such a fuss and actually still ended up in the session…what a 24 hours! She was really warm and understanding. I asked her outright, ‘has something changed?’ and she was adamant from her side that no, nothing had changed, or yes, something had changed, but positively, she said she felt like we are getting closer.

I smiled.

Good. It’s not just me moving towards her then and her feeling repulsed and backing away.

She said that I had mentioned some bad dreams and asked me if I would tell her about them. So, I started with the one about the café and she said that sounded really hard and that she wanted to reassure me that she really has no intention of leaving and that I am not too much for her. She said she understood that might be hard to take on board, or believe, because Em will have said the same thing and then left (the warmth that she exuded as she said it is like nothing Em ever expressed in all the time I worked with her). It was easy to believe what she was saying because it felt real and genuine.

I told her about the second dream and she was really moved and replied that she could see how hard that was for me. Two dreams on the bounce where she’d abandoned me. She could understand my concern, what if I allowed myself to get into the water and it got emotionally overwhelming could I be sure that she wouldn’t let me drown, would she reach out and save me? And the answer to that was an emphatic ‘yes!’. We are in this together and she has absolutely no intention of letting me or my child parts drown.

I can’t tell you how much my body relaxed when she said that. I have never experienced any real reassurance in the relationship with Em. I’ve always been left second guessing, hoping for the best but fearing the worst…and then frequently hearing the worst. Anita isn’t like that. It’s so unbelievably refreshing. Healing.

She said that my protector is really strong and good at her job. I agreed but said, ‘the thing is Anita, I need you to be stronger than she is. I need to you to be able to meet her and diffuse her or at least side step her to get to the young ones because that will make her stand down.’ She repeated the idea she had said in the text about giving the protector space and respect. I said, ‘no’. ‘No?’ she wondered. ‘No. Because if we let her have free reign then the little ones lose out again, they remain isolated and unseen, and they’re the only reason she’s there in the first place’.

Anita asked me to explain further. I said, ‘my system works in a particular way. It’s always the same. If the young parts reach out and are vulnerable but aren’t met they are left in a whole world of pain, it’s awful. So in order for me to function, first the teen steps in with her bubbling rage which is externalised, and then if she can’t get a handle on it all,  the critic steps up and starts attacking me. The teen part is like a really angry big sister. When the young ones are abandoned, she loses her shit. There is absolutely nothing she won’t do to protect them from another unsafe adult hurting them. She’ll cut all ties before things get worse. She struggles to trust anyway but if the young ones are hurting it’s like all hell breaks loose.’

Anita really seemed to get it and said, ‘so what you need then, is for me to see the young parts and help them and the teen will step down a bit?’.

Bingo.

I think at this point she thought that the teen was having a meltdown because of the dreams. It felt like we were moving in the right direction but I still didn’t quite feel like I could tell her that I had been so upset about the texts. It felt stupid. Being face to face – or screen to screen – or whatever I could see that Anita was not trying to abandon me at all. I guess, though, there was a little bit of me that was thinking, ‘she only cares in the paid for time, outside that I don’t matter’… you know all the great stuff!

So instead I decided to tell her something else that I felt shame about but not quite as much shame as I did about overreacting to the texts… I decided to tell her that I had looked online at Em’s website earlier in the week. I waited for it…a raised eyebrow… look of disgust…an uncomfortable shuffle in her chair. Of course, none of those things happened. Just a look of care and understanding as though it were the most natural thing in the world that I’d be searching my ex-therapists website after terminating five months ago!

I expressed how upset I felt knowing that she had learnt nothing, took no responsibility, and basically that left me in no doubt that she absolutely thinks I was the problem. Anita empathised. I said I was angry. She asked me what I wanted to do with my anger and I said that I didn’t know right now, but that I was certain that I didn’t want to turn it in on myself…it’s not always possible but if I do that then she’s really won. Anita agreed and said she was glad that even though it was painful that I wasn’t abusing myself as well.

Anyway, we spoke about that and then I built up a bit more confidence…and asked again, ‘Are you absolutely sure that we are ok and that nothing has changed?’ She replied again ‘I’m sure’. I sat there quiet. ‘In the last few weeks you’ve taken steps closer to me’ she looked thoughtful for a second ‘and I really feel like we are getting closer… Do you think I have stepped back?’ I nodded. She told me that if I had felt that she is sorry but that absolutely had not been her intention. A little voice murmured, ‘but you’ve ignored me’. Anita looked shocked. ‘In session?’ she wondered. ‘No’ I whispered. I felt so small at that point and it was really clear to me that it was the young part that was talking to her. She was quiet for a moment. ‘Is this about texts?’ I nodded again. She thought for a few seconds and then started talking in a really open and vulnerable way,

‘I’m sorry if my text replies have felt not good enough or what you’ve needed. I think I told you before that I have really bad dyslexia. I almost couldn’t complete my training because of the written component of the course. I needed a lot of support from my supervisor and had to use voice technology to write my essays because I struggle so much with writing and typing. I could never offer email therapy for this reason. So, when I text I have to think really, really hard and the harder I try the less authentic it might feel because I lose myself in trying to get it right when I know I am likely to get it wrong. I’m sorry.’

Honestly, it was so heartfelt that I melted a bit inside. Like I really felt for her and was so pleased that she was able to be vulnerable with me. To have authentic communication modelled is really something. I hadn’t really thought about it from her side despite having been told in our first session together that she prefers to check in via calls rather than texts because she struggles with dyslexia and finds calls more connecting. I really heard it now, and realised that it probably feels especially pressured knowing I am an English teacher and will notice any errors in what she sends.

I suppose I tend to communicate in writing because it’s what I find easier but it’s also that I have not been allowed calls or any outside contact with Em and writing is all I had – even though I really shouldn’t text or email! In all the years we worked together we only had one phone check in…and it was a game changer for me…and yet the next time I walked into the room she raised the drawbridge and told me she’d stepped outside her role as a therapist by doing it. It was devastating.

I said to Anita that I really understood that, but actually I really didn’t have a problem with her texts, that her replies up until two weeks ago have been phenomenal, so holding, so attuned, and exactly what I had needed. I said that she had felt so connected, even when she might just reply with a smiley face emoji. I told her that two weeks ago, when I told her that my young parts missed her she stopped responding and since then every time I have reached out with something vulnerable she’s made no reply at all and it’s made me worry that something is wrong, that I am too much, and that she is backing away.

If I had said any of this to Em she would have thrown it back at me, telling me how I am just being sensitive and that the feelings are coming from the past and that it’s not how it is and that we need to keep communication inside the room and that this is her boundary. She could never step towards me in a rupture and instead left me hanging having to work through it on my own.

What did Anita do?

She leant in towards the camera and gently said, ‘I am so so sorry for letting your young parts down, I really didn’t mean to. I am so glad you’ve been able to tell me this because now I can make sure I don’t do it again. I have been really busy at home the last couple of weeks and I am sorry if it’s come across as me not caring. It’s not that, at all. I have been aware of how you’ve moved towards me and I didn’t want to get it wrong with you or give you an inadequate response’.

I explained that I really don’t need long or complicated responses to my texts and that I really understand the feelings around being exposed and not feeling good enough due to the dyslexia. I said I am not judging and that she’s always felt really authentic to me. My young parts just need to know that she’s still there when I reach out. I told her again about how I really struggle with object constancy and so that it really is the young parts seeking reassurance and an emoji can be enough…but getting no reply at all sends me into panic.

I told her that I genuinely thought she was trying to find a way to tell me she wasn’t able to work with me which is what’s been coming up in my dreams and why I had backed away on Thursday. She said she understood that there felt like there was safety in leaving before I got left. I said having just talked in the way we have it seems like a massive reaction to three texts being left hanging especially when in the same block of time I’d reached out and she had made time for a check in. I said it’s just really hard coming from a place where texts, emails, and calls hadn’t been allowed. I said how I had been ignored for years and years and it felt like a narrative repeating.

She reiterated that she is not Em but acknowledged how badly Em had hurt me in various ways and understands how sensitive this is. I said how I had worried that she’d been to supervision or peer support and she’d been told that she shouldn’t work with me in this way, and that if she took away the outside contact I’d really struggle because it’s been so important to me. I think she was genuinely surprised by my mental gymnastics and assured me that it was all ok and that she knows what I need now. She reiterated that the way we can keep moving forward together is by talking and communicating this stuff even when it’s tough.

I haven’t really done that exchange any justice at all but what I can say is that it is probably the single most healing moment I have experienced in talk therapy in all the years I’ve been doing it. Being listened to, seen, understood, and accepted (even if I was being dramatic and over the top)  is so healing. And it is such a contrast to being ignored, blamed, or shamed for how I feel. To effectively repair a rupture rather than be left holding the pain and upset is amazing. To know I can express how I feel and that be met well is so much healthier than feeling like there is no choice but to move through a rupture and let it go as it’s better than risking losing everything. I mean the last time I tried to sort a rupture I got terminated…but I couldn’t allow my therapist to think it was ok to call me a tick, could I?!

Anyway, after the session I sent A a short text thanking her for being real, and open, and hearing me. And she replied by thanking me for my honesty and signed off with a hug emoji.

And, that, my friends is how it is done! This tick is doing therapy! x

Outside Session Contact…

Anita didn’t acknowledge or respond to the message I sent her onSunday. Part of me knew it was because she would want to talk about it properly, in real time, on Monday. This latest communication had a different quality to it than the texts I have sent before. I had made it clear that my child parts are attaching to her and it was the first time I have really spoken about how the young parts feel in our therapeutic relationship. It felt much more exposing than anything that’s gone before, even discussing the feelings about Em, due to the fact I was now being honest about my feelings for her. I mean sure, I was only telling her my seven-year-old self missed her but that’s big deal, because those young child parts of me are bruised and battered after what happened with Em.

The fact that Anita didn’t respond to my message when generally, if I have contacted her, she has replied and usually with something holding and understanding really shook me up. Oh jeez. I wasn’t expecting the level of internal reaction I felt but it was really something! It surprised me just how intense the feelings were. I mean I’m more than familiar with how it feels when parts of me go into a blind panic but I just hadn’t thought it would happen with A just yet. It was noisy inside on Sunday evening, that’s for sure!
I couldn’t get away from the repetitive questions:

What if now that I have shown her a little of how I feel about her, she’s shitting her pants and feeling like she’s made a mistake in agreeing to work with me?

What if now that the attachment stuff is kicking in she’s started to feel negatively towards me and is starting to understand why Em acted in the way that she did?

What if she regrets communicating with me outside session before now and is about to raise the draw bridge and leave me stranded?

What if I am a tick?

It’s such an impossible bind when my brain starts down this path because the rational side of me can’t seem to do anything about the panicked feelings that start up and then quickly escalate into something completely unmanageable. By the evening, I was really stressed out. I felt physically sick. Part of me wanted to cancel the session and leave therapy with Anita before I got left again. Another part was genuinely terrified that she had had enough of me, and if I dialled into the session on Monday I’d get one of those god awful boundary talks that used to happen on the rare occasion that I would reach out to Em. Ugh.

I decided not to do anything drastic. I certainly was not going to fire off any messages – either seeking reassurance or raging because I felt abandoned. Instead, took myself to bed early, read a bit, did a meditation, but despite all that still struggled to sleep. When I did manage to sleep, I had nightmares about being surrounded by snakes (I hate snakes) and woke up feeling scared and stressed about that and then the reality of having to discuss stuff with A kicked in. I just wanted to run and hide.

Fortunately, I recognise my patterns now. I know that some of what I feel is absolutely rooted in a level of reality after what’s just happened with Em. Like I know that I can be too much for a therapist, I know that I can be abandoned, and that does tap into a level of real time fear. Of course, it also feeds into a lifetime of various kinds of being too much and being abandoned. And yet, there is a little part of me that still holds out hope. That part of me does trust Anita and really wants to have the opportunity to build a strong alliance with her. I can’t do that if I don’t talk to her and I have to acknowledge that the lens I am viewing her through is distorted and has nothing to do with how she’s behaved or any vibe she’s given off.

If I don’t ask for a reply, on a Sunday, we have a session the next day then really it’s fair enough… I can see that. BUT for some parts it’s not ok and so I need to bring this to session on Monday because if we don’t ‘talk’ then it’ll escalate into something unnecessary.

So, my session time came and I was nervous, like really nervous. Dry mouth. Nervous bladder. Heart racing… fun times! When I am in these emotionally heightened states, I would really prefer to be working face to face. The reassurance that eye contact and using the body to coregulate affords is so important and it just doesn’t quite translate on screen. But who knows when we’ll be back in the room?…and frankly the idea of returning to therapy in person where I will be considered a biohazard and the room needs to be sanitised after I leave it, does nothing to help my sense of feeling ‘toxic’ and being ‘untouchable’ so I’m in no rush to go back if that’s how it’s going to be. I just miss being with another human and feeling all the benefits of therapy.

Anyway, Anita started calling and I left it a good thirty seconds before I accepted the call. I braced myself for the worst whilst simultaneously hoping for the best. I immediately told A I felt shit, and anxious, and tired and not ok…and she said she could see that I was not ok. She asked me what was going on for me and I kind of shrugged my shoulders. She said that she received my message but thought that we should talk about it together in person and wondered if given how I felt, whether I felt able to. I shrugged again and agreed that we could try.

To be honest I can’t remember a great deal of the detail of it all and now that I don’t record my sessions because we use WhatsApp video and I can’t engage the recorder on my iPhone at the same time I can’t go back and listen. I might ask if we can start using skype so that I can use my laptop and my then my phone can record. But I have enough of it in my head to say that it was ok and we did some good work.

Anita quickly reassured me that things we going to be ok between us. She said it’s important that we keep talking and being honest with each other so that if stuff crops up then we can work through it before it becomes a big issue. She said appreciates how hard it is for me after what’s happened with Em and that she understands that those young parts who have been so badly hurt just need to be loved and cared for, but that it’s hard for those parts, and all the others inside to trust people – and trust in a therapist isn’t going to come easy. I agreed that it feels really hard now because I am really aware that she properly matters to me and I am scared of loving again after what happened with Em. It feels dangerous and stupid to even entertain getting close to her. I said I felt really conflicted.

She said she gets the feeling that I have a huge conference room inside and it’s total chaos in there – but not surprising given what’s happened. Some parts (the teens) are shouting over each other and raging (she did a brilliant impression of what she thought it might be like which made me giggle because it was spot on), some parts are refusing to engage, the youngest ones are scared, crying, and traumatised and there’s adult me trying to get their attention but no one even notices I am there…she said it must be exhausting. She said that having this structural dissociation is tough because it’s so hard to give everyone space when they all seem to need and want different things but that we just need to be aware of it and see if we can reach a place where I let the parts express what they need to. She said we can’t rush it and that we have time.

I know she’s right but at the same time I am so pissed off that I am having to tread this ground again with another therapist. I’ve been here, done this, and it didn’t work out. I’ve lost years of my life doing this and wasted so much money on therapy – it’s frustrating.

Anita said that it’s natural for there to be so much internal upset again because right now it feels like the parts have just about managed to escape a burning building (the end of the relationship with Em) and they’re burnt and hurt and then I’m taking myself to therapy with her, starting to attach, and basically that’s like saying, ‘go back in to the burning building and potentially risk the same thing.’ It makes sense that a lot of me is wary.

I talked about how hard it feels having these kinds of vulnerable conversations because my brain just wants to disappear because I am so programmed to expect the worst-case scenario: rejection and abandonment. I have such a huge somatic response the moment we get close to the vulnerable areas. I had stars and pins and needles and all sorts going on but I managed to stay present enough throughout (although it hasn’t all stuck in my mind) and I was tell her what was going on for me.

I explained that I simply didn’t think I could withstand being hurt again by a therapist. I told her that I know that saying that puts an awful lot of pressure on the relationship but I really feel like this is it, if it doesn’t work out then I am done with therapy. I said I feel sad that she is having to contend with the legacy of what’s happened with Em in our relationship but I guess that’s therapy all over – we go and view our therapists through the lens of our relational injuries.

Anyway, there was a lot to the session that I won’t recount here but I ended the call feeling reasonably settled and good despite it being hard. She asked how I was feeling and I said, ‘a bit ugh but ok, just tired’. She said it had been a big session and to look after myself, to go get myself a cup of tea and a biscuit and take a minute before I started teaching half an hour later.
Yes mum!

It feels like such a bizarre experience being seen and not being run from.

But then the session was over and of course there is always some kind of therapy hangover when this attachment stuff starts whirling about. Sometimes it feels like a no-win situation. When I feel like I don’t say what I need to and I talk shit for an hour (which is what I did on just Friday gone) I feel disconnected and disappointed which is hard to manage…but when I feel really connected and understood that brings its own set of problems.

Being seen, held, and safely contained in that hour is addictive. It feels so good, my nervous system that is wound up like a spring unwinds a bit and there’s a feeling of relative safety. But when the call ends that’s all gone. She’s gone. And then we are back in lack of Object Constancy 101 hell.

And fuck it’s really hard to manage…

Later on Monday when I had finished teaching I sent A a message…

Thank you for being so patient and listening today. It feels confused in my head and body – so much conflict between wanting to be close but being terrified of being really hurt. It’s so exhausting. Parts of the session feel like they have fallen into a black hole/vacuum and I’ve no idea what happened! I’m really glad I found you and I’m trying really hard to hear that I don’t frighten you…I frighten me.

And she didn’t respond…

Oh god…

And that set the cat among the pigeons in the biggest way.

I have always struggled in the middle of the week in between sessions even when I was working with Em. I has it’s roots in various losses – my mum being absent when I was a kid, but more recently my dad dying three days into a holiday. My friend and I talk about ‘Woeful Wednesdays’ and that’s exactly what it’s like. Even if I am doing ok on a Tuesday I can wake up on a Wednesday and it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet- to varying degrees. It’s shit.

Anyway, I didn’t even get to Wednesday before the shit started hitting the fan! I hardly slept on Monday and by Tuesday I was a mess. FFS.

MAKE IT STOP!

So on Tuesday, I decided to ask Anita if she had space for a check in.

She didn’t see the message til later in the day but replied and told me that of course we could have a check in and she’d check her diary when she was home and get back to me. She offered me a time on Wednesday and one on Thursday. I took the one on the Wednesday and felt instant relief. Only my wife came home from work and said she’d be working from home on Wednesday morning doing interviews on Zoom. I panicked. I don’t like doing therapy when she’s in the house. Sound travels and I don’t feel like I can talk freely. She wouldn’t listen in. She was busy. But there’s something about it, I dunno, maybe it’s shame that makes me feel like I can’t do it.

I text Anita and explained the situation but also that I couldn’t do the Thursday time as I teach back to back lessons on Thursday mornings and we’d talk Friday. She replied and said that it was a shame and that she’d look forward to speaking to me then.

I was like a bear with a sore head all night.

Again, I barely slept.

And I woke up at 5am and decided I needed that check in. So I asked if the time was still available and it was. I felt a bit anxious telling my wife that I had a check in arranged with Anita – I didn’t want her to ask why or what was wrong. I always feel a bit like I need to justify my need for therapy and so almost like I need to ask permission. I don’t. My wife isn’t like that. But it’s something in me. I worry I feel like I might not be allowed. It’s weird.

Anyway, fuck the worry. I decided to change tack. No more of this, ‘would it be ok for you to… whilst I …?’ Instead I said, ‘I have a ten minute check in with Anita at 11:15 and I’ll be going across the road in the car to do it. The kids will be fine, they’re watching tv, and I’ll be teaching from 11:30-1 so I’ll see you when I finish’. She was like ‘Ok. See you later. What do you want for lunch? I can have it ready.’

So much less stressful an interaction. No drama. I need to realise that I am entitled to space in my life and to do things that meet various needs. I don’t need to ask permission. But it’s going to take time to change my inner narrative!

The check in was fine. I talked about how everything seems to be disintegrating inside but that I hadn’t consciously realised that it was the anniversary of the time I last saw my dad that week and that the anniversary of him dying was coming next week. I said things feel unsettled. She made a link to the fact that as a baby I was taken abroad by my mum when I was 9 months old and that I didn’t see him until I was 2.5 years old (when he visited) and then I didn’t come home to the UK until I was nearly 4.

She said I would have felt this loss acutely when I was little, that babies really know who their caregivers are and given my dad was more of a mother to me than my mum it would have felt very upsetting. I had never really thought about that early disruption had been important. I have always been aware of how affected I was when my mum left to go study when I was little but not the earlier loss. And then I had to go and teach.

When I finished the lesson I had a bit of a realisation about the object constancy stuff. And I wondered if the reason I struggle so hard to ‘hold people in mind’ is because at the time when this would have been learnt everything went to shit, that particular developmental stage got disrupted or went wrong. I dunno.

And you know it…

I fucking text her AGAIN. I have zero impulse control. I know it’s connection seeking but ugh!

Thank you for earlier. It really helped to touch base. It’s not like I don’t know what’s happening. I just don’t know how to fix it. Lack of object constancy is just crap and so unsettling. Not only do I struggle to ‘hold in mind’ and fear that something bad has happened but there’s also the other side which is something about my being forgotten about … so it’s like you don’t exist but I don’t either. Speak Friday.x

And, of course, she didn’t reply…and so my nuts brain felt like that was it. A week of her not replying to texts that talk about ‘us’ and it has put the teens and protective parts on high alert. Don’t get me wrong, adult can see she was great in Monday’s session, gave me the check in I asked for, was connected in that…but someone there’s a niggling doubt with the others that are wondering what’s wrong. What’s changed? Is it really safe?

I know outside session contact can be a minefield and I know that this last week I have really contacted her a lot. I have been in a place where because so much has come alive I have needed to test her. See if she’s safe. If she’s even still there. And I (adult) think she is…it’s just going to take a bit of time to get the message to those noisy buggers in the conference room. Maybe I’ll make them a PowerPoint as they seem completely unaware of my presence!

And So It Begins…Again!

I’ve been wondering when it would happen, when my attachment system would fire up and start doing ‘its thing’ in the relationship between Anita and I. I have had an easy run of it so far and it’s been such a welcome reprieve from the usual angst I’ve had in therapy. Sure, I’ve had to deal with the fall-out from what’s happened with Em but it’s been fine because my adult has attended the therapy sessions and has been able to get a lot of the work done with Anita.

So far I’ve shown her the map, explained the lay of the land, told her what it’s like for young parts and how what’s happened with Em has hurt them, outlined some of the past traumas, pointed out where the landmines are, but we actually haven’t properly set foot out on the landscape yet – we’ve just been warming up around basecamp.

So, I guess it was inevitable. The trek would have to begin properly sooner or later. I think we’ve adequately surveyed the course, we know (as much as we can) what’s out there, but we haven’t had to test yet whether, together, we are up to the challenge of navigating my system. I don’t know yet whether Anita has amount of stamina required to complete the hike. She says she’s up for it, seems to have the right footwear but … what if she can’t do it? What if I’m not able to because I still have blisters after my last hike?

Well, it’s too late now because the child parts have joined the therapy… the expedition has truly begun.

FUCCCKKKKK.

Here we go again…wish me luck.

I won’t outline again what’s happened here, I’ll just copy what I have sent Anita this morning as it says it all. God give me fucking strength…and her, too!

Hi Anita.

I’m feeling a bit anxious about our session tomorrow because something has changed quite significantly for me this weekend, and I think it’s important you know because I have a tendency to hide when I feel vulnerable in this way… but it won’t help if you are in the dark.

Until now, therapy with you has been easy – well not easy!! – but fine, because, largely, it’s my adult that’s turned up (I think!). So, talking about what’s been going on for me has been tough but also more possible because my adult has been able to express it and also, it’s been stuff from outside the room that I’ve been bringing to you.

As much as it’s painful and embarrassing to talk about what happened with Em, I haven’t felt triggered by you or really too concerned about your response because the relationship is new and if things had felt shit or you had responded badly, I would have just left. It’s not that I could have been in a therapy room with just anyone, because actually my system would have reacted negatively had I not felt like I could trust you or you’d felt dangerous to me, but I think that I’ve been so impacted by what has happened with Em and life in general, lately, that I just needed someone there to let off steam with – anyone- and in that respect I have sort of just talked at you, and kept you at arm’s length to a degree.

I don’t know. Part of it is that there’s so much backstory that it feels like there’s a lot to get through and I need to bring you up to speed, and so it sometimes it feels like I am unemotionally recounting and reeling off events just so you have some idea of what it’s been like for me. But I am also aware that I am really avoidant.

I find it really hard to get in touch with my emotions. It’s like I know bad stuff has happened and it has affected me but I can’t seem to access the emotion behind it when I talk about it with people. I am good at the rational, logical stuff – it’s a kind of protection. I feel safe being detached. Maybe it’s because I am not really seen, it’s almost someone else’s life…I don’t know.

I often begin our sessions by moaning about work, the virus, racism, the shit government and how disappointing I find society in general, because that allows me to stay in one piece when I know underneath there is a whole world of pain waiting to be uncovered. I suppose part of me wants you to see something other than the hopeless pit of need and chaos that is inside, because so often when I reach out to you from outside the session and ask you for something it’s from that other place – where I feel out of control, and small, and like I am disintegrating. And I am really aware that that part has been too much for Em. I guess somehow, I want to prove that I am not as worthless as she has made me feel and try and show enough of the unbroken parts so that you might actually want to stay.

I’ve really appreciated how you’ve responded to me in the time we’ve been working together. You’ve been so accommodating and understanding and somehow what you say seems to settle the parts that are struggling. And that’s great. BUT because you’ve been so kind and caring stuff has started to shift inside. I’ve had a couple of dreams this last week – and you’ve been in them…and so it begins!… They’ve been fine. You’ve been warm and present which directly contrasts against all the dreams I had with Em where she would physically, violently push me away anytime I tried to get close to her.

I’ve really been grateful to you for agreeing to work with me and helping me try and deal with the fallout of the therapy with Em ending. I have been conscious that I don’t want to mess things up and I want things to work. I do want to invest in the relationship but I don’t think I would have been devastated if you said it wasn’t working or you wanted to refer me on – until now.

Yesterday I was ironing and I felt a voice inside saying, ‘I miss Anita’…it was my seven-year-old self. So it’s no longer, ‘I need to talk’, it’s ‘I need to talk to you and I miss you’. And that has changed and unsettled everything because the child parts are really vulnerable to being hurt. So now I feel stressed because I didn’t expect this to happen, not yet, anyway, but it has. And I guess I need you to know about it because now that my attachment system has been activated in this relationship there are parts who are wanting to interact with you but who are terrified. It means that I am now going to be looking for rejection and abandonment, it means my defences will also be up trying to protect those parts that so desperately need to be seen from being seen, and it might mean that I end up dissociating a lot… even saying that fills me with shame…

I didn’t want this to happen, especially given that we are working remotely because I know that distance triggers feelings of being abandoned and being untouchable and I don’t want you think I am a basket case and dread working with me. Unfortunately, because of what’s happened with Em, I know that this next bit isn’t going to be an easy ride for us. I don’t want to make you feel like I am testing you all the time, but this is probably what it will feel like. As the various parts come out each of them will need to work out if you are safe…so it can feel repetitive. I get it’s all part of me but it’s like having an additional nine pairs of ears listening in on our conversations and what each of them hears and needs at any given time can be really different.
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So, there we are. I’ve lit the blue touch paper and let’s see what happens. I feel nervous and anxious for having sent that. But I’m all in now, not running from this stuff, not that I did with Em either, but let’s see how it’s responded to tomorrow. I am braced and ready for rejection…!! Let’s hope she continues to be the Anita I think she is. I guess we shall see. Perhaps it’ll feel different to her now that the young parts are attaching to her. Maybe she’ll feel smothered and understand why Em likened my child self to a tick…

Best not go there, or I’ll wind myself up into a panic.

Deep breaths.

The Aftermath…

When I received that final text from Em on Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, the initial reaction was one of panic, like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet but then I went numb almost immediately afterwards. In the moment, I knew that I couldn’t let myself feel the full weight of what was in the message, not when my family were outside waiting for me to come back to join them and be ‘Fun Mummy’.

Somehow, I managed to keep my mask on for the duration of the afternoon but it was difficult, and I could feel the young parts inside screaming, ‘She’s really gone GONE. Why doesn’t she care? What’s wrong with me?’ Everything was disintegrating on the inside so how I held it together on the outside I have no idea – years of practise, I guess.

However, by the evening I was really struggling. When I am tired, I find that my younger parts are much closer to the surface anyway, so given what had pinged on my phone earlier in the day I decided that the only viable option was to take myself off to bed early, wrap myself up in my weighted blanket, and grab my teddy (yes, totally trying to soothe the inner child parts).

Once I had attended to the young parts that were falling through the abyss, I somehow had the presence of mind to try and get some support put in place because I knew I was on a downward spiral.

Had I not taken myself up to bed and put myself in a ‘safe place’ I would almost certainly have opted to self-harm in the bathroom… and I promised myself that I would NEVER go back down that route no matter what happens. No matter how bad things feel (and they felt desperate) I refuse to physically hurt myself anymore. The eating side of things is still up for debate because I find it harder to not restrict food when things feel bad but I seem to be doing ok not with cutting and burning myself which is… a…MIRACLE!!

My daughter asked about a scar on my wrist, the other day, when I was reading her a story – I’ve got quite a lockdown tan going on and so it is more noticeable than usual. The scar came from a ‘not entirely accidental’ episode with a boiling hot baking tray a couple years ago when I was in a terrible place with the attachment stuff. I told her it had been an accident and that I had got burned when I was getting something out the oven and that you have to be really careful with hot things. I felt shit lying – not that I was going to tell an eight-year-old the reality- but I don’t want to do this to myself anymore and I know there are better options for me now.

I am clearer than ever in my mind that self-harm is not going to be my go-to coping strategy and I will not let what has happened with Em make me harm myself. It doesn’t solve anything – not really. The Inner Critic might think that it’s the only sensible option, after all, I am a worthless loser who has brought this whole situation on myself. A paid for therapist can’t even tolerate me and is so repulsed by my parasitic behaviour that she’s shut the door on any further communication, so why bother believing that I am deserving of love and care?

But…

There is another voice in there, she’s quiet but she’s definitely there and it’s a little girl, it’s Eleven I think, saying, ‘Please stop hurting us’. And because I seem to have a slightly more strengthened Adult Self now, I feel a bit more compassionate towards myself and all those little ones inside who I was repelled by.

I couldn’t get far enough away from their need for the longest time, the shame and embarrassment were big but there was also some disgust in there. I couldn’t bear to go near the pain, to have to really acknowledge it as my own felt like it would break me.

Then it changed a bit, and I wanted Em to look after those young part and love them, to help me carry the burden of it, but she was insistent that I had to do it myself. But I couldn’t, not at that point.

In recent months, both A and K have demonstrated time and again, care and compassion for those parts, they’ve modelled a kind of mothering that I’ve never experienced, and it’s like my brain has gone, ‘ Wait! What? Hang on. These parts aren’t scary, disgusting and too much after all? And actually, two people that I respect and value a lot, care for me not despite them, but because of them?? – whoa – revelation? Maybe I can take a better look at these parts and look maybe take a step towards them too?’ And it’s a bit tentative but it’s something.

Because a real sense of love and compassion has been extended towards those needy younger parts recently, I have instantly felt a settling in my system. I’m starting to see that I should not punish myself for these difficult feelings but try and channel whatever it is that A and K do for myself. I guess I am trying really hard to internalise their care. It’s not easy, though, it’s like accidentally sticking your car in reverse when you’re hurtling along in top gear at 80mph but I think with time I’ll get there.

I don’t need to attack myself for reacting so strongly to something that really isn’t my fault. My young parts were too much for Em but that doesn’t mean that I am too much for everyone and that’s a game changer. Not getting clouded by the negative experience in that relationship (even if it does replicate the original mother wound) and seeing it as ‘everyone’ when it was just ‘her’ is important. It’s a move a bit from the child’s experience of feeling responsible for everything that happens because it is too unbearable to think that parents might actually just be a bit fucking shit. Therefore, if we blame ourselves for the situation it somehow makes it more palatable because we can mould and change ourselves because we can’t change the other. It’s a survival strategy it’s just not fit for purpose now.

So, whilst I am not completely out of the woods – not by a long way – I can keep going and take life minute by minute and hour by hour until the pain recedes a little bit. I can commit to doing that even when things feel impossible. And my god, something that’s starting to trickle down into my consciousness is that self-care is not selfish! About Friggin’ time!! Maybe, just maybe, I am worth a bit of TLC and maybe it’s not being self-indulgent to listen to my inner voice and try and meet some of my needs! Feeding my body and nurturing myself is reasonable…honestly, I know it’s like ‘well duh’ but I really have struggled to self-care because I haven’t felt worthy of care and I haven’t had it modelled to me…and yet now, with K and A who are modelling it, I’m like ‘ahhh that’s how you do it!’

Anyway, that was a long ramble but basically what self-care looked like in that moment on Sunday evening was reaching out to Anita and asking for a longer session!…

I have therapy with Anita on Monday and Friday and so, fortunately, I knew my session was coming up the next morning. I just needed to sleep and survive the next few hours of internal chaos and pain. If I’d been beating around the bush a bit for the previous few weeks then I knew that there was no choice but to upfront and direct about exactly what had happened with Em and how it was making me feel. I was going to have to shelve the shame and embarrassment and let her see the mess I had created for myself.

Sessions with Anita are an hour long and I can’t explain how much better that has felt to me than the 50 minutes I used to have with Em. Part of it, of course, will be that I don’t lose half a session being dysregulated and dissociating but, equally, I feel like I have a good block of time with Anita which automatically sets me off on a much better footing. A 50-minute session always felt like there was a rush against the clock. It always took ages to settle down and get into the work and I could mentally feel the time ticking away which would panic the young parts who so desperately needed to be seen but took so long to come out.

It was usually 11 o clock (half an hour in) or even 11:10 (only ten minutes left of the session) before I might really talk about what was bothering me because it took that long to connect and feel anywhere close to safe enough to let stuff out. Sometimes, though, that sense of running out of time would mean I never even got started and that would then mean utter carnage in the time between sessions. It was crap!

Having a full hour means I start the session feeling calmer because I know I have time and so not only do I get to the work sooner because I am more settled to begin with, but if I do have a long and meandering ramble before I start to really open up there’s often still half an hour or more left of the session which means there’s always time to dig into the work. I don’t think I could go back to a 50-minute session now. I knew I needed more than an hour to deal with the fallout of Em’s message though!!

The nice thing about reaching out to Anita for this kind of thing is that I don’t get that instant rush of shame or fear the moment I hit send on a message. I know she will look at my text and I know that it’s ok to have contacted her and if she can accommodate me, she will.

I didn’t elaborate on why I was asking for more time, just asked if we might do a longer session, and she replied later in the evening and said that I’m the first client of the day and although she has a client after me we could start earlier in the morning if I wanted and asked how when I wanted to start. I decided to ask for an extra half an hour to make it a 90-minute session because I had walked into a fiery hell again and she said that was fine and said that she was sorry to hear that I was in such a horrible place.

I like how responsive she is and how genuine she feels. Like she said early on, she has to be her most authentic self in the therapy with people like me because we see through any bullshit. That’s not to say she is big on self-disclosure or anything, it’s just that she is aware that it’s hard for people like me to trust and so she has to be especially present and connected. I think she said something about relational depth, actually. And I can feel it. I can feel her in the room with me (when we are in the room!) – basically I don’t feel left or abandoned which means I feel safe enough to talk.

I struggled to sleep on Sunday night, turning over EVERYTHING that had happened between Em and I with the termination but was glad, at least, that I had someone safe to talk to the next day. In the morning I woke up and knew that it was going to be hard to get going with what I really needed to say to Anita. How do you start a session with, ‘I’ve exchanged messages with Em and she’s basically broken my heart again and I feel like a fucking idiot’… actually, I suppose that would be one way in!

About half an hour before the session I decided that I would give Anita the heads up so that she was armed with info if for whatever reason I couldn’t talk, or shut down, or dissociated or whatever.
I sent this:

So, this is why today needs to be longer. You know how it all disintegrated inside after finally writing about the hell that happened at Christmas/New Year and linking it to The Velveteen Rabbit on my blog a couple of weeks ago? Well, because I am a moron, that doesn’t ever learn, last Sunday I sent the link to it to Em and asked if she might read it because I felt like I needed her to know about it and hear just how brutal what happened has felt. Part of me felt relief that I had sent it and part of me felt like I’d opened myself up to being hurt because she’d likely ignore it.

By Friday everything that had been stirred up in the week had settled and I felt pretty ok. And then she responded that afternoon telling me she’d read the blog and that she understood how painful the ending had been. It threw me through a loop. I asked if we could talk – not to resume the therapy but just to put this to bed properly because the way it all ended was so awful. And then yesterday this came through which in part is fine but then in part is totally not.

I then forwarded the text from Em and waited for my session.

I was nervous as I waited for the video call but felt at least that Anita knew what was coming. When the screen went live I could see straight away that she was trying really hard to use her expression and body language to feel open and warm. She asked me how I was and I basically said I felt shit and she said she could really see why and that she was sorry. I moaned on about the message and wondered whether I was overreacting. She emphatically told me that I wasn’t and that what has happened has been utterly horrific and I deserved better from someone who is meant to care.

The session was really helpful and connecting. I used the whole 90 minutes and it was brilliant. I really dived into this stuff. No holding back. And it was great. I mean it was fucking painful and hard but great because I really feel like Anita is holding my hand through this, she challenges me when I attack myself and really reframes things for me. We spoke a lot about my mum and drew lots of parallels between my relationship with my mum and what it’s been like with Em. I said it feels like a bit of a cruel irony that I landed up in the consulting room of someone that is more emotionally withholding than my own mother! But that it makes sense that I stayed as long as I did because it was familiar and part of me felt like that’s all I deserved.

The other thing that has really settled me is that Anita doesn’t bat an eyelid when I say how I feel about Em. She is not freaked out by what I say. She doesn’t appear to be thinking, ‘oh fuck I have a complete disaster sitting in front of me’ and she says she can work with this – me. Rather than pathologizing my feelings she normalises them and contextualises them and that somehow makes it all feel more palatable and manageable. When the session finished, she asked me how I was, I said ‘fine, but tired’ and she agreed it had been a big session. She told me to take care and that if I needed her in the week then to reach out.

I had a pretty good week, settled, but then on the Thursday the fog moved in from the horizon again. I had a bad dream about Em… and then I was going through my notebooks from last year (whyyyy???) and came across the picture of me and Em I had drawn where she is tangled in barbed wire. I had said something about it to Anita when we first started working together, saying that I felt like I couldn’t get close to Em. I text A this:

The ‘everything is ok’ and ‘I know it’s not me’ and ‘I’m angry rather than blaming myself’ thing has come crashing down again to be replaced by the ‘I’m untouchable, unlovable, and forgettable’ narrative. I’m so over this feeling of being cut off and isolated because of Coronavirus. I think it’s such a big problem largely because it’s tapping into that feeling of being untouchable and unlovable (feeling contaminated/toxic in some way) – and whilst I get it’s the same for everyone (the social distancing) – I’m not sure everyone has this core wound so maybe the manage it a bit better. They don’t feel like there’s something wrong with them that makes people stay away. It’s not just feeling lonely but actually it feels like abandonment and rejection. I did this drawing last year – perhaps we can look at it together tomorrow?

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A few minutes later she text me back this – (she’s dyslexic so look past the errors!):

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What a contrast to the interaction with Em. After years of sterile texts or being totally ignored getting a short but warm message back feels really holding. I really feel like she gets how to communicate with people with C-PTSD and understands that we’re not cut from quite the same cloth as other people and need a slightly different kind of interaction. Reassurance doesn’t feed an insatiable addiction  – it really settles the system and I can go about my day. I feel like I can hold her in mind and like something is slowly starting to shift.

Another thing I really like about Anita, and it’s going to sound daft, is that she often uses emojis in her messages. For some reason, seeing a smiley face, a laughing face or a sad face or whatever it might be really feels connecting. I don’t know if it’s something about her seeming more human and less like a robot, or whether it somehow connects with the young parts who understand pictures better than words, but I really appreciate it. But that emoji on the text was… perfect… I feel like she gets it, sees me, and can interact with me in a way that my parts need right now… and it feels so healing.

I genuinely think I have found a therapist who is a good fit for me, who will be able to help me deal with the deep rooted stuff. As she said in our very first session – ‘if you imagine yourself and being like an egg, you have your shell which you show the outside world, you let Em in and you’ve been working in the white rationalising and understanding your story and trauma, but you know you need to really get into the yolk where all the pain is and it needs healing on a deeper level, on a felt level and it requires care and love and a deeper kind of relationship to do that…

AMEN TO THAT!

 

Haunted

Today would have marked to the four year therapy anniversary of my coming back to work with Em after I’d finished my cancer treatment. It seems daft, really, keeping these dates in my head – especially now therapy with her is finished- but it’s always been a date that I’ve somehow marked, usually with a card and a message reflecting on our time together and thanking her putting up with me.

When we don’t know the actual birthday of our therapists, this date, for many of us, functions as a kind of birthday – I suppose the birth of the therapeutic relationship maybe? Either way, this date is important to lots of us. I wonder if therapists are even aware of this?

Anyway, had I still been with Em, today I had planned to give her a  gift in our session. On reflection, that would have been a terrible idea wouldn’t it?! But this was planned and bought way before Christmas! And I had no idea, then, that we would not be working together now. I’d been told therapy would end when I was ready for it to end, in a planned way- not abruptly.

Some of you probably remember the episode with the pebble a few years ago. For those of you who don’t, basically about a year into this latest phase of the therapy, I was really wobbling and had realised that my object constancy was pretty much non-existent. The time between sessions was hideous and breaks, well, they were an absolute nightmare. It was like the minute I left Em’s house she ceased to exist. I would panic that she had died (a hangover from my dad dying three days into a holiday – and so I always struggled on Wednesdays). I couldn’t picture her in my mind at all and the feeling that she was gone GONE also really tapped into the feelings I had as a child when my mum would be gone from Sunday to Friday. I missed Em so much that it physically hurt. It was awful! I just felt like I was stuck in trauma time whenever I wasn’t in the room with her.

I had read about transitional objects and it made perfect sense to me that we needed to try and help the young parts that were starting to emerge, and that an object or something that she had written might help me to begin to be able to hold her in mind. The young parts of me would really have liked something soft, something comforting to hold, like a little teddy or something but I knew Em would never go for it so never mentioned that idea. When I finally brought up how hard I was finding things after the long summer break she suggested her maybe writing something on a piece of card for me, or said I could bring a card in for her to write on… I should have known right then that it wasn’t going to work!

I still remember how sad I felt when she said that. Like of course I would like her to write me a holding message but why on earth would I want to bring something in for her to write in? The whole point with transitional objects is that it comes from them, it’s a symbol of them. Man it still upsets me!

Anyway, Em lives near the beach and I’ve always collected pebbles from various places I have been and I thought that maybe her writing a message on a pebble from the beach might help ground me when I was spiralling off into attachment abandonment doom. Having something solid to hold but also having some of her words felt like a great idea. In the end it took over six months for her to write on that fucking pebble. And even then I had to give her the words. The whole exercise fell so flat and actually just made things worse. Why was it so hard, after so many years, to simply write a personal message on a fucking rock? I mean I can join the dots now – and I did at the time too!

My Inner Critic had a field day, ‘She doesn’t care about you. There isn’t a relationship. She doesn’t feel any connection to you.’ And do you know what? Maybe I should have listened to that voice back then, and all the times since. Because it turns out it was right, wasn’t it? All the times I have felt like she wasn’t invested, not really, played out. I didn’t want to trust my gut. I wanted to believe that what I was experiencing was just the legacy of a lifetime of trauma and it was just negative transference. If I stuck at it, tried to put that niggling doubt to one side then I’d see it was me and not her.

Anyway, back to the gift that was meant for today! I have a friend who is a stone mason and I noticed he had started working with pebbles as keepsakes. One design he had was hearts in relief. The whole of the surface of the pebble is sanded away (or whatever you do with stone!)  and all that is left is two hearts. Being a lover of metaphor and analogy, it made me think of Em. What I wanted to say was that the hard surface of the stone, the layers of protection have finally gone, and what remains after painstaking work, is the relationship. It’s the relationship that is tough enough to see things through and it is through that strength that the work is able to be done.

I’m just too fucking sentimental for my own good aren’t I?

So, here’s the pebble that will never make it to Em.

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I feel a little bit heartbroken about it really. It’s another of those expressions of love from the youngest parts that feels rejected. I mean all of me feels so rejected right now.

I’ve been struggling to come here and write this post for a couple of weeks. Partly because what’s happened is so painful to even write – I feel a deep ache in my core even thinking about it, but it’s also because there’s a lot of shame and embarrassment floating about too. I almost don’t want to admit to what’s happened because I feel like a fucking idiot that’s walked myself into the jaws of a great white shark and then wondered why I am no longer in possession of a couple of my limbs and am bleeding out. I feel like I’ve brought this on myself and so really have no right to be so upset. I guess I just don’t want to hear, ‘I told you so’ because I have already beat myself up enough already.

But I can’t avoid it forever… so deep breaths.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that after writing the post about The Velveteen Rabbit that I had had a pretty strong internal reaction to it. I guess, finally expressing just how painful the ending with Em had been and how rejecting it had felt with what had happened with the gifts at Christmas kind of crystalised – it was no longer just a bunch of ideas and feelings in my head but actually a tangible, considered document and the reality felt pretty stark.

It felt shit that the one person that I really wanted to hear what I have to say is gone and has no interest in my feelings. It feels so unfair that I have so much to process and yet the person I need to process it with doesn’t want to know. There’s never going to be a repair and so it just feels like another injury that I have to carry only I am really struggling to accept that. You know what I am like – ever hopeful with a strong masochistic streak…

So a week after posting that blog I was really, really struggling. The young parts were fronting and I was at the point where I felt like I would do pretty much anything to be able to speak to Em (regardless of how bad it’s been and how crap the ending was). I felt so unsettled and actually just desperate. So, rather impulsively, I sent her a  text message with a link to the post on Sunday evening – I know. I know. You don’t have to tell me.

It was a pretty long text! I told her that I felt weird and anxious reaching out after what’s happened and asked her if she might read the blog post, that I would pay her to do it, and that it would mean a lot to me if she at least knew about what I had to say because sitting with it hasn’t helped. I thought writing it would help but actually I needed her to hear what I had to say. I acknowledged that she had said she’d never want to read a blog post again after reading the disaster Christmas rupture blog a couple of years ago because she was ‘not that masochistic’. I said that I was sorry if what I had said at the time had hurt her and that we’d never really properly discussed that rupture and how it impacted either one of us. I told her I missed her and that I was struggling to work through all these feelings about our ending without her because I can only imagine what she’d say. I said that I wished I had been able to share more of what was happening for me with her rather than putting it out here on the blog because really so much of what I write here is what needed to make it into the room.

It got a read receipt almost immediately. And then nothing. To be honest. I didn’t expect a reply. I just needed to say what I said. It was okish until Wednesday and then the grief and reality hit in a spectacular way (bloody Wednesday AGAIN! – maybe I should rename it ‘Crisisday’). I was sitting on my bed and not really thinking about anything at all when I noticed my chest was wet. I felt it and realised that the wetness was tears that had been falling. I didn’t even know I was crying – it was just detached water falling from my eyes.

And then whoosh, the floodgates opened. I connected with my body and my feelings and it was I was howling like an injured animal – I wish that was an exaggeration but it’s not. The tears fell in huge big drops, my nose was streaming, I was sobbing, convulsing through my whole body, at times I felt like I could barely breathe. It was absolutely horrific. I felt like I was falling through the black abyss and it felt endless. This must’ve gone on for the best part of forty minutes. The memories started piling in one after the other, Em, the room, the times when it has been good and supportive, and I just felt so much pain, so much loss, so much grief. The young parts wanted to die. Em is not coming back.

It was so overwhelming. I’ve sort of known this was coming for a few weeks – after reaching out to Anita at the end of May when these feelings started to swirl about again. I think on this particular Wednesday it was like a volcanic eruption. Pressure has been building for a long time and it was inevitable that eventually I’d blow spewing emotional lava, ash, and dust everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong, Anita has been amazing throughout this. We’ve talked a lot about what’s happened with Em and she has listened with such compassion and care. But she can’t make it better, and these feelings have to come. I need to feel them rather than run from them. It’s just so much harder not being in the therapy room because it’s not as holding online and I don’t feel like I could let this stuff come in this way via a screen – I think in person I could – maybe. So in some ways I feel like my grieving has been on hold. I’ve rationalised it but I haven’t expressed it – got it out my body – felt it. And I really need K for that too! I miss my craniosacral sessions!!

I guess facing up to the reality the Em is really gone – forever – keeps coming in waves. I cried a lot at the beginning, like this  being totally overcome by the feelings and I had no filter – it just came out. The difference then, I think, was that I was also in shock. That extreme crying got less over time. I rarely cry myself to sleep now whereas at the beginning I cried every night for weeks. But I don’t not cry because I am over it – clearly I’m stuck right in it! The feelings still aren’t fully processed. They are not gone. But it’s not quite so fresh. I have to get on with my day to day life but in some way I’m also stuck in limbo. Actually, it’s like being haunted. I can’t fully get away from how bad it feels and I carry this inside me like some kind of negative spectre. A dementor.

I think the idea is that we are meant to internalise our therapists as a positive influence, we are meant to internalise their care, their voice, the way they treat us so that we can then model that for ourselves. It’s like replacing a shit load of negativity with a positive inner parent. Only that’s not what’s happened with me. I now have an additional voice telling me I’m not important and unwanted. It’s fucking agony… and yet I still miss her.

After I came out of my hysterical crying state I text Anita – she must be sick of me texting her by now. I told her I was in a really bad place and asked if she had any time available over the next couple of days so I might bring my Friday session forward. She text me back immediately and said she had a session in half an hour if I wanted it. I took it and then got in the shower and pulled myself back together a bit. Part of me wanted to stay in my PJs and have the session from underneath my duvet but I managed to get washed and dressed and semi-presentable although my puffy eyes showed what a state I was in.

By the time I got online I was much better than I had been- although to be fair it couldn’t have got much worse! I felt sad when we started talking but I wasn’t tearful. I was able to talk around what was going on – feelings of hopelessness and about losing Em etc but I didn’t tell her about the fact that I had sent Em the link and that she hadn’t replied. It was because I felt ashamed, I think. I felt stupid for reaching out. And I guess, in a way, I felt a bit disloyal – like I have Anita now so why am I so desperate to be seen and understood by Em? Why do I hope that I am somehow going to get the ending with her I needed? Why can’t I just let it go?

We talked a lot around how this ending and relationship has really unsettled me. How it is a huge loss etc. And when I finished the session I actually felt really calm. Almost like that morning an almighty storm had battered and drenched me to the skin, but it had moved off and cleared some space inside me and Anita had helped dry my off and patched me up. I felt like I had released a lot of pain and grief and it felt good not to have it all stuck inside me. To be seen and understood when I am in that kind of pain used to terrify me. I felt like it would mean an automatic rejection or abandonment. I would be too much for the other person. But Anita is solid as a rock. I genuinely believe she is going to be there to help me through this.

So, I felt much calmer as the week moved on and I was aware of the upcoming full moon. My best friend bought me Yasmin Boland’s ‘Moonology’ oracle cards for Christmas and they have been one of the best gifts I have ever received. I absolutely love them. The artwork on them is beautiful and I’ve always been drawn to the moon. I have kept pulling the same three or four cards out for months and months on end. Lately I pulled the same card ‘Full Moon In Capricorn (the end of a tough cycle approaches)’ four times in a row in succession (same day) whilst asking the same question …which statistically is absolutely ridiculous!

The general message in all my cards this year has been that the end of a significant period of difficulty and anxiety is about to happen. We were headed into a full moon eclipse on the 5th June and so I decided to do a three card spread for a change, basically asking about the situation with Em – the cards run from left to right, the first signifying the past, the middle the present, and the third the future. Apparently it’s good to do these things at certain moon phases so there was no time like the present!

I pulled these cards for the first time:

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South Node and North Node feel a bit brutal in their bullet messages (stop obsessing about someone or something!) but I think they’re right – especially in the longer note!:

(PRESENT) South Node – Don’t let the past hold you back: The South Node, like the North Node, is a karmic point, but it’s opposite to the North Node and relates to the past, perhaps even to past lives. Whatever you’re going through and whatever you’re asking about, there’s a chance that age-old programming and conditioning is stopping you from achieving all that you might. Do you feel stuck in something? This card will often come as a sign that the situation or relationship you’re asking about has somehow become suffocating, even toxic. It suggests that someone (you, even) need to be released, there’s some kind of addiction going on or an unhealthy attachment that needs to be sorted out.

(FUTURE) North Node – Step out of your comfort zone: There’s a strong feeling when you get this card that it’s time to leave the past behind somehow, because you are headed in the right direction. If you want to be happy and fulfilled, you need to get going towards doing the thing that scares you (within reason!). This card is all about living your life-purpose, which is possibly what you’ve asked about. It’s urging you to do something different with your life and your direction, to take action. So are you willing to follow through and lead the life you incarnated to live? If you finally find the courage to make the leap, there’s a good chance you’ll come to ask yourself, ‘Why did I wait so long?’

So, there I was feeling calm and peaceful, in tune with the moon and then Friday afternoon Em text me!

Fuck.

My zen went straight out the window!

I really hadn’t expected a response at all especially nearly a week later. So it came as a bit of a shock. Obviously, I had hoped she might engage with me but I didn’t hold out much hope and after my big outpouring of grief on the Wednesday I felt less like I needed a reply.

This is what came:

Dear RB,

I have read your blog about the Velveteen Rabbit and there’s no need for you to pay me for this. I would like to acknowledge that I’m aware of how difficult our ending has been for you and I wish you well for the future.

Em

I think I must have stared at the screen for about five minutes.

My fucking impulse control is piss poor and I quickly replied:

Is there really no way of coming back from this? Please can we talk?

Immediate read receipt. Then nothing.

Fair enough. I guess she read the blog, she hasn’t charged me for it, unlike all the other times she’s read something outside the session! Part of me is a bit like, why bother though? Why waste your time on 7000 words if it means nothing now.

I felt a bit unsettled over the weekend. I didn’t expect to hear anything back from Em. She’d seen my message and that was that. She only works Monday and Friday and never communicates on weekends but what was there to say? She wasn’t going to talk to me and so I carried on.

It threw me through a loop, on Sunday, seeing her name flash up on my phone. I was having a barbecue with my family. My mum had come over with her husband and we were all chilling out in the garden. I probably should have ignored the message and waited until later to read it. But I didn’t. I went inside under the guise of needing the loo and read the message.

Fucking sucker punch.

I guess I knew it was coming. I just hoped that perhaps with a bit of distance she might have seen that this is a shit show for me and I need a better end and agreed to talk.

Dear RB.

Thank you for your communication. I have read your blog and had already read ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’.

I am very sorry, but, as I have already explained to you several times, I have gradually come to the clinical decision that I do not have the expertise not training to continue with the therapy. We have done some good work together, but it has slowly emerged that the therapeutic work that I have been able to provide for you has now gone as far as it can go. Therefore there is no possibility of resuming the therapy.

If you wanted to continue to work on yourself and to build on the work we have accomplished, I would suggest that psychoanalysis might be worth considering. I say this because of the nature of the transference within the therapeutic work we have done. Also, psychoanalysis is suggested by the interpretations of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ in your blog. If you wanted to take this forward, the best website to look for a psychoanalyst would be http://www.bpc.org.uk

I hope I have made myself clear and therefore I hope that you now understand that there is no need nor reason for you to contact me further and I would therefore be grateful if you would not contact me further. I wish you well for your future.

Em.

So yeah, that felt really good – NOT. Still, it is what it is. And I should have known better than to hope she might actually just talk to me about it. Surely, she can’t be happy with the way it ended. It all felt so defensive and triggered back in January. I don’t want to resume therapy really, I just want some closure, some answers, it to feel less bad!

Still, it was not easy going back outside after that and having to pretend like I’d just nipped inside to pee. I felt like the floor had dropped out beneath me again. I didn’t cry. I just felt sick. It was the final paragraph that really hurt… ouch. I know I walked myself right into that rejection, but like I said, I don’t need ‘I told you so’ because I’ve beaten myself up about it enough already! I just wonder what the hell I have been doing for the last 8 years!

Fortunately, I actually have two really patient, attentive, and caring therapists in my life right now and processing this with Anita and K has been as good as it can be. I’ll continue with the fall-out from this in my next post as this is looooonnnnggg already!

‘These feelings won’t go away
They’ve been knockin’ me sideways
I keep thinking in a moment that
Time will take them away
But these feelings won’t go away
These feelings won’t go away’

-Citizen Cope

Night And Day

Oh man – I am so behind with this blog. It’s getting ridiculous now! A lot has happened these last few weeks so I think I’ll try and write a few short posts in quick succession to bring myself up to speed. Now that I don’t record my sessions I can’t even listen back and remind myself what’s been going on in any detail, but what I can say is that generally speaking, therapy has been moving in the right direction. I’ve had a few avoidant moments (well not avoidant exactly, but spending a whole session last Friday, talking about the global pandemic and systemic racism when I had been bleeding out about Em rejecting me all week, wasn’t probably what I needed to be talking about!) but on balance it’s felt good, really good, actually.

Well…good for online therapy…!

I honestly cannot wait to get back to face-to-face because I know it’s going to be so much better and also, I just want to give Anita a huge hug (or perhaps a tentative first one)! And knowing that it is fine to ask for that and that I won’t be rejected by her for wanting that has literally taken so much stress out of therapy. I mean wanting a hug from Em, not knowing what the boundary even was for two years led to so much stress and internal upset, especially for the young parts.

I mean, you guys have been here with me – I spent hours, days, weeks, months… years… wondering about whether I could have a hug and then when I discovered it was a ‘no’ but with no discussion other than ‘you know it’s a boundary I won’t cross’ left me wondering what’s wrong with me and why I am so untouchable, and why the boundary was what it was …and I never got to express my feelings about how rejected I felt because of it. It was only after Christmas this year that I mentioned that I would sometimes like her to sit next to me and she said she doesn’t do that either…again no discussion of how that might feel to me.

Arggghh!!!

So, anyway, the finer details of my sessions with Anita are a bit of a blur the last few weeks, but then my life in general has felt that way too. It’s felt like I have been on an emotional rollercoaster in my day-to-day world and yet I always seem to feel a bit shocked or bemused by the fact that I am struggling with stuff when I get to speak to Anita. I have had several huge emotional wobbles lately – or maybe just one protracted one since January with small areas of slightly less jiggling about. My mood has been pretty low but I have also felt really angry at times. I guess it’s just like everything is out of control and that there’s a kind of relentlessness to my life and it’s exhausting. Just as I thought I had put things in place to make things better Em and I terminated and then there was the pandemic!

Generally, when things have been emotionally shit and dark like this in the past, I have hidden in my shell until it’s felt safe enough to come out a bit. I have a tendency to go it alone when things feel this bad, shut people out, don’t communicate with friends, point in a forward direction, and just keep going the best I can often with a bit of self-harm or anorexia thrown into to help me on my way. Some people might call it avoidance but actually it is simply survival when it gets to this point.

I find it hard to trust people and unfortunately when I have needed people, in the past and more recently, they’ve not always been there – or actually disappeared – so I tend not to ask for help. I get it’s not easy loving someone when they are in a crisis or not being their best selves but unfortunately that is the problem with mental health issues. Sometimes, we can get so tied up in knots that we seem to get frustrated with essentially ‘nothing’ because the ‘big things’ feel unmanageable. We project onto others. We lash out. And then sometimes we run because it feels like it’s all caving in around our ears.

My protective shell has taken a complete battering over the last six months, losing Em, the coronavirus crisis, the panic around PPE and lack of accessibility to it whilst my wife was at work knowing I am in a clinically vulnerable group, then my wife losing her job and the financial shit storm that has come with that, losing a close friend… it just felt like I was being attacked on all sides and there have been times when I have totally fallen apart, sobbing uncontrollably on my bed and just wishing there was a way out of this. So when I am in session with Anita, I say things to her and then wonder out loud ‘what’s wrong with me? I don’t know why I am so affected by this…’

I can’t tell you how many times she has responded by telling me that it’s years and years of trauma, as well as current big stresses, and that I am in survival mode and therefore my flight response is engaged. To be honest it’s my default! It’s like my window of tolerance is so narrow – like a letterbox- that I miss landing in it a lot of the time and either veer off into a flight response or completely shut down and dissociate.

Fortunately, in my therapy sessions with Anita I am much more able to stay in the window of tolerance and maintain some kind of observer self than I was ever able to with Em. I am able to tell her what’s been happening for me (the unbearable feelings, the dissociation etc) without actually plummeting into the states I am discussing with her. Rather than therapy triggering all the mess it feels like an island in the stream where I get to rest and take stock of things a bit in relative safety. I guess this is, in part, because Anita doesn’t trigger my mother wound in any significant way (yet!) and so I can perhaps be more present with her.

Don’t get me wrong, I feel attached to A and I would hate to stop seeing her now, but seeing her doesn’t make me fall down into the emotional abyss. Our interactions don’t trigger me into feeling desperate or out of control or rejected or abandoned. If at any time I have got close to the edge when talking about Em she’s noticed me going and has held out a hand to stop me falling.

As you can see, it’s such a different experience doing therapy with A. I actually feel like she genuinely is interested in me and cares about me. I find it hard to understand why she is so kind and warm especially seeing as we’ve only been working together since mid-January. Part of me is like, ‘she’s just doing her job’ but then it was Em’s job, too, and she was never like this.

I have told Anita things that I have never shared with Em – big things that just lay lurking in the shadows for the last eight years of therapy – and a lifetime before that. I have opened myself up completely and have really talked about the feelings of loss around what’s happened with my therapy ending. I’ve spoken about all the ‘embarrassing’ feelings that there are. I have spoken about love. I have spoken about shame. I’ve spoken about my mum A LOT. I have just told it is – and how it is changes a lot depending on who is present. But I can even tell Anita who is there when I would stay silent with Em.

Don’t get me wrong, part of me has felt wary doing this, like what if I say this and show myself and I am too much for her? What if my neediness and reaction to what’s happened with Em makes her feel uncomfortable? What if she sees me as I am and she leaves just like Em did? But then part of me is like what have I got to lose now? I spent years filtering myself and ‘behaving’ and I still got dropped like a hot potato, had my heart broken, and my sense of self decimated by someone who I dared to trust with the most vulnerable parts of myself, so if that’s going to happen again let it happen sooner rather than later. I don’t want to find out years down the line that I’m too complex! Refer me on now because you already know what you’re dealing with!

But there’s not even the slightest hint that Anita feels overwhelmed by me. Far from it. She is so unbelievably validating and present. She makes no bones about the fact that what happened at the end with Em, in her view, was unethical and unprofessional and that I am therefore bound to be massively impacted by the way things ended – especially given my trauma history. She sees it as yet another occasion where I have been failed by someone who was meant to care and tells me that she doesn’t think I am too much and I don’t make her feel uncomfortable in the least.

The more I bring my feelings to her and she responds in a positive way the safer I feel with her and so, therefore, I am able then to bring more to her. It’s a positive spiral. Being met well makes such a significant difference to my system overall and I feel like we are getting work done but in a safe, contained way. I’m not stuck. I seem to talk about all kinds of things from my past, filling her in with the back story and then will launch stuff about what’s happened in therapy with Em. It always seems to come up in one way or another because in some ways I am retelling stories that have been told before and so I am noticing and comparing the different responses which are like night and day.

There is a lot of, ‘If I said this to Em she’d respond like this/not respond and then this would make me feel x, y, z or dissociate’.  I said the other day how nice it was to not feel stressed out in my sessions and how safe I feel with her. I was telling her about how I used to drive to my sessions with Em and feel sick to my core, or buzzing with nerves, often having to stop en route to use the toilets at Tesco (I didn’t say ‘therapy shits’ but the inference was there!). I told her that I would feel anxious and my heart would race when I would arrive at therapy.

I explained how it would take ages to settle because when Em would open the door she would never greet me or even smile when I arrived. She never said ‘hello’ or ‘come in’ and so I would awkwardly walk through the front door, down to the therapy room, sit down on the sofa, and wonder what was going to happen – young parts who missed her so much fearing the worst. Em never started a conversation and would wait for me to speak. And I know that this is common in some types of therapy, the therapist doesn’t want to lead the conversation and allows the client to begin how they want, but for me it was awful. What it usually meant is that I would launch into some detached day-to-day small talk about what had been going on in the week because there was no reconnecting and I didn’t feel safe enough or comfortable enough to let her know what was really bothering me. Although there was one session where we just sat in silence for twenty minutes! AGONY!

Her ‘still face’ immediately set my young parts jangling – and the feeling of abandonment to those parts felt huge. So, to not be invited to talk or given a way in felt really neglectful because a lot of the time it must have been really clear I was struggling. I wasn’t deliberately being difficult. I wasn’t locked in some kind of power struggle. I just needed help. I told her how I had seen the still face experiment and how it had resonated with me so much because it’s how I felt in the room with her and yet nothing changed. Ugh.

 Anyway, enough of that for now…because there’s a shit load more of that to come next post!

Calming The Hungry Baby

*I wrote this post earlier in the week when I was approaching that horrible territory where a massive meltdown/crisis was on the cards. I did end up in a really terrible place on Wednesday but I’ll talk about that in another post. I am, therefore, now aware how black and white the thinking seems here, but I’m not surprised given where I landed mid-week. I’ve felt very emotionally precarious for the last month or so. Fortunately, I have more than come out the other side of it now and feel largely fine…settled even…but it really gives an insight into how when I start to slide how rapidly and deeply I fall into feeling like everything is awful. I haven’t experienced such challenges with my mental well-being in a long, long time but I guess it’s not surprising given what’s going on in the world.
——
It feels like my internal world has descended into complete chaos and disarray this last week or so after finally writing the mammoth post on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ that had been swirling in my head for a few months. The result of getting those feelings out on the page in some kind of coherent form, and really thinking about how I feel about losing Em and all that happened, has meant that I have, once again, ended up down an emotional rabbit hole.

It’s that all too familiar feeling of spiralling and falling down through the abyss, young parts screaming inside, and feeling like there’s only one person in the world that might be able to make it better…only they’re not available anymore. Basically, I’m in attachment pain hell in a way that I haven’t felt since Em and I terminated. The level of pains is unreal. I thought I was past this but clearly not.

I know it’s all part of the process and I need to go through it, it’s grief, but it’s absolute hell and being unable to see my current therapists in person has really set the cat amongst the pigeons. And, of course, the only person I really want to see and make amends with is Em. Trying to process all that’s happened with someone else just feels impossible. Despite being in mess at the moment with the young stuff I have quite a few new insights and it feels crap that I can’t take them to Em and discuss them.

And yet, clearly, in light of what’s going on globally, my problems, in the big scheme of things, really are insignificant. I feel a bit of a dick sitting here lamenting how shit it feels inside when actually I am safe, healthy, and protected by my white privilege. Really, what have I got to complain about when there is utter horror going on outside my contained little world? But if therapy has taught me anything, I also understand that what feels big to me is important (at least to me) and I’m not in a competition with the rest of the world to see who is experiencing the worst trauma. I can hold feelings that feel overwhelming in my own life and also know that what others are enduring right is a massive deal.

When I see what’s happening in the USA right now I am in shock – only sadly, I’m kind of not. My body feels shock, but my mind isn’t shocked at all – I’m just saddened that in this day and age that people are still having to fight for their rights to be treated fairly as human beings. I mean wtf is that about? I worry about my friends that are based in the states. I feel useless. My black friends in the UK are really struggling and short of being there for them I don’t know what to do. Read more. Learn more. Listen more. Be more active as an ally. I sincerely hope that things are finally going to change for the better.

Even though I am based in the UK, the moment Trump was elected I had a real sense of foreboding – not just for the USA but for the world. And with every passing year it’s got worse and worse. The stuff he’s got away with seems almost unbelievable for a world leader in charge of (what’s meant to be) a democracy. His broken moral compass and frankly horrendous behaviour seems to have legitimised the conduct of the far right and white supremacists because if the president can get away with inciting hatred and be above the law so can everyone else – in fact it seems like he encourages it.

I wish I was surprised by the images I am seeing on social media showing the unbelievable brutality and suffering at the hands of the police and national guard on unarmed citizens, but I am not. I want to look away, because it is traumatising, but I can’t because I need to see this no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

So, as I sit here about to launch into what really feels like another self-indulgent look at my inner struggle please know that I am aware of the bigger picture. I just need to write because I feel like I am on an emotional knife edge and I don’t feel like there are many ways to help myself right now, other than splurge and get it out.

It’s been a really very hard month, or so. I haven’t been blogging (or doing anything) much – literally that one post for the whole of May -because I’ve felt so utterly flat and shit but also not really known what to say. I feel like a broken record. Or like I’ve been stuck in some kind of awful Ground Hog Day.

The whole of the lockdown period has been tough on lots of levels and I know I am not the only one who has been struggling. Trying to juggle the demands of my work, teaching my own kids, and having the added pressure of financial instability because my wife was made redundant has been really hard going without the actually worry of what contracting Covid19 might actually mean. Sometimes it feels so hard to just keep going. Like just as I get my head above water something comes along and dunks me under again.

It doesn’t take a lot to knock me off balance at the best of times, and let’s be fair, I was wobbly as hell having just lost Em before coronavirus and the world crumbling before my eyes. I guess I was lucky to, at least, find Anita before everything went completely to shit but I’m finding online therapy a real challenge. We are still building our relationship steadily but it just feels so distant on screen a lot of the time. I can’t help but keep making comparisons of how sessions feel online with A and how they felt with Em (who really knew me) and I feel like every session comes up short but that’s not surprising really, just disappointing.

I haven’t seen K in person since March, either…so it’s not great. My usual support systems are really not the same, or even possible (hands on craniosacral) and so I feel like I’ve had my crutches taken away whilst still being in a cast for a broken leg. I’m lucky that I am in almost daily contact with K via text and she is utterly amazing, but I really want to see her face-to-face. Basically, I need a big dose of co-regulation to settle my nervous system down because it feels like it’s off its tits on something! I think I’ll arrange a walk with her sooner rather than later. She has suggested it, but it’s difficult when I am home with the kids all the time and trying to work, too.

I have always thought that therapy (of some description) would be a lifelong thing for me. It’s not about getting ‘better’ or ‘fixing’ me. I see it more as something that helps me keep functioning, a kind of maintenance, so that I can do my life – as well as something that gives me insight into myself and ways of managing better. I don’t necessarily think I’ll be in talk therapy until the day I die (but it’s ok if that is the case) but part of my self-care will undoubtedly include some kind of input from the outside – and that could be craniosacral therapy, talk therapy, massage, or whatever else I fancy trying, at varying intervals because it does me good.

Up until March I was having a lot of input, doing twice weekly face-to-face psychotherapy and a session of CS therapy…and now I’m managing one, sometimes two teletherapy sessions and it’s not the same. Maybe I am just picky but I don’t find it as holding or containing and whilst it’s better than no therapy at all I feel like I’m sliding. I really rely a lot of physical signals in the room to judge how safe I can feel – body language and eye contact are so important and through a screen that gets lost.

I was ok(ish) with the disruption for a while, but now I am feeling increasingly like I need to see Anita and K face-to-face because I’ve been spiralling down and am running out of ‘coping’. I’ve tied a knot in the end of the rope but my arms are getting tired from hanging on.

I am so sick of circling this same pit of doom. All I seem to do is cycle through being ok enough (and trying to avoid the abyss), being stuck falling through the abyss, or crawling up out of the abyss. It’s exhausting and demoralising. I know I need to work a lot more on the young parts’ trauma stuff because that’s where the sense of annihilation comes from but it’s not easy doing that work over a screen because it is so BIG and needs so much containment. When I feel like my adult is more available, I can handle this stuff but right now I feel like all the young parts are synchronising and about to unleash havoc.

Last week it was bank-holiday in the UK and Anita took her first day off in all the time that we’ve been working (January). I suspect, like many therapists, she’ll have some clients that won’t have migrated online and so will have a slightly freer schedule and so hasn’t taken breaks in the same way but still kind of needs the income – being a therapist is her only job. She was due to have some time off in March but given we were in lockdown she didn’t see much point and continued to work.

Still, on Monday she took the day and that was fine…only it kind of wasn’t! I was fine not to see her and instead of my session I wrote that blog which needed to come out… but then I proceeded to have a terrible day on Tuesday – I’m sure because I’d stirred myself up by writing all about my experience with Em. On Wednesday I woke up feeling sick to my core. It was that familiar anxiety and blind panic that gets experienced by the young parts. I desperately missed Em. But she’s not here now. Ouuuuccchh. And so I had a choice to make – suffer on until Friday or reach out to Anita and see if that might help.

From the off, Anita made it clear that she works VERY differently to Em. She has told me it’s fine to check in via text if I need to and that she will try and respond when she can although it may not be straight away. I rarely text her because I don’t need to. Just knowing that I can seems to create some kind of magic calm inside. So, I text her in the morning and told her that I was really struggling and feeling like I was face down in shame. She replied by offering a session – which I took and I felt the anxiety start to lift almost immediately.

By the time I got on screen – about an hour later – I was in a slightly more adult place so it felt kind of weird trying to explain that only an hour ago I wanted to crawl into a hole and die from the pain of it all. I thanked her for making time for me. She said that she could hear the need and had the time so it was more than fine.

I said it felt really different having reached out and got a response and have the need recognised and met when, with Em, if I reached out she’d ignore me, radio silence, and then give me a boundary talk the moment I sat down in session. I understand the idea about trying to keep the work in the room and the importance of the therapeutic frame but even Em acknowledged towards the end that it was retraumatising my young parts.

Anita said that it felt like Em was only willing to deal with my child parts when it suited her. I nodded. She said that sometimes there’s a need and if it can be met it’s helpful and healing to those of us with C-PTSD because we require a different level of care and absolute authenticity. We struggle so much with object constancy and trust that small gestures of care can really help cement the relationship and start to build the secure base. She said she is also aware of having to be the most authentic version of herself because people like us see through smoke and mirrors and then lose trust or fail to build it. Anita isn’t big on self-disclosure but I know enough about her to be able to trust her.

She went onto use an analogy that Em has used in the past. Em had once compared me to a hungry baby that, for whatever reason, wouldn’t feed in sessions and then was left uncontained and starving outside them. But we never worked out what to do with that, either to help soothe that young part outside sessions, or find a way of getting the nourishment in session.

It’s a shame. The problem was evident but the fix wasn’t. It was a complex situation and really it all came down to feeling uncontained and then feeling ashamed when I expressed a need because I was repeatedly told that I had to keep the work in the room. I really tried. But it just felt like in the week I was stranded on one river bank and Em was on the other. I needed some stepping stones, not even a bridge, but there were none and so I kept ending up drowning when I tried to reach the other side.

Anita said that a baby doesn’t scream and cry when it’s hungry in order to be difficult and annoy its mum. It does it because it has a real and genuine need. If a mum decides that she will only feed the baby when it suits her, perhaps with the idea of establishing some kind of routine, then actually what happens is that the baby is still hungry, it just learns that no one comes when it cries, no one feeds it, so in the end it learns to ignore its need. And she felt that’s what had happened in therapy with Em, it had kind of reinforced that sense of my need being seen but purposefully ignored because mum knows better. I had finally learnt to feel and be aware of my needs and once again the pattern was repeated. No one comes. No one cares.

Needless to say, I felt like Anita had seen right into my soul with that insight and completely got it. And we talked about how it’s not about being there 24/7 which is what Em seemed to panic about – because that’s not how it is. We aren’t in need of a permanent breast or being drip fed, but sometimes the need comes and it can be met and soothed really easily. If it’s left all hell can break loose. Over time, because we get our needs met (a check in, a text, three dots even) we learn that the mother/therapist is there and is willing to meet our need occasionally we actually end up being less hungry overall, and with time, grow up a bit, and wean – learning to feed ourselves but we reach a developmental stage where we can internalise the mother/therapist and object constancy becomes less of an issue. Unfortunately, Em seemed to think meeting that need would feed an addiction.

I feel like so much of my injury comes from such a young age -K says it started before I was even born, and that asking me to feed myself when I am in that baby state is just impossible. I haven’t hit that developmental stage yet. I will. But it’ll take time. And I totally get that it seems like absolute nonsense – I am after all a grown up with my own children…but my brain is really wily and has a spectacular knack of turning off my rational, thinking brain, and plummeting back in time to the place of being a terrified kid. I wish, sometimes, that our bodies could morph into the child state we are in, maybe that would make it easier for people to understand how fucking awful it is. You wouldn’t ignore a terrified, lost, crying toddler but because they’re locked inside an adult body we’re just seen as attention seeking nutters.

Anyway, on that positive note, I’ll leave it here for now because my body is having a meltdown and I think I might cry! The somatic response to emotional upset is insane, these days. To think I never used to feel anything, and now it’s like the switch gets rammed on high and the flood gates have opened. I can feel it all! Let’s hope one day I’ll learn to regulate…but right now it feels like my young parts are fighting over a metaphorical pacifier!

The Velveteen Rabbit (And How We Become Real)

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*Beware – this is a ridiculously long post. Grab a cuppa!

Last December I stumbled across the children’s book, ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams. Initially, I was drawn to the beautiful illustrations – I’ve always felt an affinity towards rabbits: my favourite childhood toy was a white rabbit with turquoise dungarees, I’ve had several rabbits as pets, and I once had a really powerful therapy session that started with a discussion of rabbits but opened up so many things!

From the moment I started reading it, I was hooked in and invested in the Rabbit’s story. I’m not surprised that it’s so many people’s favourite childhood book and I couldn’t believe that I was only just now reading it at the ripe old age of 36. I mean, I’ve seen a few quotes from the story here and there that have really resonated but never really connected that they came from an actual book – duh!! No prizes for brains!

There’s something about children’s stories and how they are able to simply convey quite complex messages that I love. I guess they speak to the young parts of me and frame emotional experiences in a way that those parts are able understand. There was a real lack of storytelling as I was growing up. I did not get bedtime stories, really. There wasn’t that consistent time to snuggle into a parent and share an adventure in a book – but more than that, the was never the closeness and safe time to feel held, contained, attached at the end of a day. Mum was never there, though, and I don’t think it really crossed dad’s mind how important that time is…although I remember he once made up a story about a lost bunny…and thinking about it I could tell you it word for word.

I am a bit militant about bedtime stories with my own children. From being tiny I have read to them both every single night apart from the one night they went camping and even then I sent them away with a story to have with my wife! It’s nothing to do with childhood literacy levels for me, though. As an English teacher I see first-hand the difference between those kids that have been read to, and fostered a love of books, and those that haven’t and how it impacts their academic progress. But I don’t read to my kids for this reason; for me it’s all about connection.

We have so many books in our house. So many favourites. We can still all recite ‘The Gruffalo’ word for word without having to look at it even though it’s been a good while since we’ve read it! The kids know most of the books so well that if I try and skip a bit or paraphrase to get through it, they know! Ha!

My daughter is 8 years old now, and my son is 5 and as I said, there has not been a single night that they haven’t had a story…or two! And even though my daughter is getting bigger now and a complete reading fiend, she still loves being read to. We are reading ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ together at the moment and it’s great.

Bedtime is the time that I tend to find out what’s going on with my kids. When they roll in from school and I ask them how their day was I’m usually greeted with, ‘fine’ or ‘good’. It’s not until bedtime when they’ve had chance to unwind, feel settled, safe, and close to me that I might find out if there is anything going on for them or if anything is worrying them. Bedtime stories are about so much more than books.

It wasn’t until I could read for myself that books became a massive part of my life. As soon as I was able, I would read whenever there was a free moment. I was that kid you’d see wandering around the school between lessons with their head in a book. I guess from a young age I needed to lose myself, escape into another world, and books afforded me that.

I think what I love most about children’s fiction is how, because the stories are relatively ‘simple’, we can overlay our own feelings and experiences. The stories are not so detailed that you can’t put yourself into them. It’s really easy to use a children’s book as mirror for your own inner world.

Another kids’ book I absolutely adore is, ‘The Heart And The Bottle’ by Oliver Jeffers. Some of you might remember the drama around the empty chair image that happened when I took the book to therapy and shared it with Em a couple of years ago… and then quickly disappeared down an emotional black hole in the session and in the break that followed! Really, I ought to have taken that as a template. Do not share books in therapy!

Anyway, like character in Jeffers’ book who puts her heart away safely in a bottle – when she experiences a significant loss – in order to prevent her having her heart broken further, the plight of the Rabbit in ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ resonated with me in relation to what I was feeling and experiencing in therapy at the time – the love, the sense of loss, the hope, and the quest of finally feeling ‘real’ one day. When I finished reading it, I instantly wanted to share it with Em. To be fair, I wanted to share all my feelings with Em I just got swallowed up in shame every time I tried to get near them or her.

It was coming up to Christmas and I decided that this year, after nearly 8 years, I would give her a gift and knew I wanted to give her a copy of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ as well as a glass snowflake that I had already bought. The snowflake linked back to a reference I had made a couple of years ago when I gave her a pop-up snowflake card. It was the analogy that I’d like to think that each therapeutic relationship is like a snowflake, we as clients know that we are one of many for our therapists but hopefully there’s something unique and special about each relationship. I mean essentially it was a, ‘you’re really important to me and I’d like to think, and hope, that maybe this relationship means something to you too’.

In addition to this, I had written a quote inside the card from Michael Rosen’s, ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’ (Ha! See, another children’s story!) and had written about the bit where they’re trapped in a ‘swirling whirling snow storm’ but that they ‘can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no! We’ve got to go through it’ which is such a great metaphor for therapy and so this year the glass snowflake seemed especially apt – still going through it and it’s still important to me.

It was a tough year inside the therapy room last year…and outside it too. My life seemed to throw up one bloody drama after another: my wife lost her job, we had issues with our donor, my grandparents disowned me for the second time, there was too much work and not enough time to ground myself and all this was going on alongside huge stuff being thrown up in the room. I felt so disconnected from Em. I was going round in ever tighter circles driving myself slowly insane. The attachment stuff was so alive and I was a dissociated mess a lot of the time. Being so close to someone you care about and yet feeling so distant and unimportant to them is unbelievably painful and being told, ‘I’m just your therapist’ doesn’t help. The mother wound has a lot to answer for!

I realised that part of me was running away from doing the work because I was always so busy. I couldn’t really let myself do what was needed in session because there was always a pressing need to be somewhere straight after, to put on a brave face and be ‘teacher’. I started trying to protect myself from the big feelings in the room so they wouldn’t spill out into my real life. Of course, that strategy did not work at all! I just dissociated because the feelings we absolutely there and then I was left with them between sessions, feeling shit. It was all a complete mess.

I knew I needed to make space to focus more on my therapy and so moved all my work out of Mondays and Fridays to enable me to really be in the moment…the irony is, I didn’t get to see if this would have made a difference because everything fell apart!

There was a significant amount of keeping Em out last year but, in my defence, that was largely because it felt like she didn’t really want to find a way in like she used to – and I guess given what she said to me towards the end of our time working together, what I thought I was picking up on was true. The shift in her perception of me feels stark: at one time she likened me to a baby that, for whatever reason, couldn’t feed (in sessions) and was then left feeling uncontained and hungry during the time between sessions and that felt really accurate and understanding and yet somehow by January that had shifted into her now seeing the young parts as parasitic, they were ‘adhesive’ and ‘tick like’. It’s not surprising that when I took a step towards her, showing her the level of need (huge), she recoiled and wanted to get away if her feelings had changed so much.

I had dream I had a couple of years ago where we were in a really hot dark room just off a busy roundabout in the city where I live. It was the summer and yet Em was wearing a rain coat (that she’d had in the room in our previous therapy) and it was completely unsuited to the situation and I couldn’t work out why she was dressed that way. She left the session ten minutes early and gave me a note to read after I had let myself out. I had to go on a run but it was rubbish and gave up. When I sat down to read the note it simply said, ‘I can’t work with you anymore’. I was devastated. I can still remember how horrendous it felt. It felt really hard bringing that to dream to session. Any dreams I had with Em in were always about her pushing me away in some way and they really impacted me. I so badly wanted to trust that she wouldn’t hurt me but I could never escape my dreams telling me otherwise.

At the time we spoke about this dream a bit but not really about the bit in the room between us – it’s always been hard to talk about what’s happening between us! It was one of those big dreams and hard to pick out what was important – I was fixated on my having to leave my watch (but probably avoiding the beginning because it was so painful) – but now I wonder if my unconscious was concerned about her feeling the need to be protected from me. The coat would stop her getting wet when working through my emotional storm, she could remain largely untouched by me. And then maybe her leaving the session early was my worry that she’d go/terminate before the work was done? I was upset by the note, and when we spoke about it she said that it seemed like a cowardly way to end a therapy and that is not how we would end. Only that’s kind of what did happen:

‘Thanks for letting me know your decision and I am sorry that I was not able to help you. I wish you well for the future’.

I know there was more to it in the end but – it would have ended on this had I not had a complete meltdown.

Anyway, whatever was going on at the it feels crap. I don’t know if she did, but when things started to feel so negative she ought to have taken it to supervision and worked through it. Maybe she did. I still don’t believe that she doesn’t have the competence to work with someone like me, I think there was all sorts going on in the room that neither of us could face head on at that point but I really feel like it’s been left in a complete mess.

I can really understand the frustration and feeling like whatever you do for someone it’s never enough, they keep wanting you to prove yourself over and over, so in the end you just give up trying because you never can be enough and whatever you think you are providing they seem incapable of seeing it or taking it in. I know at times Em said she felt blindfolded and useless working with me. I never thought she was useless. I just wanted to feel like she was really there with me rather than behind a screen – which is how it felt sometimes.

It can’t be easy being a therapist and having people throw all their stuff at you, project onto you, and not really get seen for who you are because it’s all clouded by the transference. I mean I do get that that is kind of what therapy is about but it must be exhausting repeatedly being faced with, ‘I can’t trust you, you don’t care enough’. And who knows what might have been going on in her own life. She never told me anything about her and for all I know she could have been experiencing problems in her personal life or at work. If her resources felt depleted then having someone who has so much need would probably have felt too much. I don’t know.

It was so hard at the end of last year. And yet, there was a part of me that believed we were in it for the long haul and whatever was going on in that weird melting pot that we call therapy we’d be ok. Despite how bad things felt and how messy it seemed to be getting – especially round Christmas- I must have felt there was something underneath that was solid enough to hold it, to contain my various feelings of disappointment, anger, and of course love…and shame… and that we would land back on more solid ground once whatever was playing out had run out of energy.

I guess it felt a bit like the storm I talked about in one of my first blogs, the tornado would eventually touch down and we’d look back at what had happened and take a few deep breaths, check our footing and try and make sense of it all – together.

As it turned out, giving Em the book and snowflake at Christmas fell on its arse. I mean it really was a spectacular wipe out. Both gifts were massively significant to me at that time. Because it had been such a gruelling year, I wanted to somehow show Em that whilst I might be making noises about it all feeling pointless, and shit, and wanting to leave, and repeatedly testing whether we she was safe, that actually there were so many parts that wanted to stay, to work through it, and to move forward – together.

I guess, now, looking back, you could say that the gifts came from my eleven-year-old self. She’s the one who often got overlooked in therapy. In fact, when I first mapped out my inner dynamics Em realised that she was very aware of the others (the youngest ones and the teens and the Critic) but had absolutely no idea about Eleven.

It’s always been that part that has given Em things (the marble and gem stones) and it is her, I think, that has most been hurt by the ending of the therapy. She is a good girl, she doesn’t ask for anything, and behaves – you wouldn’t know she’s there. She has experienced a lot of hurt though, and out of all the parts of me I’d argue she needs the most support because she’s wondering why nothing she does is ever good enough. It’s her that feels completely unlovable and rejected. She kept quiet most of the time but really wanted to believe that Em could help…eventually.

Gifts can reveal a lot in a therapeutic relationship, and had Em actually taken a moment to think about this with me and explore it I suspect these could have been the conversations that dragged us out the shit and back onto a slightly more solid path. However, it was clear from the first session back after Christmas, via Skype (where I ended the call twenty minutes early), that she wanted to push me away (maybe not consciously), and basically rejected the gifts straight off without wondering anything more about them. To her, at that time, me giving her anything was seen as an intrusion, pushing boundaries, and trying to get inside her. Even typing this now thinking about how rejecting it felt still makes my tummy hurt.

It felt especially rejecting when she said she was wrong to accept the gifts and in future she’d prefer it if I didn’t give her stuff. Earlier in the year I’d given her two gem stones, she had said that when people give her things she keeps them, and at the end of the therapy often clients take things back as a symbol of the work they’d done together. I didn’t like this. To me, the idea of having a gift returned feels really rejecting, kind of like ‘you’re gone now, take your stuff back with you – leave no trace’ – I guess it’s another example of  the ‘out of sight out of mind’ thing. Almost, ‘I have to keep you in mind when you’re paying me but once you’re going I’ll clear the decks’. Anyway, what happened in January now felt like, ‘I accept gifts I just don’t want to accept YOUR gifts’. Oh man. This hurts. So much.

A couple of sessions later, after reiterating at least once in each session that she ‘shouldn’t have accepted the gifts’ – every time it felt like she was kicking me in the stomach and pushing me away -she asked me what the significance of the book had been. I was so upset at that point that there was no way on earth I was going to vulnerable and tell her what it had meant to me. Maybe if I had been able to engage then things could have been different but I just wasn’t anywhere close to being in my window (letterbox!) of tolerance.

It’s funny, my feelings on the book have changed a bit as this has all unfolded with Em but this is why I wanted to bring ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ into my therapy in the first place- there are so many meanings and messages and it speaks to me and all the parts that have been hurt or are hurting and clearly it’s not all about Em, it’s about my mum too and other significant relationships.

All I can say is it feels like there was a massive opportunity missed but, now, almost six months down the line I feel like I want to try and explain, because as Maya Angelou said, ‘there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you’. The person I want to hear it is gone but I need to get it out somehow even if there’s no one to process it with. So, this is my take on it but I recommend the book to everyone because everyone will apply their own narrative to what’s there.

I have no idea how this might come out as I try and lace the story together with my therapy story! But here goes:

The book begins, ‘There was once a Velveteen Rabbit, and in the beginning, he was really splendid’ and I guess, for me, this is kind of how we all start off, when we are born. We are perfect. There is so much possibility and potential (under the right conditions). Maybe, if we are lucky, at the beginning, in our childhoods we might get something like enough love and care. It looks promising for the Rabbit, ‘for at least two hours the Boy loved him.’ And this love might give us enough of a sense of safety and security to function effectively. But then, unfortunately, for many of us, for whatever reason, things go wrong ‘the Velveteen Rabbit was forgotten’ and I think that’s what I felt, and experienced growing up -that feeling of being forgotten about, or at least not prioritised.

I mean, straight away, I identified with that poor bunny! Feeling unimportant and forgettable has come up in so many of my therapy sessions. My childhood for the most part felt pretty barren. I was shoved from one childminder to another, mum was rarely there. I was there but not really, ‘for a long time he lived in the toy cupboard or on the nursery floor, and no one thought very much about him’. I learned to get on with it. Kids are amazing like that. When you aren’t contained and held safely you find a way to live, shelve your needs, and basically survive. How many of us can relate to that in our formative years?

I was a good girl, didn’t cause any trouble, and behaved. My heart aches for the Rabbit – but also for myself. To experience a moment of having been loved and then being swiftly forgotten is horrendous. When I look back, I can really find only one memory of being held by mum. I was really ill after a reaction to my pre-school vaccinations, my leg had swollen up, I had a huge temperature, and had puked everywhere. I remember sitting on the sofa and being cuddled. But only that once.

What I also remember, though, is the moment I left the surgery, walking home, complaining to my parents that my leg really hurt, that it was really itchy, that I felt ill and both of them telling me to ‘stop moaning and grow up, it’s only an injection – you didn’t make any fuss last time’. I didn’t say anything after that, and despite feeling rotten and poorly I stayed in my room. It wasn’t until I was sick everywhere that they looked at my leg and called the out of hours doctor. I must have been four years old. I wonder now if the cuddle was because the doctor was coming and because they felt guilty?

You learn really quickly to not express needs when they aren’t met and I guess this must have been about the same time that I burnt myself on the barbecue and told no one and still have a scar from it. What the point in reaching out when no one listens, or if you do say something they shame you or push you away?

The Rabbit was ‘naturally shy’ and ‘was made to feel himself very insignificant and commonplace’ among the other toys in the nursery who were flashy, had moving parts, and were not filled with ‘saw dust’. I relate to this feeling of not fitting in. I have always been good at making friends but there’s always been a part that has like I am on the outside looking in. Part of the crowd but slightly to one side. My favourite film as a child was ‘Santa Claus The Movie’ and I really related to the boy character who had no one and pressed his nose up against the cold window of a girl’s house on Christmas Eve– she seemed to have everything and he had nothing.

I remember going to friends’ houses when I was younger and noticing how ‘happy’ their families seemed, how at ease they were with one another, how attentive their parents were. I longed for that but my mum always seemed to think that ‘those’ people were ‘weird’ and ‘living in each other’s pockets’ and that it was bizarre that mums chose to be there at the school gates rather than pursue a career.

Fortunately, for the Rabbit there is another figure in the nursery, the Skin Horse who is wise and understands how things work, a kind of mentor who’s been there and done it all before! And when I read about it, part of me placed Em in this role but I guess over the years there’ve been a few teachers who have made me feel like perhaps I am not as shit as I feel, too.

‘The Skin Horse who had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by and by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.’

The Rabbit becomes preoccupied with the idea of being Real which I guess is what most of us are wondering about. How do we get to a place where the emptiness inside goes and we feel whole?

“What is Real?” asked the Rabbit […] “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick out handle?”

It’s the Skin Horse that gives the Rabbit hope. The Rabbit feels plain, and not good enough, and yet it becomes clear that those other toys in the nursery that seem to be all show, will never have a chance to become Real. I guess this is like life. Some people are quite happy in their bubble of denial and on the surface seem to be the complete package but there’s something a bit one dimensional to them. They never look inside themselves, nor would they ever think to, because everything seems so fine. But I’ve never been a ‘model of anything’, I’m not a mechanical toy. I’ve always been the Bunny!

How do we become our true selves and live authentically, then? Is it something we can do on our own? Does someone else make it happen? Or does the magic happen in relationship? I believe that becoming Real happens in relationship and it is this relationship then enables us to then be Real on our own. If we are lucky, this might happen within our own family units, at the optimum time when we are still children, but for lots of us this trying to become Real happens when we enter therapy and commit to making a change.

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

I mean this surely won’t be lost on anyone that’s doing depth work and attachment therapy! The feeling of coming to life because you are seen and cared for is the thing that makes all the difference. Feeling like it’s ok to be exactly who you are and connect with all the parts that make you whole is huge

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

Not sure I agree with ‘not minding’ being hurt, but then I can see that becoming Real can be a painful process – it’s not all bad – and that lots of growth comes in therapy through rupture and repair…if there can be a repair!

The Rabbit goes on, “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” And I guess this is a bit like us, in therapy searching for the answers, hoping that it’ll be a quick fix and in no time, we’ll be wound up and Real, but the reality is that it’s a slow process. Or at least it has been where I’ve been concerned!

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

And this is the reality of long-term work isn’t it? It’s not easy. It takes time. And it requires a fair amount of resilience. It can feel a bit soul destroying when things feel stuck and you can almost see the end goal but just can’t seem to move any further towards it. It’s not easy when you feel like you’re falling apart rather than coming together.

‘The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him’
I guess once we commit to the process there’s no going back. You’ve got to be all in.

Anyway, the story continues and one day the Boy loses a toy that he usually takes to bed with him and Nana randomly picks up the Bunny and hands him to the Boy. That night and for many nights after the Rabbit slept in Boy’s bed and the Rabbit becomes his favourite toy. They have all kinds of play adventures together. The Rabbit is happy.

Then one day the Rabbit gets left outside because the Boy has to run in for his tea. He can’t sleep without his bunny and asks Nana to go fetch him from the garden. Nana laughs at him suggesting it’s a lot of fuss for a toy and the boy replies, “He isn’t a toy. He’s REAL!” At that moment the Rabbit is so filled with joy because he has finally been loved enough to be considered Real. He’s achieved what the Skin Horse said.

The thing is, it doesn’t last because life isn’t like that…especially if you have an Inner Critic ready to pounce on anything positive. It’s amazing how you can experience good, get a taste of what it might be like to feel Real, and then the sadistic bastard comes along and tries to undermine it. This happened so many times in my therapy. Whenever Em would say something positive or I’d feel really connected to her the Critic would come up behind me and start questioning the reality of what I felt, ‘She doesn’t really care, why would she?…you’re not good enough.’ And for some reason it’s easier to trust the Critic than the person in front of you that demonstrates care week in week out.

Rabbit encounters his own version of the Critic. He’s outside one day and he meets some real-life bunnies. They tease him – shame him- because he doesn’t have any hind legs and ‘doesn’t smell right’. The rabbit is upset by the live bunnies’ goading, “He isn’t a rabbit at all! He isn’t Real!” He replies, “I am Real! […] I am Real! The Boy said so!” And he nearly began to cry.

It’s so sad. Because this is what happens, you start to feel like you are changing that things are getting better, that maybe you aren’t worthless after all – and then you beat yourself up and sabotage the process to the point where you doubt the reality. Oh – it’s so thoroughly depressing! Fortunately, as times goes on the Critic seems to take more of a backseat, well sometimes. You realise it’s there for a reason, and that it’s trying to protect you. You can’t always get round it, but more and more frequently you can stand up to it and tell it to sit in the corner.

So. What next? The Boy falls ill with Scarlet Fever and throughout this time the Rabbit stays close to him willing for him to get well. They may be stuck in a pretty awful place (as can happen in therapy sometimes!) but they are stuck together and there is a belief that things will improve, eventually if you can bear to stick it out. The Rabbit loses his shape and gets further worn out but he is unconcerned about this because he knows that, ‘when you are Real, shabbiness doesn’t matter’ and he is Real when he is with the Boy and that’s all that matters.

And that’s kind of how it feels when people outside the therapy room suggest that maybe you’re not improving quickly enough and seem worse rather than better. To the outside world it might seem like you’re willingly exposing yourself to Scarlet Fever when actually all around the Scarlet Fever is a protective force field, an important relationship which actually sees you through dealing with the illness. We feel Real, maybe for the first time, with our therapists.

People criticising my progress, or lack of it, used to feel shaming in the early days, but with time I began to see that to make significant changes and to become Real not just ‘better’ you have to strip everything back, remove the layers of varnish and veneer and discover what’s really underneath – it’s not about painting another layer of varnish over to keep up appearances! Therapy is not a quick fix and becoming Real, as the Skin Horse says, ‘takes time’ – and as therapists all good therapist like to say happens, ‘bit by bit’!

It’s about discovering, finding out about, and learning to tolerate the parts of yourself that you aren’t so keen to show the outside world (and sometimes even yourself). There are lots of reasons why parts might be kept hidden. It may be because they’re not all that likeable (the shadow), or perhaps because they’ve been so injured in the past that it feels inconceivable that you’d ever expose them to the light of day again.

Becoming comfortable with all the parts, good or bad, raging or needy, working through feelings – the shame – the love- in the presence of an ‘other’ (who actually might prefer your authentic self) and realising that you’re not perfect but more than ‘good enough’ is all part of becoming Real. And when you start to feel Real you care less and less about what people outside think.

So, the Rabbit stays with the Boy through the illness because he feels a strong bond and connection to him and it is the relationship with the boy that has made him Real. It is only the Boy who truly sees him, knows him, and loves him in spite of how he now looks. Others have teased him, belittled him, and not valued him but it feels different with the Boy. He loves the Boy…so much.

And this is how it feels in therapy, when the attachment stuff kicks in. Being in that room changes you slowly, your mask is off, you gradually remove your armour, you take a bit of a battering, you certainly don’t look pristine anymore! You are completely exposed and vulnerable in that space but at the same time, you’re seen, maybe for the first time and that does make you feel Real. Of course it does. Like the Bunny, your fur is worn away but, in the end, you’re left with the core of who you are and if you’re lucky you might just start to have a bit of compassion towards that person and that’s where the magic happens. You learn to love yourself through being loved.

Sadly, for whatever reason, it doesn’t always work out in the nursery/therapy. Sometimes it can happen that you believe you are safe, loved despite your flaws, and that you are important to the Boy/therapist and then something unexpected knocks everything for six. In the Rabbit’s case, the Doctor visits the Boy and tells Nana that now he is recovered the nursery needs to be stripped bare of everything and disinfected. When Nana asks what should be done with the Rabbit, he replies, “That?” […] “Why, it’s a mass of scarlet fever germs! – Burn it at once.’ The Doctor doesn’t know the Rabbit is Real, it is only Real to the Boy and so he treats it at face value: a faded, worthless, potentially dangerous thing and dismisses it from the room.

And this is how it felt at the end of my therapy. I thought I was in a relationship with the Skin Horse, or The Boy but actually, it seems that at the end it was really the Doctor. When it came to it, I was easily discarded, abandoned, and rejected – not good enough to stay – symbolically, ‘put into a sack with the old pictures-books and a lot of rubbish and carried out to the end of the garden behind the fowl-house’ ready to be burned. The pain of rejection from this ending is massive to me.

In the book, the Rabbit is left outside and is not burned straight away because the gardener is busy doing something else. Instead, the Rabbit manages to find his way out of the rubbish sack and discovers that he is completely alone and abandoned. He is so sad. Conversely, ‘that night the boy slept in a different bedroom, and he had a new bunny, all white and plush with real glass eyes’. And it feels to me a bit like how the therapist has a shiny new client and is absolutely fine, recovered from the fever and is able to move on whilst I can only look on and wonder at what has befallen me.

The Boy is safe and happy. That’s not the case for the Velveteen Rabbit whose ‘coat had worn so thin and threadbare from hugging that it was no longer any protection to him’. He’s left out in the cold and without the very thing that had kept him warm – the Boy – but in addition to this, he’s no longer in possession of his own coat that had once protected him. And this is how it felt to me. I had just laid myself bare, I was stripped back, painfully exposed, defences down and rather than becoming Real it seems that, instead, I was deemed inadequate. Like the Bunny I was suddenly, and unexpectedly out in the cold.

The loss is so acute it’s hard to put in words, even now. And I have tried. I’m usually pretty good with words but it has proved hard to capture just how awful this feels. I still can’t believe that I can’t see her, that we won’t somehow work this out now the dust has settled and things aren’t so activated.

When the therapy with Em terminated I was left shocked and, like the Rabbit, I questioned everything, ‘what use was it to be loved and lose one’s beauty and become Real if it all ended like this?’ And I cried. So many tears. Tears where there have previously been none. The tears that have been stuck inside for years and years. The sadness was acute, for me and for the Rabbit.

Tears are significant, though. They are a release. And accessing this pain (not just from this event but from all the stored-up feelings surrounding loss and abandonment from the original wounding #motherwound) and allowing it to come out rather than bottling it up is important. My heart isn’t kept in a bottle now, but because it’s on my sleeve it’s now more prone to getting broken. When I get hurt I can cry (sometimes!) and that’s significant. In the story the Rabbit cries ‘a real tear’ and it falls down on to the ground. It’s real grief. Real loss. Real pain.

The Rabbit’s single tear feels absolutely tragic, as a reader we feel the devastation (or maybe that’s just me!). The pursuit of Realness in the relationship with the Boy seems, at this point, only to have caused the Rabbit pain and loneliness. He feels abandoned and rejected. Maybe he would have been better left in the cupboard and never experienced the relationship at all.

A moment later, out from where the Rabbit’s tear had landed, grows a ‘mysterious flower’. It’s unlike anything the Rabbit has seen before. I guess in a way, this tear, the Rabbit’s own particular version of grief, when it finally comes (and we know how hard it can be to access those feelings and let them come), in the end produces something unexpectedly transformational.

As the flower blooms, out pops the nursery magic Fairy. She explains that she looks after the toys when they are old and worn out and turns them into Real. The Rabbit is confused. He believes he is already Real. “You were Real to the Boy”, she explains “because he loved you. Now you shall be real to everyone”.

The Fairy, who seems to be a product of the Rabbit getting in touch with his feelings transforms him into Real. ‘Instead of dingy velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he went springing about the turf on them, jumping.’ And I guess this is the version of Real I am aiming for. Whether it’s possible or not remains a question but I do think that having to really get in touch with the pain I have been holding for a lifetime through the loss of Em might actually be the thing that helps me become Real. She helped me begin to feel Real, the Boy’s version, but it is up to me to get to the final real-life version of Real.

The story ends when, sometime later, the Boy comes across the Rabbit in the garden and feels he is familiar in some way. He recognises the markings are the same as his old Velveteen Rabbit, ‘but he never knew that it really was his own Bunny, come back to look at the child who had first helped him to become Real.’ In so many ways I feel like this now. There’s lots about me that is the same but there are things that have completely changed. I wonder, now, if Em would recognise me?

The great thing about therapy, and finding yourself is as the Skin Horse says at the beginning ‘Once you are Real you can’t become unreal again’.

I so wish that we could talk about this. Well, not only this, but it would be a great place to start.