*Tea or coffee recommended alongside this post!
I wrote most of this last night and have just finished up this morning…I find it staggering how much my mood can change in just twelve hours. Yesterday I was stuck in the pit of doom – it was awful, and today I feel fine. It’s like bloody Jekyll and Hyde. Or rather, today I think my adult has come back online after a week of being dictated to by the young parts and the protector. I am not going to go back and edit this again to reflect my, now, better mood!
It’s been one of those weeks where everything has just felt terribly wrong and shit. I’ve been drowning in shame and loneliness, and generally just feeling crap in my body: overwhelm, panic, dissociation… the usual attachment stuff – disaster zone!…
And then just to top it off today, the blog post I was about twenty minutes from finishing and posting has disappeared from my laptop without a trace. I hadn’t saved the Word document (I always write on Word first) but usually these things are retrievable… not this time! I mean it’s not the end of the world, losing the post, but having spent a good couple of hours writing I feel like part of me just wants to say, ‘Yeah, the return to face-to-face again has been interesting – good, bad, crazy, and things are going ok-ish’.
I’m actually exhausted and honestly feel like I am playing in my own little orchestra and creating a cacophony of noise with tiny, whiny, little violins! 😦
Anyway, no one wants to hear me rattle on like this, so let’s give this post a whirl (again). Come on RB – get your shit together (my mantra for the last twenty years!!)!
So, last Thursday saw the return to face-to-face therapy (thank god!). Usually, I see Anita on Mondays and Fridays but I am such a monumental loser that I couldn’t actually wait until Friday to see her after how the three weeks online had been. I have been hanging on by a thread and was just desperate to see her again and wanted to try and fast track my way out of the pit of doom and disconnect that I had fallen into online. Frankly, my nervous system needed a break. It’s been in perpetual flight mode this whole time (although that’s pretty much my default…along with freeze!) and needed regulating.
My heart was beating rapidly as I walked up Anita’s drive. I was anxious but another part of me felt like I was coming home after the weeks away and working online. She had decorated her garden with Christmas lights and my inner child – who loves sparkly lights and snowmen – was delighted. Anita opened the door and I hugged her immediately, she told me it was great to see me and I smiled inside and then walked into the room and sat down.
It was so nice to see her but a part of me was terrified that things would have changed, that my complete meltdowns online would have pushed her away (even if she says she’s a boomerang), that I would go in and face some kind of ‘talk’ about boundaries and being ‘intrusive’ and ‘demanding’ – the painful narrative that is branded into my brain.
I appreciate none of this is coming from anything Anita has said or done – I have Em to thank for this – but I’m noticing more and more that I am struggling with the fears around being rejected and abandoned as we’ve moved into December. I guess it’s hardly surprising as we approach the anniversary of everything going wrong with Em, but it’s not easy to cope with. It’s exhausting in fact. No matter how many times I tell myself that it’s going to be ok, or Anita does, there’s that young part inside that is just absolutely beside herself in a panic…and that can set off a chain reaction inside where all the parts lose their shit!
After all the time online, I really desperately wanted to reconnect with A in our session. The young parts just wanted to cuddle into her and find some sense of safety again after what has been such a destabilising time.
Oh, if only it were as simple as that!
I have been on overdrive panicking about being ‘too much’, ‘too needy’, and ‘too intense’ and so whilst I really wanted to be close to Anita, there was a part of me warning me to stay away because they are terrified of everything going wrong. I may really need and want to be held by Anita but surely at some point she’s going to get fed up of me and push me away. The idea of being rebuffed or kept at arm’s length sends me into a shame spiral – so it’s easier to keep my distance – at least that way I am in control. It might cause me a lot of pain to keep back but at least it’s me that’s causing it.
I know how mental this all sounds but it really is the product of my system being flooded with genuine terror that history is going to repeat itself this year. I’ll lose another therapist…unless I tone it down a bit. And so over this last week, on and off, there has been a desperate battle inside: there’s the part that just so badly needs touch and holding and reassurance and the other part who is trying to make sure we don’t lose that by being too much now- the need is still there but I am trying to hide it – and failing miserably and feeling shit in the process.
I told you I was mental! I understand what’s going on inside but I seem absolutely powerless to do anything about it in the moment. As I have said so many times, adult me just isn’t bloody there when she needs to be and it’s the younger parts and protectors battling it out in the room.
Anyway, back to the room. Anita had sat down in her chair and immediately my system had gone into a panic. ‘Why is she over there? What’s changed? Why does she want to keep her distance?…’ It’s amazing how the smallest of things can trigger and internal meltdown. Anita was warm, open, smiling and yet because she’d sat in her chair everything fell apart inside. Somehow, I managed to tell A that I didn’t want her to sit where she was and she came and sat beside me. It was better, but because my system had triggered into worrying that she wanted to be away from me, it still felt like she was a desperately long way away. I couldn’t look at her and internally it was mayhem.
I felt awkward and just incredibly needy. I wanted to reach out, but there was that internal resistance kicking in fuelled by the doubt of those beginning couple of minutes. What if she doesn’t want me near her now?
I was determined not to get sucked into a huge dissociation and tried to dig myself out before I disappeared. During the break, if you can call it that, I had ordered Anita a sloth Christmas decoration and card to give her when we finally got back to the room and I had it ready to give her when I saw her.
I can’t remember what I wrote inside the card but it was something about thanking her for putting up with me recently (!!!). The sloth was a throwback to a kind of ‘in joke’ we have about having an inner sloth sometimes (all the time!). I really wanted to give it to her because I wanted her to know that I value her and am grateful for what she does for me and that I am aware of how challenging it must be working with a fruit cake like me.
I wish it was as simple as just handing these things over – but it’s not. I felt a wave of nausea and shame engulf me as I gave Anita the envelope. This is the legacy of working with Em and what happened last Christmas and the rejection of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. There is now so much anxiety around giving gifts that it feels utterly awful – which is such a shame because I definitely think my love language is gift giving. When I give people things it’s never about the cost, it’s about the symbolism, and so a rejection of the gift by Em last year felt like a rejection of me and my love. It’s little wonder I feel nervous now giving A things. Having said that, she seemed to really like the crystal egg I gave her when the first lockdown ended so that’s a start of repairing the damage.
I really need to get it into my head that Anita, is not Em (repeat repeat repeat…when will it sink in?!) and she responded so positively to the card and sloth. You’d think that would be enough for me to go, ‘Phew! It’s safe! She’s the same. Nothing has changed. The relationship is real. There’s no need to be scared.’ But that would be far too logical and straightforward. Because I had been braced for rejection, even when Anita was anything but rejecting, I found it hard to take her in. She felt a million miles away – or I did. I guess I was protecting myself for a possible rejection and had retreated.
It wasn’t her, it was me.
The intense shame I feel for needing her, needing to be close to her, was rising and I could feel myself slipping away.
Anita said, ‘It hasn’t been difficult to put up with you’ – in reference to what I had written in the card.
‘It has. It has been difficult to put up with me’ I moaned.
Anita was using the calm, soothing voice – you know the one – and replied, ‘I think it would be if I didn’t understand it but I do. I really do.’
And I know she gets it. She frequently demonstrates just how much she understands complex trauma and why I am the way I am. As I have said before, she has this amazing capacity to drain the shame away. She talks to me like there’s nothing wrong with me, that how I am is completely reasonable given what’s happened to me. It’s a world away from the pathologising that happened with Em at the end.
‘It’s been hard for you hasn’t it?’ Anita asked.
‘It’s really good to see you’ she said.
I could hear her words but I just had nowhere to hang them.
Overwhelm was creeping in.
Anita was giving me all the cues that things were ok and that we were ok still, and yet there was this part of me that just couldn’t move towards her. When it’s like that I need her to physically reach out to me and give me a definitive green light that it’s ok to be close.
I sat there frozen saying nothing for a while. My body felt tense and I wanted to cry. It was agony being so close to A but essentially as far away as ever. ‘What’s happening for you now? You look like you have an internal battle going on’ she wondered. A small voice said, ‘I don’t feel like I am here’ I felt like retreating deep inside myself – I guess trying to find some sense of safety.
With so much understanding and warmth A said, ‘You are here and I am here…. But it feels like it’s not real?’ I sighed. Inside the little part was longing to be told it was ok to come closer. The possibility of sitting there feeling disconnected for very much longer made me feel sick. ‘I don’t feel very good.’ I groaned.
I still hadn’t managed to look at Anita. I think if was able to make eye contact it’d probably make things feel much better but again there is that part that is too scared to look in case there’s something negative to read in her expression – or maybe worse still – no expression at all. Still face is so triggering to my young parts.
Gently Anita asked, ‘Do you want a hug?’
‘Come here and have a hug.’
Hooray – green light, right?
Yes. But no.
I was fixed to the spot. I so badly wanted to move but I couldn’t allow myself to go. You can imagine the wailing that was coming from the little ones inside. How can it be that Anita is reaching out with open arms and yet there is a part of me that can’t trust it, or actually it’s not that, it just doesn’t want to risk it being withdrawn – and I suppose the reality is, in not a great deal of time, the next break begins and so there’s a part that wants to protect against the vulnerability and attachment because when she’s gone the child parts are all at sea again. It makes sense, but disconnecting when I’m in the room makes things so much worse outside it- and yet it’s a pattern I fall into time and again.
‘I’m not going to push anything on you’ she soothed ‘I am here for when you’re ready – a bit like the story with the rabbit, I’m here to be whatever you want me to be’.
I don’t think I have mentioned about the book, ‘The Rabbit Listened’ here yet, but recently I came across a children’s book (oh but of course!) about a child that was having a bad time, lots of animals came to offer advice on how to get through it but none of it helped. In the end a rabbit showed up and just sat and waited until the child was ready to do whatever he needed to move forward. In the end because it was on the child’s timeline and not the animals’ that had given advice, and he could do all the grieving and raging and feeling that he needed.
I sent Anita the link and told her that she was my rabbit, and just like the sloth had been one of ‘our things’ the rabbit is now another. My young parts really like it when she signs a message with a bunny emoji.
Do you know, writing this now, I feel like such a colossal dickhead behaving the way I have this last week– because thinking about all this here just really demonstrates how safe Anita is. I just wish my system would get the memo and file it somewhere rather than keep getting stuck in this agonising hell hole.
Anita told me a story about a time with her grandson when he’d hurt himself and he’d pushed her away and how she had waited on the floor next to him until he was ready and then eventually he hugged her. She said she felt like what was going on with us, now, was similar. ‘I don’t know what you need’, she said, ‘but you do, so I’m just going to sit here. I can guess what you need and can offer it, but only you know. It might be hard to access it…does this make sense?’
But, still, I was frozen. I so desperately wanted to reach out. But I was so dysregulated that it was reaching the point where I wanted to run away because it felt like I was torturing myself. It is so fucking painful when this stuff happens. It’s like being trapped. Why is it so hard to be vulnerable and get what you need- even when it’s being given to you on a platter? I mean thinking back to an earlier metaphor, Anita was literally showing me the cupboard full of chocolate, offering me it, had actually unwrapped a bar, and yet the part of me that is so conditioned to only being allowed pears couldn’t reach for it.
‘What’s happening? What are you thinking?’ she wondered. ‘I can’t come into your world if you don’t let me… What do you need?’ she asked.
‘I don’t know.’ I whispered. At this point I was so far gone that there weren’t even the words to say, ‘I need a cuddle’ but actually whenever I go silent and frozen that is what I need. Always. Touch is such a powerful tool. It tells me I am safe, that I am accepted, and that I’m ok as I am. It reaches through the protector and soothes the youngest parts.
It was quiet for a while and Anita asked me again what I was thinking. I managed to tell her that I didn’t feel safe. I don’t know what wasn’t feeling safe, I think probably the feeling of being disconnected and alone. I find that really scary. Being in the presence of another person but being unable to connect with them feels really awful to me even when it is me that is in hiding. Anita asked me what would help to make it feel safe and again I couldn’t respond because there is so much shame wrapped up in, ‘I need you’.
‘I want to tell you’ Anita said, ‘I’ve bought you a present as well. I’ve bought you your own beating heart necklace. I just haven’t collected it yet…’
I literally could not believe what I was hearing. I mean…that’s huge…MASSIVE huge…in that couple of sentences it was like Anita had taken a great big sledgehammer to the wall that I had built around myself and was showing me in no uncertain terms that she cares about me – a lot. I mean I honestly cannot believe that she would do this for me. I couldn’t even drag so much as ‘I care about you’ out of Em and here is A thinking about me and buying me something that is meaningful and significant. Blown away doesn’t even cover it.
I felt really stupid for sitting there silent and distanced when it was clearly not coming from Anita. I mean I do get it, this is my messy system doing it’s thing, but here was yet another enormous reminder that Anita is real and genuine…and gets me…and isn’t going anywhere.
I instantly moved over to her and cuddled her. My body was shaking and all the stuff I had been holding for the last few weeks came up and out. The tears…oh my fucking god…for someone that has never cried in therapy until this year I seem to be crying quite a bit! The rest of this session was lots of crying and sniffing and generally being an emotional wreck and feeling all the feelings. All the grief and the stuff about fear of abandonment was right there but I was only able to get to it because I was close to A. The littlest parts can’t say what’s wrong or let themselves express this stuff if they aren’t held. I guess this comes from a lifetime of no one being there and so learning it’s not safe to feel.
‘I feel stupid’ I moaned.
A replied, ‘You’re hurt, that’s what it is, you’re not stupid.’
And having gone from feeling like I was on a completely different planet to A a few minutes before I now felt so connected that I was able to tell her that I loved her.
‘I love you too, I do’ she said.
That was exactly what I needed to hear and it felt so settling but then behind that, a sadness washed over me. I told A what I was feeling. She asked me what the sadness was about but I didn’t know or have words for it at that point. I think it’s something about how kind and nice Anita is to me and yet Em was repulsed by me and my child parts. Trying to take in the love and care that Anita gives so freely is bittersweet, in a way, because the contrast against what I am used to is so enormous.
How can one therapist be so cold, mean, and dismissive (her last words to me were, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t help you but it is what is and it’s time to stop’. There wasn’t even a ‘goodbye’ or a ‘take care’.) and the other so warm and loving… when I am the same? Or actually, I am a fucking clingy, needy nightmare now (!) and yet Anita still loves me despite all this. I am really, really struggling with it because to hold the idea that Anita actually can love me means that I have to change the patterning that is ‘there is something fundamentally wrong with me’ and somehow adjust it to, ‘it wasn’t my fault’ (what happened with Em).
Easier said than done, that’s for sure.
As the young parts had settled in and felt safe, the gushy stuff flowed, ‘I missed you’ I whined. I find it amazing that I can even say that, when expressing anything remotely vulnerable used to make me feel sick because it was never met well.
‘I missed you too.’ Replied Anita ‘And you’re right it’s not the same as on a screen’ and she hugged me closer into her body. I said how hard it had been working online and A acknowledged it and agreed that it has been tough for me.
The conversation shifted and we spoke about all sorts of stuff from books to emails from my blog readers.
‘I’m sorry’, I said. Sometimes I smack face first into the reality of how I have behaved and reacted and I realise just how bloody difficult I have been. I don’t mean to be. I am not planning to be a nightmare but so much has been triggered lately that it’s been hard to hold it. It’s all coming out in a tangled mess.
With so much feeling and kindness in her voice A said, ‘You don’t need to be sorry. You haven’t chosen any of this. It’s not your fault. And you’re ok. And I’m ok with you. I really am. I don’t have to be here. I am here because I want to be. There’s a big difference. And you are worth it.’ Those words felt like another warm, soapy bucket of ‘Shame Remover’ had been thrown over me and it felt so nice. I appreciate it’s nuts just how much reassurance I seem to need but these buckets need to fill an empty reservoir and it’s going to take time.
A and I both seem to like nature. Or at least we both own dogs and have to go outside quite a lot! Sometimes we send each other photos of the walks we have been on and recently A sent me some of a place she had been where lots of trees had been felled. It looked so barren and empty. I don’t know why I asked about it in the session but somehow it came up and we spoke about how it looks awful now but it will make way for other things to grow. A said that actually that was a good metaphor for me, ‘Once the scars of the abuse have been healed you’ll see how beautiful you are.’
The problem is, it feels like that healing is such a long way off. I mean part of me knows it’s not. Part of me sees it happening every day, in little bits…but sometimes when things feel so desperately hard and I am struggling to keep all my plates spinning and am down to my last spoon, healing this complex trauma feels like an impossible task.
The other week I sent A something about Object Constancy – it really explained how it feels to not be able to hold ‘the other’ in mind and the panic that happens as a result. I asked A how she thinks something so fundamental can heal. Like if you miss a foundational developmental milestone then how on earth can you mend it?
‘How does it fix?’ A asked. ‘I’m going to sound like Carl Rogers here, but I really believe it’s all in the relationship, it makes a huge difference.’ She talked about how the need for unconditional love was important because that’s the area where the damage had occurred. Our parents should have done this and yet instead this is where things went wrong. She talked about how our relationship was different from others in my life which is something we had spoken about at the very beginning when we met. I told her, then, that I wanted a real and genuine relationship that felt connecting but that I needed her to be my therapist…after Em I was clear what I was looking to avoid!
Anita continued, ‘I want to say it’s a healing relationship -because that’s what I want it to be. I really want it to be that.’ She went on, ‘I know sometimes along the path -as I have already- I’ll say and do things that may not be helpful, but it can be healing if we work with it well.’ Essentially, I think what this comes down to the transformative power of relationship, the healing capacity of rupture and repair, and the balm of ‘unconditional positive regard’ or what the rest of us like to call ‘love’. Anita commented that she thinks that Em works differently to her and we giggled. I mean talk about chalk and cheese!
We talked a lot over the next few sessions about how painful it has been, being separated and working online, how it hooks into so many painful areas of my past. As I said there was a lot of crying alongside the cuddles but also there has been a surprising amount of narrative coming out that I hadn’t shared with Anita before.
Talking about needing to collect my kids on time led to a load of stuff about how no one was ever there for me as a child and about all kinds of horrible experiences of being left and the craziness that has been part of my growing up. We’ve touched on the eating disorder, self-harm, the violence, hiding under the bed…I mean it’s all leaking out now! It’s funny, really, how you get used to your own story and sometimes it’s only in the retelling that you realise that it was completely fucked up. I mean we know it’s damaged us, but it’s not until you share it that you understand just how messed up things have been.
There’s been a lot of grieving in the last week. I feel so sad for the little parts of me. Nearly every session has felt like a battle at the beginning. I have wanted to be close to A but the fear of her getting fed up with me and leaving has escalated session on session. Anita has been patient and sat with me in it, reassured me, ‘I’ll be here no matter what’, but the toll it takes on my system is immense.
The other day I was frozen AGAIN and the young parts were crying out (inside) to cuddle into her and yet the powerful feelings of being too much and possibly pushing her away were just totally debilitating. As Christmas approaches this panic is escalating. Anita held out her hand to me and yet I couldn’t take it. I told her she felt far away and she offered me a hug and again I couldn’t accept it. It feels like I am punishing myself for having a need and yet in those moments I can do nothing to help myself. On Friday she put her hand on my leg and I still couldn’t feel it. When it gets bad, I retreat so deeply into myself that it’s like being lost in the dark and I need someone to come in and grab me and shine a light on the pathway out. Fortunately, we always seem to get there in the end and so I don’t walk out the room feeling completely bereft.
On Monday Anita handed me a little package wrapped in tissue paper. It was my beating heart necklace. I opened it and it is gorgeous. I absolutely adore it. I love silver, and blue is my favourite colour so it could not have been better for me.
I gave her a massive hug. I felt completely overwhelmed. I am still utterly stunned that A would do this for me. I don’t know if she realises how massive it feels to me or the impact that it has had on me. I wear it all the time. It’s a reminder that we are connected and evidence that she is not freaked out by my need to be close. Hearing her heart beating settles the young parts (I still cannot believe I told her this) but when she’s not there I have this beating heart from her.
I think some of my panic this week is really coming from what it would mean to lose her now. Anita has seen me at me most vulnerable and needy…and horrid! (eek) … and the attachment to her is strong. I feel like I don’t want to put a foot wrong by being too much because the loss would be just unbearable and so as I said at the top, there’s a part that feels it’s better to brace for it, even if it hurts.
I guess it’s just going to take time to settle and I’ll need to be patient with myself over the next few weeks. Maybe I should keep a diary of all the nice things A says to me so when I am freaking out that she’s going to leave I can remind myself that she says things like,
‘I wish I could have been there when you were small and made things different for you back then, I wish I could take the pain away, then but I am here now.’
Did you know that I really love my therapist?
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