The fact that I am fragmented and have parts is not new news to me or my therapist, or, I guess, anyone that reads this blog. I noticed/became aware of distinct parts of myself split into different ages in the Christmas therapy break of 2016. As we all know by now, I don’t do especially well with therapy breaks and basically the system came online for me then as the feelings of attachment were activated and simultaneously the ache of feeling abandoned and sort of rejected sent me over the edge. Fun times!
All the young parts suffered massive separation anxiety and had a huge meltdown that holiday because they couldn’t see my therapist (shudder, the shame!). My teen part really struggled and after a couple of weeks of little ones literally screaming in her ear (that’s what happens, I can hear the screaming of a small child inside) and at the same time the ageless dementing mother-fucker the Inner Critic systematically sucking anything good from her and replacing it with fear and feelings of inadequacy, she had asked for a double session with Em when the break ended.
We learnt, then, that Em doesn’t do double sessions and that was enough to tip my teen part over the edge. She has asked for help from professionals before and been sent away, her pain not taken seriously, and this ‘no’ from someone who she was just about feeling like she could trust was enough to send her into hiding and instead resort to her well-worn paths and coping strategies: cutting and burning herself and not eating.
It was a really difficult break for sure and confusing as hell for me. I felt fully bonkers. Like, really, WTAF is all this about?!
I returned from the break feeling shattered and scared. It took a few weeks to talk to my therapist about anything much and there was A LOT of silence before I could begin to trust her again and let her in. I realise now, but didn’t then, that it takes time for the various parts to feel safe enough to talk to her and sometimes if one is holding out, often the teen, who is under duress from the Inner Critic to ‘keep quiet you fucking loser, she doesn’t care and you’re embarrassing yourself’ or words to that effect it can shut the whole system down.
I have written quite bit over the last few months about how regularly I dissociate both in and out of my therapy sessions. It’s been a big, not problem exactly, but issue in the last year or so. I’ve felt frustrated and sad that my mind and body so readily do a runner from my feelings and my therapist when big emotions start coming up.
My friend and I joke about our letterbox sized ‘windows of tolerance’ in therapy. Sometimes I’m ok for a bit when my adult turns up and can talk, catch up on the day-to-day stuff and then once I settle down into the space and the young parts come to the front lately it has felt like a switch flicks inside and off I go, sucked into a vacuum, dark tunnel, huge grey space…the list goes on and on.
Anyway, I think I have written about it a bit before but can’t remember, which is kind of ironic because this next bit is actually talking about memory – or rather amnesia. I have noticed that recently there are periods in my sessions where I cannot even remember what I have just said. I have to check in with my therapist and frequently say things like ‘did I just say that a minute ago?’ to which she responds no and has to give me a brief recap of where we have got to because I literally haven’t got a fucking clue about what’s been going on! It’s not great!
My therapist commented the other day about how it feels like we almost have to start afresh every session and build up trust and safety – it doesn’t seem to carry over from session to session. I’ve said this before, that sometimes it feels like I lose all the good stuff during the week and have to work out if she is safe over and over again. It’s not really surprising, there’s some massively hypervigilant parts inside and an epic gatekeeper that needing convincing that she’s safe, but it’s more than that, it’s almost like I can’t remember that she even knows me, that I have shared big stuff with her, that I have told her about the parts, that I have told her that I love her….you know all that embarrassing stuff. So every time a young part comes online there is a fear of being rejected….they don’t remember that she’s never yet shamed me and she knows who they are!
It’s bloody hard work, for us both. She earns her money, for sure!
So, anyway, it goes without saying that there has been a bit of a block for the last few months in sessions. I have been struggling. It’s been frustrating. I have even considered leaving therapy and starting again with a new therapist. I haven’t wanted to and I am glad I haven’t given up. I am glad that I am a doggedly persistent person. I know that a lot of what has kept me going back to session week in week out to often only come away feeling like shit and then struggling all week is my very strong attachment to my therapist – the love basically. I am glad that there has been enough of a belief that things can and will improve and that whatever has been happening is ‘part of the work’. I am pleased that I didn’t cut and run because things have massively freed up and the therapy feels energised if not a little fucking terrifying again. Basically the block and stagnation has finally shifted and we are back in the zone.
Vulnerability is on and eeek…
What has caused this shift? I don’t know. Things always shift in the end, I suppose given enough time. We’ve been working together for such a long time now that I have confidence that these things blow out in the end. There was something though, that made a difference the other day. I’ve mentioned that I haven’t had much time to blog lately. I am so busy all the time that I just don’t get time to write (hence this 6am writing now) but the other night I wanted to write and got out the laptop. I’ve been having problems with WordPress lately and so rather than typing into the page direct I decided I would type the post in my old Word document where I used to write a kind of journal after my therapy sessions and then copy and paste what I had written into here.
I was really tired and soon realised that I didn’t have the energy to write anything but something caught my eye on the page: 246 pages – 171804 words. …. fuck… my therapy journal was long. I decided to scroll back to the top and start reading. Oh my fucking god. CRINGE. It was basically an unfiltered version of this kind of stuff but written as though I was talking to my therapist. Oh god!
As I was reading I couldn’t actually believe what was there. So much stuff. SO MANY FEELINGS…and not only that SO MUCH STUFF THAT I HAVE TAKEN TO THERAPY AND READ OUT!!! I hadn’t forgotten….but I kind of had. Like, shit a brick, this woman knows all this about me. FUUCCCKKK. She’s been with me through all kinds of embarrassing stuff – why can’t I remember that???
It’s not like I haven’t been vulnerable, written stuff, shared it or whatever more recently – I’ve sent a fair few emails and pictures this year (!). But this old stuff was a bit different. It had a different quality to it. I think part of it, the change from then to now was that I was feeling all these things and it was killing me outside session, and I was bringing it to session, but kind of going ‘look this is what’s happening for me’ from my adult state but not able to talk properly about it. I could tell her what was going on but I couldn’t allow myself to feel it in the room and unpick it. I guess it was a bit like giving a presentation but not then answering any questions from the floor afterwards.
What’s been happening more lately is I haven’t had the words, the sign posts, the content but I have been feeling everything in the room with her. I’ve let the emotion in. I have got in touch with my body: the shaking, the numbness, the dizziness, the buzzing, the fear, the ache, the nausea, the headaches…all of that stuff. I’ve let her see me without armour even if the words haven’t been there to help (or deflect). There, in a weird way, has been more trust and connection in allowing her to see me like that than by taking in 2000 words of pain on the page to simply show her.
Anyway, having read all this stuff last weekend, I went into session on Monday and felt incredibly exposed. It was as though the lights had gone on in the room and I felt naked. Obviously from her side, nothing at all had changed but for me, well, I wanted to hide. I eventually managed to tell Em how I felt and how utterly mortified I felt remembering that she knows as much as she does.
She was incredibly validating and caring. She spoke about the parts, to the parts, and how she sees things and how she feels like it’s probably time to work explicitly with the parts more again and keep them front of mind – that they all have a place in therapy. That she has felt the shift into something different too and that all this takes time. That when you have had trauma from day one it’s not surprising that it takes a long time to heal.
I love her.
Anyway, there is lots more to write about this week in therapy, but for now, I am going to attach below one part of what I read last weekend that sent me over the edge…a time I brought more explicitly the parts to therapy in a massive letter.
How on earth had I forgotten this??!! Hyperventilate:
I’ve been feeling really anxious these last few days. I’ve been struggling with sleep (although when I do manage to sleep I am having really vivid dreams). I can’t concentrate, I’m cold, and my body aches. I feel so sad, insecure and overwhelmed. This emotional and physical response following the session on Monday has really surprised me – I didn’t expect to feel this way at all.
Given how hard I struggle with therapy breaks (you do know about that right?!), I think it would be natural to assume that being told I didn’t have to manage another one right off the back of the break we’ve just had would be positive. Little Me was absolutely delighted to hear that we would get to see you again in a week rather than two and I think, in the moment, The Teen was probably happy too, although she would never let on if she was. So to feel so unsettled right now is confusing for me.
This coming bank holiday session was an unexpected gift and Adult Me naïvely assumed, therefore, that this week was going to be a breeze. I thought that the younger parts of myself that so often get disruptive between sessions and on breaks would feel secure enough to simply shut the fuck up and give me some peace for a bit because, frankly, I have enough on my mind without them acting out at the moment! I believed that things would be easier to manage and time would fly by in comparison to how the last month has been. How wrong I was! All of my preparations and coping strategies for the breaks over April and May haven’t held firm at all, they have completely disintegrated, even just a few days into this ‘normal’ week.
I don’t know exactly what’s happening right now. I’m still trying to get my head round it properly as I begin to come out of the fog of feeling like the only safe place to be is under the duvet. I suppose the one thing I have always been conscious of, and the thing that often gets in the way of the therapy, is feeling distanced and disconnected from you and me shutting down as a result. I have really wanted to change that but it’s meant a complete shift in my approach and attitude. It felt risky and was hugely anxiety-provoking to bring the card into session and start to talk about how I felt about the break and our relationship last week. It was a risk that paid off, though, because it turned out to be largely positive session and went a great deal better than I had imagined.
Being honest and vulnerable with you last Monday provided an opportunity for a far more connecting experience than I could have anticipated. This is good, a definite step in the right direction, but it’s also thrown in a curve ball. I guess because I feel more connected, what’s happened is that I miss you more- or rather Little Me. does. The Teen is sulking somewhere because she thinks it’s all too good to be true. Adult Me doesn’t really know how I feel yet.
Since the dream in February (which I still haven’t talked about but I suppose we ought to at some point) The Teen had steadily been unpicking threads from the rope that we’ve been making together in session. Whatever positive work we had done since that dream, and there was plenty, was not actually adding any additional strength to the rope because she had been dismantling it when we weren’t looking. Note to self: it’s a really really bad idea to sabotage your own rope when there is a good chance that you might be left hanging off a ledge and need it to hold you.
Before last week’s session I had been worried. I really thought that it would take weeks and weeks to repair the damage that I’d done to my sense of connection and trust in you in the weeks leading into, and during, the break. I wasn’t even really sure that I wanted to make repairs – there were certainly occasions over Easter where I was pretty convinced that I was done with therapy or, at least, The Teen was shouting loudly enough to have some impact.
The relief I felt seeing you on Monday and how good it felt to reconnect after the break has, unfortunately, triggered a massive sense of panic (rather than security) in those younger parts of me. Each one is reacting very differently to the situation and so there is a huge amount of inner conflict going on right now. Little Me is inconsolable and screaming: ‘Please please PLEASE come back – please don’t leave me again – where are you? I miss you. I love you. I am frightened’. Well, she would be saying that if she could actually speak, but she is so little that she doesn’t have the words yet. I know that is what she feels, though, and the anxiety about how she feels is locked in her body. She is terrified that you’ve gone for good this time and have left her because she was finally too much for you.
Adult Me keeps telling Little Me that it’s not long until Monday and that it’s going to be ok (although I know I am not convincing, or in any way reassuring, because I am not sure I really believe what I am saying). She is so sad. She won’t listen to me. She doesn’t believe that you are coming back or that you’d ever want to return now. Part of the problem is that she doesn’t understand time: one week might as well be a year as far as she is concerned. All she knows is you’re not here. If she can’t see you then you don’t exist other than to fuel her feelings of loss and abandonment. I don’t know how to prove you’re not gone when you aren’t around but I need to figure out something because it’s really hard navigating this.
Little Me absolutely wants to be close to you. She doesn’t understand why she can’t hug you or why you won’t hold her when she is in so much distress. I keep explaining that therapy doesn’t work like that and it doesn’t mean that you don’t care or recognise how hard things are for her. The thing is, she’s only little and all she sees is another mother who won’t touch her. She can’t work out what she keeps doing that makes people reject her. She thinks that the therapeutic relationship confirms that there is something wrong with her and that she is ultimately untouchable, unlovable, and forgettable. That hurts her- all of us – and is a theme that keeps coming into my dreams.
The Teen, on the other hand, is furious at what I did last week. I think she likes you, but is still really wary of you. She hates feeling things because her experience is that feelings lead to pain that she can’t cope with. She is absolutely raging that I have let my guard down with you because she thinks by opening up I am not protecting her anymore and have abandoned her.
Apparently, somewhere along the line, I promised her that I would never put her in a position where she could be hurt again. She is pissed off with me because I might have done something that will eventually devastate her. She is absolutely adamant that it’s all going to blow up in our face and so her contribution to this week is voicing an incredibly strong urge to self-harm. She really wants to punish me. Fortunately, for once, I recognise that this is not coming from Adult Me. I absolutely don’t want to injure myself and am currently just about holding onto the fact that I have a choice about whether or not I allow myself to be dictated to by The Teen.
Sometimes The Teen hates Little Me because she is so needy and vocal about how she feels and takes my attention a lot of the time. I think deep down she knows that it’s not really Little Me’s fault because she’s only very small. The Teenager despises Adult Me, though, because I can’t seem to soothe Little Me and The Teen remembers what it was like to be Little Me. before she learned to shut everything off. She knows exactly how lost and sad Little Me feels when she is crying out for someone to love her and there is no one there to hear her.
I am meant to be the adult now, the parent in all of this and make it better for both of them but I don’t seem to have a clue how to parent either one of them. The Teenager feels let down. She feels like I don’t look after her or try hard enough to understand her, and she thinks it’s only when I run out of energy and patience that she gets heard. What she doesn’t realise though, is that she is always present in me just in the way that Little Me. is. I do understand her but she is so damaging that sometimes I just don’t want to listen.
Adult Me is really tired, fed up, and overwhelmed right now. I just wish, for once, that things would be a bit easier and that I didn’t have to be so strong all the time – or at least ‘pretend’ that I am strong. I am beginning to feel a bit more compassionate towards Little Me and The Teenager – or maybe I realise they just aren’t going to go away unless I do something. So perhaps now is the time to let them out in therapy rather than disowning them both.
I think part of the reason the weeks are so tough between sessions is – because I am mental – because these parts of myself are frequently incensed because they know I have been silencing them and denying their existence when actually it is their ‘stuff’ that has caused most of the problems, their ‘stuff’ that needs to be heard and worked through. I’m not completely sure what all their ‘stuff’ is but I suppose I won’t really find out if I don’t ask them.
Please know that I feel a huge amount of anxiety as I consciously bring these other parts of me, that for so long I have gagged, into therapy now. I’m pretty sure that Little Me and The Teenager have been sitting on my shoulders in full view (at least from where you are sitting) for a long time, but I was convinced they were hidden away. Adult Me is making the choice to let you in now against the desperate pleas of The Teenager to reconsider, because I think it’s time to try something new.
So – that’s really how it feels at the moment and as embarrassing MORTIFYING as it is, I think it’s good to have properly connected with some of those feelings and where/who exactly they are coming from. I guess the challenge now is to feel the feelings when they come up rather than ignore or intellectualise them.
I woke up today and realised that there was another part of me waiting for me to acknowledge her. It was Eleven. ‘Why have you forgotten to tell her about me?’ she asked quietly. I didn’t know what to say but I felt bad that I had neglected to mention her here. Eleven is easy to forget, though, I suppose because she is such a good girl and she doesn’t cause me any real trouble. I think she is essentially the foundation of my core operating system and so maybe it’s not so much that she is forgotten but that she is so big a part of me that I don’t even notice her anymore. Sometimes she feels completely invisible.
Eleven is exactly that, she is eleven years old and she has been through lots of changes. Eleven spent a long time silently watching events unfold, trying to not get in the way, not to cause any bother to anyone, to be helpful- all in the hope that if she was good and tried hard enough then maybe everything would be ok, things would settle down and the fighting would stop. She doesn’t understand that no matter how brilliantly she behaves, or how well she does at school, she can’t change what’s going on with her parents. She loves them, though, so she keeps trying to be the best she can be because maybe that’ll be enough to hold everyone together.
Eleven hates conflict. It scares her and so she avoids it at all costs. She spends a lot of time hiding under her bed in the dark being very quiet and hoping that the fighting will stop soon. Sometimes she finds she can’t avoid conflict and that she’s stuck right in the firing line. One day everything got too much for her. She couldn’t bear the screaming and the violence any longer. She was frightened, really terrified when mum starting physically attacking dad in the car while he was driving home from a day out. She’d been screaming at him for a good while first before she started hitting him. She broke his tooth that day. Had mum forgotten she was there too? Dad kept begging her to stop. Eleven felt trapped and powerless. The moment the car stopped she got out and she ran away as fast as she could. Dad tried to chase after her but she was quick and disappeared. That’s the day everything changed. Dad finally left mum. He wasn’t prepared to keep hurting Eleven or himself any longer.
Eleven moved lots that year: three houses with dad and two with mum. She was literally all over the place but kept going as if nothing significant had happened. Kids are resilient, or at least that’s what people say. I think they are wrong. I think they bury things until they have the tools to be able to cope – and maybe that day never comes. Eleven had to leave all her friends and moved school twice. No one knew how disrupted she was because she always manages so well. She never showed that she was sad about that fact that her family had fallen apart, and that everything was changing, partly because she didn’t really feel in touch with emotions anymore, which was fine by her. She hated feeling sick all the time but at least there was no more shouting, for a while, until it got re-directed at her later – but then I don’t suppose that was aimed at Eleven, that was where The Teenager came in.
Life for Eleven was just something that ‘happened to her’, she didn’t really have a choice in what happened or where she was from one day to the next and just accepted it. I think that’s where I finally lost sight of what my own needs were and lost touch with my emotions – of course this disconnect didn’t happen overnight, it had been steadily happening for years. It seemed that what was important to be able function effectively was to create as little resistance as possible. It was being a perfectionist and doing everything well whilst at the same time staying under the radar at home and trying to keep everyone else happy.
Fortunately, bright and does really well in school without very much effort (she puts a lot of pressure on herself though and never feels good enough), she is athletic and is on every sports team, people seem to really like her and she is popular. There’s a problem, though, she’s beginning to feel like an outsider, and doesn’t know why. From other people’s perspective she is a confident little girl who is ‘so grown up for her age – like a little adult’. She is self-reliant, amenable, and really easy to be around.
I don’t know really how Eleven feels about you. I think she is probably less concerned about how she feels about you and more concerned about how you see her, that is if you even see her at all, because as I said, she feels invisible most of the time and has merged with Adult Me.
*Sunday morning dream. Feels relevant after what I wrote yesterday.
I (Adult Me) am in Eleven’s bedroom in [place], sitting on the floor in the dark, hiding under the bed in the space between the wall and the wardrobe (It is a cabin bed). I feel ill, my heart is pounding and my chest is fluttering. My body is shaking, I can’t breathe and I feel like I am going to pass out. It feels like I am dying but maybe it’s a panic attack. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I can’t move from where I am. I decide to call you on the phone. When you answer you sound different. Distant. Annoyed, maybe. You ask me if I am ok and I say, ‘no, not really’. You ask me what’s wrong and I can’t speak. There is a long, awkward silence. Then you start talking but I can’t follow anything that you are saying because I am so overwhelmed by what is going on with my body. I am crying but you don’t know that. I hear you say that you’ll see me on Monday. I start to talk to you. I can’t remember anything that I was saying – but it felt significant. I expect you to say something when I finish but there is silence. I realise that you have actually already put the phone down and haven’t heard anything I’ve said. I’m not sure what to do and so I just stay under the bed crying and shaking with my knees curled into my chest.
* So yeah! That happened last year after Easter break. Since then there’s been a bunch more little ones/parts come up but I am still staggered that this is ‘out there’ and I didn’t ‘know’ until last weekend.