Empty

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So it looks like I have made it through the three session therapy break. I have been ‘just about’ holding it together with my trademark rubber bands and chewing gum but it’s all feeling a bit fragile today; it feels like the makeshift glue that holds the pieces together is liable to give way at any moment. It’s not great.

The last couple of weeks haven’t been a complete depressive washout by any means,  but it’s taken a ridiculous amount of energy to simply keep treading water in an uninviting, swirling, choppy, cold emotional sea and not drown. I’m tired and cold now. I am so over the break!

I’ve noticed that, often, the closer I get to the shore (i.e end of the therapy break) the harder those last few days in the water are: it’s as though, for some reason, the waves pick up and a strong rip current running along the water’s edge does everything in its power to stop me getting onto the safety of dry land. I don’t know if it’s something about the consistent and sustained effort that is required to hold it all together and keep swimming that finally takes its toll; the sheer exhaustion of it takes over when the end in sight?: maybe I don’t quite have the stamina to get through a break?; or perhaps it’s something to do with self-protection – I sort of bury my head in the sand (sorry for the mixed metaphors ) at the beginning of the break and then as I hit the marker of ‘last missed session’ (today/Friday) it all falls apart.

Like maybe the fatigue and fear really hit now, because I am almost there, back in the room. Perhaps it is only now that I can finally allow myself to really feel what I have been keeping inside for the entirety of the break. Although tbh it doesn’t feel like there is much ‘choice’ or ‘allowing’ in the matter.

I don’t know how to put it.

I am overwhelmed.

With just three more sleeps until Monday things are getting really really hard. Part of me needs to keep repeating Dory’s mantra ‘just keep swimming’ but other parts of me are just so physically and emotionally exhausted that it feels impossible to keep going. I feel almost paralysed by the emotions. I want to give up. I want to sink beneath the surface of the water and rest – even if that means drowning. I know it sounds really dramatic. I can’t really describe how utterly shit things feel right now. I feel overwhelmed and empty at the same time.

It’s weird.

I feel like that huge gaping hole inside, the mother wound, is sucking everything into it like some enormous black hole. That’s kind of what I mean by empty and overwhelmed…from the outside the hole seems empty, a pit of darkness, and yet I know that in the black pit of doom is so much pain, so much fear, so much need, and overwhelm. OMG just thinking about it all sends me into a panic.

Until today I think I have been doing pretty well. The attachment pain has been there consistently (it never really goes away) but most of the time it has felt manageable or I have found time to honour it so that it doesn’t ruin my day and I have been able to function well enough. It’s been half-term here this week and so having the kids off school has been a welcome break from the usual routine. No school runs or teaching has meant that things have been reasonably relaxed.

My wife and I took the children away for a couple of days to a theme park and stayed in a nice hotel overnight. It was a lovely break for us all but really tiring! Traipsing around the park, queuing, and riding rollercoasters is not exactly relaxing. And I have found that, actually, my days of enjoying adrenaline rides has long passed. I get an immediate headache the moment the adrenaline floods in and I am actually a bit of a chicken. I feel actual fear on the rides – like I am going to die! Where on earth did my fearless fourteen year old self go?! Oh, and, in addition to the physical discomfort of actually doing the rides I was really reminded that I don’t really like crowds (or people!)!!!

So, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I am tired now…but this empty feeling is more than just tiredness, you know? I think when I am tired I have fewer resources available to cope with all the ‘other stuff’ and so it sneaks up on me and takes root. The young parts are more vocal and the need feels huge. I know at times like this I should be going all out with the self-care but sometimes the slide into emotional overwhelm feels more like a switch suddenly being flicked than a gradual unravelling. One minute I am ok…and the next I am sooooo not ok. Once I am in ‘the not ok’ state it’s all a bit late for self-care (yeah yeah, ok baby steps and deep breaths and all that can be done at any time…) I feel incapacitated. I just can’t fucking do anything.

Today was a disaster. I did not get dressed. I willed myself to do some ironing but that was all I could manage. I spent most of the day beating myself up about not doing anything which in itself is hugely tiring and stressful. I wish I could just give myself permission to acknowledge I am having a bad day, to rest up, to give things space…but I don’t. I just sit/lie there thinking about all the things I should be doing but am failing to do. I brood on all the work I have to manage next week. I get angry with myself that I am not 1) resting and recharging properly when there is so much coming next week or 2) getting planning and prep done for the week ahead so that it doesn’t feel so massively hard next week.

Basically I spent the day feeling incredibly anxious and stressed about next week but not doing anything to make it better, or resting to give myself energy to do the things I need to when the teaching kicks back in. It’s so annoying but so familiar. It really does feel like a mental paralysis.

UGH!!!

The problem is, when I get this frozen thing it’s not really like I have an executive in charge who can direct everything or even the critic on hand to bully me into doing stuff. Fuck knows where she is! Instead I am left with all the various young parts freaking out and not knowing how to get help. It’s just ridiculous.

I need therapy!!!

There is so much I want to say to Em when I go back on Monday. I have been talking round the edges of a lot of really big feelings for a while now and I really think I need to push on through the shame and embarrassment and let some more of it out. I am, of course, terrified that what I have to say is ‘too much’. The thing is, even if it is ‘too much’ it is how I feel and it’s doing me no good at all hanging onto it.

I just don’t know if I am brave or strong enough to go through the inevitable grief that will come about as a result of really tackling the issues I have around the breaks (feelings of abandonment) and touch (or lack of it) in the therapeutic relationship. When I think about that need for closeness and containment it really aches. I know that the ache stems from years ago and the relationship I have with my mum. But as much as I know this is an old injury, the mother wound, I am not sure I am resilient enough to hear the ‘I am not your mother and this is a therapeutic relationship’ thing at the moment.

I know she’ll deliver it more kindly than that but this is essentially what we’re dealing with isn’t it? Facing that pain, that grief that feels totally annihilating – our mothers weren’t ‘good enough’ and the attachment figure in the here and now is unable to meet the need that got neglected in our childhoods. Intellectually I get it. Can handle it. I know I need to accept that Em is with me on the journey and is there to help me through the grief but that she cannot take it away or be a replacement mother. Adult Me gets it. Adult Me is ok with it – welcomes it even.

The relationship I have with Em is important to my Adult too. I like it when we get to talk together and it’s not emotionally fraught and I don’t dive down into dissociation to get away from the pain.

Emotionally…I don’t know if I am ready to face the truth. I am not sure whether I can kill off the hope of the young parts that so desperately want to be close to Em, for her to be there to make things better…but I guess I’m not doing myself any favours in prolonging the agony. It makes me feel ill and actually more than that, it makes me feel really alone…again…just like I was as a kid.

I don’t know. I guess maybe this week is not the best week go poking at the mother wound given Monday also coincides with the first anniversary of my very good friend/mother figure’s death but maybe because it is now because these feelings of grief and loss are so potent that I need to address them.

I don’t know.

I just want to hide under a blanket and have a story read to me. I don’t want to be Adult Me right now. It all feels too much.

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Grief (again): 10 Years On

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I’ve been wanting to something here all week but I haven’t felt able to. It’s not because I have been too busy to write (which is why I haven’t been blogging as much as I used to);  sure, I have been running about like a headless chicken, been ill, and been suffering the fall out of some tricky emotions stirred up in therapy last week, but really there’s nothing terribly new in any of that and I still usually find a way to put something on the page.

Arguably, this week, I have had a little more time on my hands than usual because I didn’t work yesterday (mind you I was very ill and even went completely blind for a few minutes so perhaps writing wasn’t really possible!) but still I haven’t been able to find words. I am floundering about now. I can feel it. The feelings are so there but the words just aren’t. It’s like being in therapy on a dissociated day- ffs!

I think it’s maybe the topic that’s the problem.

Grief.

This is not the first time I have written about grief. When my friend died after battling with myeloma last year I posted something, and when my dog died I even rattled a piece off. Both those times the grief was acute and immediate. The feelings were there, fresh, and I could tap into them, skim off the surface if you like. It’s different today.

I suppose, in reality, you could argue that most of my blog talks about grief in one way or another. Essentially, the majority of my work in therapy comes down to grieving losses: sometimes it’s the death of a loved one; sometimes it’s the loss of the image I had of who I might become before I got cancer; but mainly, week in week out, it’s steadily grieving the loss of a mother (my mother as well as the concept of the ideal mother) that I never had. The mother wound is going to take years to get over and heal. I know this.

But this post isn’t about grieving mother (although my next post most certainly will be after the internal shit storm that has blown up after my session this week!). No. Today this is all about the grief surrounding my biggest unexpected loss, my biggest tangible emotional trauma (in the eyes of a normal person – i.e an actual bereavement), the one that still gives me nightmares and accounts of some of the PTSD.

This is about the loss of my dad who throughout my life did his very best to be both mother and father to me. The one who tried to prevent the mother wound being too big, too gaping, too devastating. I suppose, given how bad things are it didn’t really work, but he gave it a damn good go!

I’ve been just about holding it together with my trusty rubber bands and chewing gum this week knowing that today was coming. It’s been a dire week in many ways. I’ve been ready to chuck in the therapy towel because I feel so stuck, so unseen, and so uncared for. I’ve been cycling through various emotions but mainly the two stand out ones are anger and devastation. But I suspect that this is in part because my feelings around my dad’s death were bubbling away underneath and manifesting in that way…I guess I’ll know more after Monday!

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So grief.

It’s really just another word we use for a response to trauma isn’t it?

And trauma is weird isn’t it? (‘weird’ – oh so bloody articulate!)

I know well enough that the trauma I am trying to process from my childhood has a kind of timeless quality. Or rather, my brain can’t readily distinguish between current trauma and past trauma. In therapy, I can be plunged headlong into the feelings I had as a young kid. I lose sense of my adult self and am right back in the moment – even if it was thirty plus years ago. My body remembers.

A similar thing has happened this week and today so far as where in time I feel. Part of me is certainly here in 2018 but part of me is stuck back in 2008 and of course others are further back in my childhood. The parts are all over the place!

Today marks ten years since I received the call that my dad had been found dead in his room by his friend whilst holidaying/teaching diving on a remote island abroad. He’d only been gone three days, literally just arrived there after two flights and a boat ride and had died in his sleep on the first night. He was 47 years old. Massive heart attack.

Even now, despite having had a decade to process this loss. I still can’t fully get my head round it.

Part of it is because I still can’t believe it. I think he’s still there having the time of his life doing what he loved. I know exactly where he was having been on holiday there myself twice with him.

I never saw his body. Not that I think I would have wanted to. He was cremated abroad not in the UK.

It’s complicated but essentially it all came down to the fact that had we have had his body flown back to the UK we would not have automatically got the body released for burial/cremation. A second post-mortem would have been needed and the pathologists over here said that given the body had been in 40 degree heat for over a week before it was moved to the mainland for a post mortem it would not be pleasant for us. We wouldn’t actually want to see the body. We were warned. It wouldn’t be him. Add to that a potential wait of six months for the body to be released to us there wasn’t really very much choice.

So, in the end, I only received a box of ashes and his dive gear a month after he died. The insurance company flew his stuff home to a local undertakers and the undertaker left the stuff out on his driveway for me to pick up as he had gone out. Imagine that. Your dad dies suddenly, you have no goodbye, and you receive a box of ashes and a bag of dive gear from a block paved driveway.

I still can’t even believe it.

How can that be? How can the person that was my rock and anchor be gone, and not only that, suddenly just become some ‘remains’ to be boxed and left outside? I can’t even … ugh.

I miss him.

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It’s weird too. Like, literally, just now I checked my emails on my phone and I have received an email from PADI about diving in Thailand. Like what are the odds? I maybe get a PADI email once a month, perhaps not even, and yet this morning I get one about diving in Thailand on the day my dad died about the place he was set to teach diving for a month. It’s weird how the universe communicates with us.

Actually I can’t talk any more about this today because this was only the beginning  of the trauma that kicked off with my family and led to an eight year estrangement and a complete mental breakdown. I thought writing might help but actually it’s just making it worse today. It’s too raw.

I know I am not especially coherent.

Today I need to take things slowly. I need to rest. I am very aware that I have one foot in the now but also one foot back in the past. I don’t want to be grumpy or short with my family and I’d like to find a way of celebrating his life rather than getting consumed by the horror and the grief of that time a decade ago.

There’s another problem with ‘old’ grief, too…people don’t really get it. They can’t understand why I could be as upset today as I was ten years ago when I found out the news. They can’t understand why I feel sick and need to cry and wail…

But that’s trauma isn’t it? It transcends time.

 

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Therapy Break – 1 Week In: Struggling to Find Peace

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I’m really struggling to find peace right now – both literally and metaphorically! It’s very early (5:30am) on Monday morning and I am trying to steal myself a little quiet time to write, collect my thoughts, and drink a substandard cup of coffee before the day kicks in and I am thrown fully into the demands of being a mum and wife with the family all on Easter break – which basically means shelving all my needs and doing my best to put a lid on my issues until bedtime when I can hide under the duvet and let the little ones have some time to be how it is.

This waiting is not as easy as it may sound – waiting all day to allow myself to really feel what’s going on inside feels exhausting, especially when right now my dreams are filled with my therapist and leave a lingering sense of being ill at ease for a good part of the day. I am experienced in ‘hiding’ how I feel, I do it week in week out, but sometimes it feels like a ridiculous amount of effort to keep up the appearance of being fine when I am really not fine at all. I am so not fine. Not at all. And whilst I don’t want to sink deep down into the pit of sadness that the young ones feel about being left, I don’t want to deny them space to express how bad it actually feels.

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Sadly, I am not just a mother and a wife trying to enjoy time off with my wife and kids (that on its own wouldn’t be a problem); I am also a therapy client with CPTSD on a three and a half week long break from my attachment figure (therapist) and I feel lost, alone, abandoned and desperately sad. Or rather, the little ones are struggling massively and all the old wounds are exposed, sore, and weeping; and yet again adult me is a fucking chocolate fireguard when it comes to self-soothing and nurturing the vulnerable parts.

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When it’s like this I need to write. Well, actually what I need is a nurturing hug that holds the child parts but that’s not possible now and even if I were to see my therapist it still wouldn’t happen…not touch rule…argh!… and so here I am, once again, trying to let it all out on my blog! I am not sure what to say, but I absolutely need to try and find words for some of how I feel because I am struggling. Really struggling. Have I mentioned that I hate therapy breaks before?! Ha. It’s so boring now.

It’s not even funny is it? It’s painful. I feel mental and unsettled and generally all over the shop.

Clearly, I’ve not found this last week particularly easy, but I think today is going to be especially hard because, whilst I have now effectively ticked off one week of this mammoth Easter break (well done me!), today signals my first ‘missed’ therapy session. In theory, today is just another day of the break; like any other day, it’s a day to try and make the best of things. I need to live my adult life as best I can, enjoy being with my family, despite struggling with the underlying feelings that the child parts have about being abandoned and their fear that something bad is going to happen whilst my therapist is away.

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It’s just not that simple, though. Today already feels bigger… harder… longer than yesterday because today is the day I usually go to therapy and today I can’t. My body clock is set to be in that therapy room at 10:30am on a Monday and, frankly, being anywhere else feels plain wrong! I can feel the anxiety rising in my body knowing that today I am not going anywhere. That today, I can’t let anything out or take anything in with my therapist.

Today I am here and I have to hold my shit together for myself. Yeah, sure, I know, this is no different to any other time, but usually I have a sense of being supported: I usually have a scaffold around my structurally unsound building (the one that I am steadily dismantling bit by bit in order to rebuild a better, more sturdy structure for the future). The thing is, for some reason the scaffolding has disappeared and it feels like bits of the building are now breaking off and rapidly crumbling away. Some people might say, the scaffold is still there, I just can’t see it right now because I am not looking in the right place; either way, my sense of things is that the building is breaking and it might completely fall down if I don’t get that frame back in place soon.

I wish it felt less desperate.

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Lots of people don’t like Mondays. Monday signals the start of the working week, the end of the weekend, and a stretch of time until the next rest period. For me, however, Monday is the day I hang on for each week, the day I look forward to, the day where I can go and be myself for 50 minutes and have someone listen to me and help me work through my issues (and man there are plenty of those!). It’s more than that, though. Of course, it’s partly about having a meaningful chat and unloading some stuff with a safe and empathic person but it’s about taking some important stuff in, too.

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Monday signals the day that the young parts get to physically see that my therapist/their attachment figure is ‘still there’ that she hasn’t ‘disappeared’ or worse, ‘left me’. It’s the day where I try and top up that supply of care and love and nurturing that leaks away each week between sessions.

Therapy consists of various types of work for me but so far as the attachment stuff goes: 1) is trying to refill my leaking bucket and 2) patch the holes that are in the bucket to stop the leak from happening in the first place. I’m talking just about the need for care and love and my inability to hold onto any sense of it. Of course we do lots of other work too. But right now I’m stuck in the shitty attachment spiral and so, of course, that’s what I am going to talk about today.

Sometimes I manage quite well in the week: the holes my therapist and I plugged in session hold reasonably well and so there is a slower trickling away of the content of my bucket. I feel ok-ish. I miss her, yes, but I can get through the week because there is still some ‘evidence’ of her care left in my bucket and I can see proof that we are ‘ok’. Sometimes, I can have a really good therapy session where my bucket gets filled right to the top and so it takes longer for the contents to slip away – these are the better weeks.

Unfortunately, on breaks I am onto a losing streak because despite plugging holes and filling up the bucket to the brim in preparation for the holidays, there are still areas of the bucket that leak. A longer period of time without a mend and refill opportunity means the bucket has more time to empty out. It gets even worse though, because the bucket is pretty empty there’s a great deal of slipperiness on the floor around me. When I’m approaching the desperate stage where my bucket is nearly drained, it’s not uncommon for me to slip and slide about, lose my footing altogether and then eventually fall on my arse, drop the bucket and lose all the remaining content I have been trying so hard to protect….

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I apologise for the long and winding metaphors today!…essentially, I am shit at breaks, I miss my therapist and I can’t maintain a sense of her.

Ugh.

Shoot me now!

To be honest. I don’t really have much to say other than I am struggling a lot. I know this is not an insightful or interesting read. It just is. It’s how I feel. I am moaning and whiny. I am stretched and struggling. I am very aware that the mother wound is starting to seep through my layers of clothing. To the untrained eye it’s barely perceptible, but for me…well, I’m exposed now.

I am going to try and patch myself up, keep calm and carry on. I cannot afford to sink down into that place where anxiety and depression lie in wait because I know who else is down there…and right now I don’t have the strength to battle the Critic. There’s still 17 days to go of this break and so right now I am trying to dig deep. I need some resources to stop the bucket emptying and the walls from disintegrating.

I’m going to go and grab my pebble and shove it over one of the holes in my bucket to stem the flow, or shove it in a weak part in the wall of my building to replace a crumbling part.

‘When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’

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Pebbles: The Transitional Object

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‘Small round hard stones click

Under my heels’

This is the opening of Tatamkhulu Afrika’s poem Nothing’s Changed, a poem I used to teach my GCSE students back in the day. The lines came into my head just now as I was thinking about the title for this post. For the longest time, ok, since September the words ‘Nothing’s Changed’ could sum up my predicament with the pebbles (and that’s about as far as the link to the poem goes I’m afraid!).

For those of you who aren’t up to speed with the ‘pebbles saga’ I’ll recap a bit in this post. Apologies, but this is a real ramble but I feel like I need to get it down because this blog is really just my therapy diary and the pebbles have been a big thing… ugh!…

It’s no secret that that I really struggle with therapy breaks; they have long been a stumbling block for me. It’s hard enough maintaining a sense of connection to my therapist between sessions but anything longer than a week without contact and the wheels start to fall off in a big way; the child parts have an epic meltdown (attachment pain sets in and I feel abandoned and rejected – oh and desperately sad and alone). It’s not much fun at all. My adult self is left holding the baby in a completely clueless way! It’s not lost on me that I can love and nurture my own kids but when it comes to my inner child I am utterly useless.

Sigh.

Last summer break was a bit of a shambles (bit of an understatement). Before the break I had told my therapist how difficult disruptions to the therapy felt and how much I was dreading the holiday this time. I’d never let on before how terrible breaks have felt. I’d suffered my way through the previous summer break and a disastrous Christmas one but knew I couldn’t go into another one and be ‘fine’. I plucked up the courage to ask if she could maybe send me a text with a message to help me feel connected to her over the break. She did. Phew! I’d been sweating about asking her for something like this for months (overthinking it!) but when it came down to it, it was fine…like so many of these ‘things’ I am scared to talk about! – I will learn eventually!

Unfortunately, though, despite asking my therapist and her trying to meet the need, the message just didn’t work! She sent me a text with a visualisation to do. I was supposed to imagine us together in the room and my letting out whatever was bothering me and then picture her responding in an understanding and caring way. The visualisation didn’t work because the parts that need her reassurance and care when I can’t see her are very young and the wording, indeed, the exercise just wasn’t pitched to the parts that needed it…the parts that need her.

I’ve moaned/talked about this episode in detail in another blog post so won’t bang on about it again here!

I’ve noticed as time has gone on, that any time I am asked to ‘imagine’ something, like the young ones being held it puts my back up. I don’t want to have to ‘imagine’ anything. I want the reality. I don’t want to have to imagine my adult holding the distraught child (yes I know I’m going to have to accept this is how it’s going to be…eventually!) but right now I want my therapist to do it for me. Ugh! And so when she encourages me to hold things for myself it somehow feels rejecting and like she doesn’t care.

(Look I make no bones about the fact that my rational side is not in the driving seat so far as my therapy goes!…and that’s why I need the therapy.)

When push came to shove I was unable to picture my therapist in the visualisation she’d crafted (and man I really tried! I wanted to do the homework right and for the result to be that breaks would feel a little easier); all I could picture was me sitting in the room and staring at her empty chair (I literally cannot hold her in my mind at all).

The little ones’ anxiety ramped up day after day, week after week. I kept trying to zone my mind into the room and put my therapist there with me but it just didn’t work. The further break went on the more the horrid attachment pain activated in me, and the shit started to hit the fan. I felt so alone. I felt abandoned. I felt like the relationship was worthless and a sham. I didn’t want to believe any of those feelings but when I have no concrete evidence to prove otherwise it’s amazing what a good job the Critic can do of undermining the therapy and the therapeutic relationship.

It’s awful that holiday periods feel more about survival than rest and recharge for me – and for a lot of us who struggle with this developmental trauma stuff. When I was a teacher I really looked forward to the long breaks and now I absolutely dread holidays! I’m glad that my therapist is looking after herself (kind of ;-)) and I wish that in this time I could also take a break from the therapy and live normally without my issues dragging along with me. Sadly, it’s just not how it is. The moment my therapy is disrupted by a break it’s all about ‘digging deep’, ‘hanging on’ and ‘counting down’… only 21 more days to go now….AAAARRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!! Shoot me now!

Last year, I came back from the summer break feeling desperately sad and disconnected and a bit angry (hello teen!). When I finally built up the courage, three sessions in, and told my therapist how bad things had felt over the summer and how badly the visualisation had missed the mark, she suggested that perhaps it might help if, instead, she wrote something to me on a card so that I had something physical to take with me to remind me of the relationship and connection when I can’t see her – a transitional object of sorts.

Whilst the young parts of me longed for something to cuddle, like a teddy or something soft, adult me was happy enough with her idea because words are important to me and so I felt like this could be a good stepping stone to help me move forward. Having something personal from her, in her handwriting would surely help me to keep her in mind when everything was beginning to spiral. Ideally it’d also help me trust that she cared when the Critic goes all out to undermine the relationship. That was the idea anyway.

I left that session feeling positive and motivated that, perhaps, finally the time between sessions and, even more importantly, on breaks might start to feel a bit less awful. The next week I came to therapy armed with two pebbles (from the beach where my therapist lives) and a sharpie pen.

My idea was that she could write the message on a pebble; it’d last longer than a card and it would have an additional significance because I already collect pebbles. To have something in my collection from ‘her’ beach might feel even more connecting – or that’s what I thought! In addition to all this it would be something physical that I could hold in my hand. I thought it was a good idea. She seemed to think so too.

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It all seemed so simple…

Only this is where ‘simple’ ground to a resounding halt and everything suddenly grew very very complicated. It’s been a real fucking mess, actually. It’s been a nightmare of tangled, fraught, communication/miscommunication and has been the catalyst for a load of my issues about feeling unlovable and unworthy play out. It’s been horrid and has really upset me. I mean it’s literally sent me to attachment trauma hell and stirred up every bit of agony I’ve been in holding for years.

Ouch.

It’s certainly not been ideal these last six months! I can step back now (sort of) and say that what’s happened is all part of the process. I can see that we’ve done so much work as a result of the pebbles on our relationship and on my deep-rooted issues.

I won’t lie, though, there’s a part of me that just wishes it could have gone easier at the beginning. I was already hurting, feeling lost, alone, and unsure of the strength and quality therapeutic relationship before ‘Pebblegate’ but the experience of the last six months has made me feel like I had been completely cast adrift. I can’t count how many times I’ve sat and wondered if I would even be able to work with my therapist much longer or whether I needed to walk away…I did go and see another therapist after the rupture at Christmas.

Painful stuff.

Really excruciatingly painful stuff.

I am usually really good at looking at things objectively. I am the ‘go to’ person for my friends because I see things from different angles and can see the wood for the trees. Unfortunately, I don’t seem able to extend that skill and rationality to myself when looking at how things are in the therapeutic relationship. I frequently view everything through a lens that distorts what’s actually in front of me – or rather gives me only a single view when usually, in life, I can see a kaleidoscope of colours and images.

In the therapeutic relationship I come at things from a traumatised, emotionally neglected child’s perspective. It’s no wonder, really. There has been huge deficit in holding and containment as I’ve grown up. My mum has been both physically and emotionally absent for a lot of my life and then, in my teens, when I lived with her, she became emotionally abusive. I guess once she and my dad has separated the rage had to go somewhere. I can’t tell you the amount of times the words, ‘I wish you’d never been born!’ have been screamed at me.

So, when it comes to relating to my therapist things are tricky. A whole load of maternal transference has been thrown in the melting pot and whilst I desperately want to believe that she (my therapist) cares for me and is safe because I do absolutely love her and want her to be reliable and safe for me, there’s a huge damaged part, or should I say, lots of damaged younger parts that approach the relationship with a pre-existing narrative #MotherWound. They can’t simply trust that she has positive feelings towards me. They believe that she is going to follow the script that my mother wrote all those years ago. they think that my therapist is only ‘tolerating’ me because I am paying her to do so. I am a burden to her. I am too needy. The relationship isn’t genuine. And if she had her way I’d just disappear. I am not wanted and I am not worthy of her time and care. It’s only a matter of time until everything blows up in my face.

It’s going to be hard rewriting that script when it’s been practised so many times over the years. I am word perfect now and as much as I am sick of repeating the same lines over and over again, it is difficult to believe that there may be an alternative version that could be enacted now instead of this damaging play I am stuck in. It’s hard to see that the person opposite me is not, in fact, the person who I’ve been acting this stuff out with for the last 35 years. I have placed my therapist in the role of the understudy and we are continuing with this drama, but actually, maybe now is the time to write a whole new script, a whole new play, and give space to all the parts that need to be seen with my therapist playing herself rather than my ‘stand in’ mother.

I guess over time this will start to happen more and more because there is a lot of the time when I can see my therapist for who she is; the problems only arise when something vulnerable or triggering comes up and then I am thrown back into the trauma response.

Anyway, back to the pebbles!

It’s been challenging to say the least. In the last few weeks my therapist has been asking me about the pebbles in every session and what we are going to do. She told me that she was happy to write something about her caring about me on them but had wondered if that would feel genuine enough for me? I’ve been completely thrown through a loop with this word ‘genuine’ for the last few months since she said it. When she’d mentioned about the message needing to feel genuine, I’ve heard that as her not wanting to write something she didn’t feel to be genuine for her, and therefore she couldn’t/wouldn’t say she cared about me on them.

However, when we finally unpicked things after I sent my mammoth ‘let it all hang out’ email the other week, it turns out she meant she wanted things to feel right for me, and that whatever she wrote should feel believable to me because I have such a hard time accepting anything positive from her. I automatically disbelieve her kind words and caring words or assume there’s a price attached to them — enacting that old script again. She didn’t want what she wrote to feel like she was just doing it to appease me. Basically she wanted it to be right and was aware that there was a lot of emotion tied up in all this.

Hallelujah! That is exactly what the young ones needed to hear. She cares and she wants the transitional object to be right.

The thing is, we’ve kept dipping back into this topic for the last few sessions and sometimes there’s someone else engaged not just the parts that trust her! When she asked me about when we were going to do the pebbles in the Skype Session we had the other day and being conscious that the break was fast approaching, I was pissed off. Not at her. I was cross that I couldn’t see her in person due to being snowed in. I was angry that I didn’t have any real privacy. And I was frustrated that the young ones weren’t able to connect properly. In those situations the teen steps up. The teen doesn’t need pebbles. She doesn’t need anyone. She can see how sad the little ones have been through the whole sorry saga and she is fucked off about it.

So in response to my therapist’s question about the pebbles, I told her that part of me just wanted to throw them back in the sea and give it all up because it’s been a fucking nightmare! She said that she understood that there was a part who was frustrated and had given up hope but that there were others who maybe still wanted something good to come from them. I conceded that this was the case, and we agreed we’d sort things out in our last session – Monday.

Last Sunday my family and I went to the beach – not my therapist’s beach, but one a few miles down the coast – also a pebble beach. The kids were throwing pebbles into the water, we made some cairns, and I came across a lovely pebble. It was an usual stone with a band round the middle…perfect for a message. I decided at that point that I would find some words, write them on the pebble, and give it to my therapist on our last session. I sometimes get these impulses to give her things or write to her!…and then freak out when the time actually comes to hand stuff over. lol.

I spent a while searching the internet for ‘good’ words on Sunday night. And finally alighted on these (this is not the actual pebble):

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‘When my heart feels overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.’

I instantly loved them. Some of you may recognise these words as a psalm. I am in no way religious, indeed, I struggle with the church and the idea that I am somehow not good enough to be part of the fold because of my sexuality. To many I am merely a sinner to be tolerated (oh and there’s a wonderful story about at trip to Tennessee in there but I’ll save all that for another time!!). Frankly the church can go do one if that’s the truth! But still, these words are exactly right for what I wanted to say and reflect what I need and how I feel. So I used them.

Fast forward to Monday…and my last session before the break…

I sat down and almost instantly got out the perfect pebble and explained how I had come to find it on the beach, why I had decided to give her it, and how I found the words. We spent some time talking about it and then she asked me if we should sort out my pebbles that have been sitting on that shelf for six long bastard months (not her words obviously! Lol!).

I agreed, and then, something strange happened, but then on reflection it wasn’t strange at all because it’s what I do…

I broke with the plan we have been coming up with for all this time and told her that I wanted her to write those same words, the psalm, on my rock. And I did want that. Sort of. But I didn’t too. It’s hard to explain what happened but I think part of it was this: she had responded so positively to the stone and the words that I had chosen for her that I didn’t want to lose that ‘nice’ feeling and vibe that was in the room – the feeling of connection.

I didn’t want to suddenly descend into the difficult stuff that has plagued these stones for so long. I didn’t want it to feel awkward. I didn’t want a disaster to come about from all this heading stuff into the break. I didn’t want to leave empty handed again. And I do like the words… a lot. They are meaningful. I felt that they were good enough…at the time.

Only now I feel like I have compromised on what I really wanted from these stones, from the transitional object, and that was something direct from my therapist about how she feels about our relationship and how she cares about me. I wanted something personal and ended up with something adequate but not quite right. She’ll have no idea that this has happened.

When she had finished writing on the pebble she said that we should come back to it after the break and talk about how it is for me – i.e whether it does or doesn’t work to make things feel better during the break. I know that I need to tell her what the process was like last week and how I ended up not asking for what I really wanted for fear of leaving feeling disconnected. I think it’s important to do that. But, now, I am worried that she might feel like she can’t get anything right and get frustrated with me (totally my projection).

You see ‘getting it wrong’ is becoming a bit of a pattern. I asked for a text last summer, she did what I asked, and then I threw it back at her as not being good enough – I couldn’t do the visualisation and picked her words apart one by one. Then I text her at Christmas in distress, she replied because she cared, and yet because her words didn’t give me exactly what I wanted we ended up having an almighty rupture. And now this. I told her I wanted particular words on the pebble, she wrote them for me, and now I have to go back and say it missed the mark. She keeps trying to meet my need and yet for whatever reason it’s not quite working for me. At what point will she say that she gives up?

Anyway, I feel like I have exhausted ‘Pebblegate’ for now!

I will say this, though, despite not quite getting the right words on the pebble it does still feel soothing (a bit) to finally have it with words in her handwriting. It does help me feel connected to her because I can remember being in that session with her and others recently where I have had a positive and connecting experience with her…and that in itself reminds me that there is a genuine and caring relationship between us.

It remains to be seen whether this memory bank will be accessible to me, if, when the little parts start really freaking out. I already had a bit of a wobble last night talking with a friend so I am very aware that the attachment stuff is not very far below the surface right now.

Still, for now I have a small round hard stone in my hand and some lovely words on it…I’ll take that as a win for now. Things are changing!

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Mother’s Day Followed By A Hint Of Therapy Break Dread…

Denial is good right?!

I’ve been putting off writing on the blog this week… which is strange because there’s been plenty of ‘crazy-making’ topics to talk about! I think it’s almost as though there is so much ‘ugh’ stuff running round my brain that I’ve just buried my head in the sand and tried to power through, pretending it was just a normal week rather than a recipe of emotionally triggering events set to send me over the edge! I guess it’s a survival tactic – head down and run!

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s the annual, in your face, reminder that my mothering wasn’t great (read: totally lacking, emotionally neglectful, and trauma inducing!) whilst great swathes of society celebrate their wonderful mother/daughter relationships. The shops are fit to burst with ‘Thank You To My Lovely Mum On Mother’s Day’ cards and gifts as soon as Valentines Day is over and it makes me avoid the shops for the month.

It’s not altogether different to how I feel around Father’s Day – everyone is celebrating a relationship when I am grieving a loss: my dad is dead. My mum might be alive but I’m in the process of grieving a loss; grieving the mother I never had but so desperately wanted and needed. Both days ‘parent’s days’ are tough in different ways.

I had to avoid most of social media over the weekend because I wanted to puke at the photos of mums and daughters together posting ‘she’s my best friend’ stuff or ‘thanks for all you do for me’. I totally get that it might sound like I am bitter or begrudging of people who have those ‘magical’ relationships with their mums and are, most importantly, securely attached… but it’s really not that at all. Honestly it’s not! It’s clear that a healthy, safe, nurturing mothering relationship is what I am longing for. I guess I am jealous.

I had to unplug over Mother’s Day because it’s just so hard having everyone else’s love and connection thrust upon me when I’m so very aware of the deficit in my own relationship with my mother. I feel like a broken record banging on about the mother wound but it’s huge isn’t it? I find that it’s hard enough navigating the week to week fall out of developmental trauma and struggling with maternal transference in the therapeutic relationship without this stuff being everywhere you go!

I find it sadly ironic that I was actually born on Mother’s Day and have had this almost farcical relationship with my mum. Mother’s Day is a day of celebration and yet it feels almost like a sick joke that I actually turned up on Mother’s Day and yet have always felt almost motherless.

The relationship was doomed from the beginning and as much as I resent what’s happened over the years, I can also see that my mum and I were subject to a bunch of shit circumstances that made our bonding experience very difficult, bordering on impossible. It doesn’t excuse everything that’s gone on but I can understand a bit why things are how they are… did I just make a concession?!

My birth was complicated (we both nearly died) and as a result my mum didn’t get to see me for the first twenty four hours of my life because she was so poorly and so was I. I spent three days in an incubator on a neonatal unit. When my mum finally got to meet me she didn’t recognise me as being hers she thought another baby was hers (this is a story she tells like it’s a joke, but working in therapy I realise how fucking tragic that actually is) and so that critical window of bonding was missed. We never had that lovely time of skin to skin contact that I had with my babies immediately following their births. There was none of that essential oxytocin released between us. We never got to know each other at the primal level.

I was not held or touched for three days apart from nappy changes and care from midwives. I was stuck in a fish tank – alone. I understand why. I was tiny and fragile. That’s what happened back in the early 80’s. These days they know so much more about the importance of those early hours and days with mothers and babies; they put little squares of fabric in with the mother and baby and keep swapping them over in order that the baby can identify the mother’s scent when they finally can come out of the incubator. It makes complete sense; build the connection and the relationship.

It’s hardly surprising that a young mum who had a difficult pregnancy, a highly traumatic birth, and who received next to no support would develop postnatal depression – again something that was nowhere near as understood as it is now. It’s like a hideous catalogue of errors that has led to a fractured maternal relationship. I really feel that if things had have been done a little differently I may not be struggling in quite the way I am today. I mean I get there was plenty of shit that went on as I grew up but I do get the sense that the seeds were planted very early on, before I was even born.

I feel so sorry for my mum, at 22, going through what she did. My adult self wants to befriend her 22 year old self and give her some support, some guidance, and tell her that it’s going to be ok. She is good enough, even if the world (family) is telling her otherwise. She needed a good friend, and a good therapist back then – in fact I suspect she could use those now. I am lucky to have both of these things today.

I feel so fortunate, I had really positive birth experiences with both my babies (planned c-section), bonded with them, they both fed easily, my wife was supportive, and the transition into motherhood as easy as it could possibly have been and yet there were certainly days where I was so exhausted from night feeds that I wondered what the hell I was doing. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for my mum. She was just a baby when she had me and even as a proper grown up at 29 when I had my first child I still found some days a trial.

Anyway, I saw my mum on Sunday and it was nice. We did a kind of joint Mother’s Day/birthday celebration with a cake. As I have said before I don’t really have a problem with the relationship my mum and I have now. Sure, we don’t touch and we don’t have a great deal of contact, but when we see one another it’s ok; it’s good enough. She’s kind. She doesn’t judge me. She’s great with my kids and that goes some small way towards repairing the damage…well my adult sees it that way…don’t dig too deep or ask to many questions to the others!

I’ve learned to accept what the relationship is in the here and now. Our adults get on fine. The problem I have is trying to come to terms with what the relationship wasn’t when I was small. I am trying to come to terms with the lack of nurturing and holding I received as a kid. That’s where the work is. That’s what’s so hard in the therapy. Some weeks I find it easier than others.

This week I am not finding it all easy. What’s up? If Mother’s Day was fine then what’s the problem? Well, this is week is hard because I’m now heading into my last session before I have a month long therapy break. I can feel all the younger parts groaning in unison. My dreams are filled with my therapist and I’ve felt steadily more unsettled as the week has progressed. Basically, because the therapy mother is about to disappear all the trauma and pain of the mother wound is right back on the surface…and that sucks!

I am both desperate for my session on Monday and dreading it. I so want to see my therapist but I also don’t want to see her because once the time is up, that’s it….I’m on my own… we all know how that worked out at Christmas and that was only 2.5 weeks. Eeek. Whilst I know she’ll be back (eventually) there are parts that feel abandoned and scared, and others that feel plain angry that she’s going away. Argh!

This Monday’s session was totally fine. We talked a lot about the stress I am feeling around my cancer follow ups and blood tests. It was front of mind because I had to go and get blood taken that afternoon ready for my consultant appointment on Wednesday. It’s a horrid time leading into hospital appointments because I never really know what news I am going to get. I never in a million years imagined I would be diagnosed with cancer 6 months after giving birth to my son so I never take for granted that these appointments will be fine. You just never know and that is really anxiety provoking.

We have started edging around the subject of my eating disorder in the last few weeks, too. And whilst part of me is cringing and wanting to run away there is another part that is relieved to tell her how things are, how they have been, and let go of some of the burden. I struggle not to judge myself as I tell her the details of what’s happened over the years and how much I battle still – but she doesn’t judge me and so I am learning to be a little more compassionate with myself.

I know it won’t last, though. I can’t sustain that without regular reassurance. I know that as soon as Monday’s session is done I am going to have a real problem on my hands. I don’t want to fall into unhelpful coping strategies but I also can feel it coming. It’s like a storm rolling in on the horizon. I already feel body conscious because I’ve been eating well for the last few weeks and that in itself makes my brain panic. I don’t want to feel abandoned and rejected and alone but I know that even if I manage the first week of the break, at some point the wheels will fall off. I’m not being fatalistic, I just know the pattern…

So, that’s kind of where it’s at right now. I guess we’ll just have to see how Monday goes. I hope I can go in and be open. I am worried that I will shutdown and shut her out as so often is the case as we head into a break. I don’t need that, though! I will endeavour to connect with her.

Wish me luck! I know that so many of us edge towards Easter therapy break now and so I’m sending you all holding and containing thoughts/wishes: you’ve got this.

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