‘Sibling’ Jealousy In The Therapy Room: Don’t Ask Questions You Don’t Really Want The Answers To.

So, following on from my last post here things got much worse and I found myself deep down the rabbit hole of doom! I felt so terrible by the time Sunday rolled around that I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Anita acknowledged my crying bear message in the afternoon on Sunday with what felt like a really formal ‘un-Anita-y’message. She asked if I was ok (uh no, not really) and then sent quite a long message that talked about discussing working out payment stuff and how she had meant to discuss it on Friday but how ‘obviously that didn’t happen’ (yeah, that’s because my session was cancelled…and I am still having a meltdown about it!).

The message landed badly. It felt really off because there I was feeling really upset and abandoned and disconnected and all the bad feelings over the session cancellation on Friday – wondering whether she had chosen to just cancel me rather than work online and here was a message about ‘boundaries’ and ‘therapy dynamics’ and admin, basically. Because I was so triggered already, the message felt cold and just really missed where I was at. I felt like I was invisible to her.

Even though boundaries are very important it can be such a triggering word to those of us with C-PTSD. I think it’s because so often when therapists start banging on about boundaries it can often seem to be something about distancing themselves from us. Like the boundary talk happens because we’re seen to be pushing boundaries, we’re trying to be too close. So, when there’s talk of boundaries from the therapist it often feels like barriers being put up etc…’here’s the boundary, don’t step over it’. Basically ‘back off’ – ‘I’m just your therapist’.

Looking back, I don’t think that’s what was intended and I really don’t ever feel like Anita is a ‘boundaries for boundaries’ sake’ therapist. I think A was just trying to put my mind at rest that we would find a way forward but phrases like ’I’m not going to just drop you’ still sent panic through my system especially as the messages over the weekend had so clearly missed what was going on after Friday and even the word ‘drop’ made me feel vulnerable because of course she could ‘drop’ me at any time.

I didn’t know what to do so I just sent Anita the link to the blog I’d just posted about all the shit that was swirling and asked her to read it. Thankfully, she read it and it clearly made sense to her because the response she sent afterward felt much more like the Anita I am used to. The problem was by the time she sent it, I was so tangled up in knots and had been putting all the jigsaw pieces from the last few days together and creating some kind of impressionist image – you know where the nose is where the ear should be and the mouth is up on the forehead. All the elements are there, just all in totally the wrong place.

My teen felt so wounded that I sent this:

and said ‘I think I need to stay away for a while’.

Anita was lovely and somehow coaxed me back out of that dark internal dungeon to a place where it felt possible to go to see her because I believed that she actually wanted to see me, too. Before that point I had convinced myself she was fed up and wanted away from me. I told her I needed a hug and she said she would give me one in person, I just had to come to my session. I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time the weekend was over. Man this is hard going!

When I arrived at Anita’s on Monday morning, I hugged her as soon as she opened the door. I felt shaky and sad but also relieved to be there. Anita acknowledged that it must have been hard for me to come to the session and I agreed. It was. There were so many different activated parts that it’s so hard to know what to do for the best sometimes. I guess just keep turning up and giving myself the opportunity to talk?

Anita told me that she had had no idea where I was with everything until she’d read my blog. And this is the problem. I can drift so far away so quickly because on the surface I seem fine when, really, I am not. Things blow up inside and a lot of the time it is masked by my False Adult who glosses over everything ‘Ok’ and smiles to cover what’s underneath. Of course, if I am not even in the room and something happens then it’s even less visible.

I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.

Then the truth came out about Friday.

Anita was honest but…ouch.

She told me that she hadn’t offered me an online session on Friday because she felt like I would find it insulting (given how hard they have been over lockdown) and how far they are from what I really need. She apologised and said that she’d got that wrong and was really sorry not to have given me the option. I felt really sad about it, I’d really missed her on Friday and had really needed some reassurance that things were ok with us because the cancellation had let all sorts rip through my system. I was glad she wasn’t trying to paste over it but it was still painful.

I think she probably now understands that whilst online isn’t ideal, in that situation some kind of contact is much better than a complete severing of contact and whilst I might respond with ‘OK’ when I resort to short replies and don’t reach out, I am anything but ‘Ok’. It’s like the shutters go down and I go into self-protection mode. It was so painful on Friday and I couldn’t stop myself from spiralling down.

She acknowledged that she had been in a bit of panic about her daughter which is what I suspected. It felt ok having this conversation – or rather her telling me her side of things. She’s human, after all and we don’t always get things right but it’s not because we are deliberately trying to hurt the other person. I asked her if I could have a hug and basically just started trembling and crying. The impact the weekend, or last couple of weeks had had on my system was really something else. This feeling of abandonment stuff is really tapping into the deep mother wound and it’s fucking exhausting navigating it.

Again, I don’t remember much of that session. When the young parts are so activated and I am teetering on the edge of dissociation my memory seems to just go blank. I remember Anita saying something about how sometimes separation is good because we can learn that separation doesn’t have to mean abandonment but that what had happened in the last two weeks was too much, too sudden, and like I had been thrown in the deep end. I mean the reality is her dog had to go to the vet and her daughter might have had COVID but everything that got wrapped around those two events was massive.  Anita said I had joined all the dots wrongly in my head (written in the blog) but that’s it’s not surprising because that’s what trauma does.

My system definitely started to settle and calm down throughout the session. I cried a lot and just snuggled into her. That’s really all the young parts need or are capable of when things have been so badly triggered. Calm care and reassurance are everything and settling my nervous system is essential before I can ‘think’ about what’s gone on. I saw something the other day from Margaret Atwood.

It’s true. And I think this is where talk therapy so often falls down. When we hit the deck and start sliding with the pre-verbal young stuff, words just don’t cut it and I am so grateful to Anita that she is ok with physical touch because it has definitely enabled the most wounded parts of me to feel safe to come out.

The time between sessions this week seemed to go by really slowly and whilst I felt like we’d repaired some of the hurt feelings and settled the young parts that had got so worked up over the weekend, in the Monday session, I’d still felt really vulnerable and exposed during the week and not very sure-footed. I went to see K for a cup of tea on Thursday and had broken down crying when speaking to her about what the last few weeks had been like and the stuff about the cancelled session on Friday with Anita. She saw immediately how impacted my inner child had been by the messages and cancellation, and was both validating and understanding and it took some of the shame and embarrassment out of my meltdown. By the time it got to Friday I was so ready to see Anita as things felt really wobbly.

My best friend had a horrific week this week as her work with her long-term therapist came to an abrupt end. I am absolutely devastated for her. It’s set some things jangling internally for me, too. Her therapist was so much like Anita in the early days of their work together -so attuned and holding – and over time things have just got more and more distanced, less and less caring, and I can’t help but panic. What happens if this happens with Anita? I’ve been terminated by Em for being a ‘tick’ (and I never showed her ANYTHING like as much as I do A) and now my friend has lost her therapist…it just seems like people like us end up hurt and abandoned time and again. It’s so painful…and terrifying to those parts that are so scared of being hurt.

What’s happened with my friend is absolutely not her fault, nor was what happened with Em mine, but it’s not the therapist that is left bereft and retraumatised when, yet again, the narrative of being too much and toxic gets replayed. They can just move onto the next poor, unsuspecting client, and here we are left trying to pick up the pieces again.

I spoke to Anita about that situation and said how frequently my friend had been misled and gaslit and how really you can’t bullshit clients like us, it’s better to be honest because we see through lies. Anita agreed. I could feel myself getting upset. I asked for a hug (check me out asking for what I need!). Things settled inside a bit and then Anita told me that she needed to tell me about the holiday she has coming up. Oh god. She said she was waiting for the right time to tell me but realised there’s no good time to let me know but wanted to give me plenty of notice. The reaction to the news wasn’t desperately bad inside but it wasn’t great either. Anita said we can text whilst she’s away and last year that was nice, and I didn’t drop dead during the break (much). I am thinking of asking her whether she’ll take the little blue elephant with her so he can see some of the places too.

Just as I’d got over my mini internal meltdown over the upcoming holiday I opened my eyes and looked up and wondered about a box on the shelf. It’s beautiful and ornate. For some reason I decided to ask what was inside the box – and this, my friends, is a lesson on not asking questions when you haven’t really considered what the answer may be! In the past I had asked about what was in another, bigger, carved, wooden box in the room. Anita had said there were colouring pens for when people do art or drawing/writing in their session. However, this box is high up, safely placed in the middle of the shelf and clearly would not be housing pens.

I don’t know why, but I was not ready for what was coming and yet clearly the answer was going to be something like this. Anita told me that one of her long-term clients (a trauma client like me) had given her the box for Christmas because it was important to her (the client), and inside it is a stone with the word ‘trust’ on it and I could have a look at it if I liked.

I’m guessing for most of you reading this that I needn’t say any more about how this felt.

I realise in this situation Anita really couldn’t win, earlier in the session we’d only just spoken about how you can’t bullshit clients like me/us because we see through it, but at the same time this revelation was just too much information and NO I did not want to look at the box.

I am so sensitive at the moment. After the session on Friday I text Anita and used the analogy that I feel like I am tiptoeing so carefully at the minute, trying to avoid danger, but no matter how I try almost every step I take I seem to set off a landmine beneath me…

…and this wasn’t just a landmine, this was a nuclear bomb going off inside.

Everything fell apart in that moment. I dissociated immediately. I was so far gone. It was awful. I felt like I was tumbling over and over through black space. It was dizzying and made me feel physically sick. The feelings of not being good enough, being insignificant, and unimportant flooded my system. It was the same stuff that was triggered the other week by Anita telling she was ‘mega busy’ when I suggested rescheduling because her dog was going to the vet, and also when my session got cancelled last Friday because her daughter might have had COVID.

The voice says that the relationship isn’t real – is meaningless – and I am deluded for thinking otherwise got really loud really quickly. And to be honest it has a point, because, when it comes down to it, I’m just one of many clients and not only that, I’m someone who can be left and let go because there are always going to be people who are more worthy and have more of a claim to Anita’s care and time than I do. Even when we think things are ‘safe enough’ it can turn sour in a matter of weeks and we’re let go, terminated, and left stranded. My experience with Em showed me that but also what’s happened to my friend this last week.

My body was frozen. I felt like I stopped breathing. I think it must’ve been a freeze response. I felt so sad and had no idea I was crying silent tears until I felt my hand was wet.

I think Anita felt the change in me. I was cuddled into her so she couldn’t see my face but I could hear her talking to me but I just didn’t have any words to respond to her and I think this is because what this episode triggered was down into that really young, preverbal stuff. She tried to check in with me about how I was feeling soon after she’d told me about the box but I couldn’t respond. She told me explicitly that just because she’s been seeing this other client a long time it didn’t make our relationship less than. She said something about her having a big heart. And I get it…or Adult Me does, sort of.

It’s like with my kids. When my son arrived, my daughter didn’t suddenly get half the love she had received before he was born because my finite supply of love now had to be split two ways. It doesn’t work that way. Our capacity to love is not finite at all. It’s something that keeps growing. I don’t love my son more than my daughter. I love them both ‘the same’ for who they are and because they are different. I don’t prefer one over the other or compare one to the other. And I guess this must kind of be how it is in therapy…maybe…but then I’m not her child I’m just a client and I come back to that horrible stuff about everyone else being better than me, less difficult, more lovable etc etc. I’m sure other clients have fewer tantrums, are less demanding, less needy…

A small voice said, ‘I want to go home’. It felt so broken at that point. It’s horrible how fragile everything feels. When it feels like that the only sensible option seems to be to run away and protect myself like I always have done before.

It would be so easy to say that this episode on Friday with the box is just a case of ‘jealousy’ and that client ‘sibling rivalry’ stuff that we feel sometimes – but when you dig beneath it it’s not as crazy as it all sounds… or at least I hope not! We all know we aren’t the only client a therapist sees and as much as we’d like to think we’re their favourite (thinking about LS here! 😉) it’s pretty unlikely. But it’s hard because our therapists are so important to us – I think it’s natural that we would want to feel important to them, too, especially when we have a lifetime of not mattering.

When I think about my own teaching work. I like all my students BUT there are some I look forward to working with more than others…and what if I’m one of those ‘less favoured and sometimes dreaded’ hours in Anita’s week? The thought of that really upsets me. And that’s why I am doomed because even Adult Me can’t convince all those hurting parts that everything is ok and that it’s not ‘pretend’ with Anita, because Adult Me has preferences about who I work with, too… and so I can’t help but feel like I am walking my way blindfolded into getting hurt again. Even if there is SO SO SO much evidence to the contrary (which there really is!).

To be honest, when I am like this, Anita must be banging her head up against a brick wall because she shows me ALL THE TIME in SO MANY WAYS that she cares and that I am important. She doesn’t just demonstrate it through her actions, she tells me she ‘loves me’ and ‘thinks the world of me’…so why can’t these scared young parts let that evidence override the doubting parts? Why do I have to let a fucking gift from another client derail my time with Anita?

Trauma.

Simple.

I think it’s just going to take time and patience on both our parts – I just hope she doesn’t get fed up with me first. This work is like recoiling a spring the other way. It’s a repetitive process and sometimes the spring just pings back to how it was before…and it’s not surprising really. I learnt pretty early on that I wasn’t central and my needs didn’t matter. It continued on and on being left at childminders and never feeling like I was wanted or important enough to be made a priority. I just had to fit in and get on with it. I was seen as easy-going child and no trouble – amenable – but that’s because I had to be. There’s no point in acting up when nothing will change.

And this is really the legacy I’ve been left with. In some ways being adaptable is good, but so often it means I put my own needs at the bottom of the pile and try and make things right for everyone else. When I get hurt, I take that pain inwards and spare the other person the hassle of dealing with me. The other day Anita said she thought there were a lot of tears bottled up inside. And she’s right -there’s a lifetime of them. I never cried as a child…because what was the point? There was never anyone there to wipe them away. I learnt not to express my feelings and that runs both ways. I struggle even to show or feel joy. I have the best poker face.

Ugh.

Anyway, I don’t remember much about that session because I was so far gone and so upset. I felt like I had drifted away. What I do know is that Anita was holding me more tightly than usual and whilst I felt a million miles away there was a part of me that could feel how hard she was trying to help bring me back to her. She didn’t let me go until I was more together and settled – she is amazing like that.

I feel like such a bloody idiot after all this but I am trying to show myself some compassion. It’s been a hard few weeks/months…and I guess what’s happening is the young stuff is far closer to the surface than it’s ever been before and so it gets triggered more easily. In some ways it’s mortifying but I guess in other ways it’s progress. Noone wants to be a mute sobbing wreck in therapy but this is clearly a big indicator that this attachment and relational stuff is where the work is (as if we didn’t already know!) and it’s far better that it comes up with Anita where it can be worked on then pretending it’s all ok when something hurts and then going home and going through all the feelings alone and catastrophising even more.

I’ll end there because this is already long.

God give us strength!

System Error #128 – Update Required (or When Will My System Realise My Therapist Is Safe?)

Oh Man! Where do I start with this? Last time I was here I was circling the drain of doom where my system was basically in full meltdown. The young parts of me were in a total panic about the Easter therapy break (that wasn’t really a break at all) and I was edging into the place where part of me felt like quitting therapy in order to escape the painful feelings of abandonment but also to leave before I got left.

Over the course of that eight days, I had got myself so worked up. The fear of being abandoned or rejected by Anita was huge and felt totally real and possible (at least to some of my system). I was on high alert and had convinced myself that something had changed between Anita and I. I was sure that she’d had enough of me. I mean I laid it all out in the last blog so no need to go over it again too much. But jeez. It’s hard work.

I went through the cycle: young parts activated and distressed, teen trying to calm things down and feeling dismissive and angry, and the critic moving in to shut things down by attacking and shaming me. It’s thoroughly exhausting when this happens (did I ever mention that I am not keen on therapy breaks?!) and it’s so hard to ground and get my adult self to take the reins.

I think the thing I failed to mention about this cycle is that whilst it can seem quite linear a, b, c the reality is that it doesn’t get to c (critic) and everything go quiet with the young parts. Far from it! It can seemingly go in waves and a,b,c, a,b,c or a,b,a c, b, a, a… and sometimes all the parts are activated simultaneously…and god that’s hellish! When that happens the system is unsettled and noisy. It’s like there’s a house of different parts all screaming to get out of their rooms (apart from the teen – she’ll rot in her room with a razor blade). Imagine having a screaming new born, a toddler wailing, a four-year-old banging… etc etc…and then the critic going mad like some crazed warden from a Victorian orphanage. There’s no trauma-informed care here – it’s threats, and shaming, and “noone loves you and that’s why you’re here”.

Joy!

Even if adult me can see what’s going on with the parts it’s pretty hard to step outside it because the felt sense in my body that something is dangerous and that bad things will happen is so real. I know it’s a hangover from the past and the relational trauma I have experienced with other people…but try telling that to my system when it perceives slight changes in Anita’s behaviour and then runs away with itself. Yikes!

What I found really disappointing – this break – is how quickly I slipped into believing the narrative that I was sure to be terminated when the break was over when there has been so much evidence to the contrary. It’s like having my brain and body hijacked when it gets that bad.

Usually, if I feel disconnected from Anita or panicked, I might reach out with a text (mostly a GIF from the young parts) and Anita responds to that and it settles things down. The thing is, this break, for some reason I couldn’t send the message. I couldn’t clue Anita in to how things were and so kept spiralling downwards. Convinced she was fed up of me and wouldn’t want to hear from me I continued to drown in the horrible feelings.

Then on Tuesday I sent Anita the link to my last blog post. I don’t know if she read it. And then, finally, on the Tuesday night I caved in. The youngest parts were really activated and broke free of the critic’s shackles. I simply sent a GIF:

And as you can see within a few minutes she’d responded and instantly my system settled. Why the fuck did I let myself get so worked up and not reach out and get what I needed earlier? I guess part of it was the shame. I felt embarrassed for needing her and I suppose it’s something about the holiday too. I didn’t want to be pathetic and needy when she wasn’t working. However, it definitely didn’t do me any favours letting things spiral so much.

I was also so unsettled by the fact that my sessions have not been able to be as regular over the school Easter holidays due to my childcare issues. Of course, I could have done online sessions but I really know that given how unsettled I was that there would have been a huge likelihood that screen sessions might have exacerbated the situation.

Once things came down a few notches out of ‘she hates me and is going to leave’ I was able to tell Anita about how I was feeling about the sessions I couldn’t have/make, and we managed to reschedule a Monday one that I couldn’t get childcare for to tomorrow and that eased things a bit. I was also able to tell her how I struggling and asked her not to let me float away in our session on Friday (last week) because I was finding it so hard. She said she understood and knows it’s a well-used defence mechanism and told me she was looking forward to seeing me and sent me another hug GIF.

And then everything felt totally doable.

I arrived at my session and was so ready to see Anita. You’ll remember how the weeks leading into the Easter break I started to retreat and my False Adult showed up and did all the talking and prevented the child parts from getting what they needed. Not on Friday. I literally sat down. Anita commented on my bracelet, I said something about my hair and then gave up. I’d been there less than two minutes when I said, “Can I have a hug please?” and she replied, “Of course. Come here.” I snuggled into her and she noticed that I was shaking and gently rubbed my back and hugged me close into her chest.

I was so glad to be there, so glad I had been able to ask for what I wanted and needed, but the legacy of the last week was still in my body. I could barely breathe. I closed my eyes and tried to focus in on the steady beat of Anita’s heart to regulate my system. After about five minutes I opened my eyes. I felt conflicted. I was both tense and relieved – this is what it’s like when more than one part is activated at the same time. It’s the disorganised attachment stuff in action. Anita wondered what was going on, she asked if the hugs were helping. I shook my head into her chest. She replied “Do you want me to stop hugging you?” again I shook my head and she held me a bit tighter to her.

Then I asked, “Have you cleaned your fish tank?” – you know, as you do!

And Anita told me she had. I said, “This is the problem, with my system, everything is so alert. Your fish tank wasn’t even dirty – it’s barely changed, but I notice EVERYTHING in this room. I’m guessing most of clients don’t comment on your tank?” (or the bloody light switches or painted doors…or all the other shit I notice and have to ask about. I literally know when she’s dusted and some of the items on the shelves have moved a centimetre or two. It’s fucking exhausting, but if I notice the room imagine what I am picking up on in Anita – if she’s a bit tired, a bit snuffly, a cut on her hand, or she smells different…FUCK!!). She said no but then really soothingly spoke to me about my hypervigilance and how it’s ok and expected after the trauma I have had.

Anita really normalises everything for me where other people tell me that I am ‘too jumpy’ or ‘scared of my own shadow’ and ‘need to chill out’, Anita understands why and tries so hard to ease things for me. Like she’ll text me if there’s going to be a different car on the drive or whatever. She just really gets it.

How many times have I said this before? And this is what’s so fucking frustrating about the last week on break. I just can’t feel any of that stuff when things get disrupted because my system is thrown into a panic. Or I can’t trust it. Or maybe I could trust that but it’s always possible for people to change!…

So much of my problem with breaks and object constancy stems from my mum being away in the week when I was small and then coming home and being volatile but I know she also had a really tough time when I was a baby with post-natal depression and so the likelihood is that she would have been inconsistent with me as a baby too. Like the title of the post, there’s an error code in my system and I really require an update but it’s just not as simple as going into the start menu and selecting ‘restart and update’. Therapy isn’t a quick fix but it is a fix.

I guess the positive about all this is that there is change. Sure, I got the rug pulled out from under my feet over Easter but the difference, now, is that I feel able to talk to Anita about my feelings around breaks and separation when we are together. I don’t just sit drowning in my toxic shame, mute and dissociated like I did with Em feeling steadily more disconnected and upset.

To be fair, Anita and I didn’t speak much in this 75-minute session compared with when False Adult was attending the sessions. But my goodness was it a healing and connecting session. Somewhere in the middle after a lot of holding I miserably said, “Sorry I am hard work.”

Anita hugged me closer again and replied, “You’re not! You’re really not. You’re really not! I know you feel it but you’re not. You’re just very hurt. And I know that the separation just opens all those wounds back up again, doesn’t it? It really is ok. I get it. You’re not hard work. I think is the saddest thing for me about you. The trauma kept changing right the way through for you and was there right from the day you were born. But it’s not you. It’s not your fault!”

I asked if we were still ok and if anything had changed. She softly asked, “Does it feel like it’s changed?”

I nodded into her chest.

“In what way?… Does it feel more distant? It hasn’t altered. It really hasn’t. I haven’t changed. We haven’t changed. This really is ok.” And then she likened me to her rescue dog (again!)…we have a lot in common! The simple but emphatic reassurance from Anita really helped the little parts feel safe. I like how Anita doesn’t over-complicate things when it is clear it is a young part speaking to her. She makes it simple and easy to understand and this really regulates the system quickly. Em used to spend ages asking me questions and never giving any kind of reassurance and it was so hard for the young parts.

After another little while I whispered, “You’re not a horrible person.” I had been thinking about what my brain had served me up in the week. Trying to make me think that A was somehow uncaring or whatever and how she was going to hurt me. But the young parts don’t believe it. Not at all. They miss her terribly when they can’t see her but she’s not doing it to reject them.

Anita spoke softly and said, “I’m not, no. And you’re not either. I’m not going to trick you. I do mean what I say. I’m guessing your brain is questioning all of these things. One day it might believe me.”

I can’t really put into words what it feels like when we have these conversations and I am snuggled into her like a bloody baby monkey. When I think about it now part of me wants to cringe – like ‘OMG I seriously don’t let myself be that fucking vulnerable and pathetic and needy with another human being do I?’ but there’s so many parts that finally FINALLY are getting what they need and there is no shame or embarrassment when I am that close to Anita.

It doesn’t feel weird or too much.

There’s an incredible amount of intimacy and trust that has been forged between us and I know to anyone in the normal outside world, perhaps people who have not done therapy, might have some opinions on it – but what happens in therapy is not like anything else I have experienced in life. It’s like some magic grove where little by little we glue all our pieces back together and make new pieces for parts that are missing. It’s a bit like that Japanese thing where broken pots get put back together with gold. The cracks are celebrated and the structure is solid.

Eventually, and I mean very eventually, after about an hour I felt my system completely relax. My body went heavy like all the tension just left. I was able to breathe regularly and deeply alongside Anita’s breathing rather than holding my breath or shallow breathing. I told her I was tired. She told me she knows how scared I am and how much of a struggle it can be and that it’s only when we feel safe that you can really feel the tiredness. When we’re no longer in flight mode and it’s safe to relax do we get hit with the exhaustion. I told her I loved her and she told me she loved me too. Little by little it felt like everything was getting back on track. She said she could feel that I was more settled and continued to hold me.

And then my stomach started growling really REALLY loudly! Anita said it was a good sign. When you’re hypervigilant and in fight/flight/freeze everything is in a tight knot. Food isn’t on the agenda. So she sees it it’s a sign of things starting to relax.

I felt so relaxed and connected that I finally felt able to let out some humour and said, “Do I get the prize for most needy and clingy client?” Anita burst out laughing. I continued, “Because if I am going to do things, I like to be the best.” Anita giggled and responded laughing, “If you’re gonna do it, you’ve got to do it properly!”

Then there was a bit of silence.

“You avoided that well!” I poked.

More laughter from Anita. Then she composed herself. “Well, there’s all different types of needy aren’t there? You know? I think we can all be there. I know my three-year-old can kick off sometimes. More times than I would like her to.”

Ha! Good try therapist lady, I know I am the gold medalist!

And then it was the end of the session. I felt such a huge amount of relief after that connecting session.

Unfortunately, these last couple of days have felt tricky again and this is completely down to the fact that I couldn’t have my session yesterday and have to wait until tomorrow to go. It’s too long between the contact and too much disruption for my young parts. Whilst I don’t relish the end of the school holidays and being thrown back into the chaos that is my usual life I will be glad for my therapy schedule to resume…and hopefully get some handle back on my internal world!

Mother’s Day. When Your Therapist Is Better Than Your Actual Mother.

It’s been a few weeks since it was Mother’s Day, here, in the UK. I had wanted to write this back around then, but have got so far behind with the blog that it just hasn’t been possible. I’m still hanging on by a (very frayed) thread and to add insult to injury it’s the Easter therapy break (well – a whole 8 days without a session!) and so there’s all sorts of overtired, young parts’ feelings swirling about that that need to come out somewhere – and here seems like a good place rather than bothering Anita (arrrghhhh it’s a struggle!)! However, to at least keep some kind of sense of chronology going, I will get this written and posted up first. I should have a bit more time to write over the next couple of weeks as it’s school holidays and I am not tutoring many students through the break … thank god!

Anyway – that’s a bit of a preamble. Let’s get down to business.

I don’t know about you but I really struggle with Mother’s Day. It always falls on or around my birthday (I was actually born on a Mother’s Day – oh the irony!) and so it kind of creeps into that -and I almost don’t enjoy my birthday because it’s overshadowed by Mother’s Day. I don’t necessarily mean by having to see my mum – it’s more like if we (my wife and I) plan to go out somewhere, or do something, on or around my birthday, everywhere is just filled with mums and daughters and I can’t escape it.

No matter how much I try and ignore them, I can’t get away from how many people there are out there that ‘seem’ have close relationships with their mums. Spas and restaurants are rammed with relaxed-looking, smiling mums and daughters who are clearly enjoying each other’s company. There’s a kind of intimacy and connection that I simply do not have with my mum, and I can’t help but feel a bit…I dunno…sad…jealous…disappointed…hurt… There’s all sorts of emotions around it and try as I might to not let it get to me, it does.

Since becoming a mum, myself, I think Mother’s Day has become a bit less hard because I see it as a time to celebrate being a mum to my own babies. I can’t lie, though, the moment the pink cards with sickly sweet, sentimental pictures and messages hit the shops there is a definitely a part of me that baulks at it. I think it’s probably the teen. For her, especially, the mother wound is still gaping open and so Mother’s Day, or March in general, is just like being prodded with a stick deep down into that painful place, with a mocking ‘look what you didn’t get and what you’ll never have’.

I find it hard picking out a card for my mum. I have to find one that is maybe artier and fewer on words because, frankly, a card with two figures hugging that says something like ‘you’re the world’s best mum’ or ‘Thank you for being an amazing mum’ just feels… Wrong. And don’t let’s get started with the ones that have lengthy verses inside!

My mum doesn’t touch me – we’ve had two hugs in the last 13 years – one when my dad died, and more recently when her dad died and she was in tears at the hospital so I held her. Touch and holding has never been a part of our relationship – well, certainly not since when, at 14 years old, I reached out to hold her hand and she said. “Don’t do that people will think we are lesbians”…

Ummm.

So, yeah, that was a big kicker wasn’t it?

Especially as I was gay (not that she knew it then).

Don’t get me wrong. We have a relationship that works for both of us now. She is good with my kids and we ‘get on’…it’s just not…enough…or it is enough… because the really sad thing about it is that if, tomorrow, my mum came along and was suddenly full of love, hugs, and attunement, I simply don’t want any of it from her now. That ship sailed a really long time ago. My young parts have taken themselves away and don’t come near. It wasn’t safe as a kid and I sure as hell won’t put them out there again. It’s interesting though, because it’s not even like attachment is really a choice. You can’t make yourself feel something about someone if it’s not there but equally you cannot ‘unfeel’ feelings that ARE there!

And this is why therapy has for so long been so hard (pre-Anita). The child in me had transferred all that need and longing to be held and seen and loved onto someone else (Em) and like my mum, Em was cold, withholding, and would not come anywhere near me. It left me feeling inadequate, unlovable, and untouchable. Basically, I was both deficient and too much. It was incredibly painful but also incredibly familiar to be experiencing this stuff in the therapy. I think that’s why it took me so long to get out of that situation. It was a complete re-enactment of my relationship with my mum and I thought that was all I could expect, all I was worthy of.

It’s such a shame because I think, in fact, I know, that working with maternal transference and handling it sensitively and with care can be a real game-changer. Doing the work on the mother wound can be so profoundly healing. I get that it can feel intense and overwhelming for both therapist and client at times. There are a lot of big feelings and a lot of needs that haven’t seen the light of day in a very long time. Not only that, needs and feeling that are already mixed up with shame because that’s what we learnt as kids. Having several clingy needy kids and angry, depressed teens coming out and expressing ALL THE FEELINGS is a lot to deal with. I can understand why therapists can find it difficult to see beyond the adult body that is sitting in front of them BUT making repairs in this area of wounding and creating a safe attachment with all those younger parts is ‘the work’ for so many of us.

I think what many therapists fail to realise, or really acknowledge, is that it is such a huge thing for us to even dare to attach to a therapist and to show them our most vulnerable and wounded selves. It often takes a lot of time to build up enough trust to show ourselves, and if that happens it’s not something to run screaming from it’s something to be celebrated! If we let a therapist see all those wounded and damaged parts then I think, actually, they should be a bit honoured because we’ve spent our whole lives with these parts in exile, hidden away and shrouded in shame.

Therapists: when we (and our parts) attach to you, we need you to lean in, not freak out. It’s normal for humans to want to be in relationship. There’s nothing weird about having loving feelings towards someone with whom you do such intimate work. And yet, there is so much pathologizing of people like me (and the community here). My last therapist called me ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and it’s done more damage than I can ever put into words…although, clearly, I keep trying as it comes up frequently here in this blog!!

My last therapy was completely retraumatising which is why I feel so lucky to have met Anita who is the complete antithesis to Em – not only is she healing the mother wound with me she healing the harm done in the therapy with Em…of which there was lots. Anybody that’s been following this blog over the last year will see how transformational working with Anita has been for me. It’s like being bathed in shame remover and then being put out in the sun to dry.

Anyway, just before Mother’s Day I was online looking for cards for my mum and I scrolled past this:

Instantly, there was a part of me that wanted to give it to Anita. I took a screenshot of it and sent it to my friend and explained how I wanted to give it to A but realised how risky it could be. My friend and I have both experienced what it is like to have this kind of gesture thrown back in our faces – gifts refused etc (although not at Mother’s Day as never done anything here before!) and my poor friend was told that her therapist ‘already has her daughters’ (OUCH) and so this stuff can be excruciatingly painful. My friend has been to hell and back with me over what’s happened with Em over the years and so she was really trying to protect me from getting hurt. I am so glad I have her. And I get it, for some therapists any kind of step into mother comparisons might signal red flags etc and suddenly we’ve tiptoed into the crossing a boundary territory and it all goes to shit. I mean look at what happened with Em.

However, for both me and my friend (and I am guessing lots of you too) it’s not about wanting the therapist to actually be our mothers. We don’t want adoption papers signed! We don’t want to move in or spend Christmas with them – we have our own lives, partners, kids etc. In fact, we don’t even want the relationship to exist outside that room. Sure, we might want more time with the therapist (an hour or two a week isn’t really enough with C-PTSD) but we are pretty clear that what happens, happens in that safe container.

We know we get the best version of our therapists in sessions. Outside the room they’re probably just like the rest of us: grouchy, tired, needy, and a bit ‘over it’ – and we don’t need that! But what happens in the room can be magical and transformative and it’s the closest experience we have ever got of healthy mothering. Why wouldn’t we want to acknowledge that and express thanks for that…especially at time that is usually so fucking painful?

So, despite clearly knowing it was a risk even acknowledging Mother’s Day I decided to buy the card for A. I didn’t write it or give it to her the session before the weekend because I thought that it might a bit uncomfortable, but decided that I would give it to her the Monday after Mother’s Day. As it turned out, it was on that Friday session when I had been really shut down and struggling to connect (there’s been a lot of that recently but largely due to the stress I am under outside therapy not because A has done anything wrong!) where Anita gave me a birthday present and I kind of knew at that point that what we have and what we are doing wasn’t going to be ruined by a card.

So, I wrote this:

Dear A,

My friend told me not to give you this card, she said it would probably lead to a conversation I didn’t want to have and that would trigger all the young parts and cause a rupture between us. I mean, I get it, I’ve thought about that too, but still, there’s a part of me that wants to send you this because the statement is true.

In this last year you have been more available, present, and caring than my mum. I know you are my therapist and not my mum but what I have learnt over the years is that mothering comes in lots of different forms, from lots of different people and I wanted to acknowledge that and to thank you for being amazing. I really don’t know where I would be right now had you not been in my life.

You asked on Friday whether I felt like you were letting me down. I know I barely responded, I felt so far away and disconnected, but internally it sent all kinds of shock waves through my system. I couldn’t really get my head round why you would say or think that. No. You haven’t let me down at all. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t even really have the words to describe how far from ‘letting me down’ you are (what is the opposite of that?!). Even when things have felt impossible and desperate and I have been distant, disconnected, or dissociated you always find a way to bring me back and connect with me and that’s huge. I never leave you feeling like there is something wrong between us.

I cannot believe how patient and kind you are even when I am pushing you away. I don’t mean to. It’s not what I want to do AT ALL but there’s definitely a massive fear about being too much right now and so I back away in order to stop that.

I wish my brain could hold onto the feeling of safety and care between sessions but it just doesn’t, or can’t yet. It feels frustrating to repeatedly feel like everything is brand new every time I see you… well, kind of. I guess I am on high alert looking if something has changed.

Anyway, I guess this is the work. Thank you for everything you do for me and for the best hugs. I love you. Big hug xxx

So, I got to the session on Monday and spoke about the crap that was going on with my wife’s medical stuff, job, blah blah more shit and more unexpected trapdoors. I was so deflated by it all and we talked about a lot about it all. And then I reached a point half an hour in and said, “I don’t even know what to say!” I was done with talking about the day-to-day stuff and whilst we were connected it’s different when it’s all adult. You know when you have the young stuff needing to be seen and worked on too just bubbling away inside? Well, it was that and I knew the card was sitting in my bag waiting. I felt safe enough to get it out and said, “Can I give you this? You might need your glasses!”

Anita went and got her glasses opened the card and immediately smiled and said, “That is gorgeous!”

As she sat and read it, despite her positive reaction to the front, I could feel the tendrils of panic creeping up and over my body. Shame. Embarrassment. Fear. All the stuff. This is definitely the hangover from so many times with Em where I would write something, take it to session, be so incredibly vulnerable, and then she’d finish and it would feel like the door was being slammed in my face. She’d never take a step towards me and instead say something like, “I’m just your therapist” or “Your young parts might want to be held but that won’t happen here”. Blah blah. You all know the drill!

When she finished reading, Anita looked up, smiled at me and said with so much warmth in her voice, “That is lovely. Thank you. And I am glad you gave it to me. It really is lovely.”

I was silent almost in a freeze, I think. I could hardly breathe.

Anita continued, “I’m glad you feel like that. Because for me that is what that is what this work is about. Helping your system start to trust.”

More silence and freeze from me. Then in a tiny voice, “It doesn’t feel very good.”

“Your system at the moment?” Anita asked gently.

A barely perceptible nod from me.

And then with so much gentleness in her voice, A said, “I should imagine it was quite scary to give me that card wasn’t it?”

I moved my eyes from the spot on the floor and turned to Anita and said, ‘Yeah’.

She looked and me leant towards me a little and said, “But I have read it, how you said it. And I really have. I feel honoured. Really honoured. Thank you.”

“It just feels really scary” whispered the little voice.

“It’s ok…but nothing feels ok at the moment does it? I wish I could keep you safe from all of it.” Anita just really gets it. It’s not just what she says but how she says it. As I have said so many times it’s like being doused in soapy shame remover being with her.

And then all the parts of me knew it was safe. That she is safe. That I am safe with her and that we are ok.

I know it’s like doing the hokey cokey in therapy – the parts going in and out with trust and testing. But over and over again Anita is there and when we get to the chorus, we join hands and run into the middle together!

The little one asked, “Can I have a hug?”

And as usual, and with so much care and warmth in her voice Anita replied, “Of course”.

And then, after what felt like quite a big session, I just snuggled into her for the remainder of the of the time and listened to her heart beat. I find this holding so soothing. I can feel my nervous system relax and regulate. I can’t do that on my own, or for myself, and I am so glad that Anita realises how important co-regulation is for the young parts of my system. That half an hour was so so healing…and this is why my therapist is ‘better than my real mother’!

It’s been an incredibly tough month – but thank goodness for therapy!…

It’s been over a month since I last posted here which is the longest I have ever gone without blogging. It’s not that there hasn’t been a lot going on – far from it – I could write thousands of words on how it’s been but I simply haven’t had the time or energy to do anything other than survive, lately. It’s been that bad. My anxiety has been off the chart and I feel perpetually on edge (although it’s justified!). I am stuck in flight mode and my nervous system is freaking out big time. I can’t sleep. Eating has been a real battle, at times. It’s just been the biggest uphill struggle for so long now. I can say wholeheartedly that I didn’t think being a grown up would be this hard. Adulting sucks!

I appreciate how doom and gloom that all sounds and it’s hard to go into too much detail about what’s been going on as it’s so specific that it would be easy to identify me from the information if you happened to know me in real life. A broad-brush picture is: the job stuff with my wife took another very nasty turn (really bad!), and since her COVID we’ve discovered that she has an undiagnosed autoimmune disease (the GP missed the markers in the blood tests she had six months ago when she went in pain and with vision problems and since then she’s gone rapidly downhill). We have learnt that lack of intervention has already caused some irreparable damage. This damage could be life-changing and if not got under control soon, career-limiting. This latest revelation has meant that a surgery she had recently has been unsuccessful and another surgery that was planned has had to be postponed to try and get her system under control to make it safe enough to operate. FFS!

And then my grandfather died of COVID (contracted in hospital) earlier in the month. That was really horrible and hard to see. Honestly, to be with someone, unconscious, fighting for every breath despite being pumped with oxygen is something I’ll never forget and it makes me really wonder why there are still people out there who are refusing to wear masks or get the vaccine and think COVID is some kind of hoax to control us all. I wouldn’t wish that kind of death on anyone and it’ll take a long while for the memory of this to fade. I am hospital phobic anyway, so it’s not been great.

There’s been other stuff, too, but essentially (as you can probably see) things haven’t got any better and in terms of health and finances we’re in a really bad spot, still. I could do with the lottery fairies smiling on me!

So, suffice to say life has been very very hard and it’s a long long way from resolving. I keep saying to Anita that it can’t possibly get any worse, this has to be bottom, and then I discover another trapdoor and plunge down through it into another level of hell.

I have to laugh about it or I’d cry. And I do cry, but nowhere near enough because there isn’t time. Having said that I bawled my eyes out watching a webcast of my grandad’s funeral yesterday. So much grief came up and out – and I am sure if wasn’t only about the loss of a lovely man, it tapped into so many other losses: my dad, my wonderful friend, and… Em.

The one good, solid, and reliable thing (silver linings!) through all of this has been Anita’s consistent care and support. I honestly don’t know where I would be without her and I literally thank the universe every single day that I crossed paths with her. Even though it hurt like hell, I am glad that what happened with Em happened last year because I know how bad things would be if I was still working with her. She’s only working online now and has put her fee up by another £15 a session…there’s no way I could have afforded to see her but not only that, I could not have coped with the perpetual stress and anxiety of being in therapy with her. Working with Anita has given me at least some sense of a solid base, or a safe space in my week – and it has been so needed.

Because things have been so much in survival mode, I can’t even really remember what’s been going on in the therapy to recount much here. I can’t really recall very much detail and the chronology feels a bit skewed – my brain has been so overloaded. I have been all over the place. There’s been times when all I have been able to do is cry and cuddle Anita, grabbing onto her like she’s a life raft in a stormy sea.

Fortunately, she is always there to hold me if that’s what I want. I have asked her on a few occasions if she thinks I am weird or too needy or too clingy for needing to be so close to her (young parts freaking out) – she doesn’t even stop to think or take a breath before emphatically answering ‘No! Not at all! You are exactly as anyone would be given all you’ve gone through’. What’s even nicer is that she often follows up with something like ‘you are really so easy to love – what’s happened to you is not your fault and I really want you to hear that and know that’ all the while holding me a little bit more tightly. I can literally feel the love and it is so healing.

After a particularly bad week earlier this month I’d sent a few texts. Not really wordy ones just touching base but kind of needy ‘are you there’ GIF type ones. And then the shame and panic hit a bit and I sent a GIF of a bear repeatedly poking another bear with a carrot and asked the question:

It’s the non-shaming simple responses that I get from Anita that go such a long way to settle my system and build trust for all the parts of me in the relationship with her. Having those young parts allowed to communicate with an emoji or GIF (or longer message/email which rarely happens) has been transformational. It’s not ‘therapy outside the room’ but it is holding and containing enough for me to be able to do the work in the room.

It’s so helpful to be able to give Anita the heads up on the morning of a session and say ‘we need to talk about…’ so that I don’t arrive and chicken out. Again it is rarely necessary but having that freedom to reach out makes such a difference. I can’t believe I struggled for so many years with Em. Feeling bad for sending any kind of message (which only happened very occasionally) and getting the boundary talk and a ‘I didn’t read your text’ was so damaging for the parts that were struggling so much with coming to the room.

Anyway #AnitaRocks

I seem just to be waffling on here and saying not much but honestly, March has been absolutely brutal. When my grandad was dying, the visit meant a 700-mile round trip over two days with my mum (!) to say goodbye to him. I was absolutely battered when I got home, the drive was long, the emotional stress of visiting my grandad was huge, trying to support my mum and make conversation when we have an ‘interesting’ dynamic was ok but exhausting, and to add insult to injury, the person in the room next to me at the hotel decided that it was a good idea to have a 5-hour long row on the phone to their partner. I was so angry and so so tired that I ended up banging on the wall at 3am (this is not like me!). I had also had to reschedule students and condense 5 days of work into 4 (need the money right now!)

It was all a bit too much, and add to that I had also had to cancel my Monday therapy at short notice (I got the call that my grandad was end of life on the Sunday morning and left the house within half an hour in the hope we’d get to see him before he died). You can probably imagine how that set the young parts jangling! The night that I was alone in the hotel I felt so worn out and emotional that the young parts were really on edge even though Anita had been accommodating and understanding and had offered to see me at our usual/occasional Tuesday evening time (if I was not too tired for it). Sometimes an extra day waiting just feels too long when life already feels too much, but at least I didn’t have to hang on until Friday.

I do know how lucky I am to have a therapist who is so flexible with me. It is another benefit of having a therapist that works full time in their own private practice and not 3 days a week in the NHS and 2 days private (like Em). Because Anita works more days there’s always flexibility and opportunity to get a session when I need it or juggle things around if stuff comes up. If there was ever a crisis or something cropped up when working with Em there was never any space (although maybe there was an she just didn’t want to see me?!) and I just had to sit with it. This was especially difficult given that she also didn’t do check-ins or any kind of outside communication.

Sitting here now it’s clear just how bad a fit it was. That aloof, distant style just didn’t work for me AT ALL!

Anyway, despite being knackered on Tuesday I was determined to see Anita that evening. My grandad had died on the Monday evening and I really just needed some time and space to decompress with my safe person. I arrived at Anita’s and after about 10 minutes talking just completely ran out of steam. I think I started to relax and the adrenaline that had been keeping me going disappeared and I was left with the reality.

I felt totally done in.

I asked if we could turn the ‘big’ light off in the room (I was so tired and it felt too bright) and instead put on the salt lamp she has. Then I asked for a hug, cuddled into her, closed my eyes and came very close to falling asleep as I listened to her heart beat. Our breathing synchronised under the orangey pink glow of the lamp and it just felt so containing for all the parts that were struggling. I don’t remember much about what was said but I do remember how calm and safe it felt. I can imagine some people reading this thinking that ‘this is not therapy’ but it works for me. It is healing to me. And after years and years gaining ‘insight’ I just really need to do the relational healing – and that is what’s happening.

Anita sent me this one the other day 🙂

The next week I don’t know what happened but there was a session where I just found it impossible to connect with Anita. Bloody emotional rollercoaster. It was definitely a teen part that had been triggered. I think I (young part) had sent her a text (nothing important – like literally a GIF or something) and she hadn’t responded when she usually would have done. I don’t know if it was shame creeping in round the edges or what – but I couldn’t even look at her when I got to the session. I think when I am operating in overwhelm my hypervigilance goes mad and I panic that something is wrong. Looking back over the messages, I can’t even see why I had got worked up!

Sometimes when we’ve had really connecting, emotionally intimate sessions like that evening one, I almost get a vulnerability hangover and go into myself, I think. Like I saw Anita not replying to my text as a sign that she must now feel like how it had been in the recent amazing holding sessions was really too much for her and now she regretted letting me so close. I was too much. She had finally seen what Em had, and she wanted to get away from the parasitic tick (me).

OH HELP!

When this stuff starts circling in my brain it’s agony. The shame is so huge. I know this is my inner critic doing its best to keep me safe and it’s utter bollocks given how it really is with Anita but for some reason I can’t get out of that state when I am in it. I hate it. I mean honestly, it was such an epic panic and meltdown inside. I know it was a product of being overwhelmed and overtired but it feels so hard for all the other parts of me that long to remain connected and to be safely held when I shut down and keep Anita at arm’s length.

Anyway, on this day Anita was being so warm and lovely and PATIENT. Telling me she was there with me. She held out her hand and asked me if I wanted to take it. She even offered me a hug. But I just couldn’t reach out and refused all her offers of connection. I really wanted to hold her hand and hug her, but it was like my hands were tied behind my back. Anita kept gently reassuring me but nothing was working. She’d told me she had had a migraine and had to cancel clients in the week and had been too ill to look at her phone and realises she’d been less available and responsive. I realised then, that the lack of reply was because she’d been ill in bed. I felt like an epic dickhead.

Anita then said, ‘I know it’s your birthday tomorrow, and I have got you a present but I haven’t had chance to wrap it up or get you a card because I have been stuck in bed with my head’. I was struck dumb by what was being said. Here I was, again, pushing this woman away because I was scared that I was too much for her and thinking that she doesn’t care and wants to be away from me (over an unacknowledged GIF — I do see how mad this is!), and instead here she is telling me that she’s remembered my birthday and not only that, has wanted to give me something as a gift.

I looked at her for the first time, embarrassed, and said, ‘you really didn’t have to do that. That’s so lovely. But you really didn’t have to.’ She replied with, ‘I wanted to. It felt right. It might not happen every year but it feels right now’. She bent down and opened the cupboard in the room and took out a box and gave it to me. It was a Himalayan salt lamp just like the one in the therapy room. I had told her how I really felt relaxed when we were in that evening session and how calming the light felt and she’d not only kept that in mind but bought me one. She told me they were meant to help with sleep and that she knows how much I have been struggling to sleep lately and she hoped it might help me.

I was so blown away by her kindness, again. Like the day she gave me my beating heart necklace when we came back out of the last lockdown and I’d tanked with online sessions and had meltdown after meltdown. I mean it’s incredible. I put the lamp down and gave her the most enormous hug and thanked her and spent the rest of the session snuggled in and talking about all sorts. Little parts had a lot to say – as you can probably imagine!

The lamp is amazing and I love lying in bed listening to podcasts or whatever with the light on. It has a dimmer switch so you can make it really low light to sleep by – like a night light. It’s really helped…but then I also think psychologically it’s like being tucked up in bed by that parent figure. Every time I go to bed I have the reminder of Anita’s care for me. I know it’s intense right now, but I don’t care! For the child parts it’s huge and settling and I feel like holes are being filled in bit by bit inside me and I am moving towards a more healed place – even despite the fact that my life is going down the toilet!

I can see this is getting long so I will end here – even if it’s a bit abrupt.  I have more to write about Mother’s Day (eek!). I know it’s a sore area for a lot of us mother wounded souls but I think it’d be better as another stand alone post…oh and then there’s Easter break coming too!!

I hope you are all hanging in there. Thank you for all the emails from those of you who have checked in. I am sorry I haven’t replied. I have literally been on empty x

Back In The Therapy Room. ‘Hold My Brain; Be Still, My Beating Heart’

*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.

I nodded.

‘It’s really good to see you’ she said.

I could hear her words but I just had nowhere to hang them.

Silence.

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?’

I nodded.

‘Come here and have a hug.’

Hooray – green light, right?

Yes. But no.

Fuck.

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?’

Yep.

Crystal clear.

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…’

Wait…

Whatttttt?!!

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?

The final face-to-face session before lockdown…

The last session before the separation for lockdown was not quite as I expected it would be – well not to begin with anyway! Fortunately, Anita and I had, again, booked in a longer session (75 mins) so that hopefully things could end feeling as held and contained as possible. I’m so glad we had arranged this because the weekend leading into the Monday session threw up some real-life adulting shit that was massively unsettling and destabilising for me. I can’t really say what it is about in much detail because it’s so specific it would be highly identifying. Needless to say, though, I am so over significant health stresses that can have an impact on our financial security and stability. Ugh.

I had text Anita on the Saturday when I found out the situation with my wife so she knew what was coming on Monday and we spent the first ten minutes talking about this unexpected crisis. Adult, or False Adult, was there joking her way through it all – upbeat. I tend to do this when something very scary is happening in my here and now. I do that buzzy ‘it’ll be fine’ stuff when actually inside I am crumbling and terrified. FFS!

And then it just stopped. Silence. I’ve noticed I do this a lot. I just run out of performance and realise that I don’t need to do this with A. Sure, it was important to me to talk about what had happened but actually I didn’t need to do it in the ‘make light of it’ way because there is no bright side to this situation. It’s utterly crap.

After a minute of saying nothing and feeling the energy drain out my body, I just whispered, ‘I don’t really know what to say…’ all the animation had gone from my voice. It was just flat – which was exactly how I was feeling. The reality of having to navigate the next few months with a significant stress hanging over our heads coinciding with Anita going away just felt unbearable. The child parts were frightened. Adult me was frightened too. How on earth was I going to function with all the day-to-day crap that I struggle with at the best of times with this additional worry and A gone too? It’s just not fucking fair how life seems to keep knocking me down.

Anita felt a long way away in her chair. I hate how just a couple of metres can feel like such a huge distance – especially to the youngest parts who just need her to be right there beside me. Even now, I don’t think I could ask her to come and sit next to me from the beginning of a session.  I appreciate this is bonkers given how close we have become, but I think this has more to do with my worry at the start of a session that maybe something will have changed. Perhaps she won’t like me anymore. Perhaps she’ll want to stay away. And I hate to keep coming back to it (it’s boring for us all – I know), but I am so scared of being perceived as a parasite – a tick- that I won’t ask for her to come and will wait for the offer of proximity because I couldn’t actually bear her to say no or to think I am too needy.

When will that bloody conversation and that fucking word leave my psyche?

Never, probably.

So, I sat there, the deep pain of feeling disconnected and alone rising up and the child parts getting increasingly distressed inside.

Anita’s voice was soft and warm as she asked, ‘Are the younger parts starting to come through, or are they there? Because for me, when you arrive, I never know whether to sit here or to sit there. And it’s almost like the adult part is ok for me to be over here but I think when the younger parts come up I need to be closer to you – is that how it feels? Am I right with that?’

THANK GOD FOR THIS THERAPIST!!

A barely audible, ‘yeah’ came out. I looked up and met Anita’s gaze. The child parts had landed with a thud and the need felt massive. How many of you get that feeling where you just wish you could crawl into your therapist’s lap when the child parts come up? I mean it wouldn’t be ideal, a great big adult body squashing them, but that need when it gets like that is so young isn’t it?

Anita continued on, ‘I think that’s why I start here [in her chair], because when you first come in you’re in adult and it feels like I am ok to be here, not always though, and I want to check out if I am reading this correctly… or would it be better if I always started over there?’ [on the sofa with me]

I nodded. I felt so much relief that she really gets it…and not only gets it but is able to have these open conversations with me. She takes the shame right out of the situation…and that’s massive.

I really hate it when we get in the room and she sits in her chair. I know she always comes to me when I need her but starting the sessions so far apart straight away makes the young parts go into panic. What if she doesn’t come this time? What if she abandons them? I know how nuts that sounds – we are, after all, in the same room together, but this is the legacy of years of work with Em, that two metres could have been the Grand Canyon and so any distance feels kind of rejecting.

I really love how Anita responds to me, sees me, and is so attuned to what I need. She got up from her chair and said, ‘In that case I’m going to come over there now because I never know where to start. And sometimes I can feel the younger vulnerable parts. I guess they’re always there just below the surface – it’s that swan isn’t it?’ [we’ve talked about how on the surface I look like I have it together but underneath it’s a shit show of panic for the littles]

She sat down beside me and I sighed. Silence. More silence. I couldn’t look at her because the need was just so fucking huge and overwhelming. I was so pleased she was closer …but it was just not close enough.

‘How are you feeling? What’s happening for you?’ wondered A.

‘I’m shaking.’ I replied.

With no pause or hesitation, Anita opened her arms to me and gently invited me to, ‘Come here.’

And just like in the preceding sessions, that green light was all I needed, I shuffled over to her and cuddled in close to her body.

Then there was quiet but stillness too. The panic and shaking subsided really quickly as I tuned into her heartbeat and her slow, steady breathing. It’s that coregulation stuff. Magic.

There was nothing much going round in my mind, nothing conscious that I wanted to say, I just needed to be with her in the moment. After ten minutes, or so, I asked Anita what she was thinking. She said something about how we would both come through the other side of this [lockdown/separation] and that it will be ok. And how she wished she could be in two places at once, and how hard it must be for me.

Man! I wished that, too.

Anita then asked me what I was thinking. I didn’t answer straight away but then simply said, ‘I’m going to miss you’ – because that’s all there was in my head, all that had been in my body, just the huge sense that I was going to miss this amazing woman when she wasn’t here and that it was going to be really hard.

A hugged me tighter, ‘I know, and I will miss you too. I really will.’ She paused for a minute and then said, ‘it really has been a shit year hasn’t it?’ I laughed and agreed.

There was a long pause – maybe two or three minutes – and then I said ‘It hasn’t been all shit…’

Anita instantly understood what I meant, ‘I guess we met this year didn’t we?’

And do you know what? It has been a really fucking hard year but I wouldn’t change it if it meant that I didn’t have Anita. Looking back to this time last year, where the wheels started to get dangerously loose with Em it felt like things would never get better. The pain of our termination in February took me into a place of such deep grief and pain that I can barely look at it even know– it still hurts so much. The rejection. The abandonment. The lack of basic care.

Covid and lockdown and fucking everything has been so hard but I feel so blessed because I have built a relationship with someone who I genuinely think I can do the work with, who understands me, and is committed to me. The world has felt like it’s been falling down around my ears at times, my wife losing her job at the start of the first lockdown, the latest health problems, but I feel like I have Anita on my team and that is huge.

Listening back to this last face-to-face session, there’s a lot of silence but it’s not awkward or uncomfortable which can sometimes happen when you’re sitting across from someone. When we’re just cuddling there isn’t always a need to talk. The words come sometimes and the parts talk, and sometimes there are no words but the holding is still so healing.

After another while I murmured, ‘I love you’ into her chest.

Anita immediately responded with, ‘I love you too… is it hard to believe it?’

I thought about it for a second. I scanned my brain and my body and there was no doubt in my mind, no voice inside my head doubting her feelings for me. I know she loves me. I feel it deeply.

‘No’ I replied.

‘Good!’

A kissed the top of my head. I love it when she does this. It was quiet again. Anita checked in with me and asked if I was wanting to say something but struggling to find the words to say it. I shook my head. I was just content to be with her. A said, ‘sometimes I don’t always think we need words, sometimes I just think we need to show, and to do, and to feel.’

I told her I felt really shaky all week and it had been hard. Anita asked if there was anything she could do to help. This is where I should have said, ‘please can you give me something like a scarf or a jumper that you wear that smells like you’… and I am pretty sure she would have said yes…but there’s this part of me that still worries and cringes – like what if I say that and she is freaked out and disgusted by me? What happens if I lose it all? I know this is pretty unlikely given how I have spent the last month like a baby monkey clinging on to her, but still… I just don’t want to be so weird that she backs away.

I started to cry. Anita rubbed my back gently and held me close to her. I was aware that time was ticking away and the grief of her going away was really coming up now. We had about thirty minutes left of the session and as wonderful as it had been just to go in and spend the time connecting and being held, there was also a real sense of that in a few minutes it was all going to be ripped away and it was overwhelming for the young parts.

A small voice said, ‘I just feel really sad’.

‘I know… and it is sad’ soothed Anita. She gently stroked my back as I cried. To have someone hold me in my pain and grief was so incredible – but so alien too. I feel a bit embarrassed now, thinking back to this, sitting there and crying about my therapist going away for three weeks like it was the end of the world…but that is how it felt, and has felt to the young parts. I anticipated the struggle that this separation would be. I know attachment pain well. And I was right. To be honest, if I had known just how fucking hard it was going to be, I would have been wailing and convulsing in her arms rather than shedding slow, steady tears!

‘Why are you so kind to me?’ I wondered aloud. After so many years with Em who would never give me the slightest thing to grab onto to ground myself in the safety of the relationship, Anita just exudes care and kindness. It doesn’t feel forced or fake – it’s lovely – but my head sometimes has a hard time understanding how the two relationships are so different because I am the same. My needs are the same. In fact, if anything I am more demanding, more needy, more of a pain in the arse than I ever was with Em and yet Anita is steadily there, consistent, calm, warm, and loving.

I know therapy is not all about reassurance and making you feel good. It’s not always plain sailing with Anita, but what the relationship is built on feels so much more solid and so I feel like we weather our little (and sometimes bigger) storms more easily or, at least, more safely. I was clinging onto a bloody piece of driftwood being battered by the storms with Em watching from a ship and yet with Anita I feel like we are together in a lifeboat. It still feels a bit scary, I don’t like storms or boats, but at least I feel confident that we are in the best suited boat to the situation.

Anita replied with, ‘You’re beautiful in so many ways, inside outside, you really are that’s why I am so nice to you. There’s nothing wrong with you. And I know that may be really hard to hear and believe but there isn’t it. And I know I sound like a broken record, but you’ve been let down in so many ways and the way you respond is a normal response to what’s happened to you. And you’re ok, you really are. I don’t suppose there’s many people who don’t like you.’

Unfortunately, it hit a raw nerve. ‘There’s one or two’ I moaned. And then the grief of Em just flooded in like a tsunami. The reality is, yes, I do have some great people in my life and I am well loved by my friends BUT there’s that wound, the mother wound, and what Em did last year has thrown a bomb into it. The feeling of being unlovable and unlikeable and not good enough has been brought into sharp focus and I am trying to pick the shrapnel out of myself – thank god I have Anita with me helping.

I cried and cried. I don’t think A had any idea what was going on in my head. It didn’t matter, though. I didn’t have the energy to start harping on about how hurt I am about Em just before the break – no point in raking all that up further with only ten minutes to go. It was enough to cry and be held. And I will talk about this when we get back in the room later this week. So much stuff has been stirred up this last month relating to being left and abandoned and Em that it’s unavoidable…but certainly best done face-to-face.

I continued to cry cuddled in to A. ‘I feel like I could hold you all day’ she said. ‘I don’t want to let go… You really are very special you know, and I think a lot of people would agree with me.’

I really love this woman. (Is it obvious?)

It’s strange. Even when she says these affirming, validating things there’s sometimes another part that comes up and needs to check it’s real.

‘Do you think I’m weird?’

I’m not sure which part that asked that, or feels so weird, is but I suspect it’s the younger teen, maybe 14.

Again, Anita responded in the perfect way. ‘I don’t think you are weird, far from it… or hard work…before you think that one too! I don’t think you are hard work either. It’s when we’re hurt that we become more vulnerable and want that reassurance which makes perfect sense, and also wary, again, it makes perfectly good sense- doesn’t it?’

This sad, young, teen part said, ‘I don’t want you to turn on me.’ That part is so used to people not being quite who they say they are or changing, and it’s not surprising after what happened with Em that she’s wary. Everything disintegrated in less than a month last year with Em. We went from ‘we need to focus carefully on the parts’ to ‘I’ve reached the limit of my competency and your child parts are like a tick’.

Anita reassured me, ‘I’m not going to turn on you or hurt you. I’m not going to hurt you – not purposefully. I might [hurt you] but it would never be on purpose. I might make mistakes again. Like I say, I am only human. But I would never purposefully reject you, and if I do make mistakes, I hope that you can be honest – as you have been- so we can work through that. It’s important that we own mistakes and to apologise when we make them. I can’t say I won’t make mistakes and won’t hurt you, but it will never ever be because I don’t like you or because I have done it on purpose or I want to attack. I promise you that. I just hope we can be honest with each other and it will help us to get through that…which we have done.’

I let out a long sigh of relief and jokingly said, ‘It’s not short-term work is it?!’ and A completely agreed with me. We would be in it for the long haul and there is no rush, it’ll take as long as it’ll take and she finished up with, ‘I do love you. I really do.’

Then the time was up. Ugh. I hate that. Time to wipe my tears, set my coping face, and go off and manage for the next god knows how many weeks. I squeezed Anita tightly and thanked her. I felt so much better than I had the same time last week on learning she was going away. It wasn’t going to be easy but at least we weren’t parting on a rupture. She replied with, ‘Thank you. It takes a lot of guts to be like this with a therapist, so thank you.’ I smiled inside.

In amongst the shame and embarrassment that’s been there for so long, there’s a little nook inside me where I am starting to house the feeling of being a tiny bit proud of myself. This therapy business isn’t easy and for someone who has been so guarded for so long I am astounded that I am turning up and being authentically me… I mean I have Anita to thank, I know that, it is her that has made it feel safe enough for me to bring it all…and I am so grateful to her.

I moved and got up and my back had seized up! Fucking great. That’s what an hour-long cuddle does! It was funny and lightened the mood a bit. We joked about how our bodies don’t match the age in our heads. I genuinely expect to have the flexibility and stamina and youthful looks of a twenty-year-old and am always shocked to learn I am heading towards forty, have the body of a woman who has birthed two babies and done twelve rounds of chemo. The mirror doesn’t lie, though…nor do the aches and pains!

I left the session feeling…ok. Happy sad. Happy that we are so connected but sad that I was going to have to cope without all that amazing stuff until she came home…whenever that might be.

Later that afternoon I sent a text to A:

Thank you for meeting me exactly where I am at and for ‘seeing’ me – or is it ‘feeling’? I dunno. Both I guess. 2020 has been a complete shit show but I got to find you in it and so feel sooooo lucky because you make me feel safe. These next few weeks are going to be really tough and I’m going to try really hard to not have another meltdown, but I apologise in advance for myself, now, just in case! Please take elephant with you and don’t forget about me xx

Oh, if only you knew the painful irony in that message after what came next!!…meltdown should have been meltdowns…let’s go for the plural. Groan!

This is basically what I have been like for the last three weeks!

Repairing The Rupture With A Beating Heart

My last two posts here have scooted back in time to October (and completely messed with the chronology of the blog!)  to the time when my therapy with Anita took a huge leap into the unknown – proper extended physical holding in sessions and the child parts really coming up and talking to A. Having those parts speak and express their worries and fears, and then have them validated and responded to with care by A has been massive and so healing.

Until recently, I might have been able to say what those younger parts feel through my adult. She tends to filter and take out some of the cringey bits in order to avert some of the shame! The thing is, as much as adult thinks she’s saving me a whole world of pain, shame, and embarrassment what she actually does is distance me from my feelings. I end up talking like it is someone else’s experience, and so it rarely feels like those needy parts get properly seen or held in their distress.

When I do this, emotionless recounting, I don’t/can’t cry. I can’t get in touch with my feelings on a felt level at all. I am just numb to it because that’s the only way (until now) that I have been able to tell my story – from a distance- because I know what getting to close to it means, and when there is no one there who is safe to hold that then it’s a dangerous proposition opening it up. I have survived doing things this way in life and in therapy for a long time, but the pain doesn’t get processed, the grief isn’t metabolised, and I feel like a spectator….well I did…but I don’t now…not now RB has levelled up in the therapy room!

It is incredible really, what having Anita in closer proximity to me and the safe physical touch has done. I have to say therapy (before this latest lockdown and return to online sessions – groan) exceeded my expectations of what was possible for holding and healing the most wounded parts of myself. My defences came down and the vulnerability levels were off the chart, but each session just seemed to build on the last and it really felt like I was on a fast-track of healing. Mind you, it’s been like snail pace for the previous eight years, so maybe it’s just normal speed – almost a year into therapy with a competent and compassionate therapist?!

I have talked about stuff that I have never spoken about in therapy, some of the most painful wounded parts of myself have talked to Anita and it’s been great. What hasn’t been great, though, was opening all that stuff up only to have the face-to-face therapy put on hold. It has been a massive problem to my system. It’s kind of like being in theatre for surgery, we’ve just made some big incisions and are in a critical part of the procedure and now the surgeon has been called away…mid operation. Not ideal! Ugh!

I’ve been reflecting a lot this last couple of weeks, and even though online has been tough, I haven’t completely lost sight of the good stuff. I can really see how the steady, consistent work Anita has been doing with me since January is paying off. We’ve laid the foundations and I feel like they are solid. I have been having epic meltdowns online (more on those soon!) but it shows me that all my parts feel like she is safe enough to act out to really bring what’s there. I was so scared of being abandoned by Em that I never told her how angry or hurt I was – and I was clearly right not to given that when I did, I got terminated!

It’s so different with A. She’s explicitly told me that she loves all the parts of me, especially the ones who want to ‘kick off and stamp their feet’ which has meant that those parts have been able to express some of their anger about the move to working online. When I rage, I often freak out afterwards, ‘what if I am too much?’, ‘what if I push her away and she leaves?’ but she offers enough reassurance that I know that I am still safe to bring what is there – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Last week I was desperately pushing Anita away online, it was defensive, and she said, ‘You can push me away as much as you need to, but I am like a boomerang, I’ll keep coming back until you genuinely don’t want or need me anymore. But I know right now you’re hurting and this is a defence. I’m still here. I still care and love you and we’ll be ok’.

I genuinely can’t believe it. Like, what? I can express dissatisfaction and the tables aren’t suddenly turned on me? I’m not going to be told I am deficient in some way, or ungrateful, or too much? Honestly, it’s a revelation…I can express MY FEELINGS AND ALL MY FEELINGS ARE VALID AND WELCOME.

Mind blowing!

Anyway, what I am saying in a roundabout way is that I don’t think Anita’s going anywhere (well, I mean apart from fucking off up the road for lockdown and leaving me!) and this means I can feel safe enough to do the work now.  

She’s always said that it’ll take time to build trust in the relationship and to believe in and feel her care. She’s acknowledged that it can’t be rushed. I am like a rescue dog that has been abused repeatedly but am finally, finally, maybe, in a foster home with an owner that doesn’t mind my jumpiness and wariness and occasional biting, and has been patient enough to wait for me to be ready to come towards her. Part of me is staggered that I have been able to let A in after all that’s happened – in my life, and more recently with Em – but I do trust her. I genuinely feel her love for me but how can I not when she so readily tells me how she feels. I was cuddled into her the other week, doing more of the deep stuff, and she said to one of the little parts ‘you’ve had a too many pears, they’ve done you no good…I have a huge cupboard full of chocolate here.’ She’d read my blog post and was demonstrating, again, using my words, my analogies, that she gets it and understands and is HERE.

And because I genuinely believe that she cares, is invested in the relationship, and is committed to our work together, the ruptures we have get repaired so quickly that they don’t really get to wreak any significant damage – in fact the repairs that happen are so timely, genuine, and connecting that I get the benefits of ‘rupture and repair’. In the end the process is healing…which is a world away from therapy with Em which retraumatised me and I would have to hold on in emotional and physical agony between sessions. Anita is human, she makes mistakes, sometimes what she does hurts me (it’s not intentional), but once I am able to tell her she tries very hard to understand and make things better. I can’t ask for more than that.

Anyway, I’m here to talk about the rupture repair that happened after I learned that Anita was going to go away to bubble with her partner and wasn’t actually going to see me face-to-face as she had promised a few weeks previously (you can read about the news and the meltdown here!).

Sorry about the massive preamble! I probably should have made this two posts. Maybe go get a cup of tea now…!

————-

During the string of messages – aka ‘mega meltdown’- following the revelation in our Monday session that face-to-face therapy was over for now, Anita said that she wasn’t going to be leaving straight away and that if I wanted, I could see her in person to try and work things out before she left. Of course, I (well a part of me) jumped at the chance, there is no way I wanted to face the next four weeks online with this horrible feeling hanging over me.

I text A and asked if we could start slightly earlier to make the session a bit longer so we had chance to repair. I panicked on the Wednesday (woeful Wednesdays!) fearing I was going to get a text from A to tell me that she’d changed her mind and already left. I told her this in another text and she responded by telling me she was going to be there and that she was really looking forward to seeing me and understood how wobbly I was feeling.

I arrived at Anita’s doorstep at 9:45am. As she opened the door my heart was beating fast and I felt like I was going to dissociate. Usually, I’ll walk to the therapy room straight away, but that day I put my bag down and reached out to hug her. As I hung on tightly to her I said, ‘I don’t feel ok’ and she said, ‘I know. I can feel you shaking’. I was trembling. It was as though all the stress and anxiety that I had been holding onto since the Monday session was coming out in a somatic response.

I let go after about thirty seconds, just about enough time to stop shaking, and made my way to the room and sat down on the sofa. It was good to have had some physical connection before we got started with the session but as I sat down, I felt the protective parts of me rising up again. I couldn’t look at A. I was both ashamed and embarrassed by my strong reaction earlier in the week but I was also reeling, and braced for (what feels like) rejection and so the angry teen part wasn’t far away. When it’s like that it is like being trapped inside a glass box. I can see out but I just can’t connect at all.

Anita immediately came and sat beside me on the sofa rather than sitting in her chair. I couldn’t speak. I just sat there panicky, my breathing was really rapid and shallow and I just felt the force of what her leaving meant. We sat together saying nothing. After a minute she gently asked me what I was thinking and a small voice said, ‘I don’t know what’s real anymore.’ It felt like my heart was breaking. The little part that so trusted Anita just had no idea if it was all just rubbish now. Broken promises are hard for the youngest parts of me and now they were left wondering if anything was real. Did she really care about me? Love me? Or was it just part of the therapy game?

Anita replied, ‘I guess that’s because what I have said and then gone back on it, it’s hard to know…is any of this real?…It is real… I haven’t purposefully done this to hurt you. I really haven’t. I shouldn’t have made that promise to you without knowing 100% that that was how things were going to go’. She sounded so apologetic, so genuine. I really felt it but I also just felt so unbelievably sad. The apology doesn’t change the fact that I won’t see her for almost a month. It doesn’t change the fact I have to do therapy in a way that really triggers my young parts. It’s doesn’t change the fact that the very thing I need, physical holding, can’t happen.

She told me that she had thought that she would be bubbling with her mother, like last time, or her daughter who’s just moved back into the area, but it turned out that wasn’t going to be the case. She had never expected to be on her own during lockdown. Adult me understands – of course I do but this explanation didn’t do much to help the little ones who just felt like mum was going to disappear again.

‘I’m so sorry I let you down’ she said gently. ‘What can I do?’

I looked at her for the first time and said, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know’ because actually what could she do?

I sat there, motionless.

‘Are you scared to let me in, to get attached because you’ll have to detach again?’

I nodded

‘Yeah…I get that’ she reassured, and rubbed my arm gently.

That small gesture of touch felt so nice and I realised I was sitting there depriving myself of what I needed most. I had a choice. I could sit there ‘protecting myself’ and then walk away at the end of the session feeling shit or I could be vulnerable and let A help me and get what I need, so I moved closer to her, she opened her arms, and hugged me.

My breathing was rapid again, which is unusual because lots of the time when I am out my window of tolerance, I am frozen. I barely breathe at all. But this was a bit different. I couldn’t hide the panic in my body. I was shaking. I felt so sad. I wasn’t angry or anything, in that moment, the self-righteous teen that had been holding the fort all week had gone on a break. All that were left we the little parts who just didn’t want her to go away.

‘This feels realty bad’ I murmured.

‘I know. I know. I can feel it’ she soothed ‘Is your fear that it won’t come back to this again? [this level of intimacy and closeness] because it will. I know it’s probably hard to believe anything I say at the moment but I genuinely don’t think lockdown will last forever’. She held me close and I cried.

Eventually, my breathing began to slow as I listened to her steady heartbeat. A little voice said, ‘I’m sorry.’

Anita responded emphatically, ‘Don’t be sorry you’ve got nothing to be sorry for! You really, really haven’t. As I have said before you’re not too needy. If you hadn’t have been let down you wouldn’t be where you are. It’s not your fault. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You don’t want to feel like this. I know you don’t.’

‘I feel stupid’ I moaned.

‘You’re not stupid!’

I groaned, ‘I feel embarrassed’ and buried into her further. It’s excruciating being so bloody vulnerable and knowing that I’m behaving like a kid who has no ability to reason things out.

Anita doesn’t seem in the least bit phased by it or working directly with these parts. She wondered, ‘I think this is all the different parts sometimes going in conflict. The young parts needing it, adult parts saying “this is ridiculous” but we know the young ones are crying out for it. And it’s ok. It really is ok.’ She paused a moment and then said with so much feeling and sadness in her voice, ‘I’m so sorry that I have let them down’ and held me tighter to her.

‘Is this real?’ I asked. The concern that’d been there all week coming up again, needing reassurance. If Em and I had even managed to do this level of work I imagine she’d have said ‘what do you mean by real?’ or ‘what is real to you?’ and those conversations are fine when you are in your adult and in the window of tolerance, but when you’re dealing with a four year old part that’s scared, sometimes what we need is,

‘This is real.’

I was so happy to hear that and replied with, ‘I love you’.

I wasn’t expecting a response but Anita really knows me, really understands how much reassurance parts of me need and said, ‘I love you too. I really do. If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t care and I truly do care. I make mistakes. I said to you at the beginning I would make mistakes… everyone makes mistakes in relationships but it’s how you work with those mistakes that’s important. It doesn’t mean the love isn’t there when you make a mistake. I have made a mistake but it doesn’t mean I don’t care and it doesn’t mean I don’t love you. It just means I’m not perfect. I did it wrong and for that I am truly sorry. I love you.’

I can’t explain what that kind of heartfelt, honest apology and love bombing did to my system. It’s not enough to say that I could feel my system settling down or that I felt safe and held because it is so much more than that, but I am guessing if you feel these wounds then I don’t really need to elaborate on how that felt.

I then told her how it’d been a horrible week and again Anita was so warm and lovely, ‘I am so so sorry. If I could take that pain away I would’. I wasn’t fishing for apologies I was just telling her how it was, but she really understood, she felt what it had been like.

I then told her about a dream I had in the week about being in a plane and spiralling out of the sky and how it had really impacted me. Anita’s take on it, ‘All that you believe in came crashing down… I didn’t mean to cause you that harm. I shouldn’t have promised something I wasn’t 100% sure I could deliver. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to cause you all this pain.’

‘Will you take elephant with you?’ I asked.

Don’t you just love how conversations with the child parts run?? It’s like, Ok, things are fine now, so my brain has jumped onto something else. Obviously, a few weeks before I had asked her to look after my little elephant at her house so we weren’t forgotten and at that moment the child parts were clearly joining dots in their own way, ‘if she leaves elephant here she’ll forget about us’.

As usual, A didn’t bat an eyelid at yet another unusual request, ‘I will. I will’ she repeated.

‘I’m sorry I’m hard work’ I wailed.

Again, A replied emphatically, ‘You’re not hard work…well no more hard work than anyone else! I can be hard work too, just ask my partner! In real in-depth relationships it’s so easy to hurt the other person without meaning to – without wanting to. In meaningful relationships, there’s feelings and emotions involved and we’re very open and very raw and sometimes that comes out in particular ways but that doesn’t mean we are hard work’.

I didn’t want Anita to think that my performance this week had come from being deliberately difficult or nasty and said, ‘I don’t want to be horrid. Or critical. That’s not how it is. I do get it [why she’s going away and why she can’t see me] It’s just hooked right into a really sore wounded bit and it makes my system shut down.’

Does it feel a bit like, ‘Here we go again?’

I nodded and told her how I realise how black and white the thinking is but that it’s because it’s not coming from an adult place. The reaction to her breaking her promise is not from my 37 year old adult self who knows what life is like and how sometimes our well-intentioned promises don’t come off. I mean I have let a lot of people down in my time too but to the child parts it’s huge. We spoke about the window of tolerance for a minute and then Anita asked if there was anything she could do to reassure the young parts.

And this is what came out…CHILD PARTS MAN!!

‘Can we go to Madame Tussaud’s and get a wax work made of you? Or build a bear and put your heart beat in it….or a clone you?’

We laughed quite a lot at that and then Anita said, ‘that would be really cool wouldn’t it?’ There’s no shaming from her. She literally responds to me like I have said the most normal thing in the world when clearly, I am off my frigging rocker! But because she is so at ease with me, she puts me at ease too. I then told her, ‘This [her going away] is so hard because it’s not just what you say that makes a difference to me. It’s not what settles my system…’ And Anita finished my sentence, ‘It’s this. (hugs) It’s this which was missing for years isn’t it?’

This led to a conversation about how when I was little (5-11 years old) my mum was gone Sunday to Friday and how I’d speak to her on the phone on a Wednesday (makes sense why I hate Wednesdays now!). This was in the late 80’s -early 90’s pre mobile phones. The thing that we don’t have to worry about when speaking to people on the phone today is conversations being rushed or cut short because the money runs out. As a child my enduring memory of calls with my mum was the beeps giving warning that we’d be cut off and the feeling of disconnection and never having enough time to tell her what I wanted. I wasn’t seen or heard.

Anita kissed the top of my head and said, ‘I’m so sorry that… that’s how it feels when we do online and we aren’t connected…it hooks right back into that, doesn’t it?’

Yep.

Anita commented that for a child of that age that kind of prolonged separation feels like an eternity and we spoke more about my mum’s volatility when she was home, and the fighting, and how I never knew what to expect or what was coming and how when I see Anita it’s like starting from scratch, checking she’s safe. There was a lot of good work done and A really got it.

I asked Anita if I could have something of hers before she went away and she said she had been wondering if I would like to look after the necklace she was wearing. It’s called ‘beating heart’ and the stone inside moves like a beating heart. It couldn’t have been more perfect really after the conversation we had just had.

Anita then asked if there was anything I had in mind, ‘was there anything you wanted to take, differently, is there anything else you’d like? You’re ok to ask you know.’

And my god, I cannot believe these words actually left me lips but I said, ‘Can I have something that smells like you?’

‘What can smell like me?’ A wondered.

I lay snuggled into her chest. How was I meant to say, ‘errr something you wear that smells like your washing powder’?  Anita smells really fresh and clean but it’s not a perfume smell but it is really soothing. One day I came home from a session and my top actually smelled like her and it was so soothing to those young parts.

Honestly cannot believe I am writing this here. Part of my is cringing so badly.  

Again, A was not in the least bit weirded out by my request which is so funny given how I couldn’t even get Em to write a message on a fucking pebble for well over six months!

‘I can’t think of anything that might smell like me except for me, and it’s funny isn’t it, how you can’t smell your own smell. Was there anything in particular that you wanted?’

Time was coming to a close and A said that she’d still be here on the Monday if I wanted to come and we could talk more then. It felt so good to have been seen, heard, and met exactly where I was at. I have always known that Anita would never deliberately do anything to hurt me, just sometimes things happen that hurt don’t they?

As I left, I gave her a hug at the door and said, ‘I really love you’ and Anita replied, ‘I love you too. I really do, and I don’t want you to feel like a plane crash. I am hoping I can rescue out of the plane crash a bit before I go away’.

This is bloody 4000 words long! How did that happen? So sorry!

This Is What Healing Looks Like To Me or ‘Why I need Chocolate NOT Pears (Or Ice Cubes!)’

For those of you have followed this blog over the last few years you’ll know that I have poured blood, sweat, tears, and thousands and thousands of pounds into my healing journey. The ironic thing is, it is only in the last year, since I went back to my craniosacral therapist K, and then found Anita in January, (just as my relationship with Em started to properly disintegrate) that there has been any sense of healing – like a proper felt sense that things can and are getting better on that deeper level.

I have done years of ‘therapy’, religiously going to see Em week in week out, two sessions a week and repeatedly being triggered into a place of huge pain and dissociation. It has been so hard to endure. Part of me wonders why I stayed for so long when everything felt so off. My attachment to Em was so strong, though. My child parts were completely invested in the relationship (or wanting to feel like there was a ‘relationship’) that I put myself through emotional hell – a familiar hell – of feeling so deficient, unlovable, and untouchable.

This experience of therapy with Em just poured salt in an already gaping mother wound. It was trauma bonding 101. A complete re-enactment of my childhood and a re-experiencing of the cold, distant, but shaming relationship I had with my mum. Deep down part of me knew that, but I couldn’t leave, it was familiar territory and what I had grown to expect…but just like with my mum, I really really hoped that one day things would turn around and I’d get what I needed.

I wanted to believe there was something better for me and maybe it would materialise if I just tried harder, didn’t ask for too much, and was patient. But this didn’t happen. I was shown time and again that my needs weren’t important – or even acknowledged as being valid- and that I had to take what was offered…which was very little.

It wasn’t until Em likened my young parts to a tick and had verbally rejected the gift (or said that she didn’t want to accept gifts in future and shouldn’t have taken the one at Christmas) that I knew I couldn’t go on any more. Em had hurt me and my child parts so badly that even though I loved her (and still do) I physically couldn’t put myself through it any more. As it was all coming to a head from my side it was clear that she was more than done too – as I had suspected – and she made no attempt to try and work through it with me, willing to let me go on a perfunctory two line email…after 8 years!

Looking back, I just wish I had made a clean break the day I went to see Anita to test the waters about a different therapy/therapist. I knew instantly that A was a good fit and that I wanted to work with her but I also wanted to try for a ‘decent ending’ with Em– that illusive thing! I wish I had have taken more heed of the concerns A raised about Em’s conduct and just cut my losses before things had chance to get any worse.

If only I had just walked away then rather than waiting to see what might happen, giving it one last go at trying to work it through, and STUPIDLY handing her the power back, then the biggest injury would have been avoided. I would have felt rejected and abandoned whatever happened but I wouldn’t be stuck with this sick feeling of people I care about seeing me as a parasite.

Ouch.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing isn’t it? I guess I hoped that she would reflect on what I told her about how hurt I was about the session leading into Christmas, the break, and the first session back, accept her part in things, acknowledge my feelings, and find a way to move forward – rupture and repair in action. But no. What happened was horrific, her response telling her how hurt I felt was, ‘your young parts are like a tick’ and before I knew it everything was unravelling at speed.

Clearly, I am still not over what happened in this therapy and every time I get close to Anita there’s a voice in my head that says, ‘This is dangerous, don’t let her too close, don’t let her see the need because you’ll frighten her away – she’ll think you’re a tick, too’. And I hate that. I hate that what Em said still hurts like hell all these months on, but I also hate that it impacts how I relate to Anita.

I cannot really explain how different it feels being with Anita. She makes me feel safe and cared for and yet even when there is real closeness between us we’re lumbered with the legacy that Em has left. I know it is going to take a lot of therapy and care to repair the damage done because Em has basically shattered all the young parts of me that were trying to trust and heal, but not only that, she’s also taken a huge swipe at my adult self. I am so grateful that A is on my side though, and willing to do the work with me….as slow and painstaking as it is.

I guess in some way I am grateful to Em (am I?!). I learnt a lot about myself in the therapy with her. Parts of myself I didn’t even know existed made themselves known to me through being in ‘relationship’ with her. Unfortunately, these vulnerable young child parts were abandoned in that room. She frequently told me I was abandoning my young parts but if that was true, then so was she. I have so often felt like I am on the verge of drowning just trying to keep us all afloat and taking myself to therapy was not an act of abandonment on my part. It’s hard living an adult life without having to carry the terror and pain of a minibus full of activated child parts too – therapy was meant to help with that (and it does now- phew!).

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time researching and finding out more about my ‘stuff’. I guess I used that well-worn strategy ‘intellectualising’ to try and make sense of the situation! I have read so many books on attachment, trauma, shame, dissociation, and the therapeutic relationship – and, of course, blogs – looking for the answers, learning how to move forward and heal, and whilst that didn’t happen with Em, I feel like I at least know myself now and confident that I am not the only person on earth struggling with this stuff. I know what’s wrong. I understand what the injury is. AND I know what I need to heal it. I’ve always known – I just haven’t been able to get what I needed until now.

After years of being told what I need by Em, like she was some magic oracle that knew what ‘people like me’ need to heal I can categorically say what I need is not what was on offer with her! Maybe her strategies work with some clients, but I struggle to see how anyone with Complex Trauma would have responded well to her ‘techniques’. As I mentioned recently in another post, I saw something by Carolyn Spring that says that when we are in distress, we don’t need strategies or techniques, we need a person. And it’s that simple. It’s not rocket science, it it? Relational trauma needs healing in relationship. Em didn’t really do relationship. She watched me as I struggled and suffered – like some kind of poor rodent in a science experiment.

I have talked and talked and got nowhere and over time replaced talking with more and more dissociation. Simply being in the same room with Em triggered me. I’d feel dysregulated before I even arrived at the session but I was always so hopeful that maybe this time I’d get what I needed having hung on desperately through the week in attachment hell waiting to see her.

I don’t think people that haven’t got this kind of trauma/injury have even the slightest idea of how bloody harrowing it is being stuck in the attachment hell zone – feeling like the world is literally falling apart, like you can’t breathe for the pain of it, and being completely terrified. When it gets bad like that I know, for me, it’s largely pre-verbal and it is so scary feeling completely abandoned, uncontained, and as though you are falling through some kind of internal black abyss. That’s crappy, but then there’s all the other feelings that can come in from other parts- the apathy, the rage, the self-loathing, the wanting to cut and run…it’s just awful.

My window of tolerance became so small in the end that I felt unsafe being with Em. I was always braced for more rejection, more shaming, more disconnection. My body was always so tense – so much so that it would hurt. More than anything I wanted to feel safe with her and that’s why I kept going – the child parts hoped that one day she’d help them and so they hid behind the sofa, peeking out, waiting and waiting to be seen and cared for. Only when she did get glimpses of who was there she freaked out, put walls up, and distanced herself even further. It was though I would sometimes be brave enough to take one step forward and she’d immediately take two (twenty!) steps back.

I don’t know what it is about that young parts that triggered her so badly but I do wonder if there is unresolved childhood trauma for her that my stuff tapped into and she just couldn’t bear to be near it. Or maybe she just didn’t like me and was content to keep taking the money. Long-term clients with attachment disorders coming twice a week are certainly a reliable source of income. We don’t ever not turn up! lol.

There is so sadness about this. At times it got so bad that I came close to destroying myself. My go to coping strategies were so active – some of the worst periods of anorexic behaviour and self-harm happened whilst in the therapy with Em because I couldn’t cope with the pain of the attachment and how alone I felt. I feel so upset about it all because it could have been so different. Handled well, it could have been so healing.

I tried really hard to do what Em said. I wanted to believe that what she suggested could work for me. I don’t want to feel this way forever – that’s why I am in therapy in the first place! I tried to engage with whatever she asked: the visualisations- ‘just imagine holding your distressed child parts’ – but it wasn’t me the child parts wanted or needed at that point– and she knew that and shamed me for it.

When it was really bad and I was heavily dissociated somewhere out in the cold alone, embodying that exiled child part, there was no adult self to help me and Em just left me stranded – sometimes for the entire session. I don’t doubt that someday soon I will be able to hold and contain these young parts for myself but back then there was no chance. I didn’t know how.

When you are terrified and in a child state you can’t just pick yourself up and make it better for yourself – especially if there’s no template to work from. How can you imagine being held and feeling safe if you’ve never experienced being held or feeling safe? It’s not just visualisations, though. I’ve done all sorts; I made my eyes follow blue dots on an I-pad over and over (yet another tool to avoid talking about what was going on between us in the room). I have tried everything Em threw at me and yet none of it worked.

I have tried to believe that being ignored during the week between sessions was for the best, that somehow my massively distressed young parts who feared that she was never coming back (like all those years where my mum was gone in the week when I was little) or perhaps dead (like my dad) would learn that she was there in session. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t need a transitional object, check ins…the list goes on and on …because she was unwilling to concede an inch so maybe I must stupid for thinking these things might help and how dare I ask for anything more than the bare minimum – clearly, she knew best – deprivation and isolation was best?! But I did need more and now that I am getting those things, it really really makes a massive difference.

I have never been able to feel safe in therapy because what I needed more than anything was a person. I needed a relationship in which to begin to build trust and someone to feel safe with. I needed someone who realised and accepted that there were lots of parts of me (some really badly hurt) and they each need something different and communicate in different ways. My child parts were reluctant to come to session with Anita- and who can blame them after what happened in January- but I’ve found they are pretty good at communicating with Gifs and emojis! I have sent more texts in the last week to A than I did in the entire time I worked with Em – eek!

Anita’s willingness to allow those young parts to tentatively take steps towards her from outside the room and for her to have responded in a way that they understand, has meant that now, they have felt safe enough to come to therapy and are well and truly in the room…I could not have done that if we hadn’t spent the last 9 months laying the foundations via text. Em was blank screen. Teflon. She wanted no contact. Anita is present, real, and connected. She actually seems to like me…better than like me (yay!)…which is nice but it means that what and who needs to be work with can safely turn up.

I wish I had been able to advocate better for myself with Em. Deep down we all know what we need to heal. Sometimes that doesn’t align with what the other person can do, it doesn’t fit their training or system of working, their personality – and that is fine – we can’t force a therapist to be someone they’re not (even if they seem to want to force a square peg through a round hole where we are concerned!). I just wish they’d say something early on like, ‘What you need and want is completely valid and understandable as you’ve had so much wounding but I can’t offer that’ and refer us out rather than saying things like, ‘The time for getting what you need has passed and you need to learn to hold this for yourself. I won’t collude with those young parts. If I did what you wanted it wouldn’t help you in the long run.’

Whilst I understand I can’t get a new childhood or a new mum, I can have a relationship with my therapist that is safe, caring, and loving in order that the wounding from my childhood can be gently healed. I can have someone who is on my side ready to hold my hand and support me when I go to the really dark places. It is ok to expect to be in a relationship with someone who you share the most vulnerable and wounded parts of yourself. I can’t express it strongly enough – it is the relationship that heals not the theory.

And so what happened with Em? I stayed, sort of believing her narrative that I was not trying hard enough to heal (even though I work so fucking hard both inside and outside of sessions)– that I was in some way treatment resistant so just need to try harder, let her in more, stop dissociating. And then when I did that, when I gave her my notebooks, her reaction was so bad that it ended.

Here’s a crap analogy for what my therapy has been like…buckle up we’re on course for one of my extended rambling metaphors!:

I think it’s a bit like when you’re a kid and you feel sad and want a treat. You may really want a bar of chocolate – know that a bar of chocolate is what would make you feel better- and yet the parent keeps offering you a pear because ‘they know what’s best for you’. You chew on the pear but really, deep down you wanted chocolate. I mean, of course, there are some similarities between a pear and a chocolate bar- both are sweet- but we all know a pear is not a reasonable substitution for a chocolate bar no matter what they say about the health benefits!

Imagine being a child, and every week asking for chocolate and every week being told ‘No – you can only have pear! You may think you need a chocolate bar, but you’re wrong. Pear is what you need. Pear is all that’s on offer. You’ll soon learn that pears are the best thing for you.’ And that’s hard to take on board because it feels impossible that that can be true…

But it gets worse, alongside this, whilst you’ve got acid indigestion from so much fucking pear, the parent repeatedly tells you how much chocolate you’ve missed out on in your life so far. Then saying that despite having some chocolate right there with them, that they won’t give any to you ever, and maybe you could find some way to imagine what it would be like to taste chocolate whilst you’re struggling to stomach the pear.

The pear is definitely not what you want but you are naturally compliant and so take it and wonder why you aren’t good enough to be given the chocolate. Week after week you’re handed pear but you’re quickly sick of it, the taste, the texture, how it makes you feel sick inside- everything about pear feels wrong. It’s not chocolate. At this point you’d even settle for a cocoa dusted slice of pear…but no…you’ve got pear and pear only.

Eventually, it reaches a point where you just cannot put another piece of pear in your mouth. And the parent keeps on, ‘How about we try this shaped pear today? Or perhaps we could juice it?’ as though it would be any different from all the other slabs and slices and cups you’ve forced down your neck over the months and years. You internally groan. You’re not stupid though, you stopped asking for the chocolate a long time ago because it just got painful being refused it over and over again.

You clearly don’t deserve chocolate and so now you’ve tried to convince yourself that chocolate is bad and dangerous because that’s what parent has said… but it’s never really worked because your soul knows what you need. And part of you hoped that if you kept up with the pear long enough, maybe one day you’d be rewarded with just a tiny square of chocolate. The parent thinks they’ve won the battle because you don’t ever talk of chocolate now, but inside you’re really sad – why is a bit of chocolate so forbidden? How can something that tastes so good be wrong?  

Time goes on and by now you’re so sick of pear, that it’s reached the point where it’s making you sick and you have nightmares about being handed pear. Just the thought of it makes you want to gag and you cry. Until one day you crack. You can’t do it any more, the revulsion to the pear is so severe that you vomit it back up all over the floor, and it’s not just pear, it’s years of emotional pain spewing out, and you scream ‘I DON’T LIKE PEAR! I hate pear. I have tried it. I really have. But it’s not helping me. It actually makes me feel ill. I really just need some chocolate!!’ and the parent looks at you with disgust and coldly says. ‘I don’t do chocolate and if you won’t eat pear then you’ll have to go’. It’s as simple as that.

So, you go somewhere else, a foster home, crying, sad, not really knowing what you need anymore, what you are entitled to ask for. You don’t even really care about chocolate now, you just know you can’t stomach another pear and you pray that this new home doesn’t force feed them to you too.

You walk in the door and the new parent talks to you kindly, it’s bizarre, so alien!… and immediately says that chocolate is completely ok in this house like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, they offer you a chocolate bar. You don’t even have to ask for it! Apparently a plentiful supply of chocolate bars are what is needed when a child like you has been deprived chocolate all its life. And it’s ok to want that and ask for that. And, furthermore, if you don’t like pear then you never have to eat it again. When you leave the house and look in your bag you see that the new parent has even slid a chocolate bar in your lunch bag. You cannot believe your luck.

And this is what it’s been like seeing Em and A. I mean that’s a bit of an ‘out there’ analogy. My friend actually said I ought to have used ice cubes for Em rather than pears… as she was stone cold and there was no nutritional value to the therapy!! haha. The moment I met A, she was on my page – ‘you know what you need, you’re inside you, and who am I to tell you what you need? I might not be able to give you everything you need but those needs are valid and ok’… turns out she also has a stack of ‘chocolate’ and it’s really good chocolate so my inner child is delighted! Lol.

Anyway, that’s all for now…this is unexpectedly long. I’m trying to work out what to do with writing this blog at the minute. Therapy has gone to a whole new level for me these last couple of weeks -it’s incredible but also massively vulnerable work – and so I feel like right now, I don’t want to detail what’s going on because actually I feel really protective of it. I feel like I need to talk to A about it too. I get it’s my therapy, that the blog is anonymous, etc but I might have to take a bit of time before I publish anything. That’s not an intentional cliff-hanger, it’s just I feel like I need to keep everything safely contained in the room for a bit. x

‘I love you too’

After promptly diving down into the black hole of shame on Friday and then young parts suffering with all the attachment stuff and fear of being left over the weekend, I decided to send my blog post about expressing loving feelings and being the Queen of Avoidance to Anita shortly after I’d written it on Sunday.

I figured I had nothing to lose, really, because whilst parts of me were in a tail spin about being so vulnerable and worrying massively about being rejected for being ‘too much’, there were other parts who know that A and I can work through whatever I bring to her. Enough of me trusts her for me to be able to tell her I am struggling and knows that she won’t shame me for my feelings. And because it’s ok for me to communicate with her outside session, and she’s been happy read my blog posts when I have shared them with her in the past, it seemed silly to continue suffering when actually I could give her the heads up and then we would be on the same page for our session the next day.

I didn’t expect her to read it until Monday or reply but I felt much better for just getting it off my chest. When I am dysregulated, I find expressing how I feel in writing much easier than trying to explain it verbally and Anita really understands this. That’s not to say I don’t talk in the room (I really do!), or that the therapy is taking place outside the room and not in it because I write to her or blog.

A knows there are parts that will take time to trust, need to test her and the relationship (repeatedly) and by allowing me to check in outside those two contact hours a week, those tentative, vulnerable, scared, flighty parts of me are able to do what they need to do, express what they need to, and this has enabled them to make it into the space face to face more often.

I am certain that it is Anita’s flexibility and presence outside the room that has actually allowed me take more risks and do more work in the room. I haven’t developed some unhealthy addiction to her because I check in during the week and she hasn’t bred some terrible dependency because she acknowledges the child parts need something more (which is what Em was certain would happen).

A understands that the attachment happens regardless. If the feelings are there lying dormant then they’ll be ignited in the therapy, but how this is all handled definitely impacts on us as clients. We either feel seen and held or abandoned and rejected…and I know which one is accelerating my path to healing!

I mean it’s not rocket science, relational trauma needs healing in relationship.

I saw this on Carolyn Spring’s Twitter the other day which totally summed it up:

When we are in distress, whether as a baby or as an adult, we want a person, not a technique. Human beings don’t respond to techniques. We respond to feeling seen, and feeling heard. and feeling felt.

And this is where the problems were with Em, a clinical psychologist. She had so many techniques but refused time and again to let herself into the relationship. I’ve never experienced anyone more blank screen in my life. And for those of us with CPTSD that way of interacting is so traumatising. I mean honestly if I could imagine my way out of my trauma with visualisation then I’d have bloody done it!

Anyway…A is not Em. Thank god!

A is brilliant.

Have I said that before?

As I said, I wasn’t expecting a reply to my blog on Sunday and I didn’t feel stressed worrying about a reply/or not getting one because ultimately I knew A would understand, so I was just getting on with things when I got a message later that morning…like the best message. I have literally waited years to be told something like this:

O my goodness. I am not going anywhere. You really aren’t too much. I care about you sooo much and I love you too, in a caring loving way 💜🧡💛. I am aware Em saw the love in a romantic way. I don’t think she got how the love between client and therapist is so different but can definitely be there if the relationship is allowed to grow x

I couldn’t believe me eyes. All the parts inside, even the critic, just melted. I felt so reassured. So accepted. So understood. So cared for. So loved. And that outside communication that some therapists seem so scared of entering into, and A actually being real enough to express love in a clearly boundaried way, well I can tell you, that alone has done more good and been more healing than the entirety of my therapy with Em. My child parts took the risk, expressed vulnerable feelings, and have had them accepted and reciprocated…and that’s therapy gold. And I feel so much more able to bring the really hard stuff to her now, because I believe she’s in it for the long haul with me, and she genuinely cares.

Did I mention that I love my therapist?!

Back In The Therapy Room…At Last!

Wow….so apparently today marks the third birthday of Rubber bands and Chewing Gum! I have a three year old toddler blog! -how on earth did that happen? Honestly, I can’t believe it. When I first started blogging I really had no idea how it would turn out, what I would say, or if anyone would even bother to read it – I certainly never thought hundreds of people would follow me or be interested in what I had to say! Back then, all I knew was that I need to find somewhere to put all the chaos that was swirling in my head and so this space became my online therapy journal…it was safe because it was stored ‘out there’ rather than as some random file for someone to come across on my laptop one day – EEK!

I have always liked to write- needed to write- in fact it’s pretty much the only way I have ever processed my stuff. I guess when you grow up and there’s no-one to listen then it makes sense to purge it on the page before it eats you alive. It’s sad really. I find it so easy to get my feelings down in words here, but expressing them aloud can be almost impossible sometimes. Shame and embarrassment have been my constant companions throughout my life and stop me saying what’s really going on…oh and let’s not forget the system inside that’s comprised of a mini-bus full of traumatised parts!

This blog has really been a ‘warts and all’ account of my therapeutic journey. Often people email me and say how much they have related to what I say here and thank me for making them feel less alone in their own experience. I am really glad that this is the case, if seeing what I am going through helps even one person feel less alone with what are really excruciating feelings then I’m happy.

I frequently get told how brave I am to tell it as it is. I don’t know if it’s brave, really, it’s just honest. If I was brave I wouldn’t publish this under a pseudonym because I wouldn’t be terrified of any one in my ‘real life’ stumbling across it and seeing what a mess I really am and judging me for it.

Because whilst on one level, I am completely sure that these are just human feelings and understandable reactions to lots of trauma (and there should be no shame in that) I also know that most people are not in touch with their emotional selves, society is not ready to open its eyes and see how many people are carrying the weight of several ACES on their shoulders – (I’ve got 7/10!) and would sooner judge people that do feel it all and struggle, than try and understand or have to acknowledge the level of damage there is and and the care that people require to heal.

And it’s not just ‘out there’ that is the problem. Part of the reason I started blogging was because I knew I felt ‘too much’ and was ‘too much’ and couldn’t bring my feelings to my therapist. In my gut I knew she couldn’t handle me. And when I did (finally) show her really how I felt, there was the very real experience of being rejected and abandoned for getting close to the core wound – with a therapist – someone who is meant to understand!! No wonder so many of us are in hiding!

However, I know for a fact that I am not the only one to experience the things I do in therapy…there’s certainly a merry bunch of mother wounded souls lurking here on WordPress and I feel so blessed to have landed here when I did and made the connections I have. Honestly, when it all went to shit with Em in January it was this space and you guys that helped me get through. So thank you everyone x

I could rabbit on and on, gushing, but I know actually all anyone wants to hear about was what happened when I finally got to see Anita in person on Tuesday. It feels nice to be able to write something positive here after so much of my journey being a complete shit show.

So here it is:

I left my last post on a bit of a cliff-hanger (sorry!)…partly because the post was already pretty lengthy and also because I didn’t have any time to write more then. I thought I’d get back here sooner than this, but the last few days have been rammed full with stuff that has left me feeling pretty drained.

I’ve seen a couple of friends (socially distanced) and, honestly, after an hour I felt like I had nothing left to give them. It sounds awful but I have literally been wishing they’d go home! This is so unlike me and really demonstrates how lacking in resources I am right now. I usually have so much capacity to listen and absorb other people’s stuff but yesterday my friend, whom I haven’t seen in 5 months, talked at me for a solid 90 minutes before coming up for air and asking what’s been going on my end. I said I was ‘fine’ – I just couldn’t be arsed to talk and was on empty, and so then she went on another deep dive….4.5 hours in total. Sweet mother of god! I honestly do not know how therapists do it and maybe that’s why there’s a therapy hour!! I suppose at least they get paid! haha.

So now it’s Friday, and I’ve seen Anita again today…but that’ll have to come in a later post. The problem is, today’s session (therapy break dread and young parts in hiding) has kind of erased my memory of Tuesday. I hate how that happens. How is it that the panicked parts that fear being abandoned can literally take the good memories underground with them when they go into meltdown?

Anyway, Tuesday, and the walk Anita and I had arranged didn’t happen. Instead I found myself outside her house at 1pm for a session IN THE THERAPY ROOM! I mean I have been banging on about wanting to be back in the room enough over the last few months but now, completely unexpectedly it was about to happen. And I soooooo needed it.

Fortunately, I wrote some lots of notes (5 A4 pages and I can’t read my writing!!) on Tuesday so I am going to try and piece it all back together which might actually help me regulate myself as I have fallen down a (massive) hole this afternoon. I joked in session on Monday that I am a bit like a double-sided puzzle (which apparently do actually exist – WHY?!) – the level of fragmentation isn’t even funny. I don’t know who holds all the memories of Tuesday but it isn’t whoever is here right now!…but I’d like that part back as she is pretty settled and my system right now is freaking out!

I cannot even begin to explain the feeling of being back in the room with A. I mean, I’ll try, but it’s going to be hard as SO MUCH was going on inside. But hey, lets lead in with a super-boosted dose of hypervigilance in action.

It’s funny. You know when you are aware of EVERYTHING in room, like you can go to a restaurant and clock everything that is going on with other tables, suss out the dynamic and relationship between those other customers, know where at least two exits are, and have a map of the floor before you’ve even sat down?? Well, I must’ve come across as a complete lunatic with A on Tuesday. It took a while to settle because I had to reorientate myself to the room. I noticed all the tiny changes. It’s been 5 bloody months since I was last there and yet it was like playing spot the difference… ‘has that cupboard door been painted?’…FFS!

I guess it makes sense to have this skill because at some point I’d have to have been able to do this (ok maybe not in a restaurant, but at home with caregivers) just to stay safe. But it always amazes me when this stuff happens and I am actually conscious of it. It feels a bit embarrassing because I am sure it isn’t normal to comment on a light switch…my poor brain is perpetually working so hard to try and see if there’s risk.

Anyway, after the ‘what’s changed in the room’ exercise I think I spent a few minutes basically like a broken record repeating how happy I was to see Anita and how great it was to be back in the room (not playing it cool at all!)…all the while other parts of me trying to work out if A was still the same, that things were ok, if it was safe…

Last week, before we had arranged the walk and then ended up face to face, I had asked A if I could send her something in the post before she went on her break. She said it was fine but actually, as it turned out, I got to give her what I wanted in person.

I realise that part of me must be fucking insane to contemplate giving a therapist a gift after what happened with Em at Christmas, but there we are…these parts seem to keep bouncing back and hoping for a different outcome! I can’t work out if they are resilient or nuts!

The first time I met Anita, I was moaning about how bad things were with Em, how she just seemed so cold and distant and almost deliberately trying to hurt me (especially off the back of the skype call after Christmas) . A said to me that she felt like my therapy journey was a bit like an egg – I’d got through the hard shell, and Em and I had been working in the white (for a very long time!), but now I needed to do the deep work, where the feelings are, and that work required love, and perhaps Em just couldn’t do that work with me… it really resonated but stung. I knew she was right but also knew that meant that meant the end of things with Em.

After the session, I was in town and I went into my favourite crystal shop and there on the shelf was an egg, made of blue lace agate. The gem stone relates to communication and specifically the throat chakra as well as tying into pisces (my star sign). It felt perfect. I knew even after that first session with A that I wanted to work with her but also knew that it wasn’t going to be a straightforward jumping ship with Em (mind you I never imagined in a million years it would end the way it did!).

I decided to buy the egg, knowing that one day, when the time felt right, I would give it to Anita as a symbol of the work we were doing…as we moved into the yolk and those deeper, painful feelings that as she said, ‘need a different kind of healing’.

Anyway, 5 months of online therapy has been a challenge but also our relationship has grown and I felt like before she went on holiday I wanted to give her the egg. The youngest parts of me fear being forgotten about and if there is such a thing, I think this egg serves as a reverse transitional object…instead of me taking something from the therapy room, part of me is left with A. I guess she can hold me in mind, but because my child parts just can’t hold people in mind at all, they disappear, it makes sense that they think that everyone needs something tangible so that they don’t disappear from memory.

I was a bit nervous giving A the egg but she already knew I was going to give her something and had said it was ok…so…I did. And she seemed to like it and reacted positively which was lovely. She said she wanted to give me a hug and then opened her arms and said ‘a socially distanced hug’. It was a nice gesture but also it activated the young part that actually so desperately wants an actual hug. It’s kind of like when you walk past a sweet shop as a kid. You can see, smell, and almost taste what’s inside but you don’t have any money and so can’t get what you want. Ugh.

The parts of me that have struggled to reach A during lockdown felt so relieved to see her sitting across from me in the flesh. It was so good to see her…but then…oh god…that meant she could also see me! And whilst parts of me really wanted to connect (like honestly how I didn’t cling onto her like a limpet when I walked in I have no idea!) there are other parts who are absolutely terrified of being seen, exposed, because to them it feels almost inevitable that when she sees the level of need, and how much connection those parts of me actually require, she’ll do a runner…like Em.

I managed to tell A that I had been worried that coming back to the room because I feared she might not like me anymore, now that she’s seen more of me, but she assured me that we have got closer since we were last together not further apart. This went a long way to settle some of the panicking parts.

We talked quite a bit about how much I fear rejection and abandonment (ha- no shit) – but that it’s not surprising given what’s happened with the therapy with Em. I said I feel like I always waiting for something bad to happen…like I can’t fully absorb A’s kindness and care because I feel like it can’t possibly last. I guess this is also the legacy of my childhood. Nothing ever stayed ‘nice’ for very long as my mum’s mood changed like the wind and so I was always on guard waiting, but also trying to behave in a way that might prevent her from losing the plot.

I told her Anita that I was still mortified about the reaction I had to finding out she’d been on a walk with another client and I couldn’t believe I’d behaved as I had. Anita said she could completely understand why I had felt the way I did and said how it tied into all the stuff about me feeling inadequate and feeling like for some reason I wasn’t ‘good enough’ to be offered that by her. She was so right. The whole thing had felt like a confirmation of how people have to tolerate me but don’t want to spend any more time with me than they have to. I know that’s a very young part’s response but it was massive in the moment.

I talked about the kickback I have experienced over my reaction to it….which has been enormous. The Critic has had a complete field day. I told A that it makes sense, though, because if I am awful to myself then nothing she can possibly say or do to me can be worse…and so in a fucked up kind of a way it’s protective. But man…I wish the Critic would dial it down a few notches!

And then, that awful thing happened. You know, the thing where you are seen and understood and connected and it feels so good and then all of a sudden that young part of you that has been peeking out from behind the sofa, the one who has its face pressed up against the glass window of the sweet shop, who is so love and touch starved and just desperately wants to be closer lands with a thud in the room and everyone else in the system disappears for a minute?

Yeah, that happened.

Then the shame flooded in. And then I dissociated because that level of need feels chronically dangerous and so the walls had to come up. And yet again, I’d protected myself, but actually I’d also totally abandoned the young parts and stopped them getting any of the connection they need because I was so convinced I’d be rejected…even though that’s a clear re-enactment and A has done nothing at all to suggest she would push me away.

FFS.

It was obvious that something had shifted and Anita asked me what the parts of me that are struggling needed in that moment. Ugh. Fuck. Like how on earth do say it? Never in 8 years could I tell Em I wanted a hug especially after the session a few years ago when I was stuck in my two year old self and she said, ‘your young parts might feel like they need to be held but that won’t happen here, it’s my boundary and I won’t cross it. I won’t collude with that young part and you need to hold it for yourself.’ (Oh god … that was rough!) That day I was falling through the abyss and that’s what she chose to say …it wasn’t until January that I even said that I would like her to come closer when I was dissociating…which got a firm ‘NO’ too!

Ouch.

So whilst I knew exactly what I needed in that moment, and for the last gazillion years, the idea of saying it only to replay the old narrative (not because I am untouchable but because of COVID) just felt ugh. Anita asked me if it was too hard to say.

Errr…Yes!

I was beating myself up inside as well as having the young parts having a significant meltdown. It’s agony when this happens.

I managed to say something like, ‘I’ve been here before’…and man, how many times over the years have I been in that god awful lonely space, regressed into a very young child part, desperate to be seen and held, but being trapped because Em would never come anywhere near me? A said, ‘And I’m guessing it wasn’t ok last time?’…

At that moment, remembering all those excruciating times sitting with Em, I massively dissociated, not just a bit. I could feel myself go. I felt like I was being pulled out the room backwards by my hair. It was hideous. I managed to tell A what was going on for me and somehow she brought me back. I don’t know how she does it but having lost hours of my life in the dissociative fog in the therapy room with Em it amazes me how (relatively) quickly I can get back to A. Maybe it’s because there’s lots of parts who believe she is safe and not deliberately out to hurt me.

I was able to tell A what was going on inside. How part of me was raging at myself for being so silly. Like I was in the therapy room, with A, after all these months which is what I had wanted for the longest time, and it felt soooo good, and now that I was there I was getting hung up on something I can’t have. I said, “It’s not like I can’t have a hug because you’re deliberately withholding, it’s because of the situation, but my child parts don’t understand this at all. To them it just feels like more of the same, ‘I don’t work that way’, ‘you might want that but I’m just your therapist‘… Adult me understands what’s happening but the youngest parts just don’t and it really hurts. But then there’s the other part who believes I don’t deserve you to be nice to me and every time I take a step forward I get yanked back into line and it’s disconnecting and painful and it makes relationships really difficult.’

Now for anyone that has been following this blog a while you’ll see how massive that last paragraph is. To actually verbalise the need to be held after what’s happened in recent years is huge. Like massive.

Anita then spoke to me about how she works with physical touch again and how if it feels right she offers hugs and how nurturing they can be. And I know this. I get it. But ugh…when? And again my brain switched into the that space where it tries to make sense of a situation but fails to – like I can get a hair cut and have my hairdresser right by me for 90 minutes, do an hour of body work that involves physical touch throughout, and yet it seems that touch seems so out of bounds in the therapy room where we are actually at our most vulnerable and most regressed states and need it.

My brain was hearing was saying as, ‘we can hug one day’ and that was at least a bit containing. And then she said that she knew how I have been keeping myself safe (I mean how many times have I ranted over the last few months about safety and how I don’t go out except literally to get my hair done?!) and she said she, too, has been very careful and that she wouldn’t offer a hug to everyone and she wanted me to hear that but that she was fine with hugs if I wanted that now.

Anyway, we talked A LOT about all kinds of things, trauma, neglect, still-face experiment…you name it we covered it all! And then it was time to go. We’d run over – A commented how quickly the time had gone. And it really had flown by. I said how great it had been to see A…because it really had. We’d done a lot of work but it felt fab. Anita said that it’d been really nice to see me too and asked if I wanted to resume face to face when she’s back from holiday in September.

Err. YESSSSS!

And as I got up to leave I asked for a hug.

Yes, my friends, I actually said it!

And A’s response? ‘You are most welcome to a hug’.

And then it happened. And honestly I could have cried…it was so nice. I know I hung on for ages and somehow when I let go I found myself holding her hand…I felt a bit dizzy and spacey afterwards. It was as though the impact of being held, properly like that after years and years of needing it but instead being left, refused it, and it compounding the feeling of being unlovable and untouchable released a huge amount of trauma in my system.

Just thinking about it makes me cry. And I feel so grateful to have found A who seems to be willing to work with me in the way I need. Thank god.