Reunited: “I’m back now. I still love you and still care about you…very much”

Argh – so I began writing this on the 17th October…and then…well… time evaporated again and it’s now midway through November and it’s just been festering in the hard drive like so many other blog posts I’ve started over the last year or so. So much for the idea of being able to find the time to post more ‘regularly’! – Ah well, rewind a bit and I’ll take you back to the first session post two-week therapy break!

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So, this morning I felt a bit out of sorts as I drove towards therapy. No bloody surprises there! It was the first session back after the break and here I was, again, nursing those horrible feelings of isolation and disconnect that I am so familiar with. I guess, it was self-imposed, forged out of panic. My system so massively fears the potential of there being a true isolation and disconnect enacted by Anita (which essentially amounts to an abandonment) that I get in there first. It’s a protective withdrawal on my part. If my system checks out first, it beats Anita to it, and therefore, she can’t hurt me. Only…my being distant ‘first’ does hurt me…so how is that any better?!

Of course, it’s not better, ESPECIALLY when Anita ISN’T trying to be disconnected or distant -far from it. She wants to be there for me and to connect. But when will I stop reacting from a place of fear whenever we come back from a break? Not today, it seems. Sadly, that anxiety spring is coiled tightly in my nervous system and it’s taking a long long long LOOONNNGGG time to convince my system that in the here and now things are ok, and that Anita is not going to repeat the relational pattern I have come to expect.

I am so shit at this (therapy/relationship) game of snakes and ladders, aren’t I? Honestly, I really messed up when the rules of life and relationships were being explained to me. I must have been napping at some of the crucial junctures because I keep hitting the same pitfalls over and over again. More often than not, I roll the dice I land on a snake and go sliding on my arse back to the beginning again. The thing is, I don’t think this is all my fault – I am trying so hard to navigate the board, to make it so that I go up ladders, make positive forward movement and dodge the snakes…but it just doesn’t always work out.

I think, perhaps, the problem came from the fact that relationship rules were explained to me by people who also didn’t understand how to play the game (my family) – and yet, because we all followed the same ‘made up rules’ it wasn’t apparent there was anything wrong until I ventured out into the world and tried to play the game with other people and they were like, “This isn’t how to play the game!” So, in order to make it through life and relationships, I’ve found some work arounds – paid attention to how it’s meant to be done. I continue on in the game but not, always, in the usual way, I don’t think – especially when there’s been a break.

I trusted that Em knew how the game worked, but it turns out that she, too, had some random, off brand, version of the rules and so that was really fucking confusing for me because I tried to play the game her way but it wasn’t right. Anyway… that’s a fucking bizarre metaphor that’s run out of legs…sorry!

I arrived a bit early to Anita’s and sat in the car scrolling through my phone – trying to settle the parts that were having a bad time, panicking that it wouldn’t be ok when I went in, fearing that something might have changed, and dreading a rupture because the parts were not in a good place. I had elephant ready in my bag to take in, but there was a part that was baulking against taking it to the session. I knew, however, that if I left elephant in the car there would be zero chance I would let the young parts out. Even if elephant stays in the bag in the therapy room it’s very clear it’s in there and if Anita has eyes (reader- she does) then she’ll know young parts are at least somewhere in the vicinity and hopefully will be able to reach through protective barriers and to the parts that so need reassurance and reconnection.

As I walked up the drive, I felt a bit checked out, on that path towards dissociation but not quite fully there. I was kind of apathetic and “What’s the point?” You know – disgruntled teen. Anita opened the door and smiled at me and asked me how I was, “tired” I replied flatly. That is my go to…because I am ALWAYS tired but also it’s just how it is: no energy, done in, running on empty. I wandered into the room and sat down on the couch. From what I could see, everything was still the same, my story books were out on the side, Anita sat on the couch beside me, there wasn’t anything ‘obviously’ different. I had no idea how it was going to be, though. I felt a bit overwhelmed and was all set for false adult to dive in and take the session and then for the teen to shut it all down at some point, but the moment I sat down A said, “I’ve got something for you from my trip” and handed me a little fabric bag with a chocolate lolly attached to it.

I was not expecting that. At all.

I said, “thank you” and put it to one side without looking in the bag and immediately asked for a cuddle. Whilst I was intrigued to see what was in the bag, I was more desperate to physically reconnect with A after the break. That couple of seconds together, to hear she’d thought of me on her trip, took a sledgehammer to my apathetic self and the young parts just wanted to be as close to her as possible (Cringe!).

I’m not a big fan of Autumn and Winter (I’m actually really struggling with SAD this year really badly -it’s either that or a colossal whack of post-viral fatigue) but the one positive about the changing season is that the temperature has really dropped these last few weeks and so there was no fear about it being ‘too hot’ to touch (hug) which is what happened over the summer and triggered the young parts…

The young parts immediately relaxed into being with her. It felt so nice to snuggle into her warm body, to be back in that familiar safe space, to hear her heartbeat, to breathe in her comforting smell of fresh washed clothing and clean hair (look don’t judge – you know how it is!). All the armour was off, everything I had been holding for the last few weeks could be put down, and I could just rest for an hour. So, that’s how it was for the entirety of the session – I just cuddled into Anita and it was exactly what I had needed.

We chatted about all sorts of stuff: her holiday, my being very ill, an episode with a wetsuit, my delinquent puppy and menace of a kitten, random life stuff – it was just really nice and connected. We laughed a lot. Anita asked me midway through if I wanted to look at what she’d given me and said that it wasn’t much, but she’d thought of me. Even half an hour in I just didn’t want to move from the safety of her arms. I guess after the separation I felt like I needed a huge top up of touch. I told A that I didn’t want to let her go and didn’t want to move, which I would have had to do to get the bag, and she held me tightly to her and instead told me about the pebble and shell that she’d found on the beaches whilst on her holiday and that she’d brought home for me. When the pebble is wet it sparkles from the quartz that is dotted on it.

She said that she’d been walking, the tide had just gone out, so the pebble was wet, and it had shone out on the beach reflecting in the sun. Knowing I collect pebbles (I had given her one that I had found for her from my favourite beach recently) she picked it for me. Then she told me about a beach she had been on that was completely made of shells and had picked one for me too. She also collects pebbles and shells and so it’s something we connect with. It’s a fucking world away from pebblegate with Em, that’s for sure!

I can’t really explain how cared for I felt in that moment with Anita but it felt healing. During the week before the session, she’d sent me a video of where she’d been, and then to know she’d consciously been thinking of me when I was out of sight (and I feared ‘out of mind’) was really, I dunno, special? I so often believe I am forgettable, unlovable, and frankly just not very important and yet here was really clear evidence (again) that that wasn’t the case at all. It was so nice because I have been wobbling such a lot over recent months on and off – almost creating a narrative that Anita wasn’t interested in me anymore – and yet here was a clear demonstration that Anita, the Anita I have built a relationship with over nearly three years, really is still there – invested – and she really cares.

I know that the doubting and the anxiety and the protectors are all there on loop. And whilst it is sometimes (always!) frustrating that despite doing this steady reparative work for so long, I still get plunged into the hell zone because of the attachment trauma, I guess there’s another part of me that can see that my panic and fear of abandonment can be heard, seen, and metabolised with Anita. I don’t have to live in fear of even telling her what’s going on for me (like I did with Em…WTAF was I doing in that therapy?!). Now, lots of the time my system is settled. Being with Anita is lovely, we do the work, her presence and care is so regulating for my system – there are plenty of ladders. But when stuff is triggered and awful and painful and I am sliding my ass down the snakes, there’s something really comforting in knowing that no matter how bad it might feel in the moment, A isn’t going anywhere. She tells me this often enough. And enough of me must believe it to have to meltdowns and throw ALL MY crazy into the ring.

In one of our very first sessions together we talked about the importance of building strong foundations so that we could weather whatever storms came our way – and we have done just that. The number of times I wanted to tell Em how I was feeling, to be able to express the most vulnerable parts of myself to her but got choked and dissociated was just hideous. It’s so different with A.

Towards the end of the session, with about ten minutes to go, and after a few minutes of calm silence, a young part quietly murmured, “I missed you” into Anita’s chest. She responded with, “I know.” Part of me baulked at this and that perfect peace was fractured. To at least some part of me it felt, I don’t know, dismissive somehow. I guess, it’s that thing about having unrequited feelings; fearing that my feelings are too big, too much, not reciprocated in any way. There I was being vulnerable and rather than replying with “I missed you too” which is what Anita has said a million times before, she came back with that. Had something changed? It was literally a split-second reaction in me – but it really goes to show how instantly the system can be triggered despite all the evidence to the contrary. The next words out of Anita’s mouth, literally continuing on the sentence were, “I’m back now. I still love you and still care about you…very much…I really, really do.” And with that the panic that flared up dispersed and everything was ok. BUT MAN…what a reminder of the work there is to do.

Of course, there’s been nearly a month since this first session back…and it wouldn’t be me if it had been plain sailing – lol – but it’s been ok. More than ok. There’s been lots of attending to the young parts through reading stories, plenty of hugs, and plenty of connected silence where nothing needs to be said because so much is ‘felt’. I’ve been so used to excruciating, dissociated, painful silences in therapy over the years but I have to say, I love that quiet, connected, safe silence where there are no words needed, when it’s just calm and safe. And frankly it’s good that we are in this sort of semi-rest phase because I have nothing at the moment. I am running on fumes.

Of course, there’s just one bloody problem – and the irony isn’t lost on me! – It’s going well, it’s safe, connected, and loving but MY FUCKING GOD it’s SOOOOOOOOOO hard to leave A and be thrown back into the real world to face the relentlessness of life. I am on hyperdrive in my day-to-day life and I am really on the edge of burnout after being so poorly and so of course the young parts are activated in the week and are yearning for that safe, holding space with A more than ever. Yikes! I really really need it to be Friday.

I hope you’re all hanging on in there. Yet another ‘brief’ 2500 word update! So concise 😉

September Sessions And Another Therapy Break.

So, the last blog post was really about how bumpy and unsettled things felt over the summer with therapy sessions all over the place, and lack of touch due to the sweltering heat wave we experienced, and then about returning to the more regular schedule of my Monday and Friday sessions when school started back up. And basically, the fucking meltdowns I experienced! (ARGH!) It’s nuts, really, how delicately balanced things are and how little it takes to throw not just a spanner, but a whole tool kit, in the works where my sense of safety and connection to Anita goes.

Hang on. No. Not quite that. That’s not adult me.  Adult me is fine, and trusts that Anita and I are fine and can get through whatever comes our way…so no, it’s not the whole ‘I’ or ‘Me’- it’s the young parts that really struggled with the frame being wobbled a bit and not getting the physical connection they are so used to. Adult me realises that sessions of long sweaty hugs would be grim, but the child parts don’t care about heat!! They just want mummy cuddles and stories…and to them, Anita is that attachment figure. Any sense of distance in the room sends terror down through the system and panic that something has changed…yeah RB – it’s the weather, the weather has changed…everything else is fine. I am not a big fan of winter but I can tell you I AM SO PLEASED to be entering hoodie and beanie season because that means cuddles are on the cards! (What a loser!)

Anyway, this won’t be a long post (ha! – relief!) because really there’s not all that much to report. Anita and I have continued to navigate the wobbles and now we’re on ANOTHER break. Oh man, I swear breaks and disruption will be the end of me. Summer break, Queen funeral BH, and now another two weeks, alongside a few reschedules…GIVE ME STRENGTH!

I want to get up to speed, here, before Monday as I’d like to be able to get back into posting a bit more regularly and not just these randomly spaced dumps of half-remembered stuff that’s happened. I miss blogging and as winter approaches and the dark and the cold sets in, I need to really up my self-care and part of that, I think, comes in writing. Taking an hour to sit, process, have a cup of tea, and sit by the fire is helpful. Sure, there’s piles of ironing to do and lessons to plan, but I need to take some time back because it’s starting to feel a bit like the balance is off in my life.

My wife has recently started a new job which means she’s away two or three days/nights a week and so everything has fallen to me and frankly I’m finding juggling two kids, clubs, work, the house etc a bit much. It wouldn’t be so bad if a lot of my work wasn’t also in the evenings but it’s a right nightmare trying to get kids fed and into bed around teaching three lessons each evening when they’re home from school. I’m going to have to rejig a bit before something breaks…and that something will be me!

So, what happened since the last post? Lots of talk. Circling the same stuff over and over. Abandonment, rejection, has something changed? Why do I feel so disconnected…on loop. It’s so weird, too. Like one session everything can be fine – cuddles, stories, talking, connection – and then the next it’s like I can’t connect at all and I can’t even see that Anita is the same person she was last session. To say that it’s upsetting is an understatement. But what I have noticed (once I can get a bit of adult online) is that there’s a lot going on for a lot of the different parts right now. It feels like they are all activated and jostling for attention in various ways. Everyone wants to be loved, but as we all know, different parts have different ways of expressing themselves- and the teen is especially good at shutting things down and giving massive ‘fuck off and leave me alone’ vibes when in fact what she wants is A to reach out and take her hand and tell her she’s ok.

Anyway… ha…ha…not funny haha but groan…

So, we were plodding along a few weeks ago and then the wheels just fell off big time. I didn’t know what triggered it at the time. I thought it was probably the hangover from things just not feeling quite settled enough over the last few months and the upcoming break, but actually it turned out I was getting sick…really sick…I have been really unwell for about a month now but at the time things started to shake inside I was just on the verge of getting poorly. I think that on top of the usual stuff just sent things into freefall. You jnow where it you just can’t keep the plates spinning any longer…well it was that.

I am usually pretty together (don’t laugh, it’s true!). I can manage the feelings that come up in the week between sessions. I can tune into the parts and hear what’s going on for them and then try and put things in place to settle things down. But this particular week no amount of cancelling my work, or taking a nap, or giving the littles space to snuggle elephant and feel what was going on helped me. I just needed Anita. You know? Like nothing else was going to cut it. And man, that is a bloody bind because I can’t have her whenever I want!

So, once again I faced a tricky dilemma. Should I reach out? In the past I would have had no qualms at all about asking for a longer session, or a check in, or an extra session in the week but these days I don’t. Part of this stems from feeling like I don’t deserve it and so I feel I shouldn’t ask. Because I pay a fixed monthly fee to Anita, I feel like I can’t ask for more than the usual number of sessions now because it feels like I am already not paying her what she charges so how can I possibly ask for more contact time even if I need it? (I think this is a problem for a lot of us on reduced fees and something that therapists probably aren’t even aware of – but money shame is huge). Another reason that I also struggle to ask for more time with A is because longer sessions were taken off the table in February.

UGH!

I’ve been navigating this weird space where I might ‘want’ her but I don’t necessarily ‘need’ her and have been managing with the odd rupture blowing up here and there as a result of it all. Only what came up that week was different. It was that feeling of crisis where EVERYTHING was wrong, and I felt like I was disintegrating (well I was – my body just gave up!).

And so, after several nightmares on Monday night and as things continued to get worse I decided to ask Anita if we could check in or bring our session forward from Friday on Tuesday morning. I knew that wouldn’t help things later in the week but you know what, in that moment I didn’t even see how I would get to Friday. Of course, Anita was Anita, you know the one I fear doesn’t exist anymore… and offered me a session f2f on the Wednesday which I grabbed with both hands. Despite having that safe space booked in for less than 24 hours ahead, that day was bloody awful. I felt like I was unravelling (I was, but I was getting sick too).

I’ve said a million times that I am not a crier but that night I found myself in bed sobbing my heart out for three hours straight. It just wouldn’t stop. You know, that snotty, convulsive, gives you a headache and makes you feel sick crying? It was just so bad. I felt so sad and lost and little…basically it was an almighty grief dump that seemed to come out of nowhere.

But crying is good, right? No. Not in this instance. On my own it didn’t feel cathartic. It felt overwhelming and I was plunged back into that grey space where the little four-year-old girl is standing with her back to me on the barren wasteland. Oh great. Even though I knew I would see A the next day there was absolutely no consoling the desperately sad, abandoned parts. As I say, I know now that I was starting to get sick and not actually having an epic breakdown  – I just didn’t know it in the moment.

The next day I drove to Anita’s and basically collapsed into her arms and spent the entire session cuddled into her. We had some stories and I really let her in in a way that I probably haven’t for several months. It was really hard but also really necessary. A was incredibly attuned and I felt her right there with me. I asked her if she has always been there like that in recent months and she insisted that she’s been there the whole time waiting for me, trying to connect. That felt hard to hear. I know my defences are strong and easily triggered – but here was A saying that she’s not changed and she still loves me and it’s been hard seeing me suffer so much…

ARGH!!!

It felt so good to feel so connected to her. It’s that feeling I think I am always searching for – and hope one day to feel that connected to myself. But right now I look for it in my relationship with her. To feel totally safe and totally held… it’s like being able to drop all the baggage, take off all the armour, and just be… it’s just great. Only of course sessions are not infinite, and I noticed I started to feel tense when I noticed the clock had five minutes to go. The idea of peeling myself away from A, leaving the safety of her arms and the room. I just wanted to cry…especially as I had forfeited my Friday session in order to see her which meant there was now a five day stretch of no contact ahead.

Imagine my delight then when Anita said to me that she was really, really glad we had had the session that day and how important it had been – but that she had kept my session open on Friday if I wanted to come. I can’t really explain what that did to my system, the system who for months and months felt like I was not as important to A as I had been previously, and that I wasn’t as worthy of her time as before. I asked, “Are you sure?” and she held me close to her and said, “Of course”. I left that session feeling so much better than I did when I arrived and felt so bloody grateful for Anita’s steadiness and care in what has been quite a bumpy few months.

You’d think, then, that that would be the end of the craziness for a while, wouldn’t you? – that things would settle down? But you do know who is writing this right? You know me! I am a magnet for disaster…and so it wasn’t long before the next rupture hit.

Brace yourselves!  

And deep breaths RB. The next session was different from the intensity of Wednesday and the visit down into the deep well of pain and grief. Instead, the session was connected but essentially small talk and stories and cuddles. It was lovely. When I left, I worried that A would think I had been wasting her time that week – having a MASSIVE crisis and then essentially being ‘fine’ by the Friday. Only it wasn’t that. I had needed that Wednesday to be able metabolise things and then be ok on Friday. The Friday session felt like I had finally found that calm space in which to rest away from the trauma and just be connected. I text A afterwards to tell her I hoped she didn’t think it was a wasted session and how nice it was to feel so close after such a long time – she agreed that it was not a waste of time AT ALL.

So, what the hell happened after that?

More disruptions – the Queens funeral day was a BH which unsettled my system – not that I could have gone to my session anyway because I got very sick following the Friday session with what we now think was Flu. I felt like utter dog shit and was not myself at all. I had to cancel work and was basically bedridden. It’s been a pretty ropey month and it’s taken a long while to start to bounce back. It definitely had an impact on the therapy.

Anita was still there (she sent some really kind, caring messages) but I felt so out of myself and so the way I read out communications was through a very distorted lens. I think basically I just really wanted mothering and it was painful to know that she will never be able to do that other than from a distance – it’s lovely having messages telling me to drink lemon and honey and stay warm in bed…but…well… you know…sometimes it would be nice to have actually had someone who would have done that as a child, someone to look after me.

GROAN.

It sometimes feels like a perpetual walking over the things that were missing and then having a meltdown about it in the here and now, despite knowing these things can’t happen and that it’s coming from the past.

I had a session booked in for Wednesday and by the time it arrived I was feeling out of sorts. I text A and said, ‘I am feeling anxious and small. Are we ok?’ To which she replied ‘Of course we are’ with a heart emoji. I don’t know why that wasn’t enough to settle things and the next two sessions felt ‘not good’ and disconnected. Or perhaps not quite connected enough rather than disconnected which basically amount to the same thing to the young parts. I was struggling to connect to Anita and asked if we could read a story. She asked which one and I said I didn’t mind. She started reading it, but I was still on the other side of the sofa. It sent panic further down through the system. Usually, Anita will ask me if I want to snuggle in. But she didn’t. I started to dissociate and felt awful. She had no idea. In her mind she was doing what I had asked for…only for the little parts it felt abandoning. FFS!

I do think that sometimes there is an internal pressure after very connected sessions to be searching for the intensity all the time. It’s not realistic to expect that, but I think a system that has been so deprived for such a long just desperately seeks that feeling of complete safety, and love, and care. Why wouldn’t it? Anita would say she’s the same all the time, but the parts can so easily freak out over perceived small changes and then make them seem like massive problems. I mean, it was literally sitting less than two feet from her having a story on the couch…but man, it sent shock waves. Then the Friday session wasn’t great… (although actually, probably fine!)

I can’t remember the details, but I know that after session I sent this:

Obviously, things felt pretty bad because I clearly felt like we were drifting apart. Or that I wasn’t seen. Or that she didn’t care… Honestly, I wish I had the clarity of mind that I have today in those triggered moments, but I was genuinely so poorly that I was thrown into survival and panic. I like the fact, though, that because we have so much shared experience, I can reference some of the books we read, and she knows what I mean, ‘The Invisible String’ and ‘The Rabbit Listened’ are two of ‘our’ stories in the now massive pile. We have that connection and that means a lot- especially to the young parts that wobble so much.

In another one of my recent ‘everything is falling apart’ moments before the break I drafted a text that was clearly coming from a young place…and I am glad, in a way, I was able to express it and let all that had been brewing come up and out because it’s really demonstrated to me just how bloody sad it is for the young parts to have been so damaged. They say you’re only as needy as your unmet needs and here was an epic list of unmet needs from the mouths of babes.

Adult me can see it for what it is. Anita can too. She isn’t scared by this level of outpouring. She gives it space and we work through it. I know Em would have (and did) run a mile when we came into contact with these parts and this need. Anita, however, realises that the changes to our therapy, the bumpy summer, the disruptions in scheduling, and her upcoming holiday would all have fed into this heightened panic and neediness and allows space for it all and meets me with compassion.

The irony is, in the moment when I was churning out the message it really felt so black and white…but of course when I went back over messages with my sane, untriggered, adult eyes – Anita has been responsive, she has checked in, she has said goodnight sometimes, she has held me close to her, she does tell me she loves me, she does talk to the young parts. It’s not all gone. But in that moment, or in those moments where adult isn’t available and something ‘bad’ has happened it’s really scary for the young parts and it all falls apart.

Tbh I am bored of saying it because it’s embarrassing – but it’s acutely clear that we are really in the thick of working with the ‘stuff’ now. And I am buckling up tight.

We’re on a break now. It’s been two weeks (and three days!). Back tomorrow. Anita has been away, but she sent me a message midway through the first week and then sent me another this week with a video of where she’d been. It’s been ok. I have been staggering my way through being really ill. In the first week I had a massive fever and vomiting. It was like my body just went into shock after so many weeks of having been so poorly with the cough, and sinuses and body aches and and and woe is me! The day after the big sick and fever I couldn’t walk properly. I experience peripheral neuropathy post-chemo, anyway, but it was as though all my nerves were set into a painful jangle in the whole of my body. It wasn’t much fun that’s for sure.

I spent the entire day in bed unable to do anything, dragged myself to pick up kids, and then had to order a pizza as had no energy to cook. We were all in bed by 6:15 that night! My wife was away for work, so it was hopeless. Again it was one of those times where I could really have just done with a mum to come and take over – like so many of my friend’s mums do. Someone who would pick the kids up, sort out dinner, and check I was ok. My mum doesn’t even know I have been ill. We have so little contact…and of course this all feeds into what happens between A and I.

Anyway, there’s not much to say now, more than, I’m glad the break is done. I hope that tomorrow is ok as I feel a bit ‘unsettled’. It’s just that end of break thing where the teen parts come up and get pissed about having been left at all and then want to push back and reject because they feel rejected. Fortunately, adult me knows this pattern. There is enough adult around to gently roll my eyes at myself and tell the teen I’ll make her a hot chocolate and we can watch a movie later. I’ve told the littles I’ll do my best to let them get what they need tomorrow and tell false adult to stay in her box so we can make the most of the hour.

Essentially, tomorrow I am taking elephant with me, and I need to make sure I ask for a hug and stories immediately. Wish me luck…because you never know how it’ll go when the minibus arrives on the doorstep!

I Spoke Too Soon: Pre AND Post Therapy Break Rupture/s.

Hi All.

I’m still here – just very very busy but also plagued with procrastination where my writing is concerned. I started this post AGES ago and yet here we are in October…two months between posts, whoops!…

Anyway – here goes:

Oh, the fucking irony! I’ve got to laugh, really. Last time I was here rabbiting on, I said that I thought I’d finally got through/over the ongoing feeling of disconnect that had been caused by the rupture that was triggered in February when Anita took a step back and stopped our longer sessions.

Ha.

Boy, was I wrong!

Oh, well, I guess that day-and-a-half of relative calm was nice while it lasted! Lol.

As you can see from the title of this post, things hit the skids in a big way just as the break was about to begin. Ugh. Are you guys getting as bored of this pattern as I am?

It feels a long while since this all happened so it’s not especially fresh in my memory but from what I can remember it was, once again, sweltering for my Monday session and so, yet again, there weren’t hugs (even though I had promised myself I would ask for one…) That’d been the norm for a lot of the summer, but after the session the young parts were massively triggered, especially as Anita’s looooooonnnnngggg break was creeping ever nearer. It was that panic, “We only have one more session and then there will be no cuddles with Anita for AGES.”

Adult me knew the lack of hugs wasn’t a rejection, had I have asked, Anita would certainly have given me a hug, but honestly the heat – it was like being in hell at 30 degrees and so adult just chatted away and the session felt light and fine… but of course you don’t have to dig too deep beneath the surface to see the shit starting to hurtle towards the full speed fan when there’s a break looming and the inner creche isn’t attended to! [We’re on a break again now so I really am going to have to pull my finger out and get caught up!]

Whilst the evening sessions have been a lifeline this summer, when I have ‘lived the day’ somehow, I find it hard to peel back the many layers that shroud my vulnerable parts. I really wanted this summer to be a time to ‘do the work’. When I am not at work myself and manically trying to squeeze every last drop of productivity out the day whilst juggling the kids, it frees up headspace and time to really focus on the therapy…or it would, if I could only have got there on the schedule I am used to.

As I said in my last post, I was fortunate to be able to see Anita but it wasn’t in the usual routine, and so the ‘frame’ felt wobbly. I didn’t know most weeks whether I would see her once or twice in person and the times I could see her twice meant the spacing was off…and I’ve come to realise over the years just how important that structure is. 10am Monday and Friday…that’s MY time! (more on this in a minute!)

So, lack of touch was a trigger but then so was lack of talk about the actual break. I can’t remember what we spoke about that final Monday, just ‘stuff’ – you know ‘filler’ when really what I needed was a way in to talking about the underlying panic about being left, how we would manage the break, you know a bit of housekeeping before three LONG weeks apart. Anyway, it didn’t happen and I left feeling a bit annoyed with myself.

Thankfully, Anita had washed elephant for me, which was a massive bonus so at least that was one thing that was settling for the upcoming break but that’s about all.

Unsurprisingly, the wheels started to fall off a bit on the Tuesday as my final session approached on the Wednesday. It felt like there was going to be an impossibly long separation of 3 ½ weeks (how many times have I said this is a long break here????!!!) and the anxiety began to creep in like the tendrils of Dementors. I badly WANTED to see Anita on the Wednesday because I felt like I was unravelling inside but I was also very conscious of the length of the break.

My plans for the week had changed as my wife was now going to be at home rather than working on the Friday and so she was available and could look after the kids. I asked if I could see Anita on Friday instead of the scheduled Wednesday because I thought it would be better to cut the break down. To be honest I really wanted to see her both days…or to do a longer session, but I didn’t ask because I don’t want any more ‘Nos’ and it would have made the unsettled feeling even worse. However, that is what I needed and when things settle a bit again I am going to have to really talk this through with Anita so that this doesn’t happen again.

Still, as it turned out, no matter how I tried to avoid triggers I somehow managed to seek them out like dog shit in long grass. And so, it began…

Anita replied to my message that she could see me on Friday but that “Unfortunately, I have booked someone in at 9:30” so could I do 10:45 instead?

Reader… it was like a bomb went off inside me. Scrap the dog shit analogy, I’d walked over a fucking great landmine…or setting off something nuclear inside. (I am nothing if not dramatic!)

Of course, it was possible that Anita would have filled ‘my’ time but 9:30??? She’d told me in February that our early starts had had to stop because they put too much pressure on. And yet, here she was booking someone in half an hour before my usual start time. And I get it, before her break she was probably trying to squeeze people in here and there, but it triggered the shit out of me. And then hot on the heels of that message came:

Also noticed the Monday after my break is a BH so wondered if you could make 12 noon or 8pm on Tuesday 30th?

This was a like pouring petrol on an already blazing fire. Internally, I was really upset. Had she only just realised that HER break carried into a BH? Like honestly? I had clocked it when she told me the dates, ages ago. Knowing that I was facing a massive break I had decided to go away until the Thursday and be back in time for my Friday session and now here, at the eleventh hour she’s offering me a session.

I tried to play it cool:

Yeah that’s fine. I’m not here until the Thursday after your break so it’ll be a while until I can see you.

She replied:

Oh, Ok, I didn’t realise that (with a heart).

And this is when it started to boil over inside. No, Anita, you didn’t realise it because we’ve done absolutely nothing around this break…and so things then erupted:

It was then that I realised just how much I had been holding in and holding back from the parts that feel so hurt and abandoned. As I have said lots of times Adult me gets what’s happened and why. I really do understand capacity changes, life events, and all the rest of it because I have had lots shift in my world lately, BUT the thing to remember her is that I am largely in therapy to address and heal the young parts, the past trauma, the stuff about feeling unimportant, forgettable, unlovable and all the rest of it that stems from childhood. Anita is not responsible for that wounding, but our relationship triggers it A LOT and we need to actively work with what comes up when it does… and we do…but fuck me it’s hard work and agony when it’s all live.

The message exchange went on a while, and I was throwing every single toy I had out the pram. Anita kept steady but it felt like she wasn’t there and to the parts in panic it felt like things were desperately bad. My Adult had was offline and I was operating from inner child chaos. I told her I was ‘done’ and it was fucking painful but when I say ‘done’ I mean I can’t tolerate how bad it feels. Anyway, long story short is I had my tantrum, asked her if she still loved me even if I was losing my shit and she came back with, Of Course. And that was enough. Simply that. She had not gone. She still cares.

So, of course (!) I went to the session on Friday, and it was hotter than hell again. Anita told me she was so glad I had come and that she knew it took guts to come when I felt like this. My heart was racing, and I felt shaky, it was almost like a panic attack (I’m getting this a lot at the moment). Anita ‘seemed’ to be Anita, the one I love, the one with the voice, the one who gets it. (I know she exists all the time but sometimes parts of me don’t feel her or can’t allow myself to access her because I am scared).

Anita asked if I would like a story (yes please!) and I chose ‘The Wobbler’ which seemed apt given what had happened that week. I really was channelling my inner Barbara!

And so, I ended up snuggled into A for a rather warm hug for the story and remained like that for the rest of the session. We settled the young parts and then just talked – although I can’t remember really what about…

It was one of those sessions where once we had ‘reconnected’ and dealt with the blow up that had happened it just felt really easy and safe and just what my nervous system required. I would, of course, like to not have to keep experiencing this horrible feeling of disconnect and intense feeling of abandonment but I realise this is my work and sadly I am going to get triggered. We just need to keep meeting it and working with it when it happens.

I decided to take Anita up on the offer of the Tuesday evening session at the end of the break and adjust my holiday, so I was back in the area to see her. It seemed like a good idea, and I started the break feeling pretty good all things considered.

The break itself was pretty fine, too.

What?

Really?

Yes, really!

It was actually really fine.

I wasn’t saturated by thoughts of Anita, of missing her, or of that deep ache and longing that can happen with separation where the young parts are screaming inside and need to be picked up and held – and that was a huge relief. I thought of her, of course. She is a big part of my emotional world. But I wasn’t wracked with that desperate need to be with her, to be physically held safely by her, or repeatedly needing to reach out and find some sort of connection. We exchanged a couple of messages here and there through the holiday (I’d just got a new kitten and wanted to show her) and she initiated a few ‘I’m still here and thinking of you, sending a big hug’ type messages but otherwise I got on with my summer holiday and enjoyed myself.

I think being away in a place I love also really grounded me. Being able to be where my fondest memories of my dad and share in that with my kids did something to me inside. Em used to always want me to create visualisations to help ground me and I never could. But recently, I have found that when I feel anxious and stressed, I can close my eyes and transport myself to that special place, I can feel myself on my favourite beach with my bare feet sinking into the wet sand and water lapping my ankles. I can feel the hot sun on my back, and I feel like I am ‘held’ in nature and return to my ‘happy place’.

And that’s great.

Alongside that I am also now more able to feel Anita when I am away from her. I mean if things are really fucking triggered there’s no chance (like in that rupture where it went tits up in seconds!) but if I can catch myself when the young parts are just feeling a ‘bit’ needy in the general run of things, I can soothe myself by imagining being close to her, hearing her heartbeat, and feeling safe with her.

I can ONLY do this, of course, because I have a template for it. I KNOW how it feels for her to hold me and to be able to hear her heartbeat, for her to tell me she loves me, and to be able relax into feeling ‘safe’ – it’s in my memory not just my imagination. It’s not always easy to hook back into that when I can’t see her, but I do, at least, have a reference point now, and this is especially helped by my soft elephant that Anita washes for me at intervals.

My elephant smells like her and so when I am feeling ‘off’ I can grab it and breathe in the smell to help ground myself. It’s not just the smell of the elephant (Anita) that helps but it’s the fact that I have a therapist that will do this for me. Anita has never batted an eyelid when I asked her to wash elephant. She’s never shamed me for wanting or needing this level of connection to her and that is something I can hold in my mind when things feel bad, “Look RB you are holding a soft toy that your therapist has washed for you because she cares about you enough to want to make your separations as easy as possible”. Actions speak louder than words sometimes – and I have actions and words.

I know some people will raise eyebrows at this, but I don’t care because I know a lot of you ‘get it’ and if I am a needy weirdo then so be it, because I am certainly not alone in this. When you think about this need through the lens of child development (and of course this is something A and I do for my child parts) then it makes sense. Babies have a really powerful sense of smell. They can ‘smell’ their mothers before they can even focus in on them with sight. It’s a biological imperative. When I got sick and had to stop breastfeeding overnight to begin chemo I couldn’t be in the same room as my baby when he was due a feed because he would arch his body over to me (and the smell of breastmilk) rather than take a bottle of formula from my wife. It was awful and heart-breaking…but that’s a whole other story.

The importance of smell and how it intertwines with safety is seen as children get bigger, too. My kids both have snuggly items they sleep with. I am not ‘allowed’ to wash them because they don’t smell ‘right’ if I do. There’s something about cuddling up at bedtime with an item that is both soft and smells familiar. So, this is why elephant works for me, it’s a throwback to that young child stuff. Anita feels safe and I associate her smell with safety and elephant smells like her.

Frequently, therapists want us to conjure images of safety up out of nowhere to help us ground but when you don’t have them to draw on in the first place it is upsetting and frustrating. Em never really understood this, and insisted over and over that I must be able to think of a time I felt really safe… what she didn’t get was that at that time I didn’t need to be imagining a time I watched a comedy and felt good (do you guys remember that? GROAN!) but actually I needed to feel her, as my attachment figure, I needed to be able to connect to that/her when we were apart.

Of course, she didn’t want me to be reliant on her for any sense of emotional safety or foster ‘dependency’ and was intent on her blank slate approach and placed a cavernous distance (both physical and emotional) between us. The most she gave me was a visualisation to imagine us sitting in ‘the consulting room’ together which obviously missed the mark for the upset young parts who couldn’t understand the language of the message. Anyway, lots has changed since then – thank goodness for Anita!

So, because I can now bring to mind and almost ‘feel’ Anita I can use that when I most need it. It’s often when I am really tired at bedtime where this makes the biggest difference – again just like kids needing their comforter. I used to really struggle with that felt sense of being completely alone and abandoned at bedtime and fall into that black hole of attachment pain and doom. The physical searing sense of ulceration in my chest that and deep sick feeling in my stomach was agony. I would get more and more distressed as time went on and then fall asleep to nightmares.

I guess things being most difficult at night is because when I am tired my adult is least available but also, bedtime as a child was a time when my mum wasn’t there…for 6 years. I would put myself to bed, read my own stories, and feel chronically alone. The young parts that needed my mum and maternal nurturing had to make do with a short phone call on a Wednesday. It simply wasn’t enough.

Anyway, this is not new news.

Sooooo…the break came to an end and whilst I was looking forward to seeing Anita. I wasn’t desperate, though. In fact, I was almost late getting there. The weather had been amazing at the beach and part of me wished I hadn’t decided to come back two days early and had have stayed surfing instead.

The thing is, I never know how things will be. Breaks usually are a real trial and the idea of three weeks gap was just too much at the start of it. But by the end, well, I could easily have stayed away a bit longer. Which is why what came next is so bloody infuriating!!!

That first session back was adult, as they usually are. I brought Anita up to speed with what had been going on for the last few weeks and it was completely fine. The hour sped by and when I got up to leave, I gave her a kind of lack lustre half hug at the door. The session was, ummm, I don’t know how to put it really – it was ok – one of those ones where it wasn’t especially connecting because it wasn’t about ‘us’, it lacked any real emotional intensity or intimacy, but then at the same time it was comfortable and ok, you know? I guess the child parts weren’t ‘there’ and so it had a different quality to it.

I wish I was better at coming back from breaks and being vulnerable and could let the most vulnerable parts out, but it takes time, and unless Anita is massively attuned and guides the conversation to say something like, “It was a long break, how was it for the young parts, and how does it feel for them coming back today?” I will stay in hiding. It takes a while for my system to judge if things are still the same and if everything is ok for all the parts to come out.

When we were talking Anita asked me if I was back now and around on Friday. I sort of semi-clocked it but just shrugged it off and said “Yes” and carried on with whatever I was talking about. When I was about halfway home my phone rang, I saw it was Anita but couldn’t pick up immediately because I was driving and I don’t like driving and talking using the car phone setting as the quality is pretty shit. I pulled over and called Anita back confused. “Hi, did you mean to call me?” It was 9:30 at night so I thought maybe she’d misdialled.

No. It was deliberate.

When I had had my meltdown before the break and ‘cancelled’ everything until the 5th September she hadn’t clocked that we had clearly sorted out the rupture and I had come to my session on the Friday and booked in to see her on that Tuesday. It was a diary malfunction but OMG it set off another landmine. I didn’t say anything at the time. Anita apologised and asked if I could make a 6pm session instead. I said I could and put the phone down abruptly.

Suddenly ALL THE FEELINGS came up and my calm ‘break’ mentality was gone. Instead, I was furious and upset. Yet again, she’d booked someone in ‘my session’ time. It was a cock up and not deliberate but to the young parts and protectors it sent the message that she doesn’t keep me in mind and doesn’t have her eye on the ball.

Anita text me to apologise and thanked me for moving my session. I didn’t reply. Then the next day to make matters even worse she texted me again to ask me to move the following week’s Friday session because she’d just found out she had a funeral to attend. Part of me wanted to rage but another part of me could really see that this was just a lot of bad timing. So, I told her I could move the session and agreed a time.

By the time it reached Friday everything was a mess inside. I felt really unsettled and generally like everything was going to shit. I sent Anita a picture message about needing to talk and she replied by saying she understood but that the relationship needed to feel safe first. She’d clearly picked up on things not quite being back to how they normally are and so I asked, “How does that happen when everything feels chronically unsafe?” She sent me a hug gif and said, “Let’s talk about this this evening”.

When I arrived I was not in a great headspace. I was overtired, overwrought, and the young parts were desperate to connect but I felt like Anita wasn’t there. I felt abandoned by her (AAAARRRRGHHHH please just give me a break, already). I felt panicked and shaky and like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t look at Anita and I couldn’t let her close. I could feel everything unravelling at pace and slid off the sofa and sat on the floor with my knees up and my head in buried into the and covered my head with my arms. I was dissociative as fuck.

The only reason I know what happened in the session is because I have a recording of it. In the moment I was in complete agony. My body was trembling. I felt sick. My heart was racing. I felt like I was totally alone.

Anita and I couldn’t find each other at all. It was bloody awful. The time disappeared and it was time to go. A asked me what I was thinking and I said I felt like I wouldn’t come back. It felt that bad. Anita said she’s be sad and disappointed if I left but it just felt empty. I left feeling awful and like a baby whose mother was mis-attuned and had left the baby screaming.

It was far from ideal.

I cried all the way home from the session. I think in reality it was a culmination of the whole summer. Feeling like we hadn’t really connected properly throughout. The lack of touch. The break… I was just feeling vulnerable and needy and it’s taken a lot of time to recalibrate into the relationship…there’s more (yes MORE!) However, I’ll leave that here for now as it’s another epic post with not much to it.

I will get my shit together eventually… in all areas…but probably AFTER this current break. Two weeks… based on the above, I wonder how I’ll get on. Place your bets!

Regulating, Reconnecting, Repairing…Rupture…REPEAT!

This post is massively delayed so the first part feels pretty ancient now – so if this all feels disjointed it’s because there’s a month to catch up on rather than the week I had anticipated when I began. I started writing this the day before my kids were struck down with COVID and ironically was banging on about self-care and taking time out. Life got ridiculously hectic with both kids off school and still trying to work and honestly, that two weeks floored me. I mean, really, it was as though a whole other trapdoor of fatigue opened up beneath me…and of course, there was a massive wobble due to the unscheduled therapy break, well from f2f, too… so there’s lots that’s happened but I can’t necessarily remember the order of events- apologies if there’s a bit of jumping around.

As you all know, I was having a big wobble last week (last month, now!). My energy was so low, my capacity was non-existent, and the resources I usually draw on to get by, were flashing a red warning light. I had to stop. Or rather I could no longer keep going, and so had to take the day off. There really wasn’t a choice, I simply couldn’t keep going.

I’d like to say that taking time out was massively restorative and I bounced back and was good to go again, but it’s not always like that. As I was saying in my last post self-care is often framed as bubble baths, and walks in nature, and eating healthily – simple acts of filling your cup – and it is, but what I was trying to say the other day is that sometimes self-care is none of that, too. Sometimes you don’t have the energy for ANY of that and so self-care can be temporarily stopping the stuff that is depleting you, whittling things down to the absolute essentials in an effort to function. Wednesday was me sticking a band aid over the wound so as not to bleed out.

Taking the day simply meant that I didn’t crash and burn later in the week. I didn’t replenish anything that day. I didn’t top up my internal tank at all – it just meant that I didn’t drain myself dry which meant I could limp towards the weekend instead of stalling and then completely conking out midweek. And that’s good enough. Sometimes self-care is just that, knowing your physical and emotional limitations and listening to your body and inner wisdom and trusting that you know what’s best for you and giving yourself what need.

Honestly, if I wasn’t self-employed I would have taken the week off sick, it felt that bad. There are so many upsides to being my own boss but not being able to afford to get sick is certainly not one of them! In the ideal world I’d have a savings account where I put a percentage of what I earn away into some kind of ‘sick fund’ but the reality is there’s always something that demands money: my car has just cost me a fortune and still has something wrong with it, bills keep creeping up and up, and I have kids…that need clothing and feeding! My life seems to work on the juggling act of 0% balance transfer credit cards – there simply isn’t a pot of money for off days.

Alas. Still, it could be worse. I, at least, have my health (at the minute) and that has not always been a given.

So, back to therapy. And Anita. Oh. Thanks to the universe for sending me this therapist. Because honestly, she’s just exactly the stable loving force I need in my life. I was spiralling like a tornado last week. Everything felt disastrous (and yes, I was due my period so that wasn’t helping!). As I said in my last post, I don’t think I’d really recovered my footing after the breaks in December and the anniversary of all the shit hitting the fan with Em just compounded my sense of things not being ok, not being safe.

Things were so tense in one of my sessions, recently, that Anita asked if we should go and have a walk around her garden. I was in such a protected grumpy teen space that I snarled at her, “No, it’s too cold” and then went back to my silent treatment and feeling like I had been abandoned. On reflection I wish I had taken this opportunity – sure it was cold, but to be invited into another part of Anita’s space and share that would have been nice. Still, my teen wasn’t having it that day, so that’s that.

—– 18th February…

So fast forward several weeks and here I am writing this from 36,000 feet on my way to the sun. THANK FUCK. It’s the first block of free time I have had in weeks, and I cannot tell you how delighted I am to be headed away on a holiday. Having said that, the take off in storm Eunice was….a… bit… (a lot)…HAIRY! I booked and paid for this trip in December 2019 before my wife got made redundant at the start of the pandemic and then went on and lost her next job in the February…it was booked and paid for before everything got so financially stretched and strained.

The trip has been cancelled four times over the course of the last couple of years due to COVID. Every time it’s been cancelled, I have been offered a refund by the holiday company and each time I have been so tempted to take the money and pay off some debt. Each time I have gone to therapy and discussed the situation with Anita, she has encouraged me to keep the holiday (if I can) and I have. And then it gets cancelled again and we have the same chat. For the last couple of years Anita has repeatedly voiced how badly I am in need of a holiday and honestly, she is so right, and I am so glad that we are now able to get away after the couple of years we’ve had.

Because I get a discounted rate in therapy it sometimes feels like I shouldn’t have ‘nice things’ if I am not paying Anita’s full fee. I simply couldn’t afford £120+/week to see her now, so I am really grateful that we have found a rate that works for us both. I pay a flat monthly fee and it’s the same regardless of whether we have breaks or not, or whether we have extra time. So, this month I miss three sessions because I am away and then another session just after I get back because A is away (groan!) but the cost remains the same. I know where I am at with this system, and it means that sometimes it works out better financially for Anita too.

Anyway, nice things…or lack of them! I take care of the kids’ stuff – their trainers were literally falling apart this week, so I had to get them new ones and also had to buy them some summer wear (they’ve grown since last year) but my wife and I are sporting clothes we’ve had for over a decade and topped up with the odd bit of Primani. It’s been a bit of a challenge with clothing for me lately seeing as in the last year I have gained a stone and finally kicked my 25 year ED into touch (I will write about that soon!).

My arse simply doesn’t fit into my size 6/8 clothes and for the first time in my life I am wearing a size 10 – which being 5ft 7, being nearly 40 and having birthed two kids feels right for me. Anyway, what  I’m trying to say, is that taking a holiday feels extravagant right now but I am so glad we managed to hang on to it and I intend to make the most of it because, quite frankly, it’s been a really tough two years has been tough…

So, therapy…well… what can I say? The short notice move to online sessions when my kids tested positive with COVID was really hard. Fortunately, the preceding Friday session that Anita I had, had been very connecting and I left feeling really settled…which is lucky because what came next was a complete shit show. The Monday session was ‘meh’ again. False adult fronted and talked shit for an hour. I disconnected the call and felt numb. Empty. Well, that was until all the big feelings from the young parts flooded in and derailed the week.

It was awful.

I felt so disconnected from Anita and it escalated at the week went on. As I’ve said before, lack of physical proximity and working on the phone just plunges me back into my mum being away for all those years when I was a child. It’s really painful.

I text Anita the night before the session to say that things felt bad…

The morning of the session I got up, got showered, got dressed, and got stuck…or rather, frozen. I was sitting on my bed ready for the session. Anita’s name flashed up on the screen. It rang and rang and rang and yet I couldn’t answer the call. My heart was racing but I just felt paralysed. Part of me wanted to talk to Anita and another part couldn’t face the idea of another session like Monday.

I sat staring at the screen and after a few minutes text Anita – here is the exchange:

d parts were absolutely besides themselves. It was agony.

In the end Anita called in and I left the phone on the bed pointing up at the ceiling. My cat had come in for a cuddle and was purring in my arms. Anita began to read ‘The Invisible String’. It took a long time for me to be able to tune into her voice and the story but eventually the child parts felt a little more settled.

The session was over and it felt awful again. There’s so much going on internally that needs sorting through and talking about but I have found lately that I have been so strung out just getting through the weeks that I simply haven’t had the capacity or energy to dig into what’s coming up. I am hoping after this holiday I’ll be able to – once Anita returns from her break.

Fortunately, for my system I was able to go to my Monday session and see Anita f2f as both kids had tested negative and I had avoided it all together. From what I remember we had a connected, holding session but I can’t tell you what happened as I have absolutely no idea!…oh hang on…yes…we’d been talking about how hard disruption is for the young parts and then Anita told me that she was going to be away after I get back from holiday for a week. I burst into tears as I snuggled into her chest.

Poor A! All I seemed to do that session was go through various states of upset and then calm down and then cry again. This extra revelation, I think, meant that the overwhelming feelings just burst their container in a big way. Nightmare. We spent the remainder of the session regulating and containing the young parts who are so scared that something terrible will happen or things will chance when we are apart.

The sessions leading into this holiday have really been a mixed bag. There’ve been really close sessions and ones where I have completely kept my distance and pushed Anita away in anticipation of the separation. I find those sessions really painful. No matter what Anita does it feels impossible to cut through. My protectors are so powerful. And my goodness it’s soooooo exhausting.

And so, to Monday – and our last session before the break. I felt mixed feelings heading to the session. Part of me didn’t want to go and another part felt like the stakes were really high because I so needed to leave feeling settled and connected because of this latest period of disruption heading all the way into mid-March.

Interlude:

Oh good…

”Is there a medic anywhere on the flight?!!! If there’s a medic on the flight PLEASE make yourself known!

 … the joys of being a nurse eh? So that’s been my wife busy for the last hour with a passenger. At least the years in acute care and crash response have been put to good use again! This is the first time in all the years I’ve been travelling this has happened. I think my wife most definitely deserves her holiday now. Still an hour until landing and I’m sure once we land, she’ll be so glad that I pushed her from her seat!

So, back to the final session. Because we were headed into a break, I asked Anita if we might start earlier. As I have said before, 75 minute sessions feel a bit more containing because it feels like there’s enough time to drop the defences (if they’re there), land in the room, connect, do the work, and pack everything back up carefully.

So, it was lucky we had more time as it turned out to be one of those sessions where what was said and what was heard don’t quite marry up – and not in a good way – or at least not for the young parts who are so quick to feel abandoned and rejected – especially around breaks. I’d sat down and downloaded the stresses of the week (too much to do, not enough time, body shakes, nervous system overwrought…blah blah blah) for about fifteen minutes and there was a natural break in the conversation. I felt myself step out of that day-to-day headspace and became quiet as what was underneath came to the surface. I felt the panic that I’d carrying all week acutely, and the memories of the nightmares I’d had came up. Ugh.

Anita wondered aloud where the young parts were at and asked whether I wanted a cuddle. I nodded and shuffled across the sofa towards her and into her familiar warm arms. My heart was racing and I was physically trembling. Anita commented on this and said I felt cold to touch and gently rubbed my back. I tried to tune into A’s heartbeat but the sound of my own heart hammering in my ears meant I couldn’t. After about fifteen minutes my heart rate finally slowed and I could hear A’s slow, steady beat. I felt my whole system settle and felt soothed and calm which was a welcome relief after how hard things had felt these last few weeks.

23rd Feb…(loving the holiday btw!)

There was quiet for a while, and I asked Anita what she was thinking. She said she was thinking about what was going on between us and about Transactional Analysis. I was so deeply in that child state that I felt panic rise through my body as she continued to talk. She said something about how for growth we are aiming for my adult and parent to be able to hold the child parts and how one day she won’t be there.

RED ALERT.

PANIC.

PANIC!

EVERYBODY PANIC!!

From that point everything got messy inside and I felt like I was going to actually going to have a full-blown panic attack. As all this was rising up in me and then something flicked, and I froze. Dead still. Hardly breathing. And I remained that way for a long time. I was completely out of my window of tolerance.

Shit.

This was not the fucking plan for the session.

Just for clarity, what Anita was actually saying is one day I will have done enough work in therapy that I won’t need therapy in the way I do now or need her in the same way I do. But this is not what I needed to hear before a break when the child parts were so present because all they could hear in that moment was ‘She’s gonna leave me – everyone always leaves me’.

Argh nooooooooo!

Anita said something about her acting as like a nanny or grandma who can settle the young parts when everything seems bad, until one day there will a point where my adult can take over and do it for myself. That’s what we’re aiming for. Again, nothing wrong with that, because I’m guessing that when I have worked through the early stuff, I’m unlikely to want to spend hours of my week cuddled into her but it just felt so rejecting in that particular moment in the particular young state I was in. And let’s be clear here, my child parts don’t see her as a nanny or a grandma…they see her as mum. And so, even this very warm, caring statement felt rejecting.

Anita went on to say that we are slowly trying to repair what went wrong as a child and redoing some of the stuff that was missed along the way and there’s a part of me that is glad to hear that after so long being told that, “The time for those needs to be met has passed and you need to mourn for what you didn’t get.” I guess what Anitas is saying is that what we’re doing is a kind of ‘limited reparenting’ perhaps. And I can definitely see that. From the very beginning she has been clear that it’s ok to have needs, express them, and if possible (and within reason) she’ll try and meet them. And she has. She’s been really great in the two years (TWO YEARS) since we met.

As I was lying cuddled into her with my elephant (ready to be washed as there’s one session back before Anita goes away), yet frozen, A talked about how with deep wounds you can’t just put a plaster over them and hope for the best. It’s a long process and the wound has to heal from right deep down in the core. She said she’s in for the long haul and won’t abandon the young parts. She’s there for the journey, but of course the original sound bite that was drowning out everything was “I won’t be able to do this forever” and so lots of the different parts were freaking out, ‘What if she leaves before we have done the work?’…etc etc.

Adult me gets what she was trying to say because it was said with so much warmth and love, and I know the intention was meant to reassure the parts of me that worry about being too much about the strength of the relationship – but the child parts have hung onto this and have filled up with shame about it. I’m going to have to talk about all this on Monday because it’s hurt me and yet I know this is not Anita’s intention at all. She was so good in the session when I was quiet and crying. She asked me to tell her what I had heard and clarified what she meant over and over – and after the session I sent her a message and she reiterated her position again:

I think this episode just really goes to show how easily triggered young, vulnerable parts are. It takes such a long time to build trust in the therapeutic relationship, to let these parts be seen, and then any hint or sense that the safety of the therapy will be taken away is massively triggering. Anita has no plans to stop the therapy. My therapy will end when it feels right for me. But coming off the back of a premature ending of a long-term therapy due to the young parts being ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ to Em means that I panic if Anita hints at us ending, or her not being there, or me not needing her.

As I’ve said a million times, Adult me gets it. All of it. But man, these child parts are right in the thick of the work and such a long way off ‘not needing Anita anymore’ and as I said, on the eve of a break the last thing I needed to hear was about a future where she isn’t as she is now, when the young parts needed reassurance that nothing is going to change. (And yes she did say all that “I’ll still be here when you come home. I won’t change. We’ll still be ok. And you are not too much for me…” on loop.

I don’t know how much of this has made sense because it’s been so split.

In summary:

The last session before the break wobbled me a lot – but it’s ok!

Lol!

p.s Sorry I have been AWOL on your blogs. I’m hoping to get some time online over the weekend to catch you x

Another Therapy Break and “A Little Friend”

So here we are then, half-way through my least favourite thing – another therapy break – and ugh, I just feel utterly bleurgh. It’s not been helped by getting my period yesterday, either. TMI?! I always feel drained, and tired, and in need of care at this time of the month anyway, so having Anita away, too, has felt especially shit this last couple of days. Thank goodness for endless cups of tea, cake, soft toys and my weighted blanket…it’s just a shame I can’t hibernate, really.

Things are still as relentless as ever with work and life, and it’s still another week until half term break from work so I feel as if I am running on fumes right now. It’s that juddering, lurching motion before I completely conk out. Eek. I’m really just hoping that I can free-wheel my way into next Friday. I desperately need some time off and some serious sleep. I think the first few days of the holiday are going to be spent in pjs watching movies with the kids and recharging our batteries.

So, I guess I should backtrack a bit and fill in to how I got to this midway point of the therapy break.

Actually, the lead into this therapy break wasn’t too bad. Well, I mean, I had the usual internal panic about it (but of course!) and felt a bit sad about it (no surprises there), but Anita and I were able to talk about it several times before it actually happened which makes such a difference.

Break anxiety is not the elephant in the room (I don’t think there are any elephants in our therapy room, actually!) like it was with Em. I don’t have to feel shame or embarrassment about the feelings that come up around disruptions to my therapy. I don’t have to pretend that I am not impacted by breaks and separation from Anita. AND perhaps most importantly, I am not made to feel like there is something wrong with me for experiencing feelings of abandonment and rejection (even if adult me knows that’s not what’s happening) when Anita goes away – and it is such a relief.

I definitely think that being ‘left’ with my painful feelings around breaks exacerbated the actual time of the breaks I had with Em. But then I felt so alone with my feelings, before, during, and after breaks so, maybe it’s just that the whole thing was a disaster! Ugh. Never mind!

So, anyway, a couple of sessions before the break Anita directed our attention towards the upcoming separation. I had obviously, already, had my big meltdown last month when she told me about the breaks she had planned – or rather the meltdown about the way the information was delivered with the formal seeming note -and so we had discussed how hard breaks felt for me then, during that big rupture repair session, too.

On our last Monday session before the holiday, I was cuddled into Anita – I can’t remember what we’d been talking about during the session – all sorts of random shit about the trip I’d just taken (we’d missed previous Friday’s session), I think, but there was a period where it went quiet, and I felt so relaxed and safe. After a little while, I asked what she Anita was thinking.

She replied, “I am thinking about the gaps that we are having… how we haven’t had any gaps recently, really, and now there seem to be quite a lot in one go – with you going away last week and then me going away next week… and I’m wondering how you are with that, really, as I’m guessing you’re not very good with that?”

She held me closer to her and I started to cry. I really wasn’t expecting my reaction having been so settled a minute before. I guess I was in no way armoured up in that moment and so the genuine reaction just came. It felt really freeing that Anita had brought the subject up and given the little parts (and all the others) space to feel whatever was there in that moment – especially in the safety of being physically cuddled.

I have been so used to pretending I am ok about breaks (with Em) and masking what I really felt, or at least downplaying it if it did come out, that having the reality of how I actually might feel acknowledged by Anita let me be exactly how it was in the moment. It’s ok to feel sad and to cry about this stuff because it feels huge to parts of me.

I had felt moments of really deep sadness and longing when I was away on the previous Friday (missing my session), not enough to not enjoy myself, but when I was sitting down alone waiting for my wife and kids I felt a real ache in my chest that I wasn’t able to be in the room that morning. I text Anita a GIF to say I missed her, and amazingly we both sent each other a message at the same time.

It felt really lovely, to see that she was thinking of me and reaching out, not just responding to a message I’d sent. It felt connecting. I think so often we worry that being out of sight means being out of mind, but here, again, was Anita demonstrating not only that she does exist outside the room but that I am thought about occasionally, too. Those moments go such a long way in showing my system how things can be in a relationship. How I am not a burden, or unwanted, or too much etc.

So that Monday was our first session back…but there were only two sessions between the breaks and it felt really crappy. Anita went on, “I just want to reassure you that it will be ok. I know that’s not always easy to believe.”

I sniffed and my tears kept coming. Anita gently rubbed my back and held me close to her. I felt so sad. Like in that moment, all the feelings of how it was when I was small and my mum going away time and again just came flooding up and out. Part of me wanted to tell her I didn’t want her to leave me, but I guess those are really the words I swallowed so many times over the years as a kid that I needed my mum to hear. Watching her disappear on a train week in week out for years really has taken its toll on me and here it was playing out again.

Anita reassured me, “It will be ok. I promise. It will.”

I so badly wanted to believe her and clung on tightly to her. There would have been a time where an angry teen part would have shouted something internally, like “Fuck off! What do you know? You fuckers always leave. You don’t care! And I’m left here trying to hold it together through the shit storm.” But the teen was silent – or rather, she wasn’t even there. Instead, I just allowed myself to sink into the immediate moment of safety, connection, and reassurance rather than fight against it.

I guess, when it’s like that I am trying to absorb as much ‘the good stuff’ as I can so that this week, when things start to wobble, I can remember how it feels to be connected and held. And it is working. When I feel distressed or upset, I can now call to mind all the times that I have been safe and held by Anita. I don’t have to try and imagine what it might be like to get what I need because I know it, now. I have experienced it.

I used to find it so difficult when Em would say things like, “that young part of you wants to be held. Can you imagine what it would be like for that part to get what it needs?” It always felt so rejecting when she was sitting right there and yet a million miles away. I’ve said before that it felt like having my nose pressed up against the window of a sweet shop and the owner saying, “you can’t have any of what’s in here, but try and imagine what it would be like to taste this stuff.” It felt so rejecting and cruel.

I knew what I needed, she knew what I needed, but I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be held and the longing for it felt so fucking painful.  Em wanted me to take my young parts and hold them but I didn’t know how to do that for myself because I had never experienced being held. She used to say things like, “you do it for your kids so you can do it for yourself” again it felt so alienating and so distancing. Fuck.

Thankfully, now, I have experienced enough actual holding with Anita that when it feels bad, I can take myself to a place where I can go some way towards soothing that little part that needs cuddling. However, my visualisation doesn’t involve adult me holding that young part, it’s remembering how it ACTUALLY feels to be held by Anita. That’s what helps me. It is self-soothing, but I can only do it because I have a built-in reference point now. I can tap into that place and part that knows what it feels like to feel safe, and cared for, and held.

Asking someone to imagine being held when they have never ever had that is like trying to get someone to bring the smell of the sea to mind when they’ve never been there and only ever experienced the city. It’s impossible. It’s frustrating. And it makes you feel like you’re stupid for not being able to do something really simple… but it’s not simple when you haven’t got a basis to work on.

So, there I was in the moment with A, absorbing all the love and care I could. I’d stopped crying and was feeling settled and calm. I glanced up at the clock and noticed it was coming to the end of the session. Adult me had spoken a lot about my trip away but it wasn’t until the end that the important stuff (for the young parts) came. A little part of me whispered, “I missed you when I was away.”

With so much warmth in her voice, Anita replied, “I know. I missed you too. It felt very strange on Friday not seeing you. I’ll see you this Friday, though.” And then that was the end of the session, she gave me a big squeeze and kissed me on the head and I got up, put my shoes on, asked her if she would wash my elephant for me, (“of course”) and then we chatted about something random and adult.

We hugged again, at the door, as I left and I walked out feeling pretty good, but also knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy that week as there was only one session remaining before the break and that anticipation of A being away was sure to hit the various parts of me as the week progressed. I felt a bit clingy and A and I exchanged a few pictures, GIFs, and texts over the course of the week.

Thursday night was terrible, though. I was really looking forward to seeing Anita and felt quite ok in my mind, but my body had a completely different narrative going on. At about 8 o clock I’d just settled down from finishing work when I got the sensation of trembling throughout my body. I didn’t seem to be outwardly shaking but internally I was juddering. Sometimes I physically shake, and it looks like I am shivering, but it wasn’t like this that evening it was more subtle. I couldn’t seem to settle myself and eventually fell asleep but feeling really unsettled and not ok.

To add insult to injury my unconscious fired out a spectacular nightmare that culminated in me being attacked and then strangled by a family member (just wonderful!) and the last thing I remember was me trying to scream “help me!” over and over again but no sounds coming out until I woke up crying and shaking. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and the feeling of pressure in my neck was intense.

I text Anita that morning to give her the heads up about how bad things felt. And she replied with a lovely warm, holding message telling me that she was really looking forward to seeing me and sending hugs and love – but part of me was disappointed that we frequently do 75 minute sessions when we’ve had breaks or breaks are coming  (we’d done that on the Monday) but that day we weren’t when I really felt like I needed it and so whilst the message was really perfect at least part of me felt like she didn’t see how much I was struggling.

I arrived at my session at 10am, our storybooks were on the side next to my elephant and something else that I couldn’t quite see. I sat down. Anita said, “I thought we were starting at 9:45 today and doing longer?” I cannot explain how gutted I was when she said that. She had thought we were starting early which is obviously why she hadn’t asked if I wanted to start earlier in her text that morning. Ugh. Fuck. So, I said that I didn’t think we had agreed that – but had for Monday and never mind, but the little parts were wailing that they could have had another 15 minutes that day and hadn’t.

Anita could see immediately that I was really not ok. I knew I felt off after the nightmare but thought I was just about hanging it together with my rubber bands and chewing gum. Anita asked me straight away if I wanted a hug. I nodded and sort of collapsed into her arms. “I can feel you’re shaking” she said. I hadn’t been aware of that, or at least it felt similar to how it had been during the night, I didn’t realise it could actually be felt by someone else.

As I lay still, I became really aware of how badly I was trembling. It must’ve taken a good thirty minutes for my body to stop shaking and for everything to regulate. Anita and I didn’t really talk much until I got my system and breathing settled. Once things levelled out and I felt normal again we chatted about all kinds of stuff, but I wasn’t able to before then. I wasn’t in my window of tolerance.

I am so grateful to have a therapist like Anita. So much of my wounding is early, preverbal, trauma and so the touch and the holding does such a lot to soothe and calm that terrified, traumatised part of me. Once I am in my window of tolerance, I am good to go but it can take a while to get there and I really need that connection with Anita, the coregulation to get me to a place to do the work.

I spent the entire session cuddled into A. She asked me if I wanted a story about fifteen minutes from the end but I said no, I didn’t want to have to move from where I was in order to have a story. Anita then said to me that she’d got me “a little friend” to go with my elephant and that she’d washed it alongside him, so it smelled the same.

Did I ever mention that I absolutely love this woman?

Again, it’s these sort of things that really do so much for my young parts. She’s not in the least bit weirded out that I ask her to wash a soft toy for me before breaks so that it smells like her, and I can have that whilst she’s gone. At the end of the session, she gave me a bag and inside it was a little soft toy rabbit. “I saw this and thought of you”, she said. I wanted to cry because it was so thoughtful and relevant to our relationship.

Anita and I have this thing where I call her my rabbit. I gave her the storybook, ‘The Rabbit Listened’ for our first therapy-anniversary last January because I really related to the fact that through everything this rabbit stayed alongside the boy and never went away and heard and helped him through all his emotions. She reads this book to me a lot when we have stories.

Anita sometimes refers to herself as the rabbit so the fact that she’d bought me a soft toy rabbit as a transitional object for the young parts felt really lovely. Really, really, lovely actually.

I felt sad leaving the session knowing it would be a while until I saw A again, but at least I was as well-equipped as I could possibly be going into it. I decided I wouldn’t text her over the break, or at least try not to.

So, on Sunday evening I was so delighted when I got message from A with three pictures of the landscape of where she was that day – and again, I thought how really lucky I am to have a therapist who really gets how attachment wounding can play out and what is needed to try and repair that for the young parts. I sent her some pictures back of where I’d been that day and felt good for having checked in.

I miss A, a lot, but I feel safe in the knowledge that she is out there, that she cares, and that she will be back on Monday evening. She’ll not be back in time for our Monday morning session so she scheduled me in a late appointment so I don’t have to wait even longer to see her. I know I say it all the time, but what a massive contrast to what I used to get with Em.

One More Sleep: Therapy Break Is Over

Sooooo I have made it – just about – through the therapy break and bloody hell…what a ride it’s been! This last week has been a real emotional rollercoaster.

Adult Me has been completely fine.

I’ve got on with work, been reasonably productive and ok…but the parts inside… CRIKEY! Talk about internal push and pull. One minute the protectors are certain that we need a break from therapy because this attachment work stuff is just too painful and exhausting,

the next the young parts are counting down the sleeps until Monday when they can see Anita.

I get that that was GIF overload but it kind of demonstrates how much varying stuff is going on – it’s not consistent at all!!

Last week when I wrote here, I was saying how disconnected I felt from Anita – and how the level of interaction we’d had (minimal) had felt really upsetting for the young parts who struggle so much with object constancy… and fearing she’s died. It had totally set the Teen off! Whilst it wasn’t ‘zero contact’ the GIF Anita has sent the day after I messaged her felt really empty – and impersonal (it wasn’t!).

I guess it’s because I am used to ‘more’ and usually if she sends a GIF there’s some kind of personal message written around it. I think, too, it felt a bit jarring because last year A was more communicative on her holiday. Anyway, it just felt bleurgh and by the time it got to writing last week I just felt off.

I just want to say before anyone starts getting their knickers in knots – that I do get that Anita needs her breaks and doesn’t need to contact me at all when she’s on holiday. If she does contact me there’s no ‘rules’ to how many or few messages she sends. Adult Me is absolutely fine with this and am just grateful that she even considers taking time to contact me at all and allows me to contact her if I want. BUT this blog isn’t just about Adult Me. Adult Me is capable and copes…this is about all of my parts and how they/I experience this stuff.

Of course, I’m not going to go in tomorrow and moan that she ‘didn’t message me enough’ or anything like that. I’ll certainly tell her I missed her (a lot) and that the first week felt unbearable, but it won’t be a ‘grrr you didn’t do this…’. It’s not going to be a rupture…

And this is partly because after I posted up the last blog, I got a massive, long string of photos that Anita had taken of where she was, telling me where she’d been and saying she was looking forward to seeing me when she got back. Then this last week she’s sent me a couple of GIFS, a few more pictures and last night some video clips. And it’s felt really nice – although some parts have had a trouble ‘trusting it’ because they’re wondering what happened in week one…?

Nothing. There was nothing wrong… but I felt like there was.

I just need to chill the fuck out, don’t I?!

This is my stuff to work through, though. It’s my process and it is how it is right now. Anita and I will work through it bit by bit. This embarrassing stuff is the experience. And sure, I could keep quiet about it here, or maybe I could drown in shame about being so needy and pathetic – but I’m not going to because I know that it’s not just me that feels like this. The one thing I have learnt through writing this blog over the years and the emails I get from readers, is there’s more people in therapy experiencing this kind of toe-curlingly mortifying stuff but not finding the words for it than you’d imagine.

So…I’ll keep telling it like it is…warts and all.

The photos definitely helped some parts this week, but I think, generally, the first part of breaks is the hardest anyway, as the time seems to stretch out endlessly ahead of us. Once I reach the half-way point of the holiday it becomes slightly more bearable (pictures or not). I think this is for a few reasons. First, the beginning part of the break feels like a huge shock to the system and the youngest parts really suffer and are really activated, “Where did A go?”

After about a week, the pain and distress experienced by the small ones eventually triggers the teen and other protectors come online and their protective anger (RAGE!) at the little ones being left kind of gets me through. “Fuck it! Fuck her! Fuck it all! I’m done” sort of thing. And so, the second half of break is always a bit easier because I am more disconnected.

Well, kind of.

Like I say though, it’s like a bloody rollercoaster. It’s up and down and round and round…and push and pull… and I can cycle through so many feelings in next to no time. It’s often not just one part feeling something at one time – it’s like layers – all the parts are there feeling and saying conflicting things. It’s a nightmare!

Last night I felt really sorry for myself, though. Anger was gone and vulnerable sadness washed over me in waves. The young parts got so activated and I had a little cry in bed. Every night before sleep I either do a guided meditation or listen to a story on the Insight Timer. Last night my wife suggested we find a new story. I scrolled down and picked a long one as we were fairly early to bed.

Only what I picked turned out to be a paraphrased rework of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. The characters were given names and it was modernised but lot of it was exactly the same and ugh…all the stuff with Em came flooding back. I wrote that blog post last year about how I had given her the book for Christmas and then how she’d rejected it and how I felt like it was a good analogy for therapy. And ugh…wonderful timing RB! Just what you need to be reminded of when you are on a therapy break and feel disconnected from A and anxious about going back to the room.

I finally fell asleep and went on to have graphic nightmares: one with a teenage girl drowning and I couldn’t save her, and then another one in the early hours of the morning where I (seven year old part) was looking for Anita, “I can’t find her anywhere”, I said. And someone told me she had gone away for good and I needed to go away.

Arse.

So yeah. It’s felt a bit shite really.

This morning I woke up and was really battling with myself. Part of me wanted to just text Anita and tell her I didn’t want to go tomorrow. But then of course lots of parts do want to be there. The overriding fear I have about tomorrow is not that things will have changed but rather I will go and not connect because I am in self-protect mode. I also know that after breaks I can go in and do the False Adult thing where I will talk and talk about stuff that appears like priority stress: finding out my friend has weeks, maybe months to live; having to contact my oncologist because things don’t feel quite right in my throat; shit with my wife’s ongoing health that’s really not good; work stuff…there’s enough to be going on with.

And yet, while of course ALL THOSE THINGS ARE BAD AND STRESSFUL AND NEED TALKING ABOUT Adult Me can handle it for now. What Adult Me can’t handle is the fucking mess that’s happened internally because my attachment figure went away on a holiday.

I really need to go in tomorrow and reconnect. I need to be close to A. I need hugs and reassurance. But there’s a very real possibility that I might go in and glide through the session and then land with a thud about ten minutes from the end, dissociate and then leave feeling even more disconnected.

FUCK.

PLEASE DON’T LET THAT HAPPEN!

I decided to text Anita this evening to tell her that I feel unsettled, that things felt off and my system was in meltdown. I told her that parts of me really want to see her but the protectors think it’s stupid. I said that I have been having nightmares all break where she’s either left or died. I finished up with, “It’s too hard. I missed you.”

Anita responded with a really warm message, saying she understood, telling me she was very much alive, home safe and sorting out washing in the rain. She asked me if I wanted to start 15 minutes sooner in the morning so we could have a longer session. She told me everything will be ok and that she promised nothing has changed and then signed off with a heart and some kisses.

Thank god.

That message has done a lot to settle the parts that were freaking out. I feel like she’s home. I feel like tomorrow it’ll be ok. I know, too, that there is enough time to land in the room after the break and reconnect.

Wish me luck and I promise I’ll come up with some sane posts again soon!

Things Fall Apart: The Teen Is Losing Her Shit Over This Therapy Break!

I am finding this therapy break really, really hard. We’re only 9 days in, still 8 days to go…and it’s like my brain has chosen this holiday to have a complete processing malfunction and fall to pieces. I’ve been having several nightmares each night: graphic stuff around my dad dying, my grandad dying, my estranged relationship with my grandmother, childhood trauma memories coming up, health anxiety stuff, and of course rejections/abandonments by Anita…it goes on and on. I am thoroughly exhausted now, and that’s just the stuff when I am asleep!

Shoot me now!

Waking up with either a jolt and my heart racing or crying in desperate sobs multiple times through the night is just fucking hideous. I mean it really is just bloody awful. My whole system is in chaos and disarray. This weekend I have been getting up when I wake up at dawn and the light is just creeping over the horizon because I can’t bear to be asleep any longer and don’t want to chance another nightmare. To be honest, I would rather have the very scary haunted house nightmares I was complaining about in my last post, than these ‘real life relationship’ horror interactions.

The more exhausted I get and the further into the break it is, the more my system is freaking out. It’s really bad. I feel so unbelievably disconnected from A that I genuinely feel like I won’t go back next week. Or at least that’s how it’s feeling for the teen part that feels like the system has been abandoned and so she just feels like setting everything on fire, running away and then having an enormous rage at Anita via text (so mature…so teen!).

For the youngest parts, it feels Anita has completely disappeared, and it’s really rattled and sent shockwaves through my system. I don’t understand what’s going on – or if there is something wrong. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago, she said she had been looking for the right time to tell me about knowing how difficult things were at the time and how hard I find breaks (but acknowledged there’s never really a good time). She told me it would be ok and that we could still have contact and text whilst she was gone. The idea of her going away wasn’t great but the reassurance that it wouldn’t be zero contact and radio silence helped ease things a bit.

Last year when A was on holiday, she texted me several times and sent some photographs of where she had been staying. This really helped to maintain the sense of connection and the photos especially helped me see that whilst she wasn’t ‘here’, she was still ‘somewhere’ and not dead which is what part of me panics about having had my dad die whilst away on holiday (anniversary of that is a few weeks away).

I wasn’t so upset or unsettled by the break last year – we’d literally just returned to the room and had two face-to-face sessions after the loooooooong first lockdown, so I was used to her ‘not being here’ and I was nowhere near as attached to her as I am now. The contact over the break, then, was a real bonus and just steadied everything and so I got on with what I was doing…painting my house! And whilst I missed seeing her, I just looked forward to being back in the room after the holiday. It wasn’t a distressing experience for the parts like this one has been.

Sometimes in the week between sessions or on weekends Anita will send me pictures of where she’s been on her walks, or something in the garden, and even though they aren’t pictures of her (it’s usually the dog or some beautiful scenery or something she’s been making) if feels like she’s letting me into part of her world and it feels like she actually gets how hard it is for the young parts who struggle so much with objects constancy and gives them just enough to hold onto.

On Tuesday evening I sent Anita a GIF which had two clocks on it. One that was standing still and one that was moving at speed. Basically, it said the one that stands still is what happens when we are apart and the one that accelerates is when we are together. Underneath I said, ‘I miss you’. And that was that. I could have written an essay about how shit it’s all felt (but that’s what this blog is for!) but I also really aware that A is on holiday and so there’s no point in burdening her – she needs space and time to rest and recharge.

The next evening A replied with a GIF that had a bear on it gesturing a hug that said ‘sending you a big hug because you are beary special to me!’. I replied with ‘thank you, I really needed that.’

And that’s great, isn’t it?

Well, yes and no…

Like I know loads of you will read this who suffer with the same attachment problems as me and will work with therapists like Em who don’t allow outside contact or whose messages are very clinical/sterile and would love to receive a message like that…but over the course of 9 days separation, that just is not enough for the parts that are struggling so much especially an entire day later.

It’s so hard!! FFS. I can hear how bratty and ungrateful I sound – but it is how the young parts and teen are experiencing things right now and that’s what I am chronicling here today.

I’ve spoken about this stuff (breaks/outside contact) over the years with various friends who have therapy and I think what therapists often don’t get is that for those of us with complex trauma, children who have grown up not knowing whether they are coming or going and never feeling safe, is how important consistency is and how hard change is for us. I’m sure many people (people who don’t experience the issues we do) would think that a two-week holiday is no big deal – but like I said, it’s not actually two weeks.

The therapist might be taking two weeks leave, but the time between sessions our is longer. In my case this time, it’s 17 days between my sessions. When I worked with Em and we were seeing each other once a week it would actually end up being three weeks if she had a two week break. And that is a long time for people like us…or people like me, at least!

The problem is not just about the length of time of breaks, though. It’s about the change in routine. Sure, 17 days isn’t all that long in the big scheme of things (I really get that!), but it equates to four missed therapy sessions and a lot of outside contact that won’t happen. So, if you view breaks through that lens rather than days, it’s a significant amount of lost contact time and that invariably shocks the system.

Let’s be clear, there is a reason I have two sessions a week and have a therapist that allows between session contact…I don’t have this intensity of therapy because I have nothing else to do and love losing two whole mornings a week travelling to and from the sessions. I do it because without that level of intervention I really struggle…so of course breaks are hard for me.

Don’t get me wrong. Anita more than deserves and needs her holiday. BUT I can’t lie. It is very hard when therapy stops and contact becomes minimal because my system is always so alert anyway, looking for signs of change or readying itself for abandonment and rejection.  Breaks do feel like an abandonment and lack of contact feels rejecting – even though they are neither abandoning or rejecting it is how my system experiences it.

I get that this is my issue to work through – THIS IS THE WORK!!! It’s all about attachment – GROAN! I understand I have to do the best I can to hold and contain the young parts over breaks. BUT my system is how it is and that’s not easy. I have ‘insight’ into why I am the way I am and why I react the way I do but that’s not always a whole lot of help when my teen is running rampage and is ready to quit because these last few days is evidence that as she sees it,

Anita only really cares when she’s in the room. She’s spent ages trying to get me and the young ones to trust her, coaxing them out, saying she won’t leave or abandon us. And when, finally, we let the most vulnerable self/selves out and attach to her the reality is the relationship is only ‘real’ (not real!) in that room at a specific time each week.

When it comes down to it, we are just clients. We are disposable. RB doesn’t matter and neither do the rest of us. Anita can just disappear – switch her ‘work brain’ off and leave us behind until she’s ready to become her therapist self again. Meanwhile we’re all left hanging – because this relationship doesn’t have an ON/OFF switch for us.

It’s all great when life is going as it should and the ‘therapy play’ can run as it’s mean to, but throw in an unanticipated lockdown and promises about staying because we ‘need to be face-to-face’ become meaningless. If something happens her end, a session can be cancelled outright despite the fact the she is still working online that day (still not over that one!)…basically – the reality is we don’t matter ‘that much’ and we are just her ‘job’. To think that there’s anything more is completely delusional.

It’s so hard because we are just one of her many ‘clients’ and yet to us her presence in our life is essential. Actually, no – fuck that – the little ones need the therapy and the holding. Adult thinks she needs the therapy. I don’t need anyone and am sick of the others putting me through hell! Why don’t they understand that people are unreliable, and their word means shit?

It’s better being alone.  If you don’t let anyone in no one can hurt you. It’s easier that way.

Soooo….the teen part is in a really good place right now – ha. It’s not funny, though. It’s painful.

I’m going to leave that here because bleurgh… I don’t want to bring the rest of you down with me and I’m sick of my own whining and sadness.

Raise your hand if you’re dreading the holiday season and the mass exodus of your therapist/s over the summer months?!

Summer Therapy Break 2021 And The Black Hole Inside

So, the summer therapy break has gone live, now…it’s two weeks…and, ugh, I think I’m going to be in for quite a rough ride!

Earlier this week I went to see K as my nervous system was already in tatters just anticipating Anita’s holiday. Before I got on the table for craniosacral, K asked me what I was feeling in my body. My False Adult had done quite a good job of sitting on the sofa chattering away for the preceding half an hour generally just catching up with her about ‘light’ stuff, but I was avoiding the thing that was really on my mind for fear of breaking down either then, or later on. When I tuned into my body, I could feel the somatic experience of what I was running from: the break with Anita.

There’s no point in pretending to be ok with K. I can paste a brave face on all I like but she knows, and the moment her hands touch my body she can absolutely feel things are amiss and where in my body I’m holding stuff. Sometimes she’ll say things like, “I can feel a real tightness on the back left side of your head” (when her hands are on my feet!) and it blows me away. So, I told her what was going on.

 “Anita is going away for two weeks from Monday” I sighed and broke eye contact whilst sinking down into the couch and then drawing my knees up into my chest. I felt so exposed and vulnerable. I tried to describe the body sensations and told K that it felt like I had a huge watery sink hole inside my chest (like a big hole plunging down into the ocean floor) and that it was sucking all my parts into it.

I explained that the feeling of trying to stop myself getting pulled into that dark endless pit of doom was exhausting and the young parts of me were terrified. I said it felt like there was an inevitability about ending up in that horrible dark scary place and that I was doing everything I could do avoid it…which up until that point was literally avoiding talking about it or acknowledging it!

K really empathised and put her hand to her chest and let out a sort of pained exhale and said she could feel how painful and frightening it was for the little ones inside. She and I speak the same kind of emotional language, so I never feel weird going into huge winding metaphors about my inner experience or body sensations or simply telling her the baby or other young part is in distress.

I’m sure most people must say that a particular place aches or is buzzing when she asks how they feel in their body…but not me! K says it’s one of the things she loves about working with me, my authenticity and ability to tune into my feelings and body – which is so funny as years ago I felt so numb.

K says my images make total sense to her. I know, now, from the years of working with her and the friendship that has developed over the last 12 years that she has experienced a similar wounding – she knows the mother wound intimately. She’s done her work, though, (she’s now in her sixties) and I love working with her because she ‘knows’ what I mean because she’s been there and felt it. It is so great to be in the presence of one of those amazing, grounded matriarchal women and it gives me hope that one day I too might be in the place that she is. I mean that’s the goal, right?!

Like Anita she is really good at ‘unconditional positive regard’ – she never looks at me like I am a crazed lunatic when I tell her stuff. She mirrors me so well and it’s been working with her over the years that has really made me see how bad things have been. To see her moved and saddened by my story and express care for my young parts made me see that it was as bad, if not worse, than I thought. This was especially the case in 2019 when I started seeing her again properly after a break of several years. Going each week in a terrible state, my nervous system in survival and telling her what was going on with Em made me realise that it really wasn’t ok.

Having someone genuinely express care and acceptance was everything I needed at that time (and now! – thank god for A and K!). I learnt with K that it is ok to have feelings and express them. It is human to care about people and feel love. K is always so expressive towards me and has modelled how to say what you feel. It’s so funny, she always shouts down the street as I leave, “I love you RB!” I can’t help but smile when she does this, given Em never even said goodbye when I would leave hers, often distressed or dissociated.

UGHHH!!!

Anyway, where am I going with this? Body sensations and the pain of the mother wound

Not long ago I was on the table and all sorts of intense stuff was making its way up and out. I think my body had stored a lot over the lockdown and it’d been such a long time since I had seen K to do actual body work and not just pop over for a cup of tea. It was around the time that Anita had cancelled my session when she thought her daughter might have had covid and I was in a right state about it. K completely got it which made me feel less embarrassed and ashamed about my HUGE reaction and EPIC meltdown.

She told me how she could feel how painful it was for my inner child to be left and have her need overlooked, and how abandoning it must feel when the young parts are trying so hard to trust A. She could see how it taps so readily back into my experience with my mum as a child.

However, it wasn’t just a pile on. K also said that she can see such a massive change in me since I have been working with Anita. She says I am so much more resourced and embodied DESPITE the huge amounts of shit that I have had to field in my life in the past year. She told me that A would not have wanted to hurt me and that hopefully I could see that, too, because she can see what an amazing connection we have from what I have told her. She often tells me how glad she is that I finally have a therapist who can do the work with me having seen first-hand how damaging it was with Em. That always feels nice to hear. Sometimes I wonder if it’s all just in my head (the closeness between A and I) but I suppose having seen me recount my experiences with Em it would be hard not to see the difference!

Anyway, this particular day I could feel that ‘hole in my chest’ so painfully – it was excruciating. It’s where the mother wound and the grief of my dad dying and my family cutting me off so many other losses are. The blackness was powerful that day that I felt like I was going to fall headfirst into it. Only on this day I could also feel its edges – sore and molten hot.

It’s horrible feeling like there’s an enormous void where your heart is. The endless black is awful, but the edges of this hole feel like a combination of a huge mouth ulcer – the stinging, searing pain is unbelievable. And then there are some areas that are sort of crusted over – like when a volcano has been spewing lava and the top layer starts to cool and goes black, but the cracks show that it’s still molten red hot a few centimetres down…

I don’t know what’s worse really, being sucked into the abyss or the searing pain of the edge.

So anyway, that’s what it’s been like these last couple of weeks on a physical level…it’s really nuts how somatised the trauma is and when the attachment stuff is triggered how agonising it feels.

I seem to have rattled on loads about that when actually I wanted to talk about how therapy with Anita has been. It’s been largely fine. I’ve disappeared or come close to disappearing a few times but that’s not surprising given we were so close the therapy break.

We were talking about the black hole/inner void the other day and Anita asked if she might hold my hand to stop me falling in. I was quite shut down at that point and refused. It’s that horrible situation where I’m so desperately in need of a hand or a hug and Anita will offer it, but it feels impossible for me to accept it in the moment. I feel so far away and disconnected that I can’t reach out. It’s almost like Anita isn’t there…or I am not there.

Parts of me are screaming and yet I am frozen. The protective part has total control over the rest of the parts- when it’s bad like this it feels like a prison guard, really.

And the prison is fucking horrible, too. Cold, metal, damp…soooooo lonely.

It’s terrible for those parts locked inside, too:

The baby: is screaming on the floor on a blanket, hungry, cold, and in desperate need of holding and soothing. The distress is palpable.

The toddler: is standing still, facing away from me. She doesn’t make a sound. She already knows there’s no point in crying because no one comes. She looks so neglected and so lacking in love. She’s another little one who really needs a cuddle from A.

The four-year-old: is sad and is trying to seek comfort from the older teen but she’s ignored and pushed away and doesn’t understand why no one wants to look after her. She wants A but has no idea where she is.

The seven-year-old and eleven-year-old: are sitting in the corner playing ‘rock paper scissors’. They don’t make a fuss and are used to making the best of a bad situation. Eleven is pretty self-sufficient and although she’d love the attention of a caring adult like A she knows when there are so many other younger, needy parts she goes unnoticed.

The younger teen: is fed up. She doesn’t know what to do to make things better for herself. She looks at eleven and sees what a good girl she is and wonders what chance she has of someone loving and noticing her if even the ‘perfect’ girl is neglected and abandoned.

The older teen: has her headphones in her ears listening to her soundtrack of angst and is staring blankly at the wall. She’s chronically depressed. Thoughts of self-harm and anorexia run on loop in her head, and she wants to die and escape the pain of never being good enough and no one caring.

So…yeah…that’s fucking fun!

Fortunately, Anita is solid and present and persists with me and eventually things feel safe enough to come closer.  The other day she said, “I feel like I want to give you hug and ground you again. I can feel you are going further away. Would that be ok?” And the protector opened the gate and let all the needy parts out. Well some of them, anyway!

I don’t know why I can’t just get the memo that Anita is safe from the start. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I can sit down and ask for what I need almost immediately but then I guess the closer the break has got, the harder it has felt because those parts that fear abandonment were fast approaching an abandonment (even though that isn’t really what it is).

I think part of it is also that my mum used to disappear and was never the same when she returned. There was no solid base to land on or build on. Who knew what kind of mood she’d be in on a Friday? – and so this is the legacy playing out with A. I have to be careful and check that things are ok and safe…because they haven’t always been (growing up). It’s like starting from scratch over and over again.

A says that, “it doesn’t have to be scary anymore” but it’s so hard when the reality is it is scary for those parts when she goes away…because what happens if she doesn’t come back?…What happens if she goes away and realises how easy it is without me bothering her?…What happens if she comes back and has finally reached her limit?

There’s been a lot of reassurance going on in recent sessions and outside them. She tells me I am not too much and that she is not fed up with me. She’s assured me (repeatedly) that “nothing is going to change” whilst she’s gone. She says, “I will be back. And I won’t have changed. We won’t have changed. It’ll still be exactly the same” on a loop!

And it really does help. Although listening to me rattle on here I’m guessing it’s hard to see evidence of that!

On Friday, just gone, I had horrible headache. It was definitely tension and anxiety about the break causing it. I so badly wanted the final session to feel connected and holding. I had read a chunk of our WhatsApp thread of messages the night before the session, and I really wanted to go in and tell Anita how thankful I am to her for being so consistent and caring even when I have been throwing everything at her. Seeing message after message demonstrating her care even when I was being a pain in the arse really hit home. The testing that went on during the lockdown in November was really something else and the scale of the meltdowns were – yikes!

How she didn’t just turn round and say, “FFS RB what more do you want from me? In how many ways and how many times do I have to prove that I care about you to you? Are you stupid or something? – just look at the evidence!” But she never has. She never makes me feel like I am a burden or annoying for it taking my parts so long to get on board and trust. She doesn’t get frustrated treading the same ground over and over week in week out and it really has made a massive difference to how I feel.

I wanted to go in, sit down and tell her all of that but I just couldn’t look at her. She obviously knows that this break is proving hard (before it’s even begun), but I didn’t want her to look at me and see it in my eyes. I didn’t want to be so exposed. The sadness about her going away overshadowed my ability to tell her how grateful I am to her for being awesome.

Even though I couldn’t say what I had planned, I managed to ask if I could hold her hand and reached out across the sofa. It wasn’t long until I was cuddled into her, and she pretty much held me for the entire session as I cycled through all the feelings. It felt really healing at times just being quiet together and then it’d flip into being really painful. The young parts could feel time ticking away and it felt horrid knowing that she’d be gone really soon.

I felt like I was trying to absorb every second of the time with her. It was like I was trying to pour the feeling of being safe and held into a container inside me so I would have it when she wasn’t there anymore. I really wish it were possible to do that! So often it feels like this lovely connected, safe feeling just slips like sand, or water, through my fingers and is gone.

Knowing she would be gone on holiday also tapped into all the fear about her maybe going away and dying just like my dad did. It’s creeping towards the anniversary of that trauma, too, so I always find the summer breaks most difficult of all the therapy breaks.

K noted, last week, that there’ve been so many different disruptions over the last year (not just usual run of the mill therapy breaks which we all are used to). It’s been so on and off with lockdowns – moving back and forth from online to face-to-face back to online etc. And for some people I know that has been totally fine, they even report preferring remote therapy…but I am not one of those people! I hate it (*sidenote – I don’t hate it as much as no session/contact at all and sometimes a check in online is really helpful!).  So, it’s not surprising that breaks might feel a bit harder this year because it’s an additional disruption after having had so many already.

Don’t get me wrong, Anita needs her break and she more than deserves it, but I am not going to beat myself up about feeling sad and lost over this because whilst she hasn’t had many ‘holiday breaks’ in the time we’ve worked together (not enough by any stretch of the imagination), there has been an unusual level of disruption and interruption to the therapy because of the pandemic. So, I think I can extend myself a bit of compassion and say it’s ok to feel off when my attachment figure is gone – even if it is only for two weeks.

Towards the end of Friday’s session, I asked if we could read stories together as I thought this might help the youngest parts before the holiday. It was so lovely listening to Anita read the books and looking at the pictures together and being close. The young parts really enjoyed it. No one ever read to me as a child, and I feel like I really missed out – I feel like bedtime story time is probably the most important time of the day with my kids (and not because there’ll be peace in half an hour once it’s over!).

Anyway, the session was soon over, and I felt that sadness land heavy back in my stomach which had been gurgling noisily all session! When it was time to leave Anita reminded me to take Elephant with me. It was sitting on the side waiting for me when I walked in the room, and I couldn’t help but smile inside when I saw it. At the end of Monday’s session, I had asked A if she might wash it for me before she went away and she said, “Of course” as if it was a completely normal and reasonable request.

I have the big elephant and Anita has the small one at hers.

It felt like quite a big thing to ask for – vulnerability overload – and I can only imagine the look of horror and disgust on Em’s face had I ever had taken a soft toy to a session or, God forbid, ask her to do that for me and then braced for the “No” and the “I don’t work in that way” speech. But as usual Anita wasn’t fazed by my request at all. I guess she knows why I wanted her to do it. I always say to her how I like how she smells and the steady beat of her heart … well, a little part of me does, anyway!

I’ve said, here, before how when she cuddles me that one of the things I find really soothing is how she smells – it’s fresh laundry and clean hair…it’s Anita…and now I associate that smell with being safe and feeling at ‘home’. I knew this break was going to be super hard for the smallest parts of me and so I thought that if she washed the elephant, it would smell familiar and safe – comforting – when things felt overwhelming.

It does really work, too. I’ve had a fucking nightmare of a weekend –I’ve been hugely unsettled during the day and had absolutely terrifying nightmares. I always have bad dreams/nightmares anyway, but they’ve not been as bad as this since I stopped therapy with Em (the first time) in 2013 on the NHS (too soon – but time limited therapy is like this!) and had six solid weeks of night terrors. I’m back in the realms of the decaying dead bodies of children, life-threatening illness, and being destroyed by people exerting power over me in spooky, haunted houses in the dark again now – but at least Anita hasn’t featured in them just yet.

Fuck.

I woke up at 2am this morning, my heart was racing, I was physically shaking, and I was utterly terrified. I felt so scared and upset when I woke up from the nightmare that I reached for my elephant and cuddled it tight. It instantly started to ground those parts who were so frightened because it makes it feel like A is actually real, still. I can almost imagine that I am safe cuddled into her – and really that’s what those young parts need.

I know that must all sound pretty bonkers but meh, fuck it, do you know what? I don’t even care anymore – I’ve been through the emotional wringer for years feeling so lost and abandoned during breaks so seeing as it works for me, I’m taking it as a win!

Don’t get me wrong. The elephant isn’t going to solve everything. I know I am in for a rough ride over the next couple of weeks and I guess I’ll just have to be curious and conscious of what’s going on. Not going to lie… kind of willing time forward to June 21st and trying, at the same time, to not panic and freak out about how I will see Anita over the school summer holidays when my kids are off.

I know the longer the break goes on the harder it is going to be. When Anita told me about her holiday weeks ago she said we could text when she was away, but then she didn’t say anything about it on Friday so I’m feeling like perhaps I shouldn’t…

So….that’s where things are at just now.  

x

Therapy Break Is Imminent & Storytime For The Young Parts

It’s been an ‘interesting’ couple of weeks in therapy, but I can’t tell you much about any of it because there are huge voids where the memories should be, still. I don’t know what’s going on, really. Everything is just a bit of a blur and whilst I am aware that I have had quite difficult emotional periods over the last week I am not entirely sure what’s triggering it – other than the upcoming break.

I suppose it’s not just ‘other than the upcoming break’ because the reality is that breaks are a BIG DEAL to the young parts, especially as those little ones haven’t experienced a two-week therapy break since last summer. At that point they weren’t as ‘in the relationship’ with A as they are now because the therapy was still quite new. I wasn’t so attached back then, and we were working online in that first (endless) lockdown, so the absence wasn’t quite as striking as it is when there is a disruption to my face-to-face therapy now.

We all know that I’ve been crap and grumpy when Anita and I have had to revert back to online therapy for some bits of the more recent lockdowns. I can’t help it, I miss the physical contact and the energy in the room…I miss Anita…and the cuddles! The lockdowns weren’t great (understatement) but I didn’t even cope especially well recently even with that one missed/cancelled session when A’s daughter might have had covid…so imagine how it’s going to be with four missed sessions!

Although, to be fair, if you dig beneath all these disruptions to my therapy and the resulting meltdowns there’s more to them than meets the eye. It’s not just because I can’t see A. I freaked out in lockdown two because Anita had promised she’d see me and then ended up going away to bubble with her partner – it felt like she’d lied to me and it felt so abandoning. The mess up with the recent covid cancellation hurt because Anita was actually still working but just didn’t think I’d want to work online…and that stung because it felt like she didn’t see my need.

Shoot me now!

Anyway, it’s bank-holiday this weekend and even though Anita and I have scheduled a session for Tuesday that wasn’t without its stresses/miscommunication either.

FUCK!

Weeks ago, A and I arranged via a text that we would do 10am on Tuesday instead of our regular Monday time. That felt fine…until Friday, last week, when Anita text me after our session and said, ‘I hope your day is improving. I have just realised we haven’t talked about another day for BH Monday. Can you do Tuesday 1st at 11:15?’

This text immediately set the cat amongst the pigeons internally. She’d obviously forgotten we’d made the plan and whilst the 11:15 was no big deal – the time was fine – to parts inside it felt massive. She’d obviously now booked the 10 o clock session with someone else…and that felt…like… I had been replaced I guess….but also forgotten about and not kept in mind. I dunno. I know it’s not actually a big deal really and so I replied and said that yes, that was fine and that we had had the conversation but 11:15 was fine too. Anita apologised and that was that.

She has no idea how much this tiny thing actually affected or how much it’s been niggling away at me since but really, I can’t even be bothered to go into it with her. She’s so great so much of the time that surely, I can cope with the physical reminder that there are (of course) other people that Anita sees. LOL.

I can’t lie, though. I was disappointed. I guess it’s because I already worry about being forgotten about anyway, and this message seems to confirm that Anita had forgotten me (or at least believed she had).

Also, I quite like the fact that I am the first client of the day. I guess I feel like Anita is fresh/ready for the day ahead and not already on the treadmill of work counting down the hours/clients (not that she probably does this anyway, but…). I also don’t get any sense of anyone else having been there in the room – no perfume, warm chairs or anything like that (which would send me off my rocker – remember the box the other week?!). I guess, also, if I am honest, I know that she hasn’t touched or cuddled anyone else yet that day. The idea of cuddling into her after someone else might have been crying on her just feels…ugh…I dunno…

I am basically just a spoilt brat with massive sibling jealousy. Can you tell I am an only child?! Lol.

Ha!

So, anyway, because of this timetabling mix up I have been pretty discombobulated this week.  On Monday I think (having had a conversation about it on Friday with Anita because I couldn’t remember anything that happened – it was just a black hole) it was False Adult that was fronting for a long time in my session, and it wasn’t until about fifteen minutes before the end that I felt like I connected to A and let my vulnerable self come out. I obviously didn’t tell her about the upset about the session for Tuesday … and now I wonder if that’s what was stopping me connecting. Probably. Ugh, maybe I should bring it up…but…oh the SHAME!!!

The way the session went left me feeling quite out of sorts for the whole of Monday. I am so conscious of the fact that everything is getting unsettled, and the break is coming and I really want to feel safe and connected before Anita goes away and not disconnected and far away.

For most of Monday after the session I could feel that angry part who wants to cut and run fronting. Maybe it was the teen? Even though the young parts were in meltdown this protective part was determined not to reach out to Anita or give her any indication that things felt off between us…or at least with me. ‘What’s the point? She’s leaving soon, right?’ –  

Ugh. That voice!

FFS.

When will she give up?!

Anyway, by about 9 o clock I was in bed. I was so so tired. I had my salt lamp on (birthday present from A) and I was cuddling into my big dog. The critic and teen or whoever it was had powered down and all I was left with were those little ones who felt desperately sad that they had not been able to get enough of what they needed in the session that morning. Without even thinking I text Anita. I didn’t expect her to respond but I felt better for having let those young parts let something out.

This is the exchange:

It felt so settling and I went to sleep with no bother at all… and no bad dreams for the first time in ages! Win! I know that this is a million miles away from most therapies. I mean I did years with Em stone cold in that room with no contact outside contact at all and I can imagine that this probably feels to some people like there are no boundaries in this relationship. But there are and I am really clear on what they are. Boundaries don’t have to be barriers and the key thing for me doing this work is authenticity. For those of us with complex trauma I think it’s really helpful when we get to see a bit of a real person with feelings and emotions.

You’d think that exchange would have been enough for the week to run smoothly.

Nope.

Because we are right in the thick of my wounding now and the messy attachment stuff. It’s basically developmental trauma #101!!

As the week went on, I felt increasingly disconnected from Anita again. The woeful Wednesday separation anxiety kicked my arse and the young parts were freaking out. Honestly, the anxiety about this summer break is so bad for them but I am not surprised as we have been looking a lot at my early years and how it was with my mum lately so that stuff feels really live. On Thursday night I actually felt like cancelling my Friday session. Things felt that bad.

I text Anita a GIF of a character having a meltdown with their face under a pillow…basically me. And a photo of something I had just let the young parts express:

I had tuned into what was going on and wrote it out. I can’t believe I sent it but hey, there we are – these things happen now and it’s ok. There’s no boundary talk, instead there’s engagement about what it is I am trying to say.

Anita saw the message and told me she was sending me a ‘big hug filled with love’ and a really reassuring message that said we could start earlier on Friday if I wanted as she thought it would be a good idea. There was still so much conflict going on inside that I didn’t actually respond to the message until Friday morning but when I woke up, I was feeling so much better and so relieved that A had suggested we could do a longer session.

Anita says it’s important that we pay attention to all the parts of me and listen to what they are trying to say. She’s sure that at the moment my protectors are doing their best to sabotage the relationship because they think it’s better to leave than get left…and that’s really how it is…EVEN THOUGH IT’S JUST A HOLIDAY AND NOT A FUCKING ENDING!

Sometimes I feel like my protective parts are just arseholes but, I do know they are trying to do their job. It’s just a bit mortifying when this stuff is playing out in your late thirties and not your mid-teens. Although those parts don’t know I am here and are locked back in 1998!

Anyway, I am meandering slowly toward the point here… there’ve been a couple of sessions lately where I have been really unsettled and no matter what we do I just feel like I am cycling through heaps of uncomfortable states. It’s like I’m trying to land myself in my ‘letterbox’ of tolerance but it’s windy and stormy and so the plane keeps missing the spot and instead lands in hypo or hyper arousal. I feel like I am not in the room. Like Anita is not there. My body hurts. I feel sick. I feel dizzy. I go numb. It’s dark. I feel shaky. The parts inside are screaming. You name it and I’ve probably been there in those sessions.

So. Friday was ugh. Not because Anita was distant, or I was a million miles from her – that wasn’t how it was. I hugged her the moment she opened the front door and snuggled into her within a minute of getting in the room. There was nothing at all wrong in that regard and yet still I couldn’t properly settle. We spoke about it. Tried to pinpoint what was going on. Dipped in and out of a lot of different conversations. We laughed. I cried. But despite all this I felt really really agitated and disconnected – or at least a key part did. It was as if I couldn’t relax into this calm, nurturing space properly……………… WHY?? ….. well, probably because that calm nurturing space isn’t there on Monday and then won’t be there for two weeks soon.

Groan.

Anita wondered if I felt frustrated that I couldn’t connect in the way I wanted and I said that was the case. She asked me if I wanted to do some drawing because we had spoken about how maybe doing something creative might help when it feels like this. I said I didn’t want to. Basically the idea of being even slightly separated from her in the room felt awful…again right now it’s the really young stuff being triggered.

A couple of weeks ago when I was in a similar state Anita read me a story I had brought in called, ‘Barbara Throws A Wobbler’ by Nadia Shireen and it really settled those child parts.

Listening to a story read by A, written in language that was accessible to them and with pictures to look at grounded those parts and I felt way more connected and present in the room.

I sometimes feel like my young parts are just outside the door or are suspended just out of reach looking in and it’s horrible until they can get inside and close to A.

I had seen the book not long after having a massive wobbler in a session earlier that week and it really captures just how awful it feels when that angry tantruming part takes over and freaks out over really small things. In the end, the main character realises that this big scary Wobbler is actually a part of her, and she has the power to shrink it rather than be taken over by it. She knows it will come back but she isn’t frightened of it anymore.

At the end of the book there are pictures of a bunch of other characters (that don’t have their own story) and I asked if maybe we could draw our own versions of these character soon. I had said my Wobbler wasn’t a red angry jelly and was more like a black smoky Dementor out of Harry Potter but I thought there was probably some good work to be done here.

So, on Friday when I was struggling to connect despite the closeness A wondered if maybe it’d help if she read me another story rather than drawing? I bought her ‘The Rabbit Listened’ on the first therapy anniversary and we haven’t looked at it together yet, and at Christmas I gave her ‘The Hug’. I joked that one day I would stop giving her kids’ books. Although probably not just yet!  

Whilst I really did want a story the idea of Anita getting up and moving even to the other side of the room felt unbearable. I said to A, “I don’t want to let go.” A wondered whether I thought that if I let go I might disappear and I nodded into her chest and murmured – “or you might.” A held me close for a while and I settle more and eventually I said that I would like a story. She asked which I’d prefer. The Hug was already in the room on the shelf and the other books were in another room. I opted for The Hug – less far to go.

Anita sat back down on the sofa and I cuddled back into her and she read the story to me. Her voice was so soothing, and she did the voices of the characters and everything. No joke, all that agitated shit I’d been battling just disappeared and I landed in the room and into the moment with a gentle thud. It was so nice to feel the tension leave my body and feel fully present (all the parts).

Up until that point I felt like even though I had been cuddling A, listening to her heartbeat, talking, laughing etc there had been a part of me holding myself so tightly inside. It’s almost like being in a full body shackle – it protects that most vulnerable bit of me but it’s hideous. But the story did something and all that just fell away. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures and felt so held and contained.

I haven’t read the story before but have seen snippets of it online and knew enough about it to want to send it to Anita at Christmas. It’s really lovely and simple. It’s about a hedgehog and a tortoise who are both desperate for a hug but all the animals they meet won’t give them one. They’re too busy for a hug, but also, as it turns out people are put off by the hedgehog’s spikes and the tortoise’s hard shell. The book runs half-way on the hedgehog’s story then you flip it over and read the tortoise’s story from the back to the middle. In the centre pages of the book the two characters meet and get to hug each other because they are perfect for each other. The book says ‘there is someone for everyone’.

Anita finished the book and said, “hugs are really really important, aren’t they?” I didn’t say anything but seeing as I was cuddled into her body and had been for the entire session I wasn’t about to disagree!

After the story the young parts told Anita about my tortoise that I had been looking after for someone, but they have given him to me. It was small talk, but it felt really connecting. I guess because I felt so much more present and connected.

I left feeling so much better than I had done when I arrived and throughout the week. I feel settled even though it’s a BH weekend. I’ve been productive in my garden – turning the meadow back into a lawn! Can I get a shout out for the sunshine? After a month of solid rain and cloud here I hardly know myself now there is blue sky and wall to wall sunshine.

I hope you guys are all making the most of it too (UK readers obvs as no idea what it’s like elsewhere on the planet!)x

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!