The Invisible String

My last post here talked about the recent ‘shutdown’ Monday sessions where the teen ran amok for the first part of the therapy hour, and it felt like I was in an isolation zone. It was hard going, but the work that came as a result was definitely worthwhile. I think that those sessions have sent a message to the teen that she’s really ok with Anita and that Anita isn’t scared of her or about to shut up shop when she turns up in a rage or pushes away – in fact, Anita will come towards her and try and help her rather than punish her with more disconnection. This can only be a good thing going forward.

Despite this, I am hoping that the teen part stays in the background for a while now, because it thoroughly exhausts me when I have those emotionally charged, agonising sessions – especially when really, underneath, all I want is to be close to A. I know it’s protective and there for a reason, in the past (as a child) it was safer to hide or disconnect than ask for support or care and it’s hard to unlearn that. Although at least A seems to be willing to keep repeating the lesson over and over.

So, the Friday session that was sandwiched between those painful Mondays was different again. It was creeping ever closer to the anniversary of my dad dying and this always seems to result in at least one session where I re-tread old ground about the nature of the death and all the trauma that came at that time. I guess this is what we do in therapy, circle the same traumas but from different angles- each time we get a slightly different vantage point and perhaps a different insight. There is still so much pain around that loss, and as much as I cognitively understand a lot of what happened around that time, the physical and emotional trauma is still locked in my body and has caused me no end of trouble.

The conversations about that time are usually had by my actual Adult and not my False Adult but the content often activates stuff for the young parts inside who so desperately miss dad and who cannot understand why the family chose to scapegoat me for what happened to him. I don’t think those parts of me will every really understand what happened and why. The best my adult self can come up with is that my family have always excluded and demonised people and grief does strange things to people. Beyond that, I am stumped because the older I get and the more of life I experience I just cannot fathom how you could behave as they did.

Ah well. Their loss.

Only they don’t care… and much as I try not to, I do care.

After a lot of talk about all that and about three quarters of the way through that session I could feel that Adult was starting to disappear, and the young ones were moving in. I asked Anita at this point if we could read a story as I find that really settles the little parts and gives them time to connect with Anita but also process in a way that feels age appropriate to them. We have quite a stack of stories that we read and it’s nice because the repetitive retelling of the same five or six stories feels really grounding. I guess it’s a bit like with my kids, even now they’re getting bigger we still have some go to favourites that feel really connecting.

All of these books I read with Anita deal with feelings or attachment and relationships in one way or another and I can’t overstate how helpful they have been to these very young parts. Part of me is amazed that I have reached a point in therapy where I have been able to ask for what I need in this way. I guess it’s that thing, though, we inherently know what we need to heal and if it’s not dangerous then what’s wrong in it? Therapists don’t know everything and collaborating with the client to create a therapy that works for them is essential (in my view).

I used to feel so much shame having ANY kind of need with Em even, though I rarely expressed my needs because I was so clear that everything I wanted was a flat ‘No’. I don’t feel shame around asking for things at all now: reading books, washing my elephant so it smells like A, extra sessions, and check ins. I guess this is because I NEVER have to feel shame with Anita because she never makes me feel like asking for something is wrong, or too much, or pushing at a boundary. Everything is open to discussion and I know that Anita will try and accommodate me where she can, if it is reasonable to do so. This goes such a long way.

Looking back now I can hardly believe I am the same person who was made to feel so much shame for struggling with lack of contact between sessions. I can’t believe how bad I felt when I asked Em for the three dots to check-in midweek and she flat refused without even asking why I wanted it or why I thought it might be useful.

Even the transitional object with the pebble ended up doing more harm than good. And to think that Em thinks she works with ‘attachment disorders’ – it’s a fucking joke. Although, to even phrase it as a ‘disorder’ really shows the clinical and cold lens she views people with C-PTSD through. It’s pathologizing and demeaning suggesting that wanting to feel connected (perfectly reasonable human experience!) is a problem.

Leaving us stranded and isolated almost ‘outside’ the relationship massively triggers us and then more and more survival behaviours come out. No wonder we cling on tighter when we feel like we’re being abandoned or rejected or held at arm’s length. We have these ways of relating because of the developmental trauma we’ve experienced having often been abandoned by our mothers – that can be emotionally, physically, or sometimes both.

Wanting to be loved and cared for by an attachment figure isn’t mental or dysfunctional. In fact, I think it’s pretty amazing that even after so many relational setbacks, abandonments, and rejections that the part of us that wants to be loved still holds any kind of hope of that being possible at all. For a therapist to make us feel like we are ‘too much’ or ‘weird’ when we are trying to work on those most vulnerable and damaged parts is just the pits.

I would have loved to have brought stories into my work with Em but the one time I took a book in, ‘The Heart And The Bottle’, it was a total catastrophe and completely missed the mark. She sat and looked at the book on her own, in her chair, across the room, in silence and then said something like, “there’s some powerful images in this” but we never got discuss how it felt like the chair was empty when she was gone on breaks and how I felt like I had to protect my heart and not feel anything because otherwise I wouldn’t function. There was so much work that could have been done around that, but Em would never go there. She really didn’t like discussing what was going on between ‘us’ at all.

I remember in that session I ended up falling down the rabbit hole of doom in that and dissociated because Em just didn’t see me or my pain…actually, no, she did see it, she just chose to leave me drowning in it. As Em said, she was not prepared to ‘collude with the young part that wants holding’ and I was basically on my own – always.

Oh and then, of course there was the total shit show that happened just before we terminated when I gave her a copy of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ for Christmas…

Anyway, that’s over now, thank goodness … and I have a therapist that works with me, not against me. Phew!

The best thing about reading the stories with A that it’s just another part of the work that we do. It’s not a ‘big thing’ or out of the ordinary. It just is. She’ll sometimes ask if I want a story and usually has them out in the room when I arrive just in case that’s where the session takes us. There’s no drama. Those young parts that like and need stories are as welcome as any of the other parts of me in that room…and that’s a really nice place to be. I really love snuggling into A, looking at the pictures and listening to her read the words – when the young parts feel scared or anxious it really helps settle them but also allows them to talk too.

It’s taken 1500 words to get here…but finally…to the point! On this day (the Friday!) we had a new book that I had ordered. I had heard good things about it but never read it. It’s called ‘The Invisible String’ by Patrice Karst. Anyway, after all the talk about my dad’s death and my family,  I asked for the story and cuddled in beside A as she started to read.

The book is about two siblings who get scared in the night when a storm hits. They go rushing out to their mother to feel safe. The children wonder about how they can feel her when she’s not there or they’re in their room away from her. The mother gestures with her hands that they always have an invisible string linking them and when you tug on one end the other person feels it in their heart no matter where they are. The book goes on and the children ask where the invisible string works: under the sea, up a mountain, and even to heaven etc. It’s so lovely and really talks about how everybody is connected by the invisible string of love. It says that love is stronger than anger and so the strings are really strong… (well they’re meant to be!)

The message is so wonderful and so good for those of us working on attachment and object constancy who so often feel like our attachment figures don’t exist or are gone when we can’t see them. Anita asked me what I thought about the book. In the moment I had such mixed feelings. I was left, in part, with immense sadness and told her that I felt like I was holding a handful of severed strings (my family cutting me off, Em…) Anita was so lovely and said that she understood but that I also have so many wonderful strings connecting me, to my wife, kids, friends and that it was nothing I had ever done that led to those strings being severed.

I didn’t say anything for a while and just listened to Anita’s heartbeat and started to settle.

Anita then said, “They also reach heaven you know. It doesn’t stop. The love still continues.” And this was what those little parts needed to hear after Adult speaking about my dad for most of the session.

Then more silence.

I was battling inside with letting this next bit out. Even though I know Anita loves me and she tells me and demonstrates it all the time, there is still something incredibly vulnerable about asking someone how they feel rather than them freely telling you.

A little part whispered into her chest, “Do we have a string?”

Without a hint of hesitation Anita replied, “I definitely think we have a string.” And held me tighter into her chest.

And then the time was up. What a great phrase to end a session on… I mean obviously there was the small talk that happens at the end as I put my shoes back on and the hug as I leave – but the session itself ended on that.

When things feel shit and disconnected I am trying to remember that we do have an invisible string…and it’s helping a bit!

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

Dreaming About My Therapist #457 (Brain PLEASE Give Me A Break!)

This last couple of weeks I have had a really bad run of TERRIBLE ‘therapy dreams’. I bloody hate it when this happens. I have nightmares most nights but lately Anita has been making her way into them more and more. I find this particularly stressful. My therapy dreams are rarely warm and fuzzy (unlike my actual therapy sessions!) and instead throw up situations where I am left emotionally and physically abandoned or rejected by my therapist, Anita (or in the past, Em). There’s no denying it, these night time events are complete head fucks.

Over the years I have written a few blogs where I have talked about dreaming about my therapist/s. I think they’re Here and Here and Here and Here and Here (there are probably more!) These dreams are not ‘quick’ dreams. They’re usually really detailed and feel like I have done a full-on workout when I wake from them. Even now, dreams from years ago are still so vivid and etched into my memory as if they had really taken place in real life.

It’s not just the memory of these dreams that lingers for ages, the physical impact is utter shit too. I frequently wake up shaking and feel ‘off’ for such a long time afterwards. No matter how I ‘know’ these dreams aren’t real, and are just my fears playing out, my body – my nervous system- just doesn’t get the memo. I can really struggle for hours and sometimes days with the fall out of bad dreams and just as I think I have got myself together it’ll be a real-life therapy session and it’s like I am thrown back into it the moment I walk in the room.

The bonus of working with Anita over Em (and there are many!) is that at least when I have these scary, unsettling dreams I can usually tell Anita (or at least say I have had a nightmare with her in even if I can’t say what’s happened) and we can work it through and take steps to try and settle my system and get grounded together.

With Em I was always so worried about her thinking I was weird for even dreaming about her that I would just sit with these horrible feelings stirred up by a dream and then let them eat away at me. Week on week, I would arrive in the therapy room and seemingly get confirmation from her cool and distant behaviour to support the events in the dreams as being possible in real life and so I really struggled to let her know what was upsetting me for fear of something similar happening in reality…and let’s face it, the way the end of that therapy went was total nightmare material!

Yuck.

Anita soothes away my fears (even if they aren’t founded in reality!) and is patient with me when I am in a total mess. Thank god. I can feel so much shame and embarrassment about how badly I get affected by these dreams but at the same time, they are clearly messengers from my inner world. Lately, the dreams have all had a similar vibe, there’s often water (which I think is meant to symbolise emotion?!). I keep having the same one that takes place round the edge of a swimming pool where Anita will turn her back on me or completely ignore me. But then there’s also dreams in the room where A simply doesn’t ‘see’ me or ‘forgets’ about me – i.e mistakes me with someone else’s story or doesn’t remember my narrative.

The dreams that take place out in the wider world are crappy, but I especially hate the ones that happen in the room. One of my recent dreams was so upsetting that I really struggled to be in the room for my next ‘actual’ session. When I arrived, I found even walking to the door made me feel sick. Throughout that session I kept closing my eyes and opening them checking that everything was ok. OMG I sound insane! Even though Anita was brilliant there was this ongoing gnawing ache inside as the memory of the dream replayed over and over. Would I end up sat crying on her door step having run out the room?!

On Friday (just gone) I arrived at my session in a complete state after another horrible dream the night before where Anita had made me jump/pushed me off a high wall on a disused/derelict dockside (loads of rusting metal on the water’s edge) and into a murky pool of sea water that was churning about. She said she wouldn’t see me anymore if I didn’t push myself and be brave and said I needed to swim over to the other side of the river, and she’d meet me there. I really didn’t want to go in the water. It was already a cold, wet, grey day, and I knew it wasn’t safe to be venturing into this particular stretch of water.

Even though in real life I am a very strong swimmer, in this situation I was really struggling, and my head kept going beneath the surface. My mouth kept filling with this disgusting, toxic water, and I was pretty much drowning. Somehow, I managed to swim to the edge, where Anita was, and as I reached the muddy bank, exhausted, I asked for her help to get out the water having complied with what she’d asked of me. Instead of helping me, she looked at me with absolute disgust and contempt, took a step towards me and then pushed me down and held my head under the water to the point where I thought I was going to die. I managed to struggle free and as I got my head above water, she turned her back to me, and walked away.

Ugh.

Fuck.

It was so bad.

I woke up shaking and crying and it took a while to ground myself in my room.

So, when I arrived on Friday I wasn’t in an especially great place but figured it’d be ok – because as I have said a million times before Anita is not the person that turns up in my dreams. She couldn’t be more different! My nervous system doesn’t update quick enough, though. I sat down and told Anita that I didn’t feel great. I could feel myself shaking and felt like my nervous system was having a total meltdown. I felt sick and didn’t feel at all grounded and really just wanted to run away. I couldn’t even look at Anita.

Anita asked me if she could give me a cuddle, and even though that was exactly what I needed in that situation, because my system was almost in a flashback to the horrible dream, Anita just didn’t feel safe to quite a few parts of me and so I refused it. It was like each of my recent dreams was playing in my head and I felt really unsafe. But having refused the cuddle I also set off an additional shitstorm inside with the youngest parts who really really needed that holding.

Shit.

Don’t you just hate it when you can’t win for your system?

There were so many competing voices/feelings in that moment and when I’m distressed it’s so hard to navigate my way through it because my Adult isn’t really there.

Of course, Anita was her usual calm, understanding, soothing self and told me that she thought maybe a lot of this is coming up because we are approaching a break and that it really “wobbles” me.

Uh huh… of course a lot of this is tied to the upcoming break but man…what do I do about it?!!

I sat there and I felt like I was going to explode – but with tears not rage…and yet I really didn’t want to cry. I was so overwhelmed.

Anita asked gently, “Can you tell me what happened in the dream?”

All I could respond with was, “I don’t feel very good.”

“No, I can see that” replied Anita.

My heart was racing and my mouth was dry. I was in a complete panic. I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I didn’t want to be seen – part of me wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor. It was utterly horrendous.

Tentatively, Anita said, “Nothing has changed. In reality, nothing has changed. This room is the same, [dog] still barks!…”

I could feel myself smile a bit inside because yes, dog is the same! And that seemed to shift something just a little bit inside me. I guess it reorientated me to the space and the here and now rather than the hell of my dream.

“I just feel really shaky.” I whispered.

“Dreams can feel so real, as well, can’t they?” soothed Anita.

Like I said, Anita’s endless patience and understanding is so helpful to me. If I were in her situation, I’m sure I’d be thinking ‘for fuck’s sake, get over it…!’ But she isn’t like that at all. She never pushes me to a place that I can’t go. I don’t know how to explain it but often Em would leap in with both feet asking questions and often it would just overwhelm my system even more because I wasn’t ready to go there. I wasn’t grounded or safe, or…connected…and so would then hot foot it into dissociation.

“Can I have a hug, actually?” I asked. And the laugh is, this must in reality have been maybe two minutes since Anita offered me the hug I declined!

As usual Anita replied, “Of course, come here.” And as I cuddled into her, she said, “I am still the same. I haven’t changed.”

I tried to tune into her heartbeat and her steady breathing. I felt like I was holding myself tightly inside and even though I was cuddled into her it felt like I wasn’t connected, and this is absolutely terrifying for the child parts. Thankfully, it doesn’t take long to start to settle and by the end of a session I feel much better.

You’d think after all the good work we do together I wouldn’t get railroaded by my system now, but I actually think that because I feel safe with Anita my system just doesn’t know what the fuck to do with that. There’s also that part that is absolutely terrified of losing it/her now. I think, unfortunately, this stuff will happen over and over again until my system learns to relax and feel safe in this ‘new’ way of being and relating. It’s not comfortable but it is the work.

The other day I can’t even remember what was going on, but I remember asking Anita what she was thinking. I was so relaxed and settled (I had almost fallen asleep on her) and we had barely spoken – but it’s not awkward silence at all.  Sometimes it really takes a good twenty minutes for me to settle enough to get in touch with my words and I have learnt that it’s really important for me to feel safe and grounded before I attempt to talk about anything distressing, otherwise I’ll be out my window of tolerance in a flash (that’s if I was even in it to begin with!).

I had been so agitated and worked up in the days before seeing her (and had so many nightmares) that when I finally came out of that flight mode and grounded, I realised just how utterly bone tired I was.  Anyway, after getting me in the room safe I asked A what she was thinking, and she said that she had been thinking how really the only communication that my young parts understand is cuddles. She said it’s like babies, they really just need a few simple things: holding, feeding, smiles and cooing- but really it’s all in the holding and the co-regulation and that’s how she feels it is with me. Words don’t cut it/aren’t enough. But then of course so much of this stuff is so very young – it’s preverbal. It’s funny really, though, isn’t it? Because this is talk therapy and yet so much of the work we are doing right now is with the parts for whom there are no words.

My words come when those young parts are attended to and are soothed and settled. I can almost feel that tiny new-born baby that’s still inside me somewhere – who was left in the incubator for three days, having nearly died being born, left with no nurturing touch or breast feeding in those first 72 hours – now bundled up in a tiny ball asleep on Anita’s chest. Rather than being in a state of absolute terror she’s safe and then the words and narrative of experience and feelings come.

I could only find a GIF with a baby monkey…but hey, it works! 😉

Friday turned out to be quite a big session in the end. I didn’t end up talking about the dream where Anita drowned me because there’s been a lot coming up from my childhood this week with lots of violent and traumatic experiences leaping into the front of my mind.

I said how everything just feels so heavy at the moment. I am coming face to face with so much trauma that I have dissociated away in order to survive. I said that I feel a bit like one of those crazy dudes who goes on ‘World’s Strongest Man’ and tries to pull a truck behind them…only I have the truck hidden under Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak and so no one has any idea of what I am dragging along behind me.

We spoke a lot about different times and events where I have been really scared as a child, and how having my own kids is really shining a light on the difference between my experiences and theirs. Sometimes I feel so sad for all the ‘little mes’ seeing first-hand exactly what I didn’t have growing up. Anita often tells me how well I am doing (parenting) and how different an experience I am offering my children. I am still convinced that I am going to fuck my kids up, but I am trying so hard to give them a better emotional and physical experience than I had.

Tears kept coming on and off throughout the session. I feel like there is a damn about to burst before long but I guess I’ll face that when it happens.

Anita makes me feel like I am not a weirdo for being upset by things that have happened. In fact, she really makes me see and understand that what has happened wasn’t ok. It might have felt ‘normal’ but it’s not normal.

When she is so full of empathy and care for me, I can’t help but struggle inside. There’s always a part of me that wonders why Em, who knew sooooo much about me, could do what she did. It feels so cruel. And then of course my brain starts to panic. Surely, soon, I will end up reaching the point where I am too much for Anita, too.

It was getting near the end of the session and a little voice said, “Are you fed up with me?”

With so much feeling Anita replied, “My goodness no! That’s not going to happen, that’s really not going to happen. I’m not going to leave you. I’m really not. You’re not too much. I’m not fed up.” And she held me closer into her as I cried.

“I love you.” I murmured into her chest.

“I love you too. And I am not just saying that. I am not going to abandon you. I have no plans to. Nobody can be sure what the future holds but I have no intentions of it.”

And then it was time to go. I felt like I had run a marathon but in a good way. It’s hard facing the mother wound in all its goriness and delving into the trauma – not just working with the transference in the room.

I’d hoped that after that I’d have settled a bit inside but I think even though I left the session feeling calm and contained there’s just so much swirling about right now that it’s not surprising it’s all leaching into my dream world.

Last night, I had ANOTHER therapy dream. Again, we were having a session but this time high up in the roof of an old four-story building. It was like an attic space that had been renovated to create a huge open plan living room. The session was ok, easy enough, but also nothing came to mind to talk about so it was just chat, really. Then about ten minutes before the end Anita’s daughter walked in covered in paint and started discussing something about connecting a TV and laptop in the room. It was really random, but also super uncomfortable. Anita got up and moved away from me and became very engaged in the conversation with her daughter and so I got up to leave and then walked out.

As I reached the door Anita said, “Oh are, you going? Well, you seem ok, anyway, so I’ll see you next week.”

At that point, with my hand on the door the fog/dissociation that had been on me all session lifted and I remembered what had happened before I arrived. I replied, “Actually, I’m not ok my mum has just xyz [trauma stuff]”. A didn’t respond and continued talking with her daughter.

The memory that had just come to mind really upset me and leaving A like that felt awful, too. I ran down the stairs and noticed that on the middle landing the wall had been just painted with a first layer of paint covering a load of writing that I had done (on the walls!). There were loads of separate messages that Anita and I had never looked at and now wouldn’t be able to because you could hardly make them out.

I was really upset. For some reason I was soaked to the skin now (despite still being indoors) and needed to change but knew I had to leave. And so, I ran out the door, slamming it behind me and ran as fast as I could away. When I reached my car, it was my first car that I got when passing my test and when I looked down, I realised that I was my 17-year-old self. In the safety of my car I burst into tears.

I saw Anita leaving the building in a set of waterproofs. She saw me and gestured for me to stay where I was and that she was coming. I felt so deflated that I just broke down further.

And then I woke up.

And that’s the kind of fun times I am having right now even despite really connected sessions where I am held, or we read stories (which I will keep for a separate post as this is so long again). I mean it’s not rocket science to unpick what these dreams relate to, but I could just really do without my brain serving me up piles and piles of this emotionally draining, unsettling crap right now.

There’s a bank-holiday coming up next week and so a bit of a disruption to sessions and then Anita is off on a two-week break. She has more than earned a proper spell of time off. She hardly ever takes weeks off… like it’s May and she hasn’t had a break since that small bit over Easter and then, before that, Christmas. My adult can cope with all this, but I know the young parts are going into a panic about it!

I don’t really know what to say or do about it because really nothing is going to make it much better. I am just going to have to tough it out, I think. Maybe we’ll be able to do a slightly longer session before the break as I find those 75/90 minute sessions so much more containing. Ugh, I dunno.

I just hope I don’t get sucked into the doom zone tomorrow following this latest dream. It’s just too many one after the other right now. I wish my head would give me a break! I’m so so tired tonight that I just want to dissolve into nothingness…what do you reckon the chances of that are?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

My teen felt so wounded that I sent this:

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

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

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

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

I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.

Then the truth came out about Friday.

Anita was honest but…ouch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trauma.

Simple.

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

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

Ugh.

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

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

I’ll end there because this is already long.

God give us strength!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ummm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I wrote this:

Dear A,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A barely perceptible nod from me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway #AnitaRocks

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

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

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

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

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

I felt totally done in.

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

Anita sent me this one the other day 🙂

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

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

OH HELP!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final face-to-face session before lockdown…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never, probably.

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

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

THANK GOD FOR THIS THERAPIST!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’m shaking.’ I replied.

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

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

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

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

Man! I wished that, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No’ I replied.

‘Good!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Do you think I’m weird?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later that afternoon I sent a text to A:

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

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

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

Repairing The Rupture With A Beating Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind blowing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I sat there, motionless.

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

I nodded

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

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

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

‘This feels realty bad’ I murmured.

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

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

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

‘I feel stupid’ I moaned.

‘You’re not stupid!’

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

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

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

‘This is real.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I’m sorry I’m hard work’ I wailed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep.

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

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

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

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

‘What can smell like me?’ A wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Holding

After the previous incredibly holding, intense, vulnerable, and intimate session I felt a bit weird going to the see Anita on the Monday. Part (ALL) of me hoped that everything was going to be ok still, but parts of me wondered whether A might have regretted holding me and saying what she did. Maybe on reflection she’d find me too clingy, too needy, and want to take a step back from me. I was braced for rejection despite the fact that Anita had sent me a picture on Saturday morning of my baby elephant sitting with some monkeys to keep him company in her home.

The fact that she did this totally delighted the young parts. It feels like she really gets what those parts need to feel connected and accepted. It is such a stark contrast to the way Em worked that part of me feels like I have to pinch myself – is this even real? And whilst parts of me are trusting that the relationship with Anita is safe and genuine I still felt a bit nervous going back to the room because the idea of having that closeness taken away (for whatever reason) is just traumatising (which is why the online therapy is tanking so badly – I feel abandoned and rejected and whilst adult me understands, the young parts feel like they have done something wrong and that’s why she’s gone).

If I’m ever in doubt with how to start a session I can say that a well-used plan for me is start with small talk (ugh TIME WASTING! – so frustrating). It seems very adult but what I am coming to see is that its’ actually a ‘false’ adult who is trying to ‘appear’ normal and is actually a bit avoidant, maybe a protector of sorts, but definitely not proper adult self. This part turns up and fronts because it takes a while, sometimes, to land in the room and settle.

Whilst I was jabbering about the weekend, beneath the surface, the child parts were tentatively peeking out trying to work out how things stood: was last session a mistake? Does she regret coming close to me? Will that amazing sense of connection and holding be a one off?

The thing that is a nightmare about ‘false adult’ is that she can witter on for ages and not notice the time is going. She’s doing her job, keeping vulnerability at bay. Then I glanced at the clock and realised that we were already twenty-five minutes into the session. What??? The child parts freaked out. ‘Don’t let the session disappear – please don’t hide us again – we need her to see us and hold us’ – and I think in that moment I just stopped talking altogether. It’s hard to know because time is weird in therapy especially when you’re dissociated but I reckon I must’ve been silent for a minute.

Anita continued to talk to me – or the adult – and mentioned that I hadn’t had a holiday, I think linking into something about how I had said I was exhausted and burnt out. But by the time she said this adult was gone and I had no idea what she was talking about. I was just mentally crying about how far away she seemed.

The child parts were there frozen. I don’t think I was really breathing. I think it was in part caused by panic. Panic that maybe she was going to stay away, over the other side of the room in her chair, and all the shame around needing her to come close was running wild in my head. All the horrible stuff about being too needy and disgusting was starting to get louder and I felt desperately alone.

Anita noticed the shift in me, her tone changed, and she gently asked, ‘What are you thinking? What’s going on for you?… Is it too hard to say?’

I couldn’t speak. I just sat there silent. Frozen. Anita wondered aloud, ‘Does it feel distant between us at the moment again? Do you want me to come sit over there? I am quite happy to.’

I nodded. There was so much relief flooding in but the shame was crippling. Anita got up and came and sat beside me on the sofa but I couldn’t look at her. It’s such a horrible feeling wanting to be close to someone but not knowing if it’s ok. I mean, clearly, reading between the lines it is ok but parts of me are so expecting rejection that they literally need to be given a huge flashing green light.

‘I guess it feels hard to come to where we are, after last Friday?’

‘Thank god’, I thought, ‘she gets it’. Our relationship changed so much, so quickly in the last session that it was almost dizzying. I sat there silent and unmoving. A then told me she was feeling a bit coldy and I replied that I didn’t care. I probably sounded like a complete dickhead. I corrected myself, ‘I do care, but I don’t care about the cold’ A understood what I meant and offered me a hug. I didn’t need her to stay away because of a cold.

Like a heat-seeking missile I snuggled in tight to her again. In that moment I literally didn’t want to be anywhere else. Neither of us said anything for a few minutes and I just waited for my breathing to settle, listened to her heart beating, and let the child parts get what they needed. This holding feels so healing and containing, I can’t really even describe it. But there’s also a grief that comes up alongside it is really hard and it comes in waves. Like I have needed this for my entire life and yet it’s not until now that I am receiving it.

Suddenly my breathing felt erratic and I felt panic. The shame that is so present was just kicking my arse. I can’t help but think of Em when the lovely stuff is happening and just feel so sad that she just did not care for me at all. The contrast between A and Em is so vast it’s insane.

A gently spoke into the top of my hair/head, ‘I know’ she soothed. The part of me that was struggling replied, ‘You don’t know’ and to be honest I don’t think I even really knew what I was feeling but if I didn’t know then how could she? ‘Can you tell me?…Does it feel horrible being this vulnerable?’ A softly asked. ‘Are you feeling very small?’

The child part whispered, ‘I didn’t think you’d still like me’. Anita’s body shifted slightly and she took in a shocked breath and held me tighter to her body, ‘Oh my goodness. I don’t just like you, I really love you. There’s nothing about you not to like. Not that I have seen. I know sometimes it can be hard to believe that – there’s lots of parts of you that are scared and feel unlovable but that’s because they haven’t been loved by the right people. I love them. All of them. Even the ones that want to kick off and stamp.’

Miserably, I replied ‘That’s not what my head says’ and A tried to reassure me, ‘I know. I know. And I don’t know how to make those parts believe me but I think it’s probably just got to be time and me showing you that it’s ok. Is there anything I can do to help build that trust?’

I shook my head. A said that it’s just going to take time and that’s ok with her, she’s not going anywhere.

A young part told her that ‘it’s silly’ (needing this). Anita replied, ‘It’s not silly. I guess it’s the different parts of you isn’t it? The child parts might really enjoy it but the adult part is like ‘why do I feel like this?’ but it’s the young parts that really need it – they were so neglected of it and that’s why it’s not silly. And it might feel alien but nice at the same time. Does that make sense? There’s so many different types of love aren’t there? And nurturing love – we all need it.’

A held me close and rubbed my back, I held her hand with one hand and hugged her with my other hand, there’s something really young, like a baby or toddler, when it’s like this. It reminds me of when my kids were little and they just want every inch of themselves to be touching. God it’s cringey isn’t it?! We didn’t say anything for a minute or two but it was starting to get louder in my head.

Then I said, ‘I wish my brain would shut up’. I was really battling with the inner critic who was trying to pull the entire thing apart, ‘A is a liar. She’s doesn’t care. She’ll see me in the same way Em did. I am too much’ etc etc etc. It was pure agony.

‘What’s it saying?’ questioned A gently, ‘My guess is that “this isn’t ok”. But it is.’

And then the saddest, little voice said, ‘I don’t want you to think I’m like a tick.’

And there it was. Right there. The damage. The pain. The excruciating feelings of rejection and abandonment. It was so raw. I just wanted to die coming in touch with those feelings so acutely. I buried my face deeper into A’s chest and held on tight.

Again A’s shifted, almost jolted, shocked, I could feel the response in her body and hear the sadness in her voice as she emphatically tried to reassure me, ‘Oh my god I don’t! Far from it!’ She let out a big exhale and then said, ‘I choose to give to you. That’s my choice. You don’t take from me. I give. A tick takes. You don’t! You didn’t ask me to come over here. I could still be sat in that chair over there. I want to give. Because you are worth it. Because I love you. It’s completely different to a tick.’

To have her so clearly refute what I was saying/worrying about and tell me how she felt was exactly what I needed. I can think of times when I might have said something to Em that felt painful, like the time I was struggling with wondering how she felt about me and it took me weeks to say, ‘I don’t even know if you like me’ and she stayed silent – or other times when I’d express something similar and she’d reply with something like, ‘what makes you think that?’ or some other thing that is designed to make you squirm in your own agony. And sometimes that’s fine but sometimes you just need to be love bombed…that’s where the healing is….well, for me at least!

I continued on, ‘It’s such a horrible thing to say.’ (Em calling me a tick)

Anita agreed, ‘Yeah. I can’t believe she said that to you. And the thing is, it shouts doesn’t it? It’s not you can forget about it. It really stuck. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to say. And so abusive. And you’re not like a tick. You’re really not. My guess is she’s so closed she doesn’t know how to give.’

I started to cry, ‘she never let me anywhere near her – which is why it seems such a really unfair thing to say’. I felt so sad. The grief was huge but I felt safe with A expressing it. She was holding me close and it allowed me to really feel the pain in a way that I haven’t really been able to before now, in the room. When I’ve been sitting across from Anita and talking about Em I have still held myself together and so haven’t really been able to get deep down to the deep pain that I feel about what happened.

A told me that she thinks that it’s strange that Em is in the profession she’s in given how little she gives of herself and that what she did was horrible. And what happened is not because there’s something wrong with me but instead that she let me down. It was not my fault.

Anita has an amazing way of speaking to the little parts and I felt so understood that I started sobbing, ‘I just don’t get it. I would get it if you said it to me’ (because I have so much access to her and check in with her most days via text and could understand if she felt bombarded or like I just never let go like a parasite)

A replied, ‘I’m not going to say it!’

We argued back and forth a bit:

RB: But it would make sense!

A: No it wouldn’t!

RB: Yes it would!

A: No it wouldn’t!

RB: It would!!

Anita changed tack then and said, ‘I think this is the hardest thing. It’s the child parts in you. Children think it’s all about them because that’s how children think. But it’s not about you. It’s her. And I know that’s really hard to believe. I would never say that. I’m not perfect. I have different flaws to her. She just doesn’t know how to give it.’

I told her that it wasn’t just that, but that I worry that it’s in some way wrong (this level of holding). I think because touch in therapy has been such a sore area for me with Em and she basically wasn’t even open to discussing it, I now feel like I am in some way wrong for wanting it or needing it. It’s also such a contentious area with therapists too – I mean how many of you have googled ‘touch in therapy’ or ‘will my therapist hug me?’ when this attachment stuff starts kicking off. The internet tends not to come up in favour of ‘touch’ which is weird really given how much we are now learning about somatic responses and child development.

Some sites/therapists are totally anti touch and say it’s dangerous and god knows what else, others are somewhere in the middle and will maybe give the occasional hug at the end, and then there’s the rare few that aren’t scared by it and see how beneficial it can be for particular clients. In our first session we discussed touch and she was clear then that it’s always guided by the client and their need but that for some people it makes a huge difference. She assured me that it’s not wrong to want this touch and that it’s completely fine to ask for hugs. Honestly it’s like a lottery win!

That seemed to settle the young parts who then went off on a tangent, you know how kids do, ‘oh my knee isn’t bleeding anymore… can we get doughnuts?’ and decided to ask A what her flaws were, which she told me, and then I asked her star sign (which I had already guessed) and we had a chat about our signs and how they match our personalities. It felt really nice and a departure from the emotional marathon that had just gone before.

I’ve said a few times, now, about how the young parts are more able to communicate with A when we are physically close to her. I think part of it is that I feel physically safe and contained. Another part of it is that when I am snuggled into her, I can’t see her face and she can’t see mine, and so it kind of offers more of an opportunity to say things that feel embarrassing. Anita can feel me but she can’t see me and this gives those parts that fear being seen and judged negatively chance to talk. Like in our rupture repair sessions (that I haven’t written about yet) I was able to tell her I’d like something as a transitional object that smells like her!! (CAN YOU IMAGINE ME SAYING THAT FACE TO FACE?!?!?)

Anyway, it was coming to the end of the session and Anita asked me how I was feeling. Just like in the last session she told me that she feels like she could hold me all day and felt like I need a lot of holding. I replied, ‘I feel safe with you. I can’t just come here for cuddles though’. Inside my child parts were screaming ‘why did you just say that???! We’ve just started to get what we need and your saying you don’t need it!’

Thankfully, A can see through my shit now and came back with, ‘But I believe that you have to do what feels right. It feels like at the moment we’re just reassuring and being safe which is what needs to be there for the rest of the stuff to come out. It doesn’t feel like we’re not doing anything in the cuddling. Does that make sense? It’s important for you to feel this safety and to feel that I can hold you and that’s what I am doing. And it’s what you need. You didn’t have enough of this ever’ then I felt something on the top of my head. ‘Did you just kiss my head?’ I wondered out loud as I turned to look at her. ‘I did’ she smiled.

It felt so great. So, so great. I got up and told her that I didn’t want to leave, she hugged me again and said ‘I know. And remember, I wanted to give it to you. You didn’t take. There’s a huge difference.’

And I left that session feeling amazing. Emotionally wiped out but also like some really healing work had been done. I am not a tick…but my friend has jokingly called me a baby monkey after these sessions!

I know I am like a broken record here but when work like that happens with the youngest most hurt parts it’s no wonder that online now feels so hideous. Try as we might those parts just can’t get what we need on a screen.

Humph!