holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
Argh – so I began writing this on the 17th October…and then…well… time evaporated again and it’s now midway through November and it’s just been festering in the hard drive like so many other blog posts I’ve started over the last year or so. So much for the idea of being able to find the time to post more ‘regularly’! – Ah well, rewind a bit and I’ll take you back to the first session post two-week therapy break!
So, this morning I felt a bit out of sorts as I drove towards therapy. No bloody surprises there! It was the first session back after the break and here I was, again, nursing those horrible feelings of isolation and disconnect that I am so familiar with. I guess, it was self-imposed, forged out of panic. My system so massively fears the potential of there being a true isolation and disconnect enacted by Anita (which essentially amounts to an abandonment) that I get in there first. It’s a protective withdrawal on my part. If my system checks out first, it beats Anita to it, and therefore, she can’t hurt me. Only…my being distant ‘first’ does hurt me…so how is that any better?!
Of course, it’s not better, ESPECIALLY when Anita ISN’T trying to be disconnected or distant -far from it. She wants to be there for me and to connect. But when will I stop reacting from a place of fear whenever we come back from a break? Not today, it seems. Sadly, that anxiety spring is coiled tightly in my nervous system and it’s taking a long long long LOOONNNGGG time to convince my system that in the here and now things are ok, and that Anita is not going to repeat the relational pattern I have come to expect.
I am so shit at this (therapy/relationship) game of snakes and ladders, aren’t I? Honestly, I really messed up when the rules of life and relationships were being explained to me. I must have been napping at some of the crucial junctures because I keep hitting the same pitfalls over and over again. More often than not, I roll the dice I land on a snake and go sliding on my arse back to the beginning again. The thing is, I don’t think this is all my fault – I am trying so hard to navigate the board, to make it so that I go up ladders, make positive forward movement and dodge the snakes…but it just doesn’t always work out.
I think, perhaps, the problem came from the fact that relationship rules were explained to me by people who also didn’t understand how to play the game (my family) – and yet, because we all followed the same ‘made up rules’ it wasn’t apparent there was anything wrong until I ventured out into the world and tried to play the game with other people and they were like, “This isn’t how to play the game!” So, in order to make it through life and relationships, I’ve found some work arounds – paid attention to how it’s meant to be done. I continue on in the game but not, always, in the usual way, I don’t think – especially when there’s been a break.
I trusted that Em knew how the game worked, but it turns out that she, too, had some random, off brand, version of the rules and so that was really fucking confusing for me because I tried to play the game her way but it wasn’t right. Anyway… that’s a fucking bizarre metaphor that’s run out of legs…sorry!
I arrived a bit early to Anita’s and sat in the car scrolling through my phone – trying to settle the parts that were having a bad time, panicking that it wouldn’t be ok when I went in, fearing that something might have changed, and dreading a rupture because the parts were not in a good place. I had elephant ready in my bag to take in, but there was a part that was baulking against taking it to the session. I knew, however, that if I left elephant in the car there would be zero chance I would let the young parts out. Even if elephant stays in the bag in the therapy room it’s very clear it’s in there and if Anita has eyes (reader- she does) then she’ll know young parts are at least somewhere in the vicinity and hopefully will be able to reach through protective barriers and to the parts that so need reassurance and reconnection.
As I walked up the drive, I felt a bit checked out, on that path towards dissociation but not quite fully there. I was kind of apathetic and “What’s the point?” You know – disgruntled teen. Anita opened the door and smiled at me and asked me how I was, “tired” I replied flatly. That is my go to…because I am ALWAYS tired but also it’s just how it is: no energy, done in, running on empty. I wandered into the room and sat down on the couch. From what I could see, everything was still the same, my story books were out on the side, Anita sat on the couch beside me, there wasn’t anything ‘obviously’ different. I had no idea how it was going to be, though. I felt a bit overwhelmed and was all set for false adult to dive in and take the session and then for the teen to shut it all down at some point, but the moment I sat down A said, “I’ve got something for you from my trip” and handed me a little fabric bag with a chocolate lolly attached to it.
I was not expecting that. At all.
I said, “thank you” and put it to one side without looking in the bag and immediately asked for a cuddle. Whilst I was intrigued to see what was in the bag, I was more desperate to physically reconnect with A after the break. That couple of seconds together, to hear she’d thought of me on her trip, took a sledgehammer to my apathetic self and the young parts just wanted to be as close to her as possible (Cringe!).
I’m not a big fan of Autumn and Winter (I’m actually really struggling with SAD this year really badly -it’s either that or a colossal whack of post-viral fatigue) but the one positive about the changing season is that the temperature has really dropped these last few weeks and so there was no fear about it being ‘too hot’ to touch (hug) which is what happened over the summer and triggered the young parts…
The young parts immediately relaxed into being with her. It felt so nice to snuggle into her warm body, to be back in that familiar safe space, to hear her heartbeat, to breathe in her comforting smell of fresh washed clothing and clean hair (look don’t judge – you know how it is!). All the armour was off, everything I had been holding for the last few weeks could be put down, and I could just rest for an hour. So, that’s how it was for the entirety of the session – I just cuddled into Anita and it was exactly what I had needed.
We chatted about all sorts of stuff: her holiday, my being very ill, an episode with a wetsuit, my delinquent puppy and menace of a kitten, random life stuff – it was just really nice and connected. We laughed a lot. Anita asked me midway through if I wanted to look at what she’d given me and said that it wasn’t much, but she’d thought of me. Even half an hour in I just didn’t want to move from the safety of her arms. I guess after the separation I felt like I needed a huge top up of touch. I told A that I didn’t want to let her go and didn’t want to move, which I would have had to do to get the bag, and she held me tightly to her and instead told me about the pebble and shell that she’d found on the beaches whilst on her holiday and that she’d brought home for me. When the pebble is wet it sparkles from the quartz that is dotted on it.
She said that she’d been walking, the tide had just gone out, so the pebble was wet, and it had shone out on the beach reflecting in the sun. Knowing I collect pebbles (I had given her one that I had found for her from my favourite beach recently) she picked it for me. Then she told me about a beach she had been on that was completely made of shells and had picked one for me too. She also collects pebbles and shells and so it’s something we connect with. It’s a fucking world away from pebblegate with Em, that’s for sure!
I can’t really explain how cared for I felt in that moment with Anita but it felt healing. During the week before the session, she’d sent me a video of where she’d been, and then to know she’d consciously been thinking of me when I was out of sight (and I feared ‘out of mind’) was really, I dunno, special? I so often believe I am forgettable, unlovable, and frankly just not very important and yet here was really clear evidence (again) that that wasn’t the case at all. It was so nice because I have been wobbling such a lot over recent months on and off – almost creating a narrative that Anita wasn’t interested in me anymore – and yet here was a clear demonstration that Anita, the Anita I have built a relationship with over nearly three years, really is still there – invested – and she really cares.
I know that the doubting and the anxiety and the protectors are all there on loop. And whilst it is sometimes (always!) frustrating that despite doing this steady reparative work for so long, I still get plunged into the hell zone because of the attachment trauma, I guess there’s another part of me that can see that my panic and fear of abandonment can be heard, seen, and metabolised with Anita. I don’t have to live in fear of even telling her what’s going on for me (like I did with Em…WTAF was I doing in that therapy?!). Now, lots of the time my system is settled. Being with Anita is lovely, we do the work, her presence and care is so regulating for my system – there are plenty of ladders. But when stuff is triggered and awful and painful and I am sliding my ass down the snakes, there’s something really comforting in knowing that no matter how bad it might feel in the moment, A isn’t going anywhere. She tells me this often enough. And enough of me must believe it to have to meltdowns and throw ALL MY crazy into the ring.
In one of our very first sessions together we talked about the importance of building strong foundations so that we could weather whatever storms came our way – and we have done just that. The number of times I wanted to tell Em how I was feeling, to be able to express the most vulnerable parts of myself to her but got choked and dissociated was just hideous. It’s so different with A.
Towards the end of the session, with about ten minutes to go, and after a few minutes of calm silence, a young part quietly murmured, “I missed you” into Anita’s chest. She responded with, “I know.” Part of me baulked at this and that perfect peace was fractured. To at least some part of me it felt, I don’t know, dismissive somehow. I guess, it’s that thing about having unrequited feelings; fearing that my feelings are too big, too much, not reciprocated in any way. There I was being vulnerable and rather than replying with “I missed you too” which is what Anita has said a million times before, she came back with that. Had something changed? It was literally a split-second reaction in me – but it really goes to show how instantly the system can be triggered despite all the evidence to the contrary. The next words out of Anita’s mouth, literally continuing on the sentence were, “I’m back now. I still love you and still care about you…very much…I really, really do.” And with that the panic that flared up dispersed and everything was ok. BUT MAN…what a reminder of the work there is to do.
Of course, there’s been nearly a month since this first session back…and it wouldn’t be me if it had been plain sailing – lol – but it’s been ok. More than ok. There’s been lots of attending to the young parts through reading stories, plenty of hugs, and plenty of connected silence where nothing needs to be said because so much is ‘felt’. I’ve been so used to excruciating, dissociated, painful silences in therapy over the years but I have to say, I love that quiet, connected, safe silence where there are no words needed, when it’s just calm and safe. And frankly it’s good that we are in this sort of semi-rest phase because I have nothing at the moment. I am running on fumes.
Of course, there’s just one bloody problem – and the irony isn’t lost on me! – It’s going well, it’s safe, connected, and loving but MY FUCKING GOD it’s SOOOOOOOOOO hard to leave A and be thrown back into the real world to face the relentlessness of life. I am on hyperdrive in my day-to-day life and I am really on the edge of burnout after being so poorly and so of course the young parts are activated in the week and are yearning for that safe, holding space with A more than ever. Yikes! I really really need it to be Friday.
I hope you’re all hanging on in there. Yet another ‘brief’ 2500 word update! So concise 😉
I mean, the title of this post says it all really? Pre-warning this post ends up nearly 7000 words so you might be just as well making your own inference from the title!
It’s been a long while since I have written anything about the day-to-day of my therapy and that’s partly because I’ve been so busy with just ‘getting through’ my days that I haven’t really had time to type, and also because Anita and I are navigating the rupture from hell and I wanted to be out the other side of it before I wrote anything. The thing is, it’s been almost six weeks now, and it’s still dire and so I think I need to put something down for my own sanity as much as anything as it’s all kind of blurring into one long disaster and the chronology is skewing in my head.
It feels like there’s just been an awful chain of cumulative events that have totally derailed the therapy and I am really all over the shop right now– I couldn’t even get out the car yesterday for half an hour to go to my session because I was frozen and kept dissociating…that’s how bad it’s felt. Part of me (thank goodness) feels like things will work out in the end because the feelings haven’t changed between Anita and I, but right now I’m having a hard time navigating everything that has happened and the changes in the way we do therapy because it’s sending shockwaves through my system and the child parts are terrified.
I guess I should go back where I left off when I was on holiday. My kids had COVID just before we went away which meant some online sessions which are always tough but I had managed a face to face before I flew off on my trip. My holiday was amazing, and much needed. Anita and I had a couple of exchanges – basically I sent her some photos of the sun – and everything was pretty ok until I got home to the UK on the Friday. That’s when the longing of the young parts kicked in full force. I was sooooo ready to see A after what had felt like weeks of not being able to get what I really needed and I really just wanted to go and reconnect and have a massive cuddle. It was going to be a lumpy period of time going forward, too, because I had just one session before Anita was due to be away for a week herself and so it felt really important to have that one session and to reconnect before yet another disconnection.
I sent Anita a message on the Sunday outlining where I was at. I had this sort of sick feeling as the day went on but hoped it was just anxiety and that everything would be ok when we got to see each other in person. Unfortunately, as the universe would have it, that session didn’t go ahead. Anita was away with her partner and got a flat tyre where he lives which meant she couldn’t come back home. It was going to be challenge enough sorting the tyre and still getting across country for the ferry. I was so disappointed when I received Anita’s message but could see how annoyed she was too, and it clearly wasn’t deliberate, just one of those things, but my goodness, the disappointment I felt was massive. It was clear, too, that she had literally been coming back for me that day when she could have stayed put so part of me felt heartened by the fact she did want to come, just couldn’t.
Anyway, no surprises that the online session was a car crash. I tried really hard to stay present and adult but it just fell to pieces. I was sad and disappointed. I had given her my elephant to wash when I went on holiday so it could be ready for when I saw her and before she went away. Obviously, that didn’t happen and so my go to transitional object was not where I needed it to be and that set the child parts off even more. After that session I text Anita to apologise for giving her a hard time and said I understood what had happened, but it was just difficult and that I missed her. I rounded off the message by asking for stories and cuddles when we got back.
The week whilst she was gone led to an escalation of panic inside. The child parts felt so untethered, ungrounded and try as I might to soothe them it just didn’t really work. I was due to see A on the Tuesday as wasn’t due back on the Monday until after our session. Of course, I was more than ready to see her. She’d text me to tell me that she was looking forward to seeing me and I felt huge relief about being able to go in and just unpack how hard the last month had been. Disruption is so hard for my young parts, separation is painful…
On the Monday evening I was really aware of how bloody sore that mother wound had got. It felt like I was bleeding out tbh. I text Anita and asked if over the next couple of weeks we could do some slightly longer sessions because things felt so wobbly and I needed space and time to settle and reconnect.
Probably once or twice a month Anita I have 75 minute sessions and I have written before about how helpful these can be, especially when stuff feels shaky as it gives time to settle into the space, ground, and then let stuff out and then give it time to be repacked safely.
Anita didn’t reply.
WARNING bells started ringing but I tried to put them to one side.
I was nervous as I walked up the driveway for the session but figured if I could just get in the room and the protectors would stay offline then the child parts could get what they so badly needed and things would start to recalibrate inside.
I walked into the room and our story books and elephant were not in the room.
Instantly I froze and the protectors went live. I basically shut down. I couldn’t even look at Anita.
It felt like Anita hadn’t kept the child parts in mind and it triggered the fuck out of me. I mean it was REALLY BAD. Having had so much separation and disruption, already, it just seemed to confirm that fear that the young parts have of being forgotten about, or not kept in mind, or generally just not being very important.
The session was uncomfortable because I couldn’t really speak – I just felt so little and lost – and Anita seemed to be unable to join the dots. She reassured me that we were ok, and that nothing had changed but to be honest it felt like we were on different planets. It felt like she was phoning it in and not really ‘there’. Of course, it’s difficult to tell when I’m in that state because everything feels bad and listening back it was nowhere near a terrible as it felt. She asked me what I felt was different because from her side nothing was and that she still loves and cares about me – but when you feel little and abandoned it’s hard to say, “Where is elephant and why aren’t the books here and I missed you and I need a cuddle and and and…?” It’s so fucking cringe.
I know she offered me hugs early on, but I refused them. I so badly wanted to be able to bridge the gap, but the protectors just weren’t allowing it. About half-way through the miserable silence and Anita asked again what was up, I was able to reply, “It doesn’t feel safe.” And she asked, “What can I do to make it feel safer? What do you need?…I really am here for you no matter what…” but that was met with more silence. I just needed her to physically reach out to me which I know is impossible for her to do if I have told her I don’t want a hug. (I do want a hug!)
Later she wondered it I felt like maybe I thought she didn’t care, and asked me what gave me the impression that she didn’t care. I was so far gone and wedged into that dark pit of doom that I just couldn’t get out, I couldn’t tell her why I was so upset and the longer it went on the worse it got.
Anita said something about how she knows my system is programmed to think “it’s dangerous to have time and distance” because of what’s happened to me in the past, but that separation doesn’t have to me that everything has gone wrong. She told me, “I am here, and I really want to be closer but you’re not letting me.” After a little while a tiny voice whispered, “It feels like you’ve forgotten about me.” Anita emphatically told me she hadn’t but of course all I could see was the evidence – elephant wasn’t there, and neither were the books and so in the eyes of the child parts they were out of mind and that is AGONY.
I felt so overwhelmed that I got off the sofa and sat curled up in a ball on the floor. I couldn’t bear to be seen and just sat there trembling with my face on my knees. It was fucking awful. Anita shuffled herself across the sofa and put her hands on my back in a kind of hug and kept rubbing my back. Physical reconnection is so important after a big break to let the young parts know they are still welcome, and I really needed that touch. I just wish that we had hugged on the doorstep when I arrived because that would have gone some way to reminding the parts that she is still her and I am still me and so forgetting things doesn’t mean the love and care has gone…but then of course child parts don’t see grey. It’s black and white. And any hint of retreat on the part of the other signals imminent abandonment and rejection and so we are doomed!
I left the session feeling desperately sad and activated. In the past I would have written, got it down in words and filtered whatever was coming up through the adult but it felt really important to honour what was coming up for the young parts and so I did something different. I got out some crayons and let the young parts draw and express themselves. I used my non-dominant hand…which was weird, but actually really freeing. I am not good at art, anyway, so it really did look like a four-year-old had been let loose with the Crayola but that was the whole point, it wasn’t meant to be polished it was the actual feelings in the moment. And once I got going it all came.
I was in two minds what to do with them. Part of me wanted Anita to see them and part of me felt ashamed and embarrassed. However, I felt it was important that this ‘voice’ wasn’t hidden away because it was the true vulnerable stuff. So I sent them and WHOA NELLY the shit then hit the fucking fan – deep breaths for a RB meltdown!:
Crikey that felt so massive at the time. It felt like I triggered Anita into defensive parent, an almost “look what I do for you and it’s never enough” when actually I think what she was trying to do was reassure me and prove to me that she shows her commitment in so many ways. It was just terrible timing, though. I shared the most vulnerable stuff with her and suddenly money and time boundaries we coming into play. I felt like I had showed her how hurt I was and she was now taking stuff away. Jeez. It really set the cat amongst the pigeons.
After a lot of back-and-forth things settled but I felt like I’d been on the emotional waltzers – I bet you guys do too having seen it in all its glory!
Somehow, I regained my equilibrium after that (I have to say having K on my team has really helped buffer this stuff and give me space to process it a bit outside the immediate triggering situation) and the next session was largely adult – I talked about all sorts of things, I was settled enough, felt safe enough, and then with twenty minutes to go I leapt in and talked about what had happened that last session and how it had impacted me. Anita was really understanding and apologised for not having my stuff in the room and wanted me to know it’s not because she doesn’t care it’s just sometimes she forgets and it’s not intentional.
So what’s going on then? Why has everything just flipped on its axis? It turns out Anita is stretched to her limit and has basically had to rein everything in so that she doesn’t burn out.
Oh great. Here we go.
Timing is everything and coming off the back of a holiday and disruption the last thing I needed was a shift in the frame and boundaries.
Part of protecting herself from burnout is changing how she works…which is bad news for me. Adult me gets that people’s lives don’t stay the same and things change – I mean look at my life over the last two years – but it’s felt so fucking hard having my therapy impacted through no fault of my own. Stuff in Anita’s life has got harder and in order to manage that, it’s my therapy and time with her that suffers (well not just that, but you know what I mean). She’s told me that she’s tried really hard to not let what’s happening impact me and tried to keep things the same as I am so impacted by change but she has to make changes or she’ll be no good to anyone.
The child part keeps looping round to “What have I done wrong?” and has asked her several times because the extra time being taken off the table and the outside contact seemingly being reduced too…well it feels punishing. And no surprises it has a huge impact on how safe I feel in the relationship. Things have escalated into a total shitshow when they previously wouldn’t have because I have stopped reaching out for fear of being ‘too much’ or not getting a reply when I need it. It’s basically a recipe for disaster.
Case in point was recently I had a fucking awful dream about Anita- and usually I would have reached out at the time, and she would have responded with something caring or holding and it would have put it to rest until the next session when we could look at it together. This time, instead of letting her know about it, I held onto it, and it just festered and snowballed as the week went on. Then that same week Anita text me midweek to tell me she was having to cancel a session the following week but might be able to rearrange and would let me know the next day…but she didn’t let me know and so I felt panicked and stressed and forgotten about and abandoned….and that was another straw on the camel’s back…nearly at breaking point.
The dream was hideous, and it doesn’t take all that imagination to see what it was about:
I was due to go to my session and when I arrived Anita was already sitting in the room. She was sitting on the sofa, but it had been cut in half, and the part that I sit on had been removed from the room and instead replaced with a desk/workstation. I looked at Anita and her face had no expression (like still face experiment). It was like her body was there, but she was absent. I felt instantly sick. I said, “you’ve changed it” and she swore blind that she hadn’t and “nothing was different”. I pointed at the desk and said “you’ve made it so we can’t sit together, and I can’t be close to you anymore”. And she denied it again. I walked out crying knowing that I wouldn’t see her again.
I woke up trembling and shaking on the Monday morning and it niggled away at me for the rest of the week. By the time I arrived at the session I was done in. It never used to be like this and it’s really taking its toll.
And so we go on and on and on in this messy spiral.
I will get my head round it eventually but right now it’s like I have had the rug pulled from under my feet. I feel like I have been cast adrift. I feel like I am questioning the relationship because if I really ‘mattered’ she’d find the time for me, wouldn’t she? And then of course it all comes back round to the fact that I am work, a client, and she can switch off from me whenever she chooses, and I don’t have any power in the relationship other than to leave. It’s that kicker of a reality check that really gives the critic and protectors power. They will burn the house down.
Part of what’s really hard is that the changes in Anita and I work have not been discussed or mutually agreed, they’ve been imposed by her/done to me. And this triggers back into what it was like as a child. I either went along with what was happening or I lost out altogether. I feel desperately sad that the therapy that felt so containing and holding now feels threatening to my system. Suddenly I want more than Anita can give, but my needs haven’t changed, I am not asking for more – it’s her capacity that’s changed…and that’s really hard…I am trying to get adult on board but it’s tough when all the child parts have been triggered and trust feels wobbly.
And yet, deep down, I really do know Anita cares about me and loves me. None of what she has done is meant to hurt me. There isn’t anything fundamentally wrong between us. She isn’t pulling back because of me or because I am too much, but it’s so hard to accept that because that’s how I am experiencing it. It may not be me that’s causing her to retreat, but it is still a retreat, and I am still feeling the impact of it. And no amount of her explaining she has to rejig to be able to work safely is cutting it, because little me feels like mummy has decided that little girl is able to cope alone and that her needs don’t warrant attention anymore…ouch.
And basically, we’re right back in the thick of the mother wound where I had to be an adult too soon. And yes, I get I AM AN ADULT but this inner child work is such delicate work and I feel like it’s hit the skids in a big way. It’s no surprise that I am dreaming of careering down hills and my brakes not working. Argh.
Of course, I still have my two sessions a week. I can still text Anita and she does reply most of the time (just not in the way she used to). We still get to cuddle. She still reads stories. She is still Anita. In so many ways nothing has changed and yet internally EVERYTHING has been blown up. There feels like there is no space for me now. Like what if I need her, or an extra session? That’s not available and so that makes it feel unsafe and uncontained…even though I don’t need an extra session right now!
I am trying to tell myself and remind myself all the ways that things are still ok. How committed A is. BUT those teens and the inner critic can be so vocal can’t they? And it’s hard. Sometimes all I can do is take a step back and go…’but look how much you still get, look how much you NEVER got with Em, and do you really think there’s anyone who would go even halfway towards what Anita gives you?’ and when I do this I realise that actually I am so fucking lucky. I’m lucky that Anita is dug in deep too and can hear me losing my shit and accept it and apologise for her part in some things and keep showing up for me, like we are in the trenches but we’re not admitting defeat.
After the episode (meltdown) with the young parts’ drawings and elephant not being in the room Anita has had the books out in every session. She was so sorry that the little parts had felt disregarded and assured me that it was NEVER her intention and that there was no message or change to be read in her forgetting. So, I try and let that filter in. I do feel her authenticity and humanness – she is not perfect – and I guess this is another lesson to the littles that idealise her. Actually, she’s just like the rest of us – flawed – and she regularly says this herself. But she’s better than anything I have experienced previously, she is a better therapist than Em and she is more nurturing and available than my mum!
It was my birthday recently and she remembered, and not only remembered but bought me a present – a soft toy…a soft toy that I had sent her a picture of last year and said how much I wanted one because they are soooo soft and she wrote me a lovely card, too…unlike my mum who didn’t even send me a card.
Like this woman cares A LOT. She listens and she takes me, all of me, in. I feel it, I see it, and yet because the relationship is so deep and intimate now it touches on every sore bit I have when things shift and change. In fact, I text her after another disaster session yesterday and said, “I love you, but it would be so much easier if I didn’t.” I get that this is part of the work. It’s where I am at right now. We’re dealing with all the triggers and all the landmines, and I need to learn that change doesn’t signal disaster but my god it’s sending me through the crazy mill!
I absolutely love my squishmallow. I love Anita. And yet, hardly any time after my birthday just before Mother’s Day… I got up and walked out of a session … as you do. Talk about yo-yoing! It was another intolerable situation I found myself in. I had got myself worked up about that dream about the sofa, how I didn’t feel like Anita was ‘there for me’ anymore and then the thing about not letting me know if I could see her when she said she would had left me in a state because it felt like she just doesn’t get how impacted I am by disruption. It turned out she could reschedule but ahhhhhhh by the time I found that out it was too late – I was full blown shut down!…
AND YES I DO SEE HOW NIT-PICKY IT’S BECOME but this is what happens.
Trigger after trigger after trigger sees us going mental with the hypervigilance and every small thing becomes fucking massive. I know it, and yet, it’s so hard to step out of it when we’re so far out the window of tolerance – which in my case is painfully thin like a letterbox even at the best of times! I feel like I need some space to just settle and breathe and yet we keep hitting landmines. Yesterday Anita said, “it feels like one disaster after another with us at the moment, doesn’t it?” before enveloping me in a tight hug that was so very needed. The fact it had taken me half an hour to be able to get out the car because I felt so upset about a lack of acknowledgment about a card I had given her…well…fuckkkkkkkk.
Anyway, that ‘walk out’ session before Mother’s Day was another disaster. Another massive sense of disconnection. Another time when I couldn’t allow myself to let Anita close and in pushing her away fuelled the fire of feeling abandoned. She repeatedly asked me if I wanted a hug and I repeatedly said “NOOOOO”. I was keeping her at arm’s length, protecting myself but also, deliberately punishing her a bit, I think.
Parts of me are so hurt and so angry about what’s happened with the change to the therapy and my sense of her taking herself away, that I think there’s a bit of me that wants her to feel it and understand it. That’s new. Usually, my protective parts are all about keeping me safe and nothing about trying to have an impact on the other. But is it her, that I want to punish? No. Not really. It’s my mum. It’s my mum’s deficits and lack of care not Anita’s that are the problem. Anita isn’t my mum and yet she’s been more of a mum to me in the last two years than mine ever has been…and yet, my therapist, poor woman is bearing the brunt of someone else’s legacy. She didn’t create the injury but she’s feeling the full force of it.
In a recent session A told me that my silence and pushing her away can feel punishing sometimes and then she had started to cry. I was blown away. So often she’s said how she respects my protectors and the job they are trying to do so it was a revelation to hear that, actually, my self-protection can feel hard for her too, and that how I am impacts her. I mean I guess it must, but sometimes I think we forget our therapists are not robots (well, Em was!). I had said at the time my silence and shut down is self-protection not rejection, and she said that her having to look after herself was self-protection but I am experiencing it as rejection, too. Neither one of us is aiming to reject the other but that’s what it’s feeling like. FUCK!!! Being in relationship is hard isn’t it?!
Unfortunately, the day I walked out of session – or should I say what prompted me to do a runner was that my silence and difficulty saying whatever it was that I was feeling led the conversation round to the idea of control and Anita saying I have control and power in the relationship and that I can look after me. It felt like she was saying she was no longer prepared to look after me and set the fireworks off again. SHITTTTTT. Reader, that is not what she was saying at all, but it was enough for me to get up and leave. I couldn’t tolerate the pain of the disconnection anymore and ran out. FUCK. Man!!
I sat in my car crying for a bit and then text Anita and told her that I knew we were done and that I needed time to process it. I felt so desperate and lost and alone.
She replied an hour later with:
“If that’s your choice, I truly respect your decision. You need to do what feels best for you.”
Ouch. Ouch. OUCH!!!
That felt so much like the ending with Em. “Ok, thanks for letting me know.”
I knew Anita had a huge few days ahead, which is why we’d had to reschedule in the first place, and realised it was not the time to get into a huge back and forth. I might be triggered but I am not a complete asshole. I sensed she was not on her A game and whatever came next really could be make or break and it would be unfair to expect her to interact with me in the way I wanted when she had stuff on. I was triggered and she was elsewhere, so I decided to try and hold it for the weekend. That was not easy, I can tell you!
Weeks ago, my best friend had an idea that maybe I should catch myself in the moment when things are raw in voice notes rather than trying to write stuff down – partly because Anita is dyslexic and partly because I filter so much when I write (not here obvs!) and so a voice note means A can hear how I’m saying something and takes out that stuff where what’s written and what is seen don’t quite align.
So, I recorded a message to Anita on the Friday and sent it to her on the Sunday. She messaged me on Sunday night when I was down at the seaside. I’d been away for the weekend and trying to ‘not get bogged down in panic’ but I knew from the message she sent and that she hadn’t yet had chance to listen to it but was trying to open the door for me to come back (although it also felt defensive to me), so the next morning, when I woke up, I text and asked her to listen to it when she could and then text me when she had done it and then I’d come in – so I expected her to text at 10:20 as the message was 19 mins long!
I knew it was going to be hard to get to the session because I was drowning in shame and anxiety about how things had gone on the Thursday and how things have been since coming back from holiday. The message she had sent on Thursday felt like she’d checked out (but understandably so given what she had coming up) and I was struggling with that but also trying to tune into the Anita I know. Around 8:30am I got a message from A saying she’d listened to the message, and she ‘really hoped to see me’ and it felt like she was back and warm and basically ok! Phew!
I found the voice note was a really good way of saying what I needed to say in the moment. I was able to really hook into the issue but also let my mind go where it needed. I was able to be honest about how much losing the extra time felt, how hard I find it to ask for things in the first place, all kinds of stuff really- and it clearly landed as I hoped with A.
That session was a tough one, but massively connected/connecting. We talked through so much. Particularly about what happens in those awful states of shut down and what I need in those moments (Not to be told I can leave and have a choice!) but also when I run out or back myself into a corner I need her to give me a way back in, i.e the message she sent but with a caveat at the end “I’ll be here on Monday, I still care, and we can work through this if you want to”. There’s so much processing going on right now! Anita reiterated her commitment to the work and heard what I had to say and it felt ok…so you’d think that’d be the end of it wouldn’t you?
Hell no! We’re on the fifth round of the rollercoaster ride and everyone is nauseous! I want to get off!
Part of me is just watching this like a slow-motion car crash. I feel dizzy from how much stuff is going off. It’s like someone kicked over the dominoes! Another part is laughing and rolling their eyes. Like, I suppose it’s good that I feel safe enough to kick off and get upset and show my dissatisfaction and stamp my feet with A, where previously I’d sit with Em and be a ‘good girl’ and just dissociate instead…. and so that’s progress…but then the level of tantrum and upset is catastrophic and feels like I have been catapulted back into being a kid or a teen when I just want to be ‘normal’.
I’m trying hard not to judge myself too harshly or sink too deeply into the shame when it comes but it’s certainly not easy.
Right, so what else went wrong??!
Btw – sorry, this is so looooong – I should probably have broken it into separate posts but I would forget to schedule them and know I won’t get chance to come back to this for a while so we may as well do big rupture blog and then breathe! Not that anyone will read this anyway – but I need a record of the chaos!
So, of course a lot of this was happening around Mother’s Day…not a triggering time at all is it?! Weeks ago, before my holiday (which feels like a lifetime ago now), I saw a card in the shops for and I really wanted to give it to Anita – this was obviously way before the recent crap that’s gone off. I gave her a card last year and it was received well and so I bought it for her – it was more from the young parts than the adult so when it came closer to the time, this year, I felt scared and worried, and like she may not receive it well. I’d literally just ran out the session the previous week so I didn’t really feel I could go in a give her a card when we had been teetering on the edge of me walking away!
But, after the (latest) repair session I felt more connected and safer to express what I wanted. So I wrote out this message later in the week and took it to session on Friday just gone:
I saw this card ages ago and wanted to give it to you – and then everything went to shit recently and I didn’t because I thought you might see it as another example of me wanting more from you than you can give or me overstepping a boundary. But it’s not that. Sure, I wish I had a mum more like you and I feel sad that I don’t, but like last year I wanted to acknowledge, again, how grateful I am to you for all that you do for me and to thank you for the love and care that you show me week in, week out, year in, year out – especially at the times when I am really not deserving of it and am pushing you away.
You said on Monday that you were like a wall, that you were solid and not going anywhere and despite recent walk outs and tantrums more and more parts of me are beginning to see this – I must trust that solidity or there is no way I would feel safe enough tell you how things feel, have so many meltdowns, and generally lose my mind on loop! Things do still feel unsteady and it’s going to take time to adjust because when I wobble it’s like a full-on earthquake inside – but when I stop and take a step back and breathe, what’s left is a really huge sense of love and gratitude. I really just want to say thank you – for your patience, kindness, generosity, trying so hard to make me feel safe, all the cuddles, stories, presents, washing elephant…not giving up on me or shaming me…and giving me the best experience of mothering I have had. I love you x
And that felt really big- so vulnerable- after how it’s been the last few weeks. I gave it to Anita at the end of the session because it had taken that long to work through the catastrophe of the previous session, and she said she’d look at it over the weekend. Knowing how crap things have been lately I imagined she’d read that and go one of two ways: 1) everything is fine, she’d like the card and the sentiment or 2) it’d be too much, and she’d feel like she needs to pull away.
In the past when I have sent Anita things she would usually respond in some way whether it be a message, a gif, or sometimes a photograph of whatever it is I have given her.
Not this time.
It was radio silence all weekend. I knew she was going away because she’d told me and that had led to another complicating factor about something I had offered her that I don’t have time for now as we’re 6000 words in (SORRY!)! So because of this, I basically went into a massive panic over the weekend. Her silence seemingly confirming everything I was worrying about. Another retreat from me. I threw myself into housework and blitzed the place because I knew that if I stopped, I would fall apart. I’m absolutely knackered this week as a result but better than a complete emotional breakdown!
Because I had heard nothing from A, a big part of me was scared to go to the session on Monday. I felt like I was just going to be walking into the lion’s den of rejection. I felt so overwhelmed. I tried hard to talk myself down but my system was in bits. I could feel the internal tremor or my nervous system freaking out and it felt REALLY BAD. I arrived at Anita’s ten minutes before time and text her and told her I was struggling to get out the car.
This is the conversation that happened that day. I was so dissociated at points I don’t even know where the time went.
After half an hour I managed to get myself in a state where I could get out the car and into the house. I more or less collapsed into Anita’s arms on the doorstep and we had a massive hug. When I got into the room Anita was so kind and said she understood how hard it had been to come today. I told her I felt ill, and she moved over to me and wrapped me in a cuddle. I cried and cried and trembled and ugh it was painful. Anita thought I was upset about the other thing that’s too long winded to go into – and I was – but actually it was really the card that was the kicker. It was not knowing what she thought or felt about it.
It turned out Anita had rushed out on Friday and left her phone at home for the weekend which is why she hadn’t replied to a message I had sent on Friday and she was so sorry about it. We only had half an hour because of my inability to get into the room and with about five minutes to go I told Anita that I wasn’t all that upset about the thing she thought I was upset about. She stopped, and wondered what I was upset about.
A minute passed. And then I said, “did you read the card I gave you?” I felt Anita take in a deep breath and kind of freeze for a second. I knew instantly that it was a no. I felt such a rush of feelings: disappointment, sadness, shame. She told me she hadn’t. My system went off its tits again. I said, “Just put it in the bin, then”. Anita asked “Why?” and moodily I whispered, “Because it doesn’t matter”… when what I really felt and meant was “Because I don’t matter.” Right now everything feels like such a huge contrast to how it used to be and how it is now and I keep coming back round to the fact that I am no longer important enough to Anita to warrant her time.
I know that this isn’t the case…well part of me does…but there are so many parts struggling right now.
Anita then went onto tell me that she had opened the card and saw that there was a lot of writing in it and had put it away for later because she knew it would take her an hour to read it and make sense of it. That’s how dyslexic she is. I had no idea it was so bad. Hearing her be vulnerable and tell me how much she struggles and how much it takes out of her to write and read really hit home. If that card would be so big a challenge it made me realise how much time she must have spent trying to read stuff in the past for me. Instantly, I felt different. I then asked, “Was the voice note better?” and she said, “Yes, that was amazing because I could hear what you were saying and didn’t need to actually work out what the words are and what you mean.”
She went on to tell me that it wasn’t that she couldn’t be arsed to read my card it was because she physically hadn’t had the time over the weekend to give it the attention it needed. I felt a bit less disgruntled! She told me that none of this is about her not caring or not loving me or me having done anything wrong but that stuff in her life is making her have to really rejig and she knows people who have lost their marriages over the same thing.
Again, that isn’t easy to hear because I feel like I have lost so much lately. In therapy we can be selfish and ask for our needs to be met without considering the other too much – and yet here I am, and my therapist’s life is impacting my therapy – the boundaries have changed and the frame feels wobbly and my safe container feels like it can’t hold me how I need to be held. It’s tough, for sure.
I told Anita I could read her the card aloud if she liked, but we had run out of time by then. She told me she would find the time to read it before Friday but I am preparing myself to read it to her in the session because I know she is flat out. Before I got up to leave, I said, “It feels like you have taken yourself away from me.” Over recent weeks I have said this a lot and she’s kind of denied it or made out that nothing has changed, but finally she acknowledged it – but she reiterated that it wasn’t because of anything that I have done and her feelings haven’t changed.
So. There we are. That’s the last few weeks of chaos. And 7000 words. I think my undergraduate dissertation was only 8000! Lol.
I’ll get round to commenting on people’s blogs over the Easter break but right now I am drowning in work and this rupture! I am very aware that I haven’t actually done much thinking about this stuff here, and there’s a lot that can be said but mainly I think the thing I am trying to take away from this is that people change, lives change, but it doesn’t have to mean that everything is doomed even if it feels like it. At least, that’s what I am hoping. I think falling headlong into my trigger zone has been unfortunate, but it will and has opened up a lot of conversation about my early years and relationships with caregivers. If anything, this unfiltered shit show is giving Anita a deeper insight into the damage and hopefully we’ll find a way through.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?!
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?
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.
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.
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”…
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:
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 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.
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.
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).
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 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?
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.
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!
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.