New blog

Hello lovely readers,

I was glad to get some likes on my previous post as I felt very vulnerable putting that stuff out there. For anyone who was interested in the ideas I wrote about, I’ve started a new blog this week which will be separate from my therapy blog (which I will continue to write) and will be a place for me to share insights and reflections on my personal journey to come to terms with the reality of the climate and ecological catastrophe we are in. The link for this new blog is https://livingwhiletheearthisdying.home.blog/

Peace and love to all,

CB

Advertisements

How do I heal myself while Planet Earth is dying?

This post includes my thoughts about how I will continue to heal from complex trauma as I integrate my understanding of the implications of the current ecological breakdown for us, as humans, in our lifetime, into my life going forwards – how will I continue to heal and grow whilst around me the world as we know it is being destroyed?

I’m putting a trigger warning at the top of this post – I am writing about my struggles to come to terms with what I now deem to be likely, perhaps even inevitable, near-time societal collapse and the possibility of human extinction due to climate change and loss of biodiversity. For some people this will seem a ridiculous and fantasy-based thing to be writing about, akin to the many claims of impending apocalypse we’ve seen throughout human history, but for others who may already be teetering at the brink of this awareness, as I had been for the past six years until it hit me full in the face two months ago, it could be enough to send them over the edge and this would seem unfair given that this is primarily a blog about therapy and healing from complex trauma and dissociation and triggers of this kind are not anticipated. I am also disabling comments on this post as it has taken me a long time to feel brave enough to express my fears and grief openly here, and I know I am vulnerable to getting triggered on this issue.

I want to write about the current environmental breakdown in the context of my personal struggles and how it has triggered my (almost)DID system into a state of panic and despair, and to think about what I will do with my life and how I will continue my healing journey as I integrate this new awareness, but it is impossible to do this in a way that doesn’t engage with the scientific consensus or the research by human geographers, engineers, political theorists, sociologists and so on who have taken the science and started to work out what it means for us, as humans, in our lifetimes and that of our children. I am struggling greatly with how I continue to work on my own healing, how I will be able to feel better, whilst around me the world as we know it is being destroyed. I ended up so terrified on Friday that I text K at 6pm and asked if we could speak – we did a half hour phone session and one of the things she said is that this will become part of our work every week from now. She said whilst it is outside of the bounds of ‘normal’ psychotherapy, it is important for us to make it part of our work, and the way I see it my healing and the well-being of Mother Earth are inherently connected. As a starting point we’ve each ordered a different Joanna Macy book which we will read and swap – Joanna is a Buddhist scholar and activist who writes on ecological awareness and, through the concept of ‘active hope’, has created a framework for personal and social change. I hope her work will be helpful in my own work of grieving what we have lost, will lose, and preparing for the future, whatever it will hold.

I don’t think the fact that we are experiencing dramatic climate change and alarming loss of biodiversity, or that we are killing ourselves and non-human life with pollutants and toxins, is open to dispute anymore (by anyone credible at least). It is clear that we are in the midst of catastrophe – the recent devastation caused by Cyclone Idai, unprecedented wildfires, floods in the US, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rises, loss of habitats (including human ones), insect populations decreasing by 60%, intense heat waves, children dying of air pollution, plastics found inside people and non-human animals, news reports that a tonne of plastic waste is being dumped in the ocean every minute, the list goes on. The past 22 years have seen the hottest 21 years on record, globally, with the past four being the hottest yet. What scares me most is that all the ‘worst case scenarios’ predicted for 2020 in the 1990s are now coming true – things are at the very worst of the worst they were expected to be, worse even, and still the burning of fossil fuels and industrial agriculture continues. And climate change is non-linear, with tipping points and feedback loops and a huge number of unknowns that could accelerate the warming to the point that the earth is uninhabitable by the end of the century. Whilst some of this is common knowledge, what is less commonly acknowledged is that climate breakdown and ecological collapse threaten our existence; we are in the sixth mass extinction and this isn’t just ‘a pity’ for the species involved – the ecosystems we are dependent upon for food and survival are dying, and with them – so will we. Our current way of life, unbridled neo-liberalism and free market competition, the constant quest for “growth” and “development,” are threatening our existence and yet the powerful elite do not care as long as their riches are protected. As David Attenborough said recently, ‘we are in terrible, terrible trouble’ and ‘time is running out’ – the patriarchal, capitalist separation of humans from nature, of our existence from that of ‘the environment,’ has masked this threat. We talk about ‘saving the environment’ without realising we are the environment and it is ourselves we need to save.

We are nature

Climate change has been on my radar since I was a little girl. From the age of 9 or 10 I would lie awake at night worrying about “the state of the world” and I was really passionate and outspoken about environmental issues, telling my family and anyone who would listen that there was nothing more important to worry about, no point fighting for justice for humans if we had no planet to live on. And lately it’s really hit home to me that climate change and ecological breakdown is not just an environmental issue, it’s a human rights issue, it’s an issue of justice – those who have contributed least to the catastrophe are already paying the highest price, and the most vulnerable in our societies also, those with the least resources and support, will be hit hardest when the crisis accelerates (at the beginning at least). Having been vegetarian since I was 6 or 7, I went vegan in 2013 because I realised that we had no hope of reducing climate change without eliminating the meat and dairy industry. (Of course I care about animal welfare hugely too, in fact I see us as no more important than any other species which is why, probably, I find the likelihood of human extinction easier to contemplate than others do – we are not special and if other species can go extinct, so can we). The winter of 2013/14 was especially stormy and wet and unpredictable – it was frightening and I spent much time with my two best friends at the time talking about climate change, and about the skills we would need to help us in the turbulent times ahead. It’s come up in therapy quite a lot, along with fears and anger and frustration over our consumerist culture and over-consumption and how it is destroying our quality of life and the planet, but for the past few years I’ve been taking time to heal myself and my concerns for Mother Earth have been sidelined (though my work is still on related issues of justice so it’s not that I ever stopped caring).

The UK heatwave in February and first round of youth strikes for climate on February 15th triggered me hugely and before K’s break in March parts were really worried and there was a lot of writing in our parts’ journal about the threat of climate change and what it would mean for us and the creatures dependent on the earth for their survival. Whilst she was away we read a lot and really came to understand just how serious the crisis is, and that it’s not a future problem or a problem for people far away, it is a threat to our way of life and our existence right here, right now. Nina and I went on the youth strike for climate on March 15th and after this, rather than feeling hopeful and inspired, I felt utterly defeated and isolated – it all felt so real, seeing thousands of young people fighting to have a future, and yet the strikes just felt as though they were much too little and much too late. For a long time I’d written off my anxiety over climate change as part of my PTSD, pathological in nature, and something that I needed to deal with by staying present and focusing on my own life and security. That evening I googled ‘anxiety over climate change’ and found absolutely loads of resources to help people dealing with their fears and grief over the breakdown of the environment and the implications it will have for human life. Whilst it was a relief to know I wasn’t alone in my fears, it suddenly made the whole issue even more real. It turns out people are going into therapy to deal with fears and grief over the ecological breakdown, and it is known that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’ (this is how the military refer to it, stating that it increases stress on water, food, and energy systems, that can then increase the likelihood of conflict  – domestically and internationally)  so whilst the effects of climate change are causing depression and anxiety, and PTSD for people already directly affected by climate disasters, the stress of climate change awareness also intensifies existing mental and emotional health problems. This is part of the issue I’m having, and unsurprisingly there is nothing written on how to support young alters with climate change – the problem is they know more than I would reasonably tell a child, and are completely freaking out about what it will mean for them. And it is hard to tell scared young parts that the worst things have already happened because I am no longer sure that is true – ‘does starving to death hurt more than being abandoned as a baby?’ they want to know, and I do not have the answers to that.

I’ve been confused and lost for many weeks now, reading reports and journal articles and absorbing myself in the science, the academic research that has grown out of this science, what the activist movements say and, whilst there are different interpretations of what we should do based on the scientific knowledge we have, there is consensus that we are in a dire predicament. And I think, basically, I am starting to come to the acceptance that it is probably too late to avert climate catastrophe, and that with food scarcity in the Northern Hemisphere (another two summers like the last one we had here where grain production dropped by around 30-40%, and we are in extreme trouble from a food production perspective) and drought and famine in the Southern  Hemisphere, will come mass migration, wars over resources, and probably societal collapse. The World Bank reported in 2018 that countries needed to prepare for over 100 million internally displaced people, here in the UK due to rising sea levels as well as further afield, due to the effects of climate change, and this is not including millions of international refugees. 

And so the question for me now is how do I move forward with this knowledge in a way that is meaningful but does not involve getting lost in denial (which includes most types of activism and a lot of lifestyle politics – apparently going vegan and not flying are the only two things that really make a difference, the rest of the changes needed are all things that can only be implemented by world leaders, and I’m already committed to these two things). I don’t have the answer to this question but it is something I will talk through with K to help me begin to forge a path forward out of this madness. I don’t want to fall into depression over this because, as my very wise daughter said, if we worry about it all the time now then it may as well be really bad now. It is more important than ever to stay present and enjoy the safety and security and peace we have now, because things are likely to change drastically sooner than we ever expected. I also don’t want to lose sight of the healing I need. In fact it becomes more important than ever that I become as strong and resilient as possible, and am able to build relationships and community, in light of what is ahead. This is something I struggle with – I want to reach out and find new people who are also awake to this, but relational trauma makes this so very hard. I am scared I won’t be accepted in new communities, even though logically I can see that the types of people aware and fighting for climate justice are likely to be kind and open-hearted.

Despite all the unknowns, what is clear is that change is coming – either this will be an end to global capitalism and neo-liberalism and humans will once again seek out deep and meaningful relationships with each other and the natural world of which we are a part, or it will be societal collapse, catastrophe, mass starvation, and possible extinction. Much as I despise capitalism, it is still this system which enables me to work with K and enjoy a good standard of living, so it is hard to envisage life without it. I asked K a while ago what would happen if the economy collapses and we move to a barter-based system – would there be another way of paying her? She said absolutely, that we would work something out, and it was such a relief that she took the question seriously. This was momentarily comforting, as was her saying on Friday that we are both committed to doing this work no matter what, and so, barring something huge and unexpected, we would be working together with the intention of keeping doing this work. So even if there is war over resources, or no power, or not enough food, we would still keep meeting, in fact especially then as it would be so needed whilst bad things were happening all around. None of this alleviates the creeping fears though. If there is societal and economic collapse she won’t need to work to feed herself. If life becomes purely about survival she won’t gather me close to her as she will her own children. And there is nowhere I feel safe like I do with her. It is that never-ending painful state of knowing that your attachment figure is not your mother – that free-floating state which is uncomfortable and stark and a bit-too-real – rearing its ugly head again. Why is there always something that will take her away from me?

At times it feels like I am lost in a horror story, a nightmare of humanity’s own making. It doesn’t feel possible that we have a fight for survival on our hands in our lifetime. The youth climate strike two days ago felt so surreal – how could I be there protesting to get government to take action to save humanity, to enable my daughter to have a future? How is that necessary? The science is clear now so how are we needing to protest this stuff? It is infuriating and absolutely heart-breaking that corporations are allowed to destroy the planet and the ecosystems we depend upon and we are powerless to do anything. How is this happening? How is it being allowed to happen? How has the wealth of the elite few been allowed to threaten the future of the whole planet and all who live upon it? And what was even more scary on Friday were the looks of confusion and bewilderment from passers by, who have no idea of the ecological crisis or what it will mean for them. I’m not sure where I will go with my activism now, if I want to give up hope and move to the Deep Adaptation agenda of Jem Bendell, or if I want to get active with Extinction Rebellion who share a similar outlook but still think we can mitigate the worst impacts, or if I want to fight system change in some other way, but I know that incremental fixes and individual lifestyle changes are utterly insufficient, and I know that part of my work now will be to raise awareness and focus on getting governments and the media to tell the truth about this crisis. It feels utterly abhorrent to me that as a species we are facing a catastrophe of this magnitude, that humanity is under existential threat, and yet the vast majority of people know nothing about it because it is not on the news or talked about in Parliament. People have a right to know, they need to know, so they can choose how best to spend the time we have left and start to give up the things we cannot carry with us as civilization changes, either by choice and action or by us destroying our home to the point where it can no longer sustain life as we know it.

The only thing that really seems clear and certain is that we don’t know what will happen, there are too many variables, too many unknowns – it is bad and it will get far, far worse, but we don’t know exactly when or how. Sitting with uncertainty is hard. It is something humans are bad at generally and for those of us who grew up in abusive and unpredictable environments it can be especially hard. No one knows what is going to happen or what the best thing to do now is. Should we continue to fight or just enjoy the time we have left, making sure we express gratitude for our comfortable existence whilst thousands are already dying and starving due to climate change? Ultimately, the past few weeks have led me to confront my own mortality, which is something we must all do at some point of course, but beyond that it has forced me to confront my own vulnerability, and the fact that I may not live till old age or be able to protect my daughter from what is ahead. We all live with the vague and uncomfortable awareness that we could get injured or ill or have our life cut short in some way, or suffer a loss we find it hard to recover from, but we have no experience as a species of living through a period when our time on this planet may be coming to an end. It is hard to know what to do. If some of the predictions are correct and there will be a societal collapse within a decade then fuck it, fuck debt, I’m going to rinse loads of credit cards and have a lot of fun with Nina (without flying of course). But if things just get progressively worse and the cost of food rises astronomically due to shortages then having debts will add to my stress, and ultimately could stop me being able to afford to feed us both. So it seems wise to be cautious, whilst at the same time knowing it is impossible to prepare for what may come and that there will be no point being angry with myself in the future for making the wrong choices now.

I asked K on Friday if she was frightened and she said she was, but not like I am. She thinks it’s the presence of young parts making things so difficult, although equally I do know other people who are also crying every day and feeling absolutely petrified by what is to come, so I do think it is a very tough reality for anyone to absorb. We talked about how I couldn’t find any resources for people like me, people with DID and complex trauma, and we agreed that it is unusual for people with such complex mental health needs to be so absorbed in and aware of the environmental breakdown, at this point in time at least – this will change as mainstream media and the public come into awareness I’m sure. This is not meant as a criticism or a suggestion that people don’t care, but, like I was for so long, people with these complex issues are often focused just on survival most days and, deservedly, focused on enjoying their own lives on days where things feel okay. So whilst I could find recognition that climate change threat worsened existing psychological issues, there wasn’t a lot about what to do about this or whether it is realistic for people like me to be able to get involved in activism without losing their minds completely as I seem to be doing regularly at the moment.

I do know that however hard things get financially my therapy will be a priority for as long as possible, even though it does prevent me getting out of debt and saving for the future. I know sometimes I get frustrated that it takes so much of my salary, that it means less money for fun stuff,  but ultimately it is what will help me cope with what is ahead and will help me build the relationships I need to support me in the dark times ahead. On Friday there was an older teenage part thinking that killing myself and Nina was really going to be the only option to save us both – I’ve been there before and I don’t want to spiral into that place again, especially when we don’t know what is ahead, not for sure. And I also know I want to continue to heal and let go of some of the guilt that I could find joy and peace and contentment in my heart whilst our beautiful earth is dying. I know I want to make the most of every precious minute with those I love. I know that spending as much time as I can with my friends who don’t live nearby whilst train travel is still possible is hugely important. I know I want to avoid town and supermarkets because I get triggered by consumer culture. And I know I want to spend as much time as I can in places that are still wild and relatively undisturbed, remembering how beautiful the earth is and how deeply connected to it we all are. And I know it is important to me to live in a way that aligns with my values even if they will not, by themselves, enable humanity to avoid what seems to be coming – avoiding plastic, eating locally-sourced food, reducing waste, reusing as much as I can, buying second hand clothes and other things, not allowing Nina to become absorbed in fast fashion, not flying or driving unnecessarily. And it is important to keep in mind that even if these things don’t help the bigger picture, they are part of me living the best life I can, whilst at the same time accepting I have to be part of this capitalist, patriarchal society – I have to ‘make a living,’ I have to let Nina have new things so she is not bullied at school, the pressures of our society that I resent still constrain me and do not allow me the time I wish I had to live in a way that further minimises my impact upon the Earth. I cannot escape the things that are destroying our planet, however much I wish I could.

When I think about what I want to prioritise in the months ahead, it is clear that they are things I would want to be doing to heal anyway – yoga, meditation, wild places, cycling, time with people I am close to, saying no to things I don’t really want to do, living gently and recognising what is important to me. I want to lead by example, like I do with veganism, and show a different way of life not based on mass consumption and exploitation of the earth’s resources and creatures is possible. Maybe we will not move away from global capitalism as a society until it is too late,, but at least I will have shown it is possible to live and not be consumed by material possessions and the constant quest to buy “the next big thing”. I want to live a gentle life – in many ways the type of life that is necessary for someone healing from developmental trauma is the type of life needed to heal Mother Earth also. In some ways this new level of awareness has helped me shift my reactions and occasional resentment around ‘my busy life’ – I want to gift Nina her joy of swimming for as long as possible, I want to see her glowing face when I collect her after training and she talks excitedly about swimming techniques I know nothing about, I want her to feel strong and secure as we face the unknown together. And I want to find a better balance with my work, work which is important but not enough to save us from what is ahead. I want to keep work in perspective, something which is important to do anyway of course, but the need for this feels even more pressing now. I want to get out of debt as soon as I can at the same time as still enjoying life now. I want to take action but not let it consume me or stop me absorbing and grieving the reality, which is that planet earth is dying, and we are running out of time.

The home I created

Our house move is imminent but there is still a lot of uncertainty over when it will happen. We were hoping to complete this Friday, then early next week, then before the Easter weekend, but we haven’t exchanged yet and my solicitor hasn’t been able to get hold of the other solicitors to confirm a date so who knows when it will happen… I’ve been chasing everyone possible basically every day, but it is beginning to look like it will be after Easter now which would be super annoying as I’m off work this week and next and then return on April 24th when I have meetings booked in and a trip to another city planned. If we haven’t moved by the end of April it will be 28th May at the earliest because May is a very busy time at work and there’s no way I can move then, which feels like a really long time away. Despite all this I am managing to stay present – mostly – with the uncertainty, whilst accepting that it is stressful and triggering. ‘Normal’ people find house selling and buying incredibly stressful, so add in young parts, single parenthood, full-time work, and complex trauma and dissociation, and I can see why I descended momentarily into a dark and suicidal place on Saturday, when my buyer was being really flaky and it seemed like there was going to be a really long delay. I drove Nina at 8am on Friday – the last day of the school term – and felt so grateful and relieved that it would be the last of those crazy weeks. So then when my estate agent called on Friday and it sounded like it would be another 2 months till we could move and I would have another 6 weeks of endlessly driving Nina around the whole thing felt insurmountable. Organising a house sale and purchase and move as the only adult, on top of daily life, has really taken it out of me the past few months and I have really felt the lack of a loving partner to offer emotional support alongside taking on practical jobs and admin. The overwhelm and despair passed though, as it always does, and I’ve seen friends and been out for some lovely bike rides in the past few days, and am managing to take things as they come. This week off work feels kind of wasted because I am not packing and getting ready, but actually it has been so nice to just relax a bit. And my buyer has now paid his deposit and signed the contract so I am 99.9% sure now that nothing will go wrong.

Earlier today I made a list of all the things we are all excited about for when we are in the new house and new area, which helped a lot because it reminded me why I am uprooting everything and making this move. And just now, as I was doing yoga, I thought about how lovely this house is and how much I love my front room in particular, and how strange it will be to say goodbye to it soon. At times I’ve been desperate to get out of here, get the move over, start the next phase of my life, but as I lay there in savasana feeling so peaceful and content, it made me want to really make the most of the time we have left here, before everything gets dismantled and we load all our belongings into the van. And it led me to reflect on all that has changed since we moved here right at the end of 2015, and all the pain and healing these walls have held.

We moved here on the 19th December 2015. The move was already booked when my beautiful friend Jess killed herself on 10th December and my life was plunged into darkness and turmoil. I completely lost my ability to function in the hours and days and weeks after Jess died; as well as the loss of one of the best friends I’ve ever known, someone I could talk about anything and everything with and who I was growing closer to all the time, her suicide also triggered all the repressed trauma in me – young parts surfaced, I was dissociated and in constant emotional flashbacks, terrified to be left alone and completely horrified by how I was behaving and the reaction I was having. I will never know how I managed to pull off a house move at that time. It was completely horrific, I remember that. I was exhausted, surviving on virtually no sleep, permanently triggered with my attachment wound gaping open, abandonment terror flooding me constantly, grief pouring out of me and I wanted to die myself so I could be with Jess, though I couldn’t admit this then.

I had packed nothing the day before but managed to get most stuff moved that day. I then had two houses in chaos (we were renting and had a while as a crossover to get it completely empty and clean and repainted so I would get my deposit back) and Christmas to prepare for Nina who was only 7 at the time. It was the only time in my life I’ve asked for help – I put a shout out on Facebook the week before the move and asked for anyone who was free to help with packing, moving stuff, looking after Nina, wrapping presents, etc. My friends rallied round but I was terrified to be left alone. Someone would sit with me each night as my wine and sleeping tablets began to take effect but as soon as they got up to go I would be wide awake again, terrified and distraught. The funeral was on December 23rd. That Christmas Eve is genuinely the worst I’ve ever felt in my life. I lay in bed writhing in agony until 1pm, unable to see how I was going to get it together and do the next few days for Nina.

Somehow I did and I got through Christmas. The house began to feel like home. And as the months after Jess died passed by and I still felt suicidal and desperate a growing realisation took hold; this pain was mine. It was triggered by Jess, but it was about me – my life, my past, my trauma. After a family holiday in Scotland in April 2015, 4 years ago this very week, where hundreds of repressed memories from my childhood came back and I realised that I had been abused, I spent weeks at home unravelling as I began to understand my Mum was on the extreme end of the NPD spectrum and that she was also abusing and damaging Nina. I drank and cried and panicked as I knew I needed to stop my Mum seeing Nina alone but I was terrified to tell her, terrified of what she might do or say. I found my strength in this house – first telling my Mum a month of not looking after Nina, then telling her she would never spend time on her own with Nina again, and finally, 18 months ago, telling her that we wouldn’t be seeing her at all anymore. Back in 2015 the thought of exercising my autonomy and not doing what she wanted felt absolutely impossible, and yet here I am – free and empowered and reaping the benefits of that unthinkable choice I had to make.

Despite the grief and pain this house has seen as I started therapy and everything came flooding out, this house has felt more stable than my previous house – no after parties and drugs snorted off plates in the lounge, no random strangers sitting and talking shit and smoking weed in the garden, no getting home at 10am on Sunday morning having been out partying all weekend, no rows with my angry ex (just to clarify Nina has never been exposed to any of this, it would only happen when she was spending the weekend with my Mum, and I obviously stayed stable enough to work and do my PhD and be there for her, but there were wild nights and inappropriate people in my life back then, when she was not around). I have self-harmed so much in this house, self-medicated with alcohol, smoked cigarettes in the garage in a desperate attempt to soothe the gnawing, aching attachment pain inside me, but moving here still feels as though it marked the beginning of a new part of my life – the time when I began to see and feel all I’d been madly trying to run away from all my life.

When I started therapy with K in August 2015 I remember her asking about my home and me telling her how much I loved it. I told her what a wonderful energy it had, how light and spacious it felt despite being so small, how much I loved the wooden floorboards and the beautiful fireplace, that it felt safe and calm and peaceful. I also remember being surprised in another session when she remembered the things I had told her about my home and what I loved about it. It is a lovely house. It reflects me and who I am in a way that my new home doesn’t and probably never really will as it is a new-build and only 6 years old (we will make it ours, but this house is so very ‘me’ – people always comment that it is exactly how they expected my house to be). I love sitting in the front room with candles and fairy lights in the evening, doing yoga or reading or whatever. I love that it is calm and that no one ever comes in that I don’t want here. I love that it is mine. I think one of the reasons I’ve struggled so much with our screaming and yelling neighbours for the past two years is that it disrupts my safe haven. Home has never felt safe for me until this one. My previous house had so many bad memories of really chaotic times. The chaos in this house feels more contained.

In January 2016, when things in and out of therapy were very hard, I was sitting working on my bed on a Saturday, heavily dissociated and struggling to work through the fog in my head. A letter came – the landlady was selling our house and as soon as she did we would be given 2 months notice to get out. I absolutely panicked. I loved it here, we’d only been here a year, only just made it feel like home, and we would have to move. And it being such a small house meant that the rent was affordable – we’d have been looking at another £150 a month for something similar in this area, near Nina’s primary school. And I was so ill at that time, the thought of moving was impossible. I text K and she validated and soothed and said what a big deal it was and how hard it all was, but that we had time to make a plan and nothing would happen immediately. And then a plan began to form. My Dad had recently taken voluntary severancy from work and had given me some of his lump sum, and I had just started the permanent (subject to 5 years bloody probation) post where I work… Could I… Would it be possible… Might I be able to get a mortgage so I could BUY our house? I could. I did. And it was the easiest first house purchase ever. With this house it has always felt as though the universe was on my side – bringing it to me when I had just finished my PhD and could finally manage to contemplate a house move, and then a year later, when a mortgage was possible, the landlady deciding to sell. It has been something I’ve hung on to amidst all the turmoil and pain and work of the past 4 years – a refuge, a sanctuary, a place where I can block out the rest of the world when it is too harsh, too vivid, too jagged. When everything feels too much a few hours alone in this house always brings me back to myself.

And I have grown so much in the 4 and a half years we have lived here. I practiced yoga and meditated before we moved, but it is here these practices really took root. And I found the parts of course, got to know them, let them come out here and draw and play and watch films. And we got our bunnies in the summer of 2016 and they have been a hugely important part of my system’s healing – pets were something my Mum regularly screamed abuse at me about, so giving the young parts a healing and lovely pet-owning experience has been so important. There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting in the garden with Nina on sunny days and watching the bunnies together as they rush around binkying (Ollie looks like Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins!) and rolling around, showing their fluffy tummies and stretching out in the sunshine. They have brought so much love and joy to our lives. And it was in this house I grew into a life without alcohol and drugs, without cigarettes and one-night stands and casual flings, without my Mum, without toxic people and habits that helped me survive but really only made things worse. 

And in this house, with the support of K, I have become the parent to Nina that I needed to be – boundaried, firm, loving, consistent. I have owned my mistakes, apologised for my fuck-ups, held her when she’s cried, soothed her when she’s been ill, commiserated with her over the nasty girls at school. It was here I waved goodbye to her the first time she walked to school on her own and the first time she took the bus to go swimming by herself. And it was here she finally agreed with me that the best school for her would be the one I had chosen and not the one she had set her heart on. It was here she had her first sleepover, made me my first cup of tea, practiced gymnastics for hours in the garden, talked endlessly about pet names and swimming and annoying things her friends had done. Here I have heard her whisper and giggle with her friends as she travels into a part of her childhood where I am no longer invited. And I have watched her grow into herself, as she began to shrug off the damage inflicted on her by my Mun and said goodbye to the eyes she felt were always watching and judging her.

I have created somewhere safe for Nina, for me, and for the parts. I made us a home, a place where we can always be ourselves and where no one now comes in uninvited and destroys our peace. We have decorated it and filled it with beautiful things and happy memories. We have cried with laughter together here, cried over my Mum together here, cried in frustration when we have locked horns and both refused to let go. It was here we both let my Mum and brother go from our lives, welcomed in the pain this inevitably brought while staying firmly grounded in the life I’ve built for us in this house. It is here I have validated Nina and am learning to validate the young parts of me, here I have made difficult decisions that have taken us to a better place. We have had cosy times in pyjamas with blankets and hot chocolate watching the Gilmore Girls from start to finish (twice!). We have loved and laughed and lived and I will hold the ways I have felt in this house in my heart forever. I will be so sad to say goodbye when we drive away, but I am ready for new adventures now and a new stage of my healing journey as I expand outwards and grow bigger in my own life. I will forever remember the courage and bravery I found here though, and look back on these days with awe at all that I have done.

Our Room

K asked me to write something about the therapy room and what it means to me after our session today, to prove I had been there and to try and help me connect by engaging all my senses after the session. This was after I said “I want to feel as though I’ve been here” when she asked what I needed from today’s session. I’ve seen her three times since the break ended and I still feel horribly cut off, so I’m not sure how this will go and I’m worried it will cause more distress as I just can’t feel it, but I’ll give it a try.

K’s home smells of safety. It smells of incense and calm. It smells like unfurling and settling, expanding outwards. Actually, it smells of home. It smells of the first place where I felt safe, the first place I was allowed to be me. Home is a feeling – the feeling of being in a place where you are free to be you, with a person who lets you be whoever you are and however you are. And the thing with K now is that that whatever state I am in I can be in it with her. She never forces me to pretend. Sometimes the state I’m in means I can’t connect with her, can’t reach her, and I feel like I’m speaking into a void, but I am allowed to be in that space without being shamed. So the smell of her home tells me I am in mine. It is safe to feel unsafe there. It is safe to not be able to trust there. It is safe to tell her I can’t reach her. She won’t drive me further away because I sometimes doubt her because of the relational echoes that live inside me.

It is always the same when I arrive at her house. She always answers the door and asks me what I’d like to drink. Sometimes she tells me it is nice to see me – I don’t believe her, of course, but it is still nice to hear. And I love that she wants me to feel safe enough that she is always the same – my safety matters to her. I use the bathroom and head to the therapy room and then she brings me my tea. The room is always the same – we sit opposite each other on piles of cushions and I make myself a nest and cover myself with a blanket. There is a bookcase full of books, many of which I’ve borrowed, and I can spot their spines and remember when I’ve taken words K has loved home with me to love also. Everything is solid and predictable. Even the room is solid as the walls are thick and old and the ceiling is low. It has always felt like the perfect space for me to share what is inside me. There is a clay badger K was given at a yoga workshop on her birthday two years ago and in a session last December we made him a little bed out of felt under a wooden tree because he had been standing up for so long and was very tired. I look across at a picture of two brown ponies and above my head is a beautiful painting of a rabbit called Luna riding on the back of swan. There are children’s books she has read to young parts and the sand tray where she sent Mr Raposa to rescue little me on a plane called Sky Shark. There is a wooden fox in the sand tray animals basket who has been home with me and on trip sometimes and a glass angel that sometimes casts pretty patterns on the wall. It matters that those things are there. It matters that the space being the same is something I can depend upon.

We always do a sitting meditation before we start work – breathing, body scan, focus on mind and thoughts – so that I can land as far as possible, and we always start with me sharing what has come up for me during that. I often feel embarrassed and ashamed of my body sensations and emotions, either because the words to describe them sound really dramatic or because I cannot detect them at all and it is another thing I am useless at. I am getting better though and I do now have a whole range of words to use to describe my internal experience, rather than just ‘okay’ and ‘awful’. Sometimes K gets me to ‘listen out’ which I hate and which triggers me and makes me feel horribly overstimulated and like getting up and running around yelling and shouting and throwing things. I know why she does it, and it is never for too long, but it is crazy-making sometimes, especially taking in just how much sound triggers me. At other times the sounds just drift in during my session, a tapestry of familiar noises that remind me I’ve been here before, and tell me the seasons are changing. Often blackbirds are singing whilst we are working, especially now as the days are getting longer and it is still light when we work. Sometimes we hear the horses in the nearby field, or dogs barking, or a tractor rumbling past. And always the clock is ticking, reminding me that this time is precious and is ebbing away.

K and I have worked at all different times of the day and throughout the seasonal changes over the past 3 and a half years so I’ve been in the therapy room in all different lights – grey skies, darkness, bright sunshine, sunset, and sometimes even when there has been moonlight pouring through the window. Watching the seasons change with her is magical. It reminds me of something bigger than us that can be relied upon, and the fact she has such a huge and beautiful garden means we have been able to do some really special work outside. We’ve always had our normal sessions later on in the day – it was 6.30 at the beginning, and now we meet at 4pm which means in winter it is often dark when I arrive and always by the time I leave. So many times on clear nights I’ve looked up and seen the moon and stars from her driveway before getting in the car, and one time her partner pointed out Venus and Mars to me before I drove home which was so magical. Occasionally we have worked earlier in the day and it is a very different feeling seeing her before the end of the day. Some of those times we have drunk coffee together and it has been nice sharing that. It makes a difference, the time of day that we work and the light – it transforms the energy and my interaction with it changes depending on my internal landscape. Today K asked how it felt that it was so light and sunny in the room and I didn’t want to admit that it felt incongruous when I felt so cut off and far away and dull inside, because it sounded dramatic and too intense and morose. It was difficult though, the brightness today grated against my inability to reach her. Sometimes I prefer it when it is dark because it is more cosy, but there is always something energising about the onset of Spring. I am often more dissociated on overcast days as well, so my energy is often lighter when the day itself is brighter. And when it is sunny we sometimes work outside which, as I’ve written before, really shifts things and leads to a very different therapy experience.

There are so many memories in that room, specific times when we have made things or had stories or cuddled dogs or had particularly healing conversations, but the overarching sense I have of that room is one of safety and acceptance. It is the first place we were soothed and contained and held with no physical touch. Of course we have been triggered and had flashbacks and wailed and sobbed in that room more times than I care to remember, but underneath all that is the fact that it is the first place in which we felt safe, the first place the parts were ever invited to come out, the first place our feelings were heard and seen and validated. I’ve not always felt safe there but this does not change the fact that it is safe. It is a safe place and K is safe. And before this recent break I was really beginning to be able to take that in and soak in all the safety I get from K and our room.

When I look back I realise just how long we’ve worked together, how far I’ve come, how well we know each other now. Even this dreadful shut off feeling is less unsettling for us both now, because K says the connection will come back and I do believe her. We know dissociation now. I wish I’d known 3 years ago that she would still be here now. Until recently I had spent maybe 3 months not feeling stuck in that constant panic that she would go away (and was going away , for 6 months of last year of course). It just seemed to disappear and enabled me to settle into my own life, knowing she was there – a mutually reinforcing loop. Since the break ended 10 days ago I have felt those old fears creeping in, especially because of the big and life-changing thing that is bearing down, and it does remind me that it is still an insecure attachment in many ways. I cannot trust that she will be here as long as I need her and those fears are very present right now in a way they’ve not been since last Summer. It has been disarming to see how much I still need therapy, need K, but then I remember some of the utter states I’ve been in that room and I can see how well I am doing. I am growing and moving forwards. And I am able to tolerate this shut down place and know that it does not mean K has changed. She is waiting for me on the other side of this fog and I will find her again.

The therapy space is not without its pain of course. The clock. The door. The blanket sometimes still warm from the body of another who has shared their innermost secrets with K also. It is not my physical home and I can never stay until my body has caught up with the reality and allowed me to bask in the safety I have there. It does feel like I was reborn in that room though. I found myself there in the confines of those walls, stories have been told, secrets spilled, shame interrupted. I presented K all the twisted, tangled fragments of memory that came rushing back in the early months of therapy (I would scribble them down as they resurfaced between sessions and we put them all in a jar so I could share them bit by bit) and we unpicked them together and formed a narrative. In that place I learned why I am how I am and began to accept the profound impact my childhood has had on my development as a relational being. I planned the unthinkable in that room as we worked through all the complex thoughts and feelings around cutting contact with my Mum nearly two years ago now. And lately I have felt myself coming to life in that room as I begin to emerge into a life more balanced by darkness and light instead of splitting so one always cancels the other out.

The room is there when I am not. And despite the other comings and goings I know it sees during the week I do feel like part of me is suspended there, held in the safety K provides for all the parts of me. K and I always exist in that space. It is where we have made magic, created alchemy, built an alliance with more transformational power than anything I could ever have imagined. In that room we will always be together. And today when K asked me what I needed from the session what I really meant was that I wanted  to feel as though I had been there with her. I still feel so untethered and I cannot sense her, but I am beginning to feel now that soon I will be able to start taking some tentative steps back towards her. I really hope so.

Drowning in dissociation

Things are really awful and I feel like I’m losing my mind. I’m writing this in a last attempt to settle things because I really don’t want to self-harm and yet that is all I can think to do now. I have to work tomorrow and I need something to stop all the hell that has decided to unleash itself inside me. I feel so fucking alone.

The two and a half week therapy break was a lot harder than I expected. K and I met on Friday and we met again today, and yet despite spending 3 hours with her in the past 4 days and having text contact on Friday evening and this morning I still feel as though I’m on the break because I am so dissociated. I don’t feel as though I’ve seen her. I feel totally cut off from her and I want to die. I just want her. I want to feel connected to her. I feel completely annihilated and swept away on an abandonment tidal wave that isn’t even real. She was there, in the room, and yet I couldn’t reach her. On Friday I didn’t even realise I hadn’t reached her. I thought I was there and normal, but I got home and felt as though I hadn’t seen her at all. I hadn’t even realised the break was hard. I got really badly triggered by something that is actually huge and life-changing – potentially life-threatening – early on in the break, something I won’t write about now but that is really huge, and I needed K to help me hold it and help me keep hold of myself as the grief unfurled and anxiety over the future engulfed me. She wasn’t there and I got completely lost in it. It dominated the session and so we didn’t even talk about the break. She said it was no surprise I’d ended up in such a state over this huge thing during the break, and it wasn’t till I got home that I realised how hard the break had been, how hard it was to be experiencing something so big and not have her to steady me. I wasn’t counting the days or anything, it wasn’t like breaks used to be, and in some ways this seems to have made re-connecting even harder than normal. I pushed it all away because I wanted to be okay with breaks, having grown so much, and I didn’t put any coping strategies in place at all. I was so determined to be fine with breaks now that I ended up struggling really badly. Breaks used to be so awful. I used to always end up in crisis and needing weekend support and extra sessions once they were over. I thought I was past that, having survived and thrived over the month break last August, and having worked towards an ending with K all those months. Evidently not.

And I am so disappointed that this still happens. There were no pre-break meltdowns, we didn’t even talk about it in therapy in the build-up, and Miffy wrote how she was a bit worried but she knew K would come back and that we wouldn’t die. Two days in to the break I realised how my experience when K was away did used to be that I was actually dying, even though when I said I couldn’t survive without her I didn’t realise that is what I was experiencing – it wasn’t till there was a break that didn’t feel life-threatening that I realised that I did feel I was dying before. So I thought I would breeze through the 18 days now I didn’t have a felt sense that my life was in danger, and because I have been managing the time between sessions so well recently and really growing in the time between them.  I had reached a point where I was able to carry K with me and didn’t lose all sense of her the minute I was away from her (or even when I was with her sometimes). And now I just feel terrified that she will go away because evidently I STILL can’t hold on to her. I thought I didn’t need her anymore but I really do and I am scared that the life-changing thing will take me away from her, at a time when I will need her more than ever.

Logically I don’t know why she would go away because I still need her. I know that makes no sense. She has been patient and kind, we are working by phone on Friday this week and have an email check-in on Wednesday. She says all will be well and I will find her again. I can’t trust that though. I’d forgotten what this place was like, this place where she just doesn’t exist. And I think maybe it is worse now because I know what it is like to be able to hold on to her and now I can’t again. This place feels so bleak and barren and lonely. It is a terrifying place to be in. Being away from her is so painful in a way it hasn’t been for so many months and I don’t want to be back here. Friday feels forever away, Monday when I see her feels even further. She asked me to write a piece on what our room means to me, because we have so many memories in there and she thought it might help me re-connect. I want to try and do that but I am scared I won’t be able to feel anything. How can my brain completely erase someone who I have spent so many hours with and who has been so central in my life for so many years? It is fucking infuriating and crazy-making.

Sobriety

I haven’t drunk alcohol since December 31st 2016. Actually, that’s not entirely truthful – in that time I’ve had a glass of red wine, a pint of lager shandy, and a pint of cider the evening K told me she was taking a year off and we needed to end our work. Still, considering how much I used to drink, this is incredible. Recently I have been questioning whether this is as beneficial for me as it was at the time I stopped. Am I deliberately excluding myself from social interactions and the thing most ‘normal’ people do to unwind, relax and connect with people? Is it limiting my ability to reach out and make new friendships? Am I being too ‘all or nothing’ in my approach? I’m often afraid I’m seen as boring and uptight by the people I work with because I don’t drink, which is ironic given my history with alcohol and drugs and raving and the fact I got off my head at least once a week from the age of 13 until I was 33. Following a couple of conversations with K in our past two sessions about relational triggers which I’m working through (and will blog about during this therapy break), I’ve come to the conclusion that sobriety is the right life for me, definitely for the foreseeable future. It is really important to me that new friendships aren’t built around getting blitzed together, and that they are authentic and not based upon me dissociating my way through any relational discomfort.

Alcohol was a huge part of my life for a really long time. Twenty years really. A huge and problematic part of my life, although the true extent of the issue was hidden by how normalised alcohol is in society. It is hard not to drink in a society where alcohol is the go-to for any celebration or loss, where it is associated with joy and sorrow in equal measure. Being sober is considered boring, repressed, dull. Not drinking makes someone uptight and unable to have fun. We are bombarded with advertising about alcohol and pubs enticing us in and telling us alcohol makes life worthwhile, makes life happen. We are indoctrinated from such a young age into thinking alcohol is normal, necessary, fun, and guaranteed to make us have a good time. Saying “I don’t drink” is so loaded, so difficult – we fear judgment and people do judge us for it. I know, because I used to be one of the judgers. I couldn’t understand how someone would choose not to drink, or choose not to get absolutely off their face at every opportunity – why would anyone go home when there was still drinking to be done?

I was never able to go out for one or two drinks and return home at a reasonable hour. I was always the drunkest, the last one to leave a party, the one who didn’t make it home on a night out and woke up in some random house with a thumping headache and no memory of what had happened to me. I would get blackout drunk on work nights, stumbling in at 2 or 3am, driving to work with my foot shaking over the accelerator six hours later, struggling through the work day and hoping desperately no one would notice what was wrong with me. I thought everyone drank like me. I thought everyone felt jittery on a night out unless they had a drink in their hand. I thought everyone got anxious when last orders were approaching and they weren’t drunk enough. I thought everyone struggled in social situations until they had the warm buzz of alcohol flowing through them. Turns out they don’t. Turns out many people can have far more of a take it or leave it attitude to drinking alcohol than I can.

I was 14 when I first had fears that I had “a problem” with alcohol. I’d been drunk many times before but it was that day I began to be concerned that I was “drinking for the wrong reasons”. It was a Sunday and I had been at a school play rehearsal in the morning. In the afternoon my friend and I went round to the house of a couple of much older guys (one I had recently lost my virginity to and the other I was completely obsessively ‘in love’ with) and I gave them money for wine so I could get drunk at 2pm because I didn’t know what else to do. I found social situations unnerving and wine gave me the ability to pretend I had confidence in myself. So I got wasted and tried to snog the guy I was crazy about even though earlier that day we’d agreed to just being friends, and then I had to go home to my Mum’s to pack my stuff because my Dad was coming to collect me for my week at his house.

Once at my Dad’s I felt so ashamed and humiliated. Yet again I’d behaved in a way I despised. I cried on him that I was getting a problem with alcohol because I just couldn’t be out anywhere without it. I’d already had three months off school the previous year because I was battling anorexia and bulimia, self-harming, and feeling desperate and suicidal. So, to help me not succumb to those old friends again, he let me have the day off school the next day to ‘sort my head out’. We never spoke about me and drinking again though. I know he was sometimes concerned by the amount I drank and how often, right up till I was 30 I know he was worried, but he never sat down and asked me why I needed to get so off my head so regularly. And he frequently turned a blind eye to my drinking and other risky behaviours when I was a teenager – I think a lot of the time because he wanted his own life and couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of policing me. And my mum, well… Sometimes she would yell at me for being drunk, other times laugh, and quite often she would just ignore it and pretend she didn’t know. There were no consistent boundaries around my behaviour as a teenager. I told so many lies and no one really seemed to care what I was doing or what was happening to me.

My problematic relationship with alcohol continued for another 20 years. I was never an alcoholic but I was dependent on alcohol in many different situations – social and whilst in solitude – for most of that time. I didn’t drink in the final year of my undergraduate degree because I was really ill physically and mentally and on lots of different medications, and I didn’t drink when I was pregnant of course, but other than that it has been a huge part of my life. And it was something that really compounded my feelings of shame. I have had so many shameful experiences whilst drunk. Some of the highlights include being wanked over by a guy at some house I’d never been to before whilst semi-conscious and all his mates were in the next room, shagging an older guy in a hotel room he paid for us to be in for just 3 hours, sex in a cupboard at a house party while all my friends were in the hallway, getting wasted with my Mum’s A Level students and throwing up all over the garden and myself, embarrassing myself in front of work colleagues, crying on my fellow PhD students, puking on my friend’s brother’s bedroom floor on the night of my 18th birthday and sneaking out of the house before it was fully light. I would often wake up semi-clothed or fully naked in a room of strangers, wondering where the hell I was and what on earth had happened. Even worse was when I woke up fully clothed in bed with a stranger and realised I had been so completely wasted that I’d just passed out before anything could even happen.

After I had Nina I rarely drank for the first year, but as she turned two I began to go partying again and experienced more black out drunk nights ending with one-night stands. When she was two I met a man, Ben, and we started a relationship. I fell head-over-heels in love with him, although in hindsight I can see he was a self-centred and self-absorbed man who genuinely thought the whole world revolved around him. He was also a weed addict, although I didn’t realise this until it was too late and I was completely in love with him. And we drank a lot together. We drank nearly every night we were together for the whole two years of our relationship. We would have 4 beers and a bottle of wine between us and finish off with a quick pint at the pub before last orders or a few shots of whatever spirit we had in.

I found class A drugs when I was 29. They accompanied my alcohol intake for a few years. I’ve not taken drugs for 4 years now and this is probably a topic for a separate post, but I can imagine a night out on md and coke more easily than I can a night of drinking. Class As, and their near-relatives, are not paired with shame for me. They bring clarity. Obviously it’s still dissociation, but there is something less tangled and confusing for me with them than alcohol. We don’t have such a long and complicated history. I have used alcohol to self-medicate a lot in my life. I would drink cider when Ben and I had argued, to try and settle myself enough to function. When the relationship ended I got blackout drunk with my friend and cried everywhere and yelled at a barman in the pub for playing a song that reminded me of him. I drank a bottle of wine every night for weeks. I got shit-faced and turned up at his house at 4am TWICE in the weeks after we broke up. And when Jess killed herself I drank all day every day for weeks, and then continued drinking every evening for a long time. This was not an effective way to deal with my grief, of course, but it took the edge off and it allowed me to cry. I did some things I am really not proud of in those weeks and months. This time culminated in me getting absolutely wasted with a colleague at a conference and crying in her hotel room till 5am. I then had to get the train home by myself and spent 5 hours wanting to die. This drove me to stop drinking for 3 months, so when I met K in August 2015 I had just come to the end of this.

A week after I met K I went to the wedding of an old friend, having not drunk for 3 months, and got absolutely hammered. I cried about Jess and my childhood at 4am in the kitchen of a friend I had not seen for a decade. Cringe. I can see the humour in this now, but also just how tragic it was. I spent the next day lying in bed desperately suicidal and flooded with a familiar feeling I couldn’t even name back; shame. I continued to drink alone after this time, because I didn’t know any other way to deal with the feelings that were coming up at the start of therapy. A particular low-point was my 33rd birthday where I was horribly triggered after leaving the warmth of therapy and finding flowers in the garden from my Mum when I got home. I text K but her reply was not fast enough or comforting enough so I drank a whole bottle of wine in the bath and cut my legs to shreds. The next day was hell – K and I did a 10 minute phone call to help me get through till the next day when we had a session and I remember screaming and screaming into my pillow after the call ended. The pain was excruciating. Annihilation. Death. This particular incident wasn’t solely because of alcohol, but it certainly wasn’t helping me to regulate my emotions and stay stable. I also discovered even one drink was triggering me into a place of shame and feeling like I didn’t belong anywhere, so drinking a moderate amount wasn’t working either.

So in December 2016 I decided I would give up alcohol for the whole of the following year. I didn’t know if I would give up drinking forever after this, but I wanted some time away from drinking to ‘re-evaluate my relationship with it’. I can’t really say it helped, therapy continued to be excruciatingly painful, but it definitely wasn’t making things worse anymore. I started to see how dependent I had been on it and how I wasn’t really able to drink ‘in moderation’. I used it to cry – because it helped me access the feelings that were dissociated and locked away –  and I used it to numb, when feelings were too intense and my distress levels were too high to deal with. And I used it to numb out whilst connecting with other people, to have relationships with a protective barrier all around me. Each year since then I’ve committed to another year of not drinking, rather than making any grand declarations around it, and this feels the right thing to continue with. Year by year.

I prefer being sober, there is no doubt about that, but I do also find it hard not to drink.  A lot of this is actually about other people’s perceptions of me, rather than my own experiences and emotions. I am not used to being “the boring one” who doesn’t drink. I’m used to being “the wild one,” the one is always up for a drink, or ten. I am used to being the one who will keep going when everyone else is flaking, dancing till dawn, throwing back shots, always up for ‘one last drink’. And I do miss drinking. I miss that buzz, the warm glow that spreads through your body, like ‘drinking sunshine’ as Catherine Gray puts it. Alcohol calmed my central nervous system when it was over-stimulated, making me feel lazy and calm, and it lit me up and made me brighter and warmer when I was hypoaroused and flat. I miss the sense of freedom that would spread through my body as I drank my first drink of the evening. I miss the whispered confiding over drinks with new people. And I miss feeling carefree with my friends at the start of a night out and laughing with them over our crazy antics the next day.

What I don’t miss is the shame, the anxiety, the despair alcohol could trigger in me. I don’t miss waking up and feeling desperate panic flood through me as I try to piece together what the hell happened last night. I don’t miss feeling shame and terror over ‘what I did’ and what people are thinking about me (a feeling I experienced even if I had drunk alone, such is the powerful shame trigger alcohol is for me). I don’t miss feeling over-exposed and scared I showed too much of myself. I think a lot of this was subjective – my perception that I had over-shared and revealed too much about myself, rather than objective reality, but as I said earlier I think alcohol is automatically paired with shame for me and I imagine a lot of this comes from early experiences with drinking but also having grown up with a narcissistic mother who I had to hide my real self  from – alcohol makes us less inhibited, more open, and I often get triggered when I show ‘too much’ of who I am. I don’t miss waking up with strangers or ending up dating people I don’t even like because I snogged them whilst drunk and then felt like a slut if I wasn’t interested in them once I was sober. I don’t miss being blackout drunk, waking up the next day and knowing that for hours the night before I was doing things I had no memory of at all. I learnt recently that a blackout occurs when the brain is temporarily unable to record memories. It can be induced by drinking, because alcohol disrupts the activity of the hippocampus, inhibiting its ability to create long-term memories. This in itself is scary, especially when I already struggle so much with memory difficulties because of dissociation and alters.

So whilst it is hard sometimes, I do feel on balance that I have made the right decision. I don’t think the vision I often have of drinking matches the reality. I also sometimes consider the amount of toxic stress chemicals that regularly pump through my body as a result of complex trauma, and I think it is wise to do all I can to minimise the damage I do to my body. Even having one drink is triggering for me and causes me to experience panic and shame and discomfort, and I feel as though there are more important triggers to turn my attention to working through than this, triggers which stop me doing things that would make my life fuller and more authentic. When people pry or act surprised that I don’t drink I usually respond along the lines of “I spent 20 years drinking way too much so now I’m taking some time away from it”. It usually silences them, and I have some very genuine friendships with people that don’t involve alcohol or Class A drugs now, and I want that to be something that expands in the future. I want my future to be about vulnerability and authenticity and for me alcohol is incongruous with living that kind of life.

 

Food

Food is causing issues again. It’s been creeping back in for a while. I put on weight over the winter and then I start restricting and then all hell breaks loose and I’m here with a stone to lose and wondering how someone so adept at starving themselves can end up needing to lose weight. It comes in cycles. It is all part of the same eating disorder. It goes with the territory of attachment trauma. I know all this. Yet I am left feeling ashamed and helpless and totally disgusted by myself. I found my relapse with anorexia last summer far scarier, but it feels much more shameful to be battling with the other side of this cycle. Usually the restricting parts balance out the over-eating parts and weight stays relatively stable, but this cycle plays out most days. Restricting parts have been less prominent lately which I can see is a good thing because they take over primarily when attachment anxiety is high. I find restricting easier to deal with though, easier to admit to, easier to seek help for.

I am not fat, I cycle loads and I know I am fit and strong, I can still fit into most of my clothes, but I am bigger than I would like to be. I’ve been a stone lighter for most of the past six years, and I’ve had times during those six years when food and eating has been a ‘non-issue’ and I’ve felt happy and content and not really thought about food much at all, other than making sure I am eating healthily. So that weight feels like the weight I am genuinely comfortable with. This weight now does not. In part I can see that in the past few months I’ve really taken on board just how much I am holding in adult life, every day, with my crazy full-time job, solo parenting, running a house and driving Nina to swimming training 3 or 4 days a week, on top of therapy and growth and healing. So I’ve tried to lower my expectations around food and not think about it so much. This strategy doesn’t seem to work. It’s almost like food needs to be quite a big part of normal life in order for it not to take over completely. Counter-intuitive but true. Maybe I’m starting to see I will always struggle with food, having had disordered eating nearly all my life so far, and so I need to find ways that work for me and don’t cause me to cycle through the different aspects of disorder so rapidly or cause the pendulum to swing in such a way as to leave me feeling totally out of control and overwhelmed.

I’ve needed to raise it in therapy for a while. I did today, with the caveat of “I don’t want to talk about it but it is an issue again”. We did talk about it, but I cannot tell K I need to lose weight because teen parts silence me with their terror that she will then notice the weight gain and think how disgusting and out of control we are. I’ve been waiting to lose the stone before talking to her about food. Clearly that strategy was never going to work! She validated and normalised it, asked for some examples of when it has been problematic lately. I said how it starts as me being determined to eat well each day and then something goes wrong, one thing eaten that ‘shouldn’t’ have been, and then everything goes wrong and too much food is consumed and we resolve to start again the next day. I said how I know people who comfort eat and yet just acknowledge that it was a reaction to a bad day and don’t completely shame themselves with it. My comfort eating happens in secret, even when it is not much extra than normal. Any deviance from ‘the rules’ is a shameful secret. I know food causes issues for so many people but that seems to cause more shame rather than comfort.

I get so lost in this stuff. Food causes me so many problems. I hate it. I hate how much energy it takes up. I end up putting on weight when I try to take the focus off food. I try and be less restrictive and just chill about it and then it’s like binge parts and comfort-eating parts go wild because ‘no one is watching’. And often it is like ‘fuck it, who cares??’ but the problem is I do care. I avoid seeing people I’ve not seen for a while because I want to have lost this extra stone before I see them. This strikes me as a little insane but it is how my system works. For some parts there is nothing more terrifying than being overweight/over-our-ideal-weight, not necessarily because we look ‘fat’ but because people will think we are out of control. Being out of control, not being able to control what I put into my body, is something I find immensely triggering. I see this is all about boundaries and attachment trauma. I get that, but I want to move past it. I want food not to dominate my life. Ironically when I stop worrying about food so much is when it takes more of a hold over me.

Anyway, so K and I have a two and a half week break between sessions now and she has given me homework over the break of writing down everything I eat so we can look at it together and start to work with the triggers – “CBT-style” as she put it. She said if I’d come to see her with an eating disorder this is what we would have done. It seems so fucked up that something which would have taken many people into therapy in its own right has had to take a backseat to all the other craziness that has needed to be dealt with in therapy. The thing is, I think writing down everything I eat will help me through the break, give me something to focus on, and it will definitely get my eating back on track for now, but I also know that for the next 18 days I will completely regulate my eating because I am accountable to her. This is obviously good for the weight loss which is objectively needed, and it will be good for my health as I will want K to see I am healthy and not out of control, but long-term I just don’t know how to get past this. My food goals are so far away from what is possible, so rigid and restrictive, that they are impossible to sustain. And I don’t want to lapse back into orthorexia either. Ugh. It’s a mess.