Not as long as forever

Today in therapy we were brave and asked some really difficult questions and I think we have decided, as a system, to take next year as a break from therapy and return to work with K in 2020. I want to keep the details of today’s session just for me and the parts – it was emotionally charged and difficult and we covered so much despite losing the first 45 minutes of the double session in a dissociated haze of missing each other behind invisible barriers – but the takeaway headline is that K and I are on the same page about the strength of our therapeutic alliance and the fact that a forever ending probably isn’t what’s best and most healing for my system as a whole at this time.

In the past, even 2 weeks has been a horrifically long time away from her, even with email contact, and yet here I am contemplating going it alone for a whole year! I can’t really believe I can even consider this as an option, but it does feel manageable (daunting, but manageable) and it is testimony to the healing I have done in my work with her so far, and the strength of our therapeutic alliance, that it feels like the option that is best for me and my parts at this time. A year is a long time, but it is not as long as forever.

Although I didn’t know her thoughts on this until tonight, this option as one I feel comfortable with has been settling around me for the past week or so, since she said it would be possible for us to work together again in the future. It started to occur to me that it would give me chance to stabilise without getting my attachment wound triggered every week and would give me time to integrate the work we have done so far and identify the work that needs doing in the future. And after tonight it feels like the best way forward. A year is such a long time that I won’t be able to pine for her the whole time – I will have to get on with things and practice all the coping and self-soothing skills I’ve developed over the years. We talked today about things I can do to hold me during the year’s break, if that’s what I decide to do, one option being working with someone who now does monthly bodywork workshops at the place where K did her training so there would be a sense of a connection to her. There are other things I would like to try, like craniosacral therapy and voice workshops, and I would be able to use the money I would have spent on therapy for these things and also doing fun stuff with Nina like a holiday somewhere hot and sunny and relaxing.

Thinking about this possibility feels very different from the prospect of ending therapy and being shoved into the cold by myself to cope. It would be a chance for my system to really stop and see how far we’ve come, to develop better internal communication and put into practice the steps we need when we are triggered. I like the idea of seeing how I go on my own and coming back to her, and K thinks this is a “fine plan” (which we would obviously discuss face-to-face at the end of her year off to determine if it’s right for me to be back in psychotherapy at that time and so on). She knows so much, she knows my history and everything we discuss about my current life takes place against the backdrop of all the messy and painful stuff that has brought me to where I am today. She totally  understands why I don’t want to start all that again with someone else, why I don’t want this (i.e. her and I and everything we are and have done) to be another loss in the long line of losses in my life. Taking the time as a break means she can continue to be my secure base and attachment figure, the person I internalise a sense of safety from, and there will not be massive amounts of shame and pain about using her as a blanket to wrap round myself when things feel scary, or using her voice to remind me what to do when things are difficult – it will be ‘okay’ to try and stay connected to her, and to use that connection to practice steadying myself and holding the parts.

So, we have the details to make clear, and I will need a plan in place for next year to make sure things don’t spiral out of hand like they have the past month, but internally things feel calmer and more settled and young parts feel better knowing K is still there, still safe. And at least I’ve finally figured out a way to make therapy breaks less horrendous – envisage a forever ending and then suddenly a month is nothing and a year is manageable! And I’m kind of glad (cannot believe I’m actually writing this!) that we have a whole month’s break in August as it will be a bit of a ‘trial run’ – if things descend into chaos entirely then I will have to re-think this plan! I have to keep reminding myself I’ve done a lot of very intense work with her over the past 3 years and that I am capable of handling this. I’m not where I was 3 years ago (although the past month has seemed scarily close to this!). And how nice will it be to go back after a year and tell her all we’ve done and how we’ve grown and how we cared for each other, and to know she is proud of us?

Phew, things still feel quite difficult, especially around food, but I feel more alive and hopeful and positive this evening than I have since the rupture 5 weeks ago. Nina and I saw Taylor Swift at Wembley Stadium on Saturday night which was absolutely incredible! Seeing the joy on my beautiful daughter’s face all through the concert and making such special memories together was wonderful . I am so proud of how we, as in my system, got it together to go given how bad things were earlier in the week, and how it ended up being wonderful rather than just something to endure due to flashbacks and attachment pain. It reminded me I am more than complex trauma and dissociation. I am bigger than my past, and I am hopeful that next year I will have the opportunity to grow into the person K is helping me become, safe in the knowledge that there is a definite possibility (because nothing can be certain in life) that we will work together again at the end of it.

Loss

miffy_bike

Today felt more manageable. I started to think about next week and being back at work, hopefully on reduced hours for a while (I see my GP tomorrow morning). I spent time with a friend this morning and this afternoon cycled for 2 hours in beautiful sunshine around the amazing countryside I am so lucky to live near. Most of this time was spent cycling uphill because, as we know, the ascent takes so much longer and requires so much more energy and determination than the time we get to enjoy freewheeling. I thought of K, I remembered what it was like to cycle with her, to watch her pedalling ahead of me, to feel her next to me, to hear young parts chattering to her and teens ranting about the injustices in the world as they found their words cycling along the lanes near her home. I remembered the wonderful bike ride we had at the end of April when she said ‘I really enjoy cycling with you CB’ when we got back, and how it felt to hear her say that because I knew from how she said it that she meant it. She really meant it, and for me it was another memory to hold in my heart, more words to use to plug the holes in me with, a feeling memory to tuck in the box kept for memories of my ‘therapy Mum’. I thought of the amazing trip we had planned before everything went so wrong (we are planning a trip to the ancient woodland still, before we end our work, but not by bike because too much can go wrong) and all the time I thought we had that has suddenly been pulled away from us.

And I thought about loss. I thought about how she will always be another loss to add to the list of losses now. This ending is premature and unplanned and deeply painful. I have no doubt I will learn from it and grow through it, and that in many ways it will make me a better, stronger, wiser person, but that doesn’t transform it into something good. I don’t need any more lessons on loss to help me grow. I need love and care and warmth to help me do the growing I need now. Surely it is my time to learn from these things at last? I am done with learning through loss and pain and trauma. She has said before, when we’ve talked about emotional dysregulation in abused children and the limbic resonance (i.e. the energetic exchange that happens between two people in a caring and safe relationship which stimulates the release of certain neurochemicals in the brain, aka ‘love’) needed to heal, that even when it seems as though we are doing very little real work in the room, I am healing all the time, that there is so much unspoken work going on just by us being together. And I want more of that. She has held me in the darkness, but she has also filled me with so much light and warmth and hope and strength. My brain is rewiring itself through my time with her, though the experience of having someone so attuned to me, to all the parts of me, through being heard and seen and met and contained, and I am not ready to lose that yet. Maybe I would never have been ready, but there have been times when I could foresee not needing therapy the way I do now and instead would just pop back for a check-in every 3 or 4 weeks. This ending feels sudden and brutal and just so badly-timed. I wanted to outgrow therapy with her, not have it snatched away too soon.

Like all survivors of relational or developmental trauma, I have lost so much already. I have lost the chance to grow into a healthy, stable adult able to relate to others and tolerate and regulate their emotional state. I have lost years to chronic, debilitating physical pain. I have missed out on feelings of safety, love, security, stability. I have lost my actual Mum, and I have missed out on being mothered. And I have walked around carrying this loss, which is so huge and so all-encompassing that I have spent most of my time running away from it and attacking myself so as not to feel it, my whole life. And then I found someone at last who not only knew what was wrong with me, but also knew how to help me and was willing to do the work with me to help me heal. And now I am losing her. She is the first person I have ever felt safe with, the first person who has seen and heard me, her home is the place where I sat as feelings of safety crept under my skin and for the first time I knew what it meant to feel safe. It is not fair. It is not fair I had to find this in a therapy relationship which can be taken away. I know that loving means dealing with loss, facing and embracing it. I know that some people are only meant to walk beside us for some of our journey and that this doesn’t make what they give us any less real, but that doesn’t make this any easier. And I know K and I may be able to work together in future and that, in all likelihood, this will happen one day because I know in my heart there is something special there, that we are not done, that the relationship is special just by the nature of the depths we have gone to together.

This evening I was feeling like I might be able to write some words by hand in my journal at last, and then I saw K’s name and the year written in a book she lent me on Monday and I fell apart again. I am so not ready to lose her. Today is Solstice. Last year on this day K and I made a mandala in her garden and I thought about the things I wanted to bring into the light in the coming year. It was the most peaceful and beautiful thing I have ever created, both in time and space. I loved leaving it there in her garden, and in our Friday email 2 days later she said it was still there but that one of her dogs had been interested in it and the wind had blown some of the large leaves around. That evening filled me with warmth and contentment. And now, as always, I want more of that and it feels so painfully lonely to know I must create my own sacred and special things like that now – she will not be my side, but nor will anyone, not really. On Monday, as another wave of grief hit me after I went to choir, I realised this pain isn’t really (or not wholly at least – there is pure grief about the loss of our relationship in there too of course) about losing K; even if she wasn’t going away that pain, those life-or-death feelings, that sense of annihilation is still inside me. Parts still carry it all the time. With her I hoped to transform it into something else, something more manageable, but I will carry that mother wound, and all the losses it represents, with me, in some way, forever.

 

Darkness

It feels like forever since I last wrote, although in reality it is only 4 days. Time is passing in weird ways. Parts of me are stuck in trauma time – land of the perpetual present. There are no new words. It’s all been said and it makes no difference. There are possibilities running through my mind for ‘life after K’, but they are too painful and confusing to write about. My journal remains empty, the parts’ book is suspended in time, there is a reluctance to get on with normal life. And yet, in so many ways, that is what I am doing, what I must do. Part of me has already disconnected from K – there is too much shame over needing someone, over the holes in me that I’ve looked to her to fill, over the fact that I can’t even pay to get what I need. And a voice keeps screaming ‘help me!’ And I want to, I think, but I don’t know how. How do I let this part (Leia, she is 14) express her pain when in the face of it her mum went away, even as she begged her to stay?

And it hurts so much knowing that to K I am one of many, so many, when to me she is and always will be one in a million. I am in her heart, we all are, I know that. And it is not enough. She has stayed with me in the darkness, shining her beautiful light, for so long now. She has sat by me and with me in my darkness, holding hope for me when I couldn’t find my own, helping me face the blackness until the stars came into view.

bunnies night sky

And whilst I would like to think that she has given me enough light to fill the darkness long after she is gone, in truth without her I am scared of being plunged into that darkness forever.  Even during the times when I know I will survive, the prospect of a future without her by my side feels pretty bleak. There is a lot of shame around this, but I won’t go there tonight. I thought she would be here for so, so much longer. I thought she would be by my side as I began dating (urgh) and formed new friendships and lost my mind during my daughter’s teenage years. I thought she would be there to witness everything. I thought there would be one person who the parts had told their story to, one person who had heard it all (and I get that this is meant to be me, but their story is a lot for me to take in sometimes). And even though we may work together in the future (she has said that is a possibility), it will never be what it has been. And my system will not need or get from another therapist what we have had from K. We are stronger, we won’t need so much support and love and validation. And this is a sign of progress I know, but it is so much to lose. Some of the emails she has sent to Miffy in particular have made us feel more loved and safe and warm than anything ever has before. It is a huge amount to lose.

Monday’s session was a completely horrific, snot-ridden mess due to things going on in my life aside from the end of the therapeutic relationship, but on Monday next week young parts just need to sit with her and be with her and take in all that we are and have been. They need to be heard and seen and have their pain validated. She said we don’t need to starve ourselves to let her know how much we are hurting, but the young parts feel so lost, and I am scared of their pain, how life and death it feels, how all-encompassing it is. They have no words for what is happening. So I really hope K and I are both strong enough to allow the parts to come out in session and feel what they need to feel, even if it is messy. And I really hope they can begin to find a way to externalise this pain and loss so there is something real to take into the future. I looked at a couple of books – a Debi Gliori one called Always and Forever and one called Rabbityness – which are meant to help children with loss. Foxes and rabbits are really special in K and I’s work, so I may get them, but in so many ways accepting this is happening makes it all feel too real.

 

Stuck

So the food thing (aka starving myself – best to name it for what it is) is spiralling. It’s getting out of control and I am really scared. Nina has come down with a cold, and I am now terrified (not an overstatement, the thought of being ill literally floods my body with terror) that I am going to get it and 1) not be able to see K on Monday, and 2) not be in a good space to return to work on June 25th. Already the thought of going back to work is overwhelming me and I know that after the stress of the past nearly 4 weeks I need to start looking after myself in all the ways I know how. And yet I can’t eat.

I haven’t had a relapse of anorexia like this for probably 18 years. Suddenly it feels bigger than me. It is in control of me. I had forgotten what it was like to be in the grips of it, to know I need to eat and yet not be able to. I had forgotten that it actually takes over and that the tight, hollow tummy becomes familiar and comforting. I had forgotten that it leads to a complete loss of desire to eat. It is like a switch has been turned off inside me and I can’t find a way to turn it back on.

I can see all the reasons I need to eat and try and avoid another illness. I am singing with my choir on Friday evening and taking Nina to see Taylor Swift at Wembley on Saturday. I have therapy. I have stuff to do at home, parenting to do, things to organise. I get to ride my bike and go to the gym if I am not ill. I will be ready to return to work after my time off. And none of this is switching my brain back on to eating normally, or even semi-normally.

This evening I did have a load of vegetables and a veggie burger. And then a massive dose of effervescent vitamin C and some zinc tablets, plus my usual supplements. I drank some smoothie. I hoped this might trick my brain into remembering that eating and self-care are good. It hasn’t. I find the orthorexia stressful but this is something else. This feels like it knows no limits. It is taking me over. I feel lost inside it. Overwhelmingly stressed that it is happening but not able to stop it at the same time. It sounds ridiculous I know, but it is what it is.

So this evening I am stuck in a place of high anxiety, aware of the spiralling that is happening and scared because I feel unable to stop it. I had a bath with epsom salts and tried to relax but my jaw is clenched and my tummy is tight. Yesterday I wrote I know I’ll get back to eating properly as the shock of losing K before I’m ready wears off, but in the past 24 hours it feels like something has shifted and this thing has taken me over. And right now I feel stuck between two terrifying alternatives – eat or get sick. The thought of eating terrifies me. Putting on the weight I’ve lost in the past 4 weeks terrifies me. And getting sick terrifies me too, even though it would just be a cold. It would disrupt therapy and disrupt everything else and I cannot handle it. And the longer term picture of anorexia is clearly not something I want to return to. I hadn’t realised how dangerous the behaviours are, it’s been so long since I’ve been in this place. And when it last happened I was maybe 17, it wasn’t so scary, I didn’t have grown-up responsibilities that depend upon me not spiralling into an eating disorder. It used to be scary back then, but this time it feels so much more serious.

A month ago life felt so much better than this. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t like it has been the past 4 weeks. I have just been clinging on desperately for the past 4 weeks, with the rupture, the bug which led to having to go to hospital, and then K’s news, and suddenly here am I. Stuck in this place. I need to get out of it, but I don’t know how.

Disordered Eating

I’ve called this post disordered eating, though to be honest eating is not disordered at the moment, it is just pretty much non-existent. I’ve lost 6 kilos in less than 4 weeks. I’m actually a healthy weight now (having put on 3.5 kilos over the winter through too much binge eating and not enough cycling due to shit weather, something that fills me with huge amounts of shame and self-loathing), but mentally this feels unhealthy. I know it is unhealthy and yet I am scared to tell anyone, even – especially – K on Monday, because I do not want to be encouraged to eat (or for her to abandon me entirely because look what the spectre of ending with her does to me…Clearly I need more help than she can offer). Part of me is enjoying how much power I have over myself. I know, I know, it’s all about being able to control something when everything else is falling apart. I know I’ll get back to eating properly as the shock of losing K before I’m ready wears off. I know I won’t sustain this, but part of me wishes I could. The first ‘problem’ listed on my medical records, after chicken pox, is anorexia nervosa in 1997 and part of me is proud of this, and part of me (probably the same part) feels a failure because I couldn’t even get that properly. Other coping mechanisms took over, and starving myself just rears its head for a few days every few months and then recedes. These feel like teen parts, but as I realised this week after talking to a friend – starving myself is about attachment, it’s driven by very young feelings. I never realised before how closely the two were related – failure of attachment and self-starvation. I’m not sure it is this simple, but it does feel like somewhere in my head is this idea that if I stop eating, K won’t go away – perhaps it is about needs, if I deny my needs (and what do we need more than food really? Other than air and water) then my attachment figure won’t go away. I remember my Dad making me read a book about anorexia and bulimia when I was 14, when I had to take 3 months off school due to this and self-harm and depression and just being a general mess. The book said something about how anorexia, on a basic level, is about denying the self life, denying what is needed to live. Is it as simple as just wanting someone else to nurture me, and denying my needs when it is obvious they can’t? Of course there’s another whole load of tangled beliefs and messages in there too now, but basically (as is everything I guess!) it is about attachment and loss.

I realised a few months ago, on my old blog where I wrote about food a little bit after a very intense and quite disturbing conversation in therapy, how utterly fucked my system is in relation to eating. In some ways, many ways, it would be easier to have one eating disorder to deal with, but I don’t – I have different anorexic parts (sometimes it’s about quantity of food with a goal of just ‘as little as possible’ and sometimes it’s about eating but restricting and keeping in mind calories and weight loss), binging parts (who adult me is so ashamed of), orthorexic parts (which can manifest in different ways at different times depending on which ‘healthy’ goal is most prominent), alongside parts that are fairly balanced about eating and then child parts who, of course, just want to eat a lot of party rings and oreos and ice cream. It is just a cacophony of mixed messages about food and the different goals that sit alongside eating. Inside is mayhem. And it can be so hard to tell what is ‘healthy adult’ and what is unhealthy coping mechanisms driven by traumatised parts (e.g. thinking ‘fuck it!’ and eating a whole packet of biscuits after a long day at work could be seen as relatively balanced and healthy, as long as it’s not all the time, but it could also be a part who is just wanting to eat to feel full and stave off the feelings of emptiness and longing. Food is also grounding and so it could be a subconscious effort to do this when I am very dissociated (in which case some other method might be healthier), and it could be the precursor to a huge binge where we eat till we feel sick (and then starve and over-exercise to try and compensate). It’s a mess, to be honest (and I imagine – no I know – that ‘the eating box’ will be one I take with me to ‘my new therapist’ (who I do not want at all, by the way) later this year).

The noise around food sometimes is so unbearable I cannot think straight, but all these competing aims and eating disorders do mean that at least my weight stays pretty much the same, with the days of starving balanced out by the other days of over-eating, and the orthorexia keeping our nutrient intake pretty balanced. Till now. The past 3 1/2 weeks, since ‘the rupture’ with K and then the news that she is taking 2019 off, anorexic tendencies have completely taken over. As always, it starts with me being physically unable to eat. My tummy is tight and I feel so churned up and broken inside that I would not be able to eat if I tried. For days I hold my tummy so tight it hurts, all the time. And then I begin to enjoy both the hunger (it is better to feel an emptiness attributable to something than to feel the emptiness caused by loss of attachment) and the feelings of power and control over myself. Denying myself food becomes a habit. I’ve been surprised by how easy it is not to eat, it’s been years and years since I’ve spiralled into it like this, and it has come back in a pretty big way.

As an anorexic teenager I never binged or over-ate, but I would make myself sick whenever I had what I perceived to be ‘too much’ (i.e. half a healthy meal). I survived on black coffee and maybe a chocolate bar to get me through the day. I didn’t count calories; my goal was just to let as little into my body as possible. I would regularly go 72+ hours without food, feeling dizzy, being freezing cold and unable to sleep, and having to sit down in the shower in the mornings as I was too weak to stand up. Anything that passed my lips I regarded as me being a failure. At 14 I also started self-harming, cutting my arms and legs with a razor every day, multiple times. I found an old diary from that time recently which I shared some of with K, about how I was getting ‘much better’ at cutting as I was able to make them deeper and longer and bleed more now. Cutting brought instantaneous relief, but not eating was always the choice for a pain I couldn’t see a way out of, where longer-lasting relief was needed. I wrote one time, after someone I really liked ‘dumped me’ for someone else, how I was waiting for the feelings of starvation to take over my whole body and give me the relief I needed from my feelings, because only starvation could help me separate from my feelings. So this stuff is such an ingrained coping mechanism.

And then around age 21, when my chronic head pain was at it’s height. I began to find solace in food, in comfort eating. I was dissociated all the time (though I had no word for it then) and desperately ill and empty. I’d started to uncover ‘the mother wound’ and had cut my Mum out of my life for 6 months, initially, to try and deal with it without getting constantly triggered by interactions with her. Food filled up the gaping hole inside me. So it is my 21 year old part, Amelia, who drives the binge eating. As she wrote in our parts’ journal – I eat and eat but food cannot fill me up. The over-eating is a huge source of shame. It is something I admitted to K for the first time just 6 weeks ago. Anorexia, or at least being thin and ‘in control’ is desirable, over-eating is too much like my Mum who makes me feel ill with her over-eating. Binging is very rare, and one of the issues is that things often feel like a binge or ‘too much’ when really they are just a normal amount of food. Orthorexic parts dictate such strict rules, and when they are deviated from even a little it feels like everything has gone to shit.

And then there’s the whole ‘too much/not enough’ dichotomy which is basically at the heart of disorganised attachment and the emotional swings that tend to accompany it (emotionally numb/overwhelmed, engulfed/abandoned, dissociated/anxious, the pull towards connection and the push away from it, and so on). When we feel numb and empty (i.e. not enough) there is a pull towards over-eating, and when we feel ‘too much’ (maybe, like now, overwhelming feelings of abandonment and annihilation) then we stop eating. So swinging between the two makes sense, but I would so like to find some middle ground. As I would in all areas of my life really.

Food was a huge issue growing up. My Dad is over-restrictive (his Mum, my Grandma, is anorexic) and weighs himself every day, my Mum binges regularly and we grew up with ‘bad’ food being used as a treat and regularly hearing my Mum’s self-hatred with regards her body and her food habits. My Dad shamed her for being overweight. I began restricting when I was 8, writing down everything I ate and setting unattainable goals for my weight, and when my Dad found my notebook he told me if he thought I was ‘fat’ he would be giving me less to eat – he wasn’t, ergo I wasn’t fat. Ugh, where to start with all that was wrong with that conversation?! So my parents are also too much/not enough and neither of them taught me anything about how to be healthy around food. It makes me so sad that something so necessary for survival, and something so pleasurable for so many, causes me such anguish. I have to admit the anorexia is easier to manage as a Mum than when the orthorexia takes over, because when I’m not eating I’m not worrying about what my daughter (Nina, I’m going to call her here) is eating (she is eating fine, I’m not starving her and it is nutritionally balanced, I’m just not worrying too much about the whole gluten, sugar, nutrients thing – right now life is just about survival to be honest).

I recently had to have a conversation with Nina, who is 11, about suicide as a boy in her class is pretty messed up and says he wants to kill himself. My beautiful, amazing friend Jess took her life in December 2014 and at the time I told Nina that she fell off the cliffs, not wanting her to know that suicide was even a ‘thing’ when she was 7 years old. So I used Jess as a way to contextualise our discussion, and explained a bit about it and that for some people being alive is just too painful and they can’t see a way out. I said it was rare, which is why it was such a shock and so devastating for everyone, and that often people feel unable to reach out to anyone for help (but that she would always have me to turn to for any kind of problem). She was heart-broken to hear the truth, and is still absolutely horrified that anyone would do that to themselves. This amazes and relieves me but also saddens me – I was younger than her when I first began to think of death as the way out. By 13 I remember people talking about what would happen in a few weeks time and my thoughts always being ‘I won’t be here then’. Being suicidal, starving and hurting myself, and other self-destructive behaviours have been part of my life since I was younger than her. She told me recently how she wants some friends who enjoy eating as her two friends at the moment just pick at their food. She loves food, but is so balanced about it. And she swims for 5 1/2 hours a week and does other sports too so it is not that she loves food to fill her up and avoid. She just likes food because we are programmed to find eating a pleasurable experience (like how excited do my bunnies and guinea pigs get about eating hay – I want to be like that!) and yet somehow, because of failed early attachment, this has all gone wrong for me.

I asked K in our Friday email today if she has any books on anorexia and attachment, as I’d not realised the links before this past week (I didn’t tell her what is going on for me at the moment, I figured she has enough to worry about and email is not the place). She is going to see what she can find. Maybe this will be an opening into telling her about these difficulties on Monday. I think she thinks that telling me to be more balanced re the orthorexic tendencies would do the trick, and whilst I am being more balanced in terms of what I buy for Nina, this stuff runs so deep that I don’t think one or two sessions could be enough to sort it all out. This is what I mean about how we have so many boxes open in our work at the moment, it is just such shit timing for me to move to another therapist. We are right in the thick of everything, all the attachment work and all the trauma processing and all the rebuilding needed for my future. I feel a little more stable today, and it’s easy to think I will stay this way now, but I’ve learnt that another wave is usually just around the corner for me so I am starting to try and just settle into it for now. I still have huge levels of anxiety and uncertainty over what is happening, but I feel held by her again, and the young parts and their life or death feelings have receded a little, for now.

Bled White

I am trying really hard. I had a session with one of the potential new therapists, L, this morning and it just didn’t feel right. I was really upset when I arrived and had only had 4 1/2 hours sleep despite meds, and pretty much the first thing I said was how I just don’t want to be having to do any of this. She was SO NOT K. And I do get that nothing will compare to her right now, that she is the only person who can possibly soothe us even a little, and that probably I won’t find anyone else who we do such deep and intense work with anyway because our needs have changed. She said some validating things about what I am losing and how huge it is, like losing a parent. And she has flexible boundaries around outside contact which is reassuring. But it still didn’t feel right. And when I spoke to the other potential therapist last Friday it did feel like it could one day be okay with her. Even over the phone we felt heard and validated and it settled the system a little bit. I am meeting the other therapist, A, on 27th June so not for a while. This feels kind of stressful as it’s a long time to wait to find out if she would be willing to work with me, has space for a trauma client at this point in time, would be able to offer some kind of between session contact, and could work on my timescale for transition. And whilst I could work with L short-term I think, if I needed containing, I cannot imagine doing deep work with her. So it feels like a lot depends upon A. I know I do still have K, for another 6 1/2 months if I want her (health permitting) and she is still here, holding me. I miss her so much. Holding out for the Friday email and also wondering whether to ask her to come and see me singing with my choir next Friday evening (nothing could hurt more than this right, so if she says no it would make no difference?!). Having her see us all doing something in ‘our real life’ that is such a huge part of who we all are would be magical and healing and wonderful. It is not beyond the realms of the impossible that she would say yes, but I am probably too scared to ask and get rejected.

So like I said, I am trying really hard. I was meant to be on annual leave next week to decorate my room and sort stuff at home, but as I’m off this week I’m going to paint my room (with my Dad’s help – more shame!) tomorrow and Friday so next week can be spent trying to care for myself ready for returning to work. I still can’t believe this is happening. The minute I’m alone after being with people the grief and panic hits again and I find myself sobbing helplessly, overcome with all that is and will be lost. It is so draining, so all-consuming. I want to wrap myself up in blanket and hide and instead tonight I have to go to meet my daughter’s new teachers and chat to other Mum’s – not my favourite kind of Wednesday evening at the best of times.

This beautiful song by Elliott Smith, which was on repeat when I was 15 (Phoebe’s age, there’s a lot of Phoebe around at the moment, but she’s more in the background than last night thank goodness) is playing over in my head a lot today.

Yesterday dreaming’s just a waste of time,

Cause I’ll have to be high, to drag this sunset down.

And paint this paling town.

Bled white.

 

Too much

I feel like the most ridiculous and prolific blogger that ever existed. I think partly I keep writing here because I cannot bear to write in my journal what is actually happening. It will make it too real. I have filled so many notebooks in my lifetime but this is one loss I cannot bear to see written in my own handwriting. I have silenced the parts. I cannot tolerate their pain. My own is enough. When theirs gets too big I switch out. And then I come back and have to face the reality again. I don’t know if that makes sense – structural dissociation is so confusing.

I am really frightened by what is ahead. I felt more settled after my session. Deep, gut-wrenching grief but I felt less smashed and splintered inside. I felt like I could live again one day. But feeling this grief is triggering in itself and I am back in a state of high anxiety. How can I tell myself, and all the parts, that nothing bad is happening and we are safe when actually losing K at this point in our journey is the worst thing ever? We are physically safe, but psychological safety feels very far away.

I do not have words to express the disbelief and shock that is going on in my body and mind. I am switching in and out. Overtaken by parts who then disappear and leave me wondering what on earth happened. The shamed teen part (Phoebe) was triggered earlier (thanks to my friends who talked to her btw, you know who you are) after something my Dad said. I know better than to try and talk to him, but it is so hard sometimes when I just want him to understand.  I feel sick by how much I have needed him this week. And I have shared too much and I feel over-exposed. I tried to explain a pain and a process that is incomprehensible to him. A pain he would know if he stopped and looked inside himself. A pain he has passed to me. A pain he cannot bear to face. A pain he has spent his whole life pushing away. I said how triggered I get by people telling me – or implying  – that the most special relationship I have ever had is pathological and over-dependent, I said that the only way to heal attachment trauma is through relationship. He said ‘and yes, even if it is not – that’s for you to find out, not for someone else to tell you’. And I know my Dad, I know what he meant – you’re wrong, but I respect your autonomy and will let you find out for yourself. After a lifetime of being invalidated by him, how did I think this would be any different? I hate needing him, even for practical support and help with my daughter. I feel so ashamed and frightened by needing him. I feel as if I have done something really wrong when I have needed anything ‘extra’ from him or when I have tried to tell him how I feel. It is not just my narcissistic mum who was horrifically invalidating.

And yet there is no one else. K and I have talked so many times about his capabilities and how ideally I would see and need a lot less from him (he has my daughter to sleep every Monday so I can recover from therapy and go to choir, and he picks her up from school every Wednesday too and takes her to her swimming lesson) because it is so triggering for me because he is so unpredictable (sometimes he is great and I can feel he cares but other times I feel like one big inconvenience- often he has become frustrated by something he offered to do by the time it comes to doing it) and invalidating. And yet – who else is there? I don’t have a mum. I don’t have any family. I don’t have friends I can ask because asking for help is not something I do. I only have him. I try to accept his limitations, and yet somehow I still end up triggered. He cannot acknowledge my pain because he has to keep pushing away his own. And so I hate worrying him. I just want to be normal. But for me ‘normal’ means having no needs and being entirely, 100% self-sufficient. Not needing anything, practical or emotional, from anybody. I can see this is attachment trauma talking. If I lose all of K’s other words then ‘we are relational beings’ will be the 4 words ingrained in my mind forever. Even though I don’t feel they apply to me, I know that when I want to be entirely self-sufficient it is trauma talking.

An enormous fear I have is that I use people up. I can hear my Mum saying these words – “you take and you take until there is nothing left. You use everybody up. Everyone has had enough. No one wants to know anymore”. I was 14 (although “all you do is take take take” was a common refrain my entire life, right from when I was 4 or 5, maybe even before). and I was crying ALL THE TIME at school, literally all day every day, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know why I hurt so much. The day she said those words to me I vowed no one would ever see the real me again, that I would keep my pain hidden and never show anyone how much I hurt inside. Even on my blog, where people don’t have to read if they choose not to, I am scared that I will be hated because I write too much, because I am too much. I am scared of reaching out to people, new and old, at this time and them being horrified by the insatiable pit of need that I am. I used to be so much better at holding my needs and feelings inside. I am so scared of spilling and infecting everyone around me. And I am scared that even expressing these fears themselves will repulse people and make them go away. I am ashamed of my shame. I am scared of taking people up on their offer of being ‘there’ one too many times. I never know what is an ‘acceptable’ amount to reach out to people. How long until they go away?

I would like to think 3 years in therapy would have enabled me to care for myself, but I’ve basically slipped back into anorexic habits. I’ve lost 10 lbs in 3 weeks. A lot of that has been because I’ve been physically unable to eat (activated and then the sickness bug) but I’m not really trying now. In fact I’m not trying at all. There’s some vague sense of not wanting to eat because it will stop K leaving being real. I can see the nonsense in that and yet I can’t stop it. I’d forgotten how easy not eating can be. I’d forgotten how powerful it makes me feel. So I kind of hope that once I’m ‘out the other side’ of therapy this won’t happen anymore and at least grown up parts will prevent the anorexic habits getting out of hand. At the moment I am too caught up in the twisted logic of starving myself to want to eat. I would like a healthy relationship with food and my body, but the parts who don’t want to eat are really running the show and I am merged with them and finding it hard to step back and see that this is not a good way to be.

Tomorrow it is an open evening at the secondary school my daughter will be starting at in September. It is for children from schools not in the catchment area, so they have a chance to get to know other children in the same situation before they have their 3 new intake days at the start of July. She is so excited. I am excited for her. It will be a much-needed fresh start and her school is quite far from where we live currently and in a village we will move to (I hope) in the Spring – cannot wait to be closer to nature and a beautiful forest and more potential for bike rides. K supported me in this choice of school. She helped me sort through all the clutter in my mind about what to do, to filter out the non-supportive implicit messages from my Dad over what I should do (send her to the shit school with no sixth-form 5 minutes from where we currently live) and all the silly reasons (e.g. the type of skirt and colour of jumper!) for other school choices from my daughter. She helped me work out what was right for my daughter and I, moving forwards and thinking ahead to the next 7 years, especially as we build a life away from my Mum. She helped me work out what I needed and wanted in a school for my beautiful, bright, kind and free-spirited daughter. Without her I would have got lost in 10 year old logic and the influence of a man who doesn’t know what I need and value. Speaking to her – everything was clear inside me. See how everything big in my life feels so connected with K? Losing her guidance in parenting is another huge loss – I’ve had no one to show me what is okay and healthy, just poor and damaging examples from both my parents.

And so I don’t want to be a sleep-deprived and triggered mess at this opening evening. I want to be the mum I so usually am and the mum my daughter deserves. But it is 2am and my heart is racing despite diazepam and sleeping tablets, and the waves of grief and abandonment pain just keep coming, even though I must be up in 6 hours to go and see L. I am so ashamed of how much K going away is affecting me. Being with her today was so familiar and comfortable. We were us and I love us. It is not losing her that hurts so much as losing us, what we are together, that special two-way bond that is the most powerful force on earth (‘that stretchy thing that joins us together when we not together’ as my 5 year old part, Miffy, always says). I feel the struggles I have in ‘real’ relationships over how much to share and what is okay, and I wonder how I will ever cope out there in the world away from her, without her to guide me. I wanted to finish this work with her. She knows this, I know this. It makes no difference.

K cannot stay. And I would rather do anything than stay with this reality. And yet every day I am staying with it. Surviving the unsurvivable. We had a big hug at the end of session today and she said “you can do this, you will be okay I know it” and I sobbed that I don’t want to be okay without her. I know I can survive this loss but I don’t want to. I am not ready to reflect on our time together and make a blanket out of the beautiful threads of our work when our work has been cut short by illness. I don’t want to look back on the sacredness that is our relationship and talk about it in the past tense. I don’t want to gather up what is left of us and bundle it into my car and drive away from her. I don’t want her to have been someone who once walked beside me, I want her to be with me on my journey until I am strong enough to stand alone. I want her here to guide me as my daughter turns into a teenager, as I (hopefully) meet a man or woman to share my life with. I want her here when my book gets published (if I ever get it written, work is not so good lately, though being off sick now is so needed) so I can take it to show her, when we move house next year, when I got made permanent and hopefully promoted at work. I want her here for the good things just as much the bad things. Celebrations and pride and recognising the light and good in me has been a vital part of our work.

It all feels too hard. What is ahead seems insurmountable and I feel ridiculous for writing and thinking that. Having to keep it hidden as I begin to leave this bubble (painting my room pink later this week, seeing a non-trauma savvy friend tomorrow if I am up to it). It is hard enough for most people to acknowledge what it is like to have a mum so damaging I cannot see her and stay sane and safe. I rarely tell people as it is still quite raw for me and when I share people tend to brush it off and don’t allow themselves to recognise the enormity of that loss and what must have led to it, or think it’s just a ‘falling out’. So this is hard enough, that the mother wound is seldom acknowledged outside of these circles, but when the person you look to as a mother has to go away too and they are someone you pay – people just turn away from that in horror that you are crying over something that was always going to happen due to the nature of the relationship.

If you’ve made it to the end of this then thanks for reading! I understand my posts are probably very triggering atm as this is pretty much the worst nightmare for all of us in therapy for attachment trauma, thought it is better than a very sudden loss, I understand that. I hope over the next 5 or 6 months to share some of the lighter stuff, as K and I will have a lot of beauty and joy to reflect on and there will be some interesting boxes emptied and the bits in them tied together before being packed away – forever, some of them, I hope.

Please don’t leave me

K and I are okay. We found each other again. We set what happened three weeks ago in the context of 3 years of work and explored why we were both triggered and hurt. We both apologised. We are connected and she is safe. We were us again. And us is perfectly imperfect. Our therapeutic alliance is so strong and so precious. We have been through so much together, done so much work. She has given me so much of herself. She has held hope for me for 3 years, she has been my light when all around has been dark and decaying.

And she is going away.

I cannot do anything to stop her leaving us. We spoke about our remaining time, my transition to a new therapist, how we will spend the next two double sessions just being together, slowly working out what to do in the time we have left and how we will end. She told me she would understand if I wanted to move sooner, but that she is postponing her surgery until the new year (if she can, of course – her health is not good) so she can do this work with me until December, if that is what I want to do. She cares for me that much and yet it is not enough to make her stay. She cannot stay.

I want to soak her in until there is enough of her in me to sustain me for the rest of my life.

I cannot do this. This pain is genuinely bigger and more all-consuming than anything I have ever consciously known. All I can hear is a part inside my head screaming ‘help me!’ but there is no one to help and nothing to do to end this.

I don’t want to have to survive this. I don’t want to live a life without her in it. I still can’t believe we were sitting today talking about the end, about me without her, about our remaining sessions, about what we had left to do. How can we have been having that conversation? How is this happening? How can I be losing someone so important and be expected to survive? How can I replace her? How can I be expected to deal with this? It is not fair. I am tired of living with loss.

There are no more words. I’ve said it all before. The pain just keeps coming in these huge waves and I cannot find anything to steady myself. I hurt everywhere. My legs ache. I want her to stay and she can’t. Even if she wanted to she cannot stay. So many times she has said ‘I’m not going away’ when we have said ‘we don’t want you to go away’ and now she will never say those words again. She is leaving us and there is nothing I can do except watch her go.

Never mine

Today started out better. It felt like the shock had settled, like I was coming to terms with reality. I managed to sort some stuff at home, went out on my bike, ate some soup.

Then I realised I felt strangely numb and calm and couldn’t really work out what all the fuss was about. Like why would it matter K is leaving?  She’s not so important, not really. Not important at all in fact. Who even is she? Ah dissociation, how I love you.

And then a bit later…  BAM.

Right back in the attachment pain and annihilation hell. Topped with a lot of grief, waves and waves of it in fact. Because there is simple grief here too, as well as all the transference – someone I have spent hundreds of hours with, the person I have shared the most intimate and painful parts of me and my story with at least twice a week for almost 3 years, is leaving. And there will be no space for me in her life anymore. I will be someone she always remembers fondly, but I will not be part of her life and I will have to learn to live without her. Somehow.

And all I wish is that I could go back to the time when I didn’t know what was missing inside me and didn’t feel it nearly all the time. Like for so many of us, starting therapy put me in touch with all the unmet needs and yearnings that I had carried all my life, showed me what (or rather who) made the hole I had spent my whole life desperately trying to fill, and then offered me some tiny amounts of what I needed back then, just so I could experience the pain inherent in the contrast between what I had and what I could have had. 

Since starting therapy I’ve spent most of the time wandering around desperately aware that something in me is missing. In the time before therapy I didn’t know and in so many ways it hurt less. I felt that pain sometimes, sometimes more often than not, but I didn’t know what it was caused by. I scrabbled around as best I could and sometimes I filled it with things that were bad for me, but other times, as I got older, it seemed to be filled with good things – singing, meditation, yoga, being by the sea, riding my bike. It wasn’t all great – there were drugs and bad-for-me men and self-harm and dissociation, and I had a breakdown when one of my best friend’s committed suicide, but in the time between beautiful Jess’s death and starting therapy there were still times when I was healing by myself, knew what I needed and how to give it to myself. And then I started therapy and the hole was revealed and suddenly it became too big to fill by myself. K has poured so much into that hole, but not enough, I am not full up yet and I am not yet able to fill myself up. I need her. I need her with me. Sometimes I fill myself up and I want to tell her about it, I want to feel her pride showering down on me. Soon I won’t be able to tell her anything. Nothing at all. She will hear nothing about my life and my healing. I will just be somebody that she used to know.

She has never been mine. And that has always hurt more than words can say. She has never been mine to miss, need, want, love, but soon she will not even be mine to see. She is actually going to walk away from me. And because I am not hers this will be easy for her to do. I honestly thought I’d felt abandonment pain before, but this is something else. I am drowning inside myself.

I see K tomorrow at 2pm and I have no idea how it will be. How do we begin to piece all this together and move forward in our work with the end coming sooner than either of us had anticipated? How will we ever find our way through this storm together? How will we hold on to each other when the turmoil in me threatens to sweep us both away? And even if we come out the other side together, as soon as we are through the storm we will smile with relief at each other and then each walk our separate ways.

And I will spend the rest of my life looking back, missing her, wishing for something that was never mine to wish for.

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