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Hope around the edges

I haven’t written in a while. I don’t really know what this post will say, if I will even finish it. I don’t know how things are. Some fairly big things have happened in the past two weeks. Some have been things I’ve been unable to understand my cognitive and emotional reactions to and will unpick with K tomorrow (although I am aware this will soon be something I will not be able to do anymore, and I wonder what I will do with these tangles then). And others have been more straightforward difficulties which are helping me learn more and more about myself as a person – myself as a person with complex-PTSD and a dissociative disorder, the self who will need a gentle life in order to recover and live fully, as fully as possible, within the perimeters of what my childhood and adolescence have left me to deal with. Recovery – perhaps that is what this post will be about. Or some aspects of it at least.

Today isn’t a very “good” day. I am hugely dissociated and heavy and fuggy. My senses are numbed and distorted. I sang at a festival with my choir yesterday and Friday, and last night we did backing for a band which was an incredible experience. It all went really well, and there was a lot of laughter on the way home, but overall I’ve confirmed that I am not a festival person and that no amount of therapy will change that. It is just too much – sensory overload, not enough space, trapped and unable to escape. My brain was buzzing last night when we got back. I couldn’t settle. I wanted to go out and snort lines of MDMA and coke and forget (I didn’t, but the need was so great – in the past those drugs helped me pull everything together inside and stop feeling so energetically scattered). And today I am living with the shut down that was the almost inevitable outcome of that heightened state, feeling resentful that everyone I went with is having a normal day today whilst I am left with this, but also determined to remember the lessons and not have to learn this particular one again.

Sometimes I think I forget the “PTSD” part of what I am living with. The dissociation makes it easy to do this. Things switch and change so fast and I make declarations to myself, especially to the traumatised parts of me, about things we will never do again, and then the triggering time or situation is done and I dissociate from how bad it was, and find myself there again a few months or years later. During my time in therapy this is something that has changed – I am finding my edges and seeing the impact on me of doing things that I am not comfortable with. Two years ago, after a really difficult trip staying with old friends in London – the third of three difficult trips away that year – I promised my system that we wouldn’t go to London or stay with people for at least a year. That time really helped as it gave me some space to see what changed and became manageable and what didn’t. At the moment both being in London and staying with people still feel like things that are much too difficult and need to be avoided. Perhaps this will change in future, especially as I begin to see what I am left with as my reality once my work in therapy becomes more integrated next year, and what recedes without the constant triggering of the therapeutic relationship and all the process that comes up each week as my attachment wound is activated. And so my capacities may well expand once I am able to stabilise and not open myself up to that triggering every week, and I will be able to look at my needs then and get more of a sense of who I am and what I need. At the moment, though, I need too much space and am too eager to please to be able to manage to be a guest in someone else’s house. There are other things in my life that K has helped me see are non-negotiable and I sense they are embedded enough that I won’t revert without therapy, but there are other things I waver on and that I need to learn to recognise my limitations around, even when those limitations frustrate and infuriate me.

I hope I can get it together a little later to prepare for therapy tomorrow as after my session I head into a 5 week therapy break. No contact at all. In almost 3 years the longest K and I have gone without contact is 6 days, and the longest we’ve gone between sessions is 18 days (with paid and planned weekly email therapy in between). A few months ago this upcoming break would have sent me into a total tailspin. Perhaps somewhere inside are all those big feelings, but I almost cannot be bothered to look for them – they seem completely insignificant compared to the bigger ending we are working towards. They also seem insignificant compared to my life, compared to who I am, because I can feel myself growing bigger than K and my relationship with her. And I can feel some of the young parts looking to me and the older ones to guide them through this, I can feel their trust in me growing, and that is a truly beautiful thing.

And this break feels different from the breaks of the past, because it is a taste of things to come and once K is back and therapy resumes in September we will be entering a different phase of our work. We will be working towards an ending. This is something I never in a million years expected to be doing so soon. With the – understandably broken – promise of a year’s notice given in September last year, when K gave me her news at the start of June I still had in mind we would be working till at least June next year. It still feels inconceivable that we will be ending. At the same time, it also feels okay. I am starting to see these splits may always define me, and it is finding my way through them that is where the healing lies. It is being able to hold the confusion and uncertainty and mixed feelings and still stay with my truth that will bring me the peace I need.

This ending is also starting to feel like a new beginning for me. Something happened last week which really brought home how psychologically unsafe we both feel living where we are at times. Moving house is something that is absolutely vital for mine and Nina’s healing. We need to be in a home my Mum has never been to, in a place she never visits, at an address she does not know. I plan to put the house on the market in January and to move in the late Spring or Summer if possible. We will not be far away, and sometimes it doesn’t feel far enough as the city we will visit for shopping and the cinema and things will be the same one as my Mum, but whenever we visit the village we will probably move to I feel safe and free and contained. It is big enough to have a community and we will be able to walk and cycle and be in nature from our doorstep. K said on Monday how she feels the split between me and Nina staying here, where we have a support network (something – ironically – that is more needed because of the emotional and physical impacts my childhood continues to have on me) and me needing to move far away from Mum and the trauma of my childhood for my own healing. For now I will stay here, but I know that one day, when Nina has left home if not before, I will move far, far away from the place I grew up in and the traumatic memories that line its streets. For now, Nina starting secondary school in a place where she knows no one and no one knows her Grandma, and the planned house move, feel like enough of a fresh start. There is no way, really, that a house move would be possible while spending so much of my income on therapy. This premature ending, although unwelcome, does mean that other changes that are vital to mine and Nina’s safety and healing are possible.

I plan to spend some time in August going through old notes and scribblings from my time in therapy and to look through my journals from the past 3 or 4 years. I want to reflect and write and plan some writing and leave things boxed up. And I want to see the changes, see the growth, look back at the turmoil and darkness and see that I am not there anymore, not all the time. I want to look back on the intensity that arose 3 years ago, in the months leading up to and immediately after starting therapy in particular, when I began to see everything for what it was, because I can really see now that I am not in that intense place anymore. I remember K telling me earlier this year, or maybe at the end of last year, that she thinks the worst is over for me now because the really confusing times are over – I know why I am this way now, my struggles make sense, and nothing will ever feel like that time when I first met her again. I am an emotionally intense person, I think I always will be, and I am starting to see all the positives of this, having always assumed (and been told!) it was a negative thing. It is so different from over-thinking things, it is not a cognitive place, it is what it is – emotional intensity. As well as darkness it also means passion and creativity and a feeling of being fully alive, and with other emotionally intense and open and authentic people it brings tremendous excitement and exhilaration.

I also plan to purge my house next month of “things my Mum has given me”. Not everything – that would be impossible and impractical – but primarily the things I glimpse in my home as I carry out my daily activities that make me feel guilty and sad. Unwanted gifts, books I will not read, things that were given to control and manipulate, things that induce a sense of guilt and shame just by looking upon them, things given during the time we were “low contact” and her pain and self-pity hung heavy in the air around us. I will save some of the special things in a box, but the rest I will get rid of because I refuse to be suffocated by her guilt through the heavy presence of all these things in my home anymore. There was a time when K would have felt central to this purging process; I would have shared my intentions and taken some things to show her and tell her the stories behind. Maybe I will still do some of this in September, but now it feels so much more about me and my home than about being validated by K afterwards. My future feels much more about me these last couple of weeks. Next year in particular feels very much about me. The spectre of K’s absence is a frequent presence, but it is not consuming me the way it was a few weeks ago. And in letting go of my tight hold on her I can also see that I am taking her with me. It is impossible to leave her behind because she is woven into the surface of my skin. Just as I cannot leave my real mum behind me, however hard I might wish to, so too I cannot leave K. She is part of me.

Next year feels like it will be a year of hurtling forwards in my healing journey – I’ve had years like this before, where I’ve ended up feeling like a completely different person than I was 12 months before. Despite how much I’ve changed and learnt and brought into awareness during my time with K, my external life has felt stagnant in some ways. I’ve not had the time or space or money to grow in other ways and so, after 3 years of shining a light into the blackness and poking around in the dark to see all that is there that has been poisoning me and holding me back, I feel ready to expand and unfurl and grow. I’ve held myself so tightly in the past 3 years. I have felt terribly afraid. As K and I have dug around for clues as to why I am how I am, the full horror of what I endured has been laid out all around us and it has been hard to see past the terror and the enormity of all I lost. It has been hard to close my eyes against the brutal awakening to all that I needed and never had. I feel pretty certain I will return to therapy, and I do hope this will be with K, but I feel so ready for this time away from both. I know it will be hard. As I just said to a friend – I will lose myself and find myself repeatedly. What has changed is that I feel confident I will be able to re-connect to myself each time I lose myself without seeing K – I won’t need her to help me find myself and draw a line around my edges again each time I go astray.

I am finding my own edges. I am growing into who I am meant to be. I refuse to live under the heavy weight of my upbringing anymore. I want to find the people who dance to the same beat as me, a rhythm that beckons healing, light, vulnerability and authenticity. For so long K has held hope for me in the darkness when I’ve been unable to hold it for myself, but now (today at least…) I am able to hold hope for myself as I enter this brave new world without her. I know she will be there. I know she will always be a part of me. I know even if I wanted to I cannot leave her behind. Under her gaze I found myself, the self my narcissistic mother denied and ridiculed, and now it is time for that self to come to life. And I do have faith that the Universe will make it possible to share this next stage of my journey with her one day, that even though it is not a break with a definite ending, that our paths will cross again and she will hear and see what our work so far enables me to learn and do and become next year.

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