She stayed (and we are three)

stay

Three years ago today I first met K for a half hour initial consultation, to see if working together felt right for both of us. At the time I was quite a mess, to put it mildly. I had been really struggling since a close friend committed suicide in December 2014, something which triggered the worst emotional flashbacks and annihilation blackouts I’d ever experienced and left me unable to sleep or function for 6 weeks, and in April 2015 on a family holiday, without warning, hundreds of memories of childhood trauma, abuse and neglect came back and I ended up self-harming in the bathroom there for the first time in 4 years. After this holiday I started to understand what was going on and what it was I was trying to heal myself from, but I was plunged into further darkness as the reality of my Mum’s mental illness began to make itself known to me and I had to act to limit the amount of time Nina and I spent with her.

By the time I met K in August 2015 I had been seeing a shamanic journey therapist fortnightly for a couple of months, as well as the acupuncturist who I’d worked with on and off since I was 21, but despite some moments of clarity and release, I was falling apart in a big way. My nights were plagued with terrors and bad dreams and I was experiencing high levels of dissociation (although I didn’t know this is what it was) as well as extreme distress and suicidal thoughts and feelings. I knew a lot about complex-PTSD because of the work I do and then suddenly one day it hit me – the reason I was so drawn to this area of research was because it described my struggles. I found K when it became obvious I needed ‘proper therapy’ because I was in so much distress having been triggered into yet another emotional flashback upon leaving my acupuncturist’s treatment room. She was the only therapist in my area when I searched for complex trauma therapists in my city and I emailed her straightaway saying I was looking for a therapist to work through what I thought was complex-PTSD resulting from childhood abuse and neglect, the memories of which had only recently returned to me. She called me a few days later and we arranged to meet the following week for a half hour session and then we would take things from there. During this initial phone call I asked if we could work fortnightly – hah! This has made me giggle in session a few times, as I ended up doing 6 times as much as that at least, meeting for 3 hours a week and then doing two double sessions a week plus an email during our first summer of working together! How little I knew about the hell that was about to be unleashed on us both and the depths we would journey to together.

The first time I drove to K’s house I felt slightly apprehensive but at the same time very composed and together. I’d seen many therapists and counsellors and alternative medicine practitioners and hospital specialists over the years so I was used to trotting out facts about my life with relatively little emotion. I can’t really remember what we talked about, I know she told me she had almost grown-up children and her family’s diet was practically vegan, that she had done yoga outside in the garden that day and enjoyed riding her bike – all things that made me warm to her. I told her how much I enjoyed cycling and being outside in nature and about a recent camping trip Nina and I had been on. We talked a bit about what I needed help with and how much I had been struggling, and she said that the work would commence at a very slow pace and would involve a lot of resourcing and stabilising before we touched on any of the trauma. During this initial session we both agreed it felt right to work together and arranged to start meeting weekly the following week. When I got home I remember writing how I knew she could ‘handle’ me and wouldn’t be taking any shit from me. She wasn’t going to let me get away with bullshitting her either, about how I was doing and how I felt, and both these things felt really important as I’ve always been good at convincing myself and the people around me that my emotions and experiences are other than they are. I’ve always known, on some level at least, that I needed someone very strong to walk beside me on this journey, and I think this is why all the chaos that suddenly let loose when therapy started had not manifested in any other healing relationship.

The day before our first proper session I ended up stuck in my office at work in a really intense shame-driven and despair-filled emotional flashback. All I could think was that I needed to kill myself and Nina because the level of damage and inter-generational trauma was too great. I couldn’t see a way out. I text my acupuncturist who had been my anchor and a huge support for me since the previous December, asking him what happened on a soul level if a person kills themselves and their child to end both their suffering in this lifetime, and whether it could be a good thing for our soul’s overall journey. I told him I just couldn’t keep going and was scared I’d damaged Nina irreparably as well. (As it turns out K and I ended up doing some work about my relationship with Nina early on because the fear that I had broken her came up a lot, and K has since successfully reassured me that Nina is securely attached and thriving in a way I never have been). He responded with something along the lines of ‘love her, don’t kill her’ and I eventually manged to get myself home once the building was deserted. This flashback lasted all evening and into the following day, and then dissipated suddenly so when I went to see K for our first proper session I was in a good and stable place again. I must have told her about this experience and how desperate I had been – I think this was the first time the word ‘dissociation’ was used – because she offered for me to email or call whilst I was away at a conference the following week if things became ‘rather overwhelming’. This offer surprised me at the time, I didn’t think between session contact was a ‘thing’ in private therapy, but looking back I can see how some of the things I was coming out with (such as killing myself and Nina to end the cycle), whilst seeming entirely logical and rational to me, were really dark and more-than-a-little concerning.

Things continued to unravel after those early meetings and I descended into a dark and hopeless place which lasted many, many months as the level of damage and dysfunction I had experienced began to make itself known and all my attachment fears and survival behaviours were repeatedly triggered. I don’t want to go to those places today though, instead I want to reflect upon the fact that through all that, and recent events – she has stayed.

Sometimes I still cannot believe that she has stayed for three years, walking beside me as I have journeyed into the darkest parts of my soul, helping me shine a light on the most disturbing aspects of my infancy and childhood. She has stayed through all of the turmoil and despair and the “borderline” rage and cognitive distortions I threw at her via text and email. She held hope for me and her faith in my ability to come through this never once wavered. And she didn’t just stay, she stayed the same – she was constant, consistent, predictable, stable and safe. She never changed. I have driven to her house almost 300 times over the past 3 years and every time she has been there waiting for me with the door open and has asked me what I’d like to drink. I’ve arrived in floods of tears, too dissociated to walk properly, in a shame flashback and unable to look at her, highly anxious, suicidal, excited and joyful, as various other parts/alters, with no sense of her at all when my brain has erased her, with my rabbits in their travel cage and baby guinea pigs in a box, with huge cuddly toys hidden under my coat and with my tale between my legs when teen parts have kicked off over the weekend via text. And through all of this she has been there, waiting for me, her voice and smile and demeanour unchanging. Only once in three years have I sensed her being different and not herself in session, and she apologised for that the following the week. I’ve often thought she was being different, felt my own self-hatred reflected back at me from her and thought she despised me and held me in contempt, imagined impatience and irritation in her responses, but these feelings have been my own, spectres of my past, and not her feelings towards me at all. She has been the same and because of this she has been the first safe person I’ve ever really had and her therapy room is the first place I’ve ever felt safe. What an incredible gift to have bestowed on someone – their first experience of what it means to be safe.

She has been the therapist I have needed. Despite how difficult therapy has been because it has involved me facing my biggest triggers – relationship, connection, getting closer to someone, being seen – every single week, usually multiple times, I have never really doubted that she was the one to do this work with. Often my abandonment fears would become even more acute when I was triggered into thinking she was going away because there was nothing about the way we have worked together that I didn’t like and wished could be different – losing her would be so hard because I cannot imagine finding someone else who I could build up such a strong therapeutic alliance with. I’m working on a separate post on boundaries in therapy so I won’t go into this too much here, but her allowing of ‘just the right amount’ of outside contact (though it only feels like it was the right amount in retrospect!) and her giving my system support via text but not too much, has played a huge part in helping me get to where I am today. She gave me enough to help me keep going, help me feel as contained as possible (and sometimes it wasn’t possible to feel contained at all with the amount that was coming up each week), help me keep a sense of connection to her, help me, and all my parts, develop a sense of her being safe, and enable us to feel just about okay-enough to keep doing the work and not run away like we often wanted to, but never so much that we became too dependent on her or we had huge ruptures because she couldn’t sustain the amount of outside contact she had first allowed. Our ruptures have never really been that bad, aside from the awful one after the phone call back in May, and in large part I think this is because she has handled the boundaries around outside contact so skillfully.

So, here I am – 3 years in to the most significant therapeutic relationship (or any relationship, probably, barring my parents and daughter) I’ve ever had, and around 3 or 4 months from the end of it, for now at least. And I am okay. I am incredibly sleepy today (excessive daytime sleepiness and low energy is something I really struggle with on grey, overcast days and I’ve actually just ordered some 5 HTP to see if that can help as it’s clearly linked to too much melatonin and insufficient seratonin on these kinds of days, and I live in England so sunshine is usually in short supply) but I am okay. As predicted I have lost myself and come back to myself numerous times during this break, but what is so hopeful is that I’ve been able to find myself without seeing K, and I’ve mostly been able to hold on to a sense of connection to her too, although she has been very much in the background of my life for the past 4 weeks which has been nice.

It is now only a week until therapy resumes and to be honest I don’t feel in desperate need of it. I do miss K and I am really looking forward to seeing her and telling her about my experiences with the CK and the ways my system has cared for each other and how we have been the past few weeks. And I am looking forward to discussing with her how I will navigate dating (another topic for another post!) and new friendships in light of my past, my triggers and my difficulties with ‘intimacy’ (blanket term covering all kinds of potential crazy around relationships and sexual activity!) but I don’t feel either a desperate need for her or completely cut off from her – two things that have usually characterised any therapy breaks in the past. I am beginning to notice parts feeling very unsettled because once the break is over that will not be the focus anymore, and instead the focus will be on ‘the end’ – something we would rather avoid really – but generally it is a contented missing; we all know we will see her next week and things will be the same – she will be the same.

The months ahead may well be very difficult at times, they will undoubtedly be up and down, but I do know I will survive them. I think surviving those awful, awful weeks in June and July when she first told me she was taking next year as a sabbatical for her health have given me even more strength and belief in myself than I had before. I survived what I thought would be unsurvivable and am now feeling ready to work through the ending with K and transition to a different phase of my life. In many ways I would rather not be doing this, but I do also feel ready to live without therapy for a while at least. I notice a lot of people saying they are on their own without their therapist, but I genuinely don’t feel this way now – I have friends, other supportive people, and most importantly – I have myself.

The past 4 weeks have shown me that their can be, is, life after therapy, and have thrown into sharp relief that the therapeutic relationship is not the cause of the pain all of us with attachment trauma experience, it is the vehicle which enables us to access and start to understand and transform it. Today I am left with so much gratitude for K – I do hope so much we will work together again after her year off, but for now I am left with this overwhelming relief that despite all the fears of her going away that dominated our time working together, she really did stay. She has stayed through it all and never let me down. She has been here for three whole years despite how much I have needed from her and despite how much I have struggled to stay working with her. She has stayed, a calm ship in a safe harbour, whilst I have journeyed away from her through darkness and turmoil in the days between sessions. Sometimes I’ve been surprised to sit with her again after a huge emotional storm because to me it had felt like she had changed and nothing was the same and yet, when my internal storm had passed, I’ve been able to look back and see that through it all she had just stayed the same; calm, solid and unwavering. She has stayed her safe and constant self until I have been able to internalise her enough to take her with me when she goes away. And even if I lose her sometimes when we are far apart, she is part of me now and I can look inside myself to find her when times are hard and I need a reminder of what it feels like to have someone else to help me carry myself through the dark days.

Embodied healing

I haven’t written for over a week, although it doesn’t actually feel that long because time is passing at a fairly normal speed at the moment. This hasn’t often happened for me in the last few years; usually even if adult me has been experiencing the passing of time normally, there has nearly always been at least one other part of me either living in trauma time (where time disappears completely and we exist in a perpetual present), or experiencing time dragging really slowly. It feels quite nice that life is passing by at normal pace. I worked on Monday but have been on annual leave the rest of the week – we’ve not really done much, just some walks and lots of relaxing at home, but it has been nice. I completely blitzed the house at the end of last week when Nina was away for a few days and that felt so good. It is now cleansed of nearly all the things negatively associated with my Mum (there was so much), and I got rid of a lot of other stuff too, and it is really nice and clean and organised here which is a state I love to live in.

I don’t feel good at all today. My body is extremely tight and sore in a number of places which is making me uncomfortable and edgy, and my right knee is so painful that walking is quite hard. I am also very dissociated and drowsy and heavy and the day ahead feels quite a mission. So, I don’t feel good but what I do feel, after my second Creative Kinesiology (CK) session yesterday, is hopeful. I feel hopeful about healing after therapy. I feel hopeful that my body can release some of the deeply held trauma and tension I carry with me. I feel hopeful that I can feel safe in my body and safe to be connected to myself and my feelings, as well as the rest of the world. I feel hopeful about my ability to make authentic and lasting connections with people. I feel hopeful about what is ahead of me. I know I am on the right healing path, and it has also been confirmed to me this week that all the work I’ve done with K so far has worked – it is all there, just waiting to be integrated and consciously and unconsciously acted upon.

On Wednesday I had my first 121 yoga session with the teacher who incorporates myofascial release into her teachings – I’ll call her Dee. Dee was great and I found the session beneficial but it has stirred things up in my body (more on this later) so I will need to discuss this with her next time and see how we can avoid that happening. She said at the start we’d do a 15 minute consultation first but it actually took 50 minutes – I always feel kind of embarrassed, and a bit overwhelmed, when I start telling my story because of how long it takes even to cover the basics of my past in terms of my history with physical pain and fatigue, my current dissociation and complex-trauma symptoms, and the various things I’ve tried over the years to heal and recover. One thing she did ask that has really stayed with me is whether the DP and DR got worse when I started therapy. Although I’ve struggled with DP and DR all my life, along with other forms of dissociation, they did get a lot worse when I started therapy and it really helps to be reminded that this is because so much has been coming up all the time and there has been so much automatic shame and fear over my needs and emotions as a result of this. All that poking around in the darkness and dirt has been needed, but the amount that has come up pretty much every week for the past three years is incredible, and it does make sense that the DP and DR have been so much worse. It helped Dee saying about this because I now know she “gets” this type of dissociation, and that, due to its chronic nature, it is not anxiety-related but linked to shame around feelings and needs and relational connection and, on a fundamental level, who I am. And it helped me to think that maybe it will start to get better once I have settled into life without therapy next year (eek!).

Dee’s yoga teachings are all based on the need to live an embodied experience to heal by exploring the felt sense as connection of mind and body. She uses embodied movement practices and postures along with myofascial release and relaxation techniques as a tool to help unlock and discharge trauma and tension held within the nervous system.  She was familiar with adverse neural tension, and how for someone like me my body is not tight because of muscle tightness, but because my CNS is so tight from clinging on for survival for so long. She struggled with bulimia for 16 years and did 7 years of therapy herself, so she was very comfortable talking about therapy and very understanding about the process, and she has a deep understanding of how important embodied movement and yoga practices are in reconnecting with your body, releasing inner conflict, and developing a kinder, healthier, more respectful relationship with your body and yourself. So I can see that working with her will be hugely beneficial for me. We did some mindful movement practices and some shaking which was amazing – afterwards I felt so much more awake, but also much more settled internally. We then did some myofascial release with me rolling over and then lying on tennis balls on sore points on my lower back and then shoulders and upper back. Although I felt good afterwards, I was aware that the discomfort I’d started out with had shifted to elsewhere in my body, and so it is this tennis ball stuff which I think has stirred things up and made everything worse physically. The CK practitioner, I’ll call her Amy, yesterday agreed with my sense that when I release tension in one place it just moves somewhere else – she pointed out that all the tightness and deep holding my body does is protective (and has served me well as look – I am here!) and so if my body is not ready to give that up it will just move it around. I have another session with Dee this week as I wanted the first two close together, so I will discuss this with her – I think doing some yin yoga poses may be better for releasing deeply held tension, rather than the tennis balls as they are quite strong and very specific in their focus. Although the pain is frustrating, especially as it rules out bike rides, nice walks and the gym at the moment, I am prepared for it to take a while before my body begins to release things, and I am happy for change to be gentle and subtle. It’s bound to take a while before a new practitioner gets how my super-sensitive body responds to things.

So, yesterday was the second CK session which was also great and really healing and I can feel a genuine connection with Amy developing as well – she is such a genuine, warm and open person, and I felt much more able to take this in as I was not in such a shut down place as last week. It was nice to share with her how positive I found the previous session, and how it has provided me with hope – I am like this for a reason and change is possible. Even if it takes a while to get to a place where I feel connected to myself and the world more often than I don’t, it is possible. Yesterday the meridian that needed to be worked with was, again, my healing capacity. It was not as low as at the start of the session last week, which means that some of the work we had done last week had held. We started with the statements from last week:

  • it is safe to be connected to myself
  • it is safe to feel connected to how I am feeling

Neither of them held true for me at the beginning of the session. Stuff that came up was again around kidneys (emotion of fear) and spleen (safety and security). Something that came up very strongly was around it not being safe for me to relax because I need to always be ready for when something bad happens. Through therapy I now know, on a deep level, that in the past it was NOT SAFE for me to relax and have fun – it felt very important to honour that and to remember that how my system is makes sense. Not relaxing and always being prepared for danger helped me tune in to my Mum’s needs and feelings and protect myself as much as possible. My 5 year old part, Miffy, came out (internally, she didn’t speak) expressing a need to have fun and go to a waterpark and get a puppy. The puppy is definitely a future wish – we cannot get a dog at the moment. The waterpark is possible, but not with the knee pain. At this point stuff around the gallbladder meridian came up – this is associated with overwhelm and for me what came up was the sense of always needing to be ready and prepared in case I have to flee somewhere suddenly (which used to happen a lot when I was little as my Mum would have screaming rages that went on for hours and sometimes days and I would need to get my Dad or someone to come and rescue me and, when I got older, I was used to grabbing what stuff I needed and getting out of there as fast as I could). I know through acupuncture and my (basic) knowledge of Chinese medicine that I’ve had issues associated with this meridian before. ‘It is not safe to relax’ came up and I could feel real resistance from a teenage part (Leia, age 14) to the idea of relaxing. Amy held some points on my head associated with the gallbladder meridian and loads of powerful imagery came up and it all involved the dome which K and I built with the help of my younger parts as a safe place for the parts to go to. We made little trees and animals and pink glittery sand and it has sea and a yoga mat and the roof is covered in pictures of plants and flowers. It is such an incredible thing to have made with her, but has not been used as much as I would like it to have been. So it was amazing that it spontaneously arose as an image in my CK session and I cannot wait to tell K about this!

So basically a helter skelter water slide appeared in the dome and lots of the younger ones were going on it and three teenage parts (two 14 and one 15 year old part) were conferring over whether they believed me that it is safe to relax. Eventually I think they did and then Leia (14) was very prominent – she was walking in the sea in the dome and feeling really fed up. She was/is sad because she misses K, so I validated that, as did Amy; of course we miss her after 3 years of contact at least two or three times a week. Who wouldn’t? And Leia was able to take that in. Then she expressed anger over having such a rubbish Mum and Dad that she needed K in the first place. Amy asked what she could do with that anger to release it and Leia touched her fingertips on the water and red flowed out and dissipated across the surface of the water. Amy asked if Leia felt safe with K and I said she did and that Leia felt safe now, in the dome, because it was K’s idea and K helped make it. Then the imagery around the dome faded and it felt okay to leave all the parts there together because they are okay – I wasn’t leaving them because I was abandoning them but because they were okay and looking after each other for a while.

In this session it felt so much like I was really integrating work (understandings and awareness) that K and I have done together. It felt amazing, really amazing. It was reassuring that for Amy working with parts in this way is something familiar. And also I could see how I could not really be doing the work I am doing there now without all the therapy I’ve had. I would have got flooded and overwhelmed and not been able to  contain it afterwards if new stuff was coming up and so on. All the work I’ve done so far in therapy has helped me get to a place where I know and understand my system and what it is I am healing from and why. It is almost like bringing my body up to date with what my mind now knows on a conscious level, and bringing to conscious awareness where things are stuck emotionally/energetically. At the end of the session it definitely felt as though things had shifted. My healing capacity had again increased and when I said the statements from earlier they held true for me and were much more solid. Afterwards I felt lighter and more settled inside.

Although the benefits haven’t lasted as today I feel so groggy and rubbish and in pain, I do feel hopeful that things can change. And because CK is not hands on bodywork it doesn’t trigger compensatory tightness in other areas of my body when things are released. It does seem a very good, gentle and subtle way in to working with the body. I can see that CK will have real benefits over time and yesterday I felt quite excited about what lies ahead. Amy is a very experienced and skillful practitioner and I can imagine developing a real relationship with her. At the same time, the work feels very much about ME, and is about me learning to care for the parts and understand what they need. It will obviously be much less intense than psychotherapy and that feels needed at the moment. I do still definitely want to return to therapy with K in 2020 at some point, depending on where we are both living by then and what is going on for me, but I very much hope if I were to do that then therapy would be more contained and something I do for support and awareness, rather than something that leaves me so often feeling like I am drowning in the depths of what is inside me. I do miss K, I am looking forward to seeing her and telling her about my sessions with these two practitioners and how I have been and how I have looked after everyone. It is a content missing though – I know the next 2 weeks will pass and I am not in any desperate rush to see her. This feels like an okay place to be. I hate being this dissociated, but I am okay.

Hope and Rainbows

Things are markedly better this evening than last night. Another night of turbulent dreams left me groggy and dissociated this morning, but I had my first Creative Kinesiology (CK) session today and it has definitely helped shift things energetically. Along with some space for myself both at home and by the sea this afternoon, I am left feeling connected to myself and the rest of the world, and optimistic about my future healing journey. The beach was beautiful this evening – there was a double rainbow over the sea when I arrived and everything was 3D again – colourful and vibrant. And I felt real, alive, spacious and uplifted – like myself again. A good version of myself. I am still fuzzy-headed but nothing like it was last night and in the days up till now.

I can’t really explain what CK is or does, it’s hard to put into words, but it’s basically a way of getting feedback directly from the body, mind and energy systems about the underlying causes of dis-ease and emotional distress. It uses muscle testing and the ancient Chinese energy meridians to help the body/mind to find balance and shift the blocked emotional energy which causes physical and emotional pain and other symptoms. I had some sessions 4 years ago, before I’d had any memories of my childhood come back so before I knew what I was healing from, and found it very powerful for releasing physical pain, connecting to myself, and shifting habitual patterns that were keeping me stuck, so I was hopeful about today and I am glad that it has done what I hoped it would and has confirmed it is a path I would like to follow over the coming months.

I won’t write everything that came up in the session, but the meridian we worked with today was my healing capacity as that was blocked and not functioning well at all. This explains why all the efforts I’ve been putting into healing and self-care have been doing basically zero over the past few weeks, and why I’ve felt so energetically depleted. There was a lot coming up around my kidneys and the emotion fear (in Chinese medicine the kidneys are where the emotional energy of fear is stored), in particular a sense of keeping everything shut down (joy and vitality as well as the dark stuff) because of fear of my emotions. There was a lot of fear about how big the feelings from my childhood still are, and fear of feeling the emotions around my Mum with K being away. And it came up very strongly how stuck in the past trauma my body is, that I am still on sentry duty all the time because my body doesn’t know we are safe now. By the end I definitely felt less afraid of the amount of fear and sadness in me. And I felt more settled internally and like my emotions were safe for me to connect to.

This evening my heart feels open to the pain around K not being here – the loss, the grief, the sadness that she will soon not be part of our life in any present sense. And in opening up to those feelings they actually feel smaller, it feels less important that she is leaving us, because I am here – I am connected to myself and my body and the universe, and in doing that I can also feel K all around me. So when I allow myself and the parts to feel how hard it is without her and how lost and vulnerable we feel about her going away, it enables me to find and hold myself, and then to feel connected to her and able to cope, more than cope – thrive, without her. And I feel more open to the pain around being estranged from my Mum. As Leia (14) wrote in our parts book earlier – “I miss her so much, even though she broke me. She is the only Mum I’ll ever have”. During the CK session someone small inside kept shouting “I haven’t got a Mummy” (which I didn’t share because I haven’t mentioned I have parts/alters yet) and it was clear there is a lot of pain over that. It is huge what my system is coming to terms with and erasing her from my home is massive.

During the CK session, the practitioner held a point on my lower back related to the psoas (fight or flight) muscle and the kidneys. I closed my eyes and had a vision of my Mum crying but at the same time she was drifting further and further away from me, like a helium balloon disappearing into the sky.  She tried to reach me but she had no arms and she couldn’t get me, couldn’t cling to me. I silently told her she had to let me go too, and I acknowledged how painful and tragic this is for her too. And after this I felt much safer in my body, like some of the energetic cords holding me to her were dissolved a little more. It was a really powerful experience.

I am really looking forward to sharing about this session with K after the break. I do miss her a lot, and feel incredibly sad that soon we will be ending our work perhaps forever, but this evening that sadness feels okay. I let some of the younger parts write in our book earlier for the first time since the evening after our last therapy session, and that felt good that I am not shutting them away. It was like I felt able to handle their sadness this evening because I felt steadier in myself. And I was able to provide reassurance and containment for them which is really such a new thing for me to be able to do for my system even some of the time, and feels really quite incredible. And I also feel that K is still a part of me, which is so different from that awful, cut off, disconnected place of extreme DP/DR where I have no real sense of her or our work.

And I feel proud this evening of everything I am doing to try and turn her year off and the end of our work into a positive part of my healing journey. And proud of the work I’m putting in to hold myself and the parts and stay as connected to myself as possible each day. The CK woman I saw today said how important it was to honour my body and mind, even when it is frustrating they are locked in the past, for all their hard work in keeping me alive and helping me survive all I have been through. And she said how brave and courageous I am to be facing all the pain and trauma and being so committed to healing. It was lovely to be reminded of that. Even in that awful state like last night I’ve still been eating right, writing, doing yoga and meditating twice a day. And hopefully now my healing capacity is boosted right up after my session I will start to really experience benefits from all the healing and self-care I am doing at the moment. I am really hoping for a more settled sleep tonight with less crazy dreams…

Where am I?

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I am not in a very good place. I am relatively stable, but so far away. Dissociation and low energy are kicking me this past week, although I think maybe I had a day, or half a day, where it was not so bad and this morning I actually felt energised and fairly present as I cycled to work. It wasn’t long till the dissociative clouds crept their way back in though, and most of the day it has been a struggle to stay awake and the dissociated haze engulfs everything and makes functioning such a struggle. I just want to curl up and sleep forever, but when I sleep it is filled with turbulent, vivid, intense, emotionally charged dreams which pull me down into places I don’t want to be. The dreams refuse to let me go, pulling me back under time and again, and it takes forever to come to in the morning – the dreaming place is so intense and has such a strong hold on me, it is like there are arms grabbing me and pulling me under the surface of a whirlpool. It is no wonder I feel so exhausted as the dreams seem to last all night (according to Judith Herman this is common with dreams in C-PTSD, they are more emotionally intense and occur for longer periods and at different times of the sleep cycle than standard dreams) and it is like I’ve had no rest at all when I wake up.

Today is day 9 of my August therapy break, but it is not really feeling like a break because K and I will be ending fairly soon after she returns in September. I want to be okay about it, I really do; I want to be able to stay connected to myself without her, but it is hard. I have been meditating and practicing yoga and journalling every day in an effort to stay aware of my internal process and connect with my emotions, but I have been experiencing such high levels of depersonalisation (DP) and derealisation (DR) since she has been away and it is feeling really hard right now to keep going. I don’t think it is just about the break – I think there are big feelings around the estrangement from my Mum too, and worries about dating and who on earth will want to be in a relationship with me, and how I will manage a relationship with all that goes on for me attachment-wise – but the break is not helping because it does not feel safe to feel big feelings when K is far from me and not really coming back. It is hard knowing there is no space to take myself for 90 minutes each week now where I can just be, however I am. I really don’t want to need a therapist when K is gone, I want time and money and space for other things, new things, but I cannot seem to connect to myself. I am so cut off and disconnected – I am watching my fingers typing this and I have no sense they are mine. My front room looks like an alien landscape. My mind feels so fucking weird, I can’t even explain what it is like trying to look through my eyes right now.

I am still dissociated pretty much all the time when K is here, it’s not like her presence is some kind of magic wand, but it doesn’t usually stay this bad for so long. And the other hard thing is knowing that therapy really isn’t going to be the thing which ‘cures’ (reduces, alleviates, anything is better than the chronic DP and DR of the last few years) my dissociation – K is not enough to end it, therapy and the therapeutic alliance isn’t enough. It is a starting point for healing of course, an essential one I would say, but ultimately I need to learn to feel safe in my body and safe with the big feelings that arise. And that feels like a lifetime’s work to me.

I don’t want to miss K because it hurts too much – this is just a small taste of what it will be like without her. And also I want to take a break from therapy, I really do – I want yoga and other things that strengthen the mind/body connection to be enough to help me feel safe in my body, and I guess with time maybe they will be, but it is hard to work out what is happening for me emotionally without K to help me make sense of it all. After our hundreds of hours together over the past 3 years, she knows me almost as well as I know myself – better even, sometimes. She knows my ‘I’m not here’ face and I usually leave feeling more real and present than when I arrived (even if not necessarily ‘better’). With her I can usually work out why I am, or have been, in this extremely cut off state, and it feels safe with her to let some of it out, and to let some of it go. There are other ways to do this I am sure, and tomorrow I have my first of three kinesiology sessions which I am hoping so much will help me shift some emotional energy and feel connected to myself and the rest of the world, but I am used to seeing K. Young parts are very quiet and subdued – maybe they need some writing and body time this evening, maybe not letting them out is part of what is keeping me so cut off.

Everything feels such a struggle. I couldn’t really work today as I am too far away and fuzzy. I am worried about returning to work full time in another week. How did I do it all those years? Am I just at the end of my coping capacity with it now? I am worried because the past few weeks I’ve seen just how draining and stressful my day-to-day life is. I have been really trying to stay mindful of my triggers and where my emotional energy goes, and it just seems like my life is so full of things that need doing. Single parenting, running a house, working full time, fitting in self-care. It is endless. It doesn’t always feel like this – there were times towards the end of last week and over the weekend when life felt spacious and manageable – but the dissociation is so bad the last few days that I don’t know what to do. The dissociation wasn’t any better when I was on annual leave last week, but it is less noticeable when I am not trying to think for work. I know it is my brain trying to protect me from feelings that it deems it unsafe for me to feel, but I really wish it wouldn’t! It makes everything feel a million times worse. It makes life feel unmanageable. I try to remind myself that I dissociated like this because of complex trauma as an infant, and that now I have a dissociative disorder because of complex-PTSD, so that if I can reduce the PTSD symptoms maybe the dissociation can ease too… But then I wonder if it will ever really get better?

I just want to be here, a living, feeling, emotional, present being. I don’t want to feel so far away. I don’t want to live life from behind this veil, with everything blurry and distorted and feeling like I am not real. The world looks fuzzy and unreal, everyone I’ve spoken to today has seemed like a robot, and I feel as though I don’t really exist. I don’t even know if I do exist. I hate all aspects of having a dissociative disorder, but the constant DP-DR is the absolute fucking pits I swear because even on a “good” day it strips away everything good and turns me into a shell of a person. I am sliding around inside myself as the world lurches and it is frightening to feel that way whilst trying to be a competent person at work and an engaged parent. I would just like to remember what it is like to not feel this.

Clean

Yesterday Nina was out with a friend all day and I was on leave, so I started the “house purge” – getting rid of as much as possible of the things my Mum has given me; things that suffocate me with guilt and pity and grief as I look upon them in my home. This turned out to be a bigger task than I had envisaged, and is still not done but a lot is now in the garage ready to go to the recycling centre and charity shop later on today. So many times I’ve wished I could cast the obliviate spell like Hermione in Harry Potter and erase all trace of me from my Mum’s life and mind, to make the pain of losing me and Nina disappear for her. Yesterday I wished I could cast the same spell in my own home, to make all the things she has given us and all the things that remind us of her disappear without trace.

She is everywhere. She was a huge part of Nina’s life for 8 years and the things she bought for her spread their net far and wide. I had to go up into the loft and sort through boxes of baby toys and other things. I didn’t look in the boxes up there from my own childhood and adolescence – too much at once, too much pain and loss and grief in one go – but I know those will have their share of cards from her and other mementos from times with her during my childhood and adolescence. A childhood where she tried so hard to get it right and be the good mum she never had, and yet one where I was engulfed and suffocated and abused and controlled all the same. And she tried again with Nina, to have the bond with her she hadn’t managed with me, a second chance at bringing up a child without screaming abuse nearly every day, and disappearing saying she was never coming back. The problem is she never realised Nina was not hers, and so told Nina awful things about me, told her she loved her more than I do, told her I was not a good enough mother. And she smothered and controlled and manipulated her too, the same way she did with me. She was frightening for Nina, she swung into screaming rages over nothing and emotionally blackmailed her, just as did with me. And so she lost her too.

I have been even more dissociated (depersonalised-derealised) this week than normal. I’m not sure why because I’ve felt okay, about the therapy break and things generally. Not great, but okay. So I can only imagine big feelings are bubbling under the surface, sensations and emotions I cannot access and that are telling my mind to disappear because I am not safe. And dreams, so many tangled trauma dreams every night I wake up feeling like I’ve not slept and have been fighting for my life all night. I guess in terms of the stress hormones pumping through my body as I sleep, it is as though I’ve been running a chemical marathon during the night. Anyway, so yesterday was cognitively hard, but I wasn’t aware of feeling anything. I just know that afterwards I was even further away than I had been at the start. When I meditated I was aware of some deep sadness somewhere shut away inside, but I couldn’t reach it even though reaching it would help to make me more present in my life. It is frustrating, to say the least, to not be able to access emotions even though I want to, even when they are making life so hard by keeping me in this horrible, dissociated, fuzzy, far-away state 24/7.

Even without obvious emotions it was tough though, seeing toys and books of Nina’s that used to be mine and not finding any happy memories attached to them. My childhood feels barren, cold and empty, the only fire coming from my Mum’s rage which she poured into me like lava whenever it became too much for her to hold inside. And it was tough seeing how much of Nina’s childhood became about my mum. I wasn’t really seeing my mum when I fell pregnant at 23. We had been completely estranged (my decision) and then I’d got drunk and phoned her crying and we had seen each other a few times, before and during my pregnancy. And then I was so ill after Nina was born that she ended up helping a lot. It felt healing at the time, as though we were moving on from the past and being offered a second chance. I’ve felt so guilty for letting Nina get close to her Grandma and then taking her away, but K has reminded me how natural it is to want our own mother when we have children and so I am beginning to forgive myself for this. And seeing just how much stuff my Mum has given us both, how impossible it is to actually get rid of all trace of her from our home, just underlines how present she was and how much she used stuff to manipulate Nina into loving her more and wanting her more than me. It is sickening how much stuff there has been over the years. We’d got rid of loads already, but still it is all around. I realised yesterday that however much I might want to, I can’t ever erase the imprint of her on our lives. All I can do is keep moving forwards with healing and filling mine and Nina’s lives with new people, new experiences, and a new way of doing things.

My Mum will have had to do the same as me, or will need to one day, and yet how do you erase the childhood of a daughter you brought up and tried your best to be a good mum to for all those years? She has kept everything, she is a hoarder having lost both parents by the age of 17, and there will be drawings and cards and books and toys, and just everything of mine that is still there – my piano, the bedroom carpet I chose, the bed her ex-partner got me before my A level exams to help me sleep better, family photos, the fragments of a lifetime. It breaks my heart, knowing she must look around her cluttered home and see so much that reminds her of Nina and I. My older (half) sister is thinking she will have to cut contact with my Mum soon too, even though they’ve always been more distant than my Mum and I. This is validating for me of course – it’s not just me, I’m not making it up – but tragic for my Mum. I cannot even imagine the pain of losing two daughters and a granddaughter because you are so damaged it makes you dangerous to be close to. I cannot imagine the shame and torment this must induce for her. Her pain is infinitely bigger than mine around this because I am building a future away from her and the trauma and toxicity of my childhood. For her it is too late, all she can do is look back and see the fucking massive messes she has made out of the lives of all three of her children. Her two daughters are not able to see her, and her disabled son still lives with her where she feels suffocated by him but depends upon him to validate her existence so she cannot let him go. I’m not sure she can really comprehend the struggles I continue to go through on a daily basis because of the abuse and neglect I experienced at her hands, but she knows on some level that my life has been filled with physical pain and other difficulties (even though she blames everyone else but her). How could anyone ever face up to that guilt, especially when the reason for it is having a narcissistic personality that developed around a core of shame in the first place? It is a massive mess. For her and my brother it is just terribly sad – what a tragic waste of two lives. What a lonely and empty way to end your days.

I do feel sad. Or I’m aware there must be sadness somewhere; no one should have to spend time trying to erase all trace of their mother from their life whilst at the same time feeling the heavy burden of that mother’s pain around their neck as a perpetual, guilty presence. But I also feel hopeful, despite the ever-constant dissociation that stops me truly living, about the future. I am letting it all go. I am moving on. It will take a long time but I am heading in the right direction. Today I feel awful – heavy and fuzzy and far, far away – but I have had days in my life where I’ve not felt this way and I have hope that it won’t always be like this. I will build a tribe of people around me and I am hopeful that in 20 years my own daughter won’t need to do to me what I have needed to do to my Mum.

Lately I so often find myself wishing that I had a Mum. This is something I couldn’t even admit to wanting until a few months ago, so huge was the shame instilled in me as an infant for needing a mother to care and nurture me. So when I think of the process I am going through at the moment, maybe it is no wonder I am so dissociated and emotionally cut off. This is huge. It is facing up to so much, taking in again, on an even deeper level, all I needed and never had. I do love my Mum and I hold compassion for her, but she is too damaging to be close to and so I will love her from a place that is distant in time and space. Even admitting how hard it is to let her go is difficult for me, because I have such a deep sense that I shouldn’t need a mother, shouldn’t ever have needed one. And this says it all really, doesn’t it, about the legacy of engulfment by a narcissistic mother. She shamed me for needing her and it is this that stops me being able to access this grief and pain and loss. Shame surrounds my need for a mother, covers my emotions in sticky tar so they cannot freely move around my body, and yet bit by bit that shame is dissolving and I am finding the real me beneath it all. Plodding onwards on this healing journey is all I can do, even on the days when healing of any kind feels so far out of my reach.