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Dissociation, shame and relational healing

The last 6 days have been pretty horrible. I’ve been swinging between dead and non-existent to dissociated (extreme DP/DR) and unable to work or focus and back to dead again. At it’s worst I was dead and dissociated. Wanting to cut to feel real. Wanting to die to not feel dead.

And seeing K helped again this week. I’m still fuzzy and spacey but not like I was when I arrived at my session. And it makes so much sense, suddenly, that the dissociation I experience is shame. I dissociate because of shame, which sweeps in automatically the minute I have big feelings or relational needs. And shame is only healed in relationship, K has said this so many times, and so this means dissociation can only be resolved in this way too. I kind of got this before, but I didn’t really get it. And it has only been so recently in therapy that I have left feeling more connected and less dissociated than when I arrived. It has taken so long to get to this point and for K to be able to break the cycle, because every time I showed big feelings or needs to her, or even aspects of the real me, I would automatically feel ‘bad’ and get triggered and either get plunged into extreme shame-based terror and distress, or dissociate even more.

What I’ve realised over the past few days is that dissociation is, at its heart, a loss of connection; I lose my connection to myself due to sensing a perceived loss of connection with someone else because I am bad (i.e. because feelings of shame are triggered). It is therefore only possible for me to “come back” and reconnect with myself through someone else. I cannot end the cycle alone. It is not biologically possible I don’t think. And this is the horrifying paradox at the heart of disorganised attachment isn’t it, that craving for connection with others to overcome dissociation and distress and yet at the same time genuine connection and empathy triggers me and causes me to dissociate even more (and need connection even more to overcome it, and so it continues). As I said, it is only recently that K has been able to intercept this cycle and provide a healing connection that is beginning to untangle the chronic shame I experience.

This is a chart I drew last week on why therapy now (at last!) helps my dissociation:


So basically by K accepting and validating my feelings and (relational) needs OVER and OVER again she is now able to trip the switch so that my feelings can come out and my shame (which causes dissociation) can reduce. It feels like I am doing some really big work in therapy lately and it is definitely only possible now I can see the bigger picture of our work and am not quite so lost in the horrifying and terrifying feelings of transference (on a side note I am also beginning to be able to distinguish between transference and the feelings of young parts around her as their attachment figure, making it a little easier to separate my own adult feelings from theirs and I guess, ultimately, to hold and soothe young parts’ feelings and needs around her from an adult place).

I never thought the day would come when showing my feelings, showing myself, young parts coming out and chattering, crying about not having a mum, wouldn’t send me into a shame spiral. And yet it is starting to happen. Does this mean maybe one day, through therapy and my relationship with K, the levels of shame-driven dissociation I experience will also reduce? I so hope so. I actually feel hopeful on this because things are happening in therapy in the past 3 months that I never in a million years dreamed could be possible. I think K and I both feel quite triggered and traumatised when we think about the absolute state I was in during the early days/years of therapy. Wouldn’t it be amazing if through our work I can stop dissociating so much?!

The chart also shows where somatisation (extreme pain and muscle tightness) fit into the whole cycle for me: I somatise my emotions because I can’t feel and release them because I am cut off from them, and so the energy cannot escape my body and instead remains trapped, causing energy blocks and tension which manifest as pain and other physical symptoms.

Things are really starting to make sense on an even deeper cognitive and felt-sense level this weekend and today. I said to K earlier how weird it is that even after 3 years of working so intensively I am still making sense of myself and uncovering and understanding new things. She said ‘no stone unturned’ which is something she promised we would do when I first started therapy and was worried that I would have to keep coming back to these dark places in me over and over throughout my life. We are still unturning stones together but we are also using them to build a path out of the darkness together now. And it’s wonderful that this evening I can feel her walking beside me again, having lost her and myself and everyone else over the weekend.

Engulfment, shame and loss of self

Another post from my old blog, this time one I wrote in May as I was piecing together some things about shame and being engulfed by a narcissistic mother leading to a loss of self.

In May 2017 I remember feeling as though I was on the cusp of something huge, cognitively at least – a new understanding. I was starting to realise just how many of my triggers are shame-based, how much of my behaviours are driven by shame; fear of not being good enough, terror of not doing everything perfectly and people thinking badly of me or worse – people seeing who I really am. I feel shame for needing K, anyone, anything. I feel shame when people let me down. I always thought I had high expectations of people but I don’t think I do, I think I just feel ridiculously triggered when people aren’t there or say no to me because I feel so fucking bad about myself and it just confirms how bad I am – of course they don’t want to see me or spend time with me, how could I have thought otherwise? I said in therapy how I don’t even know what it is about me that I think is so bad. K said the shame is probably formational; I have a core of shame.

And I had some big realisations at this time about my ‘core of shame’ and I made the link between my lack of boundaries and my dissociation – my dissociation into parts/alters, and the other type of dissociation I experience – depersonalisation (DP) and derealisation (DR). Near the start of therapy I had said I experience two types of dissocation – alters, and DP/DR – and I remember K saying you’ll probably find they are quite closely linked, and I believed her but I didn’t know what she meant until that time. Then all of a suddenly it made sense – my alters split off to hold feelings and needs and behaviours it was unsafe for me to experience – feelings and needs that would cause my mother to disconnect from me further and therefore put my survival at risk. So the parts hold the feelings of the real me, who needed to split off so the core me could survive. That’s why my parts aren’t just emotions, but are also ways of being in the world that would have got me into trouble and caused my Mum to disconnect further. And this is why I have many coping parts/ANPs – different selves were needed for survival depending on what my volatile and emotionally abusive mother needed at the time. I was genuinely a shape-shifter, reflecting back whatever my Mum needed in the moment. My lack of boundaries is REAL – I BECAME my mother, I held her feelings for her. She didn’t just eclipse me, she genuinely engulfed me and took me over.

‘What comes before the mirror is the mother’s face. So when one looks in one’s mother’s face, one sees oneself. To be seen and to be held by the mother are the defining events of childhood – our mother’s embrace confirms we exist, and the adoring mirror of her eyes confirms who we are’.

This doesn’t happen for infants with narcissistic mothers – their existence is never confirmed and they remain enmeshed with their mothers, unable to distinguish between themselves and others. Their mother is an empty mirror – as a baby they looked at their mother/the mirror and didn’t see themselves reflected back. How could they grow up knowing they existed? So my Mum couldn’t actually see me, for her I did not exist as separate from her. She engulfed me as in I had no sense of self. My true self was annihilated, killed off so I could be her mirror – if I showed my real self I risked death because to be real and distinct is dangerous for an infant with a primary carer like this. And so I had no mirror to learn who I was and that I existed as separate from others.

And at this point I realised how entrenched my lack of boundaries are; I don’t just not say no or not ask for what I need/want, I literally AM that other person and responsible for how they feel. I unconsciously pre-empt and take responsibility for all the feelings and thoughts of whoever I’m with or relating to. I take on their feelings and I automatically try to work out what they need from me to prevent them feeling bad, embarrassed, disappointed, etc. I don’t do this to make them ‘like me,’ it is more complex that – I AM them. I must protect them from their own feelings and sense of e.g. embarrassment if they say or do something silly. This is why I tell people I’m fine when I’m not and don’t correct them when they say something factually wrong, and it is why I accept offers of things I really don’t want, and why I am desperate to soothe people when they say self-deprecating stuff. I’m trying to protect them from feeling their own stupidity and so on. I shape-shift constantly, trying to say and do the right thing so they don’t feel bad. It’s why I find groups so hard – I cannot be who I perceive everyone needs me to be all at the same time. It is exhausting and overwhelming. These reactions are automatic. This dance is invisible but also in it I am invisible. And I’m starting to see how all this comes from being enmeshed with and engulfed by my narcissistic mother.

 Depersonalisation, shame, engulfment and loss of self

I’ve started to see how my constant DP is related to this engulfment and this core of shame. Constant DP such as I experience is not about anxiety (lots of people get the symptoms occasionally when they are triggered, overwhelmed, and anxious, mine has a different cause because it is there all the time and it is not helped by grounding and so on). I read about how it is caused by disorganised attachment; abuse and disorganised attachment lead to DP because DP results from conflicts in the unconscious mind, it’s a defence to cover up inner conflict in the psyche. This inner conflict then is because I have had to hide my own feelings and project/mirror by mother, in order to survive. I made myself unreal by dissociating so that I could survive all the shame I felt from having feelings and needs I wasn’t allowed to have.

My Mum loved me when I reflected well on her. She didn’t love ME. She couldn’t, because she couldn’t see me. She could only see herself reflected back in me. For years now I’ve lamented that my Mum told me who I was and what I felt and what I wanted. My feelings and needs and wants were confusing to me because so often my internal experience didn’t match what my Mum told me it was. So I learnt to switch off from it and ignore my internal experiences. I shaped myself into someone who would please her.

I’ve said before that I was engulfed by my mother, that she is an engulfing narcissistic mother, but I never really understood it, or why it was so bad. Daughters of engulfing narcissistic mothers were literally engulfed; we became our mothers, we split off ourselves so they would see themselves reflected back and love us and not abandon us to die. I think I thought engulfing us meant controlling us and smothering us but I’ve just understood on a deep level that it has literally meant we had no sense of self. Our self was literally engulfed into their sense of self and our true self was annihilated. I used to understand that when we looked into their eyes we didn’t see ourselves reflected back, so we had no mirror to learn who we were and are, but I never got what this truly meant – it meant we did not exist.

So she obliterated who I was, what I felt and wanted and needed. My fear of annihilation is a fear based on experience. I am not afraid of something that might one day happen, but reliving an experience that has already happened. Annihilation: complete destruction or obliteration. This is what she did to me – my true self was destroyed. This is why I am so scared of being invisible – I was to her. And this is why I have cut off from all my feelings, it is why I am dissociated all the time – to protect me from this. I am terrified to show my true feelings, to show who I really am. I feel embarrassed and ashamed when I feel anything or show anything about myself, positive or negative – I turned my self bad as a BABY to protect her and keep her good to protect me. I dissociated all my feelings (literally – with the DP and DR I stopped existing). I feel shame around all my feelings (good and bad, happy/sad, positive/negative) because she engulfed me, I mirrored her, I absorbed her. My needs and wants were BAD – I saw in her face they were bad/inconvenient and I became that badness. I made myself bad for having needs, for existing, for having a self.

So when people SEE ME I feel shame, and TERROR. When I feel connected to someone I am afraid of annihilation. The two go hand in hand. Being connected to my mother annihilated the REAL ME. This makes real attunement, like I get from K for the first time in my life, a threat – it means I have been SEEN and being seen is dangerous, literally I could have died as a result of being seen. Disorganised attachment means connection is a source of terror – the abuse triggers the natural drive to attach and seek safety but because the caregiver is also a source of fear it triggers the fight/flight drive at the same time. It is fear without solution which defines disorganised attachment – both innate biological survival drives are activated at the same time and neither can be soothed without activating the other.

And all this also means a child never learns to process their own emotions with safe other validating and reflecting them back to them – the child is not allowed a sense of self with feelings and needs and so their only option is to avoid feelings by dissociating them and making themselves unreal, i.e. depersonalised, to avoid the inner conflict. So I continue to dissociate ALL feelings, because showing myself and my feelings was so unsafe. I experience huge internal conflicts between what I feel and experience and what I express. So the alters hold the feelings, leaving me with no feelings and no self.  This is the work of therapy – not discovering my real self, but creating her from all the split off parts of my psyche.

Depersonalisation and Touch: Making Sense of My Promiscuous Self

This is an old post from my old blog, but it fits well with the links I am making about shame and dissociation and relational healing over the past few days, so I am adding it here. I wrote it in the autumn of 2017, after I made some links between my promiscuity, touch and the fact that I experience almost-permanent depersonalisation and derealisation. It links with things I had realised previously about my core self being formed around shame, and the shame and guilt I feel when I see my Mum from a distance e.g. across a room, and how this led me to dissociate even as a baby. I dissociate from all and any feelings, which is starting to make even more sense now – I was trying to reflect back to my Mum what she needed and wanted to see and so I hid my real self, even from myself. I literally made myself unreal, i.e. depersonalised, so I didn’t get annihilated.

“To live without a functioning sense of touch is to live in constant fear. Fear of imminent annihilation, fear you are not real. “Touch” is not tactile. It is a sense located in the organ of the skin, an awareness of the skin as a boundary, a boundary that gives you certainty that you exist and are an entity, something real. The place your spirit can exist on the earth. “Touch” is what allows you to take in and perceive the world and form memories. Memories that you can access and name. Without a sense of touch a soul has no boundary, no container. Memories have no place to live and the feelings cannot coalesce into something cognizant and meaningful. They are just pure emotion swirling around, nameless, overwhelming, annihilating”.

I’ve spent my life chronically dissociated, mostly depersonalisation and derealisation, although in more recent years the existence of dissociated parts, frozen in time since their original trauma, have made themselves known. Some of those parts have branded themselves ‘sluts’, unable to forgive their promiscuity and the shameful situations they found themselves in. Others have shown classic signs of borderline personality as they have grappled with the triggers of intimate relationships. And still others are starting to feel horrified by how obsessed they were by boys, how even as they studied hard and had other interests, it was boys who took over their minds and gave them a reason to live. Only now are we making sense of the reasons for this behaviour, the desperate longing to be touched and filled and to feel like we mattered, how the seeds for this behaviour were sown before we could even walk.

When an adult experiences chronic, near-constant depersonalisation it usually means there was frequent trauma and abuse before that adult was 9 months old. Depersonalisation – the sense of not being real, of having no edges because there is no ‘you’ to come to an end. Depersonalisation – watching your hand move across the page and letters forming, but having no sense of that hand belonging to you. Depersonalisation – cutting your legs just to feel real, feeling no pain as the blood flows, seeing the cuts later and feeling comforted, the stinging pain reminding you the pain is real, that you are real. Depersonalisation – looking in the mirror and there being no connection between the face you see and the person inside. Depersonalisation – being trapped behind frosted glass, needing someone to reach out and break it but not being able to move past your own experience to tell them. Doubting your own existence. Doubting you are real. I didn’t realise I felt like this as a teenager, but I did, it’s in my writings. It’s how I explained my anorexia. It explains why I drank myself to oblivion. And it explains why I let random men use me and discard me, over and over again. For me, depersonalisation didn’t just mean a lack of boundaries with regards other people, but that I did not exist to myself. I have not felt real for most of my life. Feeling someone’s hands on my skin gave me edges, gave me skin, brought me to life, gave me a place in the world – for seconds, minutes, hours, however long they held me, I felt something and I knew I was there.

I spent my life trying to be invisible. Hiding and hoping to be left alone – at school and at home. I also spent my life desperate to be seen and heard. I lost my virginity at 14 to a man 12 years older. We met at a club. I was drunk and passively borne along by events that felt entirely out of my control – I had no sense of being able to say no, even if I had wanted to. Writing ‘I’ feels strange; I have no sense that person back then was me. Whoever it was lay there, in his bed, desperate for it to be over, trying to block out what was going on, telling herself it would be over soon. It was. And then the man fucked her best friend as well and they both went home. I know now this was statutory rape; in the eyes of the law I was not able to consent. I was too young and he was too old. He should have known better, though under our patriarchal system I can understand why perhaps he didn’t. Around this time I was also obsessing over his house mate; beautiful, mysterious, enigmatic Ben. I had met him at a party, spent hours the next day trawling the streets trying to find his house, turned up at his work a week later. He told me I was too young – I was, he was right – but his rejection threw my very existence into doubt. After this there were more boys. My Mum had thrown me out at the start of the holidays. I went to a party on the moors and fucked a 17 year old in his tent. I let boys shove their fingers inside me, ignoring the discomfort, the pain, the shame. I kissed anyone and everyone I could. I obsessed over another boy all summer, someone I didn’t even like until he showed me he liked me. We kissed constantly. I felt alive when we were kissing. I pretended I felt the same when he said we shouldn’t turn it into anything serious in case it ruined our friendship, I could feel him slipping away from me and I would take whatever I could get. I acted out my hurt by kissing another boy in front of him. I returned from a holiday and he was ‘going out with’ another girl. I was the one people wanted to kiss and fuck, not have a relationship with. He told a friend he couldn’t love me because I didn’t love myself. I had no idea what this meant. I hated myself even more for not loving myself enough to make him love me.

Another one night stand in my friend’s sister’s bed. Disgusting and drunken. He left in the early hours and I felt empty and used and hollowed out. I pretended it was fine, one big joke. I felt proud of the pain, of being hardly able to walk, my muscles stiff, my tender flesh sore and raw inside; proof that someone had wanted me. More men. Pulling 20 men in a night was standard. Letting them grope me on the dancefloor, letting them take me places and do things to me I didn’t want them to do, just so I could have a cuddle. Making them watch as I moved on to the next. Those days remain a jumble of excited obsession and agonising rejection that happened to someone else. Not me. Every man I met in a club or pub was going to be the one – they were gorgeous and funny and this time they would want me. Eventually one did. He was the double of Kurt Cobain and I fell hard and fast. Luckily so did he. He was 9 years older – I was just 15. We saw each other every day. I was too young to spot the warning signs, how he would shake if he hadn’t had a drink, his mood swings, the derogatory way he would talk to me sometimes. He told me he loved me. He didn’t fuck me. He left me for someone else and I wanted to die. Six months after this the one night stands started in earnest. Joe, Tobey, Chris, Billy, Malcolm, Anthony, Julian, Owen, Big Pete. Most of the time I didn’t even think about it going anywhere. I brushed them off with a ‘see ya later’. Apart from Lux, Lux was different. Lux wanted me and I wanted him so much. He was older. He was dangerous, I could sense it. He made me feel more alive and more wanted than I ever had. He would drop me home after a weekend in bed and the emptiness that invaded me was the worst pain I had ever experienced. I felt annihilated. I couldn’t see how I would ever be okay without him. My neediness was palpable, even as I played it cool.

The obsessions continued, mostly over girls, sometimes a man. I took detours to get home so I could walk past Emily’s house, desperate to see her, unable to talk when I did. I obsessed over Sarah K at work, unable to talk when she came near me, writing poetry and dreaming of her constantly. All I wanted was for her to touch me. At university the one night stands and embarrassing, shameful situations began again. Mike, Rob, Matt, Tom, James, James, the ginger pikey. At age 18 I had slept with 21 guys, some of whose names I didn’t even know. And I had had the most intense and exhilarating experience of my life kissing a girl called Amy for hours and hours, until her boyfriend came to lead her home. It stopped for a while, with my first real boyfriend. I felt alive with him, but the long-distance took its toll on me – having to say goodbye every week broke my heart. I was lost without him. He became my life. Being apart from him was agony. My disorganised attachment played out time and time again as I told him he couldn’t be with him, I was too fucked up. I begged him to leave me. The opposite of the classic borderline “I hate you, don’t leave me” – my version was “I love you, please leave me”. Terrified he’d discover my rotten core or that I would unknowingly infect him with my filth. He stayed. I cheated twice because whenever there was an offer of closeness, skin-to-skin contact, waking up next to someone, feeling ‘loved’, then I was powerless to say no. He stayed through physical illness and depression and I got my degree because of our strength. He told me he was leaving me and I threw up in the road, so disturbed was my sense of self. I didn’t know who I was without him.

More one-night-stands and short-lived romances with boys who were dangerous and unsuitable, men who I felt nothing for, men who physically repulsed me. I let them all fuck me. I pretended I liked them, but not too much. Ben, Paul, Aidan, Alex, Alex, Kate, a man in a cupboard at a party who I hadn’t even talked to. The pain of one particularly intense entanglement with a spectacularly bad-for-me chef named Paul ending led me to try and take my own life. I fell for men I didn’t even like. Too scared to tell one to use a condom, in case it made him realise he didn’t want me after all, I ended up pregnant. That stopped the carousel a little. In 11 years 4 relationships, 2 almost-relationships, 1 one-night stand with a total druggie on medication for psychosis. One that should have been a no-night-stand but after we had drunken sex (he made me cry so of course I fucked him after that) I was so consumed by shame that I let myself fall for him in the hope I could stave off the guilt for getting closer than I should have by getting even closer. A million reasons to end it with each of them and yet it took me such a long time to find them, because the tidal wave of abandonment and annihilation would sweep me away when I tried. With the last two, I remember how I could never get physically close enough to them. Even when they were inside me it wasn’t enough. I would hold them close after sex and have this excruciating sensation of never being able to hold them tight enough. I needed them inside me, consuming me, merging with me and filling me up. I learnt to walk away. I learnt to tolerate the pain. I learnt to end relationships from a distance, when my body wouldn’t cry out for their touch as they tried to walk away.

What now, though? What now? Can I absolve all my parts of guilt and shame and self-loathing for this slutty, promiscuous, obsessive behaviour? Now I can see that experiencing chronic abuse as an infant and young child led to me not having a skin of my own, led to this crazy sense of not existing unless someone else could see and touch me, can I forgive us all for needing more, more, more all the time? Maybe, just maybe. One day. All I know is I’ve had enough empty sex to last a lifetime. Ironic really, when all that time I was hoping it would fill me up, so that one day I would be enough, all by myself.

And so to therapy. What do I get? It’s really quite simple. When I’m with my therapist I exist. Under her all-seeing gaze I am coming to life. When she goes away so do I. Without her my experiences no longer feel real. I am thrown back into a wordless place, where I feel nothing, where my internal experience does not exist. Where do not exist. She is helping me find my skin and then to draw a boundary around it in which I feel safe and contained. I have been told that as a child I was self-contained; I wasn’t, I just had no one to contain me. I was uncontained and hiding myself inside a body that was not mine, lest I spill out and infect my parents and make them sadder, madder, more resentful, even less there, even less willing to be there. I grew up without a functioning sense of touch. I grew up without a boundary around myself. I grew up not existing to myself. Now it makes sense that when my therapist goes away I feel I am facing annihilation. When I lost my skin, that’s what I really was facing.


We told K about the stormy memories. She said grown ups should make scary times better and say “it is a big storm but we are snuggled and it’s okay”. I think if K was there when we were little in a little body she would have scooped us up and snuggled us and keep us safe. If I could have anything it would be that K came and saved us from all the bad things. She would have done if she had known. I know she would. (Esis, age 9).

Esis wrote this in our parts’ journal after our session last week. And K read it tonight and said ‘That’s right. And we need to take that feeling inside, don’t we, now because we have it now – that safe feeling’.

And underneath Esis’ writing Miffy (5) had written ‘She come now and see me and save me‘ and K laughed and said ‘that’s right, that’s what I just said. And Miffy had already said it, in a very grown up way‘.

Many times K has said if she had known what was going on at home when I was little she would have come and scooped us up and taken us away and kept us safe. And I have spent so much time wishing this could have happened, crying that she wasn’t there and didn’t know us, but now sometimes it feels as though she did come and save us. Sometimes I can feel her scooping us all up. And it feels safe and nice and I can hold the feeling in my heart.




I see the world through frosted glass. I am swimming under water. Far away. Everything is blurry and thick and distorted. My eyes sting from trying to see through the hazy fog in my head. I cannot connect.

In this place I do not exist. I am not real. I have no substance. I try to feel my body, notice what sensations arise, but I draw a blank. I cannot think of a single thing about me that distinguishes me from the empty space around me. I watch my hands typing and they don’t belong to me. I look in the mirror and do not recognise the person who stares back at me. My brain doesn’t register my reflection as me. Who even am I?

I feel nothing. And at the same time I feel everything. A deep turmoil I cannot reach or soothe. I know why I come to this place now and yet still I cannot stop myself from ending up here. It is a bad habit I have no control over, automatic and unwelcome. I want to cut myself just to know I am real. I want to cut to feel something. I don’t feel real. I am an empty shell without edges. There is no line around me and nothing within me.

I want to live but this place pulls me away from myself and the world. I spend so much time only half alive. Dead inside. Non-existent. Struggling to pretend I am here but I’m not. My internal world is a place most people have never been. It is caused by a shame that can only be healed in relationship and yet this place comes between me and the people I want to love. I want to exist but my brain still automatically hides me, even from myself. What defence mechanism is this? What did I endure as a baby that this place is more familiar to me than anywhere else? I know the cause but it seems there is no cure. I do everything I can to connect but this place clutches at me and drags me down and cuts me off from myself, holds me here until there is nothing of me left within my reach.

Taking it in

Also, I know this is my third post of today, but I have just sobbed out some big tears of relief – how, after all those months of working towards an ending, is it that I get to keep K? How? Where is the catch? And how an earth did I actually achieve some kind of stability and resolution with what was happening? I never thought I had that in me, always thought I’d end up hospitalised if K ever told me she was ending our work, and yet – even though it was hell on earth – I survived relatively unscathed with *just* an anorexia relapse, some time off work, and a fair amount of self-harm. I somehow managed to settle into the ending and accept it was happening, and it was actually through that process of losing her and learning to let her go (even though it’s turned out I didn’t need to) that I’ve been able to internalise her and become as securely attached as it is perhaps possible for someone like me to be.

It just doesn’t feel real, possible, that I survived all that and now she will be here. How did I get so lucky? It feels much too good to be true. I am waiting for someone to jump out and yell ‘LOL. PRANK!’ It feels this evening as though all is right in the world. Well, in my world at least. It is hard to take in that this is actually happening. K is not going away. She will be here. I get to keep her. I feel so lucky and I am so unbelievably grateful. What is ahead of me – life – feels so much less difficult with her beside me. And because when I was losing her I finally was able to internalise her to a significant extent, it finally makes a difference to my life now that she is out there, somewhere, even when I am not with her – I can draw on her when we are apart and just let her fade into the background of my life because she is present inside me. I genuinely never thought I would ever get to feel this even some of the time. Does this mean therapy does actually work? Things aren’t great, but as I said to K earlier – I don’t feel suicidal and that is pretty good! And I am hopeful that I can get to a better place than this as well. This hope waxes and wanes but what I like is that it is now mine to carry.

“I will be here”

We raised our fears with K about whether she will change her mind again and feel much better now because she gave us all the reassurances we needed. She said whatever happens she will be in [county we live in] next year and that we don’t need to worry every week that she will tell us she is going away again. She will be here. She isn’t planning any time off. And she said she is glad and relieved that she will be here, that it feels as though it is meant to be. I could feel young parts pricking up their ears when she was talking and I felt them sigh with relief when she said those words, letting out the breath that had been tightly held for quite a while. It used to take so long to get the courage to tell K when we were worried about things like this, we would be so curled up with shame over our needs and fear over being ‘too much’ and driving her away that we would try not to say anything and it would grow into a giant but invisible barrier between us. Now it is so much easier – we say it and feel a bit worried but we don’t get flooded with shame, and then K says soothing and reassuring things and everything is okay.

Last week during our session I was really dissociated and then by the end, through connecting with her, the level of dissociation had dramatically reduced. This didn’t used to happen and isn’t something I ever believed could change. When I got home I made a flow chart of my dissociation (DP and DR) process – why it happens and why therapy helps when I am like that, how being in that space is linked to shame (fear of loss of connection because my feelings and needs are bad) and so reduces through connection and having my needs and feelings validated (although the switch couldn’t be flipped by K till very recently – it has taken years of her validating my needs and feelings over and over again for it to have any effect on my dissociation levels). So often DP and DR are seen as being caused by anxiety and reduced by grounding and becoming present in the room and so on, but for trauma survivors where that state is chronic it is not triggered by fear/anxiety but by shame and the desire to become invisible, and so, as K agreed, grounding and becoming present doesn’t really help. Anyway, K said the chart was really helpful and clear and that I should put it on my blog because it shows how dissociation works and how therapy can help it. So I think I am going to publish a couple of posts from my old blog later this week because they are about shame and depersonalisation, and then I will add the chart and an explanation of it. Basically though, I also realised that with K now I don’t automatically get triggered into a place of shame and dissociation when my feelings come out. THIS IS HUGE. We laughed that it has only taken 3 years. And it is why I don’t want to end therapy yet because things I thought were impossible are ALREADY HAPPENING.

It was a really busy session. As happened last week, I switched out basically as soon as I got there and then came back suddenly and had missed the first part of the session. It is so weird when that happens. It’s like I am there but not there. When she was talking us through the meditation we do at the start of every session I could see young parts giggling at the big and confusing words she was using, like ‘profound wisdom’ haha. And when we had finished breathing together suddenly everything I’d noticed from the body scan had disappeared. The past ten minutes was a total blank. I said I’d just got there and looked down and there were a cuddly hedgehog and a wooden fox in my lap which made me puzzled as I wasn’t really sure why they were there!! K asked where I thought I had been and I was like ‘err, at the back…’ and she asked what I meant so I was like ‘there were others at the front – Esis, Scarlet and Miffy’. She said probably they were there because they needed some space today, and how it was good we know about them now. Dissociation is so weird. It’s sometimes like I am watching the alters, like when you’re in the back of a car watching people in the front seats talking and doing things but with no control over what is happening. It’s really quite weird because it’s not always obvious, especially to people who don’t know me well, but it is like I am watching myself do things I cannot control and I can hear my voice is child-like (I have a quiet voice usually though and sound quite young even in my adult, so I think this is why people other than K and sometimes Nina don’t really notice when it’s not adult me). In the past the parts used to wreak havoc, often via text and email to K, and all I could do was watch in horror as events unfolded. I would know what they were sending was really a bad idea, but couldn’t stop it. Luckily that happens less now, but parts do still hijack me and it is… weird. There is no other word for it to be honest!

It is perhaps unsurprising that parts have been much more active since K dropped her bombshell two weeks ago. There has been a lot of switching in and out in session and I’ve been a lot more aware of them at home too. Provided they are not causing difficulties then this is okay with me! It’s sometimes too quiet when they are not around, I’ve got used to them now and they make me laugh. And overall I would definitely say the level of distress the alters experience is reducing. K and I talked today about how sometimes with therapy we can only see the progress when we can look down from above and see the bigger picture. She said how it was hard to see the progress when we were so ‘in it’ and so focused on her and on her and I. And I completely agree on this. Not being so lost in the horrific transference has definitely made it easier to see the complete picture and all the progress I am making. All the pain I was in for the first three years of therapy was so all-consuming and horrific and it really felt like I was getting nowhere – it is strange now to look back on those incredibly dark times and see that I was actually getting somewhere because it really didn’t feel like all that pain and desperate desire to die could have actually been ‘the work’ and been carrying me to a better place. I remember during the most intolerable times, when the fear and pain was genuinely killing me and I was frozen in some kind of disorganised attachment hell and causing K huge pain in the process, she told me we just needed to hang in there together. I couldn’t see how that pain could ever subside even a little bit, how it could possibly work just to hang in there – the pain and turmoil was there all the time and I didn’t see how it could ever not be there in that way. Yet it did subside and now when it comes around it does make more sense and whilst it is awful and still makes me want to die, at the same time I can usually hang in there with it and remind myself it will pass. To be aware of this level of progress and at the same time know K is and will be here to support me and guide me and parent me and help me heal further…Well, it all feels pretty magical to me right now!

Too much uncertainty

I have very high levels of physical anxiety today. In part I know this is caused by trapped negative emotional energy alerting my fight/flight system into thinking something is wrong. It is also caused by high levels of worry around selling my house and the fact that I’ve needed to borrow money this weekend to get a new (to me!) car because mine has totally packed up and, at 17 years old, just isn’t worth getting repaired again. Paying off the £3000 I’ve borrowed for this is contingent on selling my house as I was planning to upgrade my car with the money left over, so it is worrying that I’ve just got in to more debt in case no one wants to buy my house. We’ve had plenty of viewings, including a second viewing on Saturday who sound like they are about to put an offer in, and another second viewing from a first time buyer tomorrow, but we’ve also seen a house we really want and so I just want things to hurry up so I can put an offer in on that one and secure it. All in all there is just way too much uncertainty for me and it is making me, and little controlling parts, very worried.

There is also torrential rain here today which makes young parts anxious that we won’t get to K’s later because the lane will be flooded (this happened once before and there was basically a fucking massive and impassable puddle between us and her house which was hugely distressing and ended up with a lot of dysregulated screaming and wailing in the car as young parts took over). I hate that she lives so far away and in a place that does get cut off quite regularly. And I hate that it matters so much – as an introvert, basically any other engagement in my diary would invoke relief if it was cancelled at the last minute, but therapy is another story isn’t it! And I hate it. I hate that the thought of not getting there floods me with anxiety. Weirdly (or perhaps not so weirdly actually), the fact we are not about to end has made young parts more active and open in their attachment to her again. I guess this is unsurprising, but it is frustrating to be plunged back in to all the worry about not getting to see her and how long she’ll take off at Christmas and how often we will see her. Which brings me to my next point really.

I think by far and away the thing that is worrying me the most is that K will change her mind and still take a year off at some point starting in the next year. How will I ever know this isn’t about to happen? What if things change for her again? How long do we have left with her before she really does go away? The uncertainty around this is huge. How do I know we won’t get to February or March or whenever and she won’t suddenly say ‘right, I’m taking that year off now’. How do I know the year off thing has gone away? Will it ever go away? Has it gone away? And yes, I can see that I survived those months in the summer and it put me in touch with some very big stuff I needed to see and feel, and I know that now she is definitely less central in our lives than she was and that I can see that really my struggles aren’t anything to do with her, but how do I know we won’t all react like that again if she tells us she is going away? It really worries me. It worries everyone. Part of me knows K wouldn’t have said what she did 2 weeks ago if she wasn’t sure, but she was sure before and things changed. And I do know we will be okay. When the panic rises about how much we will actually see her (she said something about doing ‘chunks’ of work next year – what does that even mean?!) I remind everyone that although we were sad about the ending and saying goodbye, we were feeling okay (a lot of the time at least) about next year and not seeing her and not being in therapy and that this hasn’t really changed. And if she said she was taking a year off I think I am more able to be open with her now and say I want to take it as a planned break rather than a forever ending. I think it helps that the intense need for her has dissipated in recent months and so it is easier to tell her, from an adult perspective, why I want to keep our therapeutic relationship for as long as possible. It is much easier to be open about adult feelings than the crazed attachment needs of a huddle of traumatised children for sure!

And I must admit I was kind of looking forward to next year in some ways because of not having the actions and life of someone whose whole life is ‘not about me’ be so central to my wellbeing. I was kind of looking forward to not getting worried about being ill in case I had to miss a session, or being worried about snow or flooding in case I couldn’t get to therapy. I was looking forward to having a break from my relationship with a professional impacting me so much and becoming more central in my own life. Of course there was a lot I was not looking forward to as well, but the anticipation of having my weeks less disrupted by the absent presence of someone else was definitely something that I was pleased about. And in the past few months I’ve turned to K less (internally and externally) when things have been tough and she has not been in my thoughts so much. I’ve been more accepting of the fact that I often (nearly always) feel shit and dissociated and disconnected and struggle with huge emotional waves and I’ve noticed myself wanting to turn to her less often. I don’t want to go back to how things were. I don’t want to be on edge constantly waiting for her to tell me she is taking a break. I know I could choose to take a break still, but I do think it will be helpful to have support whilst I am moving house and trying to meet new people, and thinking about dating (argh!!!). I want therapy and I want it to be how it has been since September (i.e. in the background of my life more) even though now she is not going away now. I really hope that it is possible.

I’m just scared she will change her mind and has forgotten the huge impact it would have on my and my system if she did this. In many ways it was easier when I knew what I was dealing with and it was known pain I could anticipate flooding me in December and slowly dissipating throughout next year. Now I have no idea what I am dealing with or what will come and hit us all when. It is uncomfortable and I know it is another good opportunity to sit with uncertainty and breathe through it, but uncertainty is hard enough when it relates to concrete, material things – when it is uncertainty around if and when I will be abandoned by my attachment figure it just feels too much.