Letting go and opening up

I will start by saying Christmas was awful. My internal landscape was fractured and I felt either smashed up inside or aware of the gaping hole in me and something missing inside me for basically the entire week. Such a strong sense of not belonging in my own life and not being a whole person. It was pretty excruciating and I did feel suicidal on Christmas Day. The difference this year was knowing this pain was not about K – in some ways it was easier when I thought and really felt as though the pain was about her because now I know this pain is me, is mine, is about me and what has happened to me. It was nice not to be pining for her though and it is obviously a huge mark of progress.

Despite the difficult feelings and body sensations inside me I kept it together all week. I coped and didn’t fall into crisis and we did the things we planned to do – two cinema trips, walks in the forest and at the beach, watching some nice films, seeing friends. Nina had a wonderful time which of course is really important and a huge achievement as a single parent with hardly any family. We saw a starfish on the beach on Christmas Day which was pretty special, and I didn’t somatise beyond a bit of aching from time-to-time. In previous years I’ve had excruciating pain in my head or spent the day vomiting and hurting everywhere, so  today K said this is clear progress and that even though it was difficult I am feeling the feelings more now. The absence of my Mum and brother was less present this year which is also good, and Nina said she never thinks of them anymore which is also very important. It was a huge struggle though, for me and the parts, and it is nice to be out the other side (although also disappointing because young parts really would like to have a nice Christmas and are sad it is over).

starfish

I had therapy this afternoon which I was worried would trigger me again but it has left me feeling more settled and intact. Phew. We met on the 21st so it wasn’t really a break but, as K pointed out, last week was not an ordinary week and it did feel like we had been away for a long time. So it took a while to settle and reconnect with her. As a system we had fallen into a place where we couldn’t feel if we were real or not, K and I. It felt like I had made it all up, what K and I had built together. And there was a lot of wailing when we realised in session that this still happens for us, but K was calm and firm and said it’s okay because we know about this now, and we are real and special and we always find each other again. Always. Every time. We reconnect quicker now and we didn’t lose her completely, and after our session we are all left feeling more solid in ourselves because of our connection to K.

We processed Christmas and talked about what I need and want this time next year and going forwards. With her I have slowly worked out who I am and what I want and need, and I am building that life for myself, and the progress I’ve made over the past 3 years is really apparent after our session today. There is no comparison between this year and the Christmas 3 years ago when I was first in therapy and I lay awake most of Christmas Eve in a state of utter panic and despair convinced the only way out of this mess was to kill myself and Nina. It was completely and utterly horrific that year and I have made so much progress since then. It feels really important to hold on to that when the past month has been a particularly dark time for me and the parts that live inside me.

Towards the end of the session we talked about some of the things I want to leave behind this year (in K’s shed right at the bottom of her huge and wild garden to slowly seep out as the months go by) and the things I want to open to as the new year begins. This year has actually been really quite horrendous but I also know there has been A LOT of healing and A LOT of finding myself and A LOT of growing bigger and more central in my own life. I’m not setting resolutions but there are things I am hoping for and aiming for next year, both in therapy and out of it. K and I have plans for our work next year and it was so nice to hear her say when we sobbed about not wanting to go home because we only just feel safe again “we are meeting the same next year, every week, and we have this time and space dedicated to healing and well being”. And I replied “it is safe now. I know it was always safe, but now it feels safe.” And it is this that will enable us to do the depth healing I really need around #themotherwound this year.

She said to write the things down this evening that I want to leave behind in 2018 and open up to in 2019 as it would be a cathartic way of drawing a line under the past 10 days, which have been so difficult despite some moments of magic. I might make a separate post once I’ve done this, I’m not sure, but for now I will just include the two main things I want to leave behind in 2018: K going away and my Mum. I want to open up to the newfound safety I have in my relationship with K and let go of my Mum’s pain and her judgments around me and what I have done so I can feel my pain over having her as a mother. These things feel very linked – K is here and safe and so it is safe for me to focus on myself and how I felt when my Mum was being crazy and abusive, rather than on what she was doing. The time for trying to work my Mum out is done and next year my healing will involve matching up the flashback pain I experience with what was actually happening, and beginning to own that pain as MINE. K is very prepared for this work, she says, and I know it will be tough because it will involve re-visiting times from my past we’ve already worked with but shifting the focus on to what was going on for me. I also know it is needed and I am ready for it, and that it will be possible because I can feel K beside me nearly all the time now. I wrote in my journal on Christmas Eve how it was comforting to think that K was out there, under the same sky, living her life, and that it didn’t matter that she wasn’t thinking of me because the strength of our bond endures through time and space and it holds me steady – it is inside me, it makes me who I am, it makes me able to be who I am. I may not be part of her ‘real life’ but she is helping me be part of my own. This feels so different from previous years when being excluded from her real life has been excruciatingly painful.

K saved my life, and Nina’s, or helped me save myself at least, and I end this year with hope, knowing K is holding hope and light for me also so that it is still okay to wobble and fall apart completely sometimes. I am not where I want to be yet but I have hope – I have friends and Nina is happy and K is there, in the background – a shining light that I know is always with me. I am staying in tonight watching Taylor Swift on Netflix with Nina and drinking ginger beer. I got absolutely off my head every new year’s eve from when I was 13 until I was 31 (apart from the year I was pregnant) so I’m done with that and this feels like the perfect way to end the year. It has been a very hard year but I have grown so much and processed so much trauma and I am ready for a little more living in 2019.

Thank you everyone who has shared my journey this year and commented on my posts and supported me in my darkest times. I wish you all peace and light and a happy new year.

 

“She holds me tight even when she is far away”

If K’s circumstances hadn’t changed we would have ended today. I can’t really get my head around that, around how it would have been and how I would have coped, especially at this time of year which is so dark and difficult for me, and so many others, in so many different ways. And I guess I don’t need to examine too closely the place I was about to get lost in and then suddenly wasn’t. The kaleidoscope turned and my whole life was changed around, and the path ahead promises a deeper kind of healing than the road not taken would have brought I think. K and I are doing very depth work at the moment, but it is not triggering me the way it once would have because I can feel her all around me. Even last week I didn’t self-harm or lose my ability to go to bed or go completely mad in an attempt to squash the pain. And I didn’t get caught in a distressing push/pull dynamic of wanting to reach out to her and then being scared if I did it would make her go away. Not being physically with her when I was experiencing such terrible pain was awful, but I was able to wait it out and I wasn’t hovering in a place of wanting to contact her but at the same time being afraid and ashamed to reach out. I knew I wouldn’t contact her. And I knew she was there even though I felt such pain and despair, that she wouldn’t cut off from me because my feelings were too big, and that made it all a little less distressing and a lot less shameful and chaotic.

Esis (9) had written in our parts’ journal last week that ‘a mummy should make me feel special and loved, not like I’m the worst person in the world. Mummies shouldn’t say they hate you and want you to go away forever and throw things. That’s not what a Mummy is for. K makes me feel special. She holds me tight even when she is far away‘. And when K read it today there was no shame, only a warm feeling inside when she said ‘that’s progress, huh?‘ I used to get so scared of the intensity of the young parts’ feelings for her that it got in the way of the attachment forming in the first place. Older parts would sweep in and pour hot, sticky shame over all of us and young parts would think they were doing something wrong. It made everything such a mess and it was so hard to know what was going on. We didn’t know she would see it as progress that we could feel her all the time, even when things are bad and she is not there, we thought she would say we had let her become too important to us. But the truth is it is progress and it makes her happy too. In allowing her to become important to us we were able to move to a place where she is not so central and we are bigger in our own life. The attachment to her is real, but the feelings she triggered in us for the first three years of working together were about things that have already happened. For now at least, the two feel separate and this is such a relief after so long of feeling we must be bad for being attached to her. Moving through that intense transference has cleared the way for some really profound healing to take place, and I am kind of excited by what is to come in therapy (and my ‘real’ life) next year; even though I know there is big pain ahead with regards #themotherwound, it feels like a pain that is needed and will take me to a better place.

Last week the annihilation pain from when I was an infant hit at the same time as the deep grief of realisation in the here and now over where that pain, and that hole in me, came from. It was the first time I could really see what is inside me and feel the pain over having a mum who is an extreme narcissist. It came over and over again, wild and untamed and raw. It broke me open and smashed my insides up and filled me with a grief I’ve never known before. My attachment wound felt like it had been ripped open and I could really see and feel what is inside me. The full horror of who my Mum is, what she is descended upon me. She will NEVER see me, NEVER know me, NEVER understand why I’ve done this (i.e. estranged myself and Nina from her). I will NEVER have her and I never have had her. Who she is is truly horrifying. It left me feeling sick and wanting to crawl out of my skin to not face it and feel it and see it.

The tidal wave over not having a mum has only really hit me a couple of times ever, because I am so dissociated and split, and those other times I have felt a very real longing for my actual mother. This time there was no longing for my Mum – it was like I was grieving a hole, an actual physical hole inside me and in my life, filled by the terrible and painful absence of someone who was, and still is in many ways, all around me all the time and yet never truly there. That pain was like nothing I’ve ever felt before and it was absolutely horrific, but K is really quite excited that those feelings are beginning to come because on the other side of that pain is less dissociation and less physical pain (we hope). We’ve looked for those feelings for so long and in our session on Friday I talked about how those feelings from the first part of last week are mine now, for the very first time.  They are not my Mum’s feelings for having a daughter who cannot bear to see her. They are not feelings of sadness for my Mum whose life has been so devastating and tragic. They are mine. And as I was driving home from K’s, having cried a little but nothing like the feelings inside which I need to her to witness around my Mum and the pain her absence has left me with, I realised that in a lot of the work we’ve done so far about my past I’ve been very focused on understanding what my Mum was doing and now it is time to feel what it did to me and what it was like for me. And we agreed today that in the new year it would be useful to go back to some times in the past and for me to really contact the feelings around what my Mum’s behaviour and actions did to me.

“Step by step we’ll look at that place. Slowly. We’ll get you through Christmas first though” said K. And I am just left feeling bewildered by how I could ever have left her behind and walked away today. We have definitely shifted into a different place in therapy and it is without doubt a safer and more contained place where therapy is not so central in my life nor so triggering and all-consuming (ironically because K is so much more present inside me that I can let her fade into the background of my daily life), but there is still so much work to do and so much healing to be done. I think I know now that if she were ever to take extended time off in the future I would take time out of therapy and return to her. Having got to where I am now in therapy in terms of the transference and attachment work I feel a lot less ashamed and ‘needy’ and, weirdly, this has cleared the way for me being able to say openly that I really do need and want her for as long as possible. There is no shame in wanting and needing that – I see that now. My feelings for her are less intense now and so it is easier to admit how very important she is to me – not in a life or death way, but in a ‘you are my attachment figure and secure base’ kind of way. And I can see that it is actually quite an understandable thing to not want to end with someone who has been so central to everything and who I have worked so deeply and so hard with to build what I *think* is now an earned secure attachment. And I have worked SO HARD in therapy in the past 3 years and 4 months. So fucking hard. I have invested so much time and money and energy into therapy; making the journey to K’s two and sometimes three times a week, paying for extended sessions, trusting in the process even when it literally felt as though it was killing me and when I was so lost I couldn’t see how I would ever get through to the other side.

I deserve to be in this place now where therapy and my relationship with K provide me with (relatively) pure and straightforward safety and stabilisation and comfort and support. And I really get now why it is called an ‘earned’ secure attachment; it is bloody hard work to reach this point. I do still worry that I will slide backwards and find myself back in that intense and murky place over my relationship with her again, but I hope I will be able to stay in this place more often than not as I face the next part of my healing journey with her. Now just to survive Christmas where basically my life and home are invaded by the presence of something that broke me… So glad I am seeing K on Friday again this week.

Intolerable

I cannot survive this pain. The pain of being motherless is intolerable. It is unbearable. I cannot survive. I don’t think I’ve felt the mother wound at this intensity before. It is genuinely horrific. I am smashed to pieces inside. Obliterated.

Annihilated.

It is the worst pain imaginable and I suspect it is a body memory which makes it even worse. How did I survive this pain as a baby? It hurts even more because I know K cannot soothe it even if she were here. No one and nothing can take away this pain.

I want to die.

I feel like this pain will kill me.

I cannot survive this.

How can that person be my mother? It makes me feel all kinds of horrific things knowing what I know about her, knowing she will never change. When does this end? How can I have spent so many years trying to recover from what my own mother did to me?

I don’t see K till Friday. She said yesterday we could bring it forward if I needed but I can’t because I have so much on at work. Friday feels like an eternity away. I have never felt this bad about being motherless before. And I am scared that each time it comes it hits harder. How much is still to come?

How will I ever recover from the damage she did to me? How many levels of realisations are there?

I want K to sit with me as this wild, untamed, primal pain pours out of me. I want her beside me as I feel this. I want to scream and scream until every piece of this annihilating pain has left my body. I want to sit with her afterwards and settle into the stillness after my body has purged itself of this horror.

I cannot survive this pain. I can’t.

 

“The mother wound” round 6731

What a fucking horrendous day. It was punctuated by some beautiful moments in the forest with K this evening which I will write about when things have settled, but overall it has been fucking awful. And the pain I was hit with after leaving K was something else. Another level of #themotherwound. At least this time I know it is about my mother, or lack of, rather than about K. Progress?

I have sobbed and wailed since I got home 3 1/2 hours ago and so I am writing this in a last attempt to calm myself without resorting to self-harm. I’m not sure it will work, and I really don’t want to cut, but I have work tomorrow and I just need to be okay.

I still don’t understand why K is so nice to me. Like I know I pay her, but there are so many ‘easier’ clients she could work with and who she wouldn’t need to give a reduced fee to. What she does for me is beyond incredible. And it is not enough. Of course it isn’t. She cannot take this pain away. I know she would if she could, she has told me, but all she can do is hold me in it.

Last year I seem to have handled this date ‘better’ – it was a Sunday and I took myself for a walk on the beach and thought of Jess and my Mum and I found I was able to think of my Mum with love and compassion. I felt sad but also like I was growing. I hadn’t needed to reach out to K that day, and when I saw her the next day I was able to tell her how the day felt spacious and healing (and in many ways it was, compared with the first and second anniversaries where it felt like there was a tightly coiled spring inside me and I was suffocated and overcrowded and finding it very difficult to function). And yet this weekend and today have been a completely different story, and I can see how whilst some of that compassion is healthy, it is also a defence against feeling my own pain at not having had what I needed and having to spend basically all of my life so far dealing with and trying to heal from my attachment wounding. Holding compassion for my Mum is another way of keeping myself safe from her, by making her feelings more important than my own. So last night the anger came, an anger I wrote down and shared with K in the forest this evening as we sat in the dark with two lit candles near us. She thought it was good there was anger there, and that I was going with what was there at the time, rather than some preconceived idea of how I should be feeling.

And this evening I just feel annihilated. The pain has felt unsurvivable. It has no real words, other than ‘it isn’t fair’. It is agony. The wounds left by a narcissistic mother who couldn’t see or love me are agony. It feels as though the pain will kill me. I wish it had killed me when I was a baby and I had been saved all of this, I really do. I sent K a brief and not very coherent text, telling her I couldn’t survive the pain and asking if we could do an email check-in on Wednesday because we are meeting on Friday again this week. She hasn’t replied, but I know she will. As we were parting at the forest she said to text her if things felt unmanageable and we would make a plan. Somehow she seems to know this year is bigger and is letting me really lean on her. She is very receptive and open to me needing more of her right now, perhaps because she can really see the progress I’ve made the past few months and that this isn’t about her but is about me processing really difficult stuff. I don’t feel tangled up in transference, although obviously leaving her earlier and being left alone with this gaping wound was pretty awful. I’m scared she’ll leave me because I’m still not “better” and recovered from this fucking attachment trauma, but I can see that would be mental and I can see objectively that if she hasn’t left so far she is not going to, not when we are doing such good work and I am so much better able to hold my process and actually live between sessions.

I spoke to R, my acupuncturist who I’ve known for 14 years, for an hour this evening and basically wailed and sobbed and was a snotty, crying mess for most of it. Together we remembered that when Jess died it triggered everything in me that had lain dormant for forever, and so I guess the anniversary triggers all that in me again, as well as the very real grief over what I lost when she died. And he said lots of helpful things about the pain of having a narcissist for a mother, and I said how I feel sick when I think of the fact that she is my Mum and then I hate myself for that thought. I said how complex it all is, because I can’t just hate her – I am just a great big boiling pot of tangled up emotions – grief, fear, pity, hatred, shame, sadness, resentment, regret, rage, disgust – and all the emotions are intertwined and it is just utterly confusing inside me. I have no idea what anything is. He was validating and just witnessed my pain and didn’t try to change it or offer crap platitudes. He sees this as process, and I am trying to hold on to that. I cannot stay stuck in this place and I need to feel it to move through it. And I can see that this is coming up now because I feel so safe in my work with K lately – I know she is not going away and I know she enjoys working with me and I know I would survive without her (okay today I don’t, but overall I do feel that now and back in June and July I really didn’t). I am trying to tell myself it is okay to feel this pain on another level now, that these feelings are coming up because it is safe to feel them. It doesn’t change how completely overwhelming it is to be so obliterated by this pain though.

I think I won’t cut now. I will take diazepam and a sleeping tablet and try and sleep. Yuk. How long does this process go on for? How much pain and grief and shock and loss can there be inside one person? I bet my Mum is feeling so sorry for herself, and yet again I am completely invisible. Just as I always have been. I don’t exist for her, I really truly don’t – what a fucking horrifying legacy to leave your daughter.

Too much pain

Today is awful. I can’t keep going anymore. What the fuck happened to my life? When Jess died four years ago I was surrounded by a group of friends and now I have no one. I cannot connect with people, cannot let people in because I just end up triggered and dissociated. I just tortured myself by re-activating my Facebook account and looking through old photos. I wanted to find some of me and Jess, instead I was bombarded with photos of all the fun I used to have, before she died and I split open and discovered what was wrong with me. I used to go partying and have friends round for dinner and go to festivals and go wild swimming. Now I don’t do anything. In my rational mind I can see that a lot of that stuff was dysfunctional and that the groups of people I am no longer part of are too old to be getting off their heads on Class As every weekend, that their lives aren’t really how they look on Facebook, but still – I long to be part of something. Anything. However dysfunctional. I see now why I was so drawn to that underworld of illegal drugs and raves and after-parties. I always had one toe in normality though, with my PhD and my daughter, but I so badly wanted to let that world consume me some days.

It is kicking me that I don’t have a family today. I wanted to hold compassion for my Mum last night but I couldn’t. I feel too broken. Instead I wrote 4 pages of bitterness. It is not even that she broke me, I can forgive that, it is that she cannot acknowledge what she did to me. It is the fact she tells people such awful, twisted distortions about me and why I’ve cut her off that hurts and enrages me. If she would just admit that she made some massive mistakes and damaged me beyond repair it might help a little. Instead she paints me as a selfish, callous, cold and unreasonable person. I am judged and hated by people who have no idea how fucking awful my childhood was and how much it still affects me today despite years of therapy and working on myself. It is this I cannot move past today. My Mum will be feeling sorry for herself today, her 70th birthday, because her daughter doesn’t want to know her and has taken her granddaughter away from her. I know that her inability to acknowledge what she did and how she is is now is all part of the same thing – the denial she has built up around her is more real than anything else to her – but it would make up for it a little bit if I knew she would tell people she understood why I had to do this.

And I miss Jess. I miss her so much it is unbearable. She was so real. Our friendship was beautiful. It was just the right level of intimacy – not smothering, not distant, not-too-serious, not too shallow. It hurts because I didn’t really know the real her, the her who was struggling and suicidal. I knew things were really, really bad, but not that bad. It never crossed my mind that things wouldn’t get better for her. How can she be gone? I have never known anyone like her and I’m scared I never will. I cannot let people in now the way I always used to be able to. Before I knew I was broken and traumatised I could let people in because I didn’t know they were what was triggering me. A very old friend wrote to me recently, when I told her I no longer see my Mum, that she was sorry but that I had always drawn much love to me in the form of friendships and she was sure I would be okay because of this. Where are my friends though? I’ve now deactivated Facebook again (I left nearly 4 years ago and it’s the first time I’ve reactivated in nearly a year – it’s always done at a desperate time and I torture myself for an hour before deactivating again, cursing myself for making a bad time even worse. It’s like self-harm but the effects are even more long-lasting), but all the people who’ve let me go are still hanging in the air around me.

How can 4 years have passed and now I have no family, no friends (and I know this isn’t true, I do have friends, but not a group, not a taken for granted clan like I used to have) and nothing fun in my life. I have worked so hard for 4 years to heal but when does the healing end and the living begin? I don’t want to live like this anymore. I am so alone. I am alone even when I’m with people. I don’t want to live with the fallout of my childhood anymore. It is not fair. It makes it impossible for me to connect with people the way I need to, impossible for me to be fully human. I am half a world away, always.

I choose

This is what I wrote for K after our phone call this afternoon.

I choose. I choose to stay here because my Mum controlled my life for more than 32 years and I refuse to let her make me run or hide anymore. I have as much right to be here as she does. Let’s look at the facts of why I don’t see her, because she may not have intentionally broken me but the truth is that if all those people who judge me SAW what she had been like to me and G (my disabled half brother) growing up, the abuse she screamed at us, the endless days we spent terrified and in tears and on edge, her rage and tears and out of control screaming filling our ‘home’, they would wonder how I lasted so long. If people saw the dysfunction they would understand. And K sees the dysfunction, she sees what it has done to me, and she gets it. It’s just that they can’t see it because part of the dysfunction was putting on a front for others. That front, that pretence, is part of what broke me. I never knew what was real and what wasn’t because she would rage at us and cry for hours and then deny all knowledge of it and say it wasn’t that bad and I must be ‘misremembering’. I need to remember what is real.

At Christmas time Mum would scream at us for hours and then tell us off for “looking miserable” and “spoiling the day” when we were too shattered inside to manage a smile and we couldn’t choke the tears back fast enough to stop her seeing. The taste of Christmas treats mingled with saltwater tears lingers in my memory. Trying to keep her happy when inside I was breaking again. I have spent so many Christmases in excruciating pain, vomiting, crying and tense, erupting in full body rashes, terrified and full of dread, hearing her sniff and cry and rage and wondering what on earth was coming next. I have spent so many Christmases feeling ‘bad’ because I was never good enough to fill her up and make her happy and stop it falling flat. I have chosen not to play this game of pretend anymore. I have chosen to save Nina and myself. I have chosen to show my daughter that we always have a choice in life and that when we spend time with people who claim to ‘love us’ but who leave us feeling inadequate and unworthy and broken and in pain then this is not really love. It is abuse.

And so I choose to stay in E_____ because Nina is settled and happy and gaining her independence. She is loving school and making new friends and finding out who she is. She gets to spend time with my Dad who makes things with her out of wood and does fun craft things that I rarely have the energy or time to do – and that I often find triggering – and he helps her with Maths and makes her laugh and gives her someone else to turn to who is important in her life. And she has Jenny, who she has written is ‘like a Grandma’ to her and who babysits for free and does fun stuff with her and shows 1000% interest in everything she tells her. And she has Mark, Rachel, Stan and Eddie who are always there if I need anything and Dad can’t help and who think of Nina as one of the family. And soon we will be living somewhere with cleaner air which will be good for her asthma and allergies, and for her emotional and mental wellbeing as a teenager because she won’t be hanging round town with her head constantly being filled with things she ‘needs’ to buy.

And I choose to stay for me:

  • I have new friendships developing at work and lovely colleagues who like and respect and confide in me, and I spend my days in a work environment where I feel like I really belong, for the first time in my life.
  • I am 3 years into my probationary period and 2 years away from being made permanent and promoted and I don’t want to start again somewhere else. I have contacts at E_____ and I know what I am doing and how all the systems work and I have made a name for myself there. Starting again somewhere else is not what I want. Life is enough of a challenge because of trauma and dissociation and pain. I don’t want another huge challenge just to survive.
  • I love D_____ and I love being able to work at one of the top institutions for what I do but in a city that is small and in a place where nature is close by. There aren’t many other institutions as good as where I am but with such beautiful, wild places nearby.
  • K is here and I am making brilliant progress in therapy and I do not want to lose that or her when I can really see that things are getting better and that a type of healing is happening now that I didn’t even think was possible.
  • My choir is lovely and I always feel welcome and like I belong there.
  • I have a wonderful new friendship developing with Sue and other people and I get enough time away from Nina to see friends without her.
  • We live in a safe place and are moving to a safer place where I can let Nina out by herself and leave her at home for a few hours by herself.
  • My Dad is here and he is helpful with practical things and looking after Nina, and Jenny is here as well and she is like family too. She came with me to hospital when I needed IV morphine for the pain in the summer and stayed overnight when I was scared to be alone afterwards.
  • I have been able to buy a house and soon will be able to move somewhere quieter and out in nature where there is a sense of community and open skies and (hopefully) no one who knows Mum and G.
  • House prices are low enough where we want to live that we will be able to afford a walker for a dog a few days a week so he/she is not by herself when we are at work/school.
  • I won’t have a stupidly long commute to work even though we are living in a little village. I will be able to cycle to work in the Spring and Summer.
  • Nina is at a good school with a sixth form and an incredibly caring and nurturing ethos. She is already known and liked and able to be herself there.

If Nina had gone to WE (school round the corner) she would have been in tears every day because of horrible, bitchy girls. She still gets messages on WhatsApp from them saying mean things and accusing her of things now but she is free to ignore them because she doesn’t have to see them at school anymore. She wouldn’t have become close friends with Sally or made friends with Edie. Mum would have driven past the school and wormed her way into being friends with someone whose child was there. Nina would have been hanging out in town and might have seen Mum every weekend, but when we move she will go to S________ park with her friends or in to T_________ to go swimming or to the cinema. We wouldn’t have been able to move out of town and be somewhere quiet and peaceful, we would have had to stay in this area and we would always have worried Mum would be driving past or in Sainsbury’s. Nina would have been slathering her face in makeup and worrying that boys don’t like her. She would have been hanging around after school with horrible girls and continuing all the problems from primary school. Her main socialising would have been done in town and she is more likely to have been exposed to smoking and drinking and other things too soon. She would have been worried and tried to make herself invisible because of all the mean people.

And if we moved away I would struggle. I would be the solo parent of a teenager trying to create a new life with no support whilst working in a demanding job and experiencing PTSD, dissociation and physical pain. There would be no one to have Nina for weekends or if I went to conferences. There is nowhere nice to cycle. The swimming club Nina would need to join involves early morning swimming two mornings a week. I would have had to start again with meeting people and it would be hard because socialising is draining for me and causes me to dissociate and in order to make new connections I would have needed to say yes to lots of things which would be hard whilst so much energy is spent on practical parenting stuff and nurturing Nina and my work.

And if we had moved away before, before I really knew how broken I was, I may well have totally lost my mind and actually killed myself and Nina because if everything that hit me after Jess died had happened and I had no support I may not have been able to hang on through the years of suicidality that I went through as all the memories resurfaced and I was forced to confront my fragmented selves and all the pain they held. And even if I didn’t kill us both I may have lost my job and damaged Nina irreparably. I would still have needed to face up to the pain of Mum and what she did to me, and what she deprived me of, wherever in the world I had been.

So it feels as though I am stuck here, but actually it is a good choice. I am not crazy for staying here. Mum is the crazy one and the version of reality she tells people about why we don’t see her bears basically no resemblance to the truth. K knows, R (my acupuncturist) knows, Dad knows, K (my half sister) knows, Nina knows. It is better this way, even though it is not okay.

Boundary invasions

As if this week wasn’t hard enough with the anniversaries approaching and moments of all-consuming grief over the suicide of my friend Jess, last night there was a boundary breach in the estrangement from my Mum which has left me absolutely reeling and stunned. I collected Nina from a friend’s after school and in the car she told me ‘something bad happened today’ and proceeded to tell me that my sister’s friend’s son is in her tutor group at school. Having worked out who this boy is I was filled with horror and turmoil and panic. It’s not just the son of one of my sister’s oldest and closest friends, it’s someone my Mum taught during her A levels and who her and my brother spend quite a lot of time with still. Apparently the boy, Oscar I’ll call him, had got Nina as his secret santa person and his Mum had recognised her name. Oscar and Nina sometimes played together when they were little and his family have my brother over quite a lot because he is disabled (and abused) and doesn’t have much of a social life. Oscar was boasting to Nina that he sees her Uncle G more than she does, and said ‘you betrayed your Uncle G’. What the fuck? K and I did a phone session this afternoon and, as she pointed out, those are not the words of an 11 year old boy; they are my Mum’s words, clearly overheard in a hushed conversation between my Mum and his Mum.

Nina was mostly okay last night. She was worried what they must think of us, and I said that Auntie K would have told her friend how difficult things were for us all. Nina asked why Auntie K still sees our Mum and I said ‘because she feels too guilty not to’. She asked if I felt guilty and I admitted that I do. She said ‘I don’t!’ and I breathed a sigh of relief – she used to, she used to worry my Mum would kill herself if we didn’t see her as much as she wanted us to. The main reason I cut contact was to save Nina from the crippling guilt and obligation I grew up with, and to spare her from taking on responsibility for my Mum’s pain and unhappiness the way I did and the way she was starting to, so to hear her say this meant that I have at least succeeded in this. Nina also said that another boy then came over and said ‘I know your Uncle G too, from baking class’. I know nothing more about this though, and I don’t know if my Mum and brother know this boy knows Nina yet. I suspect if they do they will befriend this family too. It is so sick and dysfunctional and invasive. My Mum is impossible to fully escape from. She is everywhere. Her pain and emptiness is everywhere.

I was so shaken by both these pieces of news, knowing that as soon as my Mum found out she would worm her way into Oscar’s family even more, desperate for a connection to Nina. And it would be another route for us to hear about their pain, my Mum and brother’s, when we were least expecting it. I chose that school, in a village far from where we currently live, precisely because I wanted a clean start away from any connection to my Mum, and somewhere that means we can move to a little village and not worry about bumping into her anymore. I cried in the kitchen for a while and text my sister in a panic begging her to tell her friend not to tell our Mum Nina and Oscar are in the same tutor group. I told Nina my eyes were watering because of onions and my cold. And I reached out to K via text. We had already met yesterday for an extra session, and had talked a lot about Jess and I had cried a lot and expressed frustration that my Mum is so present this weekend because of her birthday, even though I wanted it to be all about Jess. K had said if I needed it we could do a phone session over the weekend. She said she thought I would be okay because I seemed to have my feet planted on the ground despite the pain, but that she wanted me to know I was being held this weekend. So I reached out to her and she replied to say we should talk it through by phone the next day.

This afternoon she text to say we could meet if I would prefer, but I have a horrible cold and didn’t want to infect her, so we arranged to work by phone. We spoke for an hour and I cried and cried. She was so reassuring and validating, and she really understood why this was such a big deal. She let me voice all my fears and worries and frustrations and she heard them all. We talked about how intolerable it was seeing my Mum, we talked about all the alternatives, we talked about why I want to stay here even though from the outside it must look crazy. I sobbed and wailed how it shouldn’t be like this, how I pretended family wasn’t a big deal, but how it is a big deal and for so many people family is just normal, there in the background, a source of support when needed and something that it just simple and taken for granted. “Why can’t I have that?” and “why do I always have to pretend it is okay when it isn’t?” I said how nuts it must look to others that I don’t just run away from this city, and we talked about what it would be like if I moved away, how this would be the flight response and not really a genuine and freely made move. We talked about how hard it would be for me to manage to move to a different area with no support when I have such a big career and huge emotional and physical health difficulties, and K mentioned also that I am making big progress in therapy lately and this does feel like another huge reason to stay.

As we were drawing to a close she asked me to write this evening. She said to journal about all the positive reasons I had named to stay here and not send Nina to the school around the corner and to email it to her. So I did, and I will post it in a minute, because it feels really important to keep in mind that although I feel stuck and trapped and unable to escape my Mum’s tentacles, being here is still a choice. I have a choice and I choose to stay here and heal. My head and jaw ache so badly this evening, and my chest is wrecked and tight and bruised from grief and crying and the cold, but I feel better having cried it all out to K and thank goodness it is only 2 days now until I see her again. She is so kind to me and it hurts that I can’t understand why she chooses to be there for me. Yesterday I was crying about Jess and it hit me that my Mum lives a 10 minute drive away and “she should be here!” She should be there to help me at this difficult time and she isn’t, even though she is so close and she could be. When Jess died she yelled at me that I was going to spoil Christmas. When I think of all the awful things she has done to me and Nina I know I have done the right thing cutting contact, but it still hurts, and it hurts knowing that people who don’t even know me think I have betrayed them. What about me? Why is my pain so invisible? Why is K the only one who really sees how hard this is for me?

 

I want her to come back

I got hit by a torrent of grief over Jess at the end of my therapy session this evening. I’m still battling it now as it comes in waves and leaves me aching and haunted and gasping for breath. I am hanging on though, remembering K’s words from this evening and the safety and holding she gives me, knowing she is there and I am seeing her again soon, that I can message if I need to. She has never felt as safe and warm and loving as she did this evening. And I have never felt as grateful to have her – the years we have worked together were all there in the room between us. She holds me tighter when I wobble now because she knows what I need to keep me upright, and I know how to lean into her without losing my own feet.

We were finishing off a craft project we started last week at the kitchen table. I’d already read out the blog post from last night, and we’d already arranged an extra session for Friday by text this morning because a lot came up over the weekend around Jess and my Mum. And we had made arrangements to meet on Friday next week as well if needed. K also told me she is here over Christmas – we could have worked as normal on Christmas Eve but I said I didn’t think Nina would be too impressed if I had therapy that day so we arranged to meet on the 21st and then we are working as normal on the 31st and beyond. I am so aware of how lucky I am that K has never really taken a break at Christmas. The year Nina and I went away to a cottage by the sea for Christmas we all had a complete meltdown because of the 8 day break even though it was our break. The other years we’ve hardly had a break at all and usually done extra sessions around the anniversary of Jess dying. It has helped me not lose my mind completely, having extra support at that time and I do feel very lucky that she doesn’t take time off at this time of year like so many other Ts do.

I thought K was going to expect me to manage this December without extra sessions or support because we were supposed to be ending and now we’re not, but she didn’t. Not at all. I should have known better really. This will be our 4th December working together and she knows how hard the month is for me more than anyone else – the usual Christmas triggers because it was such a traumatic and horrific time of year growing up, not having much family to spend time with, my Mum’s birthday and the anniversary of Jess dying and the anniversary of the date – a week after she died – when I identified her body at the morgue so her body could be released in time for her funeral to take place on the 23rd. It is anniversary after anniversary.

“My sense is that December and Christmas-time is a tough one for you and with your news about the rheumatologist (I found out today I’m being referred because of the rash and raised ANA levels) you need a bit of support. So let’s allow in the possibility of flexible time if you need it, because there’s always a sense of this time of year being hard for you.”

I judge myself for not being over it yet, for the huge, raw, untamed grief that spills out of me still over Jess’s death, but I should have known that K has even more compassion for me because she has seen the pain this month brings so many times now. She is the same as she always has been at this time of year, because she knows me. It still blows me away that she knows me so well now and she still cares. How can she know me this well and still care so much? How can she have seen all the horrors inside me and still be here, still care? How have I not driven her away? How can she not be tired and bored and overwhelmed by me?

We only had maybe 7 minutes of the session left and I was hit with a sudden wave of terror that I would soon be on my own with the horrifying feelings that were bubbling inside me. I could feel them rising up, a silent scream in my throat, and huge amounts of shock and disbelief that Jess really isn’t here anymore. I somehow managed to voice the fear that I was going to go to a bad place, an un-copeable-with place, in the car when I left because I felt so sad about Jess. And the tears fell as K spoke gently to us all about how we needed to let the pain out and shine a light on it together so the feelings aren’t so frightening. She said she knows how horrible it is but that I need to let the grief be here, and to feel at the same time the joy of what we were making and how well I’ve done today – not harming myself, not binge drinking, not doing mad things to squash the pain down anymore. Accepting her offer of extra time on Friday. Saying what I needed from the session. Honouring myself. Doing healing things while we think about her. Really different from how I was when she first knew me. Each year I honour her and my own pain in a more healthy way.

“Let it be here” said K. So I am letting it be here. Everything in me is screaming to go and buy wine and razors and take diazepam and cut until it doesn’t hurt anymore but I am sitting in this pain instead. Sobs are still wracking my body and my head aches from crying. I know I need to eat and have a bath and get ready for work tomorrow. I will, because I am not where I was 3 years ago, or two years ago, or last year, but it still hurts so much. Even though it doesn’t send me into crisis when it hits now the pain is still so intense it takes my breath away. I still wonder each time I get pulled under by grief’s arms whether I will make it to the surface again. I cannot believe it is still so raw, so intense, so all-consuming. It still shocks me that she is really gone. It is physical agony, a pain so deep and limitless. Waves of grief over someone I loved so deeply and lost too soon, someone I thought would be part of my life forever, not someone I thought would shape my life through her death. Time stood still on that December day 4 years ago and when it began again I was never-again in the land of before. “After Jess killed herself” will forever be the line that divides up my life. And it still hurts so much that I will never see her again. A physical ache, a longing to see her and hug her and dance with her, a yearning to tell her things and hear her thoughts and share my past and present and future with her. It hurts so much that I didn’t know how bad she was feeling, that I couldn’t help, that she told me things were feeling better and I believed her – I didn’t know as I hugged her goodbye on that November afternoon that she was saying her forever good bye to me. I didn’t know she seemed better because she had already made up her mind. I thought she was feeling better but she was saying her goodbyes. And I’ve felt the pain she must have been feeling, I know its murky depths and it has more than once led me to try and go to the place she is now in. After she died I wanted to go with her, to be with her and away from the pain she triggered in me by leaving. Sometimes even now I wish I could do that. I know how proud she would be of me for keeping going, because we both know each other’s pain. And I understand why she did what she did, as much as I ever will I think. There are still so many unanswered questions, about her last days and weeks and how long she had been planning it, but mostly now I can let them be.

K said it is very, very hard to ever constellate properly around suicide, because there is shock and loss in the same place and there was no time to prepare or say good bye. And the person chose to take themselves away in such a violent way. And for those left behind it is really, really tough to try and make sense of it, and it doesn’t really ever go away. She said it will lessen and the feelings will soften and be less raw, but it is hard enough for ‘normal’ people, but for people with little people inside it is such a terrible, horrible, confusing thing to get used to. I’m not sure I will ever get used to this. I hear little voices in my head wanting her to come back and it still makes no sense that she is gone. And K said it is really okay to feel very sad this week. I needed her permission for that. I needed her validation tonight to allow me to feel some of this. She said to be gentle with myself and to lean into her. And I will, I am. I am leaning on her even though she is not next to me. Before we left she asked what I would take from today’s session and I sobbed out that “I am just really glad that you are here” and she said “the universe has twisted things around so that we are still working which is a great thing.

And it is a great thing. I cannot even imagine how I would be coping with these losses if I was losing K in two weeks’ time as well. We had a hug at the end of the session and K said how well I was doing to not be in crisis but to also be letting the pain out. I feel horrendous and not like I am doing well at all, but I can see things are better than they were. I can see I can hold this now in a way I couldn’t before. “We are getting there” said K. And I believe her.

December the Tenth

I am trying to allow space and acceptance that the next ten days are likely to be quite hard for me, as two significant anniversaries approach. On December 10th it will be 4 years since one of my best friend’s, Jess, took her life at the age of 26 by throwing herself from the cliffs along the coast from here. On the same day my Mum will turn 70 and I will not be part of her celebrations. This is something which, of course, brings up very mixed feelings because I do love and miss her, but at the same time I am also so relieved to be far away from the heavy weight of her expectations and her pain and sadness on that day. I was never enough to fill her up and she made me feel guilty for that my entire life.

A few days after Jess died I remember my Mum saying ‘so that’s my birthday ruined forever now, is it? Because you’ll always be miserable on that day now’. This says it all really, about my Mum and her narcissism and her total lack of empathy. The torrent of grief that swept me away when Jess died was a total mystery to her. And to my Dad. And to me too I guess. For 6 weeks after Jess died I fell apart completely. I didn’t sleep. I cried all the time. I thought I was going crazy. It was all the old trauma re-opening, something I didn’t know at the time, and I was plunged into very young, dissociated spaces which left me completely unable to function. I drank and smoked and cried, and somehow managed to pull off a house move along the way. Maybe I will write about those dark days and all I learnt about myself because of Jess dying later in the week, because I see it now as a gift Jess left me, that her killing herself put me in touch with everything I needed to heal. Not today though, it is too much today.

I’ve just got back from a walk at the beach – wet and windy but unseasonably mild so there were some people swimming and lots of very excited dogs splashing in the sea. Nina is at a friends and it was nice to get some space and fresh air. I say ‘nice’ but nothing about today feels nice – I am very dissociated and fuggy and my head aches and my eyes hurt, as they often do when I am very far away. To be honest I think it is likely I will remain in this cut off and dissociated state for much of the next week or two. I am starting to accept that I can’t just will myself into ‘feeling the feelings’ that keep me in this cut off state. I think some of the anger at myself for not being able to ‘feel my emotions properly’ and for automatically dissociating is starting to dissipate over the last year or so. I am more accepting that maybe I will always dissociate to some extent, seeing as I’ve obviously done it since I was an infant, and I fight it less which I guess maybe means I am not intensifying the big feelings which cause it in the first place. So many times when I’ve been dissociated K has said ‘let’s get to know that place where you go’ and I used to wonder why because when I was ‘healed’ I obviously wouldn’t go there anymore. Now I get it and why it has been so important to make that place feel more familiar and less overwhelming.

At the beach I thought of Jess and my Mum. It’s uncomfortable that this day belongs to both of them, though K has always said it’s not a coincidence that Jess killed herself on my Mum’s birthday. This sounds egotistical though, because surely Jess’ story is not all about me. I don’t want them to be woven together in my mind because one of them gave me so much and the other took so much away from me, continues to take so much from me. My Mum’s birthday was always completely horrific when I was growing up. There was so often a huge scene, with my Mum going utterly psycho and yelling torrents of terrifying abuse at us. My disabled brother and I tried so hard after my Dad left to get it right and make her happy but it was never good enough. She would always end up crying hysterically and screaming and sobbing and sometimes she would leave and threaten not to come back. My Dad was always on ‘red alert’ for a phone call from me begging him to come and rescue me. In recent years I felt so much anger at him for this, for knowing it was so bad and yet still leaving me there to endure it, but we spoke about it over the summer and he said the only way would have been to run away with me somewhere because my Mum was clever and manipulative and would have got a court order to stop him seeing me. I was terrified of her, of her rage in part but mostly I lived in fear of her pain, her tears, her swollen eyes, her pitiful looks and her pervasive wish to die. I would have told anyone anything to make her happy.

It hurts less now, sometimes, that no one came to rescue me. My mum wouldn’t have let them. And no one could really see what was happening because no one looked hard enough. Everyone saw my Mum as a wonderful mother and citizen, and they never really seemed to question my anorexia and bulimia and self-harm and binge drinking and link it to what must have been going on at home. I was always clean and I worked hard at school so no one knew the abuse and neglect that were a constant presence in my life, and the chronic invalidation I lived with from both my parents. I dreamed of being with my Dad all the time, but in reality he was abusive too – shaming and hard and completely unwilling to see who I was.

candle

Next Monday K and I are going to meet at the forest for our session and I will light candles for my Mum and Jess – far away from each other, with a barrier of sticks and stones between them because they represent such different griefs, such different losses, and they have each left such different imprints on my soul. I will think of my Mum and send love to her while also feeling grateful that I am no longer smothered and terrified by her at this time of year. I can hold compassion for her now, from over here where her pain is less visible and tangible and where I am almost free from all that she tried to make me be. It hurts that I do not have a Mum I can see without sacrificing myself and my daughter. It hurts that I don’t have a Mum I can love without hesitation or complication or repulsion or guilt, but I do understand how and why she is how she is now. And I cannot see her because I accept now she can never change and I don’t think I can ever change myself enough to be okay with how she is.

And Jess is a part of me forever. All I am now and all I hope to become is and will be possible in part because she walked beside me for a little while and in leaving threw me into the dark pit of turmoil inside me that I had spent my whole life avoiding. We had such a beautiful connection, a connection I didn’t fully understand until she took her life and I saw the pain – hers and my own – and realised how much more we shared than I had ever known while she was alive. I wish she had had a K to help her so she could have lived, because she was vibrant and alive and full of life and adventure, but I am so grateful that she brought my K to me.

Letting go of Jess has been one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to do. The shock and disbelief lasted years. As the first anniversary approached K and I had only been working together 2 or 3 months, and had only just started to figure out I had alters, and I remember her saying how hard it was for very young parts to understand something as huge as suicide. A sudden death was bad enough, but when that person chose to die it makes it so much more complicated and shocking and incomprehensible. And that was the point everything shifted for me I think – I took my first step towards understanding my fragmentation and I realised K was capable of really understanding and helping us all. We did some grief work with young parts, making a memory jar and a special book for Jess, playing music and talking about her. I saw how all the parts had loved Jess too and what a huge and devastating loss it was for everyone in my system. I began to understand why I had lost my mind so intensely when she was so suddenly gone, why everyone else was able to dip in and out of the grief and we were completely submerged.

I still miss Jess every day but I have learnt to live my life around the hole she has left in me now. And I guess I will learn one day to live my life around the hole my Mum has left in me too. A different hole but equally one that has shaped me and one that I cannot fill with someone else, however hard I might try. I cannot ignore that hole, I can only learn to find ways to love myself despite it. No, because of it. And so I will spend the next 10 days trying to find ways of honouring these two women who have brought such pain to my life in such different ways. And I will try and find a way to accept how revolting and shut down and fuzzy everything inside me feels because it is clear there is a pain within me that at the moment is too hard for me to reach. My process is my own, complicated by dissociation, and honouring my journey and my path is the only way I can see of transforming dissociation into something clearer and more real.