The other side

Every therapy session recently seems to be bringing deep and profound change and healing. I can really feel it filling me with all sorts of wonderful things I have never experienced before in any kind of sustained and authentic way. It has become almost predictable that I will leave therapy feeling grounded and full and glowing inside and capable of caring for myself and the parts for another week, regardless of what comes up. Last week I got really triggered and ended up in a place of total overwhelm about managing a demanding full-time job with single parenting whilst also needing so much space because of complex trauma and dissociated parts. I asked K for a phone session on Friday and she juggled her day around to fit this in. It really helped settle and contain things and also provided me with practical steps around how to make a bust up with Nina over swimming training better without sharing too much of my own process with her. In short, K being there made things better instead of triggering me further which is something pretty new for me when I am in that place.

K said a few sessions ago that I need to drink in now what it’s like to be able to be in relationship, to feel safe enough in relationship, and I need to allow myself space to experience that it is okay to feel safe in relationship. I used to feel I was bad for feeling safe with K (which is ridiculous when I think about it) and so this is exactly what I am doing lately – drinking in the safety, basking in the glow of K and I’s connection and the warmth and love and attention she pours into me, allowing myself to get lost in the cosy feelings that arise over my system’s newfound ability to feel and be with our attachment to K, to really experience it without panicking and feeling that we are dying, or drowning in shame for being attached to someone we pay, or wanting to run from away from her because she triggers so much pain and past trauma it is almost unbearable.

It is heavenly to be in this place after all those years of finding the pain the therapeutic relationship put me in contact with almost intolerable. And what is beautiful and wonderful and reassuring and so incredibly safe is that I can feel it is bringing K and I closer that I am healing. I didn’t know that would happen. I thought I would grow away from her as I healed but instead we are growing closer. Or maybe it is that I can allow myself to really feel how close we are now because I’m not constantly triggered into a shame-filled place where I cannot allow myself to feel the relationship is real because I pay for it and it has limitations and I must be bad for attaching to someone in this way. Now we’ve worked through so much of the mess from the past our connection feels so real, so visceral and physically present in the room when we are together, and so enduring when we are apart. I mean, it must always have been real, but now so much of the intense transference has been worked through I can really feel that what is there is real and sacred and goes both ways.

I know it must seem like I wax lyrical about how wonderful our relationship is all the time, but it truly is so different for me to be able to be with that and take it in and not drown in the pain of being away from her or panic over the fact that one day she will not be here. And our relationship is such a strong force for change now and I feel so excited about the healing that is so evident in my life in recent weeks and months and what the future will be like for me if I continue to heal and move forward as I am now. There is still so much wrong and difficult in my life but I can also see that changing; there is hope for the future and the work needed to get there feels much lighter than the dark depths we’ve had to travel through together to get me to this point. If I can work through such difficult, painful material and come out the other side then it feels like the sky is the limit as far as making other positive changes in my life. I nag and give myself such a hard time for still being stuck in the same old patterns so much of the time, for doing things I know are bad for me and staying stagnant in many ways. Some of the alters are also horribly critical and shaming and self-loathing and it has seemed as though dedicated work needed to be done with these parts to overcome this. And this way of being, for me and them (who I know are me really, but they are also not still) has often felt intractable and hopeless and grounds for even more self-criticism – we are all so bad we can’t even love ourselves. Another thing we suck at! Today, though, I am starting to see how maybe it will just be part of the healing process that these habits will fall away and self-compassion will develop. Maybe the changes and shifts will happen without huge amounts of conscious effort on my part, just through the work I am already doing in therapy.

In my session today I read K my post from two weeks ago, about how hard it has been for me to be in relationship with her and how we have worked through it together and are now in a place where therapy is mostly stabilising and makes my life feel better instead of even more intolerable. She said she would like a paper copy to keep and read again because it speaks so well about the difficulties of relationship and attachment and the therapy process, and it shows that there is light, that it is possible to work through that stuff even in it’s most extreme form as my process was. She said it shows how bad things have got to be sometimes before they can be okay. I said how so often I was like ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ and I know people must have thought I was crazy to be putting myself through therapy when it hurt so much. She said how helpful it is to review and think back on those years because I am so different now and there is a spaciousness around being in contact with her so it is not a fearful mess anymore. I said I genuinely felt like I was dying all the time and K emphatically agreed. It is so nice to know she knows just how bad it was, that she remembers, that she was there and witnessed it all. And now she gets to witness my journey from the other side of that mess to somewhere where I think I will be more fully alive and able to tolerate real and authentic relationships with people that are not based around getting wasted on alcohol and Class A drugs together.

There is still so much I need and want to work through with K, and I feel so incredibly grateful my therapy didn’t end last year because I think my healing journey would have looked very different and my ability to tolerate being in relationship would have been seriously delayed and maybe even permanently limited, had our work ended when it was meant to before she changed her plans. The work, and place of therapy in my life, is so different than it has been though. I still experience extreme physical pain and muscle tightness, I still have emotional storms, albeit on a smaller scale than at any other point in my life, and I still really struggle to be in relationship with others in a way that doesn’t feel violating and intrusive or disconnected and superficial. I still struggle with control and compulsive behaviours, I still freeze and lose hours of my life, I still struggle hugely with food at times and get triggered into painful emotional flashbacks, I still haven’t entirely faced down the mother wound. The work of therapy is less about actual survival now though, and is more about making my life better, less controlled by my past and triggers, opening up to more joy and authenticity with others and the possibility, one day, of an intimate relationship (I have no idea how I’m going to navigate dating with alters but will cross that bridge when I come to it!). I think I will always journey intensely when it comes to relationship, and I think I will always experience profound abandonment and attachment pain when old wounds are triggered by people close to me, but I also think I will learn to journey with myself as I move forward, rather than shaming and abandoning myself when I experience that pain.

Towards the end of the session we talked a bit about some insights I am currently pulling together after reading a post on another blogger’s site a few weeks ago about automatically anticipating any contact with others to be intrusive and difficult. The things I am putting together around this feel huge and really quite difficult as they (of course) relate to some of my earliest experiences about contact with others. K says it will take time to work through this material as it is really big and very important in terms of me moving forward and learning to be in relationship with others in a way that serves me instead of eroding me. She has asked that I start making some notes on this about what I can remember from the past and about times during the week that I notice this anticipation is impacting my decisions around other people, or is triggering me or making me dissociate. We have a 2 1/2 week gap between sessions after next week and I am looking forward to having some space to be able to journal about this and take it to her when we meet again on March 25th. What a weird and unexpected place to be – looking forward to a therapy break! I’m sure it will be a little unsettling at times, but nothing like the mess therapy breaks were before. Here is something Miffy wrote when we got home which says it all really…

 

 

The sting of invalidation

Today a photo of my Mum came up on my twitter feed. She is involved in something in the local community and a public figure I follow had ‘liked’ it. It was a bit of a shock seeing her, and brought up a lot of thoughts and feelings that I am glad I will have the opportunity of sharing and processing with K tomorrow in my session. She is smiling. She looks happy. She looks ‘normal’. She looks like my Mum. I know that underneath it all she isn’t ‘fine’ and never has been, but she does look like a regular person. It makes me question why I don’t see her, how it can have been that bad, whether I made it all up. And it makes me feel sad that she is living and getting on with her life, even though she doesn’t see me or Nina anymore. I know this is illogical – I don’t want her to be hurting and hiding away from the world, I don’t want her to have not accepted my decision and to be hounding me to reconsider or trying to get at Nina in other ways, I don’t want her to be suffering. It still hurts, though, because she has let me go. I am her daughter and she has let me go. I know if she hadn’t, if she was trying to get in touch, it would have been completely horrific, and I know it’s so much more complex than being because she doesn’t care, but it still hurts that she let us both go. I guess part of her knows how bad it was for me and how awful and confusing her behaviour was for Nina, even as her denial weaves a tight and almost-impenetrable barrier around her.

It is sunny today. Spring-like. Aside from the uneasy knowledge that seems to sit with me nearly all the time now that we are heading for climate change apocalypse (we have 11 years to avoid the worst affects now), it is nice to have sunshine and warmth. It helped give me energy and avoid  falling into a hole. Or pulled me out of a hole I guess as the past 5 days have been really hard and energy has been in short supply. I went out on my bike – the first hilly ride of the year and it was beautiful. I felt strong and like I could have gone for miles (which is a change from how cycling usually is at this time of year because I’ve been going to cycling classes at the gym this winter and doing HIIT and virtual trips in front of the big screen) and it has shifted things definitely and given me some perspective. Cycling outside in the countryside when it is sunny always boosts me. I love it so much and if I could I would cycle all day every day.

The worst part was I stopped off to get my Dad to look at something that was rubbing on my bike. I stupidly told him about seeing the photo of my Mum (when will I learn not to turn to him when I am vulnerable?) and he actually said ‘ah, whatevs’. I mean, really!! How is that anything that a parent should be? It stings. It invalidates. It minimises. It makes me feel small and invisible and ashamed and not entitled to have feelings at all. His contempt pours down around me at moments like that. I will never stop seeing my Dad, but seeing clearly how he is now really enables me to see how the combination of both my parents well and truly fucked me up when it comes to being able to feel emotions without dissociating and feeling like a totally worthless person for feeling anything at all. Even excitement has always been met with contempt and ‘foreboding joy’ where he pours dampener over everything good and warns me things will probably go wrong. The combination of my Mum’s abuse instilling intolerable feelings in me which were then met with ridicule, silence or contempt by my Dad is a fucking toxic mixture.

As I said, I will always see my Dad, and I definitely share so much less with him now than I did when I started therapy, but I will be glad when he is less involved in my life because Nina is older, because I rarely leave any interaction with him feeling good about myself. It still baffles me that he would be completely unable to even see that it might be painful for me to see my Mum out of the blue and know she is just getting on with her life. He painted her as a monster decades ago now and has nothing but impatience and contempt for her, but the reality is so much more complicated than that. She is damaged and hurting and mentally ill. And even if she was a complete monster with no humanity at all – it would still hurt that she is my Mum. I get that he can’t understand, that he is limited as a human being because he has almost no cognitive or affective empathy, and so he doesn’t hurt me or invalidate me intentionally. It is just hard seeing how limited he is, how lacking in compassion he is – for me and her. My sister and I often say how if both of our Dad’s (we’re half sisters) had been a little kinder and more understanding of her she may have been able to get help before it was too late.

Anyway, I am glad I can write this out, that I can understand now what happens to me when he behaves like that and how it taps into all the old hurt. And I can understand how complex the thoughts and feelings are around my Mum now and I don’t need to act on them. The worst part is thinking I am crazy for not seeing her and having to go back to all the awful times over the first 34 years of my life to prove to myself I am not and that there was really no alternative but complete estrangement. Looking back hurts but sometimes it is the only way of validating myself and the future I have chosen for Nina and I.

Finding my voice

I’m FINALLY at the end of a very stressful and triggering ordeal concerning a used car I bought in November from a used car dealership for £3000. I had to get the car in a rush when my 17 year old car broke and so ended up getting it from somewhere I’ve since discovered has a terrible reputation among consumers and garages locally, has shocking reviews online (apart from on their own website where negative reviews conveniently disappear on a regular basis), and  are renowned for selling dangerous cars and then doing all they can to wriggle out of their legal obligations.

The car had already been back for faults three times since I bought it, including a water leak which left the inside of the car saturated and had been ‘fixed’ twice already, and then 2 weeks ago I discovered the floor saturated again. As well as this, despite being ‘fixed’ twice the central locking is intermittent so I often found the passenger door unlocked in the morning or couldn’t get the car open, there has been an issue with the brakes which my breakdown service said made the car unsafe to drive meaning it had to be recovered to the dealership, the window switches have broken so one day on my way to work the window was jammed open, and the car is so damp inside because of the leak that the windscreen won’t clear properly and the car is unsafe to drive. It has just been a nightmare and has left me without a car to get Nina to school or myself to therapy several times. The stress it caused me each time the car broke was huge and it got to the point where every time I drove it I was scared something else would break.

The used car dealership provide a three month warranty, which I guess must work to distract most customers from finding out that under the law in England and Wales there is a legal obligation for the dealership to repair or replace any defects for six months after purchase, and for a further twelve months if the customer can prove the defect was there at the time of purchase. If the repair attempt is unsuccessful the customer is entitled to a full refund. Luckily for me I know the law in this area very well, so I have been able to fight to get a full refund but it has been so fucking stressful to get to this point.

For the past two weeks, since I found the floor saturated again, I have been incredibly triggered because it is a huge amount of money so I couldn’t just let it go and cut my losses, and yet any conflict makes me want to die and also feels like I am being annihilated so I avoid it at all costs. However, this was just too much money and the used car dealership have behaved so appallingly that I had to fight it. Last week after being bullshitted by one of the salesmen multiple times, I rang and asked to speak to the person who could process a refund for a faulty car I was rejecting. The man I spoke to pleaded ignorance over the issues even though other people I had spoken to said they had spoken to him already. I told him my legal rights and he offered me less money than I had paid because the faults were ‘cosmetic’. At this point I lost my shit with him, informed him these were not cosmetic faults and that I worked with solicitors and did I need to put it in writing. I eventually agreed I would consider swapping it for another car from there, which I knew would be a mistake really, but part of me just wanted the whole thing to be smoothed over and go away. I was going to look at a different car, but K’s partner looked at the MOT history of it for me and said it wasn’t good and I should just get a refund as the dealership was clearly dodgy. My sleep and anxiety levels were awful at the end of the week and over the weekend and I was snapping at Nina for no reason and totally on edge, but I did put it all in writing, with some help from people I work with, and sent it off this week, stating I was entitled to a full refund and they couldn’t legally take a ‘fair use’ deduction because the use had been interrupted by the defects. I also listed the damages I am entitled to and said I wasn’t claiming them provided I got a refund in full within 14 days. I thought my heart would burst out of my chest it was hammering so hard when I clicked send on the email on Tuesday, but I did feel relieved once it was done and I knew 100% that I was legally entitled to the full refund so whilst I might have a battle to get it, I would win eventually.

The manager didn’t try calling until 5.15 the following day and I was in meetings till 6pm so decided to wait and call in the morning so I wouldn’t get triggered in the evening. Yesterday morning I was so wound up because I knew I had to make the call that I threw up several times before leaving for work. A colleague had said just to let him talk and then say ‘you know this is bollocks and I’m legally entitled to a refund’. I took a deep breath and called him. He asked if we could ‘compromise’ and I said ‘not really, no, because I’m legally entitled to a full refund’. He tried to claim I’d had use of the car and I again pointed out the legal position on this, and I reminded him I wasn’t claiming damages but that I was quite happy to take this to the small claims court and that the damages were increasing every day e.g. I had just paid £70 to get me and my Dad on my friend’s car insurance as I don’t have a car. He begrudgingly agreed to the full refund. Then he asked me when I would take it to them and I said they would need to collect it because I am not legally allowed to drive the vehicle once I’ve informed the dealer I am rejecting it. At this point he was really rude to me and I said (in my finest ‘mummy talking to pre-teen girl’ voice) ‘don’t speak to me like that please’. He continued being rude so I said ‘First, I am not legally allowed to drive the car now, and secondly, you don’t speak to me like that.’ He apologised. Hah! And then he sorted out my card details and when he would collect the car. We ended the conversation amicably.

This was yesterday morning and I was elated. I felt so empowered! It was incredible to have fought for what I was legally entitled to and to have won. Today he text me to say he had done the refund and would be there at 6pm to do the paperwork and get the keys. All afternoon I was really apprehensive and with 30 minutes to go I had a full blown anxiety attack and had to take diazepam (and eat a cake!). He came. It was friendly enough and now it is all over and I am so incredibly proud of myself. Given my trauma history and how difficult I find asserting myself, or even thinking about conflict, I am amazed that I fought this to the end. It would have been so much easier to accept the £2500 refund last week, the £2750 refund yesterday, or swapped for another car instead of asserting myself. There was no way I wanted another car from the same place but I probably would have done if K’s partner hadn’t told me not to! I was texting my acupuncturist earlier and he said to call up my various professional personas and I would be terrifying (hah!) and I said “I think that’s the problem – I hate being disliked so much I’d rather be nice than scary!” He reminded me I am in the right and I didn’t need the man to like me. He was right, of course, but it was interesting to make that link. I would rather be liked than seen as a bad person, even to people who are totally irrelevant to me and who I will never have to see again.

This isn’t a very interesting post but it has helped me to document this journey because in terms of healing from complex trauma and a narcissistic mother who taught me that what people think of me is more important than anything else in the world it is HUGE. It was a horrific experience, genuinely – it has been 3 months of such huge stress over money and confrontation and it has seriously affected my daily life which is full enough at the best of times – but now I’m through the other side I know it will continue to empower me for years to come; I found my voice, I stood up for myself, and in the process I learnt that even though I feel I am being annihilated when I am in conflict with someone, it doesn’t actually kill me. I feel stronger inside and incredibly proud of myself. Onwards and upwards!

Missing

I miss my mum this evening. It pulls heavily at me. I wanted to google her, although I know seeing her face on anything online would break me. Seeing her obvious insecurity and self-doubt in photographs fills me with dread and horror and guilt and shame. A toxic combination of emotions rooted deeply in my psyche from before I was even born. I still so badly want this to not be real, for her to not be my mum. It still hits me sometimes that it is real – I will probably never see her again. And I question if it was really that bad that I have to do this, even though I know no one would willingly choose to do what I have had to do.

It seems mad sometimes to be blocking her out of my life. What a crazy thing to do to your own mother! I could pick up the phone and she would come round, I know she would. And for a few minutes it would feel okay, but then everything would be the same and I would be trapped, unable to break away again because it would hurt her all over again. I still dream I am back in contact with her and I know it was a mistake but that I have to live with it because I can’t do that to her again. I wake up drenched in sweat, sobbing and shouting, feeling panicked and trapped and unable to escape. I know all this, know there is no other way, but it is still so hard. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of that horror that lives within me, barely made any headway with feeling what she is and how it was for me because of her mental illness.

In December I was crying with K “how can SHE be my mum? How can she be my mum and have done those things to me?” And K gently asked if it wasn’t time to change things round now, so that I start to say “she IS my mum, she DID those things” and I start to feel all that this really means and has meant to me. I agreed. But going there is scary. I prefer the disbelief than the resolute acceptance which I know must come, and the feelings that must be felt before I get there.

Sometimes I feel crazy to be missing someone who damaged me so much and wounded me so deeply, but I do miss her – she is the only mum I’ll ever have and she tried so hard. She wasn’t evil, she wanted to love me and give me what she never had, she just didn’t know how else to be. She couldn’t love me. How fucking awful for a mother to lose her daughter after losing her own parents so young. What a fucking awful existence she has had. If I could have sacrifiecd myself to save her I would have done, but I couldn’t make her happy and fill her up however much of myself I gave to her.

I miss her. I can’t go back, it has to be this way, but I miss her so much. Knowing she is out there, just 5 miles away, living her life as best she can without me and Nina, trying to get used to the hole we have left… It hurts. I hurt for her and I know I need to hurt for me but I can’t. Feeling her feelings is still safer for me. There is work to be done, but for now I am trying to just sit with the grief and remember that this wave will pass and there is light ahead of me.

missing

I never thought I’d get to here

I am crying a lot this evening, great big wracking sobs whose cause, or rather underlying emotion, I can’t really put my finger on, but it feels like I am letting go of something. I shared my last two posts with K, the one from last week about how different things are now in therapy and the one from Saturday about Mr Raposa. I welled up reading both, tears of gratitude to both of us for sticking with therapy when it was so incredibly tough, bittersweet tears because with this shift comes space inside me and in my life that is not filled with K, but also bigger tears, tears carrying the force of all that has lived inside me since I first set foot in K’s house all those years ago and the process of looking at and feeling what is inside me began. And as I finished reading my body started juddering and shaking, almost like the shock response I’ve come to know so well over the years in therapy when some huge realisation about how I am or what I’ve been through hit me all in a rush. I wanted to scream and shout and cry and wail because it hurt, whatever feelings were surfacing and flooding out of me. I think it hit me all-of-a-sudden in that moment how truly, truly traumatic those years of therapy were, and a little of the trauma and intensity of those days came loose inside me and began to be metabolised.

I cannot adequately put into words just how difficult therapy was for the first three years. I genuinely felt like the pain, the process, the horror of disorganised attachment, the constant triggering of my attachment wounds, would kill me. That sounds dramatic but much of the time it really did feel that way. Therapy was agony, leaving therapy was agony, being away from K was painful but being with her hurt too much too. I wanted to end therapy to stop the pain but the pain when I thought of my life without K was intolerable too. I barely survived the time between sessions, could hardly go a day without contacting K, and spent much of my days feeling suicidal, self-harming, and generally feeling utterly hopeless and convinced I would die because of what happened to me as a baby. Words cannot do it justice really. It was truly, truly hellish. I needed to go through that awful time but it has left its own traumatic scars upon me, I have no doubt of that.

I obviously managed to trust the process enough to keep going, and there were momens of light and joy and connection, but I also couldn’t see that it was getting me anywhere. I talked about there being ‘another side’ to get to, but I had no real sense of it existing, or what it might be like. And that pain certainly didn’t feel like process, although I see now it was and was me learning to tolerate being close to someone, being in relationship, feeling connected. For more than 3 years being in relationship with K was like having caustic soda poured all over my wounds. My skin burned and I writhed in agony, and the wounds never had chance to heal before I was back for more. I was addicted to her but being with her made everything hurt more. However much love and warmth and support she poured into me was not enough, it flowed straight through me and left me desperate for more. And the love and warmth hurt me too, constantly triggering my disorganised attachment system, telling me something was very, very wrong and that I needed to protect myself by getting closer and running away at the same time. It was one crazy storm and I couldn’t even hold on to K to steady myself. Dissociation erased her from my mind and left an empty space inside my head.

I was deep in primal pain so much of the time for so many years. Crisis after crisis. Regular self-harm episodes and weeks with no sleep and floods of abandonment panic drowning me. Pain just poured out of me for months and months and months. Years really, with the occasional brief respite for a week or two where things felt more stable. Nearly every day was a battle as I somehow managed to hold my adult life, my daughter and the parts, my work, whilst years of unfelt pain and trauma surfaced and threatened to pull me under. I wondered every day how I was going to survive the rest of my life and was petrified that K would go away and leave me all on my own with the blackness inside me. Parts do still feel this way now I’m not gonna lie, and it is still very difficult living some days, but lately I can tell that we’ve done the groundwork in therapy, we’ve built the foundations together, and I am finally starting to heal.

When I had shared the post from last week towards the end of the session today, K said it is really lovely to see how well I am doing, how this healing is transformational now and I am moving towards a space where things [aka us, our relationship, our connection] can be taken in and felt authentically, instead of me always pushing it away or worrying if the relationship is real, or what will happen next (aka being constantly ashamed of how important she is to me and utterly terrified 24/7 that she would go away). It is huge, what we’ve accomplished together, the emotion swept me away and I felt the shock hit me. Those dark days are behind me and I can’t imagine ever going back to how it was now. I get flashes of course, like I did two weeks ago, but it wasn’t the same, I could unpick it and let it be there and then it moved through me.

And therapy can be used to heal now because it reaches a different place. K said how lovely it was to hear that, and how there had to be all of that struggle to break through it almost, it had to happen. And I thought that would be the work. I thought that when I had internalised K enough and could tolerate being in relationship with her we would be done, but whilst it was the work, it wasn’t all the work. And K said that now I need to drink in what it’s like to be able to be in relationship, to feel safe enough in relationship, and start to feel that it is alright to feel safe in relationship. “That’s a whole piece of work, isn’t it?” said K. And it is, she is right. It’s like I need to learn that it is safe to feel safe, that I can sink into this place and it won’t get ripped away and prove that all my fears were valid.

It feels now like some big pieces of work can be done and I will hold steady. I realised this evening as I shared the posts with K and the room filled with laughter and the echoes of times we had shared that I have more happy memories with her than I do with my own mother. And yet she is not my mother and we will not be together in her old age laughing about those times gone by. I will not be able to share with my grandchildren memories of K and I, even though they are as formational to who I will be and the life I will live as the scars imprinted on me by my parents. It is bittersweet to be healing because it means really feeling all that K is not. I know all of us in therapy say we know our Ts are not our parents, but I also know that in my own experience this is something very hard to truly grasp. For me, being estranged from my mother means that I am motherless. There really is an empty space all around me. It is not like she has died and I can draw on happy memories to support me through my grief. The space around me is too much at times, because I still lack the relationship which stabilises and grounds so many. There will always be a hole in me and a hole in my life and K cannot fill it, she can only help me to fill it, and I don’t always want to fill it myself because that feels sad and futile at times, and brings its own grief too.

So now I feel strangely lost, as I try to process those first three years of therapy and let the trauma of those days leave my body, or start to at least. I honestly can’t believe I survived and that K and I were able to hang in there for so long, whilst therapy felt like torture. I was terrified all the time. I was caught up in the push/pull of disorganised attachment nearly all the time, needing to move towards K to survive but going into fight/flight panic every time I took a step closer. And every time I showed how I felt or what was inside me, good or bad, I dissociated or was flooded with shame and a loathing which felt like it was coming from her but was actually living inside me. I’m not sure either of us really thought things would change. I know this time last year K was feeling very hopeless and thought we’d be playing out the same relationship dynamics for as long as we worked together. And it wasn’t that I didn’t do any work those three years and was just constantly re-traumatised, I obviously discovered what was ‘wrong’ with me and how broken I really was and why. I discovered my alters and got to know them. I began to learn who I was and what I wanted and needed. I cut contact completely with my Mum. I began to understand my past and how it affects me still, why I’ve done what I’ve done and why I do what I do. All of this was work, progress, but in the background was always the attachment pain and panic and searing pain of being connected to someone I felt ashamed for being connected to.

Now therapy is mostly a stabilising force in my life and I can imagine it helping during difficult times instead of triggering my shame response and making everything a hundred times worse. I’ve said before how I need to go back to many painful times in my life now and feel them from my own perspective, from within my own body, instead of focusing on my Mum and what she was doing and feeling. I feel ready to do that now, because I know K won’t leave my side if I do. I needed to find a peace of sorts in my relationship with her first or the shame of feeling would have swept me away.

We ended our session with me saying how K did exactly what she did with Mr Raposa with us. She agreed. And I feel absolutely blown away because I never thought I’d get to a place where the therapeutic relationship didn’t hurt me hugely. It stings sometimes, it fills young parts with longing still, but it doesn’t set me on fire and make me want to die anymore. And that has to be a sign of progress!

Mr Raposa

We first met Mr Raposa (not his real name) on 10th February 2016, almost six months after starting work with K. It was a Wednesday evening and adult me had just shared how I had noticed at the weekend young parts really taking over at Nina’s bedtime, playing with Sylvanian families and being pretty silly at times. I remember it was one of the first times I had really noticed how I was in the back seat and younger parts were out and taking control – I could watch what they were doing but was unable to stop them or get to the front to take control again. It was like watching people talking in the front seat of a car, watching the action and dialogue unfold but not really being part of it. Anyway, K confirmed that really it wasn’t okay for young parts to join in at bedtime, even though they really wanted to, and everyone was feeling sad and fed up. In the break K went to make us a cup of tea and when she came back she asked if we would like to meet Mr Raposa, one of her rescue dogs. The next minute he came trotting around the door of the therapy room – an orange podengo with huge ears, who looked just like a fox. I can’t remember now how long he stayed in the room, but young parts were transfixed and it was the beginning of a very special relationship that has been a huge part of our healing journey.

That night I was kept awake all night by young parts excitedly twittering about Mr Raposa. Looking back it is actually really cute, but at the time it was quite irritating. They were really excited to see him again and from then on he became a regular visitor to the therapy room and a huge part of our relationship with K and the development of an internalised sense of safety. The first message K sent about Mr Raposa was a month after we met him, after I’d had an almighty meltdown and had ended up texting her on a Sunday panicking that she was going to end therapy or stop us from seeing Mr Raposa because we were always such a pain. She replied with her usual calm reassurances that she was looking forward to seeing us all the next day and that Mr Raposa would be there too. The next day was also the day when she said for the first time (in response to general panic that getting well would mean losing her) that sometimes when the therapeutic work has been particularly intense and the wounding has been particularly deep it can be appropriate to never end therapy permanently and to transition into something else – not friends, still a therapeutic relationship, but something ongoing even when the intense therapy is done. Everything shifted that day because suddenly getting better stopped meaning we would lose K (although in the end the intense work of therapy has taken longer than either of us could have imagined at the start) and it was that evening that a young part came out and wrote for the first time ever – about Mr Raposa! I remember it vividly – I was writing in my journal about therapy and suddenly I was taken over by a young part who started writing in huge messy writing about Mr Raposa slurping our cup of tea and what a nice doggy he was. It went on for ages and left me feeling pretty insane to be honest, but also really excited to share this development with K the next day.

Knowing Mr Raposa has taught me so much about myself. K rescued him when she was living abroad a few years before we started working together, from a country with non-existent welfare legislation for animals and where animal abuse and abandonment is at epidemic levels. He had been living in a shelter for two years at that time and when she first had him he was so traumatised because of the abuse he had experienced that he was frightened to walk through doorways and used to run off multiple times every day. Although he had learnt to trust her and her partner and had settled to a certain extent, the abuse he had experienced still lived in him and because of this he has taught me so much about healing from trauma and what is possible and what isn’t.

One time I was holding a tube of giant bubbles when Mr Raposa came to say hello and he flinched, thinking I was going to hit him with it because he used to get beaten with a stick. This made us all so sad, because he didn’t know how much we loved him and that we would never, ever hurt him. And I started to understand why I was so scared of people and found it so hard to trust – my earliest experiences had taught me people would hurt me and it wasn’t a matter of just ‘getting over it’. Even though I knew K would never hurt us intentionally, it was so hard to develop a felt sense of this and to trust her. I started to hate myself a little less for not being able to trust someone I knew to be good and kind. And I felt so sad for the awful abuse Mr Raposa must have experienced and this in turn helped me develop a little (this is a work in progress!) more compassion for myself and the parts.

He has always reminded me so much of little me – needing everything the same, needing order and to know what was happening next, not liking unexpected things, getting cross with the other dogs for misbehaving and not doing what they were meant to be doing. He had his favourite spot on the sofa where he always sat, his favourite sunny spot by the pond in the garden, and he liked to go to bed at 7 o’clock every night. I began to see that I, too, needed that stability and predictability, and that it wasn’t ever possible to heal completely from extensive trauma, that I was expecting too much of myself. As Cody [10] wrote in our parts’ journal:

He will never be like other dogs that very bad things didn’t happen to so he needs special care and things to be the same.

And also Amelia who is 21:

Mr Raposa helps me realise I can’t ever be as though my hellish childhood didn’t happen and so I need to learn to understand it and be kind to myself and learn my limits and they will be different limits than people who weren’t abused and traumatised every day at home. This is really hard to accept, and even harder to put into practice, but Mr Raposa has helped me do this, and sometimes Mr Raposa feels safe and happy because of K. She rescued him.’

This theme of being rescued by K was something a lot of parts have been pretty obsessed with throughout our work. She rescued Mr Raposa , and she rescued us all too. Lotta (7) wrote some stories for one of our most troubled parts, Scarlet (10), about being rescued from our awful, scary home by Mr Raposa and being kept safe and warm in the woods with him, and later he took her to a fairy called K and she kept her safe forever too. One time we were doing a sand tray and had put figures representing K and Mr Raposa under a tree, with a young girl really far away. And we were crying that we were having such a difficult time when we were little in a little body and K didn’t even know. And K took a little plane and made the dog figure fly it to rescue little me and take me to her.

IMG_0280 (1)

And he helped us all beyond measure in developing a sense of trust and safety in K. It was clear very early on that in order for him to feel safe with her she must have been the same with him over and over again – patient, kind, loving, firm, predictable. He trusted her and somehow that helped us start to see and feel that it was safe for us to trust her too. Asking endless questions about Mr Raposa, and writing them down between sessions to ask in our next session, really helped us to get to know K and enabled parts to establish a relationship with her in a safe, fun and light way. ‘K understands him‘ was something Leia wrote in the parts’ book, and it was this that helped us see that she was capable of understanding us too, that she would never judge us for our difficulties either, just as she didn’t judge Mr Raposa and get impatient with him. He helped the relationship between young parts and K develop so easily. She was so loving and protective of him. She really knew and understood why he is how he is. And she never shamed or laughed at us for being so attached to him. It became possible for young parts to express huge amounts of love, for the first time ever really, and at first there was a lot of shame over loving him so much, but K validated our love for him over and over again until one day we weren’t ashamed of it anymore.

There have been so many cosy times with Mr Raposa. The first time K and I watched a film together, to try and get teen parts on board with therapy, he came and cuddled in our armchair. He was there when we did cutting and sticking to make a book as a transitional object and it was very amusing when he was poking about in the craft boxes and at some point pulled out a purple feather and started playing with it. He came in for cuddles when we got stuck on the motorway because of an accident and arrived at our session ninety minutes late and K let us still work – there had been a proper screaming, sobbing meltdown from young parts in the car about not being able to get there and we were incredibly distressed. K brought us in a plate of bread with peanut butter and Mr Raposa shared the food and provided so much comfort. One time he made a really happy noise when he saw me and rushed over. He always put his head down when he saw us to have behind his ears scratched and he loved stretching out for cuddles. He was discerning and yet he knew me and he loved me, so he showed me maybe there was something good in me worthy of that love.

He bought so much laughter and joy to the therapy space, something that is so needed when doing the depth of work K and I have had to do. Sometimes we gave him his afternoon milk and we used to take him in the garden and he would scavenge around for food and eat rotten fruit. We would laugh at his loud barking, his goose noises, the fact he licks the sofa every night, him taking things out of the bin and K having to take them off him, and the way he tells tales on the other dogs for being silly and not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Dog film night became a fairly regular part of therapy and the first time all four dogs came and it was hilarious. K had warned the dogs to be ‘not too silly’ [something she said a lot and which tickled us because it meant she knew they would be a bit silly] and then they were the silliest they had ever been, jumping around and cavorting for 40 minutes until they finally settled down. K and I laughed so much and it was the most magical evening. K said she would keep it in her heart forever, and we definitely have too.

And a year in to therapy we were really triggered on a weekend at a family wedding and about to go to another city for a really important conference adult me was giving a paper at. K and I did a phone session on the Sunday afternoon to try and contain things and young parts were lamenting how they wanted to take Mr Raposa with us. Instead of saying, “well don’t be silly, you can’t take a dog to a conference,” K asked young parts what it would feel like to take him with us. “Safe and warm” we replied and K tried to get us to take that feeling into our hearts and imagine taking him with us and having him there. We took Mr Raposa with us in our heart and imagined him laying next to us in the hotel bed and sitting under the dining table. It helped so much and after that we began to take Mr Raposa around with us a lot and it really helped to develop a felt sense of safety internally and also out in the world. It was often painful because he wasn’t our dog and we always had to leave him behind, and we so desperately wanted to hold him close to our heart all the time and cuddle him in our bed, but he really showed us so much about what it felt like to be safe. Miffy wrote how she felt safe at K’s with Mr Raposa and sometimes when she wasn’t there she felt safe remembering what it felt like to be there with him. We would write stories about doing things with him and the other dogs, and learnt to hold those imaginary times in our heart to feel safe. One time we wrote a story about camping in K’s garden with Mr Raposa and another of K’s dogs we also have a very special relationship with, and sometimes it feels as though it really did happen.

sleeping bags

 

When things in therapy were especially difficult and we were floaty and far away and feeling unsafe in the space we found Mr Raposa grounding. He would come in to the therapy room when we were really dissociated, or we would talk about him and the other dogs with K and it would help us feel safe and come back when we felt disconnected and really far away. It was a safe way to reconnect. He came to the car on his lead with another dog on our last session before Christmas in 2016, because I had told K I couldn’t bear to be shut outside of her house alone just before Christmas and needed some kind of transition into the car. That helped so much, not being shut out by ourselves in the dark.

When it was too painful to imagine K at home when we weren’t there, because we felt so excluded from her real life, we would picture Mr Raposa and the other dogs and that helped enormously. Mr Raposa can’t go out because he is aggressive to other dogs (because he is afraid), so we knew he was always there and it helped provide some kind of balance and stability and object permanency, in a way that was less triggering than trying to remember K was there. Imagining what he was doing, and getting messages and photographs from K about him, helped us feel safe. And gradually we became able to imagine K with him and the other dogs, and that felt okay and less triggering than imagining her there with friends and family. It was nice knowing she was there with all the dogs when we were away from her. He was always there, he never went anywhere and so we could imagine him at home even when K was on holiday and far away. And this helped to ease things ever so slightly around breaks. And the first time she went on holiday whilst we were working, when we weren’t at all prepared for how difficult breaks would be, K wrote in an email for Miffy ‘I think we are all missing Mr Raposa’ and it was like being cuddled inside.

zzzz.jpg

And then something bad happened, the worst thing ever for young parts, Mr Raposa and his friends [2 other of her 4 dogs] moved to another country with K’s partner in September 2017 and we had to say goodbye. It was genuinely heartbreaking. I also knew it was really difficult for K saying goodbye to them and her partner so I managed to contain the parts as much as I could in the final session when Mr Raposa and another dog we were also very attached to came in for a goodbye story and cuddles, only allowing the screams and sobs to erupt in the car once we had left. Knowing they were leaving in the morning was very difficult, but we also knew they were going somewhere they would be happier and freer. And I knew we were welcome to go to the centre K’s partner was opening and see them at some point, if we ever felt brave enough. Since then we’ve posted presents to him sometimes and K’s partner sends photos quite often and tells us what he has been doing. He says he will always remember me and I really hope that is true. I also really hope we will be able to make the trip to see them one day. And now when K goes away it is easier, because we know she will be with them.

plane

I will end with something a young part wrote in August 2016, because I think finally, after all these years, this is what is starting to happen as a result of therapy with K.

Me and Mr Raposa both runned away all the time when we scared which is all the time sometimes. I go away in my head and Mr Raposa tries to go somewhere else with his legs. He doesn’t do that so much now because of K. Maybe she will help me stop running away so much too.

Under your tree (I love us)

Therapy today was lovely. Not a sentence I thought I’d ever be writing! I was kind of scared to go today, I think because I was experiencing high levels of anxiety already about things non-therapy related and wasn’t sure how the session would play out after the huge process that took up the first part of last week. As I was driving to K’s after work there were blue skies and sunshine and a feeling of Spring being on it’s way, and I was thinking how it would be nice to go in K’s garden today. As soon as she opened the door she asked if we would like to go in the garden, to see the flowers that are blossoming, and to take in that Spring is nearly here. We took her remaining dog on his lead (3 now live in Portugal) and walked to the bottom of her enormous garden in relative silence and stillness and I just soaked it all in – I never thought I would be in her garden again because we were ending, yet there I was and it was the same. Another Spring of working together – I feel incredibly lucky.

snowdrops.jpg

We’ve done some really deep and important work in her garden – made art out of natural things, burnt things on a bonfire, sat drinking tea and eating cake after a gorgeous bike ride along the canal to mark two years of knowing each other, read a story on the birthday of my dear friend Jess who I’ve written about before. And it is where I first voiced that I didn’t think I was going to be able to carry on a relationship with my Mum in any way at all. It is also a really safe and healing place for young parts – we’ve picked fruit to take home, blown bubbles, lit sparklers, and run around playing with K’s dogs, We have talked a lot in her garden too, sitting on yoga mats in the sunshine. Therapy outside is different; the energy shifts and sometimes harder things can be voiced without then hanging in the space around us. It is freeing. And a love of nature, a need to feel connected to the earth, is something K and I share so it is wonderful to have that space to be in together. I took some photographs of the snowdrops and K pointed out a huge patch of them under ‘my’ tree – I never knew before that she thinks of that as my tree because it is where we made a beautiful mandala together on Summer Solstice in 2017. It felt really lovely to hear her say that.

my tree

The reassurance I needed last week that our relationship is still strong and real even though we need K less was provided this evening, not through words but through just being together. The bond we have is all around us, unspoken yet nurturing and solid and beautiful, and we know each other so well – there is so much peace and acceptance in our relationship now, so much that doesn’t need to be explained, so much history. Being together is so easy so much of the time now, and it does enable me to really take in what therapy gives me. I know that K must feel this too, I could tell in her voice today how much joy she takes in seeing my growth in the past few months in particular. And parts were calmer today and were therefore able to take in what was being shared and created in the room. Although K has been re-parenting (fostering, she has called it) us for a very long time now, it feels like only very recently that the re-parenting is actually providing us with reparative experiences, rather than just being completely triggering and awful and constantly poking at ‘the mother wound’.

I managed earlier in the session to share some of what was going on after our last session, and how we shouldn’t have to have this kind of relationship with someone who is not our parents. There is always that added layer of difficulty because we only get this healing relationship while things conspire to make it possible, not just the money (although that is a factor of course), it is that our ability to spend that 90 minutes together week in week out is dependent on many things staying as they are now. There are no guarantees. I told K how hard it is sometimes to know that Nina gets me until I die – she doesn’t have to do anything, she gets to just live her life and have me. Early last week there were feelings around K’s children on this point, but things settled and I came back to my own life and they receded, and when I am with K her children are never present. It never even occurs to me to ask about them – in that room only her and I exist. For that period of time there is no one else. She pours her undivided attention and interest and love into me in that space, her children never encroach, and I know they never even go in that room when they are home. It is our space, the first place we felt safe, and the first place the parts spoke and were heard. She hadn’t lived in her house for very long when we started work and so I know we have spent more time in that room with her than any other client, and in our primal need to be the centre of someone’s world, this is important to us, and it is healing to have that knowledge.

We feel so full of love this evening – love for K, of course, but really love for us – her and I and the parts, and what we have created together. I love what we are together, the blanket of safety and authenticity we have woven together over the past 3 and a half years, the deep knowing we have of each other. I trust her and feel safe with her and I take all that into the world with me. I don’t know K in her day-to-day life it is true, but I do know the real her and I know what we have is real, sacred, special, and so important to each of us in different ways. I shared in our session today the post I wrote last week about needing time after therapy now to process and write and just be with whatever comes up for us, and how this probably means going to choir after session is something that is doing myself a disservice at the moment. She commented how much processing and thinking had happened in my post, and how I was feeling into the new shape of therapy and negotiating with how things needed to be as I was writing.

And she commented on the shift that has recently taken place because I don’t go home and go into meltdown now, I go home and reflect (“mostly, apart from on Monday … And the week before”) [LOL]. “And that reflective space feels so healthy, as you say, you need to do it, to digest the session and reflect on it, and reflect on what you need in your life right now”. She’s right, because as I wrote last week, I didn’t used to be able to write after therapy at all, I used to just freeze or numb out in some way, or just feel utterly hideous and wild and completely uncontained. If I did write it was a dissociated jumble of parts and outpourings of how painful everything was and how therapy was making everything worse. It used to be I just needed to get through the time between sessions, and it isn’t like that anymore. I can really take in and process the work from the session throughout the week now, and I really appreciate having space to do that, either through writing or just being, even when it is hard and painful things come up. And if I’m in a really good space after therapy I don’t want to disrupt that either – it is such a new thing for me, feeling better after therapy, feeling okay, feeling safe and snuggled up, feeling held and connected and contained, and when I feel that way I want to hold onto it and be with it and stay safe inside that feeling. And sometimes young parts just want to write about how nice it is at K’s house, because it used to be so awful to be away from her that we couldn’t hold on to what it was like to be with her. It is still sometimes a bit like being kicked when we leave, but then when we stop and notice we realise it’s still with us, everything we get from her. We carry her inside of us and she is always in the space around us too.

It used to hurt to be away from K so much, even when our session had been nice and holding and containing, in fact especially when our sessions had been this way. It feels so different now. K said how great it is that I am evolving into my therapeutic space and how it is enabling me to reflect more, which is a great thing.  There did used to be reflection, but mostly about how bad things were, and what a challenge it was being in therapy! She said how now I am managing to fine tune my perception of what’s going on for me, which is a really big deal for me because of my dissociation, and so the benefits of therapy are longer lasting now. And she said it feels as though I am honouring myself with this decision, and that even though choir has been a resource, and will be again and for a long time to come, right now it is not serving me to go after therapy. And we agreed that right now our session time is the only time that works for me because of work and Nina’s swimming training so it is best to work out how to make the best of what is, rather than spend lots of energy trying to work out how to make things different.

I started to really dissociate just as we were leaving and K noticed and called out “don’t disappear” and said “this is not the time to dissociate” [LOL again] and that it would unpick everything I’d just told her about needing to go home and process my session if I let myself dissolve. She told me I didn’t need to leave her by dissociating because she is still here and we are in contact and we have the safety net of half an hour by phone or meeting up on Friday to lean into if needed. I managed to return to the semi-present and tell her that from this session I would take the garden and how safe it is for us. How amazing that she can see me dissociating before I know it is happening.

So this evening I am left with a clear sense that we are growing, me and the parts, and that despite this K is still here and we are stronger than ever. When things feel more-or-less okay inside I can feel how it actually brings us closer together that I am growing, perhaps because that growth is built upon our relationship. I couldn’t be growing away from her without the solid foundation we have built, and so every step I take towards my future is still another step with her, it’s just that I sometimes carry her inside me now instead of needing her right beside me all the time. She is part of me and nothing will ever change that. I remember last year how she said that what we have cannot be broken, and I am starting to really believe her now.

ks-garden.jpg