K asked me to write something about the therapy room and what it means to me after our session today, to prove I had been there and to try and help me connect by engaging all my senses after the session. This was after I said “I want to feel as though I’ve been here” when she asked what I needed from today’s session. I’ve seen her three times since the break ended and I still feel horribly cut off, so I’m not sure how this will go and I’m worried it will cause more distress as I just can’t feel it, but I’ll give it a try.
K’s home smells of safety. It smells of incense and calm. It smells like unfurling and settling, expanding outwards. Actually, it smells of home. It smells of the first place where I felt safe, the first place I was allowed to be me. Home is a feeling – the feeling of being in a place where you are free to be you, with a person who lets you be whoever you are and however you are. And the thing with K now is that that whatever state I am in I can be in it with her. She never forces me to pretend. Sometimes the state I’m in means I can’t connect with her, can’t reach her, and I feel like I’m speaking into a void, but I am allowed to be in that space without being shamed. So the smell of her home tells me I am in mine. It is safe to feel unsafe there. It is safe to not be able to trust there. It is safe to tell her I can’t reach her. She won’t drive me further away because I sometimes doubt her because of the relational echoes that live inside me.
It is always the same when I arrive at her house. She always answers the door and asks me what I’d like to drink. Sometimes she tells me it is nice to see me – I don’t believe her, of course, but it is still nice to hear. And I love that she wants me to feel safe enough that she is always the same – my safety matters to her. I use the bathroom and head to the therapy room and then she brings me my tea. The room is always the same – we sit opposite each other on piles of cushions and I make myself a nest and cover myself with a blanket. There is a bookcase full of books, many of which I’ve borrowed, and I can spot their spines and remember when I’ve taken words K has loved home with me to love also. Everything is solid and predictable. Even the room is solid as the walls are thick and old and the ceiling is low. It has always felt like the perfect space for me to share what is inside me. There is a clay badger K was given at a yoga workshop on her birthday two years ago and in a session last December we made him a little bed out of felt under a wooden tree because he had been standing up for so long and was very tired. I look across at a picture of two brown ponies and above my head is a beautiful painting of a rabbit called Luna riding on the back of swan. There are children’s books she has read to young parts and the sand tray where she sent Mr Raposa to rescue little me on a plane called Sky Shark. There is a wooden fox in the sand tray animals basket who has been home with me and on trips sometimes, and a glass angel that sometimes casts pretty patterns on the wall. It matters that those things are there. It matters that the space being the same is something I can depend upon.
We always do a sitting meditation before we start work – breathing, body scan, focus on mind and thoughts – so that I can land as far as possible, and we always start with me sharing what has come up for me during that. I often feel embarrassed and ashamed of my body sensations and emotions, either because the words to describe them sound really dramatic or because I cannot detect them at all and it is another thing I am useless at. I am getting better though and I do now have a whole range of words to use to describe my internal experience, rather than just ‘okay’ and ‘awful’. Sometimes K gets me to ‘listen out’ which I hate and which triggers me and makes me feel horribly overstimulated and like getting up and running around yelling and shouting and throwing things. I know why she does it, and it is never for too long, but it is crazy-making sometimes, especially taking in just how much sound triggers me. At other times the sounds just drift in during my session, a tapestry of familiar noises that remind me I’ve been here before, and tell me the seasons are changing. Often blackbirds are singing whilst we are working, especially now as the days are getting longer and it is still light when we work. Sometimes we hear the horses in the nearby field, or dogs barking, or a tractor rumbling past. And always the clock is ticking, reminding me that this time is precious and is ebbing away.
K and I have worked at all different times of the day and throughout the seasonal changes over the past 3 and a half years so I’ve been in the therapy room in all different lights – grey skies, darkness, bright sunshine, sunset, and sometimes even when there has been moonlight pouring through the window. Watching the seasons change with her is magical. It reminds me of something bigger than us that can be relied upon, and the fact she has such a huge and beautiful garden means we have been able to do some really special work outside. We’ve always had our normal sessions later on in the day – it was 6.30 at the beginning, and now we meet at 4pm which means in winter it is often dark when I arrive and always by the time I leave. So many times on clear nights I’ve looked up and seen the moon and stars from her driveway before getting in the car, and one time her partner pointed out Venus and Mars to me before I drove home which was so magical. Occasionally we have worked earlier in the day and it is a very different feeling seeing her before the end of the day. Some of those times we have drunk coffee together and it has been nice sharing that. It makes a difference, the time of day that we work and the light – it transforms the energy and my interaction with it changes depending on my internal landscape. Today K asked how it felt that it was so light and sunny in the room and I didn’t want to admit that it felt incongruous when I felt so cut off and far away and dull inside, because it sounded dramatic and too intense and morose. It was difficult though, the brightness today grated against my inability to reach her. Sometimes I prefer it when it is dark because it is more cosy, but there is always something energising about the onset of Spring. I am often more dissociated on overcast days as well, so my energy is often lighter when the day itself is brighter. And when it is sunny we sometimes work outside which, as I’ve written before, really shifts things and leads to a very different therapy experience.
There are so many memories in that room, specific times when we have made things or had stories or cuddled dogs or had particularly healing conversations, but the overarching sense I have of that room is one of safety and acceptance. It is the first place we were soothed and contained and held with no physical touch. Of course we have been triggered and had flashbacks and wailed and sobbed in that room more times than I care to remember, but underneath all that is the fact that it is the first place in which we felt safe, the first place the parts were ever invited to come out, the first place our feelings were heard and seen and validated. I’ve not always felt safe there but this does not change the fact that it is safe. It is a safe place and K is safe. And before this recent break I was really beginning to be able to take that in and soak in all the safety I get from K and our room.
When I look back I realise just how long we’ve worked together, how far I’ve come, how well we know each other now. Even this dreadful shut off feeling is less unsettling for us both now, because K says the connection will come back and I do believe her. We know dissociation now. I wish I’d known 3 years ago that she would still be here now. Until recently I had spent maybe 3 months not feeling stuck in that constant panic that she would go away (and was going away , for 6 months of last year of course). It just seemed to disappear and enabled me to settle into my own life, knowing she was there – a mutually reinforcing loop. Since the break ended 10 days ago I have felt those old fears creeping in, especially because of the big and life-changing thing that is bearing down, and it does remind me that it is still an insecure attachment in many ways. I cannot trust that she will be here as long as I need her and those fears are very present right now in a way they’ve not been since last Summer. It has been disarming to see how much I still need therapy, need K, but then I remember some of the utter states I’ve been in that room and I can see how well I am doing. I am growing and moving forwards. And I am able to tolerate this shut down place and know that it does not mean K has changed. She is waiting for me on the other side of this fog and I will find her again.
The therapy space is not without its pain of course. The clock. The door. The blanket sometimes still warm from the body of another who has shared their innermost secrets with K also. It is not my physical home and I can never stay until my body has caught up with the reality and allowed me to bask in the safety I have there. It does feel like I was reborn in that room though. I found myself there in the confines of those walls, stories have been told, secrets spilled, shame interrupted. I presented K all the twisted, tangled fragments of memory that came rushing back in the early months of therapy (I would scribble them down as they resurfaced between sessions and we put them all in a jar so I could share them bit by bit) and we unpicked them together and formed a narrative. In that place I learned why I am how I am and began to accept the profound impact my childhood has had on my development as a relational being. I planned the unthinkable in that room as we worked through all the complex thoughts and feelings around cutting contact with my Mum nearly two years ago now. And lately I have felt myself coming to life in that room as I begin to emerge into a life more balanced by darkness and light instead of splitting so one always cancels the other out.
The room is there when I am not. And despite the other comings and goings I know it sees during the week I do feel like part of me is suspended there, held in the safety K provides for all the parts of me. K and I always exist in that space. It is where we have made magic, created alchemy, built an alliance with more transformational power than anything I could ever have imagined. In that room we will always be together. And today when K asked me what I needed from the session what I really meant was that I wanted to feel as though I had been there with her. I still feel so untethered and I cannot sense her, but I am beginning to feel now that soon I will be able to start taking some tentative steps back towards her. I really hope so.