Over-exposed

Therapy was hard this evening. I am left feeling a little blurgh. A little hollow and bereft of meaning and substance. I’m fine. I’ve made dinner for myself and Nina and washed up and am now in my study with a cup of tea, knowing I did good work in therapy today and it will help to process and write about it and what came up, but I feel a bit grotty and untethered and would quite like a hug and someone to settle and soothe the disruption inside. It is also useful to reflect upon how things were and compare them with how they are now. A ‘little blurgh’ now is so incredibly manageable. It is uncomfortable, sure, and it is a reminder that trauma and dissociation still haunt me even after a stable, peaceful, and actually quite joyful week, but it is important to notice the contrasts and how far I’ve come, especially in the past year. Last year at this time K had recently told me she was taking 2019 off as a sabbatical from work and I was struggling in ways that I can barely believe were real now, looking back. I cannot imagine ever being back in quite such a desperate state again, but maybe I won’t make any grand declarations around that just yet…

This week I’ve felt relatively ‘normal’. I said to my friend yesterday I’ve mostly felt how I felt before I started therapy, before Jess died and the world I’d built around and inside myself completely fell apart. It was a relief because I’d been in a bad place over the ecological collapse and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling normal and stable again. I had reiki and a massive outpouring of grief at an Extinction Rebellion ‘resilient communities’ workshop 10 days ago and since then the terror has dissipated and I’ve felt much more grounded and at peace over what is happening to the planet and what is ahead of us here in England too. K and I have also been doing some work around ‘active hope’ and preparing for the grief work we will do together to help me open to the losses that are happening all around by doing lots of work around gratitude. The grief is always there, the awareness is with me nearly all the time, but it is beginning to be integrated into my life more, and the shock is beginning to subside I think. I’m sure it will come and go, but it is wonderful to be reminded that joy and peace and gratitude can co-exist with sadness and fear and loss. (Indeed they must – the grief is only so big because there is so much to love and therefore so much to lose).

Anyway, so I was expecting to have a good session today, and it was good, but it was good for therapy (i.e. hard) rather than nice and peaceful and connecting. I felt adult and self-contained when I arrived and then a young part came out as soon as K brought our cup of tea in and started playing with the new mini Russian dolls K got recently. This was a surprise as young parts have been very quiet and content this week and I’ve hardly known they’re there, and it left me a little suspicious haha! And as soon as we’d done our mindful breathing and check-in (breath, body, mind) I completely dissociated. I wanted to tell K the good things that have happened this week (meeting an amazing person who lives a 3 minute walk from the new house, joining up with other vegans who are part of Extinction Rebellion to form an affinity group for non-violent direct action, riding my bike to the forest on Friday evening for Solstice and walking and reflecting on what I wanted to open my heart to and bring into the light in the coming year, not feeling self-conscious and hyper-critical at a work colleague’s engagement party on Saturday afternoon, seeing friends yesterday and really enjoying being in our new house because it’s much nicer to have people in) and yet the minute I even thought about telling her about these things I felt like someone had peeled my skin off and judging eyes were piercing and boring into me. I felt completely over-exposed and had a desperate desire to hide – it took a lot of effort not to pull the big blanket over my head and wait for K to disappear.

I somehow managed to tell K what was happening and we spoke a bit about why this happens for me and why I can’t even think about sharing good things and positive emotions I experience without dissociating and feeling completely exposed and covered in black, sticky shame. I couldn’t even make eye contact when she suggested it so she offered to close her eyes so I could look at her and see if she was the same without it being scary. I said I felt as though she could see right inside me and was thinking I shouldn’t feel good things. And she said how interesting that was because that’s not where she’s coming from at all. She said all the things I already know but that it helped to hear again, about this being an emotional flashback where my body and mind are going through the process of something that has happened before, so that I feel as though people can see badness inside me but that’s not what she sees at all. She talked about the critical voice coming in and saying I don’t deserve good things, but I realise now as I am writing that the sense of shame and over-exposure I get when I try to share good things is pre-verbal, there is no cognitive process attached at all, just a feeling that someone can see right inside me and it’s not that there is badness inside me, but that it is bad to show any of me at all. We know why this happens, the legacy of an engulfing narcissistic mother I’ve written about before, but sometimes it just hits on another level why this happens to me, and it is sad that it isn’t just negative feelings I was shamed for, but just existing full stop. I was shamed as a baby for feeling positive emotions, for enjoying the feeling of connection to others, for showing who I was, for feeling as though I belonged. It was unsafe for me to feel and experience these things. This is heart-breaking really, isn’t it, and although I’m past the stage of therapy where I need to really feel this now (thank goodness) it still stings sometimes. Before I could talk I internalised badness and shame when I felt good or when I expressed myself. It was never safe to be me. It was never safe to be an authentic version of myself. And it is fucking infuriating because even now I am healed in so many ways, this legacy still makes the battle to absorb relational healing so tough. I am doing really well with connecting with new people through Extinction Rebellion without dissociating, and I feel I belong there, but I still feel shame afterwards for feeling connected and belonging. A work in progress…

Someone small asked ‘why did it happen?’ and K talked again about my Mum being seriously mentally ill and my Dad being hyper-critical and too young to be a parent so they had no parenting skills at all and went about it all wrong. And we talked about how she would laugh and ridicule me when good things happened and I said I get so scared of K thinking I am showing her too much of what’s inside me and then I just can’t show her anything at all. I cried quite a lot and it was getting foggy and thick in the room so K suggested we go outside into the garden and smell some of the flowers that have recently blossomed. It was beautiful out there – we saw a baby blackbird struggling as she learned to fly and smelt lots of gorgeous flowers and then her dog decided to go for a dip in the pond which was very funny. And then we had more tea and did some work on gratitude and I felt ashamed again about the headings we had chosen last week for the gratitude lists we are making before we create some spirals and decorate them. And it was such a contrast from last week because then I’d been excited about the lists we would make and today I just felt ashamed for ever having enjoyed anything. And it shows how shame builds on shame, how shame about one things permeates everything else and twists excitement and openness into something black and heavy and judgmental.

I also shared with K what I wrote after my session two weeks ago, about how feeling safe to be me is forever associated with her now so that when I am somewhere I feel accepted and, more importantly where I accept myself, it feels as though she is with me. And she said how peaceful she felt as she listened and absorbed it all and how this is exactly what we are aiming for in therapy – ‘you’ve taken in the safety, taken me in’. And I really have. I need more of it still to displace this shame and sense of over-exposure that still surfaces, but I have taken in so much and even though I feel like the same person in many ways I also feel completely different to the person I was 4 years ago. I don’t think I realised till today how that feeling of safety I never had wasn’t just because my external world was so unsafe and unpredictable while I was growing up that I had to be on alert all the time, but also because it was so unsafe inside me too, so unsafe to reveal what was inside me because my Mum is a narcissist with a huge borderline process and masses of unresolved feelings she projected all over me and used to eclipse me entirely. It’s crazy just how long it has taken of depth psychotherapy to get to this point of understanding and acceptance of how I am.

At the end of the session I said I felt as though I had my skin back on. And then I realised that it was only because I didn’t tell K the good things. She said I had done a lot of depth work nevertheless and that I am bringing things that are hard to bring and I’m tackling these big areas instead of running from them. And she said there is still a lot of work to do to unpick these damaging messages I internalised when I was so young. And this is okay. I like therapy now, mostly, and it doesn’t disrupt my life the way it used to. Even when it leaves me unsettled it’s still a million miles away from how it used to leave me. It used to feel like I was being tortured, now it mostly feels nice, with the occasional sense that someone has peeled back my skin and stirred things round with a wooden spoon. I look forward to my session but I don’t long for it now, counting down the days and hours and then feeling the pain of abandonment before the session has even ended. And my life outside therapy is growing and expanding so rapidly at the moment and I feel as though I am unfurling into it. And it feels good even though my brain and felt memories don’t always let me feel as though it is okay for this to be happening to me.

Safety and Shame

Since I last wrote we have moved to our new home. There is so much I could write about it, but basically it is shaping up to be all I dreamed it would be. We’ve only been here two and a half weeks, and I got struck down by a bad cold the day after we moved, so there are still a lot of boxes and muddle, but my bedroom and my study are finished now and it is beginning to feel like home. In fact it feels like it will be more than home, it will be a sanctuary. What is ahead for humanity is going to be difficult to say the least, and having this place as a refuge as I prepare myself for what is to come is something I do feel enormous amounts of gratitude for. And it feels so wonderful to be somewhere so much greener than where we were before, somewhere spacious where the air feels cleaner and lighter, where there is more sky and it is easier to breathe. Cycling home to this place lifts me, even in the rain. There are hills and woods and trees and when I do yoga in the garden I can see the sky.

I’m sure I’ll write more about what this house means to me in the coming weeks, but this evening I wanted to write about something I tried to put into words in my journal earlier, as I was writing in the study (I love having a study! My first day working in there today was amazing – it is small but feels spacious and airy and it is filled with books and pretty things. Having that space to work and be in the evenings when I need some space is another wonderful thing about this move) after my therapy session. (As another aside, I was worried about what it might be like being back with Nina straight after my therapy session now we’ve moved, but so far – two weeks in – it has been okay. Last week’s session was difficult as we had missed a week and I was very dissociated and couldn’t reach K at all – by the of the session I couldn’t remember the beginning of the session and by the time I got home it didn’t seem as though I’d been there at all – but because I’d been in a relatively good space beforehand I managed to hold this and didn’t spin off into panic and so despite feeling unsettled and uneasy it was okay being back home with Nina afterwards. This evening I cooked and then journalled and then we went for a walk before Nina went to bed and it has been mostly okay – different, but okay. And a sign of progress because I used to be SUCH A MESS after nearly every therapy session that there is no way I could have come home to Nina by myself every week. It would have terrified her for starters! I’m under no illusion that there will be times when it is hard, but for the most part therapy these days is a world away from how it used to be). Anyway, I was trying to put into words something that came to me after my session. It was really hard to turn it into something tangible earlier, but maybe I’ll do a better job here…

Telling K about my new home has been lovely, despite how much shame-triggered dissociation I still experience when I try to share good and authentic things with her. It was amazing that when I told her that this house feels different from anywhere I’ve lived before and that it is like none of my home has leaked anywhere else she got exactly what I meant! I guess it feels as though I am energetically intact in this house – all of me is here and nothing has come in that disturbs me. I mean, obviously my Mum hasn’t been here, doesn’t even know I am here, but more than that – she is not in this house at all. K is. It is as though the special spaces I’m creating within these walls are built on her, on us, as the foundations, instead of the person my Mum tried to make me be. It is not so much that it feels as though K herself is here, but that her sense of me is all around; the me she knows, the me she has helped me find, is everywhere in this house and it feels safe to be me here.

Because so much of myself has been tightly bound up in shame for my entire life, it has never felt safe to be me. This is what therapy, in recent months is giving me, now I can tolerate actually being in relationship and close proximity to K without wanting to die –  a sense that when I show who I really am I am not bad or unlovable or worthless or impossible to understand. I’ve never felt free to be me because showing myself, my feelings and thoughts and wishes, was so unsafe as a baby and child, and so every piece of self-expression (even expressing myself to myself, even letting me be known to myself if that makes sense) has been a risky journey of discovery, and this emerging sense that it is safe to feel connected and safe to be myself is because of who I’ve been with K.

So many of the special things I own that make me feel safe in my home remind me of K – not mentally, it’s not a cognitive reminder where I consciously think of her, it’s a felt sense of safety that I associate with those things and that I also associate with her. I look around my study and it feels as though the guiding force that has shaped it is K. It’s so hard to put into words, but it feels so ‘me’ and that me feels so intimately connected to the work we’ve done together and the internalised sense of safety I’ve begun to develop through our time together. And whilst I feel like the same person and I love so many of the same things as I did at the start of therapy, and whilst nothing about me has changed dramatically over the past four years, what has changed is my ability to feel safe being the person that I am. I have grown into myself and learnt not just who I am but that it is okay to be that person.

I think what I’m trying to say is that things that make me feel safe and known, things that enable me to express who I am, will forever be linked to how K has made me feel. Safety and K will always be linked in my psyche on some level now, and because so much of what I’ve needed to learn is that it is now safe to be who I am, this means that any time I am authentically myself or experience feelings of safety and belonging (like at Extinction Rebellion the night I wrote about in my last post) it will feel as if K is with me, guiding me and holding me. I’m guessing this is what having a Mum who makes you feel safe and loves you for who you are is like. And even though it is clear I missed out on so much, gaining what I’ve gained lately in therapy, at 35/36, is so much sweeter and has opened up levels of gratitude in me that I doubt ‘normal’ or securely attached (or even semi-securely attached) people ever even feel. It’s not that I’m grateful to have gone through what I’ve gone through, but sometimes the places it has brought me and the peace it has enabled me to find do feel so much sweeter, so much more deserved, when they are contrasted with the way things were. And there are times I am with K, particularly when young parts are chatting to her and I am sitting back observing, that I feel so lucky and couldn’t possibly wish things had been different because I wouldn’t have needed to do this work with her. Everything that happened to us brought us to here, and there is something so magical about feeling safe inside sometimes after decades of not even knowing what that meant.