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.

One thought on “Over-exposed”

  1. I may not approach this in the same way as you do, but I always believe my reactions assume another person’s mind interacting with my mind–which may be one of my parents. So I try to understand both of our intentions, because then it loses its power. I get it and I can move on. So your post set off a chain of associations this morning and I realized I feel distress at connecting with people or myself, because my mother impulsively blocked my bids for connection because she felt jealous.

    Like

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