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Tangles

Dear R,

It hurts when you tell me everyone is a mess. It hurts when you tell me everyone has this pain, everyone’s parents are as bad as mine, that love is imperfect and everyone is traumatised as a baby. It hurts when you liken my pain to your own, despite telling me before you’ve only ever felt suicidal fleetingly, for hours at a time, not days and weeks and months on end like I have had. You say you’ve been doing this work yourself for 30 years now, but this just confirms that you cannot know the work I’ve been doing with K, cannot know the intensity and extremity of what I’ve had to come to terms with. You closed your eyes against me and reflected back to me what I touched upon in you.  It makes me feel small and dirty and ashamed when you tell me everyone knows this pain because I am so in need of being seen and heard now, after a lifetime of pretending to be like everyone else and keeping my pain – physical and emotional – locked away and hidden from sight.

And it makes me angry. Really angry. An anger I am now ready to own. It is not anger that you were not who and what I need, it is anger that you are an unhealed healer, causing damage sometimes even for all the good you do. It is anger that you cannot see your own limitations when it comes to working with traumatised people and you think you know more than you do. You know about trauma but you don’t know about formational shame and dissociation and abuse and relational healing. You think dissociating is when we choose to do something to numb us out – drinking, drugs, cutting, eating, shopping – and you have no awareness of the automatic dissociation developmental trauma victims experience, the type that is entrenched by shame over connection and belonging and existing, the type that it is virtually impossible to give up because there is no moment of volition to act upon. There is so much you don’t know and your not-knowing causes harm. And it is anger that you don’t allow what is in me to be the size it is and liken it to something smaller, something ubiquitous, something everyone could relate to if they chose to look inside themselves. Perhaps it is how you have done this work, felt less alone with the process of healing, comforted yourself that you are not more damaged than others, but this inability to see what happens for me and that it is a different wound and a different path to healing is exactly why you are not a therapist and shouldn’t be trying to do trauma work. For me, after a lifetime of invalidation and not being believed or taken seriously, after a lifetime of not allowing my emotional pain to exist even to myself, I needed to be told my childhood really was that bad, that my mother was abnormally ill and abusive, that she is the reason I split into alters and experience near-permanent DP and DR. I needed to know why I was so damaged and struggling. I needed to look inside and see it was really that bad, so that I could heal myself.

We’ve known each other for 15 years. You used to be so wise and helpful, so soothing, so full of insights. I learnt so much about myself and the world through you. Years ago I used to be so excited to share my growth and insights with you. You helped me see that losing Jess opened up all the old, buried trauma, you helped me see that my mum couldn’t see me, you helped me begin to break away from her when I was absolutely terrified of hurting or angering her despite the damage she was inflicting on Nina. You helped me put my daughter first, helped me see that I was sacrificing myself and her for my mum’s happiness, that I had a choice over whether and how much to see her, even though 4 years ago it didn’t feel that way at all. You allowed my pain to be huge and raw and untamed, but you refused to see what it was caused by.

And then you triggered me. You told me everyone has a mum like mine, that every baby is traumatised in the womb, that everyone is a broken, struggling mess. You told me everyone is living a defended life, escaping from their pain, unable to face what is inside them. You said everyone is split like me, everyone has flashbacks, everyone has complex trauma, everyone is knee-deep in survival all the time. It made me wonder what is wrong with me for struggling so hard if everyone feels this way. It makes me uncomfortable – what is wrong with me that I react this way to a pain that everyone else has too? It makes the enormity of my attachment wound invisible and invalid. It makes me feel as though my pain means nothing at all.

You hold my pain but you won’t allow it to be uniquely mine. It is always the human condition, something everyone has, a darkness that is with us all. You say everyone is traumatised, and I can see how this is true, but not everyone is equally traumatised. You say ‘we’ when you should say ‘you’ because you don’t know this pain. You don’t know it. You don’t know it. You don’t know what it has been like for me since I started work with K. You don’t know the depths we have been to together. You don’t know this pain, you don’t know this hole in me, you don’t know what it is like to have alters and be permanently dissociated. You have never cut your skin so deeply just to make the pain inside more tolerable or to make you feel more real so that for days afterwards walking is a real struggle and the pain keeps you awake even as it soothes you. You’ve never felt as though you don’t exist, even to yourself. You didn’t know what depersonalisation and derealisation even are when I told you. You don’t lose time, switch out, wake up to things you don’t remember doing and writing and saying. I know these things because you have told me. Your experience is your own but you talk about the pain I am in as if you know it, as if it is the same for you. And it just isn’t. I can see people whose pain resonates with my own and you are not one of them. You’ve had difficulties and trauma I know, but your mother is in your life and you have a happy marriage and you made a choice to do this work. You went looking for it. You made a conscious decision to look more deeply inside yourself for personal growth, you chose to face what was in you, face your shadow side.

It wasn’t like that for me. You praise me for going so deeply into this work, as if it was a choice. It was not a choice. I was planning to kill myself and Nina. I was an absolute mess. I can’t even go there with how traumatic therapy was without triggering myself. For the first 3 years it was the worst pain I can imagine, nearly every day. I look back now and I don’t know how I survived. If someone told me I had to go through those years again I wouldn’t do it, even if it meant I would get to where I am now, because the pain I had to face in therapy was intolerable and unbearable and it felt as if I was dying nearly all the time. K and I were in touch nearly every day at the start. We worked for 3, then 4 hours a week, sometimes more. Maybe it was a choice, but it doesn’t feel that way. If I’d not had therapy I don’t think I would be here. And not everyone has had that experience. Not everyone has needed to face what I have needed to. Many do face it, I know. And many who need to don’t. But there are ‘good enough’ mothers who haven’t destroyed all their children and there are people who seem to be living a normal life, relatively unscathed by what has been thrown at them.

You make me angry for other reasons too. It angers me that you are meant to be all about love and compassion and yet you eat animals (“mindfully” – as if there is any such thing!) and are complicit in their torture and mass murder. It angers me that you see suffering as a uniquely human thing when animals are suffering at a rate that far exceeds humans. It angers me that you avoid facing the reality of the state the planet is in by talking about how much love there is all around, and how there is a paradigm shift in universal consciousness. It angers me that you are deep in climate denial. It angers me that you shut down that pain because it is one you are not ready to face. It angers me that you invalidate my ecological grief at the same time as you over-identify with my other feelings and experiences. And it scares me that someone like me 4 years ago might come to you and never get the help they need, because if I hadn’t found K when I did, and had tried to do ‘trauma’ work with you, then I don’t know where I would be.

The only good thing is that you make me feel so grateful to have K. You wanted to be something you are not to me. And I wanted to do this work with you but I couldn’t. You are threatened by her, try to give me something she cannot, try to be what she cannot. And it is all about you. You try to relate to a pain that is not yours to validate yourself. You try to help but you project all over me. It leaves me feeling such complex and contradictory emotions that I struggle to unpick them. I know you love me but I know she does too. I know because she has shown me week in and week out for 4 years nearly. You told me two years ago that you didn’t feel connected to me because of K, that me working with her made you hold back and you felt pushed aside and left out. You left me holding that. You are meant to be a professional and you should not have shared your process with me. It hurt me. You hurt me. You have hurt me more times than I can count by reducing and minimising and trivialising my pain. I spent my whole life telling myself I was dramatic and that it wasn’t that bad, even as I battled chronic pain and emotional instability and felt scared and unsafe all the time. The day I first contacted K I was triggered by your words into a shame-filled suicidal emotional flashback, because you told me everyone is either feeling or avoiding what I am.

You felt pushed aside by K but what she has given me is a whole world away from what you could offer. I needed someone to tell me it wasn’t okay. My mum’s abuse and neglect is so subtle, I still ask myself if it was really that bad, if what I’ve done is really just cruel and selfish and melodramatic. And K validates everything. She has seen everything. And when I talked she listened to what it was like for me instead of looking to see what it touched in herself. She told me mine was the biggest family mess she’d ever seen, even after years in the NHS and state hospitals, and I began to believe her and it helped me face it and begin to understand myself, so I could start to let it go. I couldn’t let it go until I had grabbed on to it and really looked at it first.

“I don’t think everyone has this at all” said K this evening. And my heart filled with love as I heard the words I needed to hear. I know I am not the only one, I know many, many people have this pain and worse, and I know there are many different ways to be a bad mother, but I also know not everyone feels this pain, not everyone has a mother wound the size of mine and the people I most relate to, not everyone has attachment trauma, not everyone has disorganised attachment wreaking havoc in their lives, not everyone has complex-PTSD, not everyone has alters. I still expend so much energy hiding what is inside me some days. And it makes me want to scream and hurl things when you take away my emerging sense of the injustice of what happened to me. The flashbacks I had on Friday to being abandoned as a baby are not something everyone can relate to, that abyss that opens in me is not something everyone has, the feeling of my Mum never having been there is not a universal experience.

I don’t want to lose you but I am done with being told the things you tell me, which are all about you and not me. Having my experiences validated and not compared with others has made them smaller and less consuming. When I speak with you about it I feel all twisted and distorted and there are voices in my head screaming ‘what about me?’ These are the voices of people you’ve never met and who K and I know intimately. I want to hurt you and I hate myself for that because you have done so much good for me and your love and support has strengthened me so many times. I hate myself for needing this pain to be valid and real, but K makes me feel like I am worthy of love because of it, rather than making me feel like I am making up how bad it is and making up how bad my Mum was.

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