Five weeks

In 5 weeks I have to decide what I will say in an email to K at the end of our planned ‘break’. I wax and wane on this all the time as I just don’t know what is best or right or even possible. 10 days ago talking to R I said I can’t go back to online work, I really can’t, I’m not prepared to pay for that as it just doesn’t work for me. He said how clear I sounded, how obvious it was how much I’ve changed from how I stated what I wasn’t prepared to do with such clarity. It never used to be that way. And honestly being in the room with him, having him right next to me, being in a sacred and held space, having him hold both my hands with his as we talk and he helps me let go of enough shame to look at him, being able to snuggle into him for endless hugs – it only makes it clearer that I need to be in the same space to really feel K is with me. Even without touch I could feel her holding me. The screen is re-traumatising, takes me back to being an infant and seeing my mum but not being able to feel her because she’s not emotionally present. I can’t pay to put myself through that again.

Anyway, sometimes it really does feel that simple and clear – email K and say I’ll come back when she returns to face-to-face. The thing is it’s not that simple, in part because I’m not sure this will ever happen and the longer we leave it the harder it would be to go back to remote work just for an ending, if it became apparent that was needed. And leaving things hanging and unfinished is hard.

The break has been ‘fine’ and I’ve definitely thrived in some ways, though I feel I’ve taken steps backwards recently and am becoming increasingly dependent on R this past month. This troubles me only because I don’t want to lose sight of myself or prioritise connection to someone else over connection to myself. I don’t want to lose myself in him. It is clear my attachment needs are still trying to take control when there is someone around in that role and that I find it very hard to stay focused on my own life and not become consumed by them. I also know that I do need to learn to be in intimate relationships with people (not sexual, emotionally intimate) and stay with myself, and also that it is okay to have needs and need people without giving up all autonomy and power to them so that I feel I cannot survive without them or when they are not available. So feeling these flutterings of attachment needs and noticing them and coming back to my own life is important work. But it’s hard. I’ve told myself I won’t contact R until I go on Wednesday, only because I want to come back to myself and the knowing I have that I can stabilise and thrive by myself now. I mean I managed without R for over a year until I reached out in December due to something trapped in my back that meant I couldn’t move. So I don’t need him, but sometimes I feel like I do. I don’t like that because I’ve felt much more grounded in my own life since last summer. On the other hand what is going on in my life and the world right now is objectively fucking horrifying and I can’t do it alone. I do need him.

Back to K… The plan has been to see how things are nearer the time and what I need and think I can tolerate then. I am aware of a desire to ‘make it over’ just to have some control and certainty, so I am trying to sit with ambivalence and the unknown on this one because it feels like such an important lesson in living more openly. I can’t see things shifting drastically over the next 5 weeks though or there being any clearer idea of where the UK is headed over the next year or so. Things are very, very difficult at the moment and I am teetering on the edge of full blown crisis most of the time. Pandemic. Parenting. Dad. Nina’s ADHD. Work. Isolation. Grief. Sleepless nights. Dread and fear.

Would online work help? Could we do 6 phone sessions in March and April and then break again until she is back to in-person? Will she ever do that? Would 6 sessions make everything worse or help to contain things? If it helped would she let me continue? Or should I ask for 6 online sessions to end our work because this limbo is awful and I am thinking it’s unlikely she’ll be back to in-person work this year now unless there is proof that those vaccinated cannot get seriously ill and there are no new variants lurking around? Would my nervous system settle again if there was an end and I could let go and move on? A big part of me says yes, but there are also parts who are struggling and need her support and guidance with parenting and my dad. I don’t want to lose what we had. I read through some old blog posts yesterday and really remembered the strength of our connection. The work we did was incredible. I am not ready to lose that forever.

I thought of asking for a phone session to talk through the options but I would likely just get triggered. I lose sight of my true needs when my attachment system is triggered. I know this.

I saw a photo of her today on her adult daughter’s instagram. (Yes, we’re in that territory again…). So we’re at the worst point in the pandemic in the UK and she’s breaking the rules now! Her son was there too. Maybe the daughter has been self-isolating before going, but still it seems kind of weird timing. I don’t really care. It didn’t sting like it could have, would have once. Mostly it was nice to see K looks the same and hasn’t died of Covid. It makes her feel further away though. I honestly cannot imagine ever going back and finding her again.

I read through some of our Friday emails from the past few years. So much knowing. So much that is sacred. I want to believe she will care if I go back but honestly – if I have this much ambivalence and I’m the one who is attached to her, I really don’t see how she would care that much. Her life remains basically unchanged whether I return or not. Accepting what she is and isn’t to me, and what a therapist is and isn’t in a person’s life, has been something very big I’ve confronted over the past 6 or 7 months. Painful but liberating. And I know this is how I’m managing to look at this situation in more of a detached way than I would have a year ago. I would be fine without her but I’d like a chance to reflect together on our work before saying goodbye, and I don’t really want to do that via video call ffs.

It is very clear that R is not K this week. I don’t mean in the sense of him being different from her because that is obvious, but that he doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to hold my depth process if it arises. He unwittingly triggered me last night. In response to the message I sent where I said he was my North Star, he said he loved it and ‘That’s me, eternal, never going away’ which is beautiful of course. But then later said in a voice note that it made him laugh when I sent a quote about the North Star (‘An eternal reassurance for travellers on their journey to ensure they can always find the way home’) because it was the story of his life as a therapist (acupuncture therapist, though he now does some identity trauma sessions with clients too). He said it resonates really strongly for him, so it means a lot to have it in his head, and that he might put it on his website in some way. He said it was lovely I’d come up with that image but ugggghhhhh. I messaged and said ‘nooooo don’t put it in your website. It’s mine!’ and that I didn’t want to think of him being this person for other people. He said he wouldn’t but it was too late. My chest was already smashed into pieces and I was flooded with shame and terror.

I told him I was triggered (it happens in an instant still!) and he said to read back on our conversation from that afternoon and that he has only a few people, as do I, who he has this level of connection with. And he said that I am special to him and that what we have is special because it is ‘years in the making, hammered out like a samurai sword. Unbreakable.’ And of course this is beautiful, it really is, and I KNOW what we have is unique because the work he does isn’t about the relationship like it is in psychotherapy so he’s not building this depth connection with many people at all. He told me last week that he has had to think about boundaries because when he holds me his heart is all there and it doesn’t feel like he is hugging a client because he loves me differently than that, but still – K would have known not to say the website thing. K would have known it needed to be a sacred image between her and I. K kept everyone else out of our work and I needed that to feel safe.

I know this is a primal fear that if I am not the most visible I don’t exist and the connection isn’t real. I’ve blogged about this before. So this is a good lesson in me learning to trust that what I have with people is special even when they have other people, just as I have lots of people I love and am connected to but it doesn’t diminish their importance to me or the strength of our connection. And it’s stupid really because I know he really struggled when I started work with K and he lost me (they had a really bad phone call right at the start of my therapy with K when she rang him, where he kind of claimed his right to keep working with me alongside her because he’d worked with me for so long, and she said she couldn’t work with me if I was working with him because of splitting, and I picked her of course) and when I dipped in and out for a treatment over the last 5 years I never really talked to him about what was going on in my life in deep sense, so we’ve commented how even though we’ve been in touch we still have 5 years to catch up on. And he told me years ago when I saw him that he didn’t feel as connected to me as he used to because he held back because of K, so I know he found it hard and ffs even yesterday I needed his support because I missed K so much, so it is obvious I have other people who I’m also connected to and that K is still centre of my system’s world, so it is silly for me to need to be ‘the only one’ and not just ‘one of a few’ when clearly he is not the only one to me!

But with an attachment figure, which R is, it doesn’t work like this. And K would know that. But he doesn’t because he is not trained in attachment work. He knows a lot about trauma and has trained extensively, but he doesn’t know about parts and dissociation and attachment. And for so many years we didn’t have the depth relationship we have now and so the boundaries are completely different. He will reply to me whenever I message him and send me voice notes whenever I ask (I don’t abuse this), but I guess it’s been a long time since he was my only person, which he was for a while after Jess died, until I realised I needed ‘proper’ therapy and found K. For a long time he used to mop up the crises that couldn’t be contained by therapy and reassure me he was there so that I felt real, but I would then stabilise again with K. It worries me now that he is the only one in case all the crazy that unleashed with K comes out with him. He wouldn’t be able to contain it and it would break us both. I’ve never thought of him in the therapist role, it’s always been something else because it’s not therapy and the boundaries can be totally different. He doesn’t have to be so careful but also he doesn’t know how careful actual therapists are over this stuff. K always says how people who’ve not worked in the NHS usually cannot contain process like mine because they’ve no experience with it. R wouldn’t have coped with the ‘me in therapy’ at all.

This isn’t about comparing them. It’s about realising that R can be there but that I have to keep very much in control of my process and reactions when it comes to the attachment because he is not a trained psychotherapist and the whole thing could easily implode if things kicked off. I’m hoping I’ve come far enough that this wouldn’t happen. It feels kind of precarious though and I am scared that as we reconnect my attachment system will go wild. I really hope in noticing all this that I can remember that I can contain myself now when I really need to.

Well this was just a mind dump really. Things feel no more clear. I guess I’ll just see where I am in 5 weeks. I thought in August that by March we’d have a much clearer idea of how long the pandemic would last, even if in-person work still wasn’t possible, but that isn’t really the case at all, despite the promising vaccine rollout. It means I still have no idea if and when I’ll ever be able to work with K again and I don’t think that will change for many months. It’s a hard place to inhabit.

The moon and the north star

R is my rock at the moment. Solo parenting a teenager during a pandemic without K is harder than I ever could have imagined. Ended up crying and suicidal in the supermarket car park on Saturday afternoon (where else is there to go right now?), first to a friend and then to R. He held me for most of my acupuncture session yesterday, as I struggled to reach him because I was so shut down in shame and the only way I could believe I wasn’t bad was to nestle into him and feel him stroking my hair. He won’t go away and he loves me, but he is not K and it breaks me. I sent this to him earlier:

Every time I stupidly look at the news I just know I’ll never see K in-person again. Lockdown till summer at least, new variants and vaccine adjustments, no herd immunity unless everyone has Pfizer vaccine, it just goes on and on. I don’t know how to live with losing her so suddenly and unexpectedly long-term. It’s 10 months since I saw her and 5 months of being on a therapy break and it still feels so sudden. It still feels like there are all these open boxes left with her (metaphorically) and she has so much of my actual stuff there at her house too. Everywhere at home is things she’s given me or we’ve made together or I’ve taken to show her. Everything safe reminds me of her. It breaks my heart that I might not be able to go back ever to finish this work with her. I know I’ve come so far this past year but it still feels like part of me is missing without her. You are my North Star but K has been my moon, always there even when I can’t see her, keeping me safe and holding me even when she is far away, and now I think I have to learn to live without her forever and say my goodbyes alone, away from her, and it breaks me inside even thinking about it. I know there’s nothing you can say but this grief is so huge and untameable sometimes and most people don’t understand the depth of K and I’s relationship because they don’t understand what it is I’ve had to heal from.

It helps that he gets it and that he understands it is made all the harder by the place we had got to, her and I, in the last year of our in-person work. He said it is no wonder I’m struggling after cutting off a line of deep connection and growth at this stage. Most of the time I feel okay, but the grief still comes and engulfs me. She was meant to be here to help me with this time of parenting, when the legacy of narcissistic parenting and never knowing what is real makes me doubt myself to the point where I want to die and take Nina with me. R gives me reality check after reality check when I lose myself in Nina’s words and think I’m the worst parent ever, worse even than mine. But he is not K and I miss her more than I can bear right now, when there is no end in sight and the world is in such darkness.

She said she would be here and I wouldn’t be alone to cope with these horrible years of parenting. She said what we have cannot be broken, no matter what. But I never thought I’d have to find out so soon if that was true.

You saw me

I reconnected with R this week after more than 18 months without seeing each other. He is an acupuncturist who I have had a profoundly deep, healing, and beautiful relationship with since I was 21 when I first saw him with constant and debilitating head pain. At times our connection has been distorted through transference and projection on both our parts, and at times I have drifted from him and wondered if our work is done, but I have always returned to him. His steady and familiar presence when I message him even after months of not talking is one of the most comforting things I’ve ever experienced. It had been nearly a year of no contact up till the start of December when we have been in regular contact via texts and voice notes. Being with him again felt like coming home and we have agreed never to let it be that long again. But he also understands that I needed to be away from people who knew me last year, so that I could discover who I am . And that is what I did; in solitude, away from the world, I found myself.

He used to tell me he was always here, that we were connected, that he wouldn’t go away from me (over and over and over when I needed it…) but he also told me that he knew the person I was seeking connection with wasn’t really him – it was myself. I felt so ashamed when he said that, as if he was telling me we weren’t really connected and what we had wasn’t real. He wasn’t. I understand it now. I connected to myself last year and now I can see how much I needed that and how much more authentic and livable life is when we are the biggest and most important person in our own lives. None of this made sense to me before but now it does and I can see it takes nothing from our relationship. It adds to it in fact, because, along with K, he laid the foundations for the journey to reclaim myself that finally transformed my life last summer. What a gift he was willing to give me, and what a lifelong connection it has carved out, in my heart and his.

He held me in 3 of the longest hugs I’ve had in years and the first hugs I’ve had since February last year. I burrowed into him like a child, so close I could hear his heart beating, and felt my system beginning to settle as I sunk into his familiar safety and allowed myself to feel his arms tightly around me. He is the only person I allow to really hug me, who I don’t pull away from before I am ready in case I stay too long and give them chance to feel what is inside of me or think I am dirty and broken for enjoying human touch. He is the only one who I can tell how much I love their hugs without feeling ashamed and toxic. He has seen everything that is inside of me and he still loves me. He was there when none of it made any sense at all. He has seen the black, desperate, shadow side of me, and also the light. To be able to see him having changed beyond recognition this past year was indescribable. The years fell away as soon as I stepped into the room and we were connected as we always have been. He shed a few tears as he hugged me. He told me how proud he is of me. When he asked how my sleep had been I said the past few weeks had been bad but generally last year my sleep had been fine for the first time in my life and he stopped me to exclaim ‘Look at you! Look what you’ve done’ and it lit me up inside to know that someone who really knows me could see the change so clearly. I am not who I was but I am also the same. These words make no sense and yet they are the only way I can describe the transformation that has taken place inside of me. A different person and yet more more myself than ever.

I do not know who R is to me, I only know my feelings for him are true and pure and that it means the world to me that he is able to express his love for me. I think small parts of me see him as a father figure and want to clamber into his lap and curl up and listen to him breathing, some teen parts see him as a slightly annoying old person always telling us to eat and look after ourselves, and others just see him as someone wise and loving who is always on the end of the phone when we need him but who doesn’t really exist beyond that. He is part therapist, part teacher, part spiritual guide, part friend, part father figure (but far too wise and compassionate and open to comfortably fit our archetype of even ‘good enough’ fathering and so casting him in this role is odd). In the end I let him be ‘my acupuncturist’, knowing that will never do justice to the depth of attachment and connection we share, and knowing that all that matters is that we know it is real, what we have, and also full of messiness and transference and projection for both of us. And that is okay. I’ve learnt to let him be in his place in my life and not try and work out where our boundaries lie. He lets me go away and come back and every time I return I seem to be able to take in his love a little more.

As he held me I whispered how I felt as though I could see myself through my own eyes for the first time this past year, instead of needing someone else to show me I’m real and that I exist. I said how all the times I text him and K asking if they were still here I was really asking if I was here, because I didn’t feel real if they couldn’t see me. He said of course I didn’t, because my parents couldn’t see me for who I was. My mum looked to me to fill her up because she was empty. Instead of bringing who I really am into existence for both of us she emptied me to try and fill herself. But she was insatiable and there was never enough of me. ‘When I looked into my mum’s eyes I didn’t see myself, all I saw was her pain’. R saw me and K saw me and they helped me learn to see myself. I realised last night that R saw me before I saw myself. And I realised how huge this is, has been, that he really did see me, actually saw me, let himself know me. I wrote this just now that I will share with him next week:

There was a time when I didn’t exist, because the only person who needs to truly see us is ourselves, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t see myself because as an infant no one provided me with a mirror to see and know myself. I grew up feeling invisible and non-existent because I couldn’t see myself reflected back in the faces of those who loved me. They weren’t able to see me so they couldn’t love the real me and so I learnt to keep her hidden so far out of sight I couldn’t reach her either. Even as an adult I only existed when other people could see me and were reflecting me back. Alone I disappeared. And so the me I saw wasn’t really me, it was other people’s versions of me. Fragile and out of reach. An image that dissolved as soon as their light wasn’t shining upon me. You told me you saw me and I didn’t understand then what you meant and how clear I was to you. The truth is that when you can’t see yourself you can’t see others either; I needed others to show me who I was instead of who they were. I was invisible and others were an illusion, a projection. I didn’t know how clearly others could see me because to myself I was always just a grey outline round a scribbled grey mass and others were merely a way of making myself more real. Now I know what it means that you could see me and even though I don’t need you in the way I once did, it seems to matter even more than I thought it did that you are here and that you know me. You have always loved me for who I am but I didn’t know till now how clearly you could see who that person was. Now I know what it really means to see somebody. Now I know that you being able to see me was a sacred knowing of all the parts of me; I was real to you. I was whole. You saw all of me. You saw me before I saw myself. And now I can see myself too, through my own eyes for the first time, and I understand what it was you could see.

We sat in his new practice room in a wooden cabin in the countryside near my house as the light was fading and for 75 minutes we were in our own world and the pandemic and isolation and Nina and my lack of family didn’t matter anymore. I thought it would feel strange and unsettling to see him somewhere new after 15 years in the previous room but it didn’t, it was magical – a magical place and a magical feeling. A new start that felt like coming home. He asked if I would rather be in the old room next time and I said no – that room holds so much of my pain. It feels right this way. ‘Yes, you are different now’ he said. And I am.

Can’t survive till Spring

I knew this lockdown was coming since at least the start of December. I knew schools would close again. I don’t know why it has hit me so hard this time but it really, really has. Nina being home all the time is driving me up the fucking wall. Whatever the government is promising about February half-term is batshit crazy, especially for secondary school students, and home-schooling is here until at least Easter. I am deemed a critical worker this time and she can go to school to do her remote learning under supervision from an education assistant, so I’ve booked her in for 3 days a week from tomorrow. But 1) that doesn’t feel enough given this is the worst time of year work-wise for me and I’ll be working weekends as well for the next month or so, and 2) apparently the environment there is really not conducive to learning and she’d be in a room with other Y9 students doing different ‘live’ lessons so it will be hard to participate as they’ll all be disturbing each other. She needs my help to organise her learning (we’re waiting on an ADD assessment – a topic for another post, sometime, maybe, it’s too overwhelming right now) but I don’t have capacity. It’s a shit show. I was already really worried about her future, GCSEs, etc. before this latest school closure because of the ADD, but this just makes it 100 times more overwhelming. She is going to see how the learning is in school but I suspect she’ll end up home anyway after next week.

Add to this that work is mad but I can’t focus or sleep enough to settle things, the world is continuing to free fall through disaster, I can’t see my friends, and the fact that K didn’t bother to read or reply to a new year text I sent on Monday (ffs!), and things feel pretty dire.

This afternoon I’m going for acupuncture with R and having my first hug since January last year (yes, I hug Nina all the time, but that is not ‘having a hug’, it is not reciprocal, it is all giving and no soothing) so basically I’m paying for a hug and someone to listen because I can’t do this anymore. The next few months feel totally unmanageable and I don’t know how to restabilise when work is so intense and Nina is here all the time

I also think I need to arrange 6 online sessions with K to end our work. This feels a devastating prospect in some ways, but I think it might be best. When there is talk of needing Covid restrictions in place next winter, and possibly the one after that as well, I strongly suspect she will keep working online only indefinitely. I suspect she partly didn’t reply to my message on Monday because I asked if we could still go back later this year and she is aware that I probably won’t be able to. Maybe I’m wrong and I’m just trying to protect myself by creating certainty where there is none, and preparing for the worst in a defensive way, but honestly – she has enough clients willing to work online and probably always will now. She doesn’t need to see me. We would both be sad but I can’t help thinking I should draw a line. Our work feels so unfinished, so many loose threads and open boxes, and maybe it would feel better to pack it all up together, even online, and for me to let go and move on.

I won’t act on this desire for closure yet, but things feel so bleak right now with this fucking virus, and until humans change their destructive, planet-destroying ways I think it will just keep evolving and demanding that we develop different ways to beat it that will take time each time, and so I can kind of see it coming as a necessity. Maybe I need to continue to find ways of supporting myself that are unaffected by the virus and people that are willing and able to work in-person despite its presence,because it is too unsettling waiting. I really want K’s support around Nina’s ADD, and this is something that will be valuable forever really, or at least until she leaves home, but at the same time remote work causes me so much pain that it would come at too high a price. And sometimes I think I would be better cutting ties with all this uncertainty and focusing more on the strength I have inside myself and in the people who aren’t wanting to keep me at arm’s length for any longer than they need to at this time.

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