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.