Leap of faith

This is the email I sent to K the day after our phone call at the start of October. I’ve not heard from her so I assume this means she’s open to a trial of online therapy with me, or at least hasn’t reflected and decided it’s not possible yet…

Dear K,

Thank you for the phone call yesterday, it was helpful to connect in-person and to be able to explain where I am and hear your thoughts. I didn’t feel triggered after speaking and the parts are not going mad, which I hope also helps you to see that things really are not how they used to be and that I would be able to engage with online work in a way I couldn’t last year.

I have shortened this email as much as I can but it feels so very important that everything I want to say is laid out at this time. All I am really asking is that you let me know, once you’ve had some time to reflect, whether you are open to trying online work again. I am happy to wait until you have a space, and I know we would need another discussion at that time to decide how to move forward so I’m not asking you to commit to anything at the moment. I just don’t want to email again in January (assuming you have no spaces before that – please let me know if you do) and find myself in the same position as last week.

After speaking I am even more sure that returning to online therapy is the right thing for me, or that we should at least trial this for a set number of sessions to see how it is. I understand your reluctance to keep me waiting till you have a space only to find out that working online again is a disaster. I am prepared to take this risk though, because it would mean we had tried and then had a proper ending if it didn’t work, and because I am confident that I am in a different enough place now for it to work. I strongly believe that it would be better for me to work online with you than to move to someone else at this point in my healing journey. If you decide that you really can’t work online with me again (and I hope so much that you are open to at least trying) then it would be good to hear from you as soon as possible after you reach this decision, so that we can make a plan together for how to end our work appropriately.

I agree with you that ideally depth psychotherapy requires therapist and client to be in the same room, but I maintain that the level of attunement and understanding I would get from you via online therapy would far surpass what I could get in the room from someone else (I am reliably informed that we spent 550 hours in the room together after all!). Even in our brief phone call, when we’d not spoken for over a year, I could feel you were so attuned and were listening deeply to what I was saying (‘listening with all your ears’) and for me this is a rare thing. I so often experience other people (friends and professionals) struggling to follow or engage with what I’m saying because it does not fit their frame of reference and yet something in you and something between us means you seem to always understand what is going on for me. Your skills and knowledge as a therapist and the areas you have chosen to specialise in, alongside our five-year history – which was not just ‘once a week for an hour’ therapy as you know, it was intense! – and the narrative we have woven together mean you have such in-depth knowledge and understanding of all of me. I trust you to understand things I tell you in a way I’ve never trusted anyone else and it also means I don’t have to go through a whole triggering backstory to explain something that is affecting me now – you hold it all already. I have found so many professionals and practitioners do not understand the complexity of the spectrum of things that affect me and say things that grate or trigger or belie a total lack of understanding about trauma and dissociation. There are also not masses of therapists I could work with anyway, so I don’t even know where I would go – I’ve looked on and off for well over a year now and not come across anyone willing or able to competently work with complex dissociative disorders and disorganised attachment.

I  truly believe that our story is not over – I think I would have let you go already if it was time for me to do that. As I said yesterday, this is not about me wanting to work with you forever but that I don’t want to lose you now, in a way that cuts short our journey and does not integrate the loss as a part of the natural process of our work. I remember your reassurances last summer when I was so scared that we were ending without either of us knowing that is what was happening. You said there would be fears about not being able to come back but that we had to trust that somewhere it would all be okay. I have held onto this trust and the deep knowing we all had at the time that this is not the end. In my view leaving things as they are – suspended and unfinished and with open boxes everywhere – and then letting our work drift and fade into nothing would be far more damaging to my psyche than for us to try and fail and need to end anyway. At least then we would know we had tried and would be able to draw in the threads of our work and reflect together in a way that honours our journey, before saying our final goodbyes.

I do understand your reticence to work online with me again because you’ve not yet witnessed the changes in me that would make this possible. For my system at that time, with the world crashing down around us and no idea what was going to happen, it was heartbreaking and terrifying to not be able to physically reach our safe space with you. As I hope you could tell, I had to do a lot of work around processing the end of our in-person work earlier this year – I knew I had to do this before I could even contemplate returning to online work. I want something different from therapy now because I am not how I was and in the past 18 months we’ve created so much safety inside ourselves and in our home and we are able to come back to that when we need to (it takes a while sometimes, but it is always there now). The certainty I have that it is right for me to continue working with you therefore comes from a very adult place and is a voice I am learning to trust.

Please know I would not put myself through something detrimental for my well-being; if it wasn’t working or wasn’t helping me then I wouldn’t cling on at all costs. We would both see what was happening and we could then have a proper ending while I considered what to do next. 

There are also big things ahead in my life that I always assumed I would have your support through (most especially deciding what to do around seeing Mum as she gets older/ill/near death, decisions around [my brother], things that are arising for me in terms of Nina and my dad that are not urgent but are lurking and in need of attention at some point, and the possibility of entering a new relationship one day (which I am in no hurry to do with a 14 year old at home, but will want one day I think). I think I always imagined if we were to end before I had confronted these things that we would at least have tied up some ends, put things away more neatly into their boxes, and then considered how I would best be supported with them in future. I would honestly find it devastating and detrimental to my healing to never be able to talk to you about these things again because they were such a huge part of our work and we talked of how important they would continue to be. I would want to really draw together all we uncovered together around the various themes in my life, so that it all made as much sense as possible and I knew what could be left in the past and what still needed work.

I’ve taken a leap of faith and been as open and honest as I can be with you in my last two emails and on the phone yesterday. I hope the basis on which I am asking for us to trial working online again is clear and that you can see it is not a misplaced wish on my part. As agreed, I will email again in 3 months but please do let me know if you have space before then to start a trial (if you are in agreement that we could do this, once you’ve had time to reflect on our conversation yesterday). I can do any time and day and this will not change as I’ve been through Occupational Health now and have a reasonable adjustment in place around appointments like this.

With warm wishes,

CB

In the room

I realise I never wrote about the phone call K and I had, six or seven weeks ago now. It was short but connected and reassuring and K was so attuned – I could feel how deeply she was listening and holding what I was saying, how much she cares still, the warmth she feels for me and that she holds it all just as I do. She was K again, not weird-emailing-K, and everything we were was still there between us, despite it being nearly 14 months since we had spoken. I won’t say too much about it now, but she let me say all I needed to about what I wanted and why, and I advocated for wanting us to agree to 6 trial sessions to see if we could work together online again. She explained her initial concerns and where she’s at with things (she said she thinks I really need therapy in the room with someone and she told me she’s actually moving into doing more supervision as she doesn’t think depth psychotherapy can really be done online, so I guess it is at least reassuring that she doesn’t think it’s okay, how she is working now) and said she could tell how far I’d come in the past year and that I was ‘less reactive’ (lol) and more mature. I could sense her reassessing as we spoke, so I’m beyond relieved she suggested a short phone call to find a way forward so that she could remember who I am and trust where I am now is not where I was before.

I know she was open to working with me again – or at least trialling online – when the call ended, and after speaking I felt more sure than ever that returning to work with her is right for me. As an example of how important our history is to me, because I have to tell a whole backstory and risk dissociating or getting triggered in order to get to a place where someone else can even vaguely understand what I’m telling them, I told her that I’d seen my brother for the first time in 4 years in the summer. She responded with ‘oh wow!’ in her K-like way and I was like ‘see! I say that and it is all there for you already, you know what it means and what it would have brought up for me, there’s no explanations needed. You already hold it all.’ She got it. I know she really got everything I was saying and that it landed deeply for her. It has been hard to hold onto the certainty I felt after we spoke, the knowing that it is still real and her feelings haven’t changed, because #dissociation, but I voicenoted R after we spoke and so he reminds me when I forget.

She did leave me in limbo again though. She basically said we are left with the logistical issue that she has no spaces currently and doesn’t know when that will change, so suggested we check-in again in a few months and that in the meantime we should both reflect deeply on whether it feels right to work together again. It will be the start of January that I contact her again, unless she has a space before then (unlikely, who ends therapy right before Christmas?!) but I really don’t know what will happen at that point. I find it impossible to hold onto the certainty I had after speaking that she has my best interests at heart and we are still connected and she is the same, so I can’t help but be scared that the same thing will happen again. She said on the phone that she doesn’t want to keep me in limbo, waiting for her to have a space, and then for us to start working online again and it be a disaster. I told her I would want to try though, and then have a proper ending if it doesn’t work. I actually sent a follow up email the next day because I really don’t want to get another horrible, cold, distant email from her again in January – I’ll post it here after I’ve posted this.

Anyway, life moves on and I have continued to move forward and think about what I want and need in my life. For a while I’ve been wanting to do some more journey sessions with a psychotherapist also trained in journey therapy that I worked with briefly after my friend Jess died, and then again over the summer before I started working with K. Basically inner journeying is the bridge between Shamanism and therapy and is a way of accessing our natural healing, wisdom and insight – it’s really powerful and enables the accessing of deep wisdom and unconscious processes and the retrieval of split off parts of the soul. It’s just amazing really. It was in those sessions that I first identified some of the parts that had split off due to trauma, though I didn’t have the language to understand it all then. I always planned to go back for more journey therapy sessions at some point, but then therapy with K began and was so much more intense and enduring than I ever could have anticipated and now here we are, more than 6 years since I started work with K. Long-term readers of my blog may remember that I also considered working with this therapist, L, after K dropped her ‘I’m taking 2019 as a sabbatical, we need to end our work’ bombshell, back in the summer of 2018. I had one session with her at that time where I basically sat sobbing and wailing because she wasn’t K. Fun times. How much has changed since then.

Somehow this time it seems to matter less that she’s not K. In fact it really hasn’t come up as a painful feeling or sense of lack at all. I feel adult and contained going to my sessions and there is something that is so deeply holding about being in the room with an actual therapist again, after all this time. It is so comforting and reassuring and so different from my time with R, because the conversation is gentler and more focused – it doesn’t leap all over the place with me spilling stuff and not getting consistent help to contain it. I mean, it’s therapy basically, which is not something R is trained in of course and even though I get so much from him I had missed therapy. A lot. It’s also really nice to reconnect with someone who I met before I had access to memories of abuse and neglect in my childhood and who saw how badly Jess’ death affected me and how it triggered all the unresolved trauma I didn’t even know was there. It feels like L has witnessed from afar this incredibly intense and difficult journey I’ve been on since we first met and has heard some of the drama over the past 18 months with my loss of in-person therapy and all the confusion and vagueness that has occurred. So to sit there as a responsible adult with a child who’s happy and doing well despite the struggles I’ve had while parenting and despite the fact that she is 14 (argh!!), with a stable life, a good job, a home of my own, and the insight and ability to explain so much about myself and my world. It really illuminates how far I’ve come. It’s a wonderful feeling.

I had emailed L last summer when I learnt K wasn’t planning to work in-person anytime soon and asked what her plans were and we emailed back and forth for a while with the possibility of doing some outside work but it ended up not feeling like the right time for me with the break from K and so on. I then emailed her again back in March after crisis number 376 over K not returning to work in her room and asked about working with her to process the grief around this abrupt ending. She said she would be returning to in-person work in the summer and would let me know so we could make a plan. She basically emailed me the week after K’s last email back in October (the one offering me ‘one or two ending sessions if I may find that helpful’) and said she had been delayed in returning to in-person work due to family events over the summer, but was now in a postion to offer two sessions per day in her room and would be pleased to work with me in-person if I hadn’t yet found a new therapeutic home. I replied saying her email had come at a serendipitious time for me and briefly explained what had transpired earlier in the week.

We arranged a series of sessions from 1st November to 6th December, with a journey session booked in as well. This was all before K and I spoke and the possibility of working together online was raised again, but it’s actually working really well as an interim thing. L and I did a 30 minute phone session before we first worked together in-person. In that we talked a bit about what her role would be for me and came up with the image of her as a bridge between my previous intense work with K and whatever comes next, whether that is returning to a different type of work with K, moving to work longer-term with someone else, or deciding not to have therapy at all for a while. I like the idea of her walking beside me as I cross the bridge from one place to another, guiding me and supporting me in my uncertainty over where I am going, yet holding me in my certainty that my path is unfolding as it needs to, as it is meant to, despite how painful it is at times.

It’s strange because I probably only did 8 or 9 sessions with L back in 2015, but I do feel comfortable with her and her room is familiar, so it is like catching up rather than starting anew. And even though I know she likely doesn’t remember much of what we talked about, and it was before most of my memories came back anyway, it still feels like she knows me and has a good sense of who I am as a person. Maybe knowing someone isn’t about knowing every detail of their life and thoughts, but about the imprint they leave you with and how you feel about them when they are not there. I also feel like I don’t need her to know everything in order to be able to talk about things now with her. She may not know everything that has happened to me, but she knows what it has left me with and how intensely painful the therapeutic journey has been for me at times. I remember years ago in an email her saying that she was very fond of me and would always be pleased to hear how I was getting on. So we have a history of sorts and I know enough about her as a person to know she is a good and safe person for me to work with as I draw together the threads of K and I’s work (and maybe even allow young parts to express some of their feelings over the sudden changes and loss and disempowerment that have occurred since March 2020).

L and I actually met while we were both doing a course on goddesses with an amazing female shaman/witch back in the winter of 2014. There was some deep sharing in that group so I got to know who she is at her core fairly well during that brief time. This was the winter that Jess died so I stopped attending the monthly workshops and L reached out and offered me a free journey session to support me with my loss. That journey remains one of the most profound experiences of my life and so when memories started coming back from my childhood and I realised I needed to reduce contact with Mum and stop Nina being alone with her, I contacted L and we worked regularly over the summer with a mixture of journey and talking sessions. It was powerful work but ultimately not enough and I realised I needed ‘proper’ psychotherapy with someone new so I found K and moved to work with her.

L is really so understanding about how hard it has been to lose my therapy with K so suddenly and before we had reached the stage where it was time to start planning for an ending. She understands how deep and transformational the therapeutic relationship is and that K has been like a mum to me in so many ways, holding my story and giving me the nurturing and guidance I needed so badly. She knows about needing to go slow and not jump into hard topics, and I trust that she won’t let me get flooded or dissociate too much. And I don’t feel I need to worry that she will disapprove over how long and how intensely K and I worked together for, or how far outside the traditional therapeutic frame she often ventured with me, like I might with some other therapists. I also love that she is vegan and is a deeply spiritual person as I know I would find it hard to work with someone who doesn’t embody those things in their life and work as a therapist.

So I feel like I have some holding and containment and support to tune into my highest self over the coming months, so I can move forward in a way that best supports my healing, whether or not that ends up being with K. We talked today about my ADHD diagnosis and she asked me to explain how the ADHD affects my life (everything! It affects every aspect of my life I said. And how I wish I had this knowledge before, but how grateful I am to be where I am now with it). I said how helpful I am finding it to learn about my ADHD brain and how forward-facing it feels, to be learning how I am and how to live with my brain deficits so they affect me less, and how it is leading me to re-evaluate so many things I thought I knew about myself and the world. And we talked about Nina and our house move and I when I started to stray too far into talking about the estrangement from Mum as context for why we needed to move she guided me back to where I was headed, so I didn’t get triggered or dissociate. And she said about working together, her and I, to really anchor all my work with K and the nourishment and internal sense of safety I have received from her. I told her how I still draw on K’s voice and tune into what she would have said, her pride and belief in me, and that her voice has replaced the voice of my mum inside my head now.

L thinks seeing her is a really good chance to formalise and anchor the work I’ve done with K, so that whatever happens it is internalised in me and I won’t lose it. I do feel deeply that K and I’s story isn’t over, but I am left wondering if learning to hold our work and all it’s given me, and letting it take root and blossom in me for myself, is the reason it’s not over rather than it being because we will work together again. I no longer know if the deep knowing I have that K and I are not over is because we will work together again one day, or if it means that our story will never truly be over because it will always live in me and I will build on it forever, no matter what. I don’t know what I want but I know that I need to do whatever is best for me, even if attachment trauma has other ideas.

I feel as though I’ve really connected with my inner wisdom and higher self in our session today and there is just something about being in the room with someone else who is deeply listening and attending to your process that is so nourishing and soothing. It is 22nd November and I am astounded that December and Christmas just aren’t on my radar. I don’t feel lost in the depths of winter and the time of year hasn’t yet entered my psyche. This is so liberating and empowering, so different from how it was because of my mum’s obsessions over Christmas and how difficult it was every year. Even if it hits soo n, which it is bound to, it is a relief that it will be much more time-limited than in previous years because it has started so much later.

It is the anniversary of Jess dying on December 10th which is actually really soon. It was so much easier last year than in previous years and I hope that is the same this year, though I’m aware there wasn’t really anywhere to take any feelings about it last year because I’d not yet reconnected with R. L said today that the way I am now means I’m much more able to process feelings as they come along – acknowledge them, and allow in enough so that I can feel it but not so much that I get really overwhelmed – titration – and so this will make it easier. I had been wondering recently whether my sense that I don’t dissociate big things as much and then suddenly get hit with a flood of huge feelings and flashbacks was real, so it is really reassuring that L had seen that in me so soon after we had started working together again. The progress I made with K really is real and profound and enduring. It is nice to be assured of that. K used to talk about her hopes for me to be able to ‘live more fully’ through our work together. I still don’t feel fully alive but I don’t feel dead inside all the time anymore and I wasn’t sure it was even possible to reach that place. It is incredible how far I’ve come and I feel so fucking lucky to have had so many wonderful people guiding me over the years, on this journey back home to myself.

Everything and nothing

Dear R,

It feels so unnecessary to be missing you when I saw you 5 days ago and it is only 9 days until I see you again, but I miss you in a way that I usually don’t because I’m scared that really you’ve gone away and won’t be back, that things will never be the same again. I am scared this change will take you away from me forever and you only tell me you are not going away because you don’t know you’ve already gone. Things change all the time and so often something is already lost before we are even aware that a shift has begun. Things that we thought were permanent show themselves to be as transient as the colours of autumn leaves, and temporary changes etch themselves into the fabric of our lives until they become simply the way things are, erasing all that came before. This is a change I cannot put into words because nothing tangible is different from how it was last week, but it feels as though everything is upside down and torn apart and that you will never again be there in the way you have been.

I love you for letting me know how you are so we don’t worry, for reassuring me you are still here and not going away, for fitting me back in for the session I had cancelled next week so I don’t have to manage three whole weeks without a hug when I thought it would be only two. And I am angry with you for catching Covid, for not being careful and getting too close, for being vulnerable to something I thought you were too tough to succumb to. I am angry with you for being sick and in pain and just not here. I need you to be steady and stable and always the same. I need you to be invincible, infallible, indestructible, unbreakable. You have shown yourself not to be these things and I am scared because I know that one day you will not be here and that when real sickness and destruction come knocking on your door you will batten down the hatches and take cover with only those you are supposed to love. At this time I will cease to exist for you and this knowledge breaks me.

I am scared I will get sick too and will have to inhabit a world stripped of your love and warmth for even longer because I am unable to hold onto you like I usually can. Your absence has been thick in the air around me the past few days. I cannot escape it. I am losing myself through the spell my mind has cast over us; obliviate. You will go away and forget you ever knew me and even though I will forget you too, the forgetting will hurt me because I will have another empty space where you used to be. When you go away you will not notice you’ve left me behind.

You reassured me again recently that I’ve got you for the duration, always, that you don’t want to ever go away. I don’t know what always means though or where it exists. You say there is no separation, no distance between us, because we are connected on a heart level, our roots intertwined, and time and space don’t exist in this place. But I feel this separation between us today and I don’t want to be connected to you only inside of myself, or in some ethereal realm I cannot see or touch. I want to know that you will always make time to sit next to me and listen to who I am. Always isn’t enough if I cannot ever be with you.

I am scared you won’t get better and that when you return to work you will need to keep me more tightly in my box so that I don’t overspill and drain all your energy through the effort it takes to contain me. K sometimes said we made her tired. My mum said I was going to kill her with my needs. I am scared I wore you out and made you ill too. I am scared you haven’t yet realised this is my fault but then when you do you will tell me I have to go away. Today I wanted to message and tell you I can’t see you anymore because it hurts too much being connected to you. I want to go away before you tell me you are leaving me behind, but I am not strong enough to cut myself away from you and so I sit and wait for you to break it to me that I was only ever living on borrowed time.

I don’t know what has changed but for me it feels like everything is different. You will think everything is the same and that you are just ill, that you’ll be back next week, and all will be well between us. For me it is a painful reminder of who I am to you though. And who I am is an irrelevance. I am nothing to you. Just a client, a patient, an outcast, an untouchable. An outsider who snuck in and claimed a place inside your heart but who you now need to evict so that your warmth can be poured only on those whose stone-cold existence won’t extinguish your light.

It is you who is in isolation and yet it is me who is all alone. Time stands still and the 9 days until I see you are endless. The hours are not passing slowly, they are not passing at all. It is always the present moment, past and future no longer exist. Stuck in a perpetual present I tell myself this is trauma taking away my ability to sense the passing of time, but my words provide little comfort and I am scared that I get so lost still and that being away from you when I wasn’t expecting to be is so agonising. It makes me scared for the future and leaves me wondering if I’ll ever be free of this attachment curse. It doesn’t seem to matter what I do, the pain of being attached to someone who is not mine in the way my mother should have been circles above me, a constant, looming threat. Your words and your arms around me soothe the ache but they are never enough to break this curse. Attachment and pain are wired together at the centre of my being and I am unable to tolerate the human connection I need to untangle it all and start again.

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