Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

The last time

K and I agreed during our phone call that we will work via Skype, email and text from Monday. We are meeting for a final face-to-face session (for now I hope!) on Thursday or Monday, depending on when her car is fixed. So unless one of us gets sick before then we have two more hours with her and she is going to lend us lots of books and it is a relief to be going there with the knowledge it is the last time for a while, rather than being cut off suddenly. This feels utterly horrendous but the right thing for both of us. It feels too risky to keep meeting when her and Nina have asthma and K has the thyroid disorder – imagine if she got hit badly by the virus and had a massive health flare. And it means we won’t be on edge every single week wondering if the next session will go ahead. It will be hugely challenging and I have wailed and sobbed a lot this afternoon and felt so unsafe I’ve called my GP to ask about crisis support, but nothing about this current situation is not challenging, for anyone.

We are going to split the double session to do hour long phone sessions on Mondays and Fridays,  with our usual quick email check-in on Wednesdays (we’d both individually thought this would work best) and I’ve asked if at the start I can pay a bit for text check-ins on Tuesdays and Thursdays because I’d rather know that is there then need to be in absolute crisis to get contact on those days. It will be good to know it is there however I am doing. My biggest fear is totally cutting off from her and becoming incredibly dissociated and forgetting who she is. I hope the level of contact will stop this. She also said she would let me know how she is if she got sick, because that would be awful to know she’d caught it and not know how she was with it. I really hope I can start to stabilise, not least because I need to build my immune system up and I’m still not eating. Today I had 3 chick pea rissoles at 6.30 plus a Vitamin C and Zinc drink. This is not enough and is more than I’ve had some days. I am going to try and sort this out tomorrow.

The call was helpful but left me feeling utterly bereft and I’ve struggled a lot this afternoon. It is just too much to think that I won’t see K every week or be in my safe space and there is so much fear from young parts that we won’t be as close, won’t be special, won’t be real anymore, that she won’t see and hear them and hold them. It is really so much to cope with, for all those whose therapy is disrupted – K said it is just so difficult as my work with her has been such a consistent source of support, but she is heavily invested in our work continuing. After we spoke I felt really desperate and rang a friend in floods of tears which I rarely do. She really calmed and soothed me and says she’s really here to help me through this. She really understands my attachment to K and doesn’t judge me for it. It settled me for a while but then I got overwhelmed again and sobbed and wailed and wanted to die. I thought about going to hospital because I felt so unsafe, but obviously that is not ideal at the moment. K has said she thinks I need 24/7 support really and she is very worried about me.I don’t want that on top of everything else she has to deal with. I’ve rang my GP surgery and hopefully my GP will call tomorrow (again! She only rang this morning!) and let me know what crisis support is available. I said to the secretary that I was aware that it is the wrong time to have a crisis but that this is probably the worst my mental health has ever been (I don’t necessarily feel worse than I ever have, but it all feels utterly hopeless) and I need some help. My sister is a counselling psychologist with the NHS and she says there will still be crisis support. I hope so as I genuinely am having a lot of suicidal thoughts and feelings and am scared I’ll get the virus really badly due to all this emotional stress and lack of food.

I am going to take sleeping tablets now and hope I actually sleep tonight because that would definitely help. Nina just said that “day 1” wasn’t too bad and I told her I was struggling because I wouldn’t see K for such a long time – I said it was like if she was told she could only talk to me on the phone for months and perhaps longer (we are 12-18 months from a vaccine) because K is the most important person in my life apart from her and she did understand that. Tough times ahead but I do feel K and I have a good plan in place at least. Love to all who those who are also struggling with these types of issues and thanks for the comments on my last post – too tired to respond now but I will.

 

Reaching

I couldn’t reach K again today and now I’m home and it feels like my insides have been ripped out. How after so many months of feeling so held and safe and connected am I here again for so many weeks now?

I read K what Phoebe wrote last week. She said it’s amazing because it sums up the block between us that is happening right now and that is about something historical that has led to a special shape within me, a pattern that says that most things are not safe (what a fucking sad statement of fact).

‘I can’t reach you’ I managed to whisper.

‘Yeah, I know’ and she sounded sad, like she really knew how fucking painful it is to be a metre from her and also a million miles away. And it surprised me that she knew straightaway, she knew I couldn’t reach her, because I was behaving ‘normally’ and pretending all was fine, and she is still the only person who sees through my mask and knows I’m out of reach.

‘Well… I think it’ll come back’ and I started to sob and she said ‘don’t worry, you know what  – this went on for a long time with Mum, years and years and years. So right now there’s a patterning that’s saying don’t trust. We’ll get through it. I’m confident it’ll come back.’

She said how important it is that we don’t pretend it’s normal, like I had to as a child, and that we let it be there and let things be difficult and authentic. She thinks it will settle of it’s own accord over the next few weeks, if we sit in the storm with it and don’t force it.

‘And I’m here, no matter what. And it’ll be alright. I’m convinced it will be okay’.

‘It’s hard without you’ I said quietly. (And it is so hard, to be without her after months of feeling her with me all the time, whenever I looked for her).

‘Yeah, and I’m here, waiting in the wings.’

And we talked about Phoebe again, and how she didn’t used to have any words. About how she was mean all the time because she was scared of K and how much she hated all the other parts for attaching to K. She was the last, shame kept her far away and angry and defended for so many years. And it hurts so much that she wants to connect and can’t. But she knows K hasn’t done anything wrong now and she knows K doesn’t hurt us deliberately and just wants to help. The blocking is automatic and it comes from us, not K.

So things are different but also the same. Or maybe they are the same but also different. I’m not battling K. We’re not falling into horrible relational re-enactments and locking horns. I’m not accusing her of being different or convinced she hates me. I know she’s there and that I can’t reach her. We can talk about what’s happening now, even though we cannot make the connection come back however much we both wish we could. And inside me is a gaping pit of emptiness and I want to die/cut/take drugs to fill it, but I know this hole is not caused by K but by my parents who couldn’t love me, and so whilst I want to die I can also hold on tight to her belief that I will reach her again. I just really hope it’s not much longer because I miss her. I missed her even while I was in the room with her for 2 hours earlier. Everything internally and externally is very hard at the moment and I need her with me and it really fucking hurts when I can’t reach her.

Dissociation, shame and relational healing

The last 6 days have been pretty horrible. I’ve been swinging between dead and non-existent to dissociated (extreme DP/DR) and unable to work or focus and back to dead again. At it’s worst I was dead and dissociated. Wanting to cut to feel real. Wanting to die to not feel dead.

And seeing K helped again this week. I’m still fuzzy and spacey but not like I was when I arrived at my session. And it makes so much sense, suddenly, that the dissociation I experience is shame. I dissociate because of shame, which sweeps in automatically the minute I have big feelings or relational needs. And shame is only healed in relationship, K has said this so many times, and so this means dissociation can only be resolved in this way too. I kind of got this before, but I didn’t really get it. And it has only been so recently in therapy that I have left feeling more connected and less dissociated than when I arrived. It has taken so long to get to this point and for K to be able to break the cycle, because every time I showed big feelings or needs to her, or even aspects of the real me, I would automatically feel ‘bad’ and get triggered and either get plunged into extreme shame-based terror and distress, or dissociate even more.

What I’ve realised over the past few days is that dissociation is, at its heart, a loss of connection; I lose my connection to myself due to sensing a perceived loss of connection with someone else because I am bad (i.e. because feelings of shame are triggered). It is therefore only possible for me to “come back” and reconnect with myself through someone else. I cannot end the cycle alone. It is not biologically possible I don’t think. And this is the horrifying paradox at the heart of disorganised attachment isn’t it, that craving for connection with others to overcome dissociation and distress and yet at the same time genuine connection and empathy triggers me and causes me to dissociate even more (and need connection even more to overcome it, and so it continues). As I said, it is only recently that K has been able to intercept this cycle and provide a healing connection that is beginning to untangle the chronic shame I experience.

This is a chart I drew last week on why therapy now (at last!) helps my dissociation:

IMG_9411

So basically by K accepting and validating my feelings and (relational) needs OVER and OVER again she is now able to trip the switch so that my feelings can come out and my shame (which causes dissociation) can reduce. It feels like I am doing some really big work in therapy lately and it is definitely only possible now I can see the bigger picture of our work and am not quite so lost in the horrifying and terrifying feelings of transference (on a side note I am also beginning to be able to distinguish between transference and the feelings of young parts around her as their attachment figure, making it a little easier to separate my own adult feelings from theirs and I guess, ultimately, to hold and soothe young parts’ feelings and needs around her from an adult place).

I never thought the day would come when showing my feelings, showing myself, young parts coming out and chattering, crying about not having a mum, wouldn’t send me into a shame spiral. And yet it is starting to happen. Does this mean maybe one day, through therapy and my relationship with K, the levels of shame-driven dissociation I experience will also reduce? I so hope so. I actually feel hopeful on this because things are happening in therapy in the past 3 months that I never in a million years dreamed could be possible. I think K and I both feel quite triggered and traumatised when we think about the absolute state I was in during the early days/years of therapy. Wouldn’t it be amazing if through our work I can stop dissociating so much?!

The chart also shows where somatisation (extreme pain and muscle tightness) fit into the whole cycle for me: I somatise my emotions because I can’t feel and release them because I am cut off from them, and so the energy cannot escape my body and instead remains trapped, causing energy blocks and tension which manifest as pain and other physical symptoms.

Things are really starting to make sense on an even deeper cognitive and felt-sense level this weekend and today. I said to K earlier how weird it is that even after 3 years of working so intensively I am still making sense of myself and uncovering and understanding new things. She said ‘no stone unturned’ which is something she promised we would do when I first started therapy and was worried that I would have to keep coming back to these dark places in me over and over throughout my life. We are still unturning stones together but we are also using them to build a path out of the darkness together now. And it’s wonderful that this evening I can feel her walking beside me again, having lost her and myself and everyone else over the weekend.

Engulfment, shame and loss of self

Another post from my old blog, this time one I wrote in May as I was piecing together some things about shame and being engulfed by a narcissistic mother leading to a loss of self.

In May 2017 I remember feeling as though I was on the cusp of something huge, cognitively at least – a new understanding. I was starting to realise just how many of my triggers are shame-based, how much of my behaviours are driven by shame; fear of not being good enough, terror of not doing everything perfectly and people thinking badly of me or worse – people seeing who I really am. I feel shame for needing K, anyone, anything. I feel shame when people let me down. I always thought I had high expectations of people but I don’t think I do, I think I just feel ridiculously triggered when people aren’t there or say no to me because I feel so fucking bad about myself and it just confirms how bad I am – of course they don’t want to see me or spend time with me, how could I have thought otherwise? I said in therapy how I don’t even know what it is about me that I think is so bad. K said the shame is probably formational; I have a core of shame.

And I had some big realisations at this time about my ‘core of shame’ and I made the link between my lack of boundaries and my dissociation – my dissociation into parts/alters, and the other type of dissociation I experience – depersonalisation (DP) and derealisation (DR). Near the start of therapy I had said I experience two types of dissocation – alters, and DP/DR – and I remember K saying you’ll probably find they are quite closely linked, and I believed her but I didn’t know what she meant until that time. Then all of a suddenly it made sense – my alters split off to hold feelings and needs and behaviours it was unsafe for me to experience – feelings and needs that would cause my mother to disconnect from me further and therefore put my survival at risk. So the parts hold the feelings of the real me, who needed to split off so the core me could survive. That’s why my parts aren’t just emotions, but are also ways of being in the world that would have got me into trouble and caused my Mum to disconnect further. And this is why I have many coping parts/ANPs – different selves were needed for survival depending on what my volatile and emotionally abusive mother needed at the time. I was genuinely a shape-shifter, reflecting back whatever my Mum needed in the moment. My lack of boundaries is REAL – I BECAME my mother, I held her feelings for her. She didn’t just eclipse me, she genuinely engulfed me and took me over.

‘What comes before the mirror is the mother’s face. So when one looks in one’s mother’s face, one sees oneself. To be seen and to be held by the mother are the defining events of childhood – our mother’s embrace confirms we exist, and the adoring mirror of her eyes confirms who we are’.

This doesn’t happen for infants with narcissistic mothers – their existence is never confirmed and they remain enmeshed with their mothers, unable to distinguish between themselves and others. Their mother is an empty mirror – as a baby they looked at their mother/the mirror and didn’t see themselves reflected back. How could they grow up knowing they existed? So my Mum couldn’t actually see me, for her I did not exist as separate from her. She engulfed me as in I had no sense of self. My true self was annihilated, killed off so I could be her mirror – if I showed my real self I risked death because to be real and distinct is dangerous for an infant with a primary carer like this. And so I had no mirror to learn who I was and that I existed as separate from others.

And at this point I realised how entrenched my lack of boundaries are; I don’t just not say no or not ask for what I need/want, I literally AM that other person and responsible for how they feel. I unconsciously pre-empt and take responsibility for all the feelings and thoughts of whoever I’m with or relating to. I take on their feelings and I automatically try to work out what they need from me to prevent them feeling bad, embarrassed, disappointed, etc. I don’t do this to make them ‘like me,’ it is more complex that – I AM them. I must protect them from their own feelings and sense of e.g. embarrassment if they say or do something silly. This is why I tell people I’m fine when I’m not and don’t correct them when they say something factually wrong, and it is why I accept offers of things I really don’t want, and why I am desperate to soothe people when they say self-deprecating stuff. I’m trying to protect them from feeling their own stupidity and so on. I shape-shift constantly, trying to say and do the right thing so they don’t feel bad. It’s why I find groups so hard – I cannot be who I perceive everyone needs me to be all at the same time. It is exhausting and overwhelming. These reactions are automatic. This dance is invisible but also in it I am invisible. And I’m starting to see how all this comes from being enmeshed with and engulfed by my narcissistic mother.

 Depersonalisation, shame, engulfment and loss of self

I’ve started to see how my constant DP is related to this engulfment and this core of shame. Constant DP such as I experience is not about anxiety (lots of people get the symptoms occasionally when they are triggered, overwhelmed, and anxious, mine has a different cause because it is there all the time and it is not helped by grounding and so on). I read about how it is caused by disorganised attachment; abuse and disorganised attachment lead to DP because DP results from conflicts in the unconscious mind, it’s a defence to cover up inner conflict in the psyche. This inner conflict then is because I have had to hide my own feelings and project/mirror by mother, in order to survive. I made myself unreal by dissociating so that I could survive all the shame I felt from having feelings and needs I wasn’t allowed to have.

My Mum loved me when I reflected well on her. She didn’t love ME. She couldn’t, because she couldn’t see me. She could only see herself reflected back in me. For years now I’ve lamented that my Mum told me who I was and what I felt and what I wanted. My feelings and needs and wants were confusing to me because so often my internal experience didn’t match what my Mum told me it was. So I learnt to switch off from it and ignore my internal experiences. I shaped myself into someone who would please her.

I’ve said before that I was engulfed by my mother, that she is an engulfing narcissistic mother, but I never really understood it, or why it was so bad. Daughters of engulfing narcissistic mothers were literally engulfed; we became our mothers, we split off ourselves so they would see themselves reflected back and love us and not abandon us to die. I think I thought engulfing us meant controlling us and smothering us but I’ve just understood on a deep level that it has literally meant we had no sense of self. Our self was literally engulfed into their sense of self and our true self was annihilated. I used to understand that when we looked into their eyes we didn’t see ourselves reflected back, so we had no mirror to learn who we were and are, but I never got what this truly meant – it meant we did not exist.

So she obliterated who I was, what I felt and wanted and needed. My fear of annihilation is a fear based on experience. I am not afraid of something that might one day happen, but reliving an experience that has already happened. Annihilation: complete destruction or obliteration. This is what she did to me – my true self was destroyed. This is why I am so scared of being invisible – I was to her. And this is why I have cut off from all my feelings, it is why I am dissociated all the time – to protect me from this. I am terrified to show my true feelings, to show who I really am. I feel embarrassed and ashamed when I feel anything or show anything about myself, positive or negative – I turned my self bad as a BABY to protect her and keep her good to protect me. I dissociated all my feelings (literally – with the DP and DR I stopped existing). I feel shame around all my feelings (good and bad, happy/sad, positive/negative) because she engulfed me, I mirrored her, I absorbed her. My needs and wants were BAD – I saw in her face they were bad/inconvenient and I became that badness. I made myself bad for having needs, for existing, for having a self.

So when people SEE ME I feel shame, and TERROR. When I feel connected to someone I am afraid of annihilation. The two go hand in hand. Being connected to my mother annihilated the REAL ME. This makes real attunement, like I get from K for the first time in my life, a threat – it means I have been SEEN and being seen is dangerous, literally I could have died as a result of being seen. Disorganised attachment means connection is a source of terror – the abuse triggers the natural drive to attach and seek safety but because the caregiver is also a source of fear it triggers the fight/flight drive at the same time. It is fear without solution which defines disorganised attachment – both innate biological survival drives are activated at the same time and neither can be soothed without activating the other.

And all this also means a child never learns to process their own emotions with safe other validating and reflecting them back to them – the child is not allowed a sense of self with feelings and needs and so their only option is to avoid feelings by dissociating them and making themselves unreal, i.e. depersonalised, to avoid the inner conflict. So I continue to dissociate ALL feelings, because showing myself and my feelings was so unsafe. I experience huge internal conflicts between what I feel and experience and what I express. So the alters hold the feelings, leaving me with no feelings and no self.  This is the work of therapy – not discovering my real self, but creating her from all the split off parts of my psyche.

Taking it in

Also, I know this is my third post of today, but I have just sobbed out some big tears of relief – how, after all those months of working towards an ending, is it that I get to keep K? How? Where is the catch? And how an earth did I actually achieve some kind of stability and resolution with what was happening? I never thought I had that in me, always thought I’d end up hospitalised if K ever told me she was ending our work, and yet – even though it was hell on earth – I survived relatively unscathed with *just* an anorexia relapse, some time off work, and a fair amount of self-harm. I somehow managed to settle into the ending and accept it was happening, and it was actually through that process of losing her and learning to let her go (even though it’s turned out I didn’t need to) that I’ve been able to internalise her and become as securely attached as it is perhaps possible for someone like me to be.

It just doesn’t feel real, possible, that I survived all that and now she will be here. How did I get so lucky? It feels much too good to be true. I am waiting for someone to jump out and yell ‘LOL. PRANK!’ It feels this evening as though all is right in the world. Well, in my world at least. It is hard to take in that this is actually happening. K is not going away. She will be here. I get to keep her. I feel so lucky and I am so unbelievably grateful. What is ahead of me – life – feels so much less difficult with her beside me. And because when I was losing her I finally was able to internalise her to a significant extent, it finally makes a difference to my life now that she is out there, somewhere, even when I am not with her – I can draw on her when we are apart and just let her fade into the background of my life because she is present inside me. I genuinely never thought I would ever get to feel this even some of the time. Does this mean therapy does actually work? Things aren’t great, but as I said to K earlier – I don’t feel suicidal and that is pretty good! And I am hopeful that I can get to a better place than this as well. This hope waxes and wanes but what I like is that it is now mine to carry.

“I will be here”

We raised our fears with K about whether she will change her mind again and feel much better now because she gave us all the reassurances we needed. She said whatever happens she will be in [county we live in] next year and that we don’t need to worry every week that she will tell us she is going away again. She will be here. She isn’t planning any time off. And she said she is glad and relieved that she will be here, that it feels as though it is meant to be. I could feel young parts pricking up their ears when she was talking and I felt them sigh with relief when she said those words, letting out the breath that had been tightly held for quite a while. It used to take so long to get the courage to tell K when we were worried about things like this, we would be so curled up with shame over our needs and fear over being ‘too much’ and driving her away that we would try not to say anything and it would grow into a giant but invisible barrier between us. Now it is so much easier – we say it and feel a bit worried but we don’t get flooded with shame, and then K says soothing and reassuring things and everything is okay.

Last week during our session I was really dissociated and then by the end, through connecting with her, the level of dissociation had dramatically reduced. This didn’t used to happen and isn’t something I ever believed could change. When I got home I made a flow chart of my dissociation (DP and DR) process – why it happens and why therapy helps when I am like that, how being in that space is linked to shame (fear of loss of connection because my feelings and needs are bad) and so reduces through connection and having my needs and feelings validated (although the switch couldn’t be flipped by K till very recently – it has taken years of her validating my needs and feelings over and over again for it to have any effect on my dissociation levels). So often DP and DR are seen as being caused by anxiety and reduced by grounding and becoming present in the room and so on, but for trauma survivors where that state is chronic it is not triggered by fear/anxiety but by shame and the desire to become invisible, and so, as K agreed, grounding and becoming present doesn’t really help. Anyway, K said the chart was really helpful and clear and that I should put it on my blog because it shows how dissociation works and how therapy can help it. So I think I am going to publish a couple of posts from my old blog later this week because they are about shame and depersonalisation, and then I will add the chart and an explanation of it. Basically though, I also realised that with K now I don’t automatically get triggered into a place of shame and dissociation when my feelings come out. THIS IS HUGE. We laughed that it has only taken 3 years. And it is why I don’t want to end therapy yet because things I thought were impossible are ALREADY HAPPENING.

It was a really busy session. As happened last week, I switched out basically as soon as I got there and then came back suddenly and had missed the first part of the session. It is so weird when that happens. It’s like I am there but not there. When she was talking us through the meditation we do at the start of every session I could see young parts giggling at the big and confusing words she was using, like ‘profound wisdom’ haha. And when we had finished breathing together suddenly everything I’d noticed from the body scan had disappeared. The past ten minutes was a total blank. I said I’d just got there and looked down and there were a cuddly hedgehog and a wooden fox in my lap which made me puzzled as I wasn’t really sure why they were there!! K asked where I thought I had been and I was like ‘err, at the back…’ and she asked what I meant so I was like ‘there were others at the front – Esis, Scarlet and Miffy’. She said probably they were there because they needed some space today, and how it was good we know about them now. Dissociation is so weird. It’s sometimes like I am watching the alters, like when you’re in the back of a car watching people in the front seats talking and doing things but with no control over what is happening. It’s really quite weird because it’s not always obvious, especially to people who don’t know me well, but it is like I am watching myself do things I cannot control and I can hear my voice is child-like (I have a quiet voice usually though and sound quite young even in my adult, so I think this is why people other than K and sometimes Nina don’t really notice when it’s not adult me). In the past the parts used to wreak havoc, often via text and email to K, and all I could do was watch in horror as events unfolded. I would know what they were sending was really a bad idea, but couldn’t stop it. Luckily that happens less now, but parts do still hijack me and it is… weird. There is no other word for it to be honest!

It is perhaps unsurprising that parts have been much more active since K dropped her bombshell two weeks ago. There has been a lot of switching in and out in session and I’ve been a lot more aware of them at home too. Provided they are not causing difficulties then this is okay with me! It’s sometimes too quiet when they are not around, I’ve got used to them now and they make me laugh. And overall I would definitely say the level of distress the alters experience is reducing. K and I talked today about how sometimes with therapy we can only see the progress when we can look down from above and see the bigger picture. She said how it was hard to see the progress when we were so ‘in it’ and so focused on her and on her and I. And I completely agree on this. Not being so lost in the horrific transference has definitely made it easier to see the complete picture and all the progress I am making. All the pain I was in for the first three years of therapy was so all-consuming and horrific and it really felt like I was getting nowhere – it is strange now to look back on those incredibly dark times and see that I was actually getting somewhere because it really didn’t feel like all that pain and desperate desire to die could have actually been ‘the work’ and been carrying me to a better place. I remember during the most intolerable times, when the fear and pain was genuinely killing me and I was frozen in some kind of disorganised attachment hell and causing K huge pain in the process, she told me we just needed to hang in there together. I couldn’t see how that pain could ever subside even a little bit, how it could possibly work just to hang in there – the pain and turmoil was there all the time and I didn’t see how it could ever not be there in that way. Yet it did subside and now when it comes around it does make more sense and whilst it is awful and still makes me want to die, at the same time I can usually hang in there with it and remind myself it will pass. To be aware of this level of progress and at the same time know K is and will be here to support me and guide me and parent me and help me heal further…Well, it all feels pretty magical to me right now!

“I know you’re here”

So, after the plot twist of the century, the news that K and I are not careering towards a maybe-forever ending in a few short weeks is starting to settle inside us all. After the disaster that was Monday night, and just 90 minutes of sleep, I managed to survive yesterday and the big, big things I needed to do at work. I slept 9 hours last night so felt more human this morning, although I am tired still. My house has gone on the market today and the estate agent is hopeful I’ll have a buyer within 6 weeks so fingers crossed! On Friday after school Nina and I are going to view a really cute house (yes, it is a cute house – my friend didn’t think it would be till she saw the photos I sent her!) in a village outside the city we are currently in. I have a really good feeling about this house and am putting all my trust in the universe to make the right things happen for me and make the process of moving smooth for us.

K and I did a half hour session on the phone today. It was quite emotional and draining, but in a good way. When the call ended I was left feeling so loved and held and contained and full and connected. And so relieved. Relieved she is not going away and relieved she understands why the news was and still is so triggering and hard to take in. Also relieved we are both on the same page about where I am at in therapy now and what I still need and will continue to need. I had made a list of things that were coming up following her announcement on Monday – thoughts and feelings, reflections and worries. Before I read them I double checked that how things are going forward is my decision, and that anything I say today I won’t be held to. Then I read the list and she said soothing and lovely things. I was able to voice my sense that she has all the power and that we are all scared it is a trick or she will change her mind again. I said how everything is up in the air and how much we all hate uncertainty and unknowns, that they are the second worst thing after being abandoned. And I said how I’d spent the best part of 5 months trying to be okay with the ending and even though I know it wasn’t for nothing, all that pain in the summer – being signed off work, cutting and starving myself, falling apart – and that her news was ‘the work’ in many ways, it’s still like – all that pain for nothing?! I said I can’t afford weekly therapy next year, at least not for the first 6 months. I said that to be honest I never want a forever ending, that I have such deep attachment wounds and have worked so hard to get where I am that I think I deserve to have some support in my life on an ongoing basis. I said how in some ways this enables me to have a more natural reduction in the intensity of therapy – maybe fortnightly from the end of January and perhaps a 5 or 6 week break around the time of our house move.

And I told her something I realised yesterday about how important the longevity of our relationship is, there’s something in me that wants – needs – it to be long-term and enduring, because my past has meant I’ve had to cut ties with many, many toxic people and let lots of unhealthy friendships go, and it means there aren’t many people who know me and have been there in my life for a sustained period of time. It feels really important to have her beside me for as long as possible, to have someone who has seen me grow and become who I am. And I said because of this it means the frequency of contact between us is less important – it is knowing she is there that is important. And then I caught myself by surprise because I said ‘I know you are here’ and wow – that is so new, so unexpected. I used to lose all trace of her, all memory of her. I used to have no sense of her at all between sessions. My mind would erase her, like someone had washed away a part of my brain, and I would be unable to remember her voice, her face, or anything we had talked about in any of our sessions. I would text her repeatedly ‘are you still here’ and other times I would be unable to contact her even if we had arranged to email because I had no sense of her at all and it felt too weird. To be able to hold on to her between sessions and to be able to reconnect to her when I had dissociated from her without seeing her were both huge things that only really happened in the summer. So to say those words to her – ‘I know you are here’ – was a huge moment for both of us. I don’t need to see her for her to support me. And because of this, and how consistently there for me she has been, I know if we reduce frequency or take a short break  and something happens she will make time to see me or speak to me. Like she did today and two weeks ago and all the other times over the past 3 years. I can go away from her a little bit because I trust she will be there and that when we meet up it will be the same.

I said how she is my attachment figure, my safe base, and that it is through her I am interalising a sense of safety so that, despite the turmoil, there was huge relief and joy that I am not losing her. And I shared the painful revelation that some of the difficult feelings on Monday night were because she is still not enough. Whether she is here or not it is still not enough to fill me up and take away the pain and emptiness inside me. Being me is still so painful so much of the time. I thought when I finished therapy it would mean it didn’t hurt to be me. I thought it would no longer hurt to be me and that I wouldn’t have to feel this gaping hole inside me. I said how on Monday I felt empty and dead – not like I was dying, actually dead inside. I said partly I know I’ve done the bulk of ‘the work’ now because I am accepting of this and I know I need to learn to live my life around that hole in me, around that wound. It doesn’t stop it being hard though. Next year felt like an abyss at times, a hole I would fall into the minute I said goodbye to K in December, but the thing is even with her here it will still be hard – my life is hard and painful, not all the time, but those things are still prominent. I do think I can and will heal and integrate more than this, but there will always be the ghosts of my past lingering around me. K not going away doesn’t miraculously change that (it does make it seem easier though!) and even though I’ve now got something I never even considered as a possibility, it doesn’t mean all the other stuff is suddenly fine. It is starting to feel safer though, as the reality of this new change in the situation begins to filter through me.

She said it was good we are both on the same page about thinking the bulk of the work has been done. I said when she first said that to me, back in June, I really disagreed, but that I think for me the shift came in the summer, at the point in July when I was crying my heart out about her leaving, great sobbing waves of grief and despair, and it hit me that even if she changed her mind and said she was staying it wouldn’t make a difference – this pain is still in me, it is not about K, it is about my childhood and my attachment trauma. That moment was pivotal. On Monday I was sobbing to my friend that it is not enough that she is staying, it still hurts to be me, and again I was hit with the reality that K cannot be enough, cannot fill me, but I managed to stay with it and see that this isn’t because she is not enough but because of what attachment trauma has left me with. As I said to K today, I wish I could have her without having therapy but the truth is I can’t, and I could rail against the boundaries or I could really take in what I have got. And she reminded me how I’d said on Monday how I’d actually been able to take in therapy more recently and lean into it, because I wasn’t finding it all so hard and triggering and all-consuming – it had taken more of a backseat in my life and I can feel I am growing bigger in my own life. And this truly is amazing because I never thought I would get to that point even some of the time. I can lean into her and what I have now instead of losing myself in the pain of what she isn’t. And the reason this is possible is because of all the work we’ve done together and the fact she has been consistently there all this time. I do feel I have worked through the major transference and relational stuff now and there is a huge part of me that has internalised her as good object. We agreed that things would still come up, that things undoubtedly will come up around this change for example, but that the really dark and intense times were behind us, and this has to be a relief for both of us. It has been a rocky road, for both of us, and I remain forever grateful and in awe of the fact that she stuck with me on this. And I think that ever-so-slowly I am beginning to relax into the knowledge that I am not losing her, not yet at least, and I can let go a little bit and sink into this new safety.

As we were drawing towards the end of the phone call K asked me to close my eyes and take some breaths and see if there was a word or a sentence that I could take away with me from what we had talked about today. And I said that “sometimes it feels as though the universe is really looking out for me, because it brought me you- you were the first therapist who came up when I searched for complex trauma therapists in [city where I live], and three years later look where we are!” “And look where we are” said K. This phone call involved some of the most open and vulnerable conversations I’ve had with K, and there were young parts asking stuff and telling her stuff, and it felt so very us, her and I, moving forwards together into a different stage of our journey. I still feel quite shaken by this whole ordeal and it is taking a while to land, but I am beginning to open up and allow myself and all the parts to take in that she is not going away. She has been here, she is here, and she will be here for a lot longer it seems. What could be better?

Dissociated

I don’t want to be here. In part this is a wish that I didn’t exist, but it is also a wish to just not be here, at this point in my life, about to end with my therapist and with a life that I struggle so hard to live.

I went to bed last night feeling okay and have woken up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. Yesterday was a really full on day at work and it was draining, but it was good – I felt motivated and reassured about the contribution I am making to the world and the things I believe in through my work. I managed to sleep on Tuesday and Wednesday nights so that helped a lot, and even though I felt tired still, I was beginning to feel more human. I slept last night too, but tumultuous dreams disturbed me and I got woken up by the four year old next door screaming at 6.30. And today I just feel heavy and overwhelmed by an unbearable sadness hiding under the surface that I cannot even reach so I am hugely dissociated and work is impossible. I am scared to let the sadness out because it is so big and it will engulf me. It is about K and not about her. As always. I get that. I get this is a pain bigger than her and I and from a time before we met, but it is also so much about losing her.  She is who she is to me because I didn’t have a mother who could see or love me for who I was, I know that, but she is still who she is to me.

I want to ask K for a phone call, either ten minutes instead of our Friday email (which is what we always used to do) or a paid half hour. We’ve not spoken on the phone since April, and I just really need to hear her voice today to ground me and steady me. I have typed the message asking for this on my phone, but I’ve not sent it. I am scared she will say no. Scared of what that will do to me. Maybe I need to get triggered though, to let some of these tears out. I don’t want to spend the day feeling like this but I don’t know how to pull myself out of it. I wish I could cry and return to the present but that feels too unsafe.

I don’t want to be this person, struggling so much with the end of the therapeutic relationship. I am though. I am struggling. It is always there these days, a heavy presence, an uneasy sense that however okay things are they are not really okay. Ahead of me is the biggest and saddest goodbye I’ve ever had to say. There is nothing about my relationship with K I wish was different or I will be better off without (well, apart from the paid element of course). When I’ve said goodbye to others I’ve been able to see that my life will be better without them, but with K it is not like that. And when a friend moves away there are other ways to stay in touch. With K there is none of that. On December 17th I will walk away and fall through time and space away from her, maybe for the rest of my life.

I am not ready to lose her. It hurts too much. I still need her and want her. I want her to take me with her but I don’t belong to her. The same words over and over because nothing about this changes.

Stuck

So the food thing (aka starving myself – best to name it for what it is) is spiralling. It’s getting out of control and I am really scared. Nina has come down with a cold, and I am now terrified (not an overstatement, the thought of being ill literally floods my body with terror) that I am going to get it and 1) not be able to see K on Monday, and 2) not be in a good space to return to work on June 25th. Already the thought of going back to work is overwhelming me and I know that after the stress of the past nearly 4 weeks I need to start looking after myself in all the ways I know how. And yet I can’t eat.

I haven’t had a relapse of anorexia like this for probably 18 years. Suddenly it feels bigger than me. It is in control of me. I had forgotten what it was like to be in the grips of it, to know I need to eat and yet not be able to. I had forgotten that it actually takes over and that the tight, hollow tummy becomes familiar and comforting. I had forgotten that it leads to a complete loss of desire to eat. It is like a switch has been turned off inside me and I can’t find a way to turn it back on.

I can see all the reasons I need to eat and try and avoid another illness. I am singing with my choir on Friday evening and taking Nina to see Taylor Swift at Wembley on Saturday. I have therapy. I have stuff to do at home, parenting to do, things to organise. I get to ride my bike and go to the gym if I am not ill. I will be ready to return to work after my time off. And none of this is switching my brain back on to eating normally, or even semi-normally.

This evening I did have a load of vegetables and a veggie burger. And then a massive dose of effervescent vitamin C and some zinc tablets, plus my usual supplements. I drank some smoothie. I hoped this might trick my brain into remembering that eating and self-care are good. It hasn’t. I find the orthorexia stressful but this is something else. This feels like it knows no limits. It is taking me over. I feel lost inside it. Overwhelmingly stressed that it is happening but not able to stop it at the same time. It sounds ridiculous I know, but it is what it is.

So this evening I am stuck in a place of high anxiety, aware of the spiralling that is happening and scared because I feel unable to stop it. I had a bath with epsom salts and tried to relax but my jaw is clenched and my tummy is tight. Yesterday I wrote I know I’ll get back to eating properly as the shock of losing K before I’m ready wears off, but in the past 24 hours it feels like something has shifted and this thing has taken me over. And right now I feel stuck between two terrifying alternatives – eat or get sick. The thought of eating terrifies me. Putting on the weight I’ve lost in the past 4 weeks terrifies me. And getting sick terrifies me too, even though it would just be a cold. It would disrupt therapy and disrupt everything else and I cannot handle it. And the longer term picture of anorexia is clearly not something I want to return to. I hadn’t realised how dangerous the behaviours are, it’s been so long since I’ve been in this place. And when it last happened I was maybe 17, it wasn’t so scary, I didn’t have grown-up responsibilities that depend upon me not spiralling into an eating disorder. It used to be scary back then, but this time it feels so much more serious.

A month ago life felt so much better than this. It wasn’t easy but it wasn’t like it has been the past 4 weeks. I have just been clinging on desperately for the past 4 weeks, with the rupture, the bug which led to having to go to hospital, and then K’s news, and suddenly here am I. Stuck in this place. I need to get out of it, but I don’t know how.

Disordered Eating

I’ve called this post disordered eating, though to be honest eating is not disordered at the moment, it is just pretty much non-existent. I’ve lost 6 kilos in less than 4 weeks. I’m actually a healthy weight now (having put on 3.5 kilos over the winter through too much binge eating and not enough cycling due to shit weather, something that fills me with huge amounts of shame and self-loathing), but mentally this feels unhealthy. I know it is unhealthy and yet I am scared to tell anyone, even – especially – K on Monday, because I do not want to be encouraged to eat (or for her to abandon me entirely because look what the spectre of ending with her does to me…Clearly I need more help than she can offer). Part of me is enjoying how much power I have over myself. I know, I know, it’s all about being able to control something when everything else is falling apart. I know I’ll get back to eating properly as the shock of losing K before I’m ready wears off. I know I won’t sustain this, but part of me wishes I could. The first ‘problem’ listed on my medical records, after chicken pox, is anorexia nervosa in 1997 and part of me is proud of this, and part of me (probably the same part) feels a failure because I couldn’t even get that properly. Other coping mechanisms took over, and starving myself just rears its head for a few days every few months and then recedes. These feel like teen parts, but as I realised this week after talking to a friend – starving myself is about attachment, it’s driven by very young feelings. I never realised before how closely the two were related – failure of attachment and self-starvation. I’m not sure it is this simple, but it does feel like somewhere in my head is this idea that if I stop eating, K won’t go away – perhaps it is about needs, if I deny my needs (and what do we need more than food really? Other than air and water) then my attachment figure won’t go away. I remember my Dad making me read a book about anorexia and bulimia when I was 14, when I had to take 3 months off school due to this and self-harm and depression and just being a general mess. The book said something about how anorexia, on a basic level, is about denying the self life, denying what is needed to live. Is it as simple as just wanting someone else to nurture me, and denying my needs when it is obvious they can’t? Of course there’s another whole load of tangled beliefs and messages in there too now, but basically (as is everything I guess!) it is about attachment and loss.

I realised a few months ago, on my old blog where I wrote about food a little bit after a very intense and quite disturbing conversation in therapy, how utterly fucked my system is in relation to eating. In some ways, many ways, it would be easier to have one eating disorder to deal with, but I don’t – I have different anorexic parts (sometimes it’s about quantity of food with a goal of just ‘as little as possible’ and sometimes it’s about eating but restricting and keeping in mind calories and weight loss), binging parts (who adult me is so ashamed of), orthorexic parts (which can manifest in different ways at different times depending on which ‘healthy’ goal is most prominent), alongside parts that are fairly balanced about eating and then child parts who, of course, just want to eat a lot of party rings and oreos and ice cream. It is just a cacophony of mixed messages about food and the different goals that sit alongside eating. Inside is mayhem. And it can be so hard to tell what is ‘healthy adult’ and what is unhealthy coping mechanisms driven by traumatised parts (e.g. thinking ‘fuck it!’ and eating a whole packet of biscuits after a long day at work could be seen as relatively balanced and healthy, as long as it’s not all the time, but it could also be a part who is just wanting to eat to feel full and stave off the feelings of emptiness and longing. Food is also grounding and so it could be a subconscious effort to do this when I am very dissociated (in which case some other method might be healthier), and it could be the precursor to a huge binge where we eat till we feel sick (and then starve and over-exercise to try and compensate). It’s a mess, to be honest (and I imagine – no I know – that ‘the eating box’ will be one I take with me to ‘my new therapist’ (who I do not want at all, by the way) later this year).

The noise around food sometimes is so unbearable I cannot think straight, but all these competing aims and eating disorders do mean that at least my weight stays pretty much the same, with the days of starving balanced out by the other days of over-eating, and the orthorexia keeping our nutrient intake pretty balanced. Till now. The past 3 1/2 weeks, since ‘the rupture’ with K and then the news that she is taking 2019 off, anorexic tendencies have completely taken over. As always, it starts with me being physically unable to eat. My tummy is tight and I feel so churned up and broken inside that I would not be able to eat if I tried. For days I hold my tummy so tight it hurts, all the time. And then I begin to enjoy both the hunger (it is better to feel an emptiness attributable to something than to feel the emptiness caused by loss of attachment) and the feelings of power and control over myself. Denying myself food becomes a habit. I’ve been surprised by how easy it is not to eat, it’s been years and years since I’ve spiralled into it like this, and it has come back in a pretty big way.

As an anorexic teenager I never binged or over-ate, but I would make myself sick whenever I had what I perceived to be ‘too much’ (i.e. half a healthy meal). I survived on black coffee and maybe a chocolate bar to get me through the day. I didn’t count calories; my goal was just to let as little into my body as possible. I would regularly go 72+ hours without food, feeling dizzy, being freezing cold and unable to sleep, and having to sit down in the shower in the mornings as I was too weak to stand up. Anything that passed my lips I regarded as me being a failure. At 14 I also started self-harming, cutting my arms and legs with a razor every day, multiple times. I found an old diary from that time recently which I shared some of with K, about how I was getting ‘much better’ at cutting as I was able to make them deeper and longer and bleed more now. Cutting brought instantaneous relief, but not eating was always the choice for a pain I couldn’t see a way out of, where longer-lasting relief was needed. I wrote one time, after someone I really liked ‘dumped me’ for someone else, how I was waiting for the feelings of starvation to take over my whole body and give me the relief I needed from my feelings, because only starvation could help me separate from my feelings. So this stuff is such an ingrained coping mechanism.

And then around age 21, when my chronic head pain was at it’s height. I began to find solace in food, in comfort eating. I was dissociated all the time (though I had no word for it then) and desperately ill and empty. I’d started to uncover ‘the mother wound’ and had cut my Mum out of my life for 6 months, initially, to try and deal with it without getting constantly triggered by interactions with her. Food filled up the gaping hole inside me. So it is my 21 year old part, Amelia, who drives the binge eating. As she wrote in our parts’ journal – I eat and eat but food cannot fill me up. The over-eating is a huge source of shame. It is something I admitted to K for the first time just 6 weeks ago. Anorexia, or at least being thin and ‘in control’ is desirable, over-eating is too much like my Mum who makes me feel ill with her over-eating. Binging is very rare, and one of the issues is that things often feel like a binge or ‘too much’ when really they are just a normal amount of food. Orthorexic parts dictate such strict rules, and when they are deviated from even a little it feels like everything has gone to shit.

And then there’s the whole ‘too much/not enough’ dichotomy which is basically at the heart of disorganised attachment and the emotional swings that tend to accompany it (emotionally numb/overwhelmed, engulfed/abandoned, dissociated/anxious, the pull towards connection and the push away from it, and so on). When we feel numb and empty (i.e. not enough) there is a pull towards over-eating, and when we feel ‘too much’ (maybe, like now, overwhelming feelings of abandonment and annihilation) then we stop eating. So swinging between the two makes sense, but I would so like to find some middle ground. As I would in all areas of my life really.

Food was a huge issue growing up. My Dad is over-restrictive (his Mum, my Grandma, is anorexic) and weighs himself every day, my Mum binges regularly and we grew up with ‘bad’ food being used as a treat and regularly hearing my Mum’s self-hatred with regards her body and her food habits. My Dad shamed her for being overweight. I began restricting when I was 8, writing down everything I ate and setting unattainable goals for my weight, and when my Dad found my notebook he told me if he thought I was ‘fat’ he would be giving me less to eat – he wasn’t, ergo I wasn’t fat. Ugh, where to start with all that was wrong with that conversation?! So my parents are also too much/not enough and neither of them taught me anything about how to be healthy around food. It makes me so sad that something so necessary for survival, and something so pleasurable for so many, causes me such anguish. I have to admit the anorexia is easier to manage as a Mum than when the orthorexia takes over, because when I’m not eating I’m not worrying about what my daughter (Nina, I’m going to call her here) is eating (she is eating fine, I’m not starving her and it is nutritionally balanced, I’m just not worrying too much about the whole gluten, sugar, nutrients thing – right now life is just about survival to be honest).

I recently had to have a conversation with Nina, who is 11, about suicide as a boy in her class is pretty messed up and says he wants to kill himself. My beautiful, amazing friend Jess took her life in December 2014 and at the time I told Nina that she fell off the cliffs, not wanting her to know that suicide was even a ‘thing’ when she was 7 years old. So I used Jess as a way to contextualise our discussion, and explained a bit about it and that for some people being alive is just too painful and they can’t see a way out. I said it was rare, which is why it was such a shock and so devastating for everyone, and that often people feel unable to reach out to anyone for help (but that she would always have me to turn to for any kind of problem). She was heart-broken to hear the truth, and is still absolutely horrified that anyone would do that to themselves. This amazes and relieves me but also saddens me – I was younger than her when I first began to think of death as the way out. By 13 I remember people talking about what would happen in a few weeks time and my thoughts always being ‘I won’t be here then’. Being suicidal, starving and hurting myself, and other self-destructive behaviours have been part of my life since I was younger than her. She told me recently how she wants some friends who enjoy eating as her two friends at the moment just pick at their food. She loves food, but is so balanced about it. And she swims for 5 1/2 hours a week and does other sports too so it is not that she loves food to fill her up and avoid. She just likes food because we are programmed to find eating a pleasurable experience (like how excited do my bunnies and guinea pigs get about eating hay – I want to be like that!) and yet somehow, because of failed early attachment, this has all gone wrong for me.

I asked K in our Friday email today if she has any books on anorexia and attachment, as I’d not realised the links before this past week (I didn’t tell her what is going on for me at the moment, I figured she has enough to worry about and email is not the place). She is going to see what she can find. Maybe this will be an opening into telling her about these difficulties on Monday. I think she thinks that telling me to be more balanced re the orthorexic tendencies would do the trick, and whilst I am being more balanced in terms of what I buy for Nina, this stuff runs so deep that I don’t think one or two sessions could be enough to sort it all out. This is what I mean about how we have so many boxes open in our work at the moment, it is just such shit timing for me to move to another therapist. We are right in the thick of everything, all the attachment work and all the trauma processing and all the rebuilding needed for my future. I feel a little more stable today, and it’s easy to think I will stay this way now, but I’ve learnt that another wave is usually just around the corner for me so I am starting to try and just settle into it for now. I still have huge levels of anxiety and uncertainty over what is happening, but I feel held by her again, and the young parts and their life or death feelings have receded a little, for now.