Speak now

It’s actually feeling pretty horrendous right now that in less than 48 hours I’ll be ending a call with K with no idea of when I’ll see or speak with her again. On the face of it I’m fine, but lurking below the surface is a lot of shock and disbelief that this is really happening. It all seems so sudden. It is hard to believe I’ve been trying to make online therapy work for 5 months. Even harder to believe that it could be 6 months or more until we can actually see K. So much could change in that time.

I keep thinking of what I can do to make sure I get what I need from Monday’s session and come away settled enough and with enough of K to sustain me for this time apart.

I can’t.

I can’t get what I need to sustain me for that time via a screen because if I could, I wouldn’t be in this position of having to take a break – remote therapy would be sustaining me.

I want the session to be what my whole system needs but it can’t be. I want our tears to be held and soothed but they won’t be. Most likely I’ll spend the session in a dissociated disconnected haze, unable to reach K, with young and teen parts creating internal mayhem but not being able to verbalise anything, and then the whole fucking horror show will hit afterwards and it will be too late. K will know absolutely nothing about how we are for months and months. Whatever happens afterwards will be mine alone to hold. It won’t get shared the following week. It won’t get shared ever.

I don’t want to do this. I keep thinking of a million things we haven’t told K. I keep thinking of how we will survive the winter and Christmas and our mum’s birthday and the anniversary of Jess killing herself without K. Will she even think of us on those awful dates that shape my year and have shaped our work for 5 years? I don’t want to have to get through those times without her, but even if we keep working like this it still feels as though we have to do it without her this year because we cannot reach her. We haven’t reached her since 16th March. This whole thing is so fucking heart-breaking and I wish time could stop so that Monday never comes and we don’t have to say goodbye. Or I wish that my life could be suspended so that time continues to pass without me being aware and then it would be the day before we are actually seeing K at last.

Everyone always says ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’, but when you have a dissociative disorder that is not true. When you have spent your whole life dissociated, absence only makes the heart forget. It is hard to believe we won’t be forgotten when we grew up invisible and when we are so good at erasing people from our mind. We can’t hold on to people we love so how we can understand that other people can hold on to us? Can they? Will K? What does it even mean to be held in mind? What does it mean that K holds us all in her heart? Will she be holding us there when we are not paying her to?

This past 5 months has been so fucking traumatic for young parts. For all of us. (And for the whole world, I know). I can imagine that if and when we finally get to be in the room with K again there will be a whole lot of howling and screaming to be done as we are finally able to really feel and express what it was like to so suddenly not be able to get to her, not be able to physically see her, after all those years of her being the safe haven in our week. It is almost our worst nightmare coming true, with no time to prepare and at a time when we needed her more than ever.

I miss her so much it is fucking agony really. An agony I know is there but I cannot connect to. The only way I am managing to get through this build up to the break is with the knowledge that whether we work remotely or not it still feels like we are on a break. And I know in some ways this way is better and there will be growth despite it being difficult, but I am sick of having to be strong and brave and look on the bright side and find my own stability. I only want K. I only want to be in my safe space. I only want to know we are in this together but we are not anymore. From Monday at 5.30 I am in this alone. Our relationship is paused which basically means it doesn’t exist in any tangible way anymore.

K said back in March, early on when we were discussing the fact that we both needed to prepare for not meeting for a while, that she was so committed to this work, to continuing it and making it work. We have both tried so hard and it has been painful and tense and our work has had an edge to it a lot of the time, a harshness it had not had for more than 18 months. I’m scared she won’t be committed when we go back or won’t want us to go back in 6 months because that commitment will have disappeared with this space.

On Monday we want so much – stories and drawing together and talking about the dogs and all the things we have done together and telling her our plans and how we will survive and how much she means to us – but I can feel it will all fall flat and it just fucking hurts that we have to take a break under these circumstances even though of course if we weren’t in this stupid situation we wouldn’t have needed a break at all. We want to tell her everything we’ve been waiting to tell her – tales of love and shame and grief and regret – but I don’t know if we will be able to speak at all and then it will be too late and all those unspoken words and stories will have to be kept inside until it is time to speak again. If that time ever even comes.

 

Out of the woods

Therapy is working again! Something shifted last week after my session and on Tuesday I felt like I’d actually had therapy the previous day, for the first time in three months really. It was as though it had landed somewhere inside me, instead of falling right through me and leaving no trace. I didn’t feel great afterwards. Things had been stirred up, there was some teen anger over some things K said, we felt a bit lost and tearful after the session and the next day, but it was all things that I knew what to do with – writing, self-care, cuddly toys, letting things metabolise and not forcing them – and the main thing was that it reached me, touched me, left an impression on me. As I think I wrote before, I don’t mind feeling sad or difficult feelings after therapy, as long as it feels like I’ve had therapy and can allow the feelings to be there and practice doing the right things when I feel that way.

We did our half hour short session on Wednesday – I sat in the country park near my house and we spoke about some of the things that came up on Monday and then about some of the struggles I’m having parenting a teenage girl at the moment – I mean, it would be tough anyway, but our proximity has increased exponentially at the same time as my window of tolerance seems to have shrunk dramatically, and so it is really bloody tough right now. Talking to her I could really feel how well she knows me, all my stuff, all that gets triggered by Nina’s (normal) behaviour, and that she is going to be here to help me over the coming years – she says these are the hardest days of parenting (she’s not wrong!) and going through them is what led her to train so she could help other parents in that situation. That session was the closest I’ve felt to K since right near the beginning of lockdown – at the end my heart was so full of gratitude and some other feeling I cannot name – a warm glow filling my chest. It was amazing to have reached that place again and to be able to hold onto her too. She said it was lovely to talk to me, and I could tell she really meant it, felt it, that we had found each other again and that I was going to be able to do this work.

I don’t know what led to this shift – having some space around my session without Nina here, doing things differently at the start of the session (we did drawing together instead of a mindful breathing check-in so me and young parts could ground into the connection between us rather than get lost inside ourselves), knowing and accepting it’s not going to be anytime soon that we see her so we are relaxing into what we’ve got for now instead of always pushing to find out when we’ll be meeting, allowing in what she is able to give me instead of being scared if I let it in she will want to work like this forever, discussing why I’ve been far too ashamed to share anything good in my session since we haven’t been meeting – and it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is it feels manageable to work like this.

Sadly, about 3 hours after we spoke last Wednesday I got triggered into horrific emotional flashbacks after the new-ish (9 months in) Head of Department who is a total narcissist (I think I’ve written about him before) humiliated and threatened me in a Teams meeting in front of the whole department for no reason at all. It was really horrible and of course triggered all my childhood stuff. I barely slept that night and on Friday night had panic attacks all night about him and the threat he poses to my career progression and job security. I’m fucking terrified of him, as are a number of other colleagues even without a childhood of narcissistic abuse, and his behaviour is creating a real climate of fear and intimidation where we are all scared to speak in meetings and don’t know who we can trust. It’s disrupted everything. I’ve been to a Speak Out Guardian at work for the second time about him now, but I really don’t think he’s going anywhere at the moment. And of course he’s a true narcissist, so his inner circle are intoxicated by his attention and cannot see his abusive behaviour at all. It really feels a very unsafe place to work, but I am pretty trapped there as moving jobs would require a move to another city and nowhere is hiring for the next year at least in the sector I’m in.

So the weekend was difficult. After Friday and the night of panic attacks I was tired (obviously) on Saturday morning. I had arranged a beach walk with a friend which I was really looking forward to. It was lovely to see her and have a rainy walk, but I kind of collapsed when I get home and was sad to be missing solstice because of the impact the dickhead manager had on me. But I could feel my session with K was there, waiting for me, which just has not been the case for the past few months, and I knew she would help me hold it all and work out if I can manage to stay working there without being in flashbacks for days after every interaction with him.

My session today has also reached me and I just had a beautiful bike ride and feel like I can do this, however long ‘this’ has to go on for. We did drawing again at the start and this really helps little people to settle. It was really helpful to have her support about the work situation, her reminders that I don’t deserve this, and need to not let him push me out of where I work because my career is important. She was pretty angry on my behalf too, and that was so comforting because I know my mum would have told me to watch my step and would have asked if I was sure I wasn’t causing the problem. And K helped me around Nina again as well, because she really gets how hard it is having her here all the time and that lately it is like I’ve lost all the positives of lockdown and got all the worst parts of ‘normal life’ back, with very few of the good bits. I can tell she is more relaxed in our sessions as well now, which I guess is because my sessions are easier to hold again and we are reaching each other. So if this continues I won’t need to take a break, though I have bravely told her my annual leave dates so will have two weeks off therapy at the end of July. and I think I will drop the Wednesday session soon as it is right in the middle of my work day and not very spacious.

I still can’t say I love therapy this way. Far from it. I am still desperate to see her and be back in the therapy space. I’m still not getting the mirroring and holding in the same way. But it is enough to sustain me, and all the parts of me, for now, and seeing her face on the screen and not being physically with her is not breaking my heart the way it was before. And that is a wonderful thing. Life is quite tough at the moment of course (though also beautiful in many ways, and I am grateful to be living where I live, where I can cycle and see the sea and we are relatively untouched by the horrors unfolding across the globe, and I am driving 90 minutes to see my best friend on Saturday – I cannot wait to see her!) and the thought of losing K’s support at this time has really been causing a lot of distress. Now it doesn’t seem as though I will have to, which is a huge relief. Cases are dropping fast in the UK now and those who are shielding can stop doing this from August (provided things keep moving in the right direction) so I am hopeful we will be able to work in-person sooner than January. K is very hopeful that we will get our Christmas film session, and even though that is a while away it feels survivable if remote therapy continues like this. I do hope we can do some in-person therapy before the winter in case there is a second wave, but I am relinquishing control over that and right now just feel grateful I am able to take in therapy enough this way to make it possible to continue and to get K’s support with the things I need support with, and that I have space after my session to let it sink in and stay with me.

Both of us

My session was quite difficult again, though not as bad as it has been at other times during this fucking pandemic. We had issues with connectivity – on Zoom the sound was bad and buzzing so we tried Skype, which was a bit bette for a while but then after 20 minutes K couldn’t really hear me so she decided to go downstairs to see if the sound was better and she rang me back after that. It was better for her I think but then it started distorting so I couldn’t make out what she was saying. So after 45 minutes I phoned her. We did some work in the meantime but it was a bit disjointed. We connected better than we have for a while I think. Maybe. And I’ve had a really difficult time with Nina the past few days so it helped to talk through some of that with her. It was dissatisfying and she feels very far away, but it wasn’t pointless or hugely triggering. Just not enough and very scattered.

We felt really bereft at the end, I think because we were just starting to connect and then it was the end, but so far Nina not being here has been helpful – I’ve had a long bike ride and a shower and done some drawing and things definitely feel more settled. I’ll see how it goes. It is very hard to think of a break but also very painful to keep going. At the end of the session young parts started asking lots of questions about if we had a break, if we would definitely see her again and if things would be the same afterwards and K said it’s really important if there is a break that there’s a plan for the end of it and that it is a definite break so everyone knows what is happening. She agreed that we would never end like this, out of the blue and during a pandemic (unless it was unavoidable, obviously). She said I should write to all the parts in our book and reassure them as there has been a lot of worrying, so I will do that before I go to bed.

My sister, who is a counselling psychologist in the NHS, thinks I should try remote sessions for longer because K knows me so well and we have such a good relationship. It’s strange because I often get the sense she thinks I’m taking too long in therapy (the longest she sees DID clients is 2 and a half years, but with other complex trauma clients they are through much more quickly) and so it was nice that she wasn’t telling me that I should be done in therapy by now anyway and should build some resilience through a break. And she is right. K and I’s relationship is so strong. I do feel sure it will be there at the end of all this, definitely – I don’t think that has ever been in doubt which is a definite change from how things were at in the beginning, when I could never trust if K would be there and the same between sessions, let alone for all this time! Maybe I’m wrong and it hasn’t been like this all along this time, but it feels that way. I am scared about how long it could be or what might transpire to keep us apart, but not that we won’t find each other in the therapy space again because I know we will and we will resume where we left off in March.

A cuddly crocheted bunny that matches some toys K has in her therapy room arrived in the post last week – a gift from her to support us through these challenging times. And we found out today she didn’t just order it online for us, which is nice enough, she actually sent a photo of our bunnies to the woman who crochets them because the one on her Etsy page wasn’t quite right, and the woman made a bunny to look like my bunnies, with the right colour fur and white feet and nose. I can’t even get over how adorable that is that K would do that for us. And we will take the bunny to meet her when all this remote working shit is over, and she will meet the similar toys in the therapy room and our Little Miffy who is staying with K during the pandemic. And when that happens it will mean this really very bad time is over.

I am trying so hard to hold on to the sense that this will pass, and whether K and I take a break or not, this time next year we will be back to our weekly in-person sessions and reflecting on the time that this fucking pandemic kept us apart and how hard both of us worked to try and keep the connection alive.

 

Change

The thing about change is that by the time you know it, it’s already happened. It’s behind you. You never know change is happening until suddenly you realise everything’s different. And when it’s the end of a cycle, there’s nothing you can do about it. Once the thread starts unravelling you don’t know where it’s going to end up.

Thank you so much to everyone who offered support and reached out last week. It really was the worst week I’ve had in a long time, worse even than the start of lockdown because I was at least signed off work then, and I really appreciated all the care and kindness I got from this community. It is so hard when so few people in ‘real life’ understand the agony that is attachment pain – I realised last week it is a form of self-harm to reach out to people who don’t get it, because it seems to be something that will help in the moment, when being alone is intolerable and even lying down in bed feels so unsafe, but just leads to feelings of shame and invalidation afterwards. And so whilst I wish none of us knew this pain, it is reassuring to know there are people out there who understand and don’t make it feel worse.

I think I’m through the worst of the attachment crisis now and hoping very much that it doesn’t get triggered again in my session tomorrow. I don’t feel okay, but I am stable and eating and sleeping and not seeing K doesn’t feel like life or death as it did last week.

My phone session on Wednesday was horrific. The attachment pain was the worst I’ve experienced in almost two years. It honestly felt like it was killing me, like there was something actively dying inside me. I told K all I could see was a baby wrapped in a blanket falling through an abyss. She wants us to get to know that place, that agony and terror, but I don’t want to, I just want to keep that pain and that baby as far away from me as possible. I could feel her working really hard to find ways to help, but we only had 30 minutes and it just wasn’t enough. She said she knows how painful my process is, and on Friday in the email said she knows it is so very hard for me right now, and it helped that she knows how bad this is, that I’m not making it up and being dramatic. Those feelings are so real, so all-consuming, so annihilating. I can’t believe after all these years they are still here, that they’ve lain dormant all this time, but are as intense as ever.

K says it is very important to remember that this is a long, long standing disruption to body and mind that happens because of the age I was when the original wounding happened and the duration of the disruption in attachment. I sobbed on the phone that I couldn’t believe that attachment, something that was supposed to make a baby feel safe and protected, could go so wrong and leave someone feeling like this for their whole life. And I know this pain is not about K, but it doesn’t make the process any easier, it doesn’t make the experience of not being able to physically get to her any easier to bear.

I couldn’t reach her on the phone, couldn’t take in she was there, it was just fucking agony and I could barely speak I was crying so much. When we ended the call I felt like I was being crucified, no exaggeration. It is the worst pain imaginable and it lives in me, always, waiting to be re-ignited when something reminds my brain of that original wound. I told K I really missed her and she said she really misses me too, but ‘missing’ doesn’t come close – her absence is obliterating and annihilating me. Not all the time, not when I am adult and grounded in my life, but I cannot predict when it will resurface over the coming months and it scares me that there could be so much instability after a year of things being so much more stable.

And the worst part was having Nina downstairs, having to hide my tears, when I just wanted – needed – to lie on the bed and howl. I needed to curl up and watch films with a blanket, but that is just not an option at the moment, and it is so hard knowing this is how therapy must be for now and for many more months. Even if I choose to lean into this work, can I, when I need to howl and Nina is here all the time and I have work to do?

K said in the email on Friday that she appreciates my wisdom in trying to see what might provide embodied relationship through this time. I have ideas for what could help me sustain a connection, but it feels like all of it just slips through me. I can’t hold on to her, can’t feel her, can’t switch off from the panic and pain of not being able to get to her, and so I’m still not sure I can do this work remotely. When I think about it, I feel very torn. All kinds of thoughts are running through my head and I am trying just to let them be there, reminding myself thoughts are not facts, and I have some time to work out what is best as I’ve committed to working till the end of June to see if I can take in therapy without being in the therapy space. I really do want to, but it doesn’t feel like something I can completely control – I can’t make my limbic system suddenly be able to take in someone’s presence remotely, however much I wish I could.

I realised yesterday – again, on a deeper level than before I think – how I really did grow up feeling as though I didn’t exist. I had no sense of myself because my mum didn’t reflect my experiences back to me. When K is in the room with me she is my mirror, helping me see myself and understand myself and my experiences. This is what I don’t think I can get via the screen. Instead of my experiences being reflected to me in a contained way, I feel like I am just dissolving into the air around me as I speak. Is there anything she can do about this? I don’t know. It’s not that I get nothing from our sessions, and her knowledge of my parenting, that I’ve not fucked Nina up, and her guidance during this time, on how I can be a parent through a fucking pandemic, is invaluable, but I am not getting the co-regulation and soothing I got in the room. Not even close.

How can I see myself if I can’t see her and she can’t see me?

And because I don’t feel seen, there are parts in me that are terrified of being forgotten by K, that we will stop existing for her, and that then we won’t exist anymore either. Or worse we will exist, but not really exist. We will survive, but never really be alive.

Over and over I am reminding myself to come back to me – my body, my experiences, my home, my life, but… sometimes it is not enough and I need a mirror.

This pandemic has just twisted everything beyond all recognition. The world is unrecognisable and it is clear there will be no going back. Even if the pandemic is over in another year or two, the world will not revert to how it was at the start of 2020. And whilst there might be positive change, and whilst I very much hope that is the case, I wasn’t ready or prepared for suddenly losing the shape that therapy had in my life.

It is nearly 3 months since it first became apparent to me that my life was about to be disrupted, but I never could have imagined it would end up like this. There is so much grief over all that we would have done this spring and summer together, that we might lose our Christmas film and card-making sessions in front of the open fire, that I won’t get in the car and drive to her house again this year, if ever. I am losing so much and I am also trying to prepare myself for the reality that she may not return to in-person work, or not in time for me to work with her again, and I may have to let her go one day soon. I am trying not to catastrophise, but I also have to be realistic – because of her son, she may choose not to work face-to-face for longer than the rest of the year. We just don’t know what is going to happen with the pandemic, but we do know we need to learn to live with this virus as it’s not going anywhere, and we need to adapt to this ‘new normal’ (ugh) and part of that may be adapting to remote therapy. And if she is right that her other clients are mostly fine with remote work and just see it as a disruption rather than a threat to their existence, then presumably she can just choose to continue working with those kinds of people, who don’t have attachment wounding from a very specific time in their infancy that has led them to be like me.

It is hard to stay strong in my conviction that we will meet and work together again when the pandemic is leading many other people to lose their therapists. The losses just keep ricocheting, and they remind me frequently that I can’t keep working with K if it doesn’t work for me, doesn’t help me, through this time, because it would be naïve to assume we will be able pick up where we left off in November or January or March . I am so resistant to this idea of a ‘new normal’ and  the changes that are ahead because all of them seem to take me further away from the time when my sessions with K were a predictable and recurring feature in my life. I wasn’t ready to lose them and by the time I knew I was losing them, they had already gone.

The story of us

I didn’t sleep much at all despite meds, and woke up at 5.30 with such intense emotional pain it was hard to lie still but felt equally impossible to get up and do anything. I managed to get up and meditate and shower and get dressed a couple of hours later though, and have arranged for a friend to come over after work to go for a walk. I think she’d feel safe to give me a hug and I know she’s being careful so I would feel safe to have one with her too. I really need that so much – when you have children you give a lot of hugs, but it is a million miles away from getting a hug yourself!

I spoke to my sister and another close friend last night and also to people on here and on WhatsApp. And I have thought a lot too, turning stuff over and over in my mind. I have decided I really do want to try and make therapy work this way, if I possibly can. I think I am in shock that K likely won’t be working in-person again this year as I had really assumed we would at least be in-person over the summer, even if measures had to be re-introduced in the winter. I think (hope) this shock will settle and then I need to see if I can do this work remotely, take in what she is giving me, see if I can take it in at all on a weekly basis or if it is just too hard and painful for me. I am giving myself a month to try and do this and if not I will need to take a break because how things have been are unsustainable.

K and I did a half hour phone session this morning and I managed to share what I needed to and where I’d reached for now in terms of whether to continue working or take a break. I told her I felt if I moved to work with someone else in-person I would just spend the whole time grieving her, which I don’t feel I need to do because I do strongly believe we will work in-person again one day (plus there’s no guarantee that this person would be able to continue to work face-to-face, if we go back into lockdown or there are local outbreaks, plus there wouldn’t be a huge number to choose from because not everyone will be resuming face-to-face (a psychotherapist K knows has said he won’t be working in-person until there is a vaccine, which K agrees is very extreme!)) and not many can work at this depth level and with parts and dissociation in the first place). I said that in many ways knowing a likely timescale helps, because I have been exhausted from scanning the news for information that might determine when we will meet again and waiting for her to tell me. And I said that I don’t think our in-person work is over, I really truly don’t, that I had felt we had as long as I needed to work together now (pre-pandemic) so we didn’t need to rush and I do want to get through this time so we can continue that. I said how it may not seem that way to her all the time, because I’ve still had struggles and some times when I can’t connect or remember her, but for me since around February last year therapy has felt completely different and has not been the torturous process it used to be. It is deeply sad to be back in that place, but I can see myself coming out of things quicker now and I’m able to be open with K about my feelings for her in a way I never could before, I think in large part because I know I’m like this because of attachment wounding and abuse, and not because of her.

And I said I’d been thinking about what someone on my blog wrote last night, about how maybe K and I could really deepen into the work around why not being able to be physically close to her hurts so much, but that it was hard to do that with Nina home all the time and the whole world crashing down around us all. She agreed though, that is where the work is, and that in many ways the pandemic was forcing us to go to a place that we wouldn’t otherwise have gone. So we will do some of that work, but not every week because it would be too much. In many ways we can’t not go there, if we continue working, and I said I need to be able to tell her how much it hurts to be away from her and that there is a lot I need to grieve too, in terms of what I’ve lost from being with her every week, and the Spring and Summer with her, and the time to transition in and out of session, and the holding I got from being close to her. I need to grieve that, even if we are both holding hope that this time apart is temporary. And I need to be able to take in what we have now because if I lose my job, or our pay is cut by more than 10%, I won’t be able to see her at all, so I can’t spend the next 6-9 months (or more) paying to either be triggered or get nothing at all from my sessions.

I said how much I appreciated her telling me about her son, because I wouldn’t have been able to reach a place where I understood where she is coming from if she hadn’t. I said I still feel angry with the UKCP for not issuing proper guidance and accepting they are semi-front line at this time and it was a very privileged position to be in to say they wouldn’t return until it is ‘safe’, but that I could hold that separately from her decision now because I understood. And she did say that most private psychotherapists are just not working with this level of need and so have no sense of what they are doing as being essential at a time like this.

It honestly is absolute agony to be away from her and to know it is many, many months till that will change. I still don’t know if I can do this work remotely, if it will be possible or if I’m just going to keep cycling through endless triggers and attachment pain that make it hard to function at a time when life is throwing up so much and I am not able to be with most other people in my life either. So I guess I just have to see how it goes for the next few weeks. I just hate how fucking broken and wounded I am, because it is obvious just how deep all this goes. What the hell happened to me that I am like this? And it hurts because I thought I was past this stage and now I am finding the time between contact with her complete agony again, and I a dreading the end of June when we won’t have the Friday email to sustain me either.

She has also just given me notice of a pretty massive fee increase from 1st September. She has always given me a concessionary rate that has enabled me to do more than an hour a week, but since she moved further away last year I’ve been doing a double session for £77 when her normal hourly rate is £60. She has lost masses of work due to the pandemic and can no longer offer long term work at such a heavily discounted rate, so it will be £50 per hour for me from September, which is basically an extra £23 a week if I continue with 2 hours a week, which is £100-£125 extra month. At a time of likely pay cuts where I work, and the uncertainty of my job in the medium and longer term, this has come as quite a blow despite clearly knowing where she is coming from and appreciating that she is giving me a reduction still. So even if I do carry on, I will need to decide over the summer if I can afford £100 a week on therapy, or if I need to reduce to fortnightly sessions or 90 minutes per week. I love the safety of double sessions, but if we are not working in-person it makes less difference I guess. It is very hard to justify spending so much money on therapy sometimes, especially at the moment when we are heading into the worst recession for over 300 years, but I just have to try and remember I’ve come so far and hopefully there is still some healing ahead of me despite the horrific pain of being separated from K due to the fucking pandemic, and that it is good use of money while I have it. The thought of having less therapy at a time when I need K every minute because my attachment system is so activated feels horrific and unbearable, but hopefully if that settles I will be able to make an adult decision over what to do.

 

 

 

Sad Beautiful Tragic

This time of year is precious to me. Spring marks the end of ‘the busy time’ at work and there is usually more space and a reprieve from just ‘getting through each week’ for around 5 or 6 months. I tend to not need to work evenings and weekends and my energy picks up and my health improves when it’s lighter and sunnier. And because work is less demanding I have more capacity for seeing people and going places. It is strange this year (for everyone obviously, not just for me) because I have a combination of this familiar spaciousness alongside serious limitations and restrictions, but actually so much of what I love to do at this time of year is possible now (bike rides, walks, the sea, yoga in the garden, sitting and watching the bunnies) and I actually have even more time to do it, without driving Nina around to swimming training and competitions all the time. I am also used to working mostly at home from the end of March until mid-September anyway, so it doesn’t feel that different really although I do miss seeing my colleagues on the odd days I am in over the summer, and I miss my lovely office where I could work in peace and quiet (and wasn’t disturbed by a thirteen year old demanding help or having a meltdown about having nothing to wear, sigh, as if it even matters when we are in lockdown and she isn’t seeing anyone anyway!).

So in many ways things aren’t that different from normal for me whilst it is nice weather and we can meet people outside, other than not being able to go camping or see my friends who live further away. And in many ways life is easier and my shredded nervous system is starting to settle away from the forced social interaction and general rushing around doing too much that my life seems to have entailed since Nina was 3 and I started my PhD. So, aside from the general fear, sadness and anxiety over the future and all the suffering in the world presently, which I must and do manage to switch off from, what exactly is missing from my life right now? The obvious answer is therapy, but I am still having therapy, K is still here for me, and we still have contact every week day at the moment, and until the end of June at least. So what is the problem and how do I get past it, so that I can stop feeling like my life is on hold in some way, when in fact in many ways it is moving forward and I am growing hugely during this time?

I was saying to K in our half hour session on Wednesday how much I have missed watching the Spring with her this year, especially as her new home is in such a beautiful area. Her move back in September disturbed me a lot, I was attached to her old house and scared that she was moving so much further away, and then it was a slog driving the 70 mile round trip for therapy each week in the cold and wind and rain over the winter months. She kept saying how much I would appreciate it there when Spring came, that I would see the magic of the place and how special it is. We had plans for things we would do and places we would go when the weather improved. As well as being an easier time of year for me work wise, it’s always been a really special time of year in our work, when things are more spacious and we spend more time outdoors and I need less support with daily life so our work has a different pace and energy. And it is exciting for young parts because they get more time because there is less adult-life fire fighting, and lots of the things we do are healing for them, things that K might have done with us if she’d come and rescued us when we were little in a little body.

Losing this time with her is painful. I actually think I’d be finding it easier to do remote therapy over the winter – which may well happen if our bloody government don’t get testing and tracing sorted – because that is a time I am usually wishing away anyway so another reason to hang in there and wish the time away wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t want to be wishing this time away and then find it is autumn and then winter again and I’ve lost this time and life is hard and I haven’t settled enough over the summer to sustain me through those hard, dark months. I don’t think I am losing it entirely but without the rhythm of my weekly drive to K’s and my two hours with her I feel very untethered at the moment, suspended and floating outside time and space, with nothing to ground me into my weeks. My thoughts are too frequently on K and the future, and I am constantly having to bring myself back to my own life, my body, my experiences, the present moment, and remind myself I am here and I am okay right now.

When I was parking the car earlier after dropping Nina at a friend’s garden (lol) I realised how much I miss driving to K’s and parking outside, feeling that sense of relief to have made it there and to have an undisturbed time with her where I can unpack and unpick my week and settle into the undivided attention she gives me for two hours in my week. My time with her is sacred and of course extends beyond what we talk about in the room – so much healing takes place even when we are sitting in silence together. I also said on Wednesday when we spoke how the journey to her old house, once, twice and sometimes three times a week, for 4 years was a huge part of my week – where she lived before was also beautiful, in a different way, and the drive punctuated my week at the same time as I witnessed the seasons change month-by-month. Nature has always been such an important part of my life and sharing this with K is one of the reasons we all love her so much. It was always lovely to arrive or have her tell me via email about a new arrival or new growth or a special bird she had seen from the window. And every time I got to the lane near her old house I would feel safe, knowing that however terrible I was feeling soon I wouldn’t be on my own with it. It has been huge, the containment that my regular sessions offered me, and it is also huge to have lost that proximity and limbic resonance which is such a big part of learning to feel safe and being able to trust her. I was looking forward to being able to create memories in K’s new house and garden this Spring and Summer, different memories, of a time when therapy didn’t hurt anymore and I could take in what it gave me in a way I never could before.

For years being in the room with her physically hurt me, like salt was being poured on my attachment wounds or my skin was being burnt by her presence. Leaving her felt like I was dying and my abandonment terror set in halfway through every session as I sensed our time ticking away, knowing it would soon be time to leave her and struggle alone again. Sometimes I had to stop the car down the lane after I had left to let young parts scream and sob, before it was safe to drive. It hurt to be with her and anticipate her leaving or one day not being there, it hurt to leave her and not know if I would ever see her again, and the time between sessions was unbearable, even when it was just a few days and we had contact via text or email. It was agony. I counted down in hours some weeks because things were so difficult and time passed so slowly. I remember her saying years ago that she hoped that one day I would be able to exist in the week knowing my space with her was there waiting for me and I wondered what the hell she meant! I didn’t exist without her and she didn’t exist if she wasn’t right in front of me. It was hell and I was a wreck. I am still in awe that we made it through those days. And I am extra sad that we made it through and now the measures against the pandemic are keeping us apart, because I really did reach a place where I could feel my space with her throughout the week and use it to sustain me and comfort my system until I saw her again.

It feels incredibly unfair to have done all that work, endured so much, come so far together, and then not to be able to enjoy sitting in a room with her without it hurting, to not be able to leave her house and feel okay because I know I will be back next week and I can feel her with me even when we are far apart. I think it would almost be easier to have this separation from her before I got to that place, because before it was really tough anyway and I was just surviving in the best way I could. I stopped surviving and started living and it feels as though this is what I am desperately scrabbling to stop myself backsliding into.

When we are working by phone (which I still prefer to video calls) there is too much space around me, she is not there drawing a boundary around ‘my stuff’ so I can see it clearly. It is like my words and emotions are spilling out of me and floating into the air, rather than being processed and reflected back to me in a shape I can contain and understand. I don’t want to keep going if it will be like this indefinitely, but I don’t want to stop either. It is hard. And again and again I wish it didn’t matter. I wish I could take in that she is here, take in what she is giving me still. I think if I didn’t constantly worry that our work is finite I would have more patience to endure. I mean, of course our work is finite, but I am worried we have less time than I was expecting (her health, my finances, other factors), and that this is such a huge and horrible waste of our time working, for it to be second best and not enough and re-activating some kind of painful disorganised attachment dance.

This time of year has been special in K and I’s work, but it’s also special for me and I don’t want to lose it, wishing it away so that K and I can be together again. So much about my life in this moment is okay, despite the spectre of pandemic. I was re-listening to an Elizabeth Gilbert podcast (have I mentioned I have fallen in love with her over the last couple of months?!) from near the start of lockdown and she talks about the difference between empathy and compassion, and how, at this time of empathetic overload, it is really important to distinguish between the two – empathy being where we take on another’s suffering to the point that we are suffering too and cannot help anyone, and compassion being recognition that another is suffering but that we are okay. She talks about the tremendous courage it takes to sit alongside someone and witness their suffering and not get drawn into it, but this is the only way we can be of service. It is definitely something that got me thinking as I tend to completely unravel when I allow myself to acknowledge the scale of the human and non-human animal suffering occurring at any one time and then my grief and overwhelm is so enormous that I am just adding to the suffering and am no help to anyone. It is easy to feel guilty at the moment to have a home, food, a job for at least the next few months, and her words, and that distinction, got me thinking how it really is okay to be okay even though others are most definitely not okay, and that this is the only way we can truly help.

So I am okay a lot of the time, though not all the time of course because… teenager at home full-time, mood swings, irrational anger, constant mess and nagging, and when I am in my adult, K is less prominent in my life – she fades into the background and becomes just someone who knows me (really, really) well and who I look forward to spending time with each week. But when my attachment system is triggered, not seeing her really does feel like life or death – in those moments I would rather die than not see her again. Right now, when I am feeling relatively adult and contained, I am okay with waiting till she is ready to work in-person again. I have to be. I am trying to remind myself it is not about me, actually, but her – her vulnerability, her perspective, her priorities. It is not about her pushing me away and rejecting me and wanting to keep me at arm’s length. I know she hates working like this, so she will not extend it just to make a point or force me to cope in order to build my resilience. At the moment UKCP guidelines say therapists should continue working remotely. Much as I hate knowing other people are meeting with their therapists soon, I have to sit with my lack of control over this and what her regulatory body decides to do when. All I can hope is that K’s therapist friends will start meeting for outside sessions or move back to in-person because their practice can do this safely with distancing and she will follow suit. I can’t control it though, and I don’t want to push her. If she doesn’t feel safe it is not for me to force her or challenge her or refuse to work with her till she changes her mind. It is not for me to make her feel bad and guilty for wanting to keep herself safe or do what her regulatory body are telling her.

What I *think* is my intuition is telling me that I am not going to see K anytime soon. Maybe this isn’t my intuition and is some kind of defence mechanism preparing me for the worst, I don’t know. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. I remember ages ago a part telling her that they were worried we would resume face-to-face and then it would be taken away again. She said ‘what, if there’s a second peak do you mean?’ which I guess suggests she is, or was, planning to return to face-to-face when she can, before the inevitable second peak (because our government is shit), but everything is changing so fast and her thyroid wasn’t pranging out then. I think we all thought cases in the UK would be much lower before lockdown was eased and it means the level of risk isn’t really going to decrease from where it is now. It is K’s decision and not mine what she determines to be the risks for her personally and the people she knows, though of course nothing can change until the UKCP change their guidance…

Anyway, the point is all this is irrelevant; I don’t want to be second-guessing what she will do and when I will see her. It is exhausting and pointless. For now I am committed to continuing to work remotely with her, and if it becomes apparent that this is not ending any time soon then I will think again about whether this is the best use of my money right now. I don’t want to lose the next months, and possibly longer, of my life pining for her, not when I had come so far and she is not actually going away. There is a vague fear that she is going to prepare me for an ending with her soon, but she is only 51 and I’m pretty sure she can’t afford to stop working now, so I hope this is not my intuition. In my heart I can feel we will work in-person again one day, and I am really trying to be patient and hold on to that feeling, and accept things are as they are right now and that I am lucky she is still here. It doesn’t feel like a ‘real relationship’ to me without proximity (I have had two long-distance relationships since I was 19 and I can see now why I struggled so much with them!) but perhaps this is a good opportunity to show my attachment system that people can be constants in our lives even when we don’t see them.

I almost do

 I bet, this time of night you’re still up
I bet, you’re tired from a long hard week
I bet, you’re sittin’ in your chair by the window
Looking out at the city and I bet
Sometimes you wonder ’bout me

And I just wanna tell you
It takes everything in me not to call you
And I wish I could run to you
And I hope you know that every time I don’t
I almost do

Last month my mum was found to have a pulmonary embolism and multiple clots on the lungs. They had quite a scare, my mum and sister and brother, but I only found out afterwards, when she was stable and on treatment, as my sister had been unsure whether to tell me. She said I needed to let her know what she should do next time, and what Nina would want to do, in case Mum were to die at such a time. I never wrote about it at the time because it was too huge and awful and brought up too much to process, and then a week later K made me sit further away and in a different room for therapy and all hell broke lose for several weeks.

I replied to my sister’s text to say that K and I had discussed this in therapy last summer and that I would want to say goodbye, but what didn’t really occur to me at the time was that it is unlikely to be a one-time thing, and there might be multiple times over the next year, five years, even 10-15 years (she’s 71 at the moment) when Mum is very unwell and we are told it would be a good idea to say our goodbyes. And it could also be that later on Mum is very unwell for an extended period of time and it will be very hard to manage what to do around contact and seeing her then. (I am not thinking about this at the moment, but it will be something to talk through with K in the abstract at some point I know, and then make a decision over if it were to arise).

The other thing I hadn’t really realised until this news was that estrangement is not a one-time decision, it is a choice that must be remade and recommitted to over and over again. Perhaps this isn’t the case for everyone, but I know my mum would want to see me and Nina if I were to ever want that, and so it is a choice I can still make, to see her or not see her. It is painful to keep making that choice and all I can do is keep in mind that being estranged from my mum will never be okay, it is just more okay than it would be to see her. I still worry I have made all this up and that she is really not abusive and mentally ill and damaging, but K said again yesterday that I’m not making this up, and we laughed that it would be hard to do therapy all this time if you were making things up. As I wrote in my previous post, my behaviour and emotional dysregulation are pretty good indicators of how bad it was.

In the days after hearing from my sister that Mum had been ill I went to a really dark place over my brother’s longer term well-being in particular. He is disabled and hugely traumatised (it’s hard to tell which of his ‘problems’ are caused by his disability and which result from the abuse he has endured for nearly 50 years) and still lives with Mum and even though he is quite a bit older than me (he will turn 50 next year) he is still likely to live a long time after her and it is very frightening to think of what will happen to him – physically and psychologically – without her here. It is something I have worried about since I was very young, when it first became apparent that I was expected to have him to live with me and basically take over everything our mum does for him when she is no longer able to do it. This is not something I feel able to do, in large part because of the difficulties my mum’s abuse and mental illness has left me with, but at the same time I feel horribly guilty and ashamed that I’m not willing to take care of him as much as he will need. And there is also a lot of anxiety over how we will provide what he needs in terms of living support when Mum isn’t here, financially and logistically. It’s all a horrible mess and hearing about Mum’s illness brought back how complex and painful it all is, and how I will never truly be free of it all. K was very supportive and one of the best things about her is that she is probably the first professional I’ve spoken to about my complex family situation who hasn’t just told me ‘your brother is not your responsibility’ as if that is 1) true, and 2) makes everything okay. She has sat with me in the huge feelings and never tried to tell me it is not as complex and difficult as it really is.

Not reaching out to Mum when she was ill was really hard. And then Covid-19 has, of course, brought up even more for me in terms of family estrangement and fears that my mum will die, not least because it will leave my brother in a terrible situation physically and emotionally at a really shit time when there is limited support. I felt such a strong pull towards my mum three weeks ago, when I was first off work and Nina was first off school, so I asked my sister if she thought it would upset Mum too much if I contacted her to say I was thinking of her and my brother and sending love. My sister said she thought Mum would really like to hear from me as she had been asking how Nina and I were, and she said if I didn’t want to open up contact again to say I ‘wasn’t ready’ to be in contact again, even if I think I never will be, because Mum doesn’t need to hear that I never will be ‘ready’ at the moment. So I wrote her a text that said I am not ready to be in contact yet, but wanted her to know Nina and I are thinking of her and my brother during these difficult times. I said I was pleased to hear from Katie [my sister] that my brother is off work and that we were self-isolating due to Nina’s asthma so she was off school (before they closed) and we were safe. I wrote that we were both sending much love to them both. I pressed send and held my breath.

Fifteen minutes later Mum replied with a message that was heartbreaking yet exactly what was needed, telling me they had been thinking of us too and that they were safe and being careful, and that they both love Nina and I very much. I wanted to message back SO MUCH but I knew I couldn’t because there could be no end to it, and she might then start messaging at other times with updates and so on, and it could lead to a place I am not able to be in. It would also hurt Mum too much for me to pull back and so I cried – a lot – but didn’t reply, leaving it as a one-time reaching out which definitely felt like the right thing to do during this time. The next day hearing from my sister that my brother is really struggling with isolation and not being at work and not having his routine also broke my heart. I wanted to reach out, to help him, to support him, to do something to try and ease this time. I considered making cards with Nina to send him, but again – where does it end and could it do more harm than good?

K and I spoke about Mum and my brother on the phone the day after I heard how much my brother was struggling and I cried and cried. It was really fucking difficult to be feeling such horrible and huge emotions around both of them and not to be physically with K either. I told her I’d text Mum too and she agreed it was a good thing to do in the circumstances and that I had done it in a way that maintained boundaries. We spoke about how this pain and struggle is a long-standing thing that is amplified by the current pandemic – generally, my brother’s life has been pretty shit and the coronavirus outbreak has just made it shitter. Even if I was in contact with him he would still be really struggling at this time and I would still be powerless to change that. Not reaching out to him is so difficult though. Not being able to help him, save him, has been something I’ve struggled with so much since I was really a little girl, witnessing the way our mum abuses him and how traumatically bonded he is to her. It’s come up in therapy over and over again. Letting it be there whilst humanity is going through this crisis is incredibly difficult. Slowly, over the years, I am coming to accept that it is just awful and confusing and a total mind fuck and that I can’t change that. I can’t make it okay. I can’t make my brother okay. I can’t make any of it okay. This has been one of the toughest parts of my healing journey for sure, having to accept my brother’s life is what it is.

As I mentioned in my last post, on Sunday I got hit by another huge wave of Mum pain. I missed her so much and was desperate to reach out to her. It is so hard and distressing not to be in her life, not to be supporting her or to hear how she is. I tried to let it be there – the longing to connect, the hurt, the emptiness and sadness that it has come to this. A part started writing in our parts’ journal how we made it all up and she wasn’t that bad and cutting her out was a total over-reaction. This is the way the crazy always starts. I reminded everyone that it is natural to seek connection with our birth parents, that we are hardwired to do this, and that the yearning will likely never go away (though it will evolve and how we relate to it will change, I know this now), but that this doesn’t change how impossible it is to have her in our life. Last night I talked to K about it, mostly from an adult place, though I could feel and hear young and teen parts struggling too, with memories of ‘happy’ times with Mum and doubts over what we have done, and fears that she will die soon, too soon. Something that came up at the start of March, when I heard Mum was ill, was that this is really going to be how it is – she will die, one day, and we will have been estranged. It will never be put right. It cannot be.

On the phone to K yesterday I said how hard it is – still – to believe it was so bad with her that it had to come to this. And I said how hard it is because there were good times, and she tried really hard, and if she was dead, if that was the reason I don’t see her, it would be easier to hold the fact that there were bad times (lots of them) but also good times, but because it is a ‘choice’ not to see her it is hard to open to the good times and accept they were good because it makes me doubt everything. And whilst I know these times were rare, that they stand out because they were not the norm, and that they were also still unhealthy and all about her and what was going on for her, they still make it so hard because they make me want to go back. K reminded me how difficult it had been and we talked about how I had needed to protect Nina. It also came up when we spoke about my excessive drinking and crazy relationships, that those things are there are as proof of how difficult things with Mum were and continued to be.

I sobbed how much I miss her and that I just can’t bear that she could die and that it would have ended like this. It will never be okay and nothing takes it away, it is just there and it doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t change that hole in me. I don’t want her to die not knowing certain things. I want her to know I feel only compassion for her now, that I don’t feel angry, that I understand, and I don’t even feel I need her to know how damaged I am because of her. I just want her to know that estrangement was never about her, it was only ever about me. K said I should write this down because it was very mature and wise and shows that I’ve reached a very different place from where I was when we were first working – a place of forgiveness and compassion. I feel very sad for Mum and I expressed worry that this present place I’m in is just me making her feelings bigger than my own again, like I always have done, but K said she thinks it’s different because her and I are both holding other perspectives on this and we know that other stuff hasn’t gone away, but at the same time I have truly reached a place where I am beginning to forgive my mum for her madness and what it did to me. It is incredibly hard to hold such compassion for someone and not to be able to reach out to them during a time of crisis, but I know if I did nothing would have changed and being in each other’s lives would be untenable again very quickly. So I sit with all these confusing, conflicting thoughts and feelings whilst at the same time knowing that there are huge and painful experiences to go through in my relationship with her in the future, despite the distance between us that I must maintain for my own sanity. There is more difficult and conflicting stuff to come and it is this that I don’t think I had realised until I heard she was ill last month. I thought I had made the decision to become estranged and that’s how it would be, but she is still my Mum and her life, and death, will always impact me in different ways.

 

Haunted

Last night I got hit by a huge wave of grief and pain and sadness over my mum – being estranged from her, who she is and the life she has had and is living now, memories of happy times together when I was growing up that punctuate the years of chaos and abuse. It’s almost like my brain thought ‘hey, you’re not in crisis anymore, have this instead!’. It didn’t rip me open like it has before, but it is a deep sadness that she is not in my life, as well as an uneasiness that maybe I made a mistake in terms of cutting her out because it can’t have been that bad (that old friend again…). And of course at the moment the spectre of so much death is looming and it is natural to feel drawn towards our primary caregivers and to feel a need to be in a place of peace with those in our lives who may be taken away. It is sad and unnatural not to have those people in our lives and I am trying to just let that pain be there without thinking it needs to be acted upon or that it means I made a mistake by cutting contact with mum. I managed to distract last night and have felt okay today, though aware of young and teen parts crying, and then managed to have a painful, but holding and adult, conversation with K about it and let out some of the sadness that has been building throughout the day.

The past few days things have been quite a bit easier generally. I feel much more settled internally and this makes it easier to stay present and focus on my own life, and to deal with the uncertainty that is manifesting in the external world without getting destabilised and drawn into issues that are sad and scary but that are not directly affecting my well-being at this time. It may not last, but for now I feel okay and am managing self-care and spiritual practices and enjoying the slower pace of life that living under lockdown brings. It is nice to be in a place of stability and to feel at peace with what is happening even though so much is not okay, whilst also accepting that there will be more times on this journey when I feel lost and isolated and like K has abandoned me, and perhaps when people in my life who I care about are directly affected (physically, emotionally, financially) by what is unfolding. I feel quite withdrawn and introspective at the moment too and I am aware how little social interaction I actually need to feel okay, provided it is good quality and nurturing as the phone and video calls, and time with Nina at home, I’ve had over the weekend has been. (I also know I could easily get used to this self-regulating state and need to watch myself that I don’t settle and withdraw from the world too much).

I’m in the middle of another period of extended trauma dreams, where the nights are an endless tangle of past relationships and a parade of people who were once important in my life trek through my mind, their memory haunting me for days afterwards and leaving me struggling to metabolise their emotional presence in my life again. In our session this afternoon K said it is no surprise these past attachments are coming in just as I am also struggling with missing my mum and with the familiar questions over whether things with her were really so bad as to justify this. She says it makes sense for me to be piecing together in my dreams past attachments that, whilst not so important in terms of what we’ve covered in therapy, were really important in my life at different times. I said I find it hard knowing those people will never know why I behaved how I did because at the time I didn’t know why I was how I was. I will always be the crazy, intense, psycho ex-girlfriend who got drunk and angry and cried and self-harmed and tried to throw myself onto train tracks or stormed out in the night telling them never to contact me again (and then, of course, calling them 10 minutes later to make sure they knew just how hurt and angry I was, desperate for them to beg me to return but also desperate to get away and not be hurt again). Speaking to K I realised it’s almost as if my mind is looking for proof of what mum did to me in those past relationships, proof that it was that bad growing up with her as a mum, because it led me to behave in such out of control ways, particularly in intimate relationships.

I linked this also to a book I read over the weekend about a former alcoholic which was, quite by accident, or perhaps synchronicity, really such a good book for me to read at the moment. Life has felt kind of dull and flat, inside and out, this past week and I have felt myself drawn to alcohol and substances to provide some excitement and stimulation. I’ve been sober for 3 and a half years now (see here where I wrote about some of my journey with – and without – alcohol and other drugs) and in many ways it is really only beginning to become apparent just how needed and necessary that sobriety was. With hindsight it has become far, far clearer what a destructive force drinking was in my life and just how out of control it left me. The intense shame that has crippled me all my life was quadrupled by alcohol and it led me to behave in ways that made everything I was going through a hundred million times worse. I can see that turning to alcohol at this time would be dangerous and self-destructive and yet it is calling to me and it is interesting to see how strongly it is there despite how many years have gone by.

Something in me knew it was time to stop drinking back in 2015 and 2016 and I managed a couple of sober periods in those years, usually three months at a time, but they always ended with me getting absolutely horrifyingly drunk and crying on people I barely knew then blacking out, waking up in my own vomit with no idea how I’d got home or where my belongings were. Not ideal. Over the past few years I’ve often thought of my decision to stop drinking completely as something that could have gone either way – I could have chosen to drink more moderately or to not drink alone, to not drink with my partner when I am next in a relationship to avoid angry attachment-fuelled outbursts and crazy, dramatic crying scenes, or to not drink when I am feeling sad or destructive or reckless or already out of control, or not to drink when with people I might get triggered by or might be driven to share too much with, or might end up saying something I regret to. Waking up covered in shame happens all too easily for me when I’ve had a drink, even just one, and so as the years have gone by I’ve become more and more committed to this being a life choice that will stay with me forever. I used to phrase it to inquiring people (colleagues mostly, who are always gobsmacked that I don’t drink, perhaps because they’ve not seen the trail of destruction that follows me whenever I have a drink in my hand) that I had ‘drunk a lot over the past 20 years and was taking some time away to re-evaluate my relationship with it’. That usually quietened them, and it is actually what I’ve ended up doing – re-evaluated my relationship with it and realised I cannot have it in my life in a way that is not toxic and harmful.

The truth is I am not really able to drink. Having it in my life as an option, something I try to be in relationship with and work out how to be around a bit, means there is always the potential for things to go very wrong. The author of the book I read definitely drank more than me, definitely was an alcoholic whereas I would say I was ‘just’ dependent on alcohol (and, later in my life, other drugs), definitely made more of a mess of her life due to alcohol than I ever did. And yet, so much of her story resonated with me. My mum used to worry about the amount I drank. She would warn me to be careful, remind me that alcoholism runs in my family (her dad and her half brother were both alcoholics and both died quite young (my mum lost both her parents by the age of 17) either directly or indirectly as a result of alcohol abuse) and I would laugh and shrug it off because I was in my 20s and early 30s and that’s what people do at that age to have fun. Being able to look back on my drinking from a place of sobriety enables me to see that I was never drinking just because it was fun, there was so much more going on than that, always, and it is this that means that drinking is not a choice I can make if I am serious about healing myself from the past.

Perhaps I was in need of this reframing right now, when I’m sure in many ways a few drinks would bring me comfort and relief, just as it is for hundreds of thousands of others across the globe. I was saying to K how I could see how nice it must be at the moment to be at home with a few drinks and connecting virtually with groups of friends who were also drinking. I miss that. I wish I was part of it, even though I’m sure it is super lonely at the same time. I was also saying how my sister had said we’d have to do some kind of ‘virtual party’ for my birthday in a few weeks and I was thinking how much nicer that would be for me with some drinks (her and her partner were drinking red wine on Saturday evening when we FaceTimed them and it left me desperately longing for the same). I sometimes think the choice I made not to drink is too harsh on myself, ‘too extreme’ (my mum’s favourite phrase to describe most things about me), and that there could be a comfortable middle ground between total abstinence and binge drinking and/or self-medicating with alcohol, if only I let myself embrace it. This book served as a very helpful reminder that for me that middle ground does not exist. Part of AA is the ‘one day at a time’ mantra but also the emphasis on choice – alcoholics cannot ‘choose’ to just have one or two drinks and therefore they cannot drink at all. Whilst I am not, strictly speaking, an alcoholic, I am slowly coming to see that this choice does not exist for me either. The possibility of getting blackout drunk and doing something utterly degrading and humiliating, or self-destructive and shame-provoking, is always there because I find it so, so hard to stop drinking once I’ve started.

I tend to think of ‘stopping drinking’ as something that has not really been a big part of my healing journey, my recovery. It’s something I talk about as incidental and shrug off, perhaps because I am not ready to face just how awful I was at times when drinking was such a huge part of who I was. I often forget what a huge part of my life it was for 20 years and just how much of a storm of destruction it tore through my life. I don’t see how huge it is that we are in the middle of a global pandemic that left me reeling and in a huge attachment crisis and yet I haven’t reached for a bottle of something to help me through. It is huge though. I play it down because it still feels dull and anti-social not to drink, and embarrassing to admit that alcohol had such a grip one me that I now cannot touch it at all, but it is huge that I have gone so long without getting drunk and that I rarely even think of it now. I also know the longing to drink will never leave me completely and so it is important to revisit the reasons I don’t drink and remember just how many fucking horrendous rows and crying, screaming meltdowns I’ve had because of it, how many times I’ve called and texted people I shouldn’t have and said things that never should have been spoken out loud. Occasionally I probably could manage to just have one or two drinks, but the problem is that when that is there as an option for me there is no telling which of those occasions will lead to a time when I drink too much or do something I really regret. I’m really lucky to be alive and not in jail after some of the reckless nights out I’ve had on drink and illegal drugs – K told me earlier about someone she heard of who accidentally killed their boyfriend whilst they were both taking substances, and reminded me that there, but for the grace of God, go I…

So, just for today, I am re-committing to my journey of sobriety and estrangement. The two go hand-in-hand in many ways because both have involved freeing myself from the mental distortions that enabled me to keep going back to people and places that were so destructive and damaging for me. K said the dreams about past relationships and friendships make sense in terms of what I am figuring out and still trying to make sense of about mum and her life and what it did to me. Revisiting those relationships, of which my relationship with alcohol formed such a huge part and was such a huge indicator of how totally fucked up and incapable of true intimacy I was, is part of my subconscious trying to work out what mum did to me and how it caused me to feel and behave in relationships. It’s like I can only see how bad it was to have her as a mum when I see how out of control and borderline psychotic at times I was throughout my life. My behaviour and emotional dysregulation and sensitivity to perceived abandonment, and my attempts to regulate and cope with my feelings and dissociation using substances, are all evidence of how damaging my mum was, something that is still too painful to really hold in awareness for most of the time.

It was nice to do what felt like ‘proper therapy work’ with K, instead of fighting the coronavirus-fuelled attachment panic that descended for so long. It’s strange working by phone, there seems to be less of a narrative, less of a sense of pulling things together and finding our way through and out the other side of things in partnership. It’s like I need a constant reminder that she knows all these things, that she knows my life and what has happened, that she still understands why I don’t see mum, what my childhood was like, what it has left me with. It was horrible sitting on my bed crying over all this, over mum and the past and all that not having her did to me, and being alone in my room instead of safe with K opposite me in her cosy therapy space. It is not good enough. At one point I dissociated and disappeared which is such a strange thing to experience happening when she is so far away. I said how much we hate not being there and she said she hates us not being there too, that she finds it really sad, but that she is still here for us. I think for now knowing she misses us being there and is committed to keeping us close and connected during this time has to be enough, but I hope a day will soon come when we can be with her and that she is right – we will have memories of this time to add to all the other memories we have of being together.

Cruel summer

I think a certain level of acceptance of how long we will be living like this is gradually settling around the country now. I’ve known in my heart for a while [I say a while, it’s probably been a week, time is moving so strangely at the moment and it feels like years have passed every time I sit down to write. It is like this for so many I am sure] that it will be many, many months till K and I resume face-to-face sessions, till Nina returns to school, till life goes back to some semblance of normality. I am constantly having to push away fears that K and I will never see each other again, or if we do it will just be to say goodbye because weekly sessions are no longer feasible long-term. It is always hard to know what could be real. I am trying to trust that we will come through this challenge and our work will go back to normal, because it is all there is to do. It is hard though.

Last night I watched a beautiful sunset from the country park where we live. The sky was wide and open and I felt free for just a few minutes. Life at home is stifling but we are doing okay in some ways. I feel more restless than overwhelmed. Either a calm acceptance or a huge amount of dissociation is engulfing me, who knows. There is a lot of worry that if the bunnies get ill during this time we won’t be able to get them vet treatment. This seems to be where the anxiety is being channeled today. Yesterday it was mostly freaking out that my job really isn’t safe. I text my old Head of Department and asked if our jobs are safe in the medium term. He says many institutions like ours won’t survive this, but that we are among the top and so in a strong position and I don’t need to worry. He knows a lot about how our institution works, and particularly its financial position, and it did reassure me. It’s just hard to shake the sense that this is how our world, here in the UK, will end, that this is just the start of the great unravelling that is well under way in many parts of society and across the globe already.

One of my friends also triggered me last night when I mentioned the fear of redundancies where I am, as she responded that we need Universal Basic Income – of course we do, I know this and I think it is coming, but I don’t think losing my job and having UBI would leave me with enough money to pay for therapy, or for the car I need to run to get to therapy. My mortgage is astronomical. I have zero savings and still more than £6k of debt to pay off. I have spent a TERRIFYING amount on therapy over the past five years, it makes me feel quite sick. I try to tell myself it was needed, still is needed, that probably we would just have a slightly bigger house, a newer car, memories of a few more holidays, had I not spent the money on that. I also try to reassure myself also that had I not done the work I’ve done with K I could (would!) have totally screwed Nina up and possibly even killed us both as this was my plan when I started therapy in August 2015, but it is hard to shake the sense that I have been really stupid spending so much money on that when I could have been saving for the end of the world. To be honest, I don’t really understand how UBI works, I just know that as things were (still are for me, it is important to remember – my job isn’t immediately under threat) I would be out of debt by August next year and able to save a little amount each month and pay for therapy too. I am so careful with money. I just wanted a little time where I didn’t have to be, before the climate crisis sweeps across the UK and life as we know it drastically changes…

K has always said I’m the person who reminds her most often how important it is to trust in the universe, to not have a scarcity mindset that attracts the very thing we are all so fearful of, but it is hard to hold on to this trust when all around us is panic and fear of everything running out and disappearing and no one having enough (loo roll stock-piling really epitomises this dominant mindset!). And at times it feels like such a privileged way to be living, to be able to trust that money will work itself out and to use evidence that despite difficulties during my PhD and the uncertainty of getting a post afterwards, it always has in the past, and that the universe is on my side because once I started to trust it, it has always brought me the right houses at the right time and brought me K, because not everyone has these luxuries I know, but at other times I think a safe home and a therapist who knows how to work with the identity fragmentation that follows childhood abuse and trauma isn’t really a luxury at all. I don’t know. I do want to trust though, that K and I will carry on working during this challenging time and pick up face-to-face sessions when we can.

I feel so angry that this is happening, sad that we are losing the Spring and Summer, fearful for those who are not safe at home due to abuse or neglect. I am angry that China are continuing to lie and have been giving us all false hope. I am apprehensive about how work will be for the next year and how rather than getting less stressful as we enter ‘the quieter time’ it is about to get even more stressful and reactive there. I nearly lose my shit when I see people talking about how living like this, physically distant from each other, will become ‘the new normal’ because it can’t – we are being deprived of the basic necessities of a life worth living. It is vital for now, of course it is, but virtual connection will never be as good. We are relational beings – we need regulation from others, we need companionship, we need community, and we cannot get these things through a screen. They are obviously important to help us manage through this time but they can never replace what we get from each other and being part of the world – natural and man-made, and I do really hope people never get used to this new, and hopefully temporary, way of being. It is not that I want to be surrounded by people all the time, but that I enjoy being part of everything so much, and solitude is something I value highly only because it is such a rarity for me and helps to bring me back to myself.

I have also been wondering what it is about my particular brand of attachment trauma that means that without meeting I don’t feel K is my therapist anymore and I don’t feel we have a real relationship. I am aware on a cognitive level that we do, that what we have endures across time and space and distance, that I am held in mind and in her heart, that she knows me and that won’t stop because she doesn’t physically see us, but at the same time I still feel somewhere deep inside that I am losing her and that as the months of phone and Skype go by she will slip further and further away and that she will let me go. I see others who are struggling with what is happening around us but are able to transition more easily into working remotely, and I am unsure why not being able to physically get to K is such a huge trigger for me and activates my attachment system so extensively. Of course there are concerns that I won’t have privacy for our sessions because Nina will be here, but it is not just that which is causing this.

After crying all afternoon on Friday I reached out to K by text, explaining that I wasn’t going to manage until Monday without contacting her so was doing it before the proper weekend started. We had spoken earlier that day but young parts hadn’t been reached. It is so hard finding time for everyone when life is so utterly crazy. You really know you have a complex dissociative disorder when you have parts getting triggered by not having ‘time with’ your therapist despite a phone call! In our phone session I had told her that the text exchange on Tuesday and Thursday mornings was really helping. She was pleased to hear that and said we would need to review it – we panicked and she said ‘no, not to take it away’, but that I might need more support in a month. This is scary. Every time she mentions the length of time we could be forced to work like this or says the C word we feel jarred and triggered – it makes it all feel much too real, that she is talking about something that really cannot possibly be happening. I asked in my text if we could talk about putting more planned support in place for a while, particularly for young parts, and said that I would look at money…

She said of course we could make a plan. I know she wants to support and hold all of me and to be there for young parts throughout this. More contact time is definitely needed at the moment but I’m not sure in what form or if it would even help. What would be enough right now? I prefer speaking by phone as it feels closer and I know K feels she can listen and hear much better on the phone than with a screen that sometimes freezes and so on, but I think Skype is also needed and I think a time that is dedicated to young parts is needed – when we work in-person young parts are settled just from being with K, but I don’t think they get the benefit of phone contact unless they are being addressed directly. It’s weird, but I think time they know is theirs, to ask questions and have stories and maybe do some ‘remote crafting’ would be helpful.

I feel so conflicted over needing and planning extra support. Part of me is thinking if I have the means to pay for a little extra support and contact during this time I should, and I do have the means for now because obviously some outgoings will reduce for the next six months (refund on tickets for Taylor Swift in Hyde Park, sob). But then there are parts who are fearful that we should be saving money for what comes next, that spending too much on therapy now could mean Nina has to go without food in the future, or that I can’t afford to see K at all. I can’t work out what are adult worries and what are young worries, what is adult caution and what is a young part trying to exert control over something that is ultimately impossible to control. And of course always is the need to balance what I spend on therapy with the fact that for an extended period of time now it has kept me ‘stable enough’ to work. Without therapy during a global pandemic I sense that my ability to work would be severely compromised! I also feel selfish because whilst I’ve donated some money for PPE for NHS staff and will donate money to a food poverty charity tomorrow when I get paid, I could obviously be helping a lot more if I wasn’t spending so much money on therapy.

Every so often I think it would be easier to take a break from therapy, from K, for the whole 6 months or more that this shit show lasts for because it is too triggering to have contact with her and not be able to physically reach her. There is some sense in this, when so much of my overwhelm is due to not being able to reach her. I could forget about her, stabilise somehow, maybe. I don’t think it is the answer though. Too much is coming up, my family situation is too present, my dissociated parts too present, my old unhealthy coping mechanisms too activated, to suddenly plunge us all into a life without K or therapy. So I am left wondering what to do, whether I can afford another half an hour session per week to help contain this crisis, and whether even if I can it is what I should be spending money on…

There, brain dump over! Thanks for making it to the end of this post if you did, and hoping my dear readers are coping as well as possible during these turbulent times.

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