Dear Dad

****although this is about my dad, I am trigger warning it for rape and victim-blaming, since this is what my dad chose to engage in during his conversation with Nina while they were cycling on Tuesday***

Trying to find my inner warrior so that I can send this to my dad after Nina had a really horrible time with him on Tuesday. She’d not been on her own with him for 3.5 months and was decimated by 45 minutes cycling with him. R thinks I need to give him the chance to change, for Nina as much as anything, and at this point to warn him that if he doesn’t change he will lose her because in a few years she will be grown up and she will have no reason to see him if he treats her how he does.

I have never stood up to my dad about anything. Ever. It terrifies me. Nina really doesn’t want me to say anything and I can sense her terror of displeasing or upsetting him. Yet I also know this is the next stage of my healing journey and that I cannot let things continue as they are, for Nina’s sake. What messages does it send her that I can see how bad it is and yet I chose not to act and to protect her?

I don’t think he will change. I don’t think he can. I think this is only headed in one direction really, and that is no contact. But at least I will have tried. And if I cut contact in future, it will be Nina’s choice if she sees him or not and I will have done my best to facilitate a continuing relationship between them.

Six years ago I was in this position with my mum and it was R who was supporting me to protect Nina from her abuse and manipulation back then too. I stopped Nina from spending time alone with my mum then, and told her we could only see her once a month together as I needed space to heal too. It was another 2 years until I cut contact completely. I can see things heading a similar way here too, but I am stronger now. I would rather have no family than be living alongside such toxicity, but I will try a while longer to bring things to a more tolerable place for Nina and I. R reminds me of my strength and he reminds me I have no choice but to stand up for Nina and protect her. He tells me to make this all about her for now, and that later on I can address what I need him to know about how he is to me, and whether I want a relationship with him. He is holding my hand as I do this. He text with Phoebe last night when she was harming and there was blood everywhere and she was all alone. For all these things I love him. Somehow he makes me feel stronger than anyone else ever has. Even K.

However he responds cannot be worse than what I’ve already been through. I keep telling myself that.

Hello Dad,

Not an easy email for me to write, but I am very concerned about the way you are to Nina and I don’t think things can be left unspoken any longer if you want to maintain a relationship with her as she grows up. She is obviously scared of me saying anything to you, but I can see you losing her if things continue as they are and that would be a great shame for both of you.

She is often upset after seeing you because you are very critical of her and judgmental and lecture her and put her down and dismiss her ideas and experiences. On Tuesday she had a horrible time. You were critical and judgmental about her fitness and effort, her responses to your lectures about safety, implied she was stupid because she couldn’t follow what you were explaining to her, and then had a go at her for not talking to you – of course she wasn’t talking after that. She couldn’t. She feels ashamed when you are like this to her and that is sad because we know you love and care for both of us, but it so often doesn’t come across in how you interact with us. It is confusing for her to be told that you are a nice kind granddad when her experience of you is so often not like that at all.

These are not new concerns, but for me they have intensified since seeing you with her more during the lockdown last year (and also through my own healing showing me that the way I was parented by both you and mum was deeply inadequate and has caused long-term damage, meaning I am much more aware of what children need now). Last summer I was very concerned by how you were speaking to her when I collected her from your house. Belittling her intelligence over Maths and mocking the effort she is putting into school, and also threatening her she’ll end up homeless and jobless if she doesn’t change, are all things that are having an extremely negative impact on her self-esteem. The teenage years are particularly fragile years of self-discovery and your job as a granddad is only to love and support her as she grows up, not threaten her about her future or shame her or make her feel inadequate.

I am also really very concerned by the victim-blaming you engaged in. It is very hard for me to hear that you told her if she gets raped or attacked it will be her fault because of her behaviour and that she is ‘asking for it’. Women and girls are never to blame for what happens to them, it is always the fault of rapists. I would be devastated if something ever did happen to her and she didn’t reach out for support or tell anyone because she had internalised this message that I’ve tried so hard to counter as it is all around in society and the media and stops women coming forward. Pointing at overweight women and saying they won’t get raped is really concerning and just not true – rape isn’t about sexual desirability, it is about power and control. Women who aren’t conventionally attractive or slim get raped all the time, pensioners get raped, disabled women get raped. Women who do all the right things with regards their own safety get raped. Most of the time women are raped and assaulted within an intimate relationship or by someone they know.

Besides all this, Nina’s safety is my responsibility, not yours. I am the parent. You raised your concerns with me, Nina now doesn’t walk on the main road and stays in [our small town]. However the perception that ‘rapes are committed by strangers in a dark alley’ is a myth. She is far more likely to get raped or assaulted in a group of friends where alcohol and drugs are involved. It is this I will be doing everything to protect her from, by checking on her whereabouts and boosting her self-esteem as much as possible so she doesn’t feel the need to engage in risky behaviours in the way I did. So far this is going well and her friends are a safe group who haven’t grown up too fast.

These are separate issues though. You could have spoken of your concerns in a loving, warm, non-blaming way. And so it is the way you speak to her and how critical and judgmental and dismissive you are of her that needs to change. I don’t know if you are able to do this, I suspect it is deeply ingrained, but you do need to try because otherwise she just won’t want to see you anymore. That would be very sad for both of you and so that is why I am being brave and writing this even though I find confronting you on anything very difficult.

It is very important you don’t talk to Nina about this. She will be frightened that I’ve said anything and she doesn’t need a heart to heart talk, she need things to change in how you are when you’re with her. It is not a communication issue and she is not responsible for things changing, only you. You’ll find if you show an interest in her life and build her up instead of making her feel small by belittling and lecturing and shaming her, that she won’t respond in monosyllabic ‘yeahs’ with you. At the moment she doesn’t see the point of talking to you because you don’t seem to care or be interested in what she says a lot of the time.

We often make excuses for your behaviour, but honestly it is every time, even when I’m there. You barely see her as it is and I know that she will want to see you less and less as she grows older if things don’t change. I don’t want that to happen and I’m sure you don’t either. I would think there are people you can talk to about finding different ways of communicating with the people you care about.

I hope you understand why I’m writing and that it reflects my commitment to sustaining a relationship between us both and between you and Nina in future. Please don’t feel pressured to respond – I understand that this email will likely bring up difficult things for you and will, hopefully, lead to a period of self-reflection. There is no rush, but I do need a commitment from you that you will try and change how you speak to and behave towards Nina from now on.

Love CB

Losing her and finding myself

I never knew what a miracle it was, K and I being able to meet at the same time every week for all those years. For the first 2 and a half years of our work we met at least twice a week. I never thought to really stop and appreciate that or realised how remarkable it was that in this crazy helter skelter world we were able to have those times that were always ours, every Monday and Wednesday. And then every Monday. For 5 whole years. I didn’t know it could be taken away so suddenly. I mean – I did. I was always worried. But I didn’t really take it in as a possibility that could actually happen, beyond attachment anxiety, in the real world. I wish I had soaked her in more. I wish I had been able to. I took being there, being able to do therapy with her, for granted really. And I don’t know if it would make a difference now anyway, but I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had appreciated how lucky I was to be able to do that. Because I will never get it back. It’s over. Even if all the ifs work out and she goes back to in-person work, that time is gone. There is no going back. It has been over for a year, but it is also ending right now, in this present moment, as realisations flood me about how things are and how far away they are from how they should be.

I feel very weird this evening. A huge mixture of thoughts and feelings and a lot of passive influence from parts that I can’t fully access. Stuff around my mum and memories from childhood are very prevalent in a way they haven’t been for a long time. I feel like I could just dissolve into sobs for hours, but also that I’m fine and strong and have come so far. Both are true. There is so much pain about what I’ve been through but I also know I am in a good place. I don’t really know where this stuff has come from. Last week R did a clearing treatment (acupuncture) and he says it probably unfroze me and let this stuff surface. (It certainly brought me back to myself over the weekend which was wonderful – I felt like me again (last year’s me!) and it was so nice to remember that I am that person now, clear to myself in a way I never was before last year).

I mean – of course what K has done has brought up so much about how my mum was. She used to disappear and I would come home as a young child and there would be a note saying she was never coming back and then she would call crying and we would spend hours driving around trying to find her. She did that so many times. She left me over and over again. And she ranted and raged at me for hours and then my dad would have to rescue me and take me to his house. Or she would throw me out and send me away and tell me she never wanted to see me again. I’d be scrambling around my room trying to gather as much as I could to take with me, not knowing if and when I’d be back. She’d refuse to see me for weeks. When I was 14 she left me to go and see a man 300 miles away even as I begged her to stay because I needed her, because I was struggling with such intense self-loathing that I couldn’t go to school for 3 months. She drove away and left me in tears, all alone in a house with no thought for how I would cope without her. Cutting and blood were my only comfort then too, because my mum just wasn’t there. Of course there are resonances with what K has done. And K has shown herself not to be all good, just as my mum wasn’t all bad. And that is so fucking confusing to untangle. I can’t figure K out and I know I don’t need to, but of course my mind is trying to so that I can make it okay. Just like my sister and I used to spend hours and hours going round and round in circles talking about mum, trying to make sense of her mind games and manipulations so that it would be okay. It never worked. Obviously.

I have had lots of nightmares and trauma dreams the past few nights. Endless tangles that wake me distressed and drenched in cold sweat. In one I was begging K to meet me in-person outside just to say goodbye and she refused. The pain of that was excruciating. And then the other horrible one was my mum was dying over a six month period and I had to decide at what point to become involved again. A decision I guess I will have to make at some point. R says on some level this is my psyche processing K (my good enough mother obviously) is dying, or rather that she is dying to me – my attachment to her, my trust in her, my reliance on her are all dying. Over.

And this loss is something that should have happened as a really gradual process, as I continued to grow and integrate in the way I already was, like a child and then teen and then older adult does with a healthy parent. I remember last year at regular intervals I could feel that I wouldn’t need therapy forever, wouldn’t need or even want K like that forever. There were times when I resented spending money on therapy and was ready to forge a path alone. But still, the loss of her and our time together was so sudden and none of us were ready. It also feels so fucking protracted and drawn out. It has been a year now of not knowing what is going on or what will happen. A year of losing her a little more each day. “What is going to happen?” I asked R today. “At what point do I go back and do the ending work with her?” And he said ‘or maybe you are doing the ending work now?’ and yeah – I think I am. I don’t want to be, but I think bit-by-bit I am letting her go and finding myself again, like I did last year. I thought I could only integrate our work by reconnecting with her (my internal sense of her) but I don’t think that is true. I am losing her and finding myself and realising I don’t have to reconnect with her to find the self I built with her, which is bittersweet and intensely, gut-wrenchingly painful. Celebration and grief all in one murky muddle inside me tonight.

When I started therapy I thought it would be all about me. It was such a surprise to discover it was all about K, all about the relationship we were building. And now… Now it becomes all about me again. It was all about me all along actually and this is painful but also so real, so true, such an important realisation. And so I know this is a good thing. I know this is how it should be, I know this is the reality, but it is painful because this means the relationship was a vehicle and that is really, really devastating. R said today that it was a vehicle back to me, not just to the pain in me, but to the relationship I have with me. He is absolutely right, of course, and this is really the journey I have been on over the past year that took me to knowing myself and seeing myself and then being brave enough to take a break from something that wasn’t helping me and was instead hurting me. The thing is though, I just wasn’t ready. I feel like the foundations I’ve had to do all this growth on the past 6 months or so just weren’t as strong as they should have been, had K and I been able to continue working as planned.

I wasn’t done with therapy with K. I really wasn’t done. R said how clear that is, that our work really was not done. It is a huge loss, to have to say goodbye to all those possibilities. It used to be so exciting to look at how far I had come and think about where I could get to if things continued as they were. I have lost that process, all those beautiful possibilities, as well as losing what K was to me, as a therapist and as a person. I know I have the choice to return to remote therapy this autumn, but I don’t think I can be me – all of me – on the screen. I’ve noticed with R how easy it is to share my growth and healing and strength and insights when he is next to me. This was what made remote work so difficult for me – the shame that comes up for me around sharing progress and good things (thanks parents!) was intolerable via Zoom. And the work I need to do in future I cannot do online. I can’t do parts work anymore with her. I can’t do the gentle, relational healing I need. I don’t know what is left after that apart from sustaining something that brought me so much support for so long because the absence of it is too much to bear. Is that in my best interests? Who knows?

I don’t know what I will do come September and I think this is something that I will just wax and wane over for the next 5 or 6 months and in many ways that is okay, as long as I can sit with it comfortably and still live my life and heal. In many ways whether I go back or not is not really the point right now. Our work is taking root inside me still, I can feel it, but whereas before I felt I was drawing on our work internally so much of the time to enable this, and so I was sustaining our connection, now it feels like I am healing by growing away from her. And that is painfully real and necessary and sad and beautiful and tragic and hopeful all in one strange place inside me.

All the things I’ll never tell you

Dear K,

I can’t believe 6 months have passed. It feels as though everything and nothing are the same as when we said goodbye for a little while, all those weeks ago. It is 11 months since we last drove to your house. Somehow the passing of time is comforting because it doesn’t feel as though we’ve lost you, despite this time apart, and one day the end will come, even if it turns out to be many more months till we can see your face again. Our brain erasing you for the whole break was our greatest fear but we feel so connected to you still. We are scared you will have forgotten us or let us go but when we look through old messages and think back on our time together we can feel how connected we are and we don’t think that would disappear for you if it hasn’t for us. Whenever we couldn’t remember you before you could always remember us, so if we haven’t forgotten then we are pretty sure you won’t have either.

We wondered if you thought of us when Joe Biden was elected or when Taylor Swift released another surprise lockdown album or when it was the first Monday of the year and you weren’t seeing us for the first time since the start of 2015. We have thought of you every day but it hasn’t always hurt. Some days it has but a lot of the time we have felt patient and calm and just so grateful for you and all the work we’ve done because it has become obvious this past year just how much we’ve healed and internalised your safety now. And we have mostly enjoyed this time of integration and settling, waiting to return, knowing both of us hold the intention that we will continue our work when we can.

There is so much I want to tell you. It’s also been nice to keep so much to myself for so long, almost as if there is a clearer line around myself now. I don’t think about how I will explain things to you or hold out for a time to share them. I don’t do things to tell you anymore, I just do things. There is a peace and a spaciousness in that – it’s such a different way of being. It is also sad. It marks a loss. When I return things will not be how they once were. There will be joy but also grief when we are reunited. I am learning that life is endless cycles of coterminous grief and joy, balance and instability, hope and despair. And I am learning to be okay with that.

I want you to know Christmas was incredibly hard, that my dad is intolerable, that I have been so lonely during this latest lockdown that sometimes I cannot breathe. I want you to know that attachment panic and shame has been killing me this past week and I’ve run out of space on my thighs to cut and it is taking all my willpower to not take the razor to my arms, that I only hold off from that because I am desperate to feel the warmth on my skin when I’m out on my bike in a few weeks’ time. I am disappointed in myself and also I don’t care. There are worse things and nothing else soothes and settles things like that, not yet.

I want you to know that despite self-harm since mid-December I have continued to grow and learn about myself during this time apart. I want to tell you that this respite and solitude has led to the biggest transformation in my life imaginable but that I am done now and desperate to rejoin the world. I want to transition into being more sure of who I am among other people now, instead of only being able to keep sight of myself when I’m alone. I want to practice what I’ve learnt and prove that I can be more balanced and see myself clearly even when life isn’t stripped back to the bare minimum. I needed this time so much, but now I am in need of human contact more than I ever have been before. Or it feels that way at least.

I’ve wanted to tell you that giving up sugar and gluten completely was the best thing I could have done for my health. I want to tell you I have no cravings and I never eat more than I want to and I haven’t deliberately starved myself since May last year. For the first time since I was 8 years old I don’t feel as though I am living under the weight of an eating disorder. Maybe there is just the right amount of control in this diet to please everyone, without needing to restrict. It works so well and I know you will be so happy. I don’t know if it will last, attachment might shake us back into anorexia again, but things feel so different around food now. It doesn’t dominate. It just is. And it has definitely helped my gut and brain health, reduced the grey day fogginess a little, given me a steady flow of energy throughout the day. I will forever be grateful that in the stillness of the pandemic I had the space to make this choice and integrate it into my daily life with such ease.

I want you to know that we are waiting for Ana to die and this in between place is deeply painful, as she hovers between life and death and I imagine a world without her or Jess now. She was sick last time we spoke to you and I knew how sick she was but she didn’t, not yet. In November she told me she had a year left to live but then Jess’s sisters emailed 4 weeks ago to say she’d deteriorated rapidly and had only a few days to a couple of weeks left. She is holding on still, waiting for a sunny day so she can feel the warmth on her face in the garden before she goes. More than anything we hope she gets that chance. I was able to say my goodbyes and it helps that there is not unspoken love. I want you to know that there is gut wrenching sadness that this connection to Jess will be gone, but there is also guilt-inducing relief because being with her triggered all my feelings and all my shame around being unseen and disconnected and invisible because of how she is, and now I don’t have to decide whether to continue to atone by seeing her.

I wonder how you would feel and what you would think about the fact that I reconnected with R in December and have been seeing him every week since the start of this third lockdown. I needed him when I lost my mind when I first realised Nina likely has ADHD, and over Christmas when spending 5 hours with Dad destroyed us both, and when Nina was hating me and raging at me constantly for weeks on end at the start of the year and I lost myself in doubt, not knowing if she was right that I am the worst parent in the world and have ruined her life and caused all her problems. I felt out of my mind with shame and panic and despair and his endless reality checks brought me back. He said some things you would have said, about normal teenage behaviour and how hard it is for me to hold steady as I have no idea what is real after growing up under the shadow of such extreme narcissism. And he reassured me that her story is so different from mine, that she is damaged but not like I was. He helped me carry on loving her and myself when killing us both, once again, felt like the only way through.

Nina turned 14 in January and you weren’t here and that broke my heart. It is the hardest age for me – the contrasts are so stark. The year I turned 14 I was off school for 3 months because of anorexia and self-harm. It is the age I started drinking really heavily and lost my virginity and we did “family therapy” which led to Mum becoming more abusive and out of control. Leia and T’s worst memories are when we were 14. We needed you and you weren’t here and we understand why but it still hurts. The weeks around her birthday were the hardest I’ve experienced as a parent – we were both so dysregulated, I was barely sleeping, we were rowing all the time. We came through and have only had one small argument in the past month now, but I hope you are there next time we hit a rocky patch because your presence and voice soothe me and I’ve never felt closer to you than when you and I talked about how parenting a teen was affecting me last summer. I can still remember the warmth in my heart as I sat on the grass in a field near our home and it felt as though you were right beside me even though we were miles apart.

Connecting with R again has been steadying and destabilising, beautiful and agonising, healing and damaging, all at the same time. It has shown me things I’d rather have kept hidden, about myself and what happens to me when I move closer to someone and the terror and craziness it still triggers. His presence is a gift and curse. He loves me and holds me and tells me all the things I need to hear and I can feel pieces of me falling into place as he holds me at the same time as different parts of me unravel and I lose myself again. And I’m forced to confront the fact that disorganised attachment means this is what relationships are for me. He said this week he wants to be a stabilising force for me and not make things worse. I put my head in my hands and groaned that this just is not possible, not all the time at least. It is not a viable goal because connection and attachment activate my nervous system and throw me into that terrifying push/pull where I need to move closer and run away at the same time because I feel so unsafe.

Inside me is still a big melting point of disorganised attachment pain and shame and distrust and terror of intimacy and fear of abandonment and the pain of feeling invisible unless I am the only one. I can observe it all happening now but I am not past this. I thought I was, and it is not at the intensity it was with you for years for sure, but it has left me wondering how I will ever be free of what my parents did to me. How will I ever manage a relationship with someone I don’t pay, where it is not all about me, where they are allowed needs too? I want to talk to you about this and hear you make reassuring sounds about how far I’ve come and how much is possible.

R is amazed by how solid and stable I now am – relatively speaking! – and says such beautiful things about the work you and I have done and how much you both love me. It feels like more of our work is integrating with him to bear witness, because he has walked this path beside me since I was 21 and he knows more than even you about the level of physical pain I used to experience. He reminds me you are not here because you are afraid for your son and not because you don’t want me. He tells me ‘never’ is a long time when I panic that we won’t ever meet again.

And he is learning about disorganised attachment and he is beginning to understand how incredibly traumatised I am. It’s like he knew before how broken I was but has now seen my level of pain and dysfunction and fragmentation is at a different intensity than his. I needed this from him. He wants to learn about me so he can help me better which both warms and terrifies me – what if he goes away when he realises how intense my process is? He is not you though, and sometimes when he holds me it makes me miss you more than at any other time this past year. Despite this I’m so glad he is here. He gives me some of what I need, some of what I lost when we suddenly couldn’t meet. He tells me he is here because he wants to be and that I am so easy to love and when he holds me it begins to thaw some of the ice that is inside me and helps me feel less repulsive and toxic and untouchable. Being with him is another step towards learning it is safe to feel safe in relationship.

I want to tell you how much we miss Ollie, that his absence hangs heavy every single day. Rainbow is doing well but she needs a new friend. She is sad. Do you remember they were together all the time? We used to tell you how much they helped us because they always snuggled up together and knew where each other was – they felt no shame for loving and needing contact and company and it started to loosen some of the shame that kept us separate from others too. I hope next time we see you we will have adopted a new bunny and will be able to show you pictures. Your new house is too far to bring them in the car but we will always remember Rainbow and Ollie at your old house.

And the time we have missed you the most was when Rainbow started a small fire!!! She jumped on the coffee table and knocked a candle on the floor and it set fire to the rug!! This is the naughtiest-silliest thing she has ever done and not being able to draw a picture to show you was probably the worst part of this break, for Lotta and Miffy and Cody at least! It will likely be the first thing they tell you when we see you. We know how shocked you will be and can hear you saying ‘oh my goodness!’ and laughing a lot.

I want to tell you I miss you but if I could do that then I wouldn’t need to because you would be here. I hope it is not too much longer till we are together again and that we find each other – changed but the same.

Please don’t forget us.

Love CB and everyone xx

With or without you

I’ve made a decision over what to do at the end of the month. The limbo is difficult and I’ll be glad when the decision is reached and communicated and agreed upon between the two of us. I am going to email in a couple of weeks and ask for a sense of K’s thoughts around returning to in-person work and whether she’s waiting till after she’s had both vaccine doses or will be opening up to some clients after the first one has taken effect. I’m going to assume she is planning to return to in-person work once she’s vaccinated and leave it to her to tell me if she is planning to keep working remotely until distancing is no longer needed or we know if people can still get serious illness from the SA variant or some other known uncertainty. I will also ask if she’s planning to offer outdoor work once the weather is better, or whether she’d consider that for me as we’ve worked outdoors before. I expect her answer to that will be no, for various reasons I’ve written about before, but who knows? I’ve learnt that anything is possible and nothing can be counted on this year!

Once I have some more information from her I will make a decision, but I expect I’ll be extending the break until at least the end of May (when she’ll be protected after vaccine dose 1) or September (if she’s waiting till she’s had the second or to see what happens longer term around serious illness and transmission and the vaccines). I suspect she will say it is still too early for her to know how much longer remote work will be for, or that she thinks it might be next year. In which case I will ask to extend the break either until autumn or until she starts in-person work if it ends up being sooner. I *think* I want to return to therapy, even if it is online, in autumn. Summer does not feel like the right time to re-commence therapy unless it is in-person. By July I also will have paid back the huge debt I’ve owed my dad for a long time, and so I’d be able to “see” K without completely giving up in-person work with R. I don’t really want to do next winter without her and regular therapy. And a break of more than a year feels way too long.

It feels really tough to think about extending the break beyond 6 months but I also know it is the right thing to do. This year has gone so slowly so far it is unreal – I cannot believe it is only 12th February – but the first 4 or 5 months of the break went fast and 6 months away from K doesn’t actually feel that long, and so extending for another 6 months if needed feels okay. Sometimes. We will soon have longer and lighter days and life will be fuller again and I hope that means time generally will not drag so much.

Spending time with R has really confirmed, once again, that I cannot go back to remote therapy, particularly not over the summer. The summer is my time for expansion and integration and growth and remote therapy cannot support that. I cannot get what I need without being in the same room as someone. And I can’t give up weekly cuddles with R to see K on a screen. Reconnecting with R has also renewed my faith that K and I’s relationship will endure, however long this time apart ends up being. I didn’t see him for 18 months, had no contact at all for almost a year, and yet he was there and we were there, solid as ever. Stronger even. More open and loving with each other. K and I have something rare and sacred and it will be there even if the break ends up being many, many more months. I am sure of that. We have spent so much time together and she knows me better than anyone apart from myself. If R hadn’t forgotten me and my journey, there is no way she will have done either.

I do miss her. A lot. The missing has really set in this past few weeks. R holds me and cuddles me and it heals at the same time as it sets off an ache for K that nothing can settle. I hope that in getting some clarity from her and agreeing to extend the break for another set amount of time my system will settle again, as it did for the first months of the break. I hope it will enable me to lean into the work I am doing with R and the love and safety and stability he gives me. I hope it will allow me to uncurl into the sun and longer days and light that is approaching and feel less like I am in some strange limbo land. Half alive.

And I hope we find her on the other side of this. I hope I am right that our bond is unbreakable. I hope she feels it too. I hope she notices my absence sometimes and wonders how I am doing. I hope she is looking forward to connecting again. I cannot wait to share my growth with her, but I think it is going to be a while till I can do that, especially as sharing ‘good’ things last year via video call was so deeply triggering and shame-provoking. I hope we will be back in the room this summer, I really do, but I am prepared that this won’t be the case and I will be okay once I know what is happening over the coming months.

You saw me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long story short

Five years ago, when I was feeling suffocated and overwhelmed by yet another Christmas trying to placate the demands of my narcissistic mother without sacrificing my health, K asked me how I imagined Christmas when I thought about what I would like to do. No one had ever asked me that question before. ‘At the beach’ was my reply after I had thought a while. She asked what drew me there. ‘Space. It is spacious. There is room for me there’.

Christmas has always suffocated me, but that was the start of transforming it into something different for me and learning I have a right not to feel smashed to pieces on Boxing Day and the days following, and not to feel suicidal in the build up. The following year my daughter and I spent the week in a cottage by the sea and, despite being in the thick of attachment work in therapy and struggling a lot, it was heaven. I didn’t know till then that it was possible to feel so intact on December 27th.

Four years later and Christmas feels kind of flat, as it likely does for many this year, but Christmas Eve has been perfect – Nina and I drove to an amazing beach we discovered in the summer and walked and talked and ate chips. And then I walked some more while she sat in the car and I felt spacious and grounded and content and hopeful. I miss K so much – this is the first Christmas we’ve not worked since 2014 and she never took a break at Christmas either so I’m used to seeing her either side – but I’m so grateful to her for all the seeds she planted that are still blossoming now.

Things are so different from how they were. This is my life now. I know myself. I know I am deserving of peace and quiet and beauty and connection now. Being estranged from family will never be easy at this time of year, but it will always be authentic.

This is healing.

I haven’t written for ages. Things are okay and also not okay. Such is life. I have things to write but I also don’t want to write them. I’m letting things unfold as they need to.

Wishing a peaceful festive season to all my followers – I hope it is as you need it to be during these trying times. Much love xx

Epiphany

I’ve regained a sense of equanimity this week. K and I are not broken. I am okay. And it turns out I didn’t need her to help me work through the painful and conflicting feelings about my brother, or work out what to do. Turns out I had it all inside me. Turns out every conversation we’ve had about him, and every feeling she’s helped me understand and verbalise and process, was all in there and I was able to draw on it even when I didn’t know I could. I sent a simple email reply in the end, saying I understood and would be in touch next year about returning to therapy as planned. What else was there to say really? I knew I needed to do something that stopped the internal rupture becoming an external one. And I mended it myself by reconnecting with my internalised sense of her.

K will have known how much I was hurting about my brother and how painful I will have found her response. She also knows me and my system inside out and she knows so well what is and isn’t helpful for us. She knew that returning to online therapy so soon wasn’t right for my system or our relationship. She probably also knew that a few sessions, even if she had space, would have caused as much difficulty as they solved. With young alters things are never straightforward, and something that might have helped adult me likely would have triggered young parts and made a mess. I had to dig deep to find the place in me that knew she wasn’t intentionally hurting me or rejecting me, that she hadn’t forgotten me and moved on to the concerns of new clients, that she wasn’t going to say I can’t go back next year, but I found it and hung on tight to it until I came through the other side of the attachment storm and found some kind of peace again.

She was right that a return to online therapy wasn’t right. It wouldn’t have helped longer term but I also think if she’d offered some one-off sessions over the next couple of weeks then it would have soothed me at the time but also may have prolonged things around my brother. As it is, I’ve been able to let things settle around this situation in a way that might have been difficult if we’d had a few sessions booked in. It would have been nice to talk to her about it but I knew what she would say and I’ve been able to move forward with the situation in a way that feels manageable. I’ve also been able to switch off from it again, and it is testimony to all the healing I’ve done that I am not consumed by fear and guilt around him, and that I can sit with the situation and let it work out over the coming weeks and months instead of needing a resolution immediately.I also feel clear and resolute in what I can and can’t manage around contact with him, and that is new for me too.

On Saturday I went to see my best friend for the day and we walked in the woods and it was so beautiful. I want to write soon about how our friendship has evolved through our own healing journeys, and how a friendship that was always so important to me but often left me overwhelmed and dissociated due to our shared trauma history has now become a source of nourishment and connection that I’m not sure I’ve ever had in a friendship before. I don’t get flooded with shame and dissociate anymore when we talk about ‘my stuff’ – it feels like a normal conversation. For me this is wonderful because of what it means for our friendship (she has felt the shift too, in terms of how it is to share her authentic self with me this past year also) but also because it means I now feel safe enough with her to show all of me and not feel ashamed or need to disappear, and so this can happen with the other friendships where I do still dissociate a lot when I share. The day really helped me remember who I am that is not about K or my brother. And it was really lovely to be able to talk about it all and to be understood, but not lose myself in talking about it or let it consume the conversation all day.

On Sunday I was still quite a mess and hadn’t slept more than a few hours a night since Thursday when my sister text, but I felt a change in me and a determination not to spend the next 5 or 6 months waiting for K. I have to accept that we don’t know what is going to happen next year and I have to be okay with not going back, if that is what happens. I cannot put my life or healing on hold. I don’t think I am or have been, but I also need to move forward during this time, even more than I have been. So I made an appointment for a one-to-one TRE session on Monday and it was amazing – the practitioner was so safe and warm and we went really gently. I only did the shaking part for a few seconds a couple of times but will go weekly for a while until I feel safe to do it by myself at home. It feels like the right next step in my healing and it is wonderful to have the resources (time and money and space) to do it now. I switched out for the first time in public for really a long time during the tremors part, probably because we felt so safe with her, and a young part checked that no one was going to shout at us for shaking. It makes me sad how much fear there is around being seen and about how our body responds, but that is a focus for another post as I want to write about the session soon.

It feels empowering to be using this time to try something new. We all miss K so much, every day, and it is so hard knowing we have no idea when we’ll see her again. Getting her email response was so painful. Seeing the news that it could be summer before a vaccine is rolled out is difficult. Not knowing if she’ll have space when we want to go back or she returns to face-to-face is very scary and unsettling. But at the same time I have to be okay with not knowing, with possibly not being able to go back, because life changes all the time and I can’t control K or the virus situation. Since last week I feel liberated from the constant umming and ahhing about returning to therapy now too. I can’t go back to working remotely, I really can’t, and so I just have to hang on until the situation changes. Being able to pay my Dad back next Spring also feels liberating and important. And even though we said a 6 month break and that I would email at the end of February, really if K isn’t returning to in-person work then (which seems likely, given the vaccine situation) how can I go back? Surely it would be better to wait till I can go back properly, when our first session would be in-person with a hug and being reunited with the dogs as well.

And I don’t need K in the way I used to. It hurts but it is the truth and there is healing and growth in opening up to the truth. And I am tired of handing my power to someone else. Sometimes I worry if I grow too much over the next 6 months I won’t need (or want) to go back, but that is so clearly attachment trauma talking and so I have to calm those fears and reassure everyone that if that were to happen – and I don’t think it will; our work feels so unfinished – it would be for our highest good. I have to do what is right for everyone in my system now because the future I am often so focused on controlling doesn’t yet exist.

All too well

And I forget about you long enough to forget why I needed to…

I’m fine. I’ve not blogged for a while because work has been busy (think 50 hour weeks full of rapid adjustments and constantly changing policies as we adapt to the ongoing Covid situation) and the last thing I feel like in what’s left of the evenings is more screen time. I’ve also not really wanted to think too much about things or examine too much of what’s going on. I feel a resistance to doing that in fact, and instead am enjoying just living my life a bit – the good and bad.

I have had some wobbles over K and drafted two emails asking to go back early or telling her I would want to – not yet, but soon. Each time I was able to sit with what was happening and tell myself I’d email if things were the same in a week. They weren’t. And for the past two weeks the pulling towards her has stopped. In the moments of overwhelm and emotional dysregulation it helped to ask if going back to remote therapy would actually help what was going on or whether there was something else I could do. Each time there was something else. And I’ve felt pretty content and regulated for 10 days or more now. I’m enjoying having a break from introspection and self-examination – I’d noticed a yearning for this at times over the last year or so when I felt resistance over ‘preparing’ for therapy, which was so different from the past when there would be frantic scribblings throughout the week of all the things that were coming up that I needed to share with K. It does feel as though life is ‘paused’ in some way at the moment, externally at least, and even though I know I am growing and healing during this time, it is a gentle growth that often doesn’t need to be put into words.

I do sometimes feel a bit at sea without K, as if I’m not quite able or willing to connect with what is going on for me and the parts at a deep level. But life is okay and this feels okay – I’m doing yoga and meditating and making time for things that bring me joy, so it’s not as though I’m shut down and disconnected from myself. And I am enjoying having a break from attachment stuff. Even when I’ve felt drawn back to K it’s not been attachment, it’s not been missing or needing her in that way, it’s been wanting her support over difficult things in my life because she knows me best. Right now I feel okay knowing I’ll see her next year. And if that doesn’t last then I’ll contact her then. I hear her voice in my head telling me what I need to do and how I need to treat myself during difficult moments, but I’m not sure returning to remote therapy would help. Or it would help some things but it would re-ignite others.

I’ve noticed a real lack of people I am vulnerable and truly authentic and open with in my life – without K it’s been really obvious there are few, if any, people I’m truly open with and can take hard stuff to. I share different things with different people and I’m honest with people, but somewhere inside I’m always holding things back and unconsciously trying to protect people from the truth about me. This is something I want to work on, probably with K, and for now I’m just working on making myself known to myself, because this year has ended up being all about that. This isn’t really the year for building new connections, is it?

Surprisingly it’s been very clear most of the time over the past 6 weeks that I will go back to therapy, that there is too much left unfinished for this to have been the end. I think I was worried if I took a break I wouldn’t want or need to. It feels, though, like a lot of me is suspended in the space between K and I still and at the very least would need integrating and consolidating and putting away. I feel very patient about when we do this work though. And I’m not sure if I will want our work to have the same quality as it did before – I’ve changed and I honestly don’t want to return to attachment anguish and forgetting I know how to do this on my own now. I’m also aware that life is very different for me right now – I’m not navigating new friendships or a relationship or difficult things around my family. Nina is more-or-less okay and not freaking me out with how broken she is. I’m noticing how quickly plans leave me feeling suffocated and ensuring I leave space between things. Things may not stay as they are, I guess, and I may need K a lot again. Who knows?

Young and teen parts seem okay and quite settled. Not all the time, but a good chunk of it. Nina is back in school and that helps. And I am lucky to be able to work from home till at least January because my GP supported me to apply for an exemption from in-person work due to my immune system’s tendency to over-react to illnesses due to complex trauma, and the risk of long Covid. I’ve had enough long term health stuff and do not need any more, and where I work there is a lot of risk which my institution is in denial over. I had to speak to occupational health and it was hard and stressful to do this and to advocate for myself, but I’m proud I did.

There are parts of being at my workplace that I really miss but they don’t outweigh the huge benefits of working from home for me – I am able to be much more boundaried talking to people via video call and don’t end up absorbing and holding all their emotions, and I am more productive and don’t get so over-stimulated with demands and social interactions coming at me from all sides. Working at home also really helps young parts because it means every day has the same shape, regardless of what is happening at work. We meditate before Nina gets up, do yoga at lunchtime, cycle after work, do a yoga nidra after dinner. Everyone likes living this way. No surprises. And it’s easier to fit in self-care without a 40 minute cycle to work and then the same home again each day. This period of settling is healing and comforting and was needed. Life probably won’t stay like this (well, I hope not – hopefully a vaccine will help for this virus at least before next summer arrives!) and it is important to use this time to settle and help heal my nervous system. Work still gets too much, but I feel more separate from it when I’m surrounded by things I love. I wanted K when it felt impossible to continue there a few weeks ago, but there are other ways of helping those feelings now.

I think since taking a break from therapy I’ve been able to acknowledge the dangers of the virus more, because it doesn’t serve me to minimise it in an attempt to make K see she’s overreacting. I mean she’s not, and I’ve not thought that since the very early days when I didn’t know what was going on with the virus really, but part of me wanted her to decide it was more important to see me than to avoid risking her own and her son’s health. Not all of me of course, and not at a conscious level, but I’m sure that was there. So in a strange way it helps, from this perspective, that cases are rising here again as it confirms that she was right not to return to in-person work over the summer ahead of a second wave (obviously I’m not saying cases rising is good, just that it has helped this side of things for me). It would have been so disruptive to see her a few times and have it taken away again. I would never have settled knowing it was all so precarious and I’d have been anxiously watching the news and cases rise and wondering when my therapy would be disrupted again. And I could have ended up in a total annihilation flashback hell just as the busy time at work was starting if she’d gone back to remote work over the past couple of weeks. It’s better this way and it is also giving me a clearer sense of what therapy can and can’t be in my life going forwards. It is sad sometimes that the very intense part of K and I’s work is done but it is also clear there will be more pandemics, soon, and deadlier than this one, and that it is a good idea to build my own supports (internal and external) so I’m not completely blind-sided by it.

I often hear Miffy (5) wanting to write to K and tell her she misses her every day but she is also okay and that she knows in her heart x a hundred thousand million that she will see her and the dogs next year. I think this sums up where we all are really. And sometimes I am filled with such enormous waves of gratitude and love for K, that through everything she did for us we’ve been able to settle and find a huge amount of peace and stability through becoming stiller and more self-reliant during a global pandemic. It’s mind-blowing sometimes how far we’ve come in the 5 years since K showed us a DVD about DID and DDNOS by First Person Plural and it all fell into place what was wrong with me, alongside the relief that there was finally someone who could help. K is and always will be a part of me and it’s becoming more apparent than ever the past few weeks just how solid the foundations I now have are because of her. It’s strange to be “okay” without her – we still think about her a lot, but it’s like she’s a whisper in the back of our minds and a place we will one day reach again.

august

Today is 5 years since K and I first met. I remember that day like it was yesterday but at the same time it feels as though a hundred years have passed since then. I am a totally different person than I was when K and I started working and yet more myself than ever.

I wanted to reflect a little on where I was at in therapy at this time in each of the years we have worked, so I looked in my old journals to see what I’d written and what I was working through at this point in August each year. I don’t want to trigger myself though, so this will be a light post that doesn’t delve too deeply into what was coming up. It felt important to mark this date in some way though, and it is also a good reminder that time passes and things change even when it feels like we will be stuck in the same painful situation forever.

In August 2015 I really was a total mess and had been since Jess died in December 2014 really. I was also functioning really well when I wasn’t in emotional flashbacks (hello dissociation I was yet to discover I even had) and I was putting all my energies into healing and making change in my life. I was working regularly with my acupuncturist who is trained in working with trauma, and also with a shamanic journey therapist. Both of these people were important to me, but they weren’t able to contain the level of distress and the memories that were coming up and I was suicidal and regularly planning to kill myself and Nina because it seemed as though the damage from transgenerational trauma was too great for either of us to ever recover from. I contacted K when it became apparent I needed ‘proper therapy’ to guide me through the healing process (which I thought would take a year or two!) and we first met on this day 5 years ago. This is what I wrote in my journal that evening:

This evening I went to meet K, psychotherapist. She seemed good. (Lol, this makes me laugh so much – ‘good’). Lots of experience with complex trauma. She said my flashbacks are pretty severe and that we’re going to need to go very slowly and build up the trust and the relationship before we move into looking at the trauma. I feel less hopeless than I have. I’m prepared for things to get worse before they get better… I feel a structured path and contained space is going to really help me, along with someone strong and able to challenge me.

Honestly, I had no real idea what I was getting into or how much worse it was going to get… I didn’t even realise I was dissociated, let alone someone who was extremely fragmented with almost autonomous alters or parts. And I had no idea how important the relationship would be, how it would become something that felt like it was killing me and keeping me alive nearly all the time for more than 3 and a half years. I thought therapy would be all about me, but in fact it was all about K and us – her and I together – and that has been so unexpected and beautiful and painful all at the same time. Bittersweet.

A year later our work had really got going and I was deep in the attachment work, but I’d say I still hadn’t reached the most intense and agonising work we had to do. We didn’t mark a year but I wrote briefly in my journal:

A whole year of working with K. I had no idea she’d come to be so important to me, no idea I was dissociated or had parts or was as broken as I am.

She went away for the first time since we’d been working together a few days later and I remember I had intense pain in my toes and was convinced I was getting rheumatoid arthritis. I really lost it and was in a state of heightened anxiety and catastrophising about everything. Luckily I bumped into my acupuncturist and he said often toe pain is where we are – literally – gripping the ground in fear! This explanation and validation was enough to settle things but for quite a few years after that I experienced toe pain when I was apart from K. She had wanted us to do some work by email during the 10 day break but I was too cut off to contact her – I sent a short email telling her I couldn’t send a proper email because it felt weird since I didn’t really know who she was. She replied and said she understood and was holding hope for me. Then a young part (Miffy) quickly sent an email while I was distracted in town, saying she missed K and hated the break and she remembered her even though no one else did. K sent a lovely message for her and young parts and a video of some goats running around the garden wall of her house in Portugal and just before she came home Miffy text her because she was so worried she wouldn’t come back and K replied saying ‘I am coming home. In Lisbon tonight and going on an aeroplane in the morning.’ We cried and cried in relief after getting that message, letting out all the anguish of the 10 day break. We literally counted down the hours till she was back and had the hugest meltdown ever after we finally got to see her the next day.

August 2017: K and I did a long bike ride to celebrate and then had tea and some of the cake I had made her sitting in the garden. It was perfect. She said it was her favourite therapy session ever, with any client, and that stands – for both of us – to this day I think. It was perfect. I was choosing a secondary school for Nina at that time and as we cycled and I talked it through K helped me get past all the background noise and unwanted input from others to work out what was right for both Nina and I for the next stage of our lives. It was magical and it is wonderful now that she is at the perfect school for her and we are living out of town and it was all due to seeds sown by K that day. And also such a positive experience of being supported to tune into my own sense of what is needed after a lifetime of being unable to hear my own voice due to trying to keep everyone else happy.

Our third anniversary, in August 2018, was during our only month-long August therapy break, shortly after K had told me she was taking 2019 as a sabbatical for her health and we would be ending our work – or taking an extended break with no definite return at the end of it – at the end of the year. I was in bits, as those who’ve followed my blog since then will know (her circumstances changed and in October 2018 she told me she wouldn’t be able to take the year off so we could keep working if I wanted to), but I did manage to make the best of that month to stabilise myself and make plans for how I would continue my healing journey without her. I marked the date by writing a blog post about the fact that K stayed for so long through so many hard times despite it being a rocky road that she felt ill-equipped to walk beside me on sometimes. I am so bloody relieved that wasn’t the beginning of the end though – we’ve done incredible work since then and also reaped a lot of the rewards from all the hard times in the previous three years.

Last year at this time things were SO different than they had been in previous years. I’d really moved through a lot of the attachment work and was in a much more settled place where I didn’t experience anywhere near as much shame for needing K. Nina and I were away on the 26th so K and I marked 4 years since we had our first proper session which was 2nd September. K was about to move house, which some of you may remember caused a bit of a storm, despite her saying we weren’t making a hullabaloo out of it because the most important things – her and I – were going to the new house! We sat in the garden and she gave us a beautiful silver bracelet (the one Nina wrecked last week) and I gave her a huge card made by a lot of parts in my system with pictures of things we had done together and things that are meaningful for us. Then I read aloud something I had written for her (which you can read here if you are interested) and we reflected on our time together and how far I had come. It was also our last session in her home that we had been to over 300 times, so it was emotional and difficult (I’ve written before about why the therapy room in her last house, and the garden there have been such huge parts of our healing journey) but also beautiful and I wrote down some things K said in the session afterwards about how she wishes she could magic shame away for us and how lovely it would have been for Miffy ‘if she had had all that when she was very little in a little body’.

This time last year I was so aware of how far I’d come in terms of being able to tolerate closeness and connection without feeling crippling shame or wanting to die or dissociating and forgetting K entirely – it was breathtaking and it is this which has sustained me through everything the past year has thrown at me. Missing her is a deep ache inside me right now but I also feel so much gratitude for all that my work with her has enabled me to be, and perhaps also a little hope that on this day next year we will be sitting together in her garden reflecting on 2020 and looking back in amazement that we survived such a huge disruption in our work.

This is me trying

I didn’t know if you’d care if I came back

I have a lot of regrets about that

It is the start of day two. Day one was very long. It already feels like I’ve survived a lifetime without K. There have been so many things that have come to mind that we all want to tell and ask her. It’s hard to believe it could be so many months until we get to share them, and that likely they won’t even matter by then. It is 27 weeks until we will email with a view to starting weekly sessions again. If things become too difficult we will start work again sooner, but honestly remote work is so hard and it will be at least mid-November before I reach that place.

Things feel flat and I feel kind of empty but I’m trying to just give the feelings space, let things settle, let the heaviness lighten. I am trying to hold onto hope whilst at the same time opening to the uncertainty of what is ahead, for all of us and for the whole world. Sometimes it’s easy for me to forget the tragedy unfolding on a global scale – Yemen, Syria, India, the US, Brazil, the list goes on. Systems are collapsing under the strain of what this virus is doing and I am safe and protected in my home. I am trying to find space for that and remind myself of the enormity of what is happening, not to minimise my feelings or invalidate myself, but to provide the context for what is happening in my life and why things have been so different, to help it all make sense. We’ve been so protected where I live and I don’t know anyone in real life who’s had the virus, so it helps me to integrate the past 5 months if I bring to mind the scale of what’s happening.

Our session on Monday was everything it needed to be. I cried a lot. K cried and said beautiful things about me, us, our work, which of course my brain erased immediately. She read us our two favourite stories. We put some things on the shelf in the therapy space to come back to next year. We talked about how I will manage a visit to my friend Jess’s mum next week (Jess is my very close friend who killed herself in December 2014) having just heard she has metastatic colorectal cancer which has spread to her liver.  We talked a little about what I will do with the money and the time. K reminded me that she knows me and sees me and knows all my stuff and how I work and what goes on for me and that none of that will change. She will remember it all. 

There is a deep sadness but we are not triggered and losing it. There was a lot of crying on Monday evening but we still went to bed on time and took a sleeping tablet and yesterday worked almost as normal though we were quite distracted and unfocused. I saw a good friend in the evening. I briefly considered self-harm before bed last night as a way to soothe things, but it seemed a little dramatic and so I didn’t. My whole system seems to be mostly accepting of the reality and that, in the face of it, this is the only way forward. It gives me some space to find myself a little more and K is also still here, all around me – everything we’ve done and made and been forms the foundation for the safety and stability and knowing I now have. Leia wrote in our parts’ book how everything safe feels like K because safe is a feeling she first had with K. That is so true. Our whole home feels like K and it is because of her that so much of my life now is possible.

I’m not angry with K. I trust that she is doing the right thing. She is not saying she will hide away forever but right now we don’t know enough about the virus and the long-term impacts and I respect her decisions based on her own auto-immune conditions and her partner and son’s health. If it was my son who was that sick I would do anything to protect him and I wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks. He is not even 30 yet. She will be waiting to see what happens when schools reopen, when the uni students are back, when winter comes and people start getting sicker from the virus again. It helps me to remember all this and that she is not doing this because she is irrational or pushing me away. The NHS is planning to provide remote therapy over the winter because the risk is increased in situations where there is a lot of talking, which is basically what therapy is. And when we meet I want to be able to hug her and sit close and not be freaking out about touching things. I so hope we reach that place in the Spring but I also don’t want my life to be on hold until we meet again. I don’t think it will be. Growth doesn’t really even feel like a choice anymore.

I also know she wouldn’t want to start seeing people in-person and have to go back to online if cases increased. It is easy for me to say I’d have preferred that, but I also remember what it has been like in the past when I’ve been gripped by fear of not reaching her due to snow, flooding, traffic jams, illness for the days leading up to my session. To have that every week and to not know how long we had left of in-person sessions before a potential second wave or local lockdown would have been tough. Perhaps less tough than this, but there is also an element of peace and settling involved in this decision that there has never been while we’ve been working because I could never really believe I would see her until I was in the car driving there each week.

Sometimes my mind catastrophises and tells me I’ll never see her again, that we’ve just ended without either of us knowing it and that there will be heartbreak when this becomes apparent. So then I look back on the 5 years of work we’ve done together and I know that not to be true. It could be shorter or longer than we’re expecting but I do trust we will start weekly work again. I am trying to hold in my heart the image of us re-united in the therapy space and walking down the lane to see the dogs again. The winter feels a little bleak and black but I will be continuing our work and she is there if it is really too awful to manage. I do know how deeply she cares. I do know that she also holds how remarkable our relationship and journey together so far has been, that she doesn’t have this with everyone, that she holds me and my work and my way of being in the world in high esteem. I can’t always find this knowledge, but it is there and it is carrying me through these waves of grief and loss.

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