I never thought I’d get to here

I am crying a lot this evening, great big wracking sobs whose cause, or rather underlying emotion, I can’t really put my finger on, but it feels like I am letting go of something. I shared my last two posts with K, the one from last week about how different things are now in therapy and the one from Saturday about Mr Raposa. I welled up reading both, tears of gratitude to both of us for sticking with therapy when it was so incredibly tough, bittersweet tears because with this shift comes space inside me and in my life that is not filled with K, but also bigger tears, tears carrying the force of all that has lived inside me since I first set foot in K’s house all those years ago and the process of looking at and feeling what is inside me began. And as I finished reading my body started juddering and shaking, almost like the shock response I’ve come to know so well over the years in therapy when some huge realisation about how I am or what I’ve been through hit me all in a rush. I wanted to scream and shout and cry and wail because it hurt, whatever feelings were surfacing and flooding out of me. I think it hit me all-of-a-sudden in that moment how truly, truly traumatic those years of therapy were, and a little of the trauma and intensity of those days came loose inside me and began to be metabolised.

I cannot adequately put into words just how difficult therapy was for the first three years. I genuinely felt like the pain, the process, the horror of disorganised attachment, the constant triggering of my attachment wounds, would kill me. That sounds dramatic but much of the time it really did feel that way. Therapy was agony, leaving therapy was agony, being away from K was painful but being with her hurt too much too. I wanted to end therapy to stop the pain but the pain when I thought of my life without K was intolerable too. I barely survived the time between sessions, could hardly go a day without contacting K, and spent much of my days feeling suicidal, self-harming, and generally feeling utterly hopeless and convinced I would die because of what happened to me as a baby. Words cannot do it justice really. It was truly, truly hellish. I needed to go through that awful time but it has left its own traumatic scars upon me, I have no doubt of that.

I obviously managed to trust the process enough to keep going, and there were momens of light and joy and connection, but I also couldn’t see that it was getting me anywhere. I talked about there being ‘another side’ to get to, but I had no real sense of it existing, or what it might be like. And that pain certainly didn’t feel like process, although I see now it was and was me learning to tolerate being close to someone, being in relationship, feeling connected. For more than 3 years being in relationship with K was like having caustic soda poured all over my wounds. My skin burned and I writhed in agony, and the wounds never had chance to heal before I was back for more. I was addicted to her but being with her made everything hurt more. However much love and warmth and support she poured into me was not enough, it flowed straight through me and left me desperate for more. And the love and warmth hurt me too, constantly triggering my disorganised attachment system, telling me something was very, very wrong and that I needed to protect myself by getting closer and running away at the same time. It was one crazy storm and I couldn’t even hold on to K to steady myself. Dissociation erased her from my mind and left an empty space inside my head.

I was deep in primal pain so much of the time for so many years. Crisis after crisis. Regular self-harm episodes and weeks with no sleep and floods of abandonment panic drowning me. Pain just poured out of me for months and months and months. Years really, with the occasional brief respite for a week or two where things felt more stable. Nearly every day was a battle as I somehow managed to hold my adult life, my daughter and the parts, my work, whilst years of unfelt pain and trauma surfaced and threatened to pull me under. I wondered every day how I was going to survive the rest of my life and was petrified that K would go away and leave me all on my own with the blackness inside me. Parts do still feel this way now I’m not gonna lie, and it is still very difficult living some days, but lately I can tell that we’ve done the groundwork in therapy, we’ve built the foundations together, and I am finally starting to heal.

When I had shared the post from last week towards the end of the session today, K said it is really lovely to see how well I am doing, how this healing is transformational now and I am moving towards a space where things [aka us, our relationship, our connection] can be taken in and felt authentically, instead of me always pushing it away or worrying if the relationship is real, or what will happen next (aka being constantly ashamed of how important she is to me and utterly terrified 24/7 that she would go away). It is huge, what we’ve accomplished together, the emotion swept me away and I felt the shock hit me. Those dark days are behind me and I can’t imagine ever going back to how it was now. I get flashes of course, like I did two weeks ago, but it wasn’t the same, I could unpick it and let it be there and then it moved through me.

And therapy can be used to heal now because it reaches a different place. K said how lovely it was to hear that, and how there had to be all of that struggle to break through it almost, it had to happen. And I thought that would be the work. I thought that when I had internalised K enough and could tolerate being in relationship with her we would be done, but whilst it was the work, it wasn’t all the work. And K said that now I need to drink in what it’s like to be able to be in relationship, to feel safe enough in relationship, and start to feel that it is alright to feel safe in relationship. “That’s a whole piece of work, isn’t it?” said K. And it is, she is right. It’s like I need to learn that it is safe to feel safe, that I can sink into this place and it won’t get ripped away and prove that all my fears were valid.

It feels now like some big pieces of work can be done and I will hold steady. I realised this evening as I shared the posts with K and the room filled with laughter and the echoes of times we had shared that I have more happy memories with her than I do with my own mother. And yet she is not my mother and we will not be together in her old age laughing about those times gone by. I will not be able to share with my grandchildren memories of K and I, even though they are as formational to who I will be and the life I will live as the scars imprinted on me by my parents. It is bittersweet to be healing because it means really feeling all that K is not. I know all of us in therapy say we know our Ts are not our parents, but I also know that in my own experience this is something very hard to truly grasp. For me, being estranged from my mother means that I am motherless. There really is an empty space all around me. It is not like she has died and I can draw on happy memories to support me through my grief. The space around me is too much at times, because I still lack the relationship which stabilises and grounds so many. There will always be a hole in me and a hole in my life and K cannot fill it, she can only help me to fill it, and I don’t always want to fill it myself because that feels sad and futile at times, and brings its own grief too.

So now I feel strangely lost, as I try to process those first three years of therapy and let the trauma of those days leave my body, or start to at least. I honestly can’t believe I survived and that K and I were able to hang in there for so long, whilst therapy felt like torture. I was terrified all the time. I was caught up in the push/pull of disorganised attachment nearly all the time, needing to move towards K to survive but going into fight/flight panic every time I took a step closer. And every time I showed how I felt or what was inside me, good or bad, I dissociated or was flooded with shame and a loathing which felt like it was coming from her but was actually living inside me. I’m not sure either of us really thought things would change. I know this time last year K was feeling very hopeless and thought we’d be playing out the same relationship dynamics for as long as we worked together. And it wasn’t that I didn’t do any work those three years and was just constantly re-traumatised, I obviously discovered what was ‘wrong’ with me and how broken I really was and why. I discovered my alters and got to know them. I began to learn who I was and what I wanted and needed. I cut contact completely with my Mum. I began to understand my past and how it affects me still, why I’ve done what I’ve done and why I do what I do. All of this was work, progress, but in the background was always the attachment pain and panic and searing pain of being connected to someone I felt ashamed for being connected to.

Now therapy is mostly a stabilising force in my life and I can imagine it helping during difficult times instead of triggering my shame response and making everything a hundred times worse. I’ve said before how I need to go back to many painful times in my life now and feel them from my own perspective, from within my own body, instead of focusing on my Mum and what she was doing and feeling. I feel ready to do that now, because I know K won’t leave my side if I do. I needed to find a peace of sorts in my relationship with her first or the shame of feeling would have swept me away.

We ended our session with me saying how K did exactly what she did with Mr Raposa with us. She agreed. And I feel absolutely blown away because I never thought I’d get to a place where the therapeutic relationship didn’t hurt me hugely. It stings sometimes, it fills young parts with longing still, but it doesn’t set me on fire and make me want to die anymore. And that has to be a sign of progress!

Mr Raposa

We first met Mr Raposa (not his real name) on 10th February 2016, almost six months after starting work with K. It was a Wednesday evening and adult me had just shared how I had noticed at the weekend young parts really taking over at Nina’s bedtime, playing with Sylvanian families and being pretty silly at times. I remember it was one of the first times I had really noticed how I was in the back seat and younger parts were out and taking control – I could watch what they were doing but was unable to stop them or get to the front to take control again. It was like watching people talking in the front seat of a car, watching the action and dialogue unfold but not really being part of it. Anyway, K confirmed that really it wasn’t okay for young parts to join in at bedtime, even though they really wanted to, and everyone was feeling sad and fed up. In the break K went to make us a cup of tea and when she came back she asked if we would like to meet Mr Raposa, one of her rescue dogs. The next minute he came trotting around the door of the therapy room – an orange podengo with huge ears, who looked just like a fox. I can’t remember now how long he stayed in the room, but young parts were transfixed and it was the beginning of a very special relationship that has been a huge part of our healing journey.

That night I was kept awake all night by young parts excitedly twittering about Mr Raposa. Looking back it is actually really cute, but at the time it was quite irritating. They were really excited to see him again and from then on he became a regular visitor to the therapy room and a huge part of our relationship with K and the development of an internalised sense of safety. The first message K sent about Mr Raposa was a month after we met him, after I’d had an almighty meltdown and had ended up texting her on a Sunday panicking that she was going to end therapy or stop us from seeing Mr Raposa because we were always such a pain. She replied with her usual calm reassurances that she was looking forward to seeing us all the next day and that Mr Raposa would be there too. The next day was also the day when she said for the first time (in response to general panic that getting well would mean losing her) that sometimes when the therapeutic work has been particularly intense and the wounding has been particularly deep it can be appropriate to never end therapy permanently and to transition into something else – not friends, still a therapeutic relationship, but something ongoing even when the intense therapy is done. Everything shifted that day because suddenly getting better stopped meaning we would lose K (although in the end the intense work of therapy has taken longer than either of us could have imagined at the start) and it was that evening that a young part came out and wrote for the first time ever – about Mr Raposa! I remember it vividly – I was writing in my journal about therapy and suddenly I was taken over by a young part who started writing in huge messy writing about Mr Raposa slurping our cup of tea and what a nice doggy he was. It went on for ages and left me feeling pretty insane to be honest, but also really excited to share this development with K the next day.

Knowing Mr Raposa has taught me so much about myself. K rescued him when she was living abroad a few years before we started working together, from a country with non-existent welfare legislation for animals and where animal abuse and abandonment is at epidemic levels. He had been living in a shelter for two years at that time and when she first had him he was so traumatised because of the abuse he had experienced that he was frightened to walk through doorways and used to run off multiple times every day. Although he had learnt to trust her and her partner and had settled to a certain extent, the abuse he had experienced still lived in him and because of this he has taught me so much about healing from trauma and what is possible and what isn’t.

One time I was holding a tube of giant bubbles when Mr Raposa came to say hello and he flinched, thinking I was going to hit him with it because he used to get beaten with a stick. This made us all so sad, because he didn’t know how much we loved him and that we would never, ever hurt him. And I started to understand why I was so scared of people and found it so hard to trust – my earliest experiences had taught me people would hurt me and it wasn’t a matter of just ‘getting over it’. Even though I knew K would never hurt us intentionally, it was so hard to develop a felt sense of this and to trust her. I started to hate myself a little less for not being able to trust someone I knew to be good and kind. And I felt so sad for the awful abuse Mr Raposa must have experienced and this in turn helped me develop a little (this is a work in progress!) more compassion for myself and the parts.

He has always reminded me so much of little me – needing everything the same, needing order and to know what was happening next, not liking unexpected things, getting cross with the other dogs for misbehaving and not doing what they were meant to be doing. He had his favourite spot on the sofa where he always sat, his favourite sunny spot by the pond in the garden, and he liked to go to bed at 7 o’clock every night. I began to see that I, too, needed that stability and predictability, and that it wasn’t ever possible to heal completely from extensive trauma, that I was expecting too much of myself. As Cody [10] wrote in our parts’ journal:

He will never be like other dogs that very bad things didn’t happen to so he needs special care and things to be the same.

And also Amelia who is 21:

Mr Raposa helps me realise I can’t ever be as though my hellish childhood didn’t happen and so I need to learn to understand it and be kind to myself and learn my limits and they will be different limits than people who weren’t abused and traumatised every day at home. This is really hard to accept, and even harder to put into practice, but Mr Raposa has helped me do this, and sometimes Mr Raposa feels safe and happy because of K. She rescued him.’

This theme of being rescued by K was something a lot of parts have been pretty obsessed with throughout our work. She rescued Mr Raposa , and she rescued us all too. Lotta (7) wrote some stories for one of our most troubled parts, Scarlet (10), about being rescued from our awful, scary home by Mr Raposa and being kept safe and warm in the woods with him, and later he took her to a fairy called K and she kept her safe forever too. One time we were doing a sand tray and had put figures representing K and Mr Raposa under a tree, with a young girl really far away. And we were crying that we were having such a difficult time when we were little in a little body and K didn’t even know. And K took a little plane and made the dog figure fly it to rescue little me and take me to her.

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And he helped us all beyond measure in developing a sense of trust and safety in K. It was clear very early on that in order for him to feel safe with her she must have been the same with him over and over again – patient, kind, loving, firm, predictable. He trusted her and somehow that helped us start to see and feel that it was safe for us to trust her too. Asking endless questions about Mr Raposa, and writing them down between sessions to ask in our next session, really helped us to get to know K and enabled parts to establish a relationship with her in a safe, fun and light way. ‘K understands him‘ was something Leia wrote in the parts’ book, and it was this that helped us see that she was capable of understanding us too, that she would never judge us for our difficulties either, just as she didn’t judge Mr Raposa and get impatient with him. He helped the relationship between young parts and K develop so easily. She was so loving and protective of him. She really knew and understood why he is how he is. And she never shamed or laughed at us for being so attached to him. It became possible for young parts to express huge amounts of love, for the first time ever really, and at first there was a lot of shame over loving him so much, but K validated our love for him over and over again until one day we weren’t ashamed of it anymore.

There have been so many cosy times with Mr Raposa. The first time K and I watched a film together, to try and get teen parts on board with therapy, he came and cuddled in our armchair. He was there when we did cutting and sticking to make a book as a transitional object and it was very amusing when he was poking about in the craft boxes and at some point pulled out a purple feather and started playing with it. He came in for cuddles when we got stuck on the motorway because of an accident and arrived at our session ninety minutes late and K let us still work – there had been a proper screaming, sobbing meltdown from young parts in the car about not being able to get there and we were incredibly distressed. K brought us in a plate of bread with peanut butter and Mr Raposa shared the food and provided so much comfort. One time he made a really happy noise when he saw me and rushed over. He always put his head down when he saw us to have behind his ears scratched and he loved stretching out for cuddles. He was discerning and yet he knew me and he loved me, so he showed me maybe there was something good in me worthy of that love.

He bought so much laughter and joy to the therapy space, something that is so needed when doing the depth of work K and I have had to do. Sometimes we gave him his afternoon milk and we used to take him in the garden and he would scavenge around for food and eat rotten fruit. We would laugh at his loud barking, his goose noises, the fact he licks the sofa every night, him taking things out of the bin and K having to take them off him, and the way he tells tales on the other dogs for being silly and not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Dog film night became a fairly regular part of therapy and the first time all four dogs came and it was hilarious. K had warned the dogs to be ‘not too silly’ [something she said a lot and which tickled us because it meant she knew they would be a bit silly] and then they were the silliest they had ever been, jumping around and cavorting for 40 minutes until they finally settled down. K and I laughed so much and it was the most magical evening. K said she would keep it in her heart forever, and we definitely have too.

And a year in to therapy we were really triggered on a weekend at a family wedding and about to go to another city for a really important conference adult me was giving a paper at. K and I did a phone session on the Sunday afternoon to try and contain things and young parts were lamenting how they wanted to take Mr Raposa with us. Instead of saying, “well don’t be silly, you can’t take a dog to a conference,” K asked young parts what it would feel like to take him with us. “Safe and warm” we replied and K tried to get us to take that feeling into our hearts and imagine taking him with us and having him there. We took Mr Raposa with us in our heart and imagined him laying next to us in the hotel bed and sitting under the dining table. It helped so much and after that we began to take Mr Raposa around with us a lot and it really helped to develop a felt sense of safety internally and also out in the world. It was often painful because he wasn’t our dog and we always had to leave him behind, and we so desperately wanted to hold him close to our heart all the time and cuddle him in our bed, but he really showed us so much about what it felt like to be safe. Miffy wrote how she felt safe at K’s with Mr Raposa and sometimes when she wasn’t there she felt safe remembering what it felt like to be there with him. We would write stories about doing things with him and the other dogs, and learnt to hold those imaginary times in our heart to feel safe. One time we wrote a story about camping in K’s garden with Mr Raposa and another of K’s dogs we also have a very special relationship with, and sometimes it feels as though it really did happen.

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When things in therapy were especially difficult and we were floaty and far away and feeling unsafe in the space we found Mr Raposa grounding. He would come in to the therapy room when we were really dissociated, or we would talk about him and the other dogs with K and it would help us feel safe and come back when we felt disconnected and really far away. It was a safe way to reconnect. He came to the car on his lead with another dog on our last session before Christmas in 2016, because I had told K I couldn’t bear to be shut outside of her house alone just before Christmas and needed some kind of transition into the car. That helped so much, not being shut out by ourselves in the dark.

When it was too painful to imagine K at home when we weren’t there, because we felt so excluded from her real life, we would picture Mr Raposa and the other dogs and that helped enormously. Mr Raposa can’t go out because he is aggressive to other dogs (because he is afraid), so we knew he was always there and it helped provide some kind of balance and stability and object permanency, in a way that was less triggering than trying to remember K was there. Imagining what he was doing, and getting messages and photographs from K about him, helped us feel safe. And gradually we became able to imagine K with him and the other dogs, and that felt okay and less triggering than imagining her there with friends and family. It was nice knowing she was there with all the dogs when we were away from her. He was always there, he never went anywhere and so we could imagine him at home even when K was on holiday and far away. And this helped to ease things ever so slightly around breaks. And the first time she went on holiday whilst we were working, when we weren’t at all prepared for how difficult breaks would be, K wrote in an email for Miffy ‘I think we are all missing Mr Raposa’ and it was like being cuddled inside.

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And then something bad happened, the worst thing ever for young parts, Mr Raposa and his friends [2 other of her 4 dogs] moved to another country with K’s partner in September 2017 and we had to say goodbye. It was genuinely heartbreaking. I also knew it was really difficult for K saying goodbye to them and her partner so I managed to contain the parts as much as I could in the final session when Mr Raposa and another dog we were also very attached to came in for a goodbye story and cuddles, only allowing the screams and sobs to erupt in the car once we had left. Knowing they were leaving in the morning was very difficult, but we also knew they were going somewhere they would be happier and freer. And I knew we were welcome to go to the centre K’s partner was opening and see them at some point, if we ever felt brave enough. Since then we’ve posted presents to him sometimes and K’s partner sends photos quite often and tells us what he has been doing. He says he will always remember me and I really hope that is true. I also really hope we will be able to make the trip to see them one day. And now when K goes away it is easier, because we know she will be with them.

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I will end with something a young part wrote in August 2016, because I think finally, after all these years, this is what is starting to happen as a result of therapy with K.

Me and Mr Raposa both runned away all the time when we scared which is all the time sometimes. I go away in my head and Mr Raposa tries to go somewhere else with his legs. He doesn’t do that so much now because of K. Maybe she will help me stop running away so much too.

Under your tree (I love us)

Therapy today was lovely. Not a sentence I thought I’d ever be writing! I was kind of scared to go today, I think because I was experiencing high levels of anxiety already about things non-therapy related and wasn’t sure how the session would play out after the huge process that took up the first part of last week. As I was driving to K’s after work there were blue skies and sunshine and a feeling of Spring being on it’s way, and I was thinking how it would be nice to go in K’s garden today. As soon as she opened the door she asked if we would like to go in the garden, to see the flowers that are blossoming, and to take in that Spring is nearly here. We took her remaining dog on his lead (3 now live in Portugal) and walked to the bottom of her enormous garden in relative silence and stillness and I just soaked it all in – I never thought I would be in her garden again because we were ending, yet there I was and it was the same. Another Spring of working together – I feel incredibly lucky.

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We’ve done some really deep and important work in her garden – made art out of natural things, burnt things on a bonfire, sat drinking tea and eating cake after a gorgeous bike ride along the canal to mark two years of knowing each other, read a story on the birthday of my dear friend Jess who I’ve written about before. And it is where I first voiced that I didn’t think I was going to be able to carry on a relationship with my Mum in any way at all. It is also a really safe and healing place for young parts – we’ve picked fruit to take home, blown bubbles, lit sparklers, and run around playing with K’s dogs, We have talked a lot in her garden too, sitting on yoga mats in the sunshine. Therapy outside is different; the energy shifts and sometimes harder things can be voiced without then hanging in the space around us. It is freeing. And a love of nature, a need to feel connected to the earth, is something K and I share so it is wonderful to have that space to be in together. I took some photographs of the snowdrops and K pointed out a huge patch of them under ‘my’ tree – I never knew before that she thinks of that as my tree because it is where we made a beautiful mandala together on Summer Solstice in 2017. It felt really lovely to hear her say that.

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The reassurance I needed last week that our relationship is still strong and real even though we need K less was provided this evening, not through words but through just being together. The bond we have is all around us, unspoken yet nurturing and solid and beautiful, and we know each other so well – there is so much peace and acceptance in our relationship now, so much that doesn’t need to be explained, so much history. Being together is so easy so much of the time now, and it does enable me to really take in what therapy gives me. I know that K must feel this too, I could tell in her voice today how much joy she takes in seeing my growth in the past few months in particular. And parts were calmer today and were therefore able to take in what was being shared and created in the room. Although K has been re-parenting (fostering, she has called it) us for a very long time now, it feels like only very recently that the re-parenting is actually providing us with reparative experiences, rather than just being completely triggering and awful and constantly poking at ‘the mother wound’.

I managed earlier in the session to share some of what was going on after our last session, and how we shouldn’t have to have this kind of relationship with someone who is not our parents. There is always that added layer of difficulty because we only get this healing relationship while things conspire to make it possible, not just the money (although that is a factor of course), it is that our ability to spend that 90 minutes together week in week out is dependent on many things staying as they are now. There are no guarantees. I told K how hard it is sometimes to know that Nina gets me until I die – she doesn’t have to do anything, she gets to just live her life and have me. Early last week there were feelings around K’s children on this point, but things settled and I came back to my own life and they receded, and when I am with K her children are never present. It never even occurs to me to ask about them – in that room only her and I exist. For that period of time there is no one else. She pours her undivided attention and interest and love into me in that space, her children never encroach, and I know they never even go in that room when they are home. It is our space, the first place we felt safe, and the first place the parts spoke and were heard. She hadn’t lived in her house for very long when we started work and so I know we have spent more time in that room with her than any other client, and in our primal need to be the centre of someone’s world, this is important to us, and it is healing to have that knowledge.

We feel so full of love this evening – love for K, of course, but really love for us – her and I and the parts, and what we have created together. I love what we are together, the blanket of safety and authenticity we have woven together over the past 3 and a half years, the deep knowing we have of each other. I trust her and feel safe with her and I take all that into the world with me. I don’t know K in her day-to-day life it is true, but I do know the real her and I know what we have is real, sacred, special, and so important to each of us in different ways. I shared in our session today the post I wrote last week about needing time after therapy now to process and write and just be with whatever comes up for us, and how this probably means going to choir after session is something that is doing myself a disservice at the moment. She commented how much processing and thinking had happened in my post, and how I was feeling into the new shape of therapy and negotiating with how things needed to be as I was writing.

And she commented on the shift that has recently taken place because I don’t go home and go into meltdown now, I go home and reflect (“mostly, apart from on Monday … And the week before”) [LOL]. “And that reflective space feels so healthy, as you say, you need to do it, to digest the session and reflect on it, and reflect on what you need in your life right now”. She’s right, because as I wrote last week, I didn’t used to be able to write after therapy at all, I used to just freeze or numb out in some way, or just feel utterly hideous and wild and completely uncontained. If I did write it was a dissociated jumble of parts and outpourings of how painful everything was and how therapy was making everything worse. It used to be I just needed to get through the time between sessions, and it isn’t like that anymore. I can really take in and process the work from the session throughout the week now, and I really appreciate having space to do that, either through writing or just being, even when it is hard and painful things come up. And if I’m in a really good space after therapy I don’t want to disrupt that either – it is such a new thing for me, feeling better after therapy, feeling okay, feeling safe and snuggled up, feeling held and connected and contained, and when I feel that way I want to hold onto it and be with it and stay safe inside that feeling. And sometimes young parts just want to write about how nice it is at K’s house, because it used to be so awful to be away from her that we couldn’t hold on to what it was like to be with her. It is still sometimes a bit like being kicked when we leave, but then when we stop and notice we realise it’s still with us, everything we get from her. We carry her inside of us and she is always in the space around us too.

It used to hurt to be away from K so much, even when our session had been nice and holding and containing, in fact especially when our sessions had been this way. It feels so different now. K said how great it is that I am evolving into my therapeutic space and how it is enabling me to reflect more, which is a great thing.  There did used to be reflection, but mostly about how bad things were, and what a challenge it was being in therapy! She said how now I am managing to fine tune my perception of what’s going on for me, which is a really big deal for me because of my dissociation, and so the benefits of therapy are longer lasting now. And she said it feels as though I am honouring myself with this decision, and that even though choir has been a resource, and will be again and for a long time to come, right now it is not serving me to go after therapy. And we agreed that right now our session time is the only time that works for me because of work and Nina’s swimming training so it is best to work out how to make the best of what is, rather than spend lots of energy trying to work out how to make things different.

I started to really dissociate just as we were leaving and K noticed and called out “don’t disappear” and said “this is not the time to dissociate” [LOL again] and that it would unpick everything I’d just told her about needing to go home and process my session if I let myself dissolve. She told me I didn’t need to leave her by dissociating because she is still here and we are in contact and we have the safety net of half an hour by phone or meeting up on Friday to lean into if needed. I managed to return to the semi-present and tell her that from this session I would take the garden and how safe it is for us. How amazing that she can see me dissociating before I know it is happening.

So this evening I am left with a clear sense that we are growing, me and the parts, and that despite this K is still here and we are stronger than ever. When things feel more-or-less okay inside I can feel how it actually brings us closer together that I am growing, perhaps because that growth is built upon our relationship. I couldn’t be growing away from her without the solid foundation we have built, and so every step I take towards my future is still another step with her, it’s just that I sometimes carry her inside me now instead of needing her right beside me all the time. She is part of me and nothing will ever change that. I remember last year how she said that what we have cannot be broken, and I am starting to really believe her now.

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Dear K

Sometimes therapy still feels really confusing. Sometimes I wish there was just simple transference going on, instead of all these different relationships because I have so many parts. You have a relationship with all of the alters – even the ones you’ve never met have silently watched you, and your relationship with adult me and other parts filters down to them. And as you pointed out yesterday, there are multiple relationships going on inside of me as well. The parts are watching me, modelling me, and they learn from our relationship – you and I – and how I am in the world too. It is hugely confusing sometimes. And other times it just is now, and trying to make sense of it all is not something I feel the need to do. Sometimes now therapy just unfolds the way it needs to, but today I feel stuck somewhere horribly painful where I wonder if I am just prolonging my agony by keeping doing this work.

Some parts want you to be their mum and sometimes I wish it were that simple – straightforward mummy transference. It’s not though, there are parts that find that idea completely weird and unappealing. Sometimes our relationship feels more like that of equals, collaborating on my healing together. Sometimes I want guidance on parenting from you and other times I am so little that it feels completely weird to be talking about ‘my daughter’ with you. Sometimes I want you to be a terrible mother whose children never want to see you, other times I need to know you are a good mother so I know you would have been ‘good enough’ to us if you were ours. I need you to be the same in the world as you are with us in therapy, so I know you are ‘real’ with us, but we also hate that you might be how you are with us with everyone. Sometimes it is reassuring when you talk about teenagers and I know you know what parenting them is like, but for teen parts it is painful knowing you have had teenagers of your own and that those teenagers are yours, whereas they are not. They are not anyone’s. So we want you to be close to your children, to have been there for them in the way we needed because then we can trust you will be here for us, but we also despise knowing that you have people of your own that you are excited to see and are there for in ways you cannot be there for us.

Sometimes therapy feels ‘enough,’ more so now than it ever has before, but other times it becomes so painfully apparent that it will never truly be enough to heal us the way we thought, many years ago now, that we could heal. The painful truth is that even when we have healed, we still won’t have a mum. We are motherless, me and the parts, and at times that feels more than we can endure. There is nothing there to salvage. The end of all this journeying will be to have accepted that and to be able to live with that empty space inside us without doing mad things to avoid it.

You are not our ‘go to’ when we feel bad anymore, we don’t get caught in that painful push/pull place of needing you and being scared to contact you at that same time, but we are not free from those bad feelings. We are not well yet, but we are more stable. I know you always said you would want to do this work with us even if we were stable, that you knew that some parts might be scared if the frequent (near-constant at the beginning) crises ended you would  go away. You’ve proved that isn’t true. We trust you now. And yet it is hard to be able to hold it all myself. It is hard needing less from you. There is still so much work to do but it is different now. Mostly – today it feels like an echo of the past inside of me, but I know it will pass and it didn’t occur to me to contact you to help with this.

Sometimes it feels magical that we are individuating and becoming more central in our own lives, but other times it is actually terrifying to be growing away from you. Sometimes the distance and space is comforting because it means our wellbeing is not dependent on you in the way it once was and we can restabilise before we see you. Sometimes knowing we wouldn’t die without you is reassuring, but other times we miss how important you were. Sometimes our own life takes up more space than you do, and other times there is too much space without you being so central. Sometimes I feel I’ve internalised you so much that I can feel you all around me, but when I am dissociated and cut off I can still find I have no sense of who you are. The only difference is knowing that we will reconnect and that nothing has changed for you.

You will always be my attachment figure, the person who taught me what safety feels like, but you are not the person who should be in that role and so you are never really mine. I know I’m not losing you yet, I know we have many more stones to unturn together and many more miles to walk beside each other, but young parts want you the way they always have and they don’t like this emerging independence. I want to get better but I don’t want getting better to mean losing you. You said yesterday how much we matter to you, all of us, and I know that is true. I know you’ve not worked with anyone else for as long or as intensely as you have with us, but I cannot ever matter to you as much as I need to. No one can, no one will. I love what I have with you but it still hurts sometimes.

“The mother wound” round 6731

What a fucking horrendous day. It was punctuated by some beautiful moments in the forest with K this evening which I will write about when things have settled, but overall it has been fucking awful. And the pain I was hit with after leaving K was something else. Another level of #themotherwound. At least this time I know it is about my mother, or lack of, rather than about K. Progress?

I have sobbed and wailed since I got home 3 1/2 hours ago and so I am writing this in a last attempt to calm myself without resorting to self-harm. I’m not sure it will work, and I really don’t want to cut, but I have work tomorrow and I just need to be okay.

I still don’t understand why K is so nice to me. Like I know I pay her, but there are so many ‘easier’ clients she could work with and who she wouldn’t need to give a reduced fee to. What she does for me is beyond incredible. And it is not enough. Of course it isn’t. She cannot take this pain away. I know she would if she could, she has told me, but all she can do is hold me in it.

Last year I seem to have handled this date ‘better’ – it was a Sunday and I took myself for a walk on the beach and thought of Jess and my Mum and I found I was able to think of my Mum with love and compassion. I felt sad but also like I was growing. I hadn’t needed to reach out to K that day, and when I saw her the next day I was able to tell her how the day felt spacious and healing (and in many ways it was, compared with the first and second anniversaries where it felt like there was a tightly coiled spring inside me and I was suffocated and overcrowded and finding it very difficult to function). And yet this weekend and today have been a completely different story, and I can see how whilst some of that compassion is healthy, it is also a defence against feeling my own pain at not having had what I needed and having to spend basically all of my life so far dealing with and trying to heal from my attachment wounding. Holding compassion for my Mum is another way of keeping myself safe from her, by making her feelings more important than my own. So last night the anger came, an anger I wrote down and shared with K in the forest this evening as we sat in the dark with two lit candles near us. She thought it was good there was anger there, and that I was going with what was there at the time, rather than some preconceived idea of how I should be feeling.

And this evening I just feel annihilated. The pain has felt unsurvivable. It has no real words, other than ‘it isn’t fair’. It is agony. The wounds left by a narcissistic mother who couldn’t see or love me are agony. It feels as though the pain will kill me. I wish it had killed me when I was a baby and I had been saved all of this, I really do. I sent K a brief and not very coherent text, telling her I couldn’t survive the pain and asking if we could do an email check-in on Wednesday because we are meeting on Friday again this week. She hasn’t replied, but I know she will. As we were parting at the forest she said to text her if things felt unmanageable and we would make a plan. Somehow she seems to know this year is bigger and is letting me really lean on her. She is very receptive and open to me needing more of her right now, perhaps because she can really see the progress I’ve made the past few months and that this isn’t about her but is about me processing really difficult stuff. I don’t feel tangled up in transference, although obviously leaving her earlier and being left alone with this gaping wound was pretty awful. I’m scared she’ll leave me because I’m still not “better” and recovered from this fucking attachment trauma, but I can see that would be mental and I can see objectively that if she hasn’t left so far she is not going to, not when we are doing such good work and I am so much better able to hold my process and actually live between sessions.

I spoke to R, my acupuncturist who I’ve known for 14 years, for an hour this evening and basically wailed and sobbed and was a snotty, crying mess for most of it. Together we remembered that when Jess died it triggered everything in me that had lain dormant for forever, and so I guess the anniversary triggers all that in me again, as well as the very real grief over what I lost when she died. And he said lots of helpful things about the pain of having a narcissist for a mother, and I said how I feel sick when I think of the fact that she is my Mum and then I hate myself for that thought. I said how complex it all is, because I can’t just hate her – I am just a great big boiling pot of tangled up emotions – grief, fear, pity, hatred, shame, sadness, resentment, regret, rage, disgust – and all the emotions are intertwined and it is just utterly confusing inside me. I have no idea what anything is. He was validating and just witnessed my pain and didn’t try to change it or offer crap platitudes. He sees this as process, and I am trying to hold on to that. I cannot stay stuck in this place and I need to feel it to move through it. And I can see that this is coming up now because I feel so safe in my work with K lately – I know she is not going away and I know she enjoys working with me and I know I would survive without her (okay today I don’t, but overall I do feel that now and back in June and July I really didn’t). I am trying to tell myself it is okay to feel this pain on another level now, that these feelings are coming up because it is safe to feel them. It doesn’t change how completely overwhelming it is to be so obliterated by this pain though.

I think I won’t cut now. I will take diazepam and a sleeping tablet and try and sleep. Yuk. How long does this process go on for? How much pain and grief and shock and loss can there be inside one person? I bet my Mum is feeling so sorry for herself, and yet again I am completely invisible. Just as I always have been. I don’t exist for her, I really truly don’t – what a fucking horrifying legacy to leave your daughter.

I choose

This is what I wrote for K after our phone call this afternoon.

I choose. I choose to stay here because my Mum controlled my life for more than 32 years and I refuse to let her make me run or hide anymore. I have as much right to be here as she does. Let’s look at the facts of why I don’t see her, because she may not have intentionally broken me but the truth is that if all those people who judge me SAW what she had been like to me and G (my disabled half brother) growing up, the abuse she screamed at us, the endless days we spent terrified and in tears and on edge, her rage and tears and out of control screaming filling our ‘home’, they would wonder how I lasted so long. If people saw the dysfunction they would understand. And K sees the dysfunction, she sees what it has done to me, and she gets it. It’s just that they can’t see it because part of the dysfunction was putting on a front for others. That front, that pretence, is part of what broke me. I never knew what was real and what wasn’t because she would rage at us and cry for hours and then deny all knowledge of it and say it wasn’t that bad and I must be ‘misremembering’. I need to remember what is real.

At Christmas time Mum would scream at us for hours and then tell us off for “looking miserable” and “spoiling the day” when we were too shattered inside to manage a smile and we couldn’t choke the tears back fast enough to stop her seeing. The taste of Christmas treats mingled with saltwater tears lingers in my memory. Trying to keep her happy when inside I was breaking again. I have spent so many Christmases in excruciating pain, vomiting, crying and tense, erupting in full body rashes, terrified and full of dread, hearing her sniff and cry and rage and wondering what on earth was coming next. I have spent so many Christmases feeling ‘bad’ because I was never good enough to fill her up and make her happy and stop it falling flat. I have chosen not to play this game of pretend anymore. I have chosen to save Nina and myself. I have chosen to show my daughter that we always have a choice in life and that when we spend time with people who claim to ‘love us’ but who leave us feeling inadequate and unworthy and broken and in pain then this is not really love. It is abuse.

And so I choose to stay in E_____ because Nina is settled and happy and gaining her independence. She is loving school and making new friends and finding out who she is. She gets to spend time with my Dad who makes things with her out of wood and does fun craft things that I rarely have the energy or time to do – and that I often find triggering – and he helps her with Maths and makes her laugh and gives her someone else to turn to who is important in her life. And she has Jenny, who she has written is ‘like a Grandma’ to her and who babysits for free and does fun stuff with her and shows 1000% interest in everything she tells her. And she has Mark, Rachel, Stan and Eddie who are always there if I need anything and Dad can’t help and who think of Nina as one of the family. And soon we will be living somewhere with cleaner air which will be good for her asthma and allergies, and for her emotional and mental wellbeing as a teenager because she won’t be hanging round town with her head constantly being filled with things she ‘needs’ to buy.

And I choose to stay for me:

  • I have new friendships developing at work and lovely colleagues who like and respect and confide in me, and I spend my days in a work environment where I feel like I really belong, for the first time in my life.
  • I am 3 years into my probationary period and 2 years away from being made permanent and promoted and I don’t want to start again somewhere else. I have contacts at E_____ and I know what I am doing and how all the systems work and I have made a name for myself there. Starting again somewhere else is not what I want. Life is enough of a challenge because of trauma and dissociation and pain. I don’t want another huge challenge just to survive.
  • I love D_____ and I love being able to work at one of the top institutions for what I do but in a city that is small and in a place where nature is close by. There aren’t many other institutions as good as where I am but with such beautiful, wild places nearby.
  • K is here and I am making brilliant progress in therapy and I do not want to lose that or her when I can really see that things are getting better and that a type of healing is happening now that I didn’t even think was possible.
  • My choir is lovely and I always feel welcome and like I belong there.
  • I have a wonderful new friendship developing with Sue and other people and I get enough time away from Nina to see friends without her.
  • We live in a safe place and are moving to a safer place where I can let Nina out by herself and leave her at home for a few hours by herself.
  • My Dad is here and he is helpful with practical things and looking after Nina, and Jenny is here as well and she is like family too. She came with me to hospital when I needed IV morphine for the pain in the summer and stayed overnight when I was scared to be alone afterwards.
  • I have been able to buy a house and soon will be able to move somewhere quieter and out in nature where there is a sense of community and open skies and (hopefully) no one who knows Mum and G.
  • House prices are low enough where we want to live that we will be able to afford a walker for a dog a few days a week so he/she is not by herself when we are at work/school.
  • I won’t have a stupidly long commute to work even though we are living in a little village. I will be able to cycle to work in the Spring and Summer.
  • Nina is at a good school with a sixth form and an incredibly caring and nurturing ethos. She is already known and liked and able to be herself there.

If Nina had gone to WE (school round the corner) she would have been in tears every day because of horrible, bitchy girls. She still gets messages on WhatsApp from them saying mean things and accusing her of things now but she is free to ignore them because she doesn’t have to see them at school anymore. She wouldn’t have become close friends with Sally or made friends with Edie. Mum would have driven past the school and wormed her way into being friends with someone whose child was there. Nina would have been hanging out in town and might have seen Mum every weekend, but when we move she will go to S________ park with her friends or in to T_________ to go swimming or to the cinema. We wouldn’t have been able to move out of town and be somewhere quiet and peaceful, we would have had to stay in this area and we would always have worried Mum would be driving past or in Sainsbury’s. Nina would have been slathering her face in makeup and worrying that boys don’t like her. She would have been hanging around after school with horrible girls and continuing all the problems from primary school. Her main socialising would have been done in town and she is more likely to have been exposed to smoking and drinking and other things too soon. She would have been worried and tried to make herself invisible because of all the mean people.

And if we moved away I would struggle. I would be the solo parent of a teenager trying to create a new life with no support whilst working in a demanding job and experiencing PTSD, dissociation and physical pain. There would be no one to have Nina for weekends or if I went to conferences. There is nowhere nice to cycle. The swimming club Nina would need to join involves early morning swimming two mornings a week. I would have had to start again with meeting people and it would be hard because socialising is draining for me and causes me to dissociate and in order to make new connections I would have needed to say yes to lots of things which would be hard whilst so much energy is spent on practical parenting stuff and nurturing Nina and my work.

And if we had moved away before, before I really knew how broken I was, I may well have totally lost my mind and actually killed myself and Nina because if everything that hit me after Jess died had happened and I had no support I may not have been able to hang on through the years of suicidality that I went through as all the memories resurfaced and I was forced to confront my fragmented selves and all the pain they held. And even if I didn’t kill us both I may have lost my job and damaged Nina irreparably. I would still have needed to face up to the pain of Mum and what she did to me, and what she deprived me of, wherever in the world I had been.

So it feels as though I am stuck here, but actually it is a good choice. I am not crazy for staying here. Mum is the crazy one and the version of reality she tells people about why we don’t see her bears basically no resemblance to the truth. K knows, R (my acupuncturist) knows, Dad knows, K (my half sister) knows, Nina knows. It is better this way, even though it is not okay.

I want her to come back

I got hit by a torrent of grief over Jess at the end of my therapy session this evening. I’m still battling it now as it comes in waves and leaves me aching and haunted and gasping for breath. I am hanging on though, remembering K’s words from this evening and the safety and holding she gives me, knowing she is there and I am seeing her again soon, that I can message if I need to. She has never felt as safe and warm and loving as she did this evening. And I have never felt as grateful to have her – the years we have worked together were all there in the room between us. She holds me tighter when I wobble now because she knows what I need to keep me upright, and I know how to lean into her without losing my own feet.

We were finishing off a craft project we started last week at the kitchen table. I’d already read out the blog post from last night, and we’d already arranged an extra session for Friday by text this morning because a lot came up over the weekend around Jess and my Mum. And we had made arrangements to meet on Friday next week as well if needed. K also told me she is here over Christmas – we could have worked as normal on Christmas Eve but I said I didn’t think Nina would be too impressed if I had therapy that day so we arranged to meet on the 21st and then we are working as normal on the 31st and beyond. I am so aware of how lucky I am that K has never really taken a break at Christmas. The year Nina and I went away to a cottage by the sea for Christmas we all had a complete meltdown because of the 8 day break even though it was our break. The other years we’ve hardly had a break at all and usually done extra sessions around the anniversary of Jess dying. It has helped me not lose my mind completely, having extra support at that time and I do feel very lucky that she doesn’t take time off at this time of year like so many other Ts do.

I thought K was going to expect me to manage this December without extra sessions or support because we were supposed to be ending and now we’re not, but she didn’t. Not at all. I should have known better really. This will be our 4th December working together and she knows how hard the month is for me more than anyone else – the usual Christmas triggers because it was such a traumatic and horrific time of year growing up, not having much family to spend time with, my Mum’s birthday and the anniversary of Jess dying and the anniversary of the date – a week after she died – when I identified her body at the morgue so her body could be released in time for her funeral to take place on the 23rd. It is anniversary after anniversary.

“My sense is that December and Christmas-time is a tough one for you and with your news about the rheumatologist (I found out today I’m being referred because of the rash and raised ANA levels) you need a bit of support. So let’s allow in the possibility of flexible time if you need it, because there’s always a sense of this time of year being hard for you.”

I judge myself for not being over it yet, for the huge, raw, untamed grief that spills out of me still over Jess’s death, but I should have known that K has even more compassion for me because she has seen the pain this month brings so many times now. She is the same as she always has been at this time of year, because she knows me. It still blows me away that she knows me so well now and she still cares. How can she know me this well and still care so much? How can she have seen all the horrors inside me and still be here, still care? How have I not driven her away? How can she not be tired and bored and overwhelmed by me?

We only had maybe 7 minutes of the session left and I was hit with a sudden wave of terror that I would soon be on my own with the horrifying feelings that were bubbling inside me. I could feel them rising up, a silent scream in my throat, and huge amounts of shock and disbelief that Jess really isn’t here anymore. I somehow managed to voice the fear that I was going to go to a bad place, an un-copeable-with place, in the car when I left because I felt so sad about Jess. And the tears fell as K spoke gently to us all about how we needed to let the pain out and shine a light on it together so the feelings aren’t so frightening. She said she knows how horrible it is but that I need to let the grief be here, and to feel at the same time the joy of what we were making and how well I’ve done today – not harming myself, not binge drinking, not doing mad things to squash the pain down anymore. Accepting her offer of extra time on Friday. Saying what I needed from the session. Honouring myself. Doing healing things while we think about her. Really different from how I was when she first knew me. Each year I honour her and my own pain in a more healthy way.

“Let it be here” said K. So I am letting it be here. Everything in me is screaming to go and buy wine and razors and take diazepam and cut until it doesn’t hurt anymore but I am sitting in this pain instead. Sobs are still wracking my body and my head aches from crying. I know I need to eat and have a bath and get ready for work tomorrow. I will, because I am not where I was 3 years ago, or two years ago, or last year, but it still hurts so much. Even though it doesn’t send me into crisis when it hits now the pain is still so intense it takes my breath away. I still wonder each time I get pulled under by grief’s arms whether I will make it to the surface again. I cannot believe it is still so raw, so intense, so all-consuming. It still shocks me that she is really gone. It is physical agony, a pain so deep and limitless. Waves of grief over someone I loved so deeply and lost too soon, someone I thought would be part of my life forever, not someone I thought would shape my life through her death. Time stood still on that December day 4 years ago and when it began again I was never-again in the land of before. “After Jess killed herself” will forever be the line that divides up my life. And it still hurts so much that I will never see her again. A physical ache, a longing to see her and hug her and dance with her, a yearning to tell her things and hear her thoughts and share my past and present and future with her. It hurts so much that I didn’t know how bad she was feeling, that I couldn’t help, that she told me things were feeling better and I believed her – I didn’t know as I hugged her goodbye on that November afternoon that she was saying her forever good bye to me. I didn’t know she seemed better because she had already made up her mind. I thought she was feeling better but she was saying her goodbyes. And I’ve felt the pain she must have been feeling, I know its murky depths and it has more than once led me to try and go to the place she is now in. After she died I wanted to go with her, to be with her and away from the pain she triggered in me by leaving. Sometimes even now I wish I could do that. I know how proud she would be of me for keeping going, because we both know each other’s pain. And I understand why she did what she did, as much as I ever will I think. There are still so many unanswered questions, about her last days and weeks and how long she had been planning it, but mostly now I can let them be.

K said it is very, very hard to ever constellate properly around suicide, because there is shock and loss in the same place and there was no time to prepare or say good bye. And the person chose to take themselves away in such a violent way. And for those left behind it is really, really tough to try and make sense of it, and it doesn’t really ever go away. She said it will lessen and the feelings will soften and be less raw, but it is hard enough for ‘normal’ people, but for people with little people inside it is such a terrible, horrible, confusing thing to get used to. I’m not sure I will ever get used to this. I hear little voices in my head wanting her to come back and it still makes no sense that she is gone. And K said it is really okay to feel very sad this week. I needed her permission for that. I needed her validation tonight to allow me to feel some of this. She said to be gentle with myself and to lean into her. And I will, I am. I am leaning on her even though she is not next to me. Before we left she asked what I would take from today’s session and I sobbed out that “I am just really glad that you are here” and she said “the universe has twisted things around so that we are still working which is a great thing.

And it is a great thing. I cannot even imagine how I would be coping with these losses if I was losing K in two weeks’ time as well. We had a hug at the end of the session and K said how well I was doing to not be in crisis but to also be letting the pain out. I feel horrendous and not like I am doing well at all, but I can see things are better than they were. I can see I can hold this now in a way I couldn’t before. “We are getting there” said K. And I believe her.

Taking it in

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

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

“I will be here”

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

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

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

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

“I know you’re here”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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