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.

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.

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