You saw me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missing

I miss my mum this evening. It pulls heavily at me. I wanted to google her, although I know seeing her face on anything online would break me. Seeing her obvious insecurity and self-doubt in photographs fills me with dread and horror and guilt and shame. A toxic combination of emotions rooted deeply in my psyche from before I was even born. I still so badly want this to not be real, for her to not be my mum. It still hits me sometimes that it is real – I will probably never see her again. And I question if it was really that bad that I have to do this, even though I know no one would willingly choose to do what I have had to do.

It seems mad sometimes to be blocking her out of my life. What a crazy thing to do to your own mother! I could pick up the phone and she would come round, I know she would. And for a few minutes it would feel okay, but then everything would be the same and I would be trapped, unable to break away again because it would hurt her all over again. I still dream I am back in contact with her and I know it was a mistake but that I have to live with it because I can’t do that to her again. I wake up drenched in sweat, sobbing and shouting, feeling panicked and trapped and unable to escape. I know all this, know there is no other way, but it is still so hard. Sometimes I feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of that horror that lives within me, barely made any headway with feeling what she is and how it was for me because of her mental illness.

In December I was crying with K “how can SHE be my mum? How can she be my mum and have done those things to me?” And K gently asked if it wasn’t time to change things round now, so that I start to say “she IS my mum, she DID those things” and I start to feel all that this really means and has meant to me. I agreed. But going there is scary. I prefer the disbelief than the resolute acceptance which I know must come, and the feelings that must be felt before I get there.

Sometimes I feel crazy to be missing someone who damaged me so much and wounded me so deeply, but I do miss her – she is the only mum I’ll ever have and she tried so hard. She wasn’t evil, she wanted to love me and give me what she never had, she just didn’t know how else to be. She couldn’t love me. How fucking awful for a mother to lose her daughter after losing her own parents so young. What a fucking awful existence she has had. If I could have sacrifiecd myself to save her I would have done, but I couldn’t make her happy and fill her up however much of myself I gave to her.

I miss her. I can’t go back, it has to be this way, but I miss her so much. Knowing she is out there, just 5 miles away, living her life as best she can without me and Nina, trying to get used to the hole we have left… It hurts. I hurt for her and I know I need to hurt for me but I can’t. Feeling her feelings is still safer for me. There is work to be done, but for now I am trying to just sit with the grief and remember that this wave will pass and there is light ahead of me.

missing

“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.

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