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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.

’tis the damn season

Christmas was unexpectedly an absolute shit show. I was feeling completely okay about it this year, it being low-key and all, and somehow it descended into a total nightmare and brought up so much painful stuff for Nina and I. I ended up feeling so physically and mentally unwell on Boxing Day I could barely move off the sofa all day and have been in regular contact with R, who I’ve seen on and off for acupuncture since I was 21 and who has supported me through some of my darkest times, sending crazy texts full of shame and despair. He has been a lifeline and yet also not enough. I hadn’t realised till now that seeing K either side of Christmas has really helped me get through the last 5 Christmases. It’s been really hard not having a session to hold out for because it means there’s no end point where I can put down some of this shit.

My dad is just fucking awful – rigid, cold, cruel, abusive, sadistic, narcissistic. And I am flooded with shame and guilt when I think that about him. I wish I could just hate him. I wish I hadn’t been conditioned to automatically turn myself bad when I think and feel negative things about him, because as an infant and toddler I had to do that in order to preserve the attachment and survive. I’ve spent so much time in therapy unpicking the legacy of my relationship with my mum, and yet my dad is also so incredibly damaging and hurtful and so responsible for how I am, how I struggle, how I feel about myself and others. It breaks my heart that he was the safe one, the stable one, the one I turned to, and yet he broke me too. He isn’t safe at all. He never has been.

He is also horrible to Nina. I know I’ve written about this before but this year his behaviour has become so obviously unacceptable to both of us. He shames and belittles and criticises her constantly. He calls her stupid and lazy and tells her she won’t get a job and will end up homeless if she carries on how she is. He swore at her in TK Maxx after inviting her to go Christmas shopping with him and she spent the whole time she was with him a couple of weekends ago texting me to tell me how mean he was being. I hate how he speaks to her, how he mocks her and invalidates her. She has a huge allergic reaction every time she is at his house, which is ostensibly caused by the huge amounts of dust in his house (he cleans once a year at most) but is really her body just screaming “NO, this place is not good for me!”

When we got home on Christmas Day she was distraught, saying she thinks he hates her and that he doesn’t care about her at all. For Christmas he got her a tin of spaghetti hoops, an avocado, a bag of cheese puffs, some scissors and a set of coathangers. What.the.fuck.??? She is nearly 14 and there are a million things she would have liked. And it’s not even really about the gifts, because if she was met emotionally by him and we had a fun, warm time full of love and care when we were with him she wouldn’t care – it would just be an eccentric set of gifts from him. As things are though, the “gifts” symbolise how shut off and fucked up he is, and how he is totally unable to relate to anyone. They weren’t joke presents. He thought she would like them and she had to swallow her disappointment and pretend to be pleased.

I felt absolutely wrecked when we got home. Smashed into tiny pieces inside and drowning in shame. There is no love there, no warmth or joy or even niceness. It is flat and cold and distant. Any humour is mockery. And he just shows off and competes over everything. It is like being with a 6 year old boy. As Nina said, he didn’t really do anything wrong that day, but he is just not a nice person and he doesn’t know how to be with people, how to care, how to love. We spent 4 hours when we got home talking about him and how awful he is and how shit our family are and I let Nina cry and rage about it, but what a fucked up Christmas. I’d rather have been just the two of us a bit bored then have spent time with someone who makes us both feel so shit and let down and guilty.

It kills me to write bad things about him. We basically have no family without him, apart from my half sister who we are not really close to although we have chatted more this year than in previous years, but is no family better than this? If this was someone else in her life, her dad or my partner, who was nice and funny 10% of the time but abusive and cruel the rest of the time, people would be horrified that she still saw them when they were clearly wrecking her self-esteem and leaving her feeling worthless.

The triggers of Christmas will recede, but the need for action over this will not and so I am left with a sickening dilemma. Do I pull back further and leave myself unsupported and Nina with even less family? How do I pull back?I don’t get anything good from him but he does help practically sometimes, making food and helping when things at home break. But the way he complains and belittles me when he helps out, I just want to be free of needing his help. It’s hard though, as I can’t afford to pay for help with odd jobs and things. And I am still so scared of him that I never stand up to him. I am genuinely terrified of confronting him, disappointing him, enraging him, hurting him. It is clear I would rather Nina get lectured and sworn at and belittled than call him out on his behaviour and that is not something I am proud of. I am sure he is incapable of changing because he doesn’t act intentionally, he is just repeating patterns and behaviours he grew up with, but how do I pull away without telling him what the problem is?

I only know I can’t keep going like this. I hate that he thinks he is perfect and that everything mentally and physically wrong with me is caused by my mum. He kept coming up in therapy at the start of lockdown but I couldn’t go there, not properly there, with stupid remote therapy, so that trauma work is on hold till K and I can meet, which might not be till autumn. I need her to help me find a path through this that isn’t sacrificing mine and Nina’s well-being. She has never felt so far away. I feel so alone with this and it is even worse having had 5 Christmases of holding out for December 28th or 29th when I could take all the muddle to K that I am now on my own with it again. I talked to the friend I’m in a bubble with about it yesterday afternoon and she was lovely but she is not K and I couldn’t show just how fucked up this leaves me.

It is December 28th and I am done in despite having had 10 days off work. I think I’m coming down with a cold and I just need a break. A proper break. I have felt suicidal and anxious and in a constant state of dread since we got home on Christmas Day. 5 hours with my dad did this to me. I don’t want this anymore. And I can’t see a way out.

Bad blood (2)

***TW mention of suicide***

Being raised by a narcissist is the absolute worst. It is crazy-making, stretching the fucking tentacles of self-doubt around everything, for years and years and years, even when they are not in our lives any longer, they are still there, ruining everything. I cannot work out what is real about me and how I’ve lived and parented. The shame and despair and panic in me over what I am, how bad I am, what I’ve done and how much I’ve broken Nina is just never ending sometimes.

This lockdown is breaking me. It is still 10 weeks till Nina goes back to school. I am working all but 3 of those weeks so she will be home, pranging out about things and provoking me. She is ‘off school’ for 7 of those weeks, officially on holiday, and I don’t know how to cope. I’m so scared I’m going to break her this summer and that all my hard work not to be an out of control, dysregulated, abusive parent will be obliterated.

Being in lockdown with a teenager on my own is fucking hell. Honestly. I cannot do this anymore. I wish she was still little and I was enough for her, so that even if I was tired out, at least I could make her happy. Nina’s teen brain, that reads everything as threat even where none is meant or intended, means she is constantly freaking out that I am angry with her, that I don’t like her, that I wish she wasn’t here. Apparently this is ‘normal’ for teens, they read every facial expression as anger, but it still triggers me into spirals of self-loathing – what have I done to her? I cannot bear that she would think I am angry with her all the time, that I hate her, because I love her so much and she is growing up to be someone so amazing. And then I lose my temper so badly that it must completely confirm to her that I really am angry with her all the time.

Every time I ask her – nicely – to do something she flips out in defensive anger at me. And I expend so much energy on not reacting, staying calm, but then I flip out back at her and all the hard work is wasted. In those moments I’m just like my mum, for minutes not hours like she was maybe, but it is enough. The damage is done. I don’t know how much damage and it drives me mad not knowing how badly I’ve fucked her up – ‘when will we know?’ I ask K. And her words reassure me for a few minutes and then the self-loathing and shame engulf me again, and voices whisper that she’d be better off without me. Maybe she would.

K reassures me she’s fine, a normal teen, not damaged and traumatised but how does she know? She doesn’t see me yelling. She doesn’t see me swearing. She didn’t see me in the middle of the night last night when Nina had woken me up AGAIN going to the loo at some stupid time (because as far as she’s concerned this is a 6 month holiday and she is totally self-absorbed at her age and has no concerns about me beyond whether I will shout at her), when I was trying to sleep ahead of another full week of work, when I yelled and slammed my door and left her crying in her bed because I couldn’t deal with the fall out of my anger, didn’t have time for the repair because I needed to sleep. She didn’t see Nina in tears this morning because she couldn’t sleep after that. And yes I repaired it, apologised without making excuses for myself, explained the pressure of the pandemic, the stress and worry over money and job safety, and everything falling apart, how hard it is to work in a demanding job like mine when I am tired, distracted, stressed. But the repair wasn’t enough. She is still mad with me. We couldn’t make it right today. It needs to be left and not forced.

I have spent hours and hours and hours trying to be a good parent, and I know in some ways I have been attuned and empathic and fun, but I don’t know if it’s been enough to save my daughter from going through what I have been through and I am scared. I try so hard but all it takes is a few fucking angry words, a few sighs and eye rolls, and I’m in the territory of my own mum and it honestly makes me wish we were both dead. And she will never see or know or understand all the good I’ve done, all the ways I’ve not been like my mum, all the ways I’ve not fucked her up and broken her. All she will see is the damage, the shouting, the tears.

I’m scared I’ve given her too much information about her grandma, that she has that to use against me, that she can tell me I’m the same because she doesn’t know how bad her grandma really was. But maybe I’m just trying to reassure myself when really I am just as bad. I can see that she thinks it is never okay for people to yell, and really it isn’t but we are human and living through a global crisis, and she conflates this sense that people shouldn’t yell with the idea that I am mean and shout about nothing and that she is always in the right. It is like her normal teenage feelings about me, about being unwanted and misunderstood, get all tangled up with the narcissistic/borderline legacy and she gets it all out of proportion too, thinking I am always in the wrong, thinking I should never raise my voice when she has been reminded for the tenth time to do something. I feel like I’ve over-reacted so many times during this lockdown, when she’s been having a meltdown over clothes or her hair or her eyebrows when I’m trying to work, or yelled in the car when we’ve tried to go out somewhere because my window of tolerance has shrunk even smaller than a letterbox lately, and that has just confirmed for her that I’m an utter fuck up and that every time I shout I’m like her grandma, rather than a normal parent doing their best through a fucking pandemic.

Earlier I found something she wrote last night, after I shouted, saying how scared she is of me and that she never knows when I’m going to shout and it is not okay how I treat her. And I know the teen brain splits people, wipes out all the good and can only see the bad when it is under threat, but what if she really is nervous of me all the time?  I want to say it’s not all the time, it can’t be, that there are times, lots of them, when we are relaxed and happy and laughing, but maybe it is that bad for her. I know that parents can do a lot of damage without meaning to. I don’t know how bad my mum was because I can’t remember, but I know it was bad enough that I fragmented into 23 different parts (at least) and that 5 years of therapy hasn’t been enough to untangle what she did to me, let alone heal it. I can’t believe Nina, who says until lockdown she felt happy nearly all the time, is broken like me, but no one knows. K says she would know by now, but what if she only wants to see the good in me? What if she can’t imagine what I’m really like?

I feel like I’m going fucking mad. For years when I felt suicidal I knew I’d have to take Nina with me because I couldn’t leave her alone with our fucked up family. For the first time tonight I really am wondering if she would be better off without me. I’m not going to act on this so please don’t worry, but it crosses my mind more than it should that I should leave her now when there is a chance of her being okay still.

K and I talked earlier about me at 13 – already smoking, anorexic, beginning to purge, self-harming, getting really very drunk and kissing older men. I told her about New Year’s Eve when I was 13 when I threw myself down a really steep flight of stairs because I knew it wouldn’t hurt because I was so drunk. I could have broken my neck. K said it is no wonder Nina is triggering my system all the time at the moment, when the parts have no space and were so broken and reckless at that age. I said I feel invisible when Nina wakes me in the night or refuses to help at home or argues with every single thing I say, and K says I was invisible to my parents at that age so it’s no wonder I am finding this so hard.

Nina is not invisible to me. But she will never see all the good. Only the bad. And I can’t fucking tell what is real. I don’t know what is normal. I don’t know what ‘good enough’ parenting is since I clearly never had it. And I don’t know how bad I am. I don’t know if I’m splitting myself, if Nina is splitting me. I don’t know if her love for me is trauma bonding. I know my mum wasn’t crazy and abusive all the time, if she had been it would be easier, because it is that which makes me utterly crazy as I cannot work out what is real about me and others and the past. I constantly doubt myself even when I’m good enough so I have no idea now if I’m doing an okay job with this, and there is no way of finding out, no way of reassuring myself, since my mum reassured herself by denying all the fucking awful abusive shit she did and so maybe I am just like her and doing that too. I don’t know if I feel like I’ve really fucked up badly as a parent because I’m finally facing the truth about myself, that I’m a really shit, selfish, angry, abusive person, or if it’s because my parents fucked me up so much that I still split myself and end up unable to see anything good about myself. And if Nina is splitting me is it normal for a teen to do this, to speak in all-or-nothing always/never statements, or is it because her brain is fucked up too?

I honestly feel like I’m losing my fucking mind. I never, ever want Nina to feel this way, ever in her life. Not now and not in 24 years time when she is my age. I want her to know what is real and what isn’t, but how can I teach her that when I don’t even know myself.

I almost do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ripples

We just saw my brother as we were driving back from swimming training. He was walking with his head down, clearly sent on a late-night supermarket errand by my Mum, who he still lives with. My brother is 48, disabled, severely traumatised by our mum’s abuse and mental illness, and still experiencing abuse now, still trapped in that hell I grew up in. At least I am safe now even if I still live with the imprint of what she did to me, he is still stuck there going through what broke me so badly every single day. His life is fucking awful and I know being estranged from me and Nina, who he adored, has made it even worse. It’s now 2 years since we saw him because it’s impossible to see him without involving my Mum, and because she is likely to be so awful to him afterwards and cry so much that it’s not worth it for him. Seeing him breaks my heart. The way he walks hurts, a clear indication of how he feels about himself and his place in the world. I want to see him so much, but I also don’t. I can’t. It all hurts too much.

Today has been really hard. The pain over Zara, my student, rippling through me still and I kept crying at work. Yesterday we did a phone session with K and she validated it all, said what we needed to hear about not being dramatic or selfish or over-reacting. She said we could do a ritual or ceremony together for Zara, so I can tell her the things I wish I had said and find some kind of closure. I plan to go to the inquest as well – I had to write up all my dealings with her for the coroner on Tuesday and that was so hard, reading through her emails and also remembering how triggered and upset I was after her disclosures. I have so many questions about what happened and how she was this past year. And of course her death brings up so much about my own experiences – years of being suicidal, Jess, my maternal grandmother who committed suicide when my mum was 12, sexual abuse and rape and DID and not being believed. I told K how hard it is imagining Zara being in hospital with no one believing her about DID and repressed memories – I’ve experienced that lack of belief in a disorder I so clearly have, had parts yelling that no one thinks they are real but they are, but to be sectioned and experiencing that… I can’t even imagine. We’ve text K today as well and she was so kind and says she is here for us all through this shock, and it does at least feel as though that is true now. I want to text her now about my brother, because it just couldn’t have come at a worse time. I will wait until our Friday email tomorrow to tell her though, even though it is so hard not to reach out.

At bedtime Nina said she doesn’t miss my brother anymore, that it would be too hard to see him because of her grandma. I said I miss him but I don’t want to see him. She said you can’t miss someone and not want to see them. You can – she will learn this one day. You can miss someone every single day and still not want to see them because seeing them would hurt even more than not seeing them.

 

Over-exposed

Therapy was hard this evening. I am left feeling a little blurgh. A little hollow and bereft of meaning and substance. I’m fine. I’ve made dinner for myself and Nina and washed up and am now in my study with a cup of tea, knowing I did good work in therapy today and it will help to process and write about it and what came up, but I feel a bit grotty and untethered and would quite like a hug and someone to settle and soothe the disruption inside. It is also useful to reflect upon how things were and compare them with how they are now. A ‘little blurgh’ now is so incredibly manageable. It is uncomfortable, sure, and it is a reminder that trauma and dissociation still haunt me even after a stable, peaceful, and actually quite joyful week, but it is important to notice the contrasts and how far I’ve come, especially in the past year. Last year at this time K had recently told me she was taking 2019 off as a sabbatical from work and I was struggling in ways that I can barely believe were real now, looking back. I cannot imagine ever being back in quite such a desperate state again, but maybe I won’t make any grand declarations around that just yet…

This week I’ve felt relatively ‘normal’. I said to my friend yesterday I’ve mostly felt how I felt before I started therapy, before Jess died and the world I’d built around and inside myself completely fell apart. It was a relief because I’d been in a bad place over the ecological collapse and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling normal and stable again. I had reiki and a massive outpouring of grief at an Extinction Rebellion ‘resilient communities’ workshop 10 days ago and since then the terror has dissipated and I’ve felt much more grounded and at peace over what is happening to the planet and what is ahead of us here in England too. K and I have also been doing some work around ‘active hope’ and preparing for the grief work we will do together to help me open to the losses that are happening all around by doing lots of work around gratitude. The grief is always there, the awareness is with me nearly all the time, but it is beginning to be integrated into my life more, and the shock is beginning to subside I think. I’m sure it will come and go, but it is wonderful to be reminded that joy and peace and gratitude can co-exist with sadness and fear and loss. (Indeed they must – the grief is only so big because there is so much to love and therefore so much to lose).

Anyway, so I was expecting to have a good session today, and it was good, but it was good for therapy (i.e. hard) rather than nice and peaceful and connecting. I felt adult and self-contained when I arrived and then a young part came out as soon as K brought our cup of tea in and started playing with the new mini Russian dolls K got recently. This was a surprise as young parts have been very quiet and content this week and I’ve hardly known they’re there, and it left me a little suspicious haha! And as soon as we’d done our mindful breathing and check-in (breath, body, mind) I completely dissociated. I wanted to tell K the good things that have happened this week (meeting an amazing person who lives a 3 minute walk from the new house, joining up with other vegans who are part of Extinction Rebellion to form an affinity group for non-violent direct action, riding my bike to the forest on Friday evening for Solstice and walking and reflecting on what I wanted to open my heart to and bring into the light in the coming year, not feeling self-conscious and hyper-critical at a work colleague’s engagement party on Saturday afternoon, seeing friends yesterday and really enjoying being in our new house because it’s much nicer to have people in) and yet the minute I even thought about telling her about these things I felt like someone had peeled my skin off and judging eyes were piercing and boring into me. I felt completely over-exposed and had a desperate desire to hide – it took a lot of effort not to pull the big blanket over my head and wait for K to disappear.

I somehow managed to tell K what was happening and we spoke a bit about why this happens for me and why I can’t even think about sharing good things and positive emotions I experience without dissociating and feeling completely exposed and covered in black, sticky shame. I couldn’t even make eye contact when she suggested it so she offered to close her eyes so I could look at her and see if she was the same without it being scary. I said I felt as though she could see right inside me and was thinking I shouldn’t feel good things. And she said how interesting that was because that’s not where she’s coming from at all. She said all the things I already know but that it helped to hear again, about this being an emotional flashback where my body and mind are going through the process of something that has happened before, so that I feel as though people can see badness inside me but that’s not what she sees at all. She talked about the critical voice coming in and saying I don’t deserve good things, but I realise now as I am writing that the sense of shame and over-exposure I get when I try to share good things is pre-verbal, there is no cognitive process attached at all, just a feeling that someone can see right inside me and it’s not that there is badness inside me, but that it is bad to show any of me at all. We know why this happens, the legacy of an engulfing narcissistic mother I’ve written about before, but sometimes it just hits on another level why this happens to me, and it is sad that it isn’t just negative feelings I was shamed for, but just existing full stop. I was shamed as a baby for feeling positive emotions, for enjoying the feeling of connection to others, for showing who I was, for feeling as though I belonged. It was unsafe for me to feel and experience these things. This is heart-breaking really, isn’t it, and although I’m past the stage of therapy where I need to really feel this now (thank goodness) it still stings sometimes. Before I could talk I internalised badness and shame when I felt good or when I expressed myself. It was never safe to be me. It was never safe to be an authentic version of myself. And it is fucking infuriating because even now I am healed in so many ways, this legacy still makes the battle to absorb relational healing so tough. I am doing really well with connecting with new people through Extinction Rebellion without dissociating, and I feel I belong there, but I still feel shame afterwards for feeling connected and belonging. A work in progress…

Someone small asked ‘why did it happen?’ and K talked again about my Mum being seriously mentally ill and my Dad being hyper-critical and too young to be a parent so they had no parenting skills at all and went about it all wrong. And we talked about how she would laugh and ridicule me when good things happened and I said I get so scared of K thinking I am showing her too much of what’s inside me and then I just can’t show her anything at all. I cried quite a lot and it was getting foggy and thick in the room so K suggested we go outside into the garden and smell some of the flowers that have recently blossomed. It was beautiful out there – we saw a baby blackbird struggling as she learned to fly and smelt lots of gorgeous flowers and then her dog decided to go for a dip in the pond which was very funny. And then we had more tea and did some work on gratitude and I felt ashamed again about the headings we had chosen last week for the gratitude lists we are making before we create some spirals and decorate them. And it was such a contrast from last week because then I’d been excited about the lists we would make and today I just felt ashamed for ever having enjoyed anything. And it shows how shame builds on shame, how shame about one things permeates everything else and twists excitement and openness into something black and heavy and judgmental.

I also shared with K what I wrote after my session two weeks ago, about how feeling safe to be me is forever associated with her now so that when I am somewhere I feel accepted and, more importantly where I accept myself, it feels as though she is with me. And she said how peaceful she felt as she listened and absorbed it all and how this is exactly what we are aiming for in therapy – ‘you’ve taken in the safety, taken me in’. And I really have. I need more of it still to displace this shame and sense of over-exposure that still surfaces, but I have taken in so much and even though I feel like the same person in many ways I also feel completely different to the person I was 4 years ago. I don’t think I realised till today how that feeling of safety I never had wasn’t just because my external world was so unsafe and unpredictable while I was growing up that I had to be on alert all the time, but also because it was so unsafe inside me too, so unsafe to reveal what was inside me because my Mum is a narcissist with a huge borderline process and masses of unresolved feelings she projected all over me and used to eclipse me entirely. It’s crazy just how long it has taken of depth psychotherapy to get to this point of understanding and acceptance of how I am.

At the end of the session I said I felt as though I had my skin back on. And then I realised that it was only because I didn’t tell K the good things. She said I had done a lot of depth work nevertheless and that I am bringing things that are hard to bring and I’m tackling these big areas instead of running from them. And she said there is still a lot of work to do to unpick these damaging messages I internalised when I was so young. And this is okay. I like therapy now, mostly, and it doesn’t disrupt my life the way it used to. Even when it leaves me unsettled it’s still a million miles away from how it used to leave me. It used to feel like I was being tortured, now it mostly feels nice, with the occasional sense that someone has peeled back my skin and stirred things round with a wooden spoon. I look forward to my session but I don’t long for it now, counting down the days and hours and then feeling the pain of abandonment before the session has even ended. And my life outside therapy is growing and expanding so rapidly at the moment and I feel as though I am unfurling into it. And it feels good even though my brain and felt memories don’t always let me feel as though it is okay for this to be happening to me.