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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.

 

Haunted

Last night I got hit by a huge wave of grief and pain and sadness over my mum – being estranged from her, who she is and the life she has had and is living now, memories of happy times together when I was growing up that punctuate the years of chaos and abuse. It’s almost like my brain thought ‘hey, you’re not in crisis anymore, have this instead!’. It didn’t rip me open like it has before, but it is a deep sadness that she is not in my life, as well as an uneasiness that maybe I made a mistake in terms of cutting her out because it can’t have been that bad (that old friend again…). And of course at the moment the spectre of so much death is looming and it is natural to feel drawn towards our primary caregivers and to feel a need to be in a place of peace with those in our lives who may be taken away. It is sad and unnatural not to have those people in our lives and I am trying to just let that pain be there without thinking it needs to be acted upon or that it means I made a mistake by cutting contact with mum. I managed to distract last night and have felt okay today, though aware of young and teen parts crying, and then managed to have a painful, but holding and adult, conversation with K about it and let out some of the sadness that has been building throughout the day.

The past few days things have been quite a bit easier generally. I feel much more settled internally and this makes it easier to stay present and focus on my own life, and to deal with the uncertainty that is manifesting in the external world without getting destabilised and drawn into issues that are sad and scary but that are not directly affecting my well-being at this time. It may not last, but for now I feel okay and am managing self-care and spiritual practices and enjoying the slower pace of life that living under lockdown brings. It is nice to be in a place of stability and to feel at peace with what is happening even though so much is not okay, whilst also accepting that there will be more times on this journey when I feel lost and isolated and like K has abandoned me, and perhaps when people in my life who I care about are directly affected (physically, emotionally, financially) by what is unfolding. I feel quite withdrawn and introspective at the moment too and I am aware how little social interaction I actually need to feel okay, provided it is good quality and nurturing as the phone and video calls, and time with Nina at home, I’ve had over the weekend has been. (I also know I could easily get used to this self-regulating state and need to watch myself that I don’t settle and withdraw from the world too much).

I’m in the middle of another period of extended trauma dreams, where the nights are an endless tangle of past relationships and a parade of people who were once important in my life trek through my mind, their memory haunting me for days afterwards and leaving me struggling to metabolise their emotional presence in my life again. In our session this afternoon K said it is no surprise these past attachments are coming in just as I am also struggling with missing my mum and with the familiar questions over whether things with her were really so bad as to justify this. She says it makes sense for me to be piecing together in my dreams past attachments that, whilst not so important in terms of what we’ve covered in therapy, were really important in my life at different times. I said I find it hard knowing those people will never know why I behaved how I did because at the time I didn’t know why I was how I was. I will always be the crazy, intense, psycho ex-girlfriend who got drunk and angry and cried and self-harmed and tried to throw myself onto train tracks or stormed out in the night telling them never to contact me again (and then, of course, calling them 10 minutes later to make sure they knew just how hurt and angry I was, desperate for them to beg me to return but also desperate to get away and not be hurt again). Speaking to K I realised it’s almost as if my mind is looking for proof of what mum did to me in those past relationships, proof that it was that bad growing up with her as a mum, because it led me to behave in such out of control ways, particularly in intimate relationships.

I linked this also to a book I read over the weekend about a former alcoholic which was, quite by accident, or perhaps synchronicity, really such a good book for me to read at the moment. Life has felt kind of dull and flat, inside and out, this past week and I have felt myself drawn to alcohol and substances to provide some excitement and stimulation. I’ve been sober for 3 and a half years now (see here where I wrote about some of my journey with – and without – alcohol and other drugs) and in many ways it is really only beginning to become apparent just how needed and necessary that sobriety was. With hindsight it has become far, far clearer what a destructive force drinking was in my life and just how out of control it left me. The intense shame that has crippled me all my life was quadrupled by alcohol and it led me to behave in ways that made everything I was going through a hundred million times worse. I can see that turning to alcohol at this time would be dangerous and self-destructive and yet it is calling to me and it is interesting to see how strongly it is there despite how many years have gone by.

Something in me knew it was time to stop drinking back in 2015 and 2016 and I managed a couple of sober periods in those years, usually three months at a time, but they always ended with me getting absolutely horrifyingly drunk and crying on people I barely knew then blacking out, waking up in my own vomit with no idea how I’d got home or where my belongings were. Not ideal. Over the past few years I’ve often thought of my decision to stop drinking completely as something that could have gone either way – I could have chosen to drink more moderately or to not drink alone, to not drink with my partner when I am next in a relationship to avoid angry attachment-fuelled outbursts and crazy, dramatic crying scenes, or to not drink when I am feeling sad or destructive or reckless or already out of control, or not to drink when with people I might get triggered by or might be driven to share too much with, or might end up saying something I regret to. Waking up covered in shame happens all too easily for me when I’ve had a drink, even just one, and so as the years have gone by I’ve become more and more committed to this being a life choice that will stay with me forever. I used to phrase it to inquiring people (colleagues mostly, who are always gobsmacked that I don’t drink, perhaps because they’ve not seen the trail of destruction that follows me whenever I have a drink in my hand) that I had ‘drunk a lot over the past 20 years and was taking some time away to re-evaluate my relationship with it’. That usually quietened them, and it is actually what I’ve ended up doing – re-evaluated my relationship with it and realised I cannot have it in my life in a way that is not toxic and harmful.

The truth is I am not really able to drink. Having it in my life as an option, something I try to be in relationship with and work out how to be around a bit, means there is always the potential for things to go very wrong. The author of the book I read definitely drank more than me, definitely was an alcoholic whereas I would say I was ‘just’ dependent on alcohol (and, later in my life, other drugs), definitely made more of a mess of her life due to alcohol than I ever did. And yet, so much of her story resonated with me. My mum used to worry about the amount I drank. She would warn me to be careful, remind me that alcoholism runs in my family (her dad and her half brother were both alcoholics and both died quite young (my mum lost both her parents by the age of 17) either directly or indirectly as a result of alcohol abuse) and I would laugh and shrug it off because I was in my 20s and early 30s and that’s what people do at that age to have fun. Being able to look back on my drinking from a place of sobriety enables me to see that I was never drinking just because it was fun, there was so much more going on than that, always, and it is this that means that drinking is not a choice I can make if I am serious about healing myself from the past.

Perhaps I was in need of this reframing right now, when I’m sure in many ways a few drinks would bring me comfort and relief, just as it is for hundreds of thousands of others across the globe. I was saying to K how I could see how nice it must be at the moment to be at home with a few drinks and connecting virtually with groups of friends who were also drinking. I miss that. I wish I was part of it, even though I’m sure it is super lonely at the same time. I was also saying how my sister had said we’d have to do some kind of ‘virtual party’ for my birthday in a few weeks and I was thinking how much nicer that would be for me with some drinks (her and her partner were drinking red wine on Saturday evening when we FaceTimed them and it left me desperately longing for the same). I sometimes think the choice I made not to drink is too harsh on myself, ‘too extreme’ (my mum’s favourite phrase to describe most things about me), and that there could be a comfortable middle ground between total abstinence and binge drinking and/or self-medicating with alcohol, if only I let myself embrace it. This book served as a very helpful reminder that for me that middle ground does not exist. Part of AA is the ‘one day at a time’ mantra but also the emphasis on choice – alcoholics cannot ‘choose’ to just have one or two drinks and therefore they cannot drink at all. Whilst I am not, strictly speaking, an alcoholic, I am slowly coming to see that this choice does not exist for me either. The possibility of getting blackout drunk and doing something utterly degrading and humiliating, or self-destructive and shame-provoking, is always there because I find it so, so hard to stop drinking once I’ve started.

I tend to think of ‘stopping drinking’ as something that has not really been a big part of my healing journey, my recovery. It’s something I talk about as incidental and shrug off, perhaps because I am not ready to face just how awful I was at times when drinking was such a huge part of who I was. I often forget what a huge part of my life it was for 20 years and just how much of a storm of destruction it tore through my life. I don’t see how huge it is that we are in the middle of a global pandemic that left me reeling and in a huge attachment crisis and yet I haven’t reached for a bottle of something to help me through. It is huge though. I play it down because it still feels dull and anti-social not to drink, and embarrassing to admit that alcohol had such a grip one me that I now cannot touch it at all, but it is huge that I have gone so long without getting drunk and that I rarely even think of it now. I also know the longing to drink will never leave me completely and so it is important to revisit the reasons I don’t drink and remember just how many fucking horrendous rows and crying, screaming meltdowns I’ve had because of it, how many times I’ve called and texted people I shouldn’t have and said things that never should have been spoken out loud. Occasionally I probably could manage to just have one or two drinks, but the problem is that when that is there as an option for me there is no telling which of those occasions will lead to a time when I drink too much or do something I really regret. I’m really lucky to be alive and not in jail after some of the reckless nights out I’ve had on drink and illegal drugs – K told me earlier about someone she heard of who accidentally killed their boyfriend whilst they were both taking substances, and reminded me that there, but for the grace of God, go I…

So, just for today, I am re-committing to my journey of sobriety and estrangement. The two go hand-in-hand in many ways because both have involved freeing myself from the mental distortions that enabled me to keep going back to people and places that were so destructive and damaging for me. K said the dreams about past relationships and friendships make sense in terms of what I am figuring out and still trying to make sense of about mum and her life and what it did to me. Revisiting those relationships, of which my relationship with alcohol formed such a huge part and was such a huge indicator of how totally fucked up and incapable of true intimacy I was, is part of my subconscious trying to work out what mum did to me and how it caused me to feel and behave in relationships. It’s like I can only see how bad it was to have her as a mum when I see how out of control and borderline psychotic at times I was throughout my life. My behaviour and emotional dysregulation and sensitivity to perceived abandonment, and my attempts to regulate and cope with my feelings and dissociation using substances, are all evidence of how damaging my mum was, something that is still too painful to really hold in awareness for most of the time.

It was nice to do what felt like ‘proper therapy work’ with K, instead of fighting the coronavirus-fuelled attachment panic that descended for so long. It’s strange working by phone, there seems to be less of a narrative, less of a sense of pulling things together and finding our way through and out the other side of things in partnership. It’s like I need a constant reminder that she knows all these things, that she knows my life and what has happened, that she still understands why I don’t see mum, what my childhood was like, what it has left me with. It was horrible sitting on my bed crying over all this, over mum and the past and all that not having her did to me, and being alone in my room instead of safe with K opposite me in her cosy therapy space. It is not good enough. At one point I dissociated and disappeared which is such a strange thing to experience happening when she is so far away. I said how much we hate not being there and she said she hates us not being there too, that she finds it really sad, but that she is still here for us. I think for now knowing she misses us being there and is committed to keeping us close and connected during this time has to be enough, but I hope a day will soon come when we can be with her and that she is right – we will have memories of this time to add to all the other memories we have of being together.

False God

I am feeling a lot of shame over the things I am about to share. I am aware that cognitively I have no reason to feel ashamed but this doesn’t shift the emotional legacy of toxic parenting so… I’m sharing, but feeling uncomfortable about it.

Since my promotion I’ve not been in a good place at all. I spent most of the weekend feeling very unwell – dissociated, heavy, lethargic, quite extreme levels of pain – and whilst I would love to blame it all on the lack of sunlight (which definitely doesn’t help), a busy week, getting my period, and not having anything exciting or joyful planned for the weekend, I am also aware that a lot of big feelings are being held inside and that, as usual, the physical symptoms I have been experiencing are caused by blocked emotional energy. It strikes me as faintly ridiculous that I get triggered by something objectively good, something I should be proud and happy about, but when I unpick the reasons for it I can see that it’s to be expected really, given my narcissistic parents.

There are quite a few strands to unpick to work out how I’ve gone from a place of such excitement and relief to a place where I feel so depleted and small in the face of my success. The first is that I seemed to fall into fight/flight over my promotion – I found it really hard to emotionally regulate in the days that followed, because I am unable to emotionally regulate I guess, and I think being excited and happy and proud of myself are difficult emotional and cognitive states for me. I definitely felt on edge and borderline manic and all my usual routines seemed to go out the window. It is clear that I don’t really know how to deal with any emotions – although my capacity is increasing through therapy of course – and I know growing up I was shamed by my parents for all my emotional states and when I was successful my mum would be proud and happy for me for as long as it reflected on her well, and then she would snap at me that I was boasting and being big-headed. She did this in particular on the night I found out my PhD amendments had been accepted and I was officially Dr B__________. It hurt a lot, because I didn’t know back then all it must have triggered in her, and it felt like I really was showing off and deserving of contempt and humiliation. And it was always so confusing because she was so proud of my successes, especially in writing, but I wasn’t allowed to feel and experience them myself. It was all about her, of course, but it never made sense when I was growing up and I just felt rubbish and not good enough all the time, and that if I felt happy or proud of myself it was because I was a bad person.

So I was having a hard time being with what was happening inside for me last week – I couldn’t take it in or just be with my internal state. I couldn’t even access my internal state. I’m not sure I even had one. I totally disappeared. I said to K earlier it felt like my success was only real when I was talking to other people about it. I think this is linked to the first strand – I needed others to help me emotionally regulate in the face of such a huge event – but goes beyond it also because it stems from growing up with an engulfing narcissistic mother who eclipsed my sense of self. So last week when I tried to feel inside for what my promotion meant TO ME there was nothing there. It’s so hard to explain, but I just had no sense of myself at all, nothing inside. I told K I feel like I don’t exist. And she said how, as we already know, I have a sense of myself not existing unless it’s in relation to others, not having a sense of self, a true sense of foundational self, unless it is reflected by others. And this stings so much because it is true, of course it is, but I feel such enormous shame that I feel so unreal and need other people to validate me and make me real. It feels so shameful because it is like I am always seeking approval from others and trying to make myself visible to them because I want to be better than everyone else. The truth is, as I’ve written before, it is about feeling invisible and unreal unless I am extra visible, leaving me always having to do more than most to exist at all. It feels as though it is my fault that I don’t have a sense of self, that I have been weak and let myself be absorbed and reflected back by others. I know this isn’t how it works, that I didn’t and don’t choose this, but I still feel pathetic for being this way.

And Mum’s absence was loud last week. There is a deep sadness that because we are estranged, and most likely always will be now, I was not able to share this news with her – it was the first time something big had happened and I hadn’t been able to tell her and even though I know had she been involved she would have spoilt it and made it about her and left me feeling all kinds of yuck, she has been there for everything else and knowing she doesn’t even know (unless she googles me, which I guess she probably does do from time-to-time) is hard. She would be proud. She would have bought me flowers and a card and taken me for a meal and told me she was proud of all my hard work. K said earlier how of course it would bring up huge feelings of loss, when something big happens in my life and there is no one to share it with, and that of course I would want to share it with my family of origin even when it is a really complicated situation. I miss my mum so much. There is just this huge hole where she is supposed to be and it fucking aches so much.

She really did help me get where I am now (even if she was a large part of the reason why getting here was such a fucking struggle) and I am grateful to her for instilling a lifelong love of reading and learning in me and for supporting me in my studies. I am grateful that even though she was a terrible mother in most ways, she left me that gift and it is something that I will always treasure. K said this evening that it’s probably the only good thing Mum has left me with – academic success and a love of learning – and it is sad because she she is right, there is nothing else good from her, but it is also something I am so grateful for and I wish she knew that. I wish she knew that even though I can no longer see her, that gratitude hasn’t changed. I love what I do for work. And it saved me from a life of drugs and binge drinking and overdoses, I am sure of that.

K asked what I needed from my Mum, beyond just being able to share the news with her, and I said I just wanted to hear ‘you’ve done enough’ so I can stop now and just be. I cried a lot when I said these words earlier, because all week I’ve had this sense of ‘now what?’ and I just want this to be enough. I want to feel as though I’ve arrived. Cognitively I do have this sense of things calming for me now, but emotionally I still don’t feel as though I’ve done enough. K said how I just wanted to be recognised by her (Mum) for who I am, what I’ve achieved, the struggle. She said how young it is, the need to share, the excitement. And I can feel that. I can feel young parts in me feeling so sad because it was never enough – fantastic GCSE results, 4 As at A Level, a first class Law degree, Research Council funding to do a PhD, getting a doctorate, proper academic posts, none of it has been enough to stop me feeling like I don’t exist.

All I’ve ever wanted is for my parents to notice me, the me inside my achievements, the person I am inside. The text from my Dad last week just said ‘well done’ (ugh) and when I was trying to talk to my Grandma on Saturday about my work and she was asking questions about what this promotion will mean (which was nice as she can’t really relate to my work and was clearly really trying to show an interest) he kept butting in and turning it back to him and then changed the subject entirely after less than two minutes. I get it is a reflection of him, of how he feels about himself, of his insecurities and limitations, and that it is not about me, but it is still infuriating, especially knowing he has been like that my whole life, at times when it will have had a lasting impact on my development. I remember getting twelve awards in an end of term assembly when I was 13 and when I rang to tell him after school he was like ‘yeah? and…’. It is just such a shit way to raise a child.

It came to me this evening when I got home how bizarre it is that I am seeking approval, still, from two people who I don’t even respect or like very much, one of whom I’ve come to see is so damaged and damaging that I can’t have them in my life at all. I do care though, I care not so much about what they think of me, but that they recognise what I have achieved, who I am, how hard I have worked to be where I now am. I hope that the first step in beginning to really, truly validate myself is that I am beginning to question why so desperately want two people I don’t even want to see to be the ones to validate me. I want to make myself real. I want to be the one who gives myself an internal sense of being real and enough, just because I am here rather than because I have done something noteworthy.

K asked how Nina responded and I said she text me straight back and wrote ‘yeeeeessssssssssssssss!’ and then ‘well done mummy’ (and then told a friend my income has doubled now – if only haha). And K said how lovely it was that Nina gets it. And she said ‘and I get it, I really truly do, and I am immensely proud of you. It is amazing’. And my heart filled a little bit, but not enough because I just can’t take it in and make it mean something for me. She gave me a big hug at the end of the session and said again how proud she is, and that she hopes that I start to feel it within myself soon, but that there is no hurry, no faking. And I really hope I can. I hope one day – soon – I can validate myself, tell myself how well I’ve done, that I’ve done enough now and it is time to soak it all in. I am enough. And I hope I can have a sense of myself, for myself, when something else happens, so I don’t have to go looking to the wrong people to tell me I am okay now. That place feels very far away though and right now I am still left with a sense of not being here at all, not existing in my own life, and that is just so bloody hard to live with.

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.

Engulfment, shame and loss of self

Another post from my old blog, this time one I wrote in May as I was piecing together some things about shame and being engulfed by a narcissistic mother leading to a loss of self.

In May 2017 I remember feeling as though I was on the cusp of something huge, cognitively at least – a new understanding. I was starting to realise just how many of my triggers are shame-based, how much of my behaviours are driven by shame; fear of not being good enough, terror of not doing everything perfectly and people thinking badly of me or worse – people seeing who I really am. I feel shame for needing K, anyone, anything. I feel shame when people let me down. I always thought I had high expectations of people but I don’t think I do, I think I just feel ridiculously triggered when people aren’t there or say no to me because I feel so fucking bad about myself and it just confirms how bad I am – of course they don’t want to see me or spend time with me, how could I have thought otherwise? I said in therapy how I don’t even know what it is about me that I think is so bad. K said the shame is probably formational; I have a core of shame.

And I had some big realisations at this time about my ‘core of shame’ and I made the link between my lack of boundaries and my dissociation – my dissociation into parts/alters, and the other type of dissociation I experience – depersonalisation (DP) and derealisation (DR). Near the start of therapy I had said I experience two types of dissocation – alters, and DP/DR – and I remember K saying you’ll probably find they are quite closely linked, and I believed her but I didn’t know what she meant until that time. Then all of a suddenly it made sense – my alters split off to hold feelings and needs and behaviours it was unsafe for me to experience – feelings and needs that would cause my mother to disconnect from me further and therefore put my survival at risk. So the parts hold the feelings of the real me, who needed to split off so the core me could survive. That’s why my parts aren’t just emotions, but are also ways of being in the world that would have got me into trouble and caused my Mum to disconnect further. And this is why I have many coping parts/ANPs – different selves were needed for survival depending on what my volatile and emotionally abusive mother needed at the time. I was genuinely a shape-shifter, reflecting back whatever my Mum needed in the moment. My lack of boundaries is REAL – I BECAME my mother, I held her feelings for her. She didn’t just eclipse me, she genuinely engulfed me and took me over.

‘What comes before the mirror is the mother’s face. So when one looks in one’s mother’s face, one sees oneself. To be seen and to be held by the mother are the defining events of childhood – our mother’s embrace confirms we exist, and the adoring mirror of her eyes confirms who we are’.

This doesn’t happen for infants with narcissistic mothers – their existence is never confirmed and they remain enmeshed with their mothers, unable to distinguish between themselves and others. Their mother is an empty mirror – as a baby they looked at their mother/the mirror and didn’t see themselves reflected back. How could they grow up knowing they existed? So my Mum couldn’t actually see me, for her I did not exist as separate from her. She engulfed me as in I had no sense of self. My true self was annihilated, killed off so I could be her mirror – if I showed my real self I risked death because to be real and distinct is dangerous for an infant with a primary carer like this. And so I had no mirror to learn who I was and that I existed as separate from others.

And at this point I realised how entrenched my lack of boundaries are; I don’t just not say no or not ask for what I need/want, I literally AM that other person and responsible for how they feel. I unconsciously pre-empt and take responsibility for all the feelings and thoughts of whoever I’m with or relating to. I take on their feelings and I automatically try to work out what they need from me to prevent them feeling bad, embarrassed, disappointed, etc. I don’t do this to make them ‘like me,’ it is more complex that – I AM them. I must protect them from their own feelings and sense of e.g. embarrassment if they say or do something silly. This is why I tell people I’m fine when I’m not and don’t correct them when they say something factually wrong, and it is why I accept offers of things I really don’t want, and why I am desperate to soothe people when they say self-deprecating stuff. I’m trying to protect them from feeling their own stupidity and so on. I shape-shift constantly, trying to say and do the right thing so they don’t feel bad. It’s why I find groups so hard – I cannot be who I perceive everyone needs me to be all at the same time. It is exhausting and overwhelming. These reactions are automatic. This dance is invisible but also in it I am invisible. And I’m starting to see how all this comes from being enmeshed with and engulfed by my narcissistic mother.

 Depersonalisation, shame, engulfment and loss of self

I’ve started to see how my constant DP is related to this engulfment and this core of shame. Constant DP such as I experience is not about anxiety (lots of people get the symptoms occasionally when they are triggered, overwhelmed, and anxious, mine has a different cause because it is there all the time and it is not helped by grounding and so on). I read about how it is caused by disorganised attachment; abuse and disorganised attachment lead to DP because DP results from conflicts in the unconscious mind, it’s a defence to cover up inner conflict in the psyche. This inner conflict then is because I have had to hide my own feelings and project/mirror by mother, in order to survive. I made myself unreal by dissociating so that I could survive all the shame I felt from having feelings and needs I wasn’t allowed to have.

My Mum loved me when I reflected well on her. She didn’t love ME. She couldn’t, because she couldn’t see me. She could only see herself reflected back in me. For years now I’ve lamented that my Mum told me who I was and what I felt and what I wanted. My feelings and needs and wants were confusing to me because so often my internal experience didn’t match what my Mum told me it was. So I learnt to switch off from it and ignore my internal experiences. I shaped myself into someone who would please her.

I’ve said before that I was engulfed by my mother, that she is an engulfing narcissistic mother, but I never really understood it, or why it was so bad. Daughters of engulfing narcissistic mothers were literally engulfed; we became our mothers, we split off ourselves so they would see themselves reflected back and love us and not abandon us to die. I think I thought engulfing us meant controlling us and smothering us but I’ve just understood on a deep level that it has literally meant we had no sense of self. Our self was literally engulfed into their sense of self and our true self was annihilated. I used to understand that when we looked into their eyes we didn’t see ourselves reflected back, so we had no mirror to learn who we were and are, but I never got what this truly meant – it meant we did not exist.

So she obliterated who I was, what I felt and wanted and needed. My fear of annihilation is a fear based on experience. I am not afraid of something that might one day happen, but reliving an experience that has already happened. Annihilation: complete destruction or obliteration. This is what she did to me – my true self was destroyed. This is why I am so scared of being invisible – I was to her. And this is why I have cut off from all my feelings, it is why I am dissociated all the time – to protect me from this. I am terrified to show my true feelings, to show who I really am. I feel embarrassed and ashamed when I feel anything or show anything about myself, positive or negative – I turned my self bad as a BABY to protect her and keep her good to protect me. I dissociated all my feelings (literally – with the DP and DR I stopped existing). I feel shame around all my feelings (good and bad, happy/sad, positive/negative) because she engulfed me, I mirrored her, I absorbed her. My needs and wants were BAD – I saw in her face they were bad/inconvenient and I became that badness. I made myself bad for having needs, for existing, for having a self.

So when people SEE ME I feel shame, and TERROR. When I feel connected to someone I am afraid of annihilation. The two go hand in hand. Being connected to my mother annihilated the REAL ME. This makes real attunement, like I get from K for the first time in my life, a threat – it means I have been SEEN and being seen is dangerous, literally I could have died as a result of being seen. Disorganised attachment means connection is a source of terror – the abuse triggers the natural drive to attach and seek safety but because the caregiver is also a source of fear it triggers the fight/flight drive at the same time. It is fear without solution which defines disorganised attachment – both innate biological survival drives are activated at the same time and neither can be soothed without activating the other.

And all this also means a child never learns to process their own emotions with safe other validating and reflecting them back to them – the child is not allowed a sense of self with feelings and needs and so their only option is to avoid feelings by dissociating them and making themselves unreal, i.e. depersonalised, to avoid the inner conflict. So I continue to dissociate ALL feelings, because showing myself and my feelings was so unsafe. I experience huge internal conflicts between what I feel and experience and what I express. So the alters hold the feelings, leaving me with no feelings and no self.  This is the work of therapy – not discovering my real self, but creating her from all the split off parts of my psyche.

Depersonalisation and Touch: Making Sense of My Promiscuous Self

This is an old post from my old blog, but it fits well with the links I am making about shame and dissociation and relational healing over the past few days, so I am adding it here. I wrote it in the autumn of 2017, after I made some links between my promiscuity, touch and the fact that I experience almost-permanent depersonalisation and derealisation. It links with things I had realised previously about my core self being formed around shame, and the shame and guilt I feel when I see my Mum from a distance e.g. across a room, and how this led me to dissociate even as a baby. I dissociate from all and any feelings, which is starting to make even more sense now – I was trying to reflect back to my Mum what she needed and wanted to see and so I hid my real self, even from myself. I literally made myself unreal, i.e. depersonalised, so I didn’t get annihilated.

“To live without a functioning sense of touch is to live in constant fear. Fear of imminent annihilation, fear you are not real. “Touch” is not tactile. It is a sense located in the organ of the skin, an awareness of the skin as a boundary, a boundary that gives you certainty that you exist and are an entity, something real. The place your spirit can exist on the earth. “Touch” is what allows you to take in and perceive the world and form memories. Memories that you can access and name. Without a sense of touch a soul has no boundary, no container. Memories have no place to live and the feelings cannot coalesce into something cognizant and meaningful. They are just pure emotion swirling around, nameless, overwhelming, annihilating”.

I’ve spent my life chronically dissociated, mostly depersonalisation and derealisation, although in more recent years the existence of dissociated parts, frozen in time since their original trauma, have made themselves known. Some of those parts have branded themselves ‘sluts’, unable to forgive their promiscuity and the shameful situations they found themselves in. Others have shown classic signs of borderline personality as they have grappled with the triggers of intimate relationships. And still others are starting to feel horrified by how obsessed they were by boys, how even as they studied hard and had other interests, it was boys who took over their minds and gave them a reason to live. Only now are we making sense of the reasons for this behaviour, the desperate longing to be touched and filled and to feel like we mattered, how the seeds for this behaviour were sown before we could even walk.

When an adult experiences chronic, near-constant depersonalisation it usually means there was frequent trauma and abuse before that adult was 9 months old. Depersonalisation – the sense of not being real, of having no edges because there is no ‘you’ to come to an end. Depersonalisation – watching your hand move across the page and letters forming, but having no sense of that hand belonging to you. Depersonalisation – cutting your legs just to feel real, feeling no pain as the blood flows, seeing the cuts later and feeling comforted, the stinging pain reminding you the pain is real, that you are real. Depersonalisation – looking in the mirror and there being no connection between the face you see and the person inside. Depersonalisation – being trapped behind frosted glass, needing someone to reach out and break it but not being able to move past your own experience to tell them. Doubting your own existence. Doubting you are real. I didn’t realise I felt like this as a teenager, but I did, it’s in my writings. It’s how I explained my anorexia. It explains why I drank myself to oblivion. And it explains why I let random men use me and discard me, over and over again. For me, depersonalisation didn’t just mean a lack of boundaries with regards other people, but that I did not exist to myself. I have not felt real for most of my life. Feeling someone’s hands on my skin gave me edges, gave me skin, brought me to life, gave me a place in the world – for seconds, minutes, hours, however long they held me, I felt something and I knew I was there.

I spent my life trying to be invisible. Hiding and hoping to be left alone – at school and at home. I also spent my life desperate to be seen and heard. I lost my virginity at 14 to a man 12 years older. We met at a club. I was drunk and passively borne along by events that felt entirely out of my control – I had no sense of being able to say no, even if I had wanted to. Writing ‘I’ feels strange; I have no sense that person back then was me. Whoever it was lay there, in his bed, desperate for it to be over, trying to block out what was going on, telling herself it would be over soon. It was. And then the man fucked her best friend as well and they both went home. I know now this was statutory rape; in the eyes of the law I was not able to consent. I was too young and he was too old. He should have known better, though under our patriarchal system I can understand why perhaps he didn’t. Around this time I was also obsessing over his house mate; beautiful, mysterious, enigmatic Ben. I had met him at a party, spent hours the next day trawling the streets trying to find his house, turned up at his work a week later. He told me I was too young – I was, he was right – but his rejection threw my very existence into doubt. After this there were more boys. My Mum had thrown me out at the start of the holidays. I went to a party on the moors and fucked a 17 year old in his tent. I let boys shove their fingers inside me, ignoring the discomfort, the pain, the shame. I kissed anyone and everyone I could. I obsessed over another boy all summer, someone I didn’t even like until he showed me he liked me. We kissed constantly. I felt alive when we were kissing. I pretended I felt the same when he said we shouldn’t turn it into anything serious in case it ruined our friendship, I could feel him slipping away from me and I would take whatever I could get. I acted out my hurt by kissing another boy in front of him. I returned from a holiday and he was ‘going out with’ another girl. I was the one people wanted to kiss and fuck, not have a relationship with. He told a friend he couldn’t love me because I didn’t love myself. I had no idea what this meant. I hated myself even more for not loving myself enough to make him love me.

Another one night stand in my friend’s sister’s bed. Disgusting and drunken. He left in the early hours and I felt empty and used and hollowed out. I pretended it was fine, one big joke. I felt proud of the pain, of being hardly able to walk, my muscles stiff, my tender flesh sore and raw inside; proof that someone had wanted me. More men. Pulling 20 men in a night was standard. Letting them grope me on the dancefloor, letting them take me places and do things to me I didn’t want them to do, just so I could have a cuddle. Making them watch as I moved on to the next. Those days remain a jumble of excited obsession and agonising rejection that happened to someone else. Not me. Every man I met in a club or pub was going to be the one – they were gorgeous and funny and this time they would want me. Eventually one did. He was the double of Kurt Cobain and I fell hard and fast. Luckily so did he. He was 9 years older – I was just 15. We saw each other every day. I was too young to spot the warning signs, how he would shake if he hadn’t had a drink, his mood swings, the derogatory way he would talk to me sometimes. He told me he loved me. He didn’t fuck me. He left me for someone else and I wanted to die. Six months after this the one night stands started in earnest. Joe, Tobey, Chris, Billy, Malcolm, Anthony, Julian, Owen, Big Pete. Most of the time I didn’t even think about it going anywhere. I brushed them off with a ‘see ya later’. Apart from Lux, Lux was different. Lux wanted me and I wanted him so much. He was older. He was dangerous, I could sense it. He made me feel more alive and more wanted than I ever had. He would drop me home after a weekend in bed and the emptiness that invaded me was the worst pain I had ever experienced. I felt annihilated. I couldn’t see how I would ever be okay without him. My neediness was palpable, even as I played it cool.

The obsessions continued, mostly over girls, sometimes a man. I took detours to get home so I could walk past Emily’s house, desperate to see her, unable to talk when I did. I obsessed over Sarah K at work, unable to talk when she came near me, writing poetry and dreaming of her constantly. All I wanted was for her to touch me. At university the one night stands and embarrassing, shameful situations began again. Mike, Rob, Matt, Tom, James, James, the ginger pikey. At age 18 I had slept with 21 guys, some of whose names I didn’t even know. And I had had the most intense and exhilarating experience of my life kissing a girl called Amy for hours and hours, until her boyfriend came to lead her home. It stopped for a while, with my first real boyfriend. I felt alive with him, but the long-distance took its toll on me – having to say goodbye every week broke my heart. I was lost without him. He became my life. Being apart from him was agony. My disorganised attachment played out time and time again as I told him he couldn’t be with him, I was too fucked up. I begged him to leave me. The opposite of the classic borderline “I hate you, don’t leave me” – my version was “I love you, please leave me”. Terrified he’d discover my rotten core or that I would unknowingly infect him with my filth. He stayed. I cheated twice because whenever there was an offer of closeness, skin-to-skin contact, waking up next to someone, feeling ‘loved’, then I was powerless to say no. He stayed through physical illness and depression and I got my degree because of our strength. He told me he was leaving me and I threw up in the road, so disturbed was my sense of self. I didn’t know who I was without him.

More one-night-stands and short-lived romances with boys who were dangerous and unsuitable, men who I felt nothing for, men who physically repulsed me. I let them all fuck me. I pretended I liked them, but not too much. Ben, Paul, Aidan, Alex, Alex, Kate, a man in a cupboard at a party who I hadn’t even talked to. The pain of one particularly intense entanglement with a spectacularly bad-for-me chef named Paul ending led me to try and take my own life. I fell for men I didn’t even like. Too scared to tell one to use a condom, in case it made him realise he didn’t want me after all, I ended up pregnant. That stopped the carousel a little. In 11 years 4 relationships, 2 almost-relationships, 1 one-night stand with a total druggie on medication for psychosis. One that should have been a no-night-stand but after we had drunken sex (he made me cry so of course I fucked him after that) I was so consumed by shame that I let myself fall for him in the hope I could stave off the guilt for getting closer than I should have by getting even closer. A million reasons to end it with each of them and yet it took me such a long time to find them, because the tidal wave of abandonment and annihilation would sweep me away when I tried. With the last two, I remember how I could never get physically close enough to them. Even when they were inside me it wasn’t enough. I would hold them close after sex and have this excruciating sensation of never being able to hold them tight enough. I needed them inside me, consuming me, merging with me and filling me up. I learnt to walk away. I learnt to tolerate the pain. I learnt to end relationships from a distance, when my body wouldn’t cry out for their touch as they tried to walk away.

What now, though? What now? Can I absolve all my parts of guilt and shame and self-loathing for this slutty, promiscuous, obsessive behaviour? Now I can see that experiencing chronic abuse as an infant and young child led to me not having a skin of my own, led to this crazy sense of not existing unless someone else could see and touch me, can I forgive us all for needing more, more, more all the time? Maybe, just maybe. One day. All I know is I’ve had enough empty sex to last a lifetime. Ironic really, when all that time I was hoping it would fill me up, so that one day I would be enough, all by myself.

And so to therapy. What do I get? It’s really quite simple. When I’m with my therapist I exist. Under her all-seeing gaze I am coming to life. When she goes away so do I. Without her my experiences no longer feel real. I am thrown back into a wordless place, where I feel nothing, where my internal experience does not exist. Where do not exist. She is helping me find my skin and then to draw a boundary around it in which I feel safe and contained. I have been told that as a child I was self-contained; I wasn’t, I just had no one to contain me. I was uncontained and hiding myself inside a body that was not mine, lest I spill out and infect my parents and make them sadder, madder, more resentful, even less there, even less willing to be there. I grew up without a functioning sense of touch. I grew up without a boundary around myself. I grew up not existing to myself. Now it makes sense that when my therapist goes away I feel I am facing annihilation. When I lost my skin, that’s what I really was facing.