All the things I’ll never tell you

Dear K,

I can’t believe 6 months have passed. It feels as though everything and nothing are the same as when we said goodbye for a little while, all those weeks ago. It is 11 months since we last drove to your house. Somehow the passing of time is comforting because it doesn’t feel as though we’ve lost you, despite this time apart, and one day the end will come, even if it turns out to be many more months till we can see your face again. Our brain erasing you for the whole break was our greatest fear but we feel so connected to you still. We are scared you will have forgotten us or let us go but when we look through old messages and think back on our time together we can feel how connected we are and we don’t think that would disappear for you if it hasn’t for us. Whenever we couldn’t remember you before you could always remember us, so if we haven’t forgotten then we are pretty sure you won’t have either.

We wondered if you thought of us when Joe Biden was elected or when Taylor Swift released another surprise lockdown album or when it was the first Monday of the year and you weren’t seeing us for the first time since the start of 2015. We have thought of you every day but it hasn’t always hurt. Some days it has but a lot of the time we have felt patient and calm and just so grateful for you and all the work we’ve done because it has become obvious this past year just how much we’ve healed and internalised your safety now. And we have mostly enjoyed this time of integration and settling, waiting to return, knowing both of us hold the intention that we will continue our work when we can.

There is so much I want to tell you. It’s also been nice to keep so much to myself for so long, almost as if there is a clearer line around myself now. I don’t think about how I will explain things to you or hold out for a time to share them. I don’t do things to tell you anymore, I just do things. There is a peace and a spaciousness in that – it’s such a different way of being. It is also sad. It marks a loss. When I return things will not be how they once were. There will be joy but also grief when we are reunited. I am learning that life is endless cycles of coterminous grief and joy, balance and instability, hope and despair. And I am learning to be okay with that.

I want you to know Christmas was incredibly hard, that my dad is intolerable, that I have been so lonely during this latest lockdown that sometimes I cannot breathe. I want you to know that attachment panic and shame has been killing me this past week and I’ve run out of space on my thighs to cut and it is taking all my willpower to not take the razor to my arms, that I only hold off from that because I am desperate to feel the warmth on my skin when I’m out on my bike in a few weeks’ time. I am disappointed in myself and also I don’t care. There are worse things and nothing else soothes and settles things like that, not yet.

I want you to know that despite self-harm since mid-December I have continued to grow and learn about myself during this time apart. I want to tell you that this respite and solitude has led to the biggest transformation in my life imaginable but that I am done now and desperate to rejoin the world. I want to transition into being more sure of who I am among other people now, instead of only being able to keep sight of myself when I’m alone. I want to practice what I’ve learnt and prove that I can be more balanced and see myself clearly even when life isn’t stripped back to the bare minimum. I needed this time so much, but now I am in need of human contact more than I ever have been before. Or it feels that way at least.

I’ve wanted to tell you that giving up sugar and gluten completely was the best thing I could have done for my health. I want to tell you I have no cravings and I never eat more than I want to and I haven’t deliberately starved myself since May last year. For the first time since I was 8 years old I don’t feel as though I am living under the weight of an eating disorder. Maybe there is just the right amount of control in this diet to please everyone, without needing to restrict. It works so well and I know you will be so happy. I don’t know if it will last, attachment might shake us back into anorexia again, but things feel so different around food now. It doesn’t dominate. It just is. And it has definitely helped my gut and brain health, reduced the grey day fogginess a little, given me a steady flow of energy throughout the day. I will forever be grateful that in the stillness of the pandemic I had the space to make this choice and integrate it into my daily life with such ease.

I want you to know that we are waiting for Ana to die and this in between place is deeply painful, as she hovers between life and death and I imagine a world without her or Jess now. She was sick last time we spoke to you and I knew how sick she was but she didn’t, not yet. In November she told me she had a year left to live but then Jess’s sisters emailed 4 weeks ago to say she’d deteriorated rapidly and had only a few days to a couple of weeks left. She is holding on still, waiting for a sunny day so she can feel the warmth on her face in the garden before she goes. More than anything we hope she gets that chance. I was able to say my goodbyes and it helps that there is not unspoken love. I want you to know that there is gut wrenching sadness that this connection to Jess will be gone, but there is also guilt-inducing relief because being with her triggered all my feelings and all my shame around being unseen and disconnected and invisible because of how she is, and now I don’t have to decide whether to continue to atone by seeing her.

I wonder how you would feel and what you would think about the fact that I reconnected with R in December and have been seeing him every week since the start of this third lockdown. I needed him when I lost my mind when I first realised Nina likely has ADHD, and over Christmas when spending 5 hours with Dad destroyed us both, and when Nina was hating me and raging at me constantly for weeks on end at the start of the year and I lost myself in doubt, not knowing if she was right that I am the worst parent in the world and have ruined her life and caused all her problems. I felt out of my mind with shame and panic and despair and his endless reality checks brought me back. He said some things you would have said, about normal teenage behaviour and how hard it is for me to hold steady as I have no idea what is real after growing up under the shadow of such extreme narcissism. And he reassured me that her story is so different from mine, that she is damaged but not like I was. He helped me carry on loving her and myself when killing us both, once again, felt like the only way through.

Nina turned 14 in January and you weren’t here and that broke my heart. It is the hardest age for me – the contrasts are so stark. The year I turned 14 I was off school for 3 months because of anorexia and self-harm. It is the age I started drinking really heavily and lost my virginity and we did “family therapy” which led to Mum becoming more abusive and out of control. Leia and T’s worst memories are when we were 14. We needed you and you weren’t here and we understand why but it still hurts. The weeks around her birthday were the hardest I’ve experienced as a parent – we were both so dysregulated, I was barely sleeping, we were rowing all the time. We came through and have only had one small argument in the past month now, but I hope you are there next time we hit a rocky patch because your presence and voice soothe me and I’ve never felt closer to you than when you and I talked about how parenting a teen was affecting me last summer. I can still remember the warmth in my heart as I sat on the grass in a field near our home and it felt as though you were right beside me even though we were miles apart.

Connecting with R again has been steadying and destabilising, beautiful and agonising, healing and damaging, all at the same time. It has shown me things I’d rather have kept hidden, about myself and what happens to me when I move closer to someone and the terror and craziness it still triggers. His presence is a gift and curse. He loves me and holds me and tells me all the things I need to hear and I can feel pieces of me falling into place as he holds me at the same time as different parts of me unravel and I lose myself again. And I’m forced to confront the fact that disorganised attachment means this is what relationships are for me. He said this week he wants to be a stabilising force for me and not make things worse. I put my head in my hands and groaned that this just is not possible, not all the time at least. It is not a viable goal because connection and attachment activate my nervous system and throw me into that terrifying push/pull where I need to move closer and run away at the same time because I feel so unsafe.

Inside me is still a big melting point of disorganised attachment pain and shame and distrust and terror of intimacy and fear of abandonment and the pain of feeling invisible unless I am the only one. I can observe it all happening now but I am not past this. I thought I was, and it is not at the intensity it was with you for years for sure, but it has left me wondering how I will ever be free of what my parents did to me. How will I ever manage a relationship with someone I don’t pay, where it is not all about me, where they are allowed needs too? I want to talk to you about this and hear you make reassuring sounds about how far I’ve come and how much is possible.

R is amazed by how solid and stable I now am – relatively speaking! – and says such beautiful things about the work you and I have done and how much you both love me. It feels like more of our work is integrating with him to bear witness, because he has walked this path beside me since I was 21 and he knows more than even you about the level of physical pain I used to experience. He reminds me you are not here because you are afraid for your son and not because you don’t want me. He tells me ‘never’ is a long time when I panic that we won’t ever meet again.

And he is learning about disorganised attachment and he is beginning to understand how incredibly traumatised I am. It’s like he knew before how broken I was but has now seen my level of pain and dysfunction and fragmentation is at a different intensity than his. I needed this from him. He wants to learn about me so he can help me better which both warms and terrifies me – what if he goes away when he realises how intense my process is? He is not you though, and sometimes when he holds me it makes me miss you more than at any other time this past year. Despite this I’m so glad he is here. He gives me some of what I need, some of what I lost when we suddenly couldn’t meet. He tells me he is here because he wants to be and that I am so easy to love and when he holds me it begins to thaw some of the ice that is inside me and helps me feel less repulsive and toxic and untouchable. Being with him is another step towards learning it is safe to feel safe in relationship.

I want to tell you how much we miss Ollie, that his absence hangs heavy every single day. Rainbow is doing well but she needs a new friend. She is sad. Do you remember they were together all the time? We used to tell you how much they helped us because they always snuggled up together and knew where each other was – they felt no shame for loving and needing contact and company and it started to loosen some of the shame that kept us separate from others too. I hope next time we see you we will have adopted a new bunny and will be able to show you pictures. Your new house is too far to bring them in the car but we will always remember Rainbow and Ollie at your old house.

And the time we have missed you the most was when Rainbow started a small fire!!! She jumped on the coffee table and knocked a candle on the floor and it set fire to the rug!! This is the naughtiest-silliest thing she has ever done and not being able to draw a picture to show you was probably the worst part of this break, for Lotta and Miffy and Cody at least! It will likely be the first thing they tell you when we see you. We know how shocked you will be and can hear you saying ‘oh my goodness!’ and laughing a lot.

I want to tell you I miss you but if I could do that then I wouldn’t need to because you would be here. I hope it is not too much longer till we are together again and that we find each other – changed but the same.

Please don’t forget us.

Love CB and everyone xx

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.

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