august

Today is 5 years since K and I first met. I remember that day like it was yesterday but at the same time it feels as though a hundred years have passed since then. I am a totally different person than I was when K and I started working and yet more myself than ever.

I wanted to reflect a little on where I was at in therapy at this time in each of the years we have worked, so I looked in my old journals to see what I’d written and what I was working through at this point in August each year. I don’t want to trigger myself though, so this will be a light post that doesn’t delve too deeply into what was coming up. It felt important to mark this date in some way though, and it is also a good reminder that time passes and things change even when it feels like we will be stuck in the same painful situation forever.

In August 2015 I really was a total mess and had been since Jess died in December 2014 really. I was also functioning really well when I wasn’t in emotional flashbacks (hello dissociation I was yet to discover I even had) and I was putting all my energies into healing and making change in my life. I was working regularly with my acupuncturist who is trained in working with trauma, and also with a shamanic journey therapist. Both of these people were important to me, but they weren’t able to contain the level of distress and the memories that were coming up and I was suicidal and regularly planning to kill myself and Nina because it seemed as though the damage from transgenerational trauma was too great for either of us to ever recover from. I contacted K when it became apparent I needed ‘proper therapy’ to guide me through the healing process (which I thought would take a year or two!) and we first met on this day 5 years ago. This is what I wrote in my journal that evening:

This evening I went to meet K, psychotherapist. She seemed good. (Lol, this makes me laugh so much – ‘good’). Lots of experience with complex trauma. She said my flashbacks are pretty severe and that we’re going to need to go very slowly and build up the trust and the relationship before we move into looking at the trauma. I feel less hopeless than I have. I’m prepared for things to get worse before they get better… I feel a structured path and contained space is going to really help me, along with someone strong and able to challenge me.

Honestly, I had no real idea what I was getting into or how much worse it was going to get… I didn’t even realise I was dissociated, let alone someone who was extremely fragmented with almost autonomous alters or parts. And I had no idea how important the relationship would be, how it would become something that felt like it was killing me and keeping me alive nearly all the time for more than 3 and a half years. I thought therapy would be all about me, but in fact it was all about K and us – her and I together – and that has been so unexpected and beautiful and painful all at the same time. Bittersweet.

A year later our work had really got going and I was deep in the attachment work, but I’d say I still hadn’t reached the most intense and agonising work we had to do. We didn’t mark a year but I wrote briefly in my journal:

A whole year of working with K. I had no idea she’d come to be so important to me, no idea I was dissociated or had parts or was as broken as I am.

She went away for the first time since we’d been working together a few days later and I remember I had intense pain in my toes and was convinced I was getting rheumatoid arthritis. I really lost it and was in a state of heightened anxiety and catastrophising about everything. Luckily I bumped into my acupuncturist and he said often toe pain is where we are – literally – gripping the ground in fear! This explanation and validation was enough to settle things but for quite a few years after that I experienced toe pain when I was apart from K. She had wanted us to do some work by email during the 10 day break but I was too cut off to contact her – I sent a short email telling her I couldn’t send a proper email because it felt weird since I didn’t really know who she was. She replied and said she understood and was holding hope for me. Then a young part (Miffy) quickly sent an email while I was distracted in town, saying she missed K and hated the break and she remembered her even though no one else did. K sent a lovely message for her and young parts and a video of some goats running around the garden wall of her house in Portugal and just before she came home Miffy text her because she was so worried she wouldn’t come back and K replied saying ‘I am coming home. In Lisbon tonight and going on an aeroplane in the morning.’ We cried and cried in relief after getting that message, letting out all the anguish of the 10 day break. We literally counted down the hours till she was back and had the hugest meltdown ever after we finally got to see her the next day.

August 2017: K and I did a long bike ride to celebrate and then had tea and some of the cake I had made her sitting in the garden. It was perfect. She said it was her favourite therapy session ever, with any client, and that stands – for both of us – to this day I think. It was perfect. I was choosing a secondary school for Nina at that time and as we cycled and I talked it through K helped me get past all the background noise and unwanted input from others to work out what was right for both Nina and I for the next stage of our lives. It was magical and it is wonderful now that she is at the perfect school for her and we are living out of town and it was all due to seeds sown by K that day. And also such a positive experience of being supported to tune into my own sense of what is needed after a lifetime of being unable to hear my own voice due to trying to keep everyone else happy.

Our third anniversary, in August 2018, was during our only month-long August therapy break, shortly after K had told me she was taking 2019 as a sabbatical for her health and we would be ending our work – or taking an extended break with no definite return at the end of it – at the end of the year. I was in bits, as those who’ve followed my blog since then will know (her circumstances changed and in October 2018 she told me she wouldn’t be able to take the year off so we could keep working if I wanted to), but I did manage to make the best of that month to stabilise myself and make plans for how I would continue my healing journey without her. I marked the date by writing a blog post about the fact that K stayed for so long through so many hard times despite it being a rocky road that she felt ill-equipped to walk beside me on sometimes. I am so bloody relieved that wasn’t the beginning of the end though – we’ve done incredible work since then and also reaped a lot of the rewards from all the hard times in the previous three years.

Last year at this time things were SO different than they had been in previous years. I’d really moved through a lot of the attachment work and was in a much more settled place where I didn’t experience anywhere near as much shame for needing K. Nina and I were away on the 26th so K and I marked 4 years since we had our first proper session which was 2nd September. K was about to move house, which some of you may remember caused a bit of a storm, despite her saying we weren’t making a hullabaloo out of it because the most important things – her and I – were going to the new house! We sat in the garden and she gave us a beautiful silver bracelet (the one Nina wrecked last week) and I gave her a huge card made by a lot of parts in my system with pictures of things we had done together and things that are meaningful for us. Then I read aloud something I had written for her (which you can read here if you are interested) and we reflected on our time together and how far I had come. It was also our last session in her home that we had been to over 300 times, so it was emotional and difficult (I’ve written before about why the therapy room in her last house, and the garden there have been such huge parts of our healing journey) but also beautiful and I wrote down some things K said in the session afterwards about how she wishes she could magic shame away for us and how lovely it would have been for Miffy ‘if she had had all that when she was very little in a little body’.

This time last year I was so aware of how far I’d come in terms of being able to tolerate closeness and connection without feeling crippling shame or wanting to die or dissociating and forgetting K entirely – it was breathtaking and it is this which has sustained me through everything the past year has thrown at me. Missing her is a deep ache inside me right now but I also feel so much gratitude for all that my work with her has enabled me to be, and perhaps also a little hope that on this day next year we will be sitting together in her garden reflecting on 2020 and looking back in amazement that we survived such a huge disruption in our work.

Invisible string

And isn’t it just so pretty to think, that all along there was some

invisible string, tying you to me?

Somewhere inside me is a deep knowing that this is not the end with K. There is so much fear and worry and anxiety over all the things that could conspire to keep us apart next year, but when my mind is quiet and I listen to my heart, I know we will meet again, work again, and that it will be the same between us. I know each of us will have grown and changed in our time apart, because being part of this beautiful universe means also being part of its endless waves of transformation, but I also know the essence of what we have together will remain unchanged. Each of us will be playing our part in preserving our connection during this time apart. Each of us is holding this time as a pause, a reprieve, not an ending. It didn’t feel this way last week, or at times in our session last night, and I know it won’t when it is time to say goodbye on Monday, but alongside all the noise and confusion and uncertainty within me, there is a sense of peace and a sense that we will not even be away from K, not really, no more than we have been.

I know in life we never know what is going to happen and that control is only ever an illusion (I think this year has shattered the last bastion of any delusion of control for all of us), but I also have a deep sense of trust that our work is not done and that the universe wouldn’t take her from me when we had only just reached a place of safety and stability and trust in our work with her. Today it feels very much like a pause, not an ending, and I feel in a good enough place that I will be able to spend the next 6 months honouring all the work we have done together and integrating it into my life. What K and I have is sacred. It cannot be broken. Bigger than that, though, is that our work will never truly be over – it is the foundation for all the rest of the healing and growth that will take place in my lifetime and so our work will continue forever now. And it is this that is stopping me rushing to fill the void she will leave – I want there to be a space in my life and to notice what it was filled with, and find ways of honouring our connection even though we are not meeting or speaking.

There were so many things K said last night that helped us all feel like this really is just a pause. She kept saying ‘in our work so far’ and about things that will be a big part of our work in the future. We were making cards to post to each other and then open together in our last session next week and when someone little worried if she would remember our favourite colour is purple she held up the purple glitter glue she had mixed up ahead of our session and said she definitely wouldn’t be forgetting that. So I know she believes it is just a pause and I try to hang on to her certainty even when my own wavers. And we both know I am doing the right thing even though it is not a choice I would ever have willingly and freely made at this point in my journey. It is still genuinely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make and stand by in my life. Being forgotten is really all of my system’s biggest fear, and so I guess it will be a big lesson in trusting that we are memorable if we get to the other side and she remembers, but it is a long time to get through until then, not knowing if she will remember us all. She said last night ‘I am never going to forget you guys. No matter what happens’ and that sometimes you meet someone in your lifetime that it is just not possible to ever forget. ‘Even till you die?’ we asked and she said ‘That’s right. It has been such a big journey, such a big journey, it’s just not possible’.

I feel like a different person than I was when I first emailed K (5 years ago on Friday) and said I needed help to work through what I thought was complex-PTSD after memories of abuse and neglect had come back to me just a few months previously. I am a different person. I expect to a lot of people who have known me throughout this time I seem the same, and in many outwards ways I am the same, but the shifts within me have been and continue to be profound. It is incredible to think back over how far we have come together. And I really hope more than anything that ‘the time when we couldn’t meet because of the pandemic’ becomes just another chapter in our story that we will look back on together.

It does hurt. A lot. When I allow myself to go there it feels like such a huge loss. K has been a recurring appointment in my calendar since 26th August 2015. Not knowing when we will speak again after Monday is strange and unsettling and scary and I know the waves of grief will come again. We’ve also agreed that if I need to go back sooner I can, that if we email and say we want to start again it will be non-negotiable and we won’t have to justify it to her or try and convince her. If we reach the point where we email it will be because we’ve tried to sit with things for a significant period of time and have become too dysregulated and/or something big has happened with my mum or brother or something else and we have a sense that even working remotely would be better than nothing. Making this decision was so hard, I’m not going to put myself in the position of having to make it again by rushing back to remote therapy and then encountering the same issues. I hope I won’t need to go back sooner, but I’m not going to force myself to cope if it does feel unmanageable and I think working with K again would help. And I know she knows me well enough to know if I reach out to her it’s because it is the right thing to do, and not a knee jerk reaction to emotional discomfort and overwhelm.

I don’t think it will be easy. I think I will find it hard over the winter without her, when there is little sunshine and painful anniversaries, less space for me and always a lean towards overwhelm. I know some parts will miss her intensely, but in many ways this doesn’t feel much different for them than seeing her via a screen for nearly 5 months. And we have made it for a set period of time – I will email at the end of February with the intention to recommence work in March. We need to know we are going definitely going back, but we also need to be able to stop scrutinising the news to try and work out the subtext of what the latest developments might mean for in-person therapy. If we were to leave it that we wouldn’t see K again until she started in-person work then we would just be watching the news anxiously for the possibility of that and it would defeat the purpose of the break. Living like we have been is exhausting and we need some time off from it. She is going to contact us straightaway (like, the next minute after she has decided!) if she starts to work in-person again before that, and we also have to be prepared to return to remote work in March next year, if things are still as they are now. I don’t know how that would be, but things will be different by then – in the human world and in my internal world – so I don’t need to think about it yet.

After our session last night I felt much more at peace with the decision and a strong sense that our connection can endure this time apart. (That is what attachment is after all: a deep and enduring emotional bond that connects one person to another across time and space). After the session I made K a card with two hearts joined together with red thread and a card explaining that it is because of a Japanese legend we read about because of a new Taylor Swift song (I love her for releasing such an exquisite album during lockdown, proof that great beauty can be born from isolation and solitude). According to the legend, an invisible red string connects us to those whom we are destined to meet, no matter how far apart we live or how much our life circumstances differ. Destiny connects us to these people, and whilst the red string may stretch and tangle, it can never, ever break. This song and its story brought me great comfort during the recent short break from therapy and it is helping me stay strong in this decision and trust that K will be there waiting for me on the other side of this strange and uncertain time, because our journey together is not yet over.

Under your tree (I love us)

Therapy today was lovely. Not a sentence I thought I’d ever be writing! I was kind of scared to go today, I think because I was experiencing high levels of anxiety already about things non-therapy related and wasn’t sure how the session would play out after the huge process that took up the first part of last week. As I was driving to K’s after work there were blue skies and sunshine and a feeling of Spring being on it’s way, and I was thinking how it would be nice to go in K’s garden today. As soon as she opened the door she asked if we would like to go in the garden, to see the flowers that are blossoming, and to take in that Spring is nearly here. We took her remaining dog on his lead (3 now live in Portugal) and walked to the bottom of her enormous garden in relative silence and stillness and I just soaked it all in – I never thought I would be in her garden again because we were ending, yet there I was and it was the same. Another Spring of working together – I feel incredibly lucky.

snowdrops.jpg

We’ve done some really deep and important work in her garden – made art out of natural things, burnt things on a bonfire, sat drinking tea and eating cake after a gorgeous bike ride along the canal to mark two years of knowing each other, read a story on the birthday of my dear friend Jess who I’ve written about before. And it is where I first voiced that I didn’t think I was going to be able to carry on a relationship with my Mum in any way at all. It is also a really safe and healing place for young parts – we’ve picked fruit to take home, blown bubbles, lit sparklers, and run around playing with K’s dogs, We have talked a lot in her garden too, sitting on yoga mats in the sunshine. Therapy outside is different; the energy shifts and sometimes harder things can be voiced without then hanging in the space around us. It is freeing. And a love of nature, a need to feel connected to the earth, is something K and I share so it is wonderful to have that space to be in together. I took some photographs of the snowdrops and K pointed out a huge patch of them under ‘my’ tree – I never knew before that she thinks of that as my tree because it is where we made a beautiful mandala together on Summer Solstice in 2017. It felt really lovely to hear her say that.

my tree

The reassurance I needed last week that our relationship is still strong and real even though we need K less was provided this evening, not through words but through just being together. The bond we have is all around us, unspoken yet nurturing and solid and beautiful, and we know each other so well – there is so much peace and acceptance in our relationship now, so much that doesn’t need to be explained, so much history. Being together is so easy so much of the time now, and it does enable me to really take in what therapy gives me. I know that K must feel this too, I could tell in her voice today how much joy she takes in seeing my growth in the past few months in particular. And parts were calmer today and were therefore able to take in what was being shared and created in the room. Although K has been re-parenting (fostering, she has called it) us for a very long time now, it feels like only very recently that the re-parenting is actually providing us with reparative experiences, rather than just being completely triggering and awful and constantly poking at ‘the mother wound’.

I managed earlier in the session to share some of what was going on after our last session, and how we shouldn’t have to have this kind of relationship with someone who is not our parents. There is always that added layer of difficulty because we only get this healing relationship while things conspire to make it possible, not just the money (although that is a factor of course), it is that our ability to spend that 90 minutes together week in week out is dependent on many things staying as they are now. There are no guarantees. I told K how hard it is sometimes to know that Nina gets me until I die – she doesn’t have to do anything, she gets to just live her life and have me. Early last week there were feelings around K’s children on this point, but things settled and I came back to my own life and they receded, and when I am with K her children are never present. It never even occurs to me to ask about them – in that room only her and I exist. For that period of time there is no one else. She pours her undivided attention and interest and love into me in that space, her children never encroach, and I know they never even go in that room when they are home. It is our space, the first place we felt safe, and the first place the parts spoke and were heard. She hadn’t lived in her house for very long when we started work and so I know we have spent more time in that room with her than any other client, and in our primal need to be the centre of someone’s world, this is important to us, and it is healing to have that knowledge.

We feel so full of love this evening – love for K, of course, but really love for us – her and I and the parts, and what we have created together. I love what we are together, the blanket of safety and authenticity we have woven together over the past 3 and a half years, the deep knowing we have of each other. I trust her and feel safe with her and I take all that into the world with me. I don’t know K in her day-to-day life it is true, but I do know the real her and I know what we have is real, sacred, special, and so important to each of us in different ways. I shared in our session today the post I wrote last week about needing time after therapy now to process and write and just be with whatever comes up for us, and how this probably means going to choir after session is something that is doing myself a disservice at the moment. She commented how much processing and thinking had happened in my post, and how I was feeling into the new shape of therapy and negotiating with how things needed to be as I was writing.

And she commented on the shift that has recently taken place because I don’t go home and go into meltdown now, I go home and reflect (“mostly, apart from on Monday … And the week before”) [LOL]. “And that reflective space feels so healthy, as you say, you need to do it, to digest the session and reflect on it, and reflect on what you need in your life right now”. She’s right, because as I wrote last week, I didn’t used to be able to write after therapy at all, I used to just freeze or numb out in some way, or just feel utterly hideous and wild and completely uncontained. If I did write it was a dissociated jumble of parts and outpourings of how painful everything was and how therapy was making everything worse. It used to be I just needed to get through the time between sessions, and it isn’t like that anymore. I can really take in and process the work from the session throughout the week now, and I really appreciate having space to do that, either through writing or just being, even when it is hard and painful things come up. And if I’m in a really good space after therapy I don’t want to disrupt that either – it is such a new thing for me, feeling better after therapy, feeling okay, feeling safe and snuggled up, feeling held and connected and contained, and when I feel that way I want to hold onto it and be with it and stay safe inside that feeling. And sometimes young parts just want to write about how nice it is at K’s house, because it used to be so awful to be away from her that we couldn’t hold on to what it was like to be with her. It is still sometimes a bit like being kicked when we leave, but then when we stop and notice we realise it’s still with us, everything we get from her. We carry her inside of us and she is always in the space around us too.

It used to hurt to be away from K so much, even when our session had been nice and holding and containing, in fact especially when our sessions had been this way. It feels so different now. K said how great it is that I am evolving into my therapeutic space and how it is enabling me to reflect more, which is a great thing.  There did used to be reflection, but mostly about how bad things were, and what a challenge it was being in therapy! She said how now I am managing to fine tune my perception of what’s going on for me, which is a really big deal for me because of my dissociation, and so the benefits of therapy are longer lasting now. And she said it feels as though I am honouring myself with this decision, and that even though choir has been a resource, and will be again and for a long time to come, right now it is not serving me to go after therapy. And we agreed that right now our session time is the only time that works for me because of work and Nina’s swimming training so it is best to work out how to make the best of what is, rather than spend lots of energy trying to work out how to make things different.

I started to really dissociate just as we were leaving and K noticed and called out “don’t disappear” and said “this is not the time to dissociate” [LOL again] and that it would unpick everything I’d just told her about needing to go home and process my session if I let myself dissolve. She told me I didn’t need to leave her by dissociating because she is still here and we are in contact and we have the safety net of half an hour by phone or meeting up on Friday to lean into if needed. I managed to return to the semi-present and tell her that from this session I would take the garden and how safe it is for us. How amazing that she can see me dissociating before I know it is happening.

So this evening I am left with a clear sense that we are growing, me and the parts, and that despite this K is still here and we are stronger than ever. When things feel more-or-less okay inside I can feel how it actually brings us closer together that I am growing, perhaps because that growth is built upon our relationship. I couldn’t be growing away from her without the solid foundation we have built, and so every step I take towards my future is still another step with her, it’s just that I sometimes carry her inside me now instead of needing her right beside me all the time. She is part of me and nothing will ever change that. I remember last year how she said that what we have cannot be broken, and I am starting to really believe her now.

ks-garden.jpg

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