What next?

I am at a pivotal moment. Or rather I am not, or don’t feel I am, but I need to propel myself into seeing this as a pivotal moment because I need to decide what I am doing about returning to therapy – again! – and if I am not going back, what I will do instead. It is now September 9th and last time K and I were in contact I said I would email this month so she could let me know of her next available space. I had said I would like to start sometime after 13th September. Do I want to do this?

I really don’t know. Well, I kind of do know. I don’t want to go back to therapy with K at the moment, for complex reasons I think, but I also don’t want this to be the end. I also don’t feel I can let it drift after this month without it being THE END and this being communicated to her. It has been 13 months since we paused our work now. Letting things linger in indecisivenes is not really that good for me I’m sure. I feel so torn and have just been avoiding thinking about it to be honest. Most of the time I am content to let it drift along as it is indefinitely really, as I’m in no hurry to return or bring things to a head, but every so often I become aware that I really do need to decide. And the longer it is the harder it will be to go back to online therapy I think, if that is what I decide to do.

Basically K’s response to me after I last wrote in July saying I wanted to return to online therapy in the autumn was that she couldn’t say yet if she would have space then so we should check back in at that time, but that if I was ‘in need of psychotherapy it might be a good idea to look around for people who work full time’ (yes, sigh, but I’m guessing she has to say this ethically, rather than just saying ‘oh yes, just wait for me even though it could be many months’). The thing is I am not in need of psychotherapy, but I want and need to return to therapy with her. It feels wrong to have cut off such a depth relationship and source of healing and connection so suddenly, without knowing that is what we were doing, and without a chance to reflect or even say a proper goodbye. That session last August is not how we would have ended 5 years of work and it still feels as though it is hanging – suspended, unfinished. So going back is in recogntion of what we had, rather than psychotherapy being something I specifically need right now above all other healing modalities. I’m sure she gets this really.

I have no idea what is the right thing for me to do. This is exactly the kind of decision K would have helped me feel into and work out what is right for me. Without her it is impossible to be honest and I get so lost in the unknowns and what ifs. I don’t need psychotherapy at this time I don’t think. What I think I would benefit from is a weekly space that is held for me where I can process and understand the things that happen in the week, be supported to make certain decisions, and make sense of my internal experiences based on who I am as a person and what I struggle with due to complex trauma. Hah! I know this is psychotherapy, but it is also not attachment therapy and it is not really what K and I were doing before, or only for part of the sessions. I am scared that I couldn’t do this kind of adult work with her without parts getting triggered and all the attachment stuff coming up again. And there are things I am scared to look at again that I know are spiralling in my psyche just out of reach, around my dad and also my brother. I know these will come up when I see her and I don’t know if I want them to, even though I do need to process and move forward around them both. I am scared of this relative and fragile peace I’ve found being disrupted, even though I can’t really say things are that great right now either.

I do know I am past the phase of intense attachment therapy though – I did this work and it was fucking agony and at times I didn’t think I would survive it. But I did and had K and I kept working as we were pre-pandemic then I think it we would have continued to transition into something close and intimate that could only have grown out of those years of struggle and desparate need for her, and the raw, intense trauma work. There was a new softness surrounding our work before lockdown and the trust and safety that was emerging was the most healing thing imaginable for me and the parts, all the more so because none of us, or K, ever thought we’d get to that place. If we had kept working I think the relational healing I was getting – at last – was something that would have benefited me for years to come. Being able to be in relationship with her, at last, wihout wanting to die or feeling I was dying was the sweetest thing on earth for me. Losing that still stings, when I let my thoughts wonder to the past, but mostly I am at peace with the reality that what transpired is my path and the pandemic, despite being so difficult globally and personally, has led me through another period of intense growth and healing to a place of self-knowing. It brought me to a place where I am able to see myself clearly for the first time in my life, without needing someone else to be my mirror, and without disappearing from my own view without someone there to show me who I am. I could never, ever wish to go back in time and for my path to be different, if it meant I might risk never being able to see myself through my own eyes as I can now.

I am scared to go back and find that all of what K and I had is gone and that it is impossible to get it back. It would be better to leave it intact exactly as it was than to risk it being watered down and becoming something else, washing away the past in the process. I can imagine the pain of seeing what we were evaporating into the air in each of our separate rooms, while we look at each other on the screen and forget there was ever anything else. In the room together everything we were and everything we had ever done filled the air around us. It was concentrated, potent, full of life and vibrancy. The memories were usually unspoken but ever present, echoes of the laughter, tears, anger, fear, frustration and love we had shared over the years, along with the surpising newness of the place we reached when suddenly I could take in therapy and what K was giving me without it slipping straight through or not being enough or triggering the pain of what I never had.

To let all that understanding and history dissolve and lose its force, it just feels like such a risk, even though I know the gains of reconnecting could be beautiful and healing too. There are times when I feel that just seeing K again, screen or not, is what we all need and will be amazing and holding and connecting in and of itself. I just don’t want to lose what we had inside myself because it gets replaced by whatever comes next. So a big part of me wants to leave K and I’s work as this beautiful, intense, fucking traumatic at times, contained 5 year period. To box it up and leave it over there, finished and finite. But then to never get to see her again or share memories of how things were and look at how far I’ve come, and to never share this past year with her and the growth and healing, to live my whole life and her not see any of it… I just don’t know.

I wonder if I need a new therapist instead. I know body work is important and is something I do and would like to do more of, but I actually feel I really benefit from the cerebral connection of talk therapy as well and that this has been especially healing for me (especially as K is a core process psychotherapist and so awarenes of the body and emotions and internal imagery and so on in each moment is a core component of the work). However, it would be very hard to have even therapy that supports me mostly on an adult level with someone new because K knows me and would understand implicitly how things were affecting me and why. It would take a long time to build that with someone else and I don’t really want to. And with R so much past still comes up, a past he knows a lot about already but new things still emerge, and I still switch and parts talk to him, and so I don’t think these things would just vanish with a new T. At least with K she knows them and they can just be there.

I do see R every week still and it is wonderful, but when I go with a big overwhelming tangle I come home with a big overwhelming tangle. Our work is best when I am in a period of growth, or when I just need holding because of an outpouring of grief or something. Talking to him doesn’t always help things feel clearer or more settled and less overwhelming. Everything comes out in a jumble and he hears me and reflects on what I’ve said and helps me make decisions or feel justified in my decisions, but it is not psychotherapy and it doesn’t always help me contain things or work through them in the way that would help me. He is not a trained therapist afterall, and sometimes that is really apparent and I miss that type of work. I miss the way K held the session, invited me to share my week so that we could work out what to prioritise and what else needing to be talked about, the way she broke down the time, held it in a magical way so that sometimes it seemed to stretch endlessly and leave us time for everything that needed to be shared. But R holds me and that settles my nervous system and stops me feeling so gross and untouchable, and he cares and knows so much. He is deeply invested in this work with me and being here with me for as long as he can, hopefully until he dies if that is what I want. Choosing K over him? Choosing him over K? I don’t know.

If I could go back to remote therapy with K without stopping seeing R each week then that is what I would do. And if going back to K meant a return to in-person therapy then I would choose seeing K over seeing R (or not seeing him very often at all). But I don’t think I can give up weekly sessions with him for K on a screen, which is what I would need to do. I am left with a seemingly impossible choice again.

I also really don’t feel I can cope with the inevitable destabilisation that will come from connecting with K again, despite knowing it will likely help in many ways as well. It has been a relief to be away from the triggering of my attachment wound or the way that looking at certain things in therapy stirs up other things. It’s almost like if I’m ok, and often thriving, without therapy – why would I go back and risk destabilising things? Only things are not totally okay I guess… There are struggles I long to take to K sometimes so she can help me find a better way forward. But she only works daytimes now, Mon and Wed 10-4pm. I would therefore have therapy partway through my working day, every week. I don’t know how this would be, given therapy’s tendency to disrupt things, or at least unsettle them. I don’t know if that is what I want either. I lose so many days as it is, due to ADHD or lack of sleep or being dysregulated by Nina or something else. I need as much stability and routine and structure as I can get. I am scared therapy will sweep in with a destructive force and unsettle everything again when I’m kind of ok. I’m also not really ok, and not sure how to reach that place without therapy with K and building on what we had to help me reach more of a place of safety and conncetion in my life and in myself. I know there are so many other ways to do this, but I am tired of trying new things and I long for familiarity.

It is certainly a dilemma. And alongside all this is that she could actually say no anyway, and that on reflection she doesn’t think online therapy would work for me after the last time. Whilst I feel different enough now that I think online therapy would be okay, I could be wrong on this. I guess I cannot predict what she will say, and so I need to at least work out what I want and need, which is SO BLOODY HARD when there are so many variables and unknowns and when there seem to be so many competing needs inside of me. My biggest fear is that I decide to go back, we start regular sessions again, it doesn’t work online, or is too disruptive and destabilising (perhaps because it’s online, perhaps because it triggers the attachment stuff again, perhaps both) and then we have to end on the screen. I think that would break my heart to be honest, to bring our work to an end due to circumstances outside of my/our control and to not even get to see her properly to say goodbye. This is partly why it is easier to leave things as they are now, but it is also not something I can ignore forever.

Battleground

I wasn’t sure whether to post this picture. It feels like such a betrayal of K. But honestly it contextualises all of the crazy that is going on right now with R and how utterly shit I feel, and she has betrayed me too so why am I protecting her? I can’t move past these words:

Last night and this morning I was stuck in disorganised attachment hell. I feel so in need (pandemic and isolation is really not helping this) and so scared I’ll make R go away and then obviously this triggers my attachment system to seek connection and safety because there is so much fear and so then I want to reach out but I’m scared reaching out will make him go away. I am so afraid he will change, pull back, become overwhelmed with my insatiable needs. And that makes my need even greater because I am distressed and want him to soothe me. And that makes my fear even greater.

And so it continues.

On and on.

Fear without resolution.

It is agonising. It doesn’t matter what he says, I can’t believe him, trust him, take it in when I am like this. I believe his voice note in that moment and then I don’t know if things will be the same even a few minutes later (I know – this is my mum). And then I want more connection to feel safe but that triggers me into a place of fear and unsafety again. And so it goes on. Both biological drives playing out at once. Always braced for rejection, abandonment, abuse, anger from the people who love me and the terror of getting that in response makes me even more desperate for connection with them so that I feel safe.

I know this is my early patterning playing out. But what the fuck has K done also? How could she break the news to me that our 5 years of depth attachment work is basically over with a few harsh, cold sentences like that? I really don’t understand it. I never will.

Her email had two other paragraphs. Both impersonal. The first was about the sunshine and what an extraordinarily difficult time this has been globally. The last was basically saying how far I’ve come on this healing journey and that perhaps it is time for a new way forward with someone who can work face to face with me (body work, she wasn’t suggesting a new psychotherapist). Nothing about us, our work, our time together. Nothing about this being sad or difficult (for either of us) or that she hopes we will be able to pick up again some day. If I’d not followed up and asked about remote work in the autumn she would have left it like that- hanging, open, broken.

Is it any wonder I am absolutely losing my shit, playing out this crazy dance with R, trying to cut him off and push him away whilst also wanting to reach out constantly to know he is still here and nothing has changed? He sent me a voice note this morning and said he understands that I am so in need of connection with him but that this is terrifying for me because of disorganised attachment. He knows how scared I am I’ll make him angry or overwhelmed or that he will just disappear, and how this makes me need him even more and act out behaviours that I then worry even more will make him go away. He knows this is about K and about my depth process. He thinks it will settle and I hope he is right but… how long till he does what K has done? Because I honestly don’t understand how she could do this and why she has done it but the reality is she has. Why didn’t she want to be kind to me? What did she think would happen if she offered some softness, some empathy, some reassurance?

Why has she done this and left me in this dark place where I am in danger of losing R because of what she has triggered in me? It is like she wanted to prove that she can set boundaries and communicate things with no explanation or justification. Where is the humanity? Did she have to fight the desire to be kind to me or is this actually just who she really is?

How could those 3 sentences be how she chose to tell me that everything we had has gone?

I carried her with me

I made you my temple, my mural, my sky,

Now I’m begging for footnotes in the story of your life.

Drawing hearts in the byline,

Always taking up too much space and time.

Taylor Swift, Tolerate It

This loss is so much bigger than I think I had really allowed myself to take in when I was preparing for K not going back to in-person work. I knew it was coming, and I think somehow I thought that would soften the blow, but it really didn’t. Or maybe it did – I’m not signed off work, I’m eating, I’m mostly managing to work – but the waves of grief and attachment pain when they hit are huge and terrifying and I find it hard to believe that this is really how things are and that this K-shaped hole is something I will have to learn to live my life around. I know her words only imply ‘never’ and that it may not turn out to be that way, in a year or two, but I have to face the reality that my time of working in the room with her is likely over, and with it the intimate, cosy, depth healing we were doing together. I have to mourn this loss and accept it. I cannot even contemplate returning to online therapy in the autumn if these torches of hope or fires of resentment and rage are still burning bright inside me. I have to let go of that time and move forward or I will push her too far when I try to return and then I really will lose her forever.

Even if I go back to remote therapy in the autumn and manage to make it work, it is still at least 6 more months without her. It has been so long already and I miss her so much. The smallest, most unexpected things reduce me to tears – looking at the bookshelf by my bed and seeing books she gave me as gifts, books I bought because she lent them to me and I needed my own, books I bought and we both read and talked about, books I told her about, books I lent her; opening a kitchen cupboard and seeing the tea tin she gave me full of chai tea before a break one year; the glittery silver rabbit hutch and fimo bunnies on my windowsill that we made together last January; the tarot card I pulled in the autumn that told me to hold in my heart we will be together again and that has stayed propped on my desk lamp ever since – a beacon of hope and certainty that I’m not sure has a place in my life anymore. The children’s book Little Rabbit Waits for the Moon has been under my pillow since we got back from her house for the last time in March last year – she read it to us and said how this is your story for now, you have to be like that little rabbit. We posted her a card where we’d drawn the rabbit sleeping under the moon and said we were determined to be patient like that rabbit and draw on her safety during this time apart. We had no idea then that it would be so long.

I think this is the part that is breaking my heart the most – it was the end of that part of our work when I drove away from her for the last time on March 23rd, clutching a collage young parts had made with pictures she cut out for them in our session, and feeling like if this was the last time we could meet for a while then at least it was a good session to end on and we had not had a repeat of the screaming session where I gouged a hole in my forehead because she made me sit far away from her in a different room. It was the end and neither of us knew. We both thought it was temporary and it really, really wasn’t. K told us to count down 12 weeks and even that felt unbearable at the start. And then towards the end of May it became apparent that she wasn’t making plans to return to in-person work and wasn’t going to let me come to see the dogs and work outside, and that it was going to be much, much longer. I remember sitting on my bed shouting and howling down the phone, demanding to know how much longer and insisting that I couldn’t live in this amount of pain. I told her animals are euthanised when they are in this much pain and that I should be too.

And now, as we approach a year since the start of this crisis, I can’t quite believe the turn things have taken. I can’t believe it was the end and neither of us knew. I remember when her reassurances turned from ‘I’m sure we’ll see each other again’ to ‘I hope so’. I noticed this and called her on it and she had no words of reassurance. She said she didn’t know. I spent so long utterly terrified she would never return to face to face work and in some twisted way it’s kind of a relief to know what I’m dealing with now. The world has changed and K saw that long before I did.

I sobbed and sobbed on R on Wednesday. I’d been kind of okay all morning and then in the car it hit again and it was a relief to cuddle into him on the couch and let the tears flow. No one in my real life knows I’m deep in grief and abandonment annihilation this week. What am I grieving for after all? She is still alive and it is not the end. But so much is over, so much is lost. Things are lost that so few could understand, because the depth of our relationship isn’t needed for most people. I will never know Nina as intimately and deeply as K knows me – it won’t be necessary. It is a different and unique closeness we have, of course, but it is not what K and I have. It is such a secret thing, our relationship, and I know most people would think I was hurting this much because K got it wrong, let me get too close, encouraged me to see her as something she could never be. Of course it was not like that though, and we are all hurting like this because we have lost someone with whom we did truly transformational work. R understands this and tells me what an intimate relationship it was and how much evidence there is of just how much effort and care K put into our work. Talking to him about her brought it all to life. It was truly some magical alchemy we created in the room this week. Her emails were so cold and clinical and it was hard to believe she had ever cared at all, let alone done so much to make us all feel safe, loved, secure, wanted, held. Talking to R brought it to life again, made it feel real, which is the thing I am struggling with the most. And then when it hits how real it was, the grief and loss tear me open again, but at least that part feels real, human, authentic.

I told a friend I met online and who does understand that I feel like I’ve lost the closest thing I’ve ever had to a mum. And she replied to say that is exactly what I have lost. And she is right – K always will be the closest I’ve had to that experience. I will never have a relationship like I’ve had with her again – it wouldn’t be needed because I don’t think that depth of healing will be needed again.

I was telling R on Wednesday how, because I had to learn to see myself through her eyes before I could see myself through my own eyes, because I’d only ever seen myself through my mum’s distorted lens, it means that things that have had nothing to do with her remind me of her. For so long I took her with me everywhere. I looked through her eyes to see myself and my experiences. I carried her with me. So she has been everywhere with me and memories that should be mine alone, from places we’ve never even been together, remind me of her. Things I love and that make me feel safe feel like K. She is everywhere. R said this is like growing up, leaving home; our parents are everywhere and give us a sense of safety in the world (ideally) even when we leave them. But now I have lost her and I have nowhere to take this grief.

I am still not sure I will be able to return in the autumn, but I do want to try. Even if it is my intention to work in that way though, online therapy may be too hard or ineffectual. A fifty minute session once a week may be too difficult – I’ve never been able to do short sessions. Even for TRE last year I needed 90 minutes so we could settle first and feel safe enough to do the work. With R it is never just an hour and often nearly two. I honestly don’t know how 50 minutes once a week on a screen will work. And there will be no between session contact, no emailing, no text messages and emojis. There will be no parts work, no making things, no stories, no film night at Christmas, no walks or time in the garden. No sand tray, cups of tea in ‘my’ owl cup, no hugs or K moving to sit beside me. It’s the hugest loss. It will be different. It will be adult. It may still be connected and I may receive proof that K knows me, remembers me, but I’m honestly not sure I can do the work I want to do via a screen. And of course parts won’t have disappeared, haven’t disappeared. I am much more integrated than I was, but integration was the end point of K and I’s work and I am not sure how that will work now. I guess I will find out when I return if it will work and at least if it won’t we can have a proper ending. And yes, she may go back to in-person one day, when she feels safe enough, but I cannot hope for that. I can only accept how things are.

Do I blame K? Am I angry with her? I think maybe I am angry with her as a professional but not as a person. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I think professionally she owed me more – I don’t think it is okay really that psychotherapists have been in this uniquely privileged position of being ‘able’ to work remotely, when most people in similar professions cannot. I am not angry with her on a personal level, because I do understand, but it is still so hard that she shut down and retreated and even I did not mean enough to her for her to risk seeing me. It is not straightforward, and from an adult place I can understand her reasoning and know I would have done the same for Nina as she has done for her son, but I also feel deeply hurt. And of course there are parts, mostly teen and young parts, who just cannot comprehend how she could do this. She could have seen just us, because we couldn’t work online and it wasn’t safe. I said to R this week that in K’s position I would have seen me, especially last summer, but how can I know if that is true. I can’t. I only have to seek to understand her and trust it is not about me, only about her.

I think in the year of therapy before the pandemic K fell from her idealised position and became a human being in my eyes. It is this that enables me to understand. I know she is just another person, imperfect, scarred by her own childhood, doing her best to walk this path beside me, deeply impacted both by me and by life circumstances. For so long I saw her as more than this, idolised her and thought she never felt the things that we feel. It has been disconcerting but also deeply healing to accept she has her blind spots, her struggles, her physical manifestations of developmental trauma, that she has likely screwed up her own children to varying extents, has a tendency to shut down and withdraw under stress, takes too much on sometimes and then pulls back, and all these other things that make me love her more because she is human and she chose to meet me in my humanness, week after week, month after month, for 5 whole years. The years when we were so close are intensely painful to think about, both because they brought so much pain but also because they fell into past tense without either of us realising, but they are also full of magic and I hope through R and writing and being in nature I can capture that magic over the coming months and be in as good a place as possible to take in what is on offer in September.

Not an ending

Wow. The past 24 hours have been a rollercoaster. K replied this morning to my email from yesterday asking if this was now an ending even though in August we’d said it definitely wasn’t the end, just a break. I’d said in it I had thought of returning to weekly online therapy in the autumn if she wasn’t back to in-person by then, and that I thought this would be helpful for various reasons which I’m too exhausted to write about now. I was so scared she was going to come back with a firm refusal to ever work remotely with me again and would say it was time for me to move on. She didn’t.

She thinks my idea of possibly returning to online work in the autumn is a good one and she says to keep her updated on my thoughts over the coming months. (By then I will actually be debt-free at last, and I’ll be able to see her weekly for an hour (bloody fifty minute hour ffs!) as well as see R fortnightly in-person, if that is what I choose, so it feels less of an investment and means therapy could be something I can just add in to my support network rather than it consuming me emotionally and financially as it once did). I don’t know what I will do in September or how my life will be by then, but at least it is my decision now – she has handed me the power back and I know she will agree to work with me online again in the autumn based on what I’ve told her about the work I’d like (need!) to do, and why I can see it working remotely at that time of year.

This whole thing still feels pretty dire, and there is still so much loss to process because so much of the work that we did over the first 5 years is over – those close, intimate, connected years of gentle work with young parts where she held me so close and so tightly and was so invested in our work is over. That time of films and stories and making things together and spending time outside, alongside all the horrible trauma work of course, is over and I need to process that loss, that grief, that end that came last March without either of us knowing it was the end of so much that we had shared.

I think also that my suspicions all along have been right. I knew really looking at the news last week she wouldn’t be going back to in-person once she’s vaccinated. It’s not game over then. Far from it. I know she is not saying she’ll never return to in-person work, she is just saying that right now she cannot foresee a time when she will do face-to-face again, but I have to be okay with remote work indefinitely if I choose to go back. So that is the decision I have to make. But not now. For now I just need to breathe and remember who I am without her.

There is so much to say, so much pain and loss and grief to metabolise. I will write but for now I want to just settle. I am seeing R tomorrow and he will hold me and I will cry again, more tears for K. More tears for the loss of someone who has been and always will be such a huge part of me, but who was never really mine to lose.

Waiting and wondering

I emailed K on Tuesday lunchtime asking for a sense of her current plans on returning to in-person work and whether she thinks she’ll return once her and her son are protected following their vaccinations, or if she’ll be waiting a while longer till restrictions ease more in mid-May. I said a few other things but overall it was mature and balanced and no over-sharing.

She’s not replied. Yet. I feel I need to put that in, because surely she will reply next week. She doesn’t work Thursday and Friday anymore and will want to hold that boundary (even though it seems unnecessarily firm). Maybe she needs to think it through, talk to her supervisor, discuss with her T-friends what they are planning around vaccines and in-person work. I know she will want to be REALLY CLEAR with me – this has always been her top priority with me, making sure things are clear. I know she has and will prioritise this above all else. She won’t want to offer false assurances and things she can’t follow through on. She won’t want to cause confusion. But also – surely she’s thought about this already!! She knew I was emailing at the end of February about returning. My sister (counselling psychologist with NHS) has barely left her flat this past year and yet is planning to return to in-person work in mid-April after her second vaccine dose. Surely me asking this hasn’t come as a complete surprise. She may feel it’s still too early to make a decision or indicate timescales, but surely she would then say that.

All kinds of explanations and possibilities are going through my mind, about the reason she’s taken so long to reply but also the wider significance of what it might mean. Is she working out how to tell me she has no idea when in-person will resume and thinks I should find a new therapist to continue this work with? Is she going to tell me her capacity has changed and she can’t hold big process like mine anymore? I’m so aware that she has the power to draw a line under our work and I would be POWERLESS to change her mind. As R reminded me yesterday – that feeling of powerlessness is echoing my experience as a baby but I am not powerless now. I have power in my own life. But I can’t make her come back to me. I have power in my own life but I can’t save myself from losing her if that’s what she decides. That really fucking hurts.

I need to try and ground and switch off from turning it over and over now and try and settle for the weekend, because I won’t hear from her till at least Monday. I need to give my system a break also, because really the triggering may not even have begun yet. I was expecting to be triggered by her response, but not for 3 days after sending it before she even replies. Who knows what delights are in store for me next week? Earlier in the week I tried to let myself hold that it could be good news, that the time apart will have been long enough and I don’t need to feel I’ve not suffered enough. Right now though I cannot see how good news could lead to a delay – surely she’d be excited to tell me when we could meet in-person if there was good news.

I also saw on her website late last night that she is now only working 10-4 on Monday and Wednesday (and offering supervision on Tuesdays). I don’t think even if she ever goes back to in-person work that I could go during those times. Not regularly every week. I work full-time and she is a 45 minute drive away. It’s about an hour and ten minutes if I were to go from work and I couldn’t guarantee I could work at home every therapy day. Even getting to hers at 4pm meant finishing work at 3pm every Monday which is so early and caused mayhem the rest of the week, but at least the home journey didn’t take time out of my work day as well. It would involve losing half a day of work every week to go between 10 and 4pm. It’s just not possible really. And she will know this. I can’t even work late the other days to make up for it because N will have swimming.

Plus I still find therapy disruptive, even though it’s easier than it was, and I’m not sure I could settle to work afterwards. Not consistently. It also doesn’t feel best use of an expensive and emotionally-invested time in therapy to come back and be straight into the demands of work, rather than letting it land and doing any writing I need to do to process. Sometimes this was a necessity when I went two or three times a week and things were triggered nearly all the time, but now therapy stirs things up but life is more stable, and so I really valued the space at home after therapy, especially if I felt held and connected. I don’t want to have to work afterwards and yet there would be no choice. Even if I could fit it in at the same time each week, which I don’t see how I could.

And with only space for 8 clients she’s unlikely to let me do a double session fortnightly, because that would mean two hours every other week she would struggle to fill. And I doubt she would be able to honour the increased-but-still-reduced fee she’d given me from September and so I don’t think I’d even be able to afford a 90 minute session every week, let alone the double we used to do.

This is all feels so hideously complicated. Is it a sign from the universe that it is time to let her go?

I would really appreciate people not commenting that she is unreasonable to keep me waiting. It has been 6 months, I asked for a sense of where she’s at, mentioned I might extend the break – none of this is time pressured and my email certainly didn’t give a sense of urgency. She is entitled to take time to think through her response. It would have been nice if she’d acknowledged my message and said she’d get back to me when she’d checked some things, but she knows I know she doesn’t work Thursday and Friday now. And I’ve been fine without her for 6 months really, so she doesn’t owe me a speedy response. It is my response and the huge fear and uncertainty and loss it brings up that I am struggling to hold. I want to believe we will find each other again but it becomes harder and harder to find any certainty around that. It is agonising waiting and also to think of what it would be like to never see her again, or to meet only to say goodbye.

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