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.

Call it what you want

I don’t really know where to start with this post, or where it is going, where it needs to go. Thoughts have been coming and going while I’ve been cycling and doing other things this week, but nothing seems too urgent. Big shifts are taking place, but I don’t feel in too much of a hurry to work out what they mean. There is a certain level of resistance too – I don’t really want to think about therapy or the future right now. Yet here I am, writing, feeling like something needs to be said. We’ll see what happens.

For the past couple of weeks I have felt a huge internal shift with regards my relationship with K. I keep trying to work out if it’s positive or negative, but I think that means different things to different parts, and different parts have different experiences of this shift and what it is caused by, so I don’t think there is a ‘right’ answer or way of understanding things. I’ve noticed over the past few months that I’ve been turning inwards and towards my own life for security and safety, much, much more than I ever have before. And then with K’s changed availability due to the pandemic I felt very angry that my well-being still seemed to be dependent on somebody else after all this time in therapy. More than being angry with K for not being clear about the whole Friday email debacle, I felt angry that it mattered and angry that the pandemic had led me to regress in terms of needing her between sessions, and I no longer wanted to be that person. I wanted to be able to take in K’s support during my paid for time and just get on with my life the rest of the time.

Young parts definitely feel defeated lately, with the whole remote therapy thing, but it has seemed as though instead of shutting down and freezing and disappearing, they’ve turned to me, to each other, to their own lives and the things that give them meaning, in order to feel okay. I just feel as though I don’t need K anymore. I can’t tell if this is a defensive shutting down lack of need, or if it’s a more genuine moving forwards and away from her in order to develop more of my own sense of self. I think it could be both. It is hard to put it all into words, and it is definitely fuelled by K not being able to fully give me what I need in my sessions now we are working remotely, but it could be that her changed availability acted as a catalyst for my system to just think ‘enough!’ It is time to move away from her to a certain extent I think, although this could just be that I shift my perspective on therapy and what it is now, compared with what it used to be in my life, and take steps towards myself instead of ending therapy or taking a long break. It does seem as though this is what has changed, as though my mind has pushed her away, but instead of the usual experience of being lost and dissociated and unreal without her, I have found myself a little more.

A while back K was saying again about my fragile sense of self, about how unwell I feel when I don’t feel connected to her. She was kind and gentle, and she is right, but it makes me so ashamed and sad. It’s the reason I went into therapy really, underneath all the other stuff, but the shame is still there. It is work we plan to do when I return from this short 3 week break – thinking in more depth about my ‘loss of self’ due to narcissistic parenting, talking about a book on this we started looking at back in February, before everything went to shit! One of the things that I’m really struggling with is that I feel I am really growing and healing and discovering myself at the moment, but I don’t feel able to share much at all of it with K. This has always been a problem of mine, and it is something we were working on prior to lockdown after I got promoted at work and spiralled into a horrible shame spiral, and also needed others to reflect my success back to me so it felt real. I wish I could share this progress and growth with K, but I find sharing good things almost as triggering and shame-provoking as sharing difficult things, more so now even I think, and so trying to do this via a screen is basically impossible. There is work to be done here, but I hate the thought of not doing it in-person.

There’s also a sense of K being ‘just a person’ that has become very dominant during the pandemic. The pedestal I put her on at the start of therapy has gradually eroded over the years, in large part because of the careful disclosures she has made over our time together about her own life and childhood, and I was definitely past the idealising stage and had come to accept a lot about her humanness, but the past few months have really made it clear that she is just a person with her own messy life and health worries and stressful life circumstances. I’ve bumped up against her perception of the threat of the virus multiple times and it has really highlighted how I have absolutely no control or power in our relationship and she will always put her own well-being and family first (as she should, of course, as we all should). I don’t know if her perception of the threat to her and her son, and her refusal to work in-person for a long time is reasonable or not, and it is irrelevant really, it is more just knowing that it is time I became more reliant upon myself to provide stability and permanence, because she cannot do it. That hasn’t changed – there has never been control on my part, just as we can’t control anyone else, or most things in life – but my understanding and willingness to push against it has changed; I am not able to know or predict what she will do or determine when we will meet again. I can decide not to see her or work with her, but I can’t decide anything else in our relationship. I don’t want this reality of what she is to me to be such a strong determinant of my well-being.

It helps having more time – in some ways, not all – whilst we’ve been in lockdown and I’ve been working from home. It means I can stay in contact with who I am more easily, because there is more time for me and I’m not getting lost in interactions with other people and driving Nina around and so on. This time away from normal life has taught me a lot about myself, more than I ever would have learnt in therapy during this time, and I will blog about it separately because every time I think about going back to ‘how things were’ I panic and feel overwhelmed and I need to find a way of carrying some of the benefits and certainty of this time into the future. I get incredibly stressed and overwhelmed when I think about what things will be like once swimming has started again and school term starts and work gets busy again. And whilst I can see it could be nice to have K’s support with all this, having more time and money could also be helpful during this time. I have to live this stuff, live the changes, to a certain extent. I’m not sure what I can get from K over the next few months that will come close to what I can get from myself.

Over the past week or so it’s seemed as though whether or not I see K makes little difference in terms of moving forward and continuing to heal. In part this is because of remote therapy not giving me what I need, and the likelihood that this will continue for quite some time. I think it is also that I’ve internalised K and the therapeutic relationship a lot, and therefore don’t actually need to see K to continue to draw on the work we’ve done together. There’s work we can do for sure, and Nina and I had a huge argument on Tuesday evening and I definitely wanted K then, but I just don’t know if I want to do it right now, or if I want a break from thinking about the whole thing. I think maybe I want some time to really integrate the healing I’ve done so far. It’s like I can usually work out for myself what is going on now, what I need to do. I am really getting to know myself during this reprieve. I’ve prioritised self-care in all its forms for years now, but over the past 4 months certain things have become even more embedded and habitual. I’ve completely quit sugar and gluten and can already feel the difference. I think this will be a lifelong commitment for me, or until climate breakdown leads to food shortages and scarcity here at least. I am in a very clear routine with meditation and yoga and journaling and creative activities and exercise now, more than I’ve ever been before. All I can see is me continuing to really develop a sense of what I want and need, and then try to live by it, over the coming months and years. It is tough because I can’t live the life I need in all ways, because of work and Nina, but talking about that with K won’t change it.

And I really don’t want to be spending £300 – £400 a month on therapy anymore. I really, really don’t. During lockdown life has been quite a bit cheaper (predominantly petrol – I worked out I’ve saved around £450 over 4 months on petrol not driving Nina around to swimming or travelling to therapy) and I’ve been able to put a little aside and also had some spare cash to replace things that had broken, get some new supplements and things, and get some new-to-me clothes from Depop. It has been nice not needing to watch every penny. However, as life is returning to some kind of normality, and swimming starts again on Saturday, this isn’t going to be the case anymore. And if I wasn’t spending so much on therapy…

Obviously for a long time therapy was an essential expenditure. I don’t begrudge any of the money I’ve spent on it so far. But now? Now things feel different…

And it is scary. Very, very scary. I wonder if I’m ready to end therapy, move to less frequent sessions, or take an extended break. I don’t want to be ready but I can feel an increasing sense that I am, that I need to let go and move forward. I guess it’s why the boundaries in therapy are so important, otherwise we would stay forever, but if I’m not willing to work on depth material or difficult things I can’t have K. It makes me not want her, because I don’t want to look at those things at the moment. I always imagined when it was time to end that I would put into words how huge what we’ve done has been, pull it all together and reflect on how far we had come together. I never imagined it would just drift away and I wouldn’t necessarily want to look back at all the ground we had covered because I had become more central and prominent in my own life and it didn’t matter so much. How can K and I’s journey not matter?! This is the part that makes me suspicious, makes me wonder if I’ve just cut off from her as some kind of defence mechanism… But if I have, it definitely hasn’t caused me to lose sight of myself. Is this the place we are meant to get to in therapy?

Something my sister said a long time ago about working – and ending – with ‘borderline’ clients has really stayed with me. She said that when her work with borderline clients has been coming to an end they often got incredibly distressed and felt they weren’t ready to end at all. It stirred up all their abandonment fears and made them really act out. But when they were asked to complete a follow up survey a few weeks after ending therapy they would report feeling much better, and this tends to continue long after the therapy has ended. So, although I don’t have BPD in the strictest sense, it’s all developmental trauma and I share the fear of abandonment that is at the core of it, and therefore I don’t think I will ever feel unequivocally ready to end therapy. I also know when I decide to, when I try to, I will experience a huge wave of abandonment and annihilation pain, just as I have multiple times this year about not being able to get to K because of the pandemic, each time that wound has been triggered, but that won’t mean it’s not the right time. I don’t think I will be able to end therapy and not feel that way, I  may even need an emergency therapy session after I end therapy to cope with the feelings that come after I end therapy, but I don’t think that will be a sign that I’m not ready. If I wait until I don’t feel that pain to end therapy then I will be in therapy forever.

To make it clear, I’m not actually considering ending my therapy with K. There is definitely still work I want and need to do with her. I’m not sure if what I’m experiencing now is being ready to end but I definitely wouldn’t want to do it remotely. An extended break is a possibility. Or, like I said above, I continue and just accept that therapy’s place in my life has shifted and other things are more important, either on a temporary or permanent basis, and I focus on those things too. I don’t know what I want and I’m not in any rush to decide really. I’m enjoying some time off work and some time away from therapy and deciding what to take there. And I have worries about a break…

My fears are varied. Top is that if I take a break, K won’t be there when I return because she will stop working as a T because of the pandemic and her health (auto-immune thyroid disease). Next is that if I take a break when I return she won’t honour the £10 an hour fee reduction she is giving me from September (less than the discount I’ve had till now, but still £60-£100 a month depending on whether I do 90 or 120 minute sessions) because I’ll have saved money during the break. Next is that she will give my time to someone else and when I want to start again it won’t be available and she won’t have an end-of-day slot I can do. This wouldn’t happen if it was a set period of time, but none of us knows how long she will be working remotely for, or how long I would want to take as a break, and so I don’t see how we can have a set return date. And I’m worried I will need her because something bad happens, and she won’t be there. I’m even more worried I won’t need her – what will this mean for the future of our relationship? Is it over? This is never how I would have wanted to end things but the pandemic has changed everything.

I know if we were working in-person I would continue. There is a healing and containment and emotional regulation I would get from K that I still need and want and benefit from. Things are different now though. I don’t want to cling on to our weekly work during this time if it stops me moving forward in my life.

Maybe I have to take a break and trust she will be there if I need her. But maybe I also have to trust that if she is not there again that I will be okay.

It must seem as though I spiral through this break/not-break place a lot, but every time it is clearer and easier and less intense. I don’t feel caught in that awful place where each option (carrying on/taking a break) feels utterly unmanageable. I know I can do therapy remotely now, so it is more just a sense of not needing it, and being able to work out what will serve me over the coming months, all the time holding in mind that events may transpire to mean K and I don’t work in-person again and I need to be okay with that, I want to be okay with that. She feels very far away and it is heart-breaking really that after this short break we won’t actually be ‘reunited’ – she won’t open the door and smile and say ‘welcome back’ and that it is nice to see me. The familiarity and routine of my therapy time has been taken away, and without it I don’t know what is left to salvage.

Haunted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me

Over the weekend I was reflecting in my journal how long it has taken to have a true sense of who I am. I remember writing something around 5 years ago, when I was very actively trying to heal myself but wasn’t yet in therapy, about who I am as a person, but looking back I can see it was all about how I come across externally and how I fitted into the outside world. It was positive, it was about me being a good person, but reading it now it is clear that it wasn’t written from inside me. It wasn’t about what made me happy, what is and isn’t right for me, what brings me joy and peace and how I want to spend my time. I don’t think I had a sense of who I was at all back then. A huge amount of my time was spent doing things to escape the insatiable pit of need inside me. And I had no idea what I wanted or enjoyed because I was so busy twisting myself into all kinds of shapes to fit what other people wanted and expected of me. I was reading about the enneagram over the weekend, which is a fascinating addition in my journey of self-discovery, and I realised how much I like being at home and having cosy, quiet times with a blanket. I used to want to make the most of every minute I wasn’t being a mum – seeing friends, going out, getting things done. Turns out what I really needed was time to just be, at home, by myself. In a life that is often a whirlwind of things needing doing and places to go, over the past six months I’ve realised how precious time by myself at home is, and how much I love so many of the things that are already part of my life.

I love comfort – blankets, cuddlies, snuggling up, zoning out. I love nature and sunshine and being outside in wild places. I love deep, intense conversations and one-to-one time with special people. I love reading for fun and escapism. I love being on my bike. I love laughing at simple things and finding people to share my dark sense of humour with (not thinking of anyone in particular here #amber). I love my research and writing and imparting my knowledge and new ways of seeing the world to others. I love the bunnies and just being in the garden watching them. I love days when there is nothing to do and the possibilities are endless. I love when I make a new friend I really connect with and when they tell me they feel the same about me.

I hate making decisions. I hate conflict. I hate scary films and people arguing around me. I hate being in big groups of people I don’t know that well when my role is not clear and I don’t know what’s expected of me. I hate cramming too much into a day. I hate supermarkets and having to go into town. Right now in my life I hate cooking and preparing food because sometimes it feels like all I ever do.

I love making my home a clean, tidy, spacious place to be. I love calm and quiet time at home alone. I love cancelled plans and unexpectedly having time to myself. I love candles and incense and crystals and the moon. I love reggae and techno and house music and banging bass lines. I love dancing as the sun comes up. I love meeting new people, making new connections, and having conversations just for the sake of talking. I love it when all I can hear is silence. I love healthy comfort foods – dahl and soups and homemade bread. I love Cornwall and coastal paths and walking by the sea. I love tree tunnel lanes and paths by the river, stepping stones and picnics under trees. I love magic and fairy tales and glitter and the colour purple. I love flowers and trees, hearing running water and listening to the sea. I love playing cards in the pub with a bag of crisps. I love having meals cooked for me and trips to the cinema. I love finding common ground, people who are vegan for the animals and when someone tells me they are also a feminist.

I hate multi-tasking and too many competing demands on my time. I hate when the house is messy. I hate it when my views are undermined and people misunderstand me. I hate unexpected invitations and changing plans and clutter around me and feeling suffocated by too much stuff. I hate asking for help, admitting I’m struggling, feeling overlooked and left out, being minimised, people normalising my trauma. I hate washing up, traffic jams, wasting time, things taking longer than I expected. I hate seeing people unexpectedly when I’m out, uninvited visitors, loud noises and interruptions.

I love coming home to an empty house, having Friday nights to myself so I can hide from the world after a busy week. I love making my home clean and tidy on a Saturday morning. I love snuggling with a blanket to watch a familiar film, comfy clothes, putting my pyjamas on, early nights. I love skating, climbing, running, swimming in the sea. I love buying a whole pile of books in a second hand bookshop. I love fairy lights, twinkly things, sparklers and glitter. I love camping and starlit skies, watching the moon rise and paddling in the sea as the sun goes down. I love learning new things about ancient belief systems and how they apply to my life. I love having straightened hair and shaved legs and wearing dresses in summer. I love frosty mornings and seeing the pink streaks of sky as the sun rises when I am cycling to work. I love rollercoasters, people who make me laugh uncontrollably, and being able to share my growth and process and discover new things about myself through talking to those I am close to. I love rainbows and stormy seas and the smell of the woods when the sun comes out after it has rained.

I read this list to K earlier and she said it was really beautiful and that it is astonishing that I have so much that I love, and that it is perfect that so much of what I love contradicts. And she pointed out how when I’m in a very, very bad place I can’t see these things or feel them at all, but they are always there, and that there is so much I appreciate and that I truly, truly do love being part of this world. And she is right – I do, when I can hold onto all these beautiful, simple things that make me happy and feel alive then being me is really a wonderful thing. Everything I love is so uncomplicated, so attainable – it is all right there already. And seeing what I hate and knowing why and owning it instead of pretending I’m okay with it has been one of the hugest parts of all the healing I’ve done in the past few months. I honestly feel so amazed to look back on all the growth and healing of the past few years and how it is starting to give me a true sense of who I really am inside and what I want more of in my life. After years and years of having no sense of who I was beyond what I was moulded into and the societal norms I tried to fulfill, coming to life in this way feels so special and freeing.

A place in this world

So another year draws to a close. I’ve grown past the need to make grand declarations about all the things I will do in the new year to make myself a better person, but I do think it is a good time to reflect on what has been and the lessons learnt, and to draw a line under that which no longer serves us and can be left behind as midnight passes. K and I were laughing yesterday that this time last year I decided my word for 2019 would be glow, because this year has been unexpectedly really quite bad and that word doesn’t reflect how the year ended up being at all. I was thinking a few weeks ago that when I look back on this year it seems very jagged and tangled – I was expecting it to be a much smoother year than previous years where I would be integrating the healing I had done so far because I had now done the work with K (not all the work by any means, but ‘the work’ – people in therapy for attachment trauma will know what I mean by this), but in fact it has thrown up a lot of things I wasn’t expecting about how I am and how I live my life. And so whilst I’ve learnt a huge amount about myself in recent months, I’ve not yet been able to integrate this new awareness into my life in any meaningful way or use it to make things easier for me.

Moving house took up a lot of time and energy in the first half of the year. It’s easy to lose sight of what a huge achievement it was to buy and sell at the same time whilst working full time and looking after Nina. This time last year our old house was on the market and I had no idea where we would end up or if we would even be able to move at all. The place we’ve ending up living wasn’t on my radar at all at that time and I’m so grateful for all the twists and turns that led to being where we are now. I love our new house, I love the surrounding area and how calm and peaceful it is, I love the new friend I’ve made here and through her I am excited to meet other new people this year. I love how safe it is to let Nina go out and play with her friends and that she can cycle and explore and go paddling in the streams near our house. The stressful self-inflicted summer I had and then the past 4 months of hell at work have meant I haven’t been able to take all this in as much as I would have liked to, but Nina and I walked in the meadow here and had a drink at the local pub this afternoon before she went to her friend’s for a sleepover and it was so lovely and still and there were birds singing everywhere and it really reminded me how far I’ve come to get us here. I made a good decision and I made it happen and I am incredibly proud I did that. Next year I hope to spend less time frozen in my house and more time uncurling in the sunshine and riding my bike in new places around here.

Fully waking up to the impending climate and ecological apocalypse – and just how close it is – also took up a lot of space this year. I fully immersed myself in Extinction Rebellion from April onwards and I’m really grateful I did that as I know I have made a big contribution and meeting others who are awake to the catastrophe most people are sleepwalking into was very empowering and I met some truly special souls. I over-committed myself and although I caused myself a lot of stress because of this, and it meant I headed into the busy time of the year at work without having had a proper break over the summer, I don’t regret it because it helped me uncover some long-standing patterns and, more importantly, the reasons behind so many of the habits I so easily fall into. Back in September I said to K that I didn’t see how I would move past them, and she said she thought bringing them into awareness would be most of what was needed. I was sceptical as it all came down to the fear of being invisible, and needing to be extra visible in order to exist at all, as another lovely legacy of narcissistic and abusive (traumatised) parents, and it felt impossible to move past something that has been so huge in my life, but actually I’ve taken a break from Extinction Rebellion till the Spring and I know I am still held in mind there, and I’ve realised that the most important thing is being visible to myself and this is something I’m continuing to work on. So, as usual, K was right.

Beyond this wish to make myself bigger in my own life next year, I really want to find my comfort zone in 2020. I was talking to a friend on Sunday and I said how there were so many posts on insta at this time of year about the need to push out of our comfort zones in order to experience true growth, but that I would be happy to find mine and stay there forever. I don’t think it had ever occurred to either of us that other people have a comfort zone, a place and way of being where they feel safe and at ease. I mean, I knew comfort zones were a thing, but I’d never thought about what it meant to have one or taken time to notice that I really don’t have one. We were also both confused at to why someone would want to push out of something that sounds like such a nice place to be! I do know there are times when I feel truly present and content and at peace with myself and the world, and I want more of that, but I also want to create a space inside me and a place in the world where I feel safe and at ease. K and I talked about this yesterday and she agreed it was a good goal for 2020 and that we would spend time working out what my comfort zone is, what feels okay and what doesn’t, because I am so used to pushing through everything and it has been hard to see what is genuinely okay and what is dissociation. Since the summer I am starting to really notice so many things that are not okay for me and that I need to leave behind and whilst it is hard accepting the limitations of my life because of my childhood, it is part of acceptance and for me growth seems to be very tied into finding this elusive thing known as a comfort zone.

It is only in the last few months of this year that I’ve really begun to understand how traumatised I am. I know this sounds silly because I went to K knowing I had CPTSD but it was only this year, when things were so much better from an attachment perspective and I wasn’t lurching from one crisis to the next, that I had the space to be able to see just how shredded my nervous system is because of relational trauma. And I think it is this that is making it so hard to keep going at work and in my full on home life – it’s not going to miraculously get better. More than 4 years ago, when I’d only just started therapy, I was worrying about whether I’d be able to keep working and K said that I might want to look at reducing the number of hours I worked in a year or so’s time. I remember being confused, because I had been planning to be recovered by then (ha!), but I can see now what she knew then that I am only just waking up to; healing from attachment trauma is a lifelong journey and the work is never truly complete. I need a different life than the one I envisaged for myself but I am not able to have that right now. It is hard knowing that I cannot make the big changes I truly need, that I will have to keep struggling through at work for the foreseeable future, but it is important to accept what is and not create more stress for myself by resisting it. I know that what I really need is to spend more time healing and caring for myself. Ideally I would work 3 or 4 days a week somewhere calmer that I can leave behind me when I go home so that I could spend more time doing things that help me heal and grow. This is not my reality and can’t be, but it is good to keep in mind the ideal I think, and then work at fulfilling the parts that I can for now, whilst holding in mind that I don’t want to live like this forever.

Realising how traumatised my brain is has shifted things, because I can see that whilst things will get better than this, I will always need a more gentle life than someone without CPTSD and I will always need more time for doing different things to nurture my system than someone without alters/parts. And whilst I have kept going despite work and therapy being horrifically hard the past 4 and a half years,  I am now really reluctant to continue doing this year in year out, barely hanging on at work, because of the longer term impact it will be having on my physical and emotional health. I am so aware of the statistical likelihood of me getting an auto-immune disease, something like lupus or MS or thyroid disease, and the amount of stress my body is under really isn’t good for me in terms of triggering something like that. I do lots of things to take care of myself – vegan diet, alcohol free, exercise, time in nature, yoga, meditation, therapy, avoiding over-stimulating situations, the list goes on – but the amount of toxic stress chemicals so frequently flooding through my body worries me. It is no longer sustainable. It never has been but I have been surviving and getting through every year, and as I wrote back in October, I can’t keep doing that now I know that the reality is I won’t suddenly not have PTSD anymore. I don’t want to keep surviving and pushing through exhaustion and being triggered by overwhelm and an endless list of too many things to do. Life is short and time is precious, and the climate crisis really throws this into sharp relief. We don’t know how long we have left of being able to live like we are now in this country, but this year has really taught me that I can’t just hang in there until Nina grows up and I can work less and have more time for me. I need to live now. I want to live now.

I have had horrific anxiety about returning to work ever since it became obvious last week that two weeks off wasn’t going to be enough to replenish me and reset my nervous system. I was expecting the break to help, but I’ve had a virus for two weeks now and I know that come Monday I won’t be feeling refreshed and ready to go back for another crazy three months. Yesterday morning I thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it at all but my session with K last night really helped settle things and I am planning to spend the next 5 days getting myself in as good a place as I can for going back. K suggested last night that we spoke about short, medium and long term in relation to work, and where I could see myself. We talked about why I do what I do, that I love so many aspects of my work and how I’ve said for the past 9 years that even if I won the lottery I would keep doing the same thing, but I said I couldn’t handle the way things had gone in the type of institution I work in and how corporate it now is. I cannot handle the pressure, the administrative load we now have to deal with on top of the actual work we have to do, and how many different things we are expected to hold in mind all at the same time. I could rail against that and dream of the good old days when things were different, but it doesn’t change the reality and therefore it is not somewhere I feel able to work for the rest of my life. I will find out next week (I hope) if my application to come off probation a year early has been successful. If it is I will be so relieved. At the moment I’m thinking I will need to take some time off sick then, but K and I both said this may change as I may feel very liberated knowing I’ve met my targets and had my appointment formally confirmed (after 4 years!) and this may create some space to start saying no to more and doing less that will make it feel more manageable. So we will see. I also need to be prepared that my application won’t be accepted and I’ll have to wait the full 5 years, but I will deal with that if and when it happens. And in the medium term I just need to keep going, because I need money and Nina is only 12 and there are no other jobs that I could do where I would earn enough to pay the mortgage and continue in therapy, but I hope that I will be able to end probation and that this will enable me to make some different choices with regards the shape my career takes now and find ways of being there that mean it doesn’t consume me so fully as it has the past few months. The longer term is harder because best case scenario we have another 30 years before scientists and other academics predict our civilisation will collapse due to climate breakdown but many are predicting it will be less, and so I cannot make a plan for what I will do when Nina leaves home and I have more time and need less money because I’m not sure the life I expected to have five years ago when that time came is realistic, but if I hadn’t read the science and didn’t know what was ahead then I would be looking to change direction entirely and stop doing what I do now forever. So this is the goal I will keep in mind, because I think part of staying present, for me at least, means switching off from the fear of what may one day come to pass and assuming things will continue as they are forever. And I want to make decisions based on love not fear as that is the only way I can see of getting out of this mess humanity has got into in the first place.

So in many ways next year will be the same as this one, which pleases me and horrifies me in equal measure, but it does look clearer and more stable and peaceful, with no huge changes, and I am learning every year a little more about what I want and need and opening to the possibility that I deserve these things and I deserve a place in this world where I feel comfortable and safe and at ease.

And I will finish by wishing a happy and healthy new year to all my readers! Thank you for following my journey this year and taking the time to provide support and insights into what I share here, it is so very appreciated. I wish you peace and joy and strength in the coming year.

All that matters

As my blog has alluded to, I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately, by all I am doing and all I am holding. On top of the attachment crisis following K’s move, which doesn’t feel fully over but has definitely settled, I’ve been bombarded on all sides by work and Extinction Rebellion (XR) demands, not to mention parenting and running the house and looking after the pets. Plus I also saw my Mum in town when I was marching through the High Street for Earth Strike on Friday, from a distance and she didn’t see me, but it caused another near-death experience and has brought up a lot around the guilt I feel for wishing I had a different Mum. I don’t want to go into too much detail about what I’ve been doing, because that’s not the point of this post, but I think it is finally beginning to become apparent to me in a very real, practical way that my life is and always will be limited by complex-PTSD and I know I have some difficult decisions about how I spend my time, and what I will and won’t be able to tolerate, to implement over the coming days and weeks.

Going to K’s new house still feels very, very weird and not right at all. It still feels like her and I are not real there, or that the space isn’t real, like we are suspended somewhere we are not supposed to be. It’s getting gradually more familiar though, and the sitting room does look very warm and cosy so we are looking forward to our next film therapy night in a month or two. We are going to start a craft project next week too, probably using glitter glue, because K thinks it would be a good idea to do this and to feel into it being safe enough there to make something together. And we are doing double sessions now and that feels so much safer and makes it so much easier to settle into the space and into K’s presence. The difference it makes is beyond merely an extra 30 minutes of therapy, the longer session has a profound impact on me and the young parts and I feel so grateful that K is offering me a hugely discounted session to enable this, and that – for now at least – I have the means to pay for this.

There is no doubt that the prospect of societal collapse due to climate breakdown is looming large in the space between us. I can’t shake the fear, or help young parts with it, because we know what is ahead and it will mean losing K, or ending our work at least, only we don’t know when or how many years are left, or what it will look like, and it could be that my life is very different by then and it feels more okay than the thought of it does now. These fears and the whole theme of ‘too much’ were both really reflected in the sand tray we made this evening in our session. K said she’d never seen such a full sand tray!

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It was basically a tired and sleepy 14 year old me, desperate for rest, buried underneath all the people and demands being thrown at us as people desperately try to stave off climate breakdown. And little me feeling sad trying to get people to stop eating animals, and other people with their heads buried in the sand as species go extinct and ecosystems collapse, and we couldn’t reach K, partly because of the imminent collapse, but also because of all the demands, because they stop us reaching her because our head gets too full, and because they keep us in a future where her and I don’t exist. And because the scary part is that if we achieve the systemic changes needed in the face of what is coming, then it will also mean losing her, because we won’t have privately owned vehicles and life will be more local and there won’t be money for therapy. And if we fail to act and adapt and mitigate, then food and fuel shortages and war and collapse are what we have in store. How things will unfold environmentally and societally are big unknowns in many ways, but climate breakdown is accelerating and the latest temperature prediction models to be released this week show that under the business as usual scenario – which shows no signs of changing at the moment – we are on track for a 6.5 – 7 degree average temperature rise by 2100, so much worse than what was predicted by the IPCC in 2018. 2 degrees is locked in already, and that will lead to catastrophic and irreversible consequences for life on earth, so all this stuff is very real, but I don’t want to live in this terrifying world before I have to. 

After K had taken a picture of the busy sand tray (which she won’t put on the internet, we checked!!) she asked what needed to be changed to represent me having a rest. And we scooped all the things off that were covering us and weighing us down, and shoved everything else away to the other end of the sand tray – all the people eating animals, and all those demanding too much from me as they frantically engage in activism to stave off climate breakdown (and probably to distract themselves from the horrifying reality in many ways), and the barriers that collapse will put up between me and those I love. And then we put very little me with teen me under a tree, because young parts need more time at home doing nice things, and a hedgehog to represent Nina, and K, her donkeys and Mr Raposa, in a circle with us, really far from the pile of other stuff. And someone said ‘really those are the only things that matter – trees, young parts, you, and Nina’ and we put a row of hearts between these things and all the pile of stuff; ‘we can love those things but still look after ourselves’. And K said this is so important, and reminded me that I already do more than most people with being vegan and not flying and cycling to work and not buying unnecessary things.

And she asked how I felt about the transformation and I said ‘better, because those are all the things I will never regret doing with my time’. And she said how powerful the wave of stuff coming down the other end was, and that the barrier in the middle was now filled with hearts instead of rocks, and the whole room feels softer and at ease, and she said ‘I hope you feel also that you’ve got a place to rest, you have to have rest in your life’.

Those are all the things I will never regret doing with my time‘ – this is so true and is what I am taking with me on the Autumn Equinox, on the day when there is light and dark in equal measure and we are invited to seek balance in our lives. K always tells me I am enough, but I want to feel that, and I don’t want to lose myself in activism to the point where I lose myself, in part because I think it’s most likely too late to avert catastrophe and collapse now and so the focus needs to be on adaptation, including community building and self-healing, and in part because Mother Earth cannot heal while we continue to live such toxic and demanding lives. And I may look back and wish many things, but I will never regret the time I spend with K, with Nina, in nature, and replenishing and healing myself, whatever happens, whatever comes.

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No matter what

Unexpectedly (for her as well as me) K has finally sold her house and will be moving on 5th September. She is moving to the countryside the opposite side of the city we both live near at the moment, so it will be an additional 20-30 minute drive each way, on top of the existing 25 minutes I already travel, for me to get to her new house. This should be fine. It is not a big deal. We will still be able to work (although it might need to be a longer session every other week when work is busy because the drive is longer and the traffic can get really bad going that way) and everything will be the same and the room will have all the same things and be set up the same as far as possible (we know because we have checked and asked lots of questions in our session today!) and yet it still feels like a catastrophe is unfolding. It is such a small change in the scheme of ‘things that could happen‘ (i.e. last summer when we were ending for at least a year and maybe forever, or the spectre of her moving to live in her Portugal house permanently which loomed over us for years, or sickness or a bereavement, or some other horrifying thing that would take her away from us), but it is still so unsettling and there are parts who are definitely having a near-death experience right about now. We have sobbed and sobbed this evening. It is not how it was. We are not losing it and slashing up our legs (or even thinking of doing that) or buying wine or anything else mad and destructive – there is an adult present and I will make food for everyone later and we will get a blanket and watch Netflix and all will be okay. But it still hurts. It seems silly that something like this could be so hard to deal with, but K was so validating so I guess I need to validate everyone too, and acknowledge that if she acts as though it is a big deal for us all then that is because it is a big deal.

It brings up so much, any change like this. Inside it feels as though she is going away, even though she is not. And even though I know this is old stuff and parts are having a meltdown over nothing, over things that have already happened, it still feels so difficult to comprehend. We love her house and garden and our room so much. They feel so central to our healing, the place we have slowly learnt to hold in our hearts when we are far away and struggling, or needed something external to steady us all. It is the first place we ever felt safe, the first place we knew what safety even was. We have done so much work there and it really hurts that we won’t be there anymore, that other people will be in our room, that we will not drive down the lane to her house that we have driven down more than 300 times, week in week out, over the past four years, that we have just 4 sessions left and then we will never go there again. It was some comfort to hear K say today that we have been in that room more times than anyone else, spent more hours in there with her than anyone else has (by quite a number I would imagine, as she’d only just moved there when we started going 4 years ago). And she says we will spend some time talking about the new space together and how it will be before she moves, to integrate the old and the new, but the most important things will be the same – her and I –  and she will be the same in the new house, except maybe a little happier.

K says it will be okay, she is not leaving [county we live in] and will be staying here for the rest of her life now. There are two possible houses she will move to and she doesn’t know which she will get until later this week, but if it’s one of them it will be the house she dies in she says, and if it is the other then she will still be staying in the same area even though she may move again. She will be 40 miles from me at the most, which really isn’t much. We will be able to go for beautiful walks together and she will be happier and the energy of the new village is nicer and softer than where she is now (where people are very right wing and go fox hunting and voted to leave the EU). She said ‘the most important aspects will still be in place, no matter what’, because the most important things are her and I. And I believe her. I do. Even though parts are having a meltdown because it feels as though she is actually going away, adult me knows she is not. I know we are lucky, so incredibly lucky. All that pain last summer brought me to a place where I could finally really take in all she is able to give me, where I could settle into the support and love and care she gives me, instead of always wishing it was something else or being terrified it would be taken away, and I feel so lucky to have done, and to be able to continue doing, this work with her. Two and a half years ago, in January 2017, when I was having one of the toughest times I ever had in therapy (there were quite a few of these, but this time was particularly horrific I know) I remember being so full of terror and grief knowing that one day she would not be there and that it would really, really hurt when that day came. She told me we both just had to hang in there, even though it was intolerable, and even though I didn’t see how that pain would ever transform into something else, we hung in there, her and I and the parts, and it did get better. And even then I remember thinking ‘what if I get to be one of the lucky ones who gets to keep their therapist as long as they need them, what if I get to finish this work with K, but I spend the whole time terrified that I won’t?‘ And here I am – one of the lucky ones. It does feel incredible that I’ve been able to do this work, this big work, all with her, that I’ve done ‘the work’ now and we will be able to finish this process together over the coming months and years. I have been one of the lucky ones. The big work is done now, and getting to do the rest with her is like an added bonus.

I am worried about how the winter will be, when the busy time at work starts again and it is dark and grey and my energy drops and then I have an extra long drive every Monday to get to therapy and back. K is trying to make it as easy as possible for me – giving me a fee reduction to cover the extra petrol we will incur, saying we can work later if I need to, that everything will be the same and that we can still be flexible and do extra sessions and phone sessions if hard stuff comes up, that we will fit in with what I need and allow time and space so I’m not rushing to get there and back. And she is not going away, she is working, and she is moving to the place which feels like her spiritual home which makes me happy for her and relieved for us because she doesn’t ever want to leave there and we don’t ever want her to leave either.

I could really feel her care today, could feel how hard she was trying to make this easier for us and answer all the dozens of questions which came tumbling out because she genuinely really cares and not because she wanted to avoid ‘a fuss’. Being able to feel this care and love is something that is so different from how it was for so many years. I think in part it is because I am able to be open to it, able to feel it and allow myself to experience it now, instead of being so triggered and certain I was being abandoned that I couldn’t feel anything else except that old and well-worn pain. But I think it is also that it is so much easier for her to care for me, and offer me extra support when I need it, when I’m not a triggered state nearly all the time – it must overwhelm her so much less to be working with me now, and it must be easier to offer extra support from time-to-time knowing it is because of something that is unusual now, instead of the next in a near-constant stream of crises. She said this week was different and that we could be in touch via email before Friday and to message this evening if I needed. And in her reply to the inevitable message from young parts when we got home she said ‘I hear it all and somewhere it will all be fine‘. ‘Because no matter what?’ we asked, to which she replied ‘No matter what dear CB’ (with some emojis of course). And even though there is so much fear over what will happen and how we will make it work when life is already so busy, I also know an hour’s drive instead of 25 minutes will be okay, that we will make it work, that she is committed to this work and so am I, and that I am so lucky that she will be walking beside me on this journey for as long as she possibly can, because she wants to be here, and because it is important to her too.

Does she know?

Does K know what she has given us? Does she know that the reason I increasingly feel safe inside myself and safe to be myself is because of her? Does she really know?

She has given us the greatest gift it is possible to bestow on a traumatised child, and there are 23 of us!

Consistency

Validation

Time

Space

Warmth

Care

Respect

Safety

Concern

Consideration

Understanding

Predictability

Security

Availability

Compassion

Interest

Stability

She has listened, heard, watched, seen. She has held me up and steadied me. Even now I am finding my feet, still she is always there.

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Safety and Shame

Since I last wrote we have moved to our new home. There is so much I could write about it, but basically it is shaping up to be all I dreamed it would be. We’ve only been here two and a half weeks, and I got struck down by a bad cold the day after we moved, so there are still a lot of boxes and muddle, but my bedroom and my study are finished now and it is beginning to feel like home. In fact it feels like it will be more than home, it will be a sanctuary. What is ahead for humanity is going to be difficult to say the least, and having this place as a refuge as I prepare myself for what is to come is something I do feel enormous amounts of gratitude for. And it feels so wonderful to be somewhere so much greener than where we were before, somewhere spacious where the air feels cleaner and lighter, where there is more sky and it is easier to breathe. Cycling home to this place lifts me, even in the rain. There are hills and woods and trees and when I do yoga in the garden I can see the sky.

I’m sure I’ll write more about what this house means to me in the coming weeks, but this evening I wanted to write about something I tried to put into words in my journal earlier, as I was writing in the study (I love having a study! My first day working in there today was amazing – it is small but feels spacious and airy and it is filled with books and pretty things. Having that space to work and be in the evenings when I need some space is another wonderful thing about this move) after my therapy session. (As another aside, I was worried about what it might be like being back with Nina straight after my therapy session now we’ve moved, but so far – two weeks in – it has been okay. Last week’s session was difficult as we had missed a week and I was very dissociated and couldn’t reach K at all – by the of the session I couldn’t remember the beginning of the session and by the time I got home it didn’t seem as though I’d been there at all – but because I’d been in a relatively good space beforehand I managed to hold this and didn’t spin off into panic and so despite feeling unsettled and uneasy it was okay being back home with Nina afterwards. This evening I cooked and then journalled and then we went for a walk before Nina went to bed and it has been mostly okay – different, but okay. And a sign of progress because I used to be SUCH A MESS after nearly every therapy session that there is no way I could have come home to Nina by myself every week. It would have terrified her for starters! I’m under no illusion that there will be times when it is hard, but for the most part therapy these days is a world away from how it used to be). Anyway, I was trying to put into words something that came to me after my session. It was really hard to turn it into something tangible earlier, but maybe I’ll do a better job here…

Telling K about my new home has been lovely, despite how much shame-triggered dissociation I still experience when I try to share good and authentic things with her. It was amazing that when I told her that this house feels different from anywhere I’ve lived before and that it is like none of my home has leaked anywhere else she got exactly what I meant! I guess it feels as though I am energetically intact in this house – all of me is here and nothing has come in that disturbs me. I mean, obviously my Mum hasn’t been here, doesn’t even know I am here, but more than that – she is not in this house at all. K is. It is as though the special spaces I’m creating within these walls are built on her, on us, as the foundations, instead of the person my Mum tried to make me be. It is not so much that it feels as though K herself is here, but that her sense of me is all around; the me she knows, the me she has helped me find, is everywhere in this house and it feels safe to be me here.

Because so much of myself has been tightly bound up in shame for my entire life, it has never felt safe to be me. This is what therapy, in recent months is giving me, now I can tolerate actually being in relationship and close proximity to K without wanting to die –  a sense that when I show who I really am I am not bad or unlovable or worthless or impossible to understand. I’ve never felt free to be me because showing myself, my feelings and thoughts and wishes, was so unsafe as a baby and child, and so every piece of self-expression (even expressing myself to myself, even letting me be known to myself if that makes sense) has been a risky journey of discovery, and this emerging sense that it is safe to feel connected and safe to be myself is because of who I’ve been with K.

So many of the special things I own that make me feel safe in my home remind me of K – not mentally, it’s not a cognitive reminder where I consciously think of her, it’s a felt sense of safety that I associate with those things and that I also associate with her. I look around my study and it feels as though the guiding force that has shaped it is K. It’s so hard to put into words, but it feels so ‘me’ and that me feels so intimately connected to the work we’ve done together and the internalised sense of safety I’ve begun to develop through our time together. And whilst I feel like the same person and I love so many of the same things as I did at the start of therapy, and whilst nothing about me has changed dramatically over the past four years, what has changed is my ability to feel safe being the person that I am. I have grown into myself and learnt not just who I am but that it is okay to be that person.

I think what I’m trying to say is that things that make me feel safe and known, things that enable me to express who I am, will forever be linked to how K has made me feel. Safety and K will always be linked in my psyche on some level now, and because so much of what I’ve needed to learn is that it is now safe to be who I am, this means that any time I am authentically myself or experience feelings of safety and belonging (like at Extinction Rebellion the night I wrote about in my last post) it will feel as if K is with me, guiding me and holding me. I’m guessing this is what having a Mum who makes you feel safe and loves you for who you are is like. And even though it is clear I missed out on so much, gaining what I’ve gained lately in therapy, at 35/36, is so much sweeter and has opened up levels of gratitude in me that I doubt ‘normal’ or securely attached (or even semi-securely attached) people ever even feel. It’s not that I’m grateful to have gone through what I’ve gone through, but sometimes the places it has brought me and the peace it has enabled me to find do feel so much sweeter, so much more deserved, when they are contrasted with the way things were. And there are times I am with K, particularly when young parts are chatting to her and I am sitting back observing, that I feel so lucky and couldn’t possibly wish things had been different because I wouldn’t have needed to do this work with her. Everything that happened to us brought us to here, and there is something so magical about feeling safe inside sometimes after decades of not even knowing what that meant.

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