All the things I’ll never tell you

Dear K,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please don’t forget us.

Love CB and everyone xx

You saw me

I reconnected with R this week after more than 18 months without seeing each other. He is an acupuncturist who I have had a profoundly deep, healing, and beautiful relationship with since I was 21 when I first saw him with constant and debilitating head pain. At times our connection has been distorted through transference and projection on both our parts, and at times I have drifted from him and wondered if our work is done, but I have always returned to him. His steady and familiar presence when I message him even after months of not talking is one of the most comforting things I’ve ever experienced. It had been nearly a year of no contact up till the start of December when we have been in regular contact via texts and voice notes. Being with him again felt like coming home and we have agreed never to let it be that long again. But he also understands that I needed to be away from people who knew me last year, so that I could discover who I am . And that is what I did; in solitude, away from the world, I found myself.

He used to tell me he was always here, that we were connected, that he wouldn’t go away from me (over and over and over when I needed it…) but he also told me that he knew the person I was seeking connection with wasn’t really him – it was myself. I felt so ashamed when he said that, as if he was telling me we weren’t really connected and what we had wasn’t real. He wasn’t. I understand it now. I connected to myself last year and now I can see how much I needed that and how much more authentic and livable life is when we are the biggest and most important person in our own lives. None of this made sense to me before but now it does and I can see it takes nothing from our relationship. It adds to it in fact, because, along with K, he laid the foundations for the journey to reclaim myself that finally transformed my life last summer. What a gift he was willing to give me, and what a lifelong connection it has carved out, in my heart and his.

He held me in 3 of the longest hugs I’ve had in years and the first hugs I’ve had since February last year. I burrowed into him like a child, so close I could hear his heart beating, and felt my system beginning to settle as I sunk into his familiar safety and allowed myself to feel his arms tightly around me. He is the only person I allow to really hug me, who I don’t pull away from before I am ready in case I stay too long and give them chance to feel what is inside of me or think I am dirty and broken for enjoying human touch. He is the only one who I can tell how much I love their hugs without feeling ashamed and toxic. He has seen everything that is inside of me and he still loves me. He was there when none of it made any sense at all. He has seen the black, desperate, shadow side of me, and also the light. To be able to see him having changed beyond recognition this past year was indescribable. The years fell away as soon as I stepped into the room and we were connected as we always have been. He shed a few tears as he hugged me. He told me how proud he is of me. When he asked how my sleep had been I said the past few weeks had been bad but generally last year my sleep had been fine for the first time in my life and he stopped me to exclaim ‘Look at you! Look what you’ve done’ and it lit me up inside to know that someone who really knows me could see the change so clearly. I am not who I was but I am also the same. These words make no sense and yet they are the only way I can describe the transformation that has taken place inside of me. A different person and yet more more myself than ever.

I do not know who R is to me, I only know my feelings for him are true and pure and that it means the world to me that he is able to express his love for me. I think small parts of me see him as a father figure and want to clamber into his lap and curl up and listen to him breathing, some teen parts see him as a slightly annoying old person always telling us to eat and look after ourselves, and others just see him as someone wise and loving who is always on the end of the phone when we need him but who doesn’t really exist beyond that. He is part therapist, part teacher, part spiritual guide, part friend, part father figure (but far too wise and compassionate and open to comfortably fit our archetype of even ‘good enough’ fathering and so casting him in this role is odd). In the end I let him be ‘my acupuncturist’, knowing that will never do justice to the depth of attachment and connection we share, and knowing that all that matters is that we know it is real, what we have, and also full of messiness and transference and projection for both of us. And that is okay. I’ve learnt to let him be in his place in my life and not try and work out where our boundaries lie. He lets me go away and come back and every time I return I seem to be able to take in his love a little more.

As he held me I whispered how I felt as though I could see myself through my own eyes for the first time this past year, instead of needing someone else to show me I’m real and that I exist. I said how all the times I text him and K asking if they were still here I was really asking if I was here, because I didn’t feel real if they couldn’t see me. He said of course I didn’t, because my parents couldn’t see me for who I was. My mum looked to me to fill her up because she was empty. Instead of bringing who I really am into existence for both of us she emptied me to try and fill herself. But she was insatiable and there was never enough of me. ‘When I looked into my mum’s eyes I didn’t see myself, all I saw was her pain’. R saw me and K saw me and they helped me learn to see myself. I realised last night that R saw me before I saw myself. And I realised how huge this is, has been, that he really did see me, actually saw me, let himself know me. I wrote this just now that I will share with him next week:

There was a time when I didn’t exist, because the only person who needs to truly see us is ourselves, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t see myself because as an infant no one provided me with a mirror to see and know myself. I grew up feeling invisible and non-existent because I couldn’t see myself reflected back in the faces of those who loved me. They weren’t able to see me so they couldn’t love the real me and so I learnt to keep her hidden so far out of sight I couldn’t reach her either. Even as an adult I only existed when other people could see me and were reflecting me back. Alone I disappeared. And so the me I saw wasn’t really me, it was other people’s versions of me. Fragile and out of reach. An image that dissolved as soon as their light wasn’t shining upon me. You told me you saw me and I didn’t understand then what you meant and how clear I was to you. The truth is that when you can’t see yourself you can’t see others either; I needed others to show me who I was instead of who they were. I was invisible and others were an illusion, a projection. I didn’t know how clearly others could see me because to myself I was always just a grey outline round a scribbled grey mass and others were merely a way of making myself more real. Now I know what it means that you could see me and even though I don’t need you in the way I once did, it seems to matter even more than I thought it did that you are here and that you know me. You have always loved me for who I am but I didn’t know till now how clearly you could see who that person was. Now I know what it really means to see somebody. Now I know that you being able to see me was a sacred knowing of all the parts of me; I was real to you. I was whole. You saw all of me. You saw me before I saw myself. And now I can see myself too, through my own eyes for the first time, and I understand what it was you could see.

We sat in his new practice room in a wooden cabin in the countryside near my house as the light was fading and for 75 minutes we were in our own world and the pandemic and isolation and Nina and my lack of family didn’t matter anymore. I thought it would feel strange and unsettling to see him somewhere new after 15 years in the previous room but it didn’t, it was magical – a magical place and a magical feeling. A new start that felt like coming home. He asked if I would rather be in the old room next time and I said no – that room holds so much of my pain. It feels right this way. ‘Yes, you are different now’ he said. And I am.

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.

Out of the woods

Therapy is working again! Something shifted last week after my session and on Tuesday I felt like I’d actually had therapy the previous day, for the first time in three months really. It was as though it had landed somewhere inside me, instead of falling right through me and leaving no trace. I didn’t feel great afterwards. Things had been stirred up, there was some teen anger over some things K said, we felt a bit lost and tearful after the session and the next day, but it was all things that I knew what to do with – writing, self-care, cuddly toys, letting things metabolise and not forcing them – and the main thing was that it reached me, touched me, left an impression on me. As I think I wrote before, I don’t mind feeling sad or difficult feelings after therapy, as long as it feels like I’ve had therapy and can allow the feelings to be there and practice doing the right things when I feel that way.

We did our half hour short session on Wednesday – I sat in the country park near my house and we spoke about some of the things that came up on Monday and then about some of the struggles I’m having parenting a teenage girl at the moment – I mean, it would be tough anyway, but our proximity has increased exponentially at the same time as my window of tolerance seems to have shrunk dramatically, and so it is really bloody tough right now. Talking to her I could really feel how well she knows me, all my stuff, all that gets triggered by Nina’s (normal) behaviour, and that she is going to be here to help me over the coming years – she says these are the hardest days of parenting (she’s not wrong!) and going through them is what led her to train so she could help other parents in that situation. That session was the closest I’ve felt to K since right near the beginning of lockdown – at the end my heart was so full of gratitude and some other feeling I cannot name – a warm glow filling my chest. It was amazing to have reached that place again and to be able to hold onto her too. She said it was lovely to talk to me, and I could tell she really meant it, felt it, that we had found each other again and that I was going to be able to do this work.

I don’t know what led to this shift – having some space around my session without Nina here, doing things differently at the start of the session (we did drawing together instead of a mindful breathing check-in so me and young parts could ground into the connection between us rather than get lost inside ourselves), knowing and accepting it’s not going to be anytime soon that we see her so we are relaxing into what we’ve got for now instead of always pushing to find out when we’ll be meeting, allowing in what she is able to give me instead of being scared if I let it in she will want to work like this forever, discussing why I’ve been far too ashamed to share anything good in my session since we haven’t been meeting – and it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is it feels manageable to work like this.

Sadly, about 3 hours after we spoke last Wednesday I got triggered into horrific emotional flashbacks after the new-ish (9 months in) Head of Department who is a total narcissist (I think I’ve written about him before) humiliated and threatened me in a Teams meeting in front of the whole department for no reason at all. It was really horrible and of course triggered all my childhood stuff. I barely slept that night and on Friday night had panic attacks all night about him and the threat he poses to my career progression and job security. I’m fucking terrified of him, as are a number of other colleagues even without a childhood of narcissistic abuse, and his behaviour is creating a real climate of fear and intimidation where we are all scared to speak in meetings and don’t know who we can trust. It’s disrupted everything. I’ve been to a Speak Out Guardian at work for the second time about him now, but I really don’t think he’s going anywhere at the moment. And of course he’s a true narcissist, so his inner circle are intoxicated by his attention and cannot see his abusive behaviour at all. It really feels a very unsafe place to work, but I am pretty trapped there as moving jobs would require a move to another city and nowhere is hiring for the next year at least in the sector I’m in.

So the weekend was difficult. After Friday and the night of panic attacks I was tired (obviously) on Saturday morning. I had arranged a beach walk with a friend which I was really looking forward to. It was lovely to see her and have a rainy walk, but I kind of collapsed when I get home and was sad to be missing solstice because of the impact the dickhead manager had on me. But I could feel my session with K was there, waiting for me, which just has not been the case for the past few months, and I knew she would help me hold it all and work out if I can manage to stay working there without being in flashbacks for days after every interaction with him.

My session today has also reached me and I just had a beautiful bike ride and feel like I can do this, however long ‘this’ has to go on for. We did drawing again at the start and this really helps little people to settle. It was really helpful to have her support about the work situation, her reminders that I don’t deserve this, and need to not let him push me out of where I work because my career is important. She was pretty angry on my behalf too, and that was so comforting because I know my mum would have told me to watch my step and would have asked if I was sure I wasn’t causing the problem. And K helped me around Nina again as well, because she really gets how hard it is having her here all the time and that lately it is like I’ve lost all the positives of lockdown and got all the worst parts of ‘normal life’ back, with very few of the good bits. I can tell she is more relaxed in our sessions as well now, which I guess is because my sessions are easier to hold again and we are reaching each other. So if this continues I won’t need to take a break, though I have bravely told her my annual leave dates so will have two weeks off therapy at the end of July. and I think I will drop the Wednesday session soon as it is right in the middle of my work day and not very spacious.

I still can’t say I love therapy this way. Far from it. I am still desperate to see her and be back in the therapy space. I’m still not getting the mirroring and holding in the same way. But it is enough to sustain me, and all the parts of me, for now, and seeing her face on the screen and not being physically with her is not breaking my heart the way it was before. And that is a wonderful thing. Life is quite tough at the moment of course (though also beautiful in many ways, and I am grateful to be living where I live, where I can cycle and see the sea and we are relatively untouched by the horrors unfolding across the globe, and I am driving 90 minutes to see my best friend on Saturday – I cannot wait to see her!) and the thought of losing K’s support at this time has really been causing a lot of distress. Now it doesn’t seem as though I will have to, which is a huge relief. Cases are dropping fast in the UK now and those who are shielding can stop doing this from August (provided things keep moving in the right direction) so I am hopeful we will be able to work in-person sooner than January. K is very hopeful that we will get our Christmas film session, and even though that is a while away it feels survivable if remote therapy continues like this. I do hope we can do some in-person therapy before the winter in case there is a second wave, but I am relinquishing control over that and right now just feel grateful I am able to take in therapy enough this way to make it possible to continue and to get K’s support with the things I need support with, and that I have space after my session to let it sink in and stay with me.

Sad Beautiful Tragic

This time of year is precious to me. Spring marks the end of ‘the busy time’ at work and there is usually more space and a reprieve from just ‘getting through each week’ for around 5 or 6 months. I tend to not need to work evenings and weekends and my energy picks up and my health improves when it’s lighter and sunnier. And because work is less demanding I have more capacity for seeing people and going places. It is strange this year (for everyone obviously, not just for me) because I have a combination of this familiar spaciousness alongside serious limitations and restrictions, but actually so much of what I love to do at this time of year is possible now (bike rides, walks, the sea, yoga in the garden, sitting and watching the bunnies) and I actually have even more time to do it, without driving Nina around to swimming training and competitions all the time. I am also used to working mostly at home from the end of March until mid-September anyway, so it doesn’t feel that different really although I do miss seeing my colleagues on the odd days I am in over the summer, and I miss my lovely office where I could work in peace and quiet (and wasn’t disturbed by a thirteen year old demanding help or having a meltdown about having nothing to wear, sigh, as if it even matters when we are in lockdown and she isn’t seeing anyone anyway!).

So in many ways things aren’t that different from normal for me whilst it is nice weather and we can meet people outside, other than not being able to go camping or see my friends who live further away. And in many ways life is easier and my shredded nervous system is starting to settle away from the forced social interaction and general rushing around doing too much that my life seems to have entailed since Nina was 3 and I started my PhD. So, aside from the general fear, sadness and anxiety over the future and all the suffering in the world presently, which I must and do manage to switch off from, what exactly is missing from my life right now? The obvious answer is therapy, but I am still having therapy, K is still here for me, and we still have contact every week day at the moment, and until the end of June at least. So what is the problem and how do I get past it, so that I can stop feeling like my life is on hold in some way, when in fact in many ways it is moving forward and I am growing hugely during this time?

I was saying to K in our half hour session on Wednesday how much I have missed watching the Spring with her this year, especially as her new home is in such a beautiful area. Her move back in September disturbed me a lot, I was attached to her old house and scared that she was moving so much further away, and then it was a slog driving the 70 mile round trip for therapy each week in the cold and wind and rain over the winter months. She kept saying how much I would appreciate it there when Spring came, that I would see the magic of the place and how special it is. We had plans for things we would do and places we would go when the weather improved. As well as being an easier time of year for me work wise, it’s always been a really special time of year in our work, when things are more spacious and we spend more time outdoors and I need less support with daily life so our work has a different pace and energy. And it is exciting for young parts because they get more time because there is less adult-life fire fighting, and lots of the things we do are healing for them, things that K might have done with us if she’d come and rescued us when we were little in a little body.

Losing this time with her is painful. I actually think I’d be finding it easier to do remote therapy over the winter – which may well happen if our bloody government don’t get testing and tracing sorted – because that is a time I am usually wishing away anyway so another reason to hang in there and wish the time away wouldn’t be a problem. I don’t want to be wishing this time away and then find it is autumn and then winter again and I’ve lost this time and life is hard and I haven’t settled enough over the summer to sustain me through those hard, dark months. I don’t think I am losing it entirely but without the rhythm of my weekly drive to K’s and my two hours with her I feel very untethered at the moment, suspended and floating outside time and space, with nothing to ground me into my weeks. My thoughts are too frequently on K and the future, and I am constantly having to bring myself back to my own life, my body, my experiences, the present moment, and remind myself I am here and I am okay right now.

When I was parking the car earlier after dropping Nina at a friend’s garden (lol) I realised how much I miss driving to K’s and parking outside, feeling that sense of relief to have made it there and to have an undisturbed time with her where I can unpack and unpick my week and settle into the undivided attention she gives me for two hours in my week. My time with her is sacred and of course extends beyond what we talk about in the room – so much healing takes place even when we are sitting in silence together. I also said on Wednesday when we spoke how the journey to her old house, once, twice and sometimes three times a week, for 4 years was a huge part of my week – where she lived before was also beautiful, in a different way, and the drive punctuated my week at the same time as I witnessed the seasons change month-by-month. Nature has always been such an important part of my life and sharing this with K is one of the reasons we all love her so much. It was always lovely to arrive or have her tell me via email about a new arrival or new growth or a special bird she had seen from the window. And every time I got to the lane near her old house I would feel safe, knowing that however terrible I was feeling soon I wouldn’t be on my own with it. It has been huge, the containment that my regular sessions offered me, and it is also huge to have lost that proximity and limbic resonance which is such a big part of learning to feel safe and being able to trust her. I was looking forward to being able to create memories in K’s new house and garden this Spring and Summer, different memories, of a time when therapy didn’t hurt anymore and I could take in what it gave me in a way I never could before.

For years being in the room with her physically hurt me, like salt was being poured on my attachment wounds or my skin was being burnt by her presence. Leaving her felt like I was dying and my abandonment terror set in halfway through every session as I sensed our time ticking away, knowing it would soon be time to leave her and struggle alone again. Sometimes I had to stop the car down the lane after I had left to let young parts scream and sob, before it was safe to drive. It hurt to be with her and anticipate her leaving or one day not being there, it hurt to leave her and not know if I would ever see her again, and the time between sessions was unbearable, even when it was just a few days and we had contact via text or email. It was agony. I counted down in hours some weeks because things were so difficult and time passed so slowly. I remember her saying years ago that she hoped that one day I would be able to exist in the week knowing my space with her was there waiting for me and I wondered what the hell she meant! I didn’t exist without her and she didn’t exist if she wasn’t right in front of me. It was hell and I was a wreck. I am still in awe that we made it through those days. And I am extra sad that we made it through and now the measures against the pandemic are keeping us apart, because I really did reach a place where I could feel my space with her throughout the week and use it to sustain me and comfort my system until I saw her again.

It feels incredibly unfair to have done all that work, endured so much, come so far together, and then not to be able to enjoy sitting in a room with her without it hurting, to not be able to leave her house and feel okay because I know I will be back next week and I can feel her with me even when we are far apart. I think it would almost be easier to have this separation from her before I got to that place, because before it was really tough anyway and I was just surviving in the best way I could. I stopped surviving and started living and it feels as though this is what I am desperately scrabbling to stop myself backsliding into.

When we are working by phone (which I still prefer to video calls) there is too much space around me, she is not there drawing a boundary around ‘my stuff’ so I can see it clearly. It is like my words and emotions are spilling out of me and floating into the air, rather than being processed and reflected back to me in a shape I can contain and understand. I don’t want to keep going if it will be like this indefinitely, but I don’t want to stop either. It is hard. And again and again I wish it didn’t matter. I wish I could take in that she is here, take in what she is giving me still. I think if I didn’t constantly worry that our work is finite I would have more patience to endure. I mean, of course our work is finite, but I am worried we have less time than I was expecting (her health, my finances, other factors), and that this is such a huge and horrible waste of our time working, for it to be second best and not enough and re-activating some kind of painful disorganised attachment dance.

This time of year has been special in K and I’s work, but it’s also special for me and I don’t want to lose it, wishing it away so that K and I can be together again. So much about my life in this moment is okay, despite the spectre of pandemic. I was re-listening to an Elizabeth Gilbert podcast (have I mentioned I have fallen in love with her over the last couple of months?!) from near the start of lockdown and she talks about the difference between empathy and compassion, and how, at this time of empathetic overload, it is really important to distinguish between the two – empathy being where we take on another’s suffering to the point that we are suffering too and cannot help anyone, and compassion being recognition that another is suffering but that we are okay. She talks about the tremendous courage it takes to sit alongside someone and witness their suffering and not get drawn into it, but this is the only way we can be of service. It is definitely something that got me thinking as I tend to completely unravel when I allow myself to acknowledge the scale of the human and non-human animal suffering occurring at any one time and then my grief and overwhelm is so enormous that I am just adding to the suffering and am no help to anyone. It is easy to feel guilty at the moment to have a home, food, a job for at least the next few months, and her words, and that distinction, got me thinking how it really is okay to be okay even though others are most definitely not okay, and that this is the only way we can truly help.

So I am okay a lot of the time, though not all the time of course because… teenager at home full-time, mood swings, irrational anger, constant mess and nagging, and when I am in my adult, K is less prominent in my life – she fades into the background and becomes just someone who knows me (really, really) well and who I look forward to spending time with each week. But when my attachment system is triggered, not seeing her really does feel like life or death – in those moments I would rather die than not see her again. Right now, when I am feeling relatively adult and contained, I am okay with waiting till she is ready to work in-person again. I have to be. I am trying to remind myself it is not about me, actually, but her – her vulnerability, her perspective, her priorities. It is not about her pushing me away and rejecting me and wanting to keep me at arm’s length. I know she hates working like this, so she will not extend it just to make a point or force me to cope in order to build my resilience. At the moment UKCP guidelines say therapists should continue working remotely. Much as I hate knowing other people are meeting with their therapists soon, I have to sit with my lack of control over this and what her regulatory body decides to do when. All I can hope is that K’s therapist friends will start meeting for outside sessions or move back to in-person because their practice can do this safely with distancing and she will follow suit. I can’t control it though, and I don’t want to push her. If she doesn’t feel safe it is not for me to force her or challenge her or refuse to work with her till she changes her mind. It is not for me to make her feel bad and guilty for wanting to keep herself safe or do what her regulatory body are telling her.

What I *think* is my intuition is telling me that I am not going to see K anytime soon. Maybe this isn’t my intuition and is some kind of defence mechanism preparing me for the worst, I don’t know. Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised. I remember ages ago a part telling her that they were worried we would resume face-to-face and then it would be taken away again. She said ‘what, if there’s a second peak do you mean?’ which I guess suggests she is, or was, planning to return to face-to-face when she can, before the inevitable second peak (because our government is shit), but everything is changing so fast and her thyroid wasn’t pranging out then. I think we all thought cases in the UK would be much lower before lockdown was eased and it means the level of risk isn’t really going to decrease from where it is now. It is K’s decision and not mine what she determines to be the risks for her personally and the people she knows, though of course nothing can change until the UKCP change their guidance…

Anyway, the point is all this is irrelevant; I don’t want to be second-guessing what she will do and when I will see her. It is exhausting and pointless. For now I am committed to continuing to work remotely with her, and if it becomes apparent that this is not ending any time soon then I will think again about whether this is the best use of my money right now. I don’t want to lose the next months, and possibly longer, of my life pining for her, not when I had come so far and she is not actually going away. There is a vague fear that she is going to prepare me for an ending with her soon, but she is only 51 and I’m pretty sure she can’t afford to stop working now, so I hope this is not my intuition. In my heart I can feel we will work in-person again one day, and I am really trying to be patient and hold on to that feeling, and accept things are as they are right now and that I am lucky she is still here. It doesn’t feel like a ‘real relationship’ to me without proximity (I have had two long-distance relationships since I was 19 and I can see now why I struggled so much with them!) but perhaps this is a good opportunity to show my attachment system that people can be constants in our lives even when we don’t see them.

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.

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.

The other side

Every therapy session recently seems to be bringing deep and profound change and healing. I can really feel it filling me with all sorts of wonderful things I have never experienced before in any kind of sustained and authentic way. It has become almost predictable that I will leave therapy feeling grounded and full and glowing inside and capable of caring for myself and the parts for another week, regardless of what comes up. Last week I got really triggered and ended up in a place of total overwhelm about managing a demanding full-time job with single parenting whilst also needing so much space because of complex trauma and dissociated parts. I asked K for a phone session on Friday and she juggled her day around to fit this in. It really helped settle and contain things and also provided me with practical steps around how to make a bust up with Nina over swimming training better without sharing too much of my own process with her. In short, K being there made things better instead of triggering me further which is something pretty new for me when I am in that place.

K said a few sessions ago that I need to drink in now what it’s like to be able to be in relationship, to feel safe enough in relationship, and I need to allow myself space to experience that it is okay to feel safe in relationship. I used to feel I was bad for feeling safe with K (which is ridiculous when I think about it) and so this is exactly what I am doing lately – drinking in the safety, basking in the glow of K and I’s connection and the warmth and love and attention she pours into me, allowing myself to get lost in the cosy feelings that arise over my system’s newfound ability to feel and be with our attachment to K, to really experience it without panicking and feeling that we are dying, or drowning in shame for being attached to someone we pay, or wanting to run from away from her because she triggers so much pain and past trauma it is almost unbearable.

It is heavenly to be in this place after all those years of finding the pain the therapeutic relationship put me in contact with almost intolerable. And what is beautiful and wonderful and reassuring and so incredibly safe is that I can feel it is bringing K and I closer that I am healing. I didn’t know that would happen. I thought I would grow away from her as I healed but instead we are growing closer. Or maybe it is that I can allow myself to really feel how close we are now because I’m not constantly triggered into a shame-filled place where I cannot allow myself to feel the relationship is real because I pay for it and it has limitations and I must be bad for attaching to someone in this way. Now we’ve worked through so much of the mess from the past our connection feels so real, so visceral and physically present in the room when we are together, and so enduring when we are apart. I mean, it must always have been real, but now so much of the intense transference has been worked through I can really feel that what is there is real and sacred and goes both ways.

I know it must seem like I wax lyrical about how wonderful our relationship is all the time, but it truly is so different for me to be able to be with that and take it in and not drown in the pain of being away from her or panic over the fact that one day she will not be here. And our relationship is such a strong force for change now and I feel so excited about the healing that is so evident in my life in recent weeks and months and what the future will be like for me if I continue to heal and move forward as I am now. There is still so much wrong and difficult in my life but I can also see that changing; there is hope for the future and the work needed to get there feels much lighter than the dark depths we’ve had to travel through together to get me to this point. If I can work through such difficult, painful material and come out the other side then it feels like the sky is the limit as far as making other positive changes in my life. I nag and give myself such a hard time for still being stuck in the same old patterns so much of the time, for doing things I know are bad for me and staying stagnant in many ways. Some of the alters are also horribly critical and shaming and self-loathing and it has seemed as though dedicated work needed to be done with these parts to overcome this. And this way of being, for me and them (who I know are me really, but they are also not still) has often felt intractable and hopeless and grounds for even more self-criticism – we are all so bad we can’t even love ourselves. Another thing we suck at! Today, though, I am starting to see how maybe it will just be part of the healing process that these habits will fall away and self-compassion will develop. Maybe the changes and shifts will happen without huge amounts of conscious effort on my part, just through the work I am already doing in therapy.

In my session today I read K my post from two weeks ago, about how hard it has been for me to be in relationship with her and how we have worked through it together and are now in a place where therapy is mostly stabilising and makes my life feel better instead of even more intolerable. She said she would like a paper copy to keep and read again because it speaks so well about the difficulties of relationship and attachment and the therapy process, and it shows that there is light, that it is possible to work through that stuff even in it’s most extreme form as my process was. She said it shows how bad things have got to be sometimes before they can be okay. I said how so often I was like ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ and I know people must have thought I was crazy to be putting myself through therapy when it hurt so much. She said how helpful it is to review and think back on those years because I am so different now and there is a spaciousness around being in contact with her so it is not a fearful mess anymore. I said I genuinely felt like I was dying all the time and K emphatically agreed. It is so nice to know she knows just how bad it was, that she remembers, that she was there and witnessed it all. And now she gets to witness my journey from the other side of that mess to somewhere where I think I will be more fully alive and able to tolerate real and authentic relationships with people that are not based around getting wasted on alcohol and Class A drugs together.

There is still so much I need and want to work through with K, and I feel so incredibly grateful my therapy didn’t end last year because I think my healing journey would have looked very different and my ability to tolerate being in relationship would have been seriously delayed and maybe even permanently limited, had our work ended when it was meant to before she changed her plans. The work, and place of therapy in my life, is so different than it has been though. I still experience extreme physical pain and muscle tightness, I still have emotional storms, albeit on a smaller scale than at any other point in my life, and I still really struggle to be in relationship with others in a way that doesn’t feel violating and intrusive or disconnected and superficial. I still struggle with control and compulsive behaviours, I still freeze and lose hours of my life, I still struggle hugely with food at times and get triggered into painful emotional flashbacks, I still haven’t entirely faced down the mother wound. The work of therapy is less about actual survival now though, and is more about making my life better, less controlled by my past and triggers, opening up to more joy and authenticity with others and the possibility, one day, of an intimate relationship (I have no idea how I’m going to navigate dating with alters but will cross that bridge when I come to it!). I think I will always journey intensely when it comes to relationship, and I think I will always experience profound abandonment and attachment pain when old wounds are triggered by people close to me, but I also think I will learn to journey with myself as I move forward, rather than shaming and abandoning myself when I experience that pain.

Towards the end of the session we talked a bit about some insights I am currently pulling together after reading a post on another blogger’s site a few weeks ago about automatically anticipating any contact with others to be intrusive and difficult. The things I am putting together around this feel huge and really quite difficult as they (of course) relate to some of my earliest experiences about contact with others. K says it will take time to work through this material as it is really big and very important in terms of me moving forward and learning to be in relationship with others in a way that serves me instead of eroding me. She has asked that I start making some notes on this about what I can remember from the past and about times during the week that I notice this anticipation is impacting my decisions around other people, or is triggering me or making me dissociate. We have a 2 1/2 week gap between sessions after next week and I am looking forward to having some space to be able to journal about this and take it to her when we meet again on March 25th. What a weird and unexpected place to be – looking forward to a therapy break! I’m sure it will be a little unsettling at times, but nothing like the mess therapy breaks were before. Here is something Miffy wrote when we got home which says it all really…

 

 

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