Stars

My session today was what I needed, what I hoped it would be, as Christmas descends and I work hard not to lose myself. I’ve had a really bad sore throat since Thursday so I text K this morning to check it was still okay to go, as the last thing I would want is to pass some kind of viral yuk to her at this time of year. We had a special session planned watching the new Lion King film on DVD so I was dreading that she would say she would prefer to work by phone, but I wanted to give her the option and luckily she replied immediately and said ‘do come CB’. Young parts have been excited about this session for ages, and it’s been nice to have something safe and fun to focus on in the build up to Christmas to take the attention away from the days that will follow. As we said at the end of the session, next time we see K it will all be over for another year, and we both agreed that this is very good news.

We did an extra 30 minutes today, so a two and a half hour session, so we would have time to check in properly and read the entries in the parts’ journal from this week, and then time at the end to check out too, once we’d watched the film. Last week we had made cards for each other with A LOT of glitter glue [this is young parts’ favourite thing EVER to do with K, they get so much joy and excitement from peeking at the one she is making for us as we make ours, and it’s always so nice bringing home our card she has made us] so they were dry and ready to exchange and there was a small gift for me too which K said I could open then or take home to open on Christmas Day. I chose to take it home – it will be something nice and connecting for young parts to do in a quiet time on Christmas Day. Then K lit a fire and brought through more tea and a vegan mince pie with vegan cream for each of us and we settled to watch the film with blankets and one of her dogs.

It was so cosy and warm. It used to hurt so much to have times like that and to feel all I never had growing up, and it used to feel as though it would never be enough, but it doesn’t feel like that now because I can take it in and hold it in my heart when I am not there. Young parts asked questions during the film and laughed out loud and hid under the blanket at scary parts, and it is so nice that all that can be expressed without huge swirls of shame engulfing more grown up parts now. It is our fifth Christmas working together and it is incredible to look back on the changes that have happened during that time. I wouldn’t say I find Christmas any easier now, but it has a very different quality – I don’t get swept up in other people’s stories of how things should be, I hold true to how I want it to be, the expectations and pressure I put on myself have drastically reduced, and I am okay (mostly) with it not being an enjoyable time of year for me. I don’t beat myself up for this and I take in small joys where I can – nice food, a break from work, some good books, cosy times with Nina, time for peaceful walks and being by the sea. It is tough still, but it is not how it used to be. I am not how I used to be.

And it hurts less to be leaving K’s warm home the day before Christmas Eve now because I know that her life is not the perfect fantasy I used to imagine, and I know she finds Christmas a tough time of year too.  It’s partly why I am so grateful to have a therapist who brings so much of herself to the therapy space, whilst at the same time being so clear and careful around boundaries and expectations, because I know enough to know her life is shaped by pain and loss too, and I know all the consumerism and consumption and societal expectations make her sad like they do me, but I also know she takes care to make it what she needs it to be and doesn’t pretend it is something that it isn’t for her. In the run up to the awful, suicidal Christmas I had shortly after we started work in 2015, she asked me how I would want Christmas to be. I replied by talking about my need for space and that I just wanted to spend the day by the sea. At that time it felt so unattainable and yet shortly after Christmas that year I booked a cottage in Cornwall for Nina and I to go to for a week for Christmas 2016, and that year was the beginning of doing things differently. We walked by the sea every single day and I realised Nina’s Christmas expectations were so low, so easy to meet – a big telly, nice food, new books, playing games, and walks on the beach left her so content. It was so peaceful and calm and I realised all the BS my mum had fed me about what a child needed was all for her, not Nina. I’d always feared that without my family of origin, however positive that loss of toxicity was in the bigger picture of our lives, I would never be enough for Nina at this time of year, but it turns out what she needs to make her happy is so simple. Who knew?!

Anyway, back to today… After the film K talked about some of the lessons we could take from it (not in a cringey way – she said she was genuinely surprised by how good it was and I have to admit the Lion King genuinely is excellent and has lots of lessons for how we need to tend to our dying planet too) and someone small said how much they liked the film. K encouraged us all to hold on to the film and the special time we had shared together and make it part of our internal safe space this Christmas. She said how special it was to have that time sitting together being still, and how even though it is something so simple not many people achieve that at this time of year, and she is so right – there is no one else I will feel that connected to whilst watching a film this festive season; ‘repatriating young children, young parts’ she said this evening, and that it so true. She also started talking about how we will both need to look out for a super amazing film for next year ‘without making a fuss, obviously, about Christmas early on, sorry, re-enacting something there right at the last minute…’ which made us both laugh a lot because my mum’s Christmas demands always started in September and made it not just a stressful time, but a really, long, drawn out stressful time. It was nice to know we have another year working together though, that whatever happens that is our intention. And I never could have dared to believe she would still be here now, yet she is.

I would say that overall the past few months have been AWFUL, but somehow I’ve found my way back to K over the past few weeks and it helps so much being able to reach her and know she is there when I am here. I have a GP appointment in the morning to check my throat as it is so painful, and then Nina and I have our traditional Christmas Eve walk in our favourite forest (which is now only a 10 minute drive from the house since our house move, which is part of the reason we wanted to move to where we are) and trip to the cinema (Frozen II, which neither of us are hugely excited to see, but going to the cinema is something really nice to do on Christmas Eve and we are both keen to stick to the traditions we’ve begun since becoming estranged from my mum who had a lot of traditions she used to manipulate and control us). And we will go to the beach and walk by the sea on Christmas Day, which is all I’ve ever wanted to do at Christmas really and is something we’ve been able to do for 4 years’ running now. So it will be a quiet few days, and it is undeniably painful when I think of how many people will be spending time in big groups of close family and friends, but it will be authentic, and that feels a lot more important after years of pretending to be someone I am not.

For those who’ve not seen The Lion King, there’s a beautiful line about the stars that Simba’s dad says to him early on in the film: ‘look at the stars. The great kings of the past look down on us from those stars… So whenever you feel alone, just remember that those kings will always be there to guide you’. And K said at the end of our session to remember the stars are always there – always, even when we can’t see them. And of course she is the brightest star in the sky for me so much of the time, but there are so many other stars too. I’ve had to cancel some plans with friends the past few days because of my throat, but I am seeing my two best friends from my PhD and raving days at the weekend, and I have made such a good friend who lives a 3 minute walk from the new house who is also a vegan and a mother and who brings such joy and solace to my life during these troubled times, and I have my beautiful daughter and other friends to see next week also. I imagine the next few days will feel lonely at times, but that is okay. I have some books to read and films to watch and the days will pass. And K says we can work by phone on Friday afternoon if I need to and then we are meeting on Monday as normal, so I feel as safe as it is probably possible for me to feel ahead of Christmas.

Reaching

I couldn’t reach K again today and now I’m home and it feels like my insides have been ripped out. How after so many months of feeling so held and safe and connected am I here again for so many weeks now?

I read K what Phoebe wrote last week. She said it’s amazing because it sums up the block between us that is happening right now and that is about something historical that has led to a special shape within me, a pattern that says that most things are not safe (what a fucking sad statement of fact).

‘I can’t reach you’ I managed to whisper.

‘Yeah, I know’ and she sounded sad, like she really knew how fucking painful it is to be a metre from her and also a million miles away. And it surprised me that she knew straightaway, she knew I couldn’t reach her, because I was behaving ‘normally’ and pretending all was fine, and she is still the only person who sees through my mask and knows I’m out of reach.

‘Well… I think it’ll come back’ and I started to sob and she said ‘don’t worry, you know what  – this went on for a long time with Mum, years and years and years. So right now there’s a patterning that’s saying don’t trust. We’ll get through it. I’m confident it’ll come back.’

She said how important it is that we don’t pretend it’s normal, like I had to as a child, and that we let it be there and let things be difficult and authentic. She thinks it will settle of it’s own accord over the next few weeks, if we sit in the storm with it and don’t force it.

‘And I’m here, no matter what. And it’ll be alright. I’m convinced it will be okay’.

‘It’s hard without you’ I said quietly. (And it is so hard, to be without her after months of feeling her with me all the time, whenever I looked for her).

‘Yeah, and I’m here, waiting in the wings.’

And we talked about Phoebe again, and how she didn’t used to have any words. About how she was mean all the time because she was scared of K and how much she hated all the other parts for attaching to K. She was the last, shame kept her far away and angry and defended for so many years. And it hurts so much that she wants to connect and can’t. But she knows K hasn’t done anything wrong now and she knows K doesn’t hurt us deliberately and just wants to help. The blocking is automatic and it comes from us, not K.

So things are different but also the same. Or maybe they are the same but also different. I’m not battling K. We’re not falling into horrible relational re-enactments and locking horns. I’m not accusing her of being different or convinced she hates me. I know she’s there and that I can’t reach her. We can talk about what’s happening now, even though we cannot make the connection come back however much we both wish we could. And inside me is a gaping pit of emptiness and I want to die/cut/take drugs to fill it, but I know this hole is not caused by K but by my parents who couldn’t love me, and so whilst I want to die I can also hold on tight to her belief that I will reach her again. I just really hope it’s not much longer because I miss her. I missed her even while I was in the room with her for 2 hours earlier. Everything internally and externally is very hard at the moment and I need her with me and it really fucking hurts when I can’t reach her.

‘I’m having a complete meltdown unrelated to your move…’

What a day! I spiralled into a hysterical crisis after I wrote this morning and ended up going to K’s an hour earlier than planned. I messaged her when I came off the main road so she could wait outside and show me where to park, telling her I was 9 minutes away and was having a meltdown that was ‘unrelated to her move’ (ahem…). I was crying when I arrived, pretty much yelled at her that I couldn’t possibly do that journey every week (I will be), and then sat on the floor of the new therapy space crying as she made tea, not even able to sit on my normal cushion. She offered me a hug when she brought the tea in and sat on the floor with me where she held me as I sobbed and howled. I’ve never lost it like that with her before and let the feelings out so loudly, and she stayed holding me until I was done and then helped me sit on the cushion with the blanket and drink some tea.

She has been amazing today. We unpicked the time I’ve had since we last met. We talked about all that came up over not being able to see my sister this weekend, and how I just want a family. We talked about how sad and frustrated I feel that PTSD and dissociation limits my life so much. And she showed us the stables and paddock where her rescue donkeys will live and we sat looking at the beautiful view and Miffy asked if other people who are little in a little body would go there and she said no, not at the moment – there are no children and we are the first people to go to the new house which she said was nice (it is, of course). For the first time in a very long time I was freaking out from about 10 minutes into the session that it would soon be time to leave and I would be back on my own with the intolerable feelings I was experiencing for another 3 days until we meet again. (Maybe that should have alerted me to the fact this was crisis was attachment-based…). She said she was available over the weekend so we could work by phone if needed, and to let her know how I was doing later.

I then cried all the way home and for most of the afternoon, stopping only when my Dad arrived to help Nina with her Maths homework before taking her to swimming training. (He pretended not to notice I’d been crying, which a few years ago would have sent me nuts, but I accept that it brings up too much in him now and can forgive his limitations). I text K and she was so kind, said this was deep pain (I think she knew before I did that something bigger was at play today) and used her lovely phrase ‘soup and blankets’ which she said to me the first time she saw me in crisis (our second session), and told me this wave would pass. And she repeated her offer of phone work over the weekend. Then the pain in my head became unbearable and I thought I was going to need to ask my Dad to drive me to hospital for IV painkillers. So I asked if we could speak this evening (oh so wonderful that this is a simple request now and I no longer get stuck in that hellish place of disorganised attachment where I am desperate to reach out and terrified in case I am ‘too much’ and make her go away all at the same time and dither in a shame spiral until it is too late) and we spoke straightaway. Her landline was being connected as I arrived today – perfect timing!

It’s probably the most beautiful phone call we’ve ever had, apart from maybe the one after she told me she wasn’t going away after all and we had a meltdown because even that was too destabilising…. We did a check in and told her how bad the head pain was and that there were a lot of worries that she would go away and that a part kept saying just to not go anymore because if we stopped going it would hurt less than K going away. And K said as soon as we left today she’d been thinking ‘attachment, attachment, attachment’ which was funny because I’d said to my friend that K probably thought it was funny that I’d said in my text that the meltdown wasn’t related to her move… And she said how even though all the things I shared about life being too much were valid, underneath it all was something much bigger and that it felt to lots of young (and not-so-young) parts as though we had ended because there was so much worry that she wouldn’t be there when we got to the new house and that we would have to stop working. She said it was like we had gone back to the old days where there was a constant fear that she wouldn’t be there, wouldn’t open the door, would disappear, would say we were too much. And she reminded me of how deep and extensive my attachment wounding is (which helped, because sometimes I forget and just feel nuts!). We shared a lot, about what we thought of the new house (that it *might* be okay but is much too far away, that it is pretty, that some things were the same, that she was the same in the new house, that we liked it that she met us at the door with Digby on his lead even though we were too upset to notice him). We asked if we could do cutting and gluing soon and talked about the picture we are planning to make, and about donkeys and film nights. She told me how much progress I’ve made, how very hard I’ve worked in therapy, how the damage I endured as an infant and young child is so huge that it has taken us years – 4 years so far – to start to process and unpick what happened to me, and that we still have so much work to do and she is so glad we are continuing to work. And she said how even though today was like before it also wasn’t, because we know this territory now and we know what we are doing. She said how nice it is that we are in a different phase of the work where – apart from today – I can enjoy our time together now with less of an edge for me around being in relationship. We talked about how it was before, when therapy was so painful and speaking to her on the phone when I was in crisis made everything hurt even more but not speaking was awful also, and how now it helps to speak, it really helps – I felt soothed straight away this evening and the pain in my head subsided massively.

And somehow we managed to share how much it hurts when we’re not there knowing that she will soon be starting with new clients now she has moved, because it’s always nice with new people where nothing bad has happened yet, and how this is so linked to feeling invisible and non-existent unless we are extra prominent, and all the painful realisations around this I had whilst we were on holiday recently, that I’ve not fully worked through yet but am still reeling from as it is so huge and sad and limits my life in such extensive ways. I said when we were with her none of those things matter because we can feel how real our relationship is, but that when we’re not there all those other people become huge and we are completely eclipsed. I used to text K constantly asking ‘are you still here?’ but partly I was actually telling her I was still here, because I couldn’t believe I still existed for her when I wasn’t there, and I didn’t exist if she couldn’t see me. Learning I am here is such a huge part of my journey and the work I need to do still. I told her today on the phone that these realisations about why I feel so invisible and am so terrified of being replaced are the most painful realisations I’ve had for nearly 18 months, and I asked if it would stop hurting one day to know why I’m like this, and she said she thinks it will soften and become easier to live with.

I said how hard it was to realise that I still need therapy every week and that even though I cope I struggle without my Monday session. And then I realised that I used to be unable to cope for a whole week without her and now I usually manage that time completely fine, it’s just hard without her for longer. And of course there is shame in that still, but our time together is the glue that holds me together and enables me to do so much other stuff in my life too. We also spoke about my fears that she will say I shouldn’t come anymore and why therapy is taking so long, and she was so validating about why I need it, why I need her still. I said I couldn’t understand before what people did in therapy for DID for so many years (7-10 on average) but I do now, and that I wish I’d known it wouldn’t hurt so much all that time (although I wouldn’t have believed it anyway). And someone little asked if it was okay to always need therapy when things had been really bad for a long time and she said yes, and she has no plans to go anywhere ever now, she is where she wants to be. And if it wasn’t for imminent climate-induced societal collapse I would be so happy to hear this!

The last thing we talked about was her offer to do a double session for only a little more money than I’m currently paying for 90 minutes, to make the journey worthwhile. At first when she offered I was unsure because it will mean I am later home for Nina and will still be an extra £50 a month. But there is something so nice about double sessions, I find them so safe and containing, and I think it will be less tiring to have more of a break between the two 50 minute drives. It also better reflects the stage of therapy I’m in, where it is so much about spending time together and doing ‘nice’ things. I said my friend said I should go for it and that this was my thoughts also – I said how on the way home I’d felt very sharply again how important it is to still prioritise my therapy or I would compromise my ability to work and be involved in Extinction Rebellion. And in the back of my mind – always – is the knowledge that climate breakdown is happening so much faster than we ever expected and it is important to make the most of being able to get to K for as long as possible. I cannot imagine ever looking back and wishing I hadn’t spent money on something so vital for my well-being. I have such gratitude for the journey K and I are on together and all the ways in which it enables me to function and grow.

As we were finishing the phone call she said again how big this transition is for my system and how she will be flexible for me and available by phone over the coming weeks so we can work if things are difficult, until all this is settled. I felt all snuggled and wrapped in a blanket when the call ended and that was nice, but it has dissipated quite a lot now and I am feeling lost and unsettled again. I am so incredibly tired and feel as though I’ve been through a near-death experience today so hopefully I will sleep and can spend tomorrow putting the house and my selves back together again.

 

Over-exposed

Therapy was hard this evening. I am left feeling a little blurgh. A little hollow and bereft of meaning and substance. I’m fine. I’ve made dinner for myself and Nina and washed up and am now in my study with a cup of tea, knowing I did good work in therapy today and it will help to process and write about it and what came up, but I feel a bit grotty and untethered and would quite like a hug and someone to settle and soothe the disruption inside. It is also useful to reflect upon how things were and compare them with how they are now. A ‘little blurgh’ now is so incredibly manageable. It is uncomfortable, sure, and it is a reminder that trauma and dissociation still haunt me even after a stable, peaceful, and actually quite joyful week, but it is important to notice the contrasts and how far I’ve come, especially in the past year. Last year at this time K had recently told me she was taking 2019 off as a sabbatical from work and I was struggling in ways that I can barely believe were real now, looking back. I cannot imagine ever being back in quite such a desperate state again, but maybe I won’t make any grand declarations around that just yet…

This week I’ve felt relatively ‘normal’. I said to my friend yesterday I’ve mostly felt how I felt before I started therapy, before Jess died and the world I’d built around and inside myself completely fell apart. It was a relief because I’d been in a bad place over the ecological collapse and I couldn’t imagine ever feeling normal and stable again. I had reiki and a massive outpouring of grief at an Extinction Rebellion ‘resilient communities’ workshop 10 days ago and since then the terror has dissipated and I’ve felt much more grounded and at peace over what is happening to the planet and what is ahead of us here in England too. K and I have also been doing some work around ‘active hope’ and preparing for the grief work we will do together to help me open to the losses that are happening all around by doing lots of work around gratitude. The grief is always there, the awareness is with me nearly all the time, but it is beginning to be integrated into my life more, and the shock is beginning to subside I think. I’m sure it will come and go, but it is wonderful to be reminded that joy and peace and gratitude can co-exist with sadness and fear and loss. (Indeed they must – the grief is only so big because there is so much to love and therefore so much to lose).

Anyway, so I was expecting to have a good session today, and it was good, but it was good for therapy (i.e. hard) rather than nice and peaceful and connecting. I felt adult and self-contained when I arrived and then a young part came out as soon as K brought our cup of tea in and started playing with the new mini Russian dolls K got recently. This was a surprise as young parts have been very quiet and content this week and I’ve hardly known they’re there, and it left me a little suspicious haha! And as soon as we’d done our mindful breathing and check-in (breath, body, mind) I completely dissociated. I wanted to tell K the good things that have happened this week (meeting an amazing person who lives a 3 minute walk from the new house, joining up with other vegans who are part of Extinction Rebellion to form an affinity group for non-violent direct action, riding my bike to the forest on Friday evening for Solstice and walking and reflecting on what I wanted to open my heart to and bring into the light in the coming year, not feeling self-conscious and hyper-critical at a work colleague’s engagement party on Saturday afternoon, seeing friends yesterday and really enjoying being in our new house because it’s much nicer to have people in) and yet the minute I even thought about telling her about these things I felt like someone had peeled my skin off and judging eyes were piercing and boring into me. I felt completely over-exposed and had a desperate desire to hide – it took a lot of effort not to pull the big blanket over my head and wait for K to disappear.

I somehow managed to tell K what was happening and we spoke a bit about why this happens for me and why I can’t even think about sharing good things and positive emotions I experience without dissociating and feeling completely exposed and covered in black, sticky shame. I couldn’t even make eye contact when she suggested it so she offered to close her eyes so I could look at her and see if she was the same without it being scary. I said I felt as though she could see right inside me and was thinking I shouldn’t feel good things. And she said how interesting that was because that’s not where she’s coming from at all. She said all the things I already know but that it helped to hear again, about this being an emotional flashback where my body and mind are going through the process of something that has happened before, so that I feel as though people can see badness inside me but that’s not what she sees at all. She talked about the critical voice coming in and saying I don’t deserve good things, but I realise now as I am writing that the sense of shame and over-exposure I get when I try to share good things is pre-verbal, there is no cognitive process attached at all, just a feeling that someone can see right inside me and it’s not that there is badness inside me, but that it is bad to show any of me at all. We know why this happens, the legacy of an engulfing narcissistic mother I’ve written about before, but sometimes it just hits on another level why this happens to me, and it is sad that it isn’t just negative feelings I was shamed for, but just existing full stop. I was shamed as a baby for feeling positive emotions, for enjoying the feeling of connection to others, for showing who I was, for feeling as though I belonged. It was unsafe for me to feel and experience these things. This is heart-breaking really, isn’t it, and although I’m past the stage of therapy where I need to really feel this now (thank goodness) it still stings sometimes. Before I could talk I internalised badness and shame when I felt good or when I expressed myself. It was never safe to be me. It was never safe to be an authentic version of myself. And it is fucking infuriating because even now I am healed in so many ways, this legacy still makes the battle to absorb relational healing so tough. I am doing really well with connecting with new people through Extinction Rebellion without dissociating, and I feel I belong there, but I still feel shame afterwards for feeling connected and belonging. A work in progress…

Someone small asked ‘why did it happen?’ and K talked again about my Mum being seriously mentally ill and my Dad being hyper-critical and too young to be a parent so they had no parenting skills at all and went about it all wrong. And we talked about how she would laugh and ridicule me when good things happened and I said I get so scared of K thinking I am showing her too much of what’s inside me and then I just can’t show her anything at all. I cried quite a lot and it was getting foggy and thick in the room so K suggested we go outside into the garden and smell some of the flowers that have recently blossomed. It was beautiful out there – we saw a baby blackbird struggling as she learned to fly and smelt lots of gorgeous flowers and then her dog decided to go for a dip in the pond which was very funny. And then we had more tea and did some work on gratitude and I felt ashamed again about the headings we had chosen last week for the gratitude lists we are making before we create some spirals and decorate them. And it was such a contrast from last week because then I’d been excited about the lists we would make and today I just felt ashamed for ever having enjoyed anything. And it shows how shame builds on shame, how shame about one things permeates everything else and twists excitement and openness into something black and heavy and judgmental.

I also shared with K what I wrote after my session two weeks ago, about how feeling safe to be me is forever associated with her now so that when I am somewhere I feel accepted and, more importantly where I accept myself, it feels as though she is with me. And she said how peaceful she felt as she listened and absorbed it all and how this is exactly what we are aiming for in therapy – ‘you’ve taken in the safety, taken me in’. And I really have. I need more of it still to displace this shame and sense of over-exposure that still surfaces, but I have taken in so much and even though I feel like the same person in many ways I also feel completely different to the person I was 4 years ago. I don’t think I realised till today how that feeling of safety I never had wasn’t just because my external world was so unsafe and unpredictable while I was growing up that I had to be on alert all the time, but also because it was so unsafe inside me too, so unsafe to reveal what was inside me because my Mum is a narcissist with a huge borderline process and masses of unresolved feelings she projected all over me and used to eclipse me entirely. It’s crazy just how long it has taken of depth psychotherapy to get to this point of understanding and acceptance of how I am.

At the end of the session I said I felt as though I had my skin back on. And then I realised that it was only because I didn’t tell K the good things. She said I had done a lot of depth work nevertheless and that I am bringing things that are hard to bring and I’m tackling these big areas instead of running from them. And she said there is still a lot of work to do to unpick these damaging messages I internalised when I was so young. And this is okay. I like therapy now, mostly, and it doesn’t disrupt my life the way it used to. Even when it leaves me unsettled it’s still a million miles away from how it used to leave me. It used to feel like I was being tortured, now it mostly feels nice, with the occasional sense that someone has peeled back my skin and stirred things round with a wooden spoon. I look forward to my session but I don’t long for it now, counting down the days and hours and then feeling the pain of abandonment before the session has even ended. And my life outside therapy is growing and expanding so rapidly at the moment and I feel as though I am unfurling into it. And it feels good even though my brain and felt memories don’t always let me feel as though it is okay for this to be happening to me.

I never thought I’d get to here

I am crying a lot this evening, great big wracking sobs whose cause, or rather underlying emotion, I can’t really put my finger on, but it feels like I am letting go of something. I shared my last two posts with K, the one from last week about how different things are now in therapy and the one from Saturday about Mr Raposa. I welled up reading both, tears of gratitude to both of us for sticking with therapy when it was so incredibly tough, bittersweet tears because with this shift comes space inside me and in my life that is not filled with K, but also bigger tears, tears carrying the force of all that has lived inside me since I first set foot in K’s house all those years ago and the process of looking at and feeling what is inside me began. And as I finished reading my body started juddering and shaking, almost like the shock response I’ve come to know so well over the years in therapy when some huge realisation about how I am or what I’ve been through hit me all in a rush. I wanted to scream and shout and cry and wail because it hurt, whatever feelings were surfacing and flooding out of me. I think it hit me all-of-a-sudden in that moment how truly, truly traumatic those years of therapy were, and a little of the trauma and intensity of those days came loose inside me and began to be metabolised.

I cannot adequately put into words just how difficult therapy was for the first three years. I genuinely felt like the pain, the process, the horror of disorganised attachment, the constant triggering of my attachment wounds, would kill me. That sounds dramatic but much of the time it really did feel that way. Therapy was agony, leaving therapy was agony, being away from K was painful but being with her hurt too much too. I wanted to end therapy to stop the pain but the pain when I thought of my life without K was intolerable too. I barely survived the time between sessions, could hardly go a day without contacting K, and spent much of my days feeling suicidal, self-harming, and generally feeling utterly hopeless and convinced I would die because of what happened to me as a baby. Words cannot do it justice really. It was truly, truly hellish. I needed to go through that awful time but it has left its own traumatic scars upon me, I have no doubt of that.

I obviously managed to trust the process enough to keep going, and there were momens of light and joy and connection, but I also couldn’t see that it was getting me anywhere. I talked about there being ‘another side’ to get to, but I had no real sense of it existing, or what it might be like. And that pain certainly didn’t feel like process, although I see now it was and was me learning to tolerate being close to someone, being in relationship, feeling connected. For more than 3 years being in relationship with K was like having caustic soda poured all over my wounds. My skin burned and I writhed in agony, and the wounds never had chance to heal before I was back for more. I was addicted to her but being with her made everything hurt more. However much love and warmth and support she poured into me was not enough, it flowed straight through me and left me desperate for more. And the love and warmth hurt me too, constantly triggering my disorganised attachment system, telling me something was very, very wrong and that I needed to protect myself by getting closer and running away at the same time. It was one crazy storm and I couldn’t even hold on to K to steady myself. Dissociation erased her from my mind and left an empty space inside my head.

I was deep in primal pain so much of the time for so many years. Crisis after crisis. Regular self-harm episodes and weeks with no sleep and floods of abandonment panic drowning me. Pain just poured out of me for months and months and months. Years really, with the occasional brief respite for a week or two where things felt more stable. Nearly every day was a battle as I somehow managed to hold my adult life, my daughter and the parts, my work, whilst years of unfelt pain and trauma surfaced and threatened to pull me under. I wondered every day how I was going to survive the rest of my life and was petrified that K would go away and leave me all on my own with the blackness inside me. Parts do still feel this way now I’m not gonna lie, and it is still very difficult living some days, but lately I can tell that we’ve done the groundwork in therapy, we’ve built the foundations together, and I am finally starting to heal.

When I had shared the post from last week towards the end of the session today, K said it is really lovely to see how well I am doing, how this healing is transformational now and I am moving towards a space where things [aka us, our relationship, our connection] can be taken in and felt authentically, instead of me always pushing it away or worrying if the relationship is real, or what will happen next (aka being constantly ashamed of how important she is to me and utterly terrified 24/7 that she would go away). It is huge, what we’ve accomplished together, the emotion swept me away and I felt the shock hit me. Those dark days are behind me and I can’t imagine ever going back to how it was now. I get flashes of course, like I did two weeks ago, but it wasn’t the same, I could unpick it and let it be there and then it moved through me.

And therapy can be used to heal now because it reaches a different place. K said how lovely it was to hear that, and how there had to be all of that struggle to break through it almost, it had to happen. And I thought that would be the work. I thought that when I had internalised K enough and could tolerate being in relationship with her we would be done, but whilst it was the work, it wasn’t all the work. And K said that now I need to drink in what it’s like to be able to be in relationship, to feel safe enough in relationship, and start to feel that it is alright to feel safe in relationship. “That’s a whole piece of work, isn’t it?” said K. And it is, she is right. It’s like I need to learn that it is safe to feel safe, that I can sink into this place and it won’t get ripped away and prove that all my fears were valid.

It feels now like some big pieces of work can be done and I will hold steady. I realised this evening as I shared the posts with K and the room filled with laughter and the echoes of times we had shared that I have more happy memories with her than I do with my own mother. And yet she is not my mother and we will not be together in her old age laughing about those times gone by. I will not be able to share with my grandchildren memories of K and I, even though they are as formational to who I will be and the life I will live as the scars imprinted on me by my parents. It is bittersweet to be healing because it means really feeling all that K is not. I know all of us in therapy say we know our Ts are not our parents, but I also know that in my own experience this is something very hard to truly grasp. For me, being estranged from my mother means that I am motherless. There really is an empty space all around me. It is not like she has died and I can draw on happy memories to support me through my grief. The space around me is too much at times, because I still lack the relationship which stabilises and grounds so many. There will always be a hole in me and a hole in my life and K cannot fill it, she can only help me to fill it, and I don’t always want to fill it myself because that feels sad and futile at times, and brings its own grief too.

So now I feel strangely lost, as I try to process those first three years of therapy and let the trauma of those days leave my body, or start to at least. I honestly can’t believe I survived and that K and I were able to hang in there for so long, whilst therapy felt like torture. I was terrified all the time. I was caught up in the push/pull of disorganised attachment nearly all the time, needing to move towards K to survive but going into fight/flight panic every time I took a step closer. And every time I showed how I felt or what was inside me, good or bad, I dissociated or was flooded with shame and a loathing which felt like it was coming from her but was actually living inside me. I’m not sure either of us really thought things would change. I know this time last year K was feeling very hopeless and thought we’d be playing out the same relationship dynamics for as long as we worked together. And it wasn’t that I didn’t do any work those three years and was just constantly re-traumatised, I obviously discovered what was ‘wrong’ with me and how broken I really was and why. I discovered my alters and got to know them. I began to learn who I was and what I wanted and needed. I cut contact completely with my Mum. I began to understand my past and how it affects me still, why I’ve done what I’ve done and why I do what I do. All of this was work, progress, but in the background was always the attachment pain and panic and searing pain of being connected to someone I felt ashamed for being connected to.

Now therapy is mostly a stabilising force in my life and I can imagine it helping during difficult times instead of triggering my shame response and making everything a hundred times worse. I’ve said before how I need to go back to many painful times in my life now and feel them from my own perspective, from within my own body, instead of focusing on my Mum and what she was doing and feeling. I feel ready to do that now, because I know K won’t leave my side if I do. I needed to find a peace of sorts in my relationship with her first or the shame of feeling would have swept me away.

We ended our session with me saying how K did exactly what she did with Mr Raposa with us. She agreed. And I feel absolutely blown away because I never thought I’d get to a place where the therapeutic relationship didn’t hurt me hugely. It stings sometimes, it fills young parts with longing still, but it doesn’t set me on fire and make me want to die anymore. And that has to be a sign of progress!

Mr Raposa

We first met Mr Raposa (not his real name) on 10th February 2016, almost six months after starting work with K. It was a Wednesday evening and adult me had just shared how I had noticed at the weekend young parts really taking over at Nina’s bedtime, playing with Sylvanian families and being pretty silly at times. I remember it was one of the first times I had really noticed how I was in the back seat and younger parts were out and taking control – I could watch what they were doing but was unable to stop them or get to the front to take control again. It was like watching people talking in the front seat of a car, watching the action and dialogue unfold but not really being part of it. Anyway, K confirmed that really it wasn’t okay for young parts to join in at bedtime, even though they really wanted to, and everyone was feeling sad and fed up. In the break K went to make us a cup of tea and when she came back she asked if we would like to meet Mr Raposa, one of her rescue dogs. The next minute he came trotting around the door of the therapy room – an orange podengo with huge ears, who looked just like a fox. I can’t remember now how long he stayed in the room, but young parts were transfixed and it was the beginning of a very special relationship that has been a huge part of our healing journey.

That night I was kept awake all night by young parts excitedly twittering about Mr Raposa. Looking back it is actually really cute, but at the time it was quite irritating. They were really excited to see him again and from then on he became a regular visitor to the therapy room and a huge part of our relationship with K and the development of an internalised sense of safety. The first message K sent about Mr Raposa was a month after we met him, after I’d had an almighty meltdown and had ended up texting her on a Sunday panicking that she was going to end therapy or stop us from seeing Mr Raposa because we were always such a pain. She replied with her usual calm reassurances that she was looking forward to seeing us all the next day and that Mr Raposa would be there too. The next day was also the day when she said for the first time (in response to general panic that getting well would mean losing her) that sometimes when the therapeutic work has been particularly intense and the wounding has been particularly deep it can be appropriate to never end therapy permanently and to transition into something else – not friends, still a therapeutic relationship, but something ongoing even when the intense therapy is done. Everything shifted that day because suddenly getting better stopped meaning we would lose K (although in the end the intense work of therapy has taken longer than either of us could have imagined at the start) and it was that evening that a young part came out and wrote for the first time ever – about Mr Raposa! I remember it vividly – I was writing in my journal about therapy and suddenly I was taken over by a young part who started writing in huge messy writing about Mr Raposa slurping our cup of tea and what a nice doggy he was. It went on for ages and left me feeling pretty insane to be honest, but also really excited to share this development with K the next day.

Knowing Mr Raposa has taught me so much about myself. K rescued him when she was living abroad a few years before we started working together, from a country with non-existent welfare legislation for animals and where animal abuse and abandonment is at epidemic levels. He had been living in a shelter for two years at that time and when she first had him he was so traumatised because of the abuse he had experienced that he was frightened to walk through doorways and used to run off multiple times every day. Although he had learnt to trust her and her partner and had settled to a certain extent, the abuse he had experienced still lived in him and because of this he has taught me so much about healing from trauma and what is possible and what isn’t.

One time I was holding a tube of giant bubbles when Mr Raposa came to say hello and he flinched, thinking I was going to hit him with it because he used to get beaten with a stick. This made us all so sad, because he didn’t know how much we loved him and that we would never, ever hurt him. And I started to understand why I was so scared of people and found it so hard to trust – my earliest experiences had taught me people would hurt me and it wasn’t a matter of just ‘getting over it’. Even though I knew K would never hurt us intentionally, it was so hard to develop a felt sense of this and to trust her. I started to hate myself a little less for not being able to trust someone I knew to be good and kind. And I felt so sad for the awful abuse Mr Raposa must have experienced and this in turn helped me develop a little (this is a work in progress!) more compassion for myself and the parts.

He has always reminded me so much of little me – needing everything the same, needing order and to know what was happening next, not liking unexpected things, getting cross with the other dogs for misbehaving and not doing what they were meant to be doing. He had his favourite spot on the sofa where he always sat, his favourite sunny spot by the pond in the garden, and he liked to go to bed at 7 o’clock every night. I began to see that I, too, needed that stability and predictability, and that it wasn’t ever possible to heal completely from extensive trauma, that I was expecting too much of myself. As Cody [10] wrote in our parts’ journal:

He will never be like other dogs that very bad things didn’t happen to so he needs special care and things to be the same.

And also Amelia who is 21:

Mr Raposa helps me realise I can’t ever be as though my hellish childhood didn’t happen and so I need to learn to understand it and be kind to myself and learn my limits and they will be different limits than people who weren’t abused and traumatised every day at home. This is really hard to accept, and even harder to put into practice, but Mr Raposa has helped me do this, and sometimes Mr Raposa feels safe and happy because of K. She rescued him.’

This theme of being rescued by K was something a lot of parts have been pretty obsessed with throughout our work. She rescued Mr Raposa , and she rescued us all too. Lotta (7) wrote some stories for one of our most troubled parts, Scarlet (10), about being rescued from our awful, scary home by Mr Raposa and being kept safe and warm in the woods with him, and later he took her to a fairy called K and she kept her safe forever too. One time we were doing a sand tray and had put figures representing K and Mr Raposa under a tree, with a young girl really far away. And we were crying that we were having such a difficult time when we were little in a little body and K didn’t even know. And K took a little plane and made the dog figure fly it to rescue little me and take me to her.

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And he helped us all beyond measure in developing a sense of trust and safety in K. It was clear very early on that in order for him to feel safe with her she must have been the same with him over and over again – patient, kind, loving, firm, predictable. He trusted her and somehow that helped us start to see and feel that it was safe for us to trust her too. Asking endless questions about Mr Raposa, and writing them down between sessions to ask in our next session, really helped us to get to know K and enabled parts to establish a relationship with her in a safe, fun and light way. ‘K understands him‘ was something Leia wrote in the parts’ book, and it was this that helped us see that she was capable of understanding us too, that she would never judge us for our difficulties either, just as she didn’t judge Mr Raposa and get impatient with him. He helped the relationship between young parts and K develop so easily. She was so loving and protective of him. She really knew and understood why he is how he is. And she never shamed or laughed at us for being so attached to him. It became possible for young parts to express huge amounts of love, for the first time ever really, and at first there was a lot of shame over loving him so much, but K validated our love for him over and over again until one day we weren’t ashamed of it anymore.

There have been so many cosy times with Mr Raposa. The first time K and I watched a film together, to try and get teen parts on board with therapy, he came and cuddled in our armchair. He was there when we did cutting and sticking to make a book as a transitional object and it was very amusing when he was poking about in the craft boxes and at some point pulled out a purple feather and started playing with it. He came in for cuddles when we got stuck on the motorway because of an accident and arrived at our session ninety minutes late and K let us still work – there had been a proper screaming, sobbing meltdown from young parts in the car about not being able to get there and we were incredibly distressed. K brought us in a plate of bread with peanut butter and Mr Raposa shared the food and provided so much comfort. One time he made a really happy noise when he saw me and rushed over. He always put his head down when he saw us to have behind his ears scratched and he loved stretching out for cuddles. He was discerning and yet he knew me and he loved me, so he showed me maybe there was something good in me worthy of that love.

He bought so much laughter and joy to the therapy space, something that is so needed when doing the depth of work K and I have had to do. Sometimes we gave him his afternoon milk and we used to take him in the garden and he would scavenge around for food and eat rotten fruit. We would laugh at his loud barking, his goose noises, the fact he licks the sofa every night, him taking things out of the bin and K having to take them off him, and the way he tells tales on the other dogs for being silly and not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Dog film night became a fairly regular part of therapy and the first time all four dogs came and it was hilarious. K had warned the dogs to be ‘not too silly’ [something she said a lot and which tickled us because it meant she knew they would be a bit silly] and then they were the silliest they had ever been, jumping around and cavorting for 40 minutes until they finally settled down. K and I laughed so much and it was the most magical evening. K said she would keep it in her heart forever, and we definitely have too.

And a year in to therapy we were really triggered on a weekend at a family wedding and about to go to another city for a really important conference adult me was giving a paper at. K and I did a phone session on the Sunday afternoon to try and contain things and young parts were lamenting how they wanted to take Mr Raposa with us. Instead of saying, “well don’t be silly, you can’t take a dog to a conference,” K asked young parts what it would feel like to take him with us. “Safe and warm” we replied and K tried to get us to take that feeling into our hearts and imagine taking him with us and having him there. We took Mr Raposa with us in our heart and imagined him laying next to us in the hotel bed and sitting under the dining table. It helped so much and after that we began to take Mr Raposa around with us a lot and it really helped to develop a felt sense of safety internally and also out in the world. It was often painful because he wasn’t our dog and we always had to leave him behind, and we so desperately wanted to hold him close to our heart all the time and cuddle him in our bed, but he really showed us so much about what it felt like to be safe. Miffy wrote how she felt safe at K’s with Mr Raposa and sometimes when she wasn’t there she felt safe remembering what it felt like to be there with him. We would write stories about doing things with him and the other dogs, and learnt to hold those imaginary times in our heart to feel safe. One time we wrote a story about camping in K’s garden with Mr Raposa and another of K’s dogs we also have a very special relationship with, and sometimes it feels as though it really did happen.

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When things in therapy were especially difficult and we were floaty and far away and feeling unsafe in the space we found Mr Raposa grounding. He would come in to the therapy room when we were really dissociated, or we would talk about him and the other dogs with K and it would help us feel safe and come back when we felt disconnected and really far away. It was a safe way to reconnect. He came to the car on his lead with another dog on our last session before Christmas in 2016, because I had told K I couldn’t bear to be shut outside of her house alone just before Christmas and needed some kind of transition into the car. That helped so much, not being shut out by ourselves in the dark.

When it was too painful to imagine K at home when we weren’t there, because we felt so excluded from her real life, we would picture Mr Raposa and the other dogs and that helped enormously. Mr Raposa can’t go out because he is aggressive to other dogs (because he is afraid), so we knew he was always there and it helped provide some kind of balance and stability and object permanency, in a way that was less triggering than trying to remember K was there. Imagining what he was doing, and getting messages and photographs from K about him, helped us feel safe. And gradually we became able to imagine K with him and the other dogs, and that felt okay and less triggering than imagining her there with friends and family. It was nice knowing she was there with all the dogs when we were away from her. He was always there, he never went anywhere and so we could imagine him at home even when K was on holiday and far away. And this helped to ease things ever so slightly around breaks. And the first time she went on holiday whilst we were working, when we weren’t at all prepared for how difficult breaks would be, K wrote in an email for Miffy ‘I think we are all missing Mr Raposa’ and it was like being cuddled inside.

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And then something bad happened, the worst thing ever for young parts, Mr Raposa and his friends [2 other of her 4 dogs] moved to another country with K’s partner in September 2017 and we had to say goodbye. It was genuinely heartbreaking. I also knew it was really difficult for K saying goodbye to them and her partner so I managed to contain the parts as much as I could in the final session when Mr Raposa and another dog we were also very attached to came in for a goodbye story and cuddles, only allowing the screams and sobs to erupt in the car once we had left. Knowing they were leaving in the morning was very difficult, but we also knew they were going somewhere they would be happier and freer. And I knew we were welcome to go to the centre K’s partner was opening and see them at some point, if we ever felt brave enough. Since then we’ve posted presents to him sometimes and K’s partner sends photos quite often and tells us what he has been doing. He says he will always remember me and I really hope that is true. I also really hope we will be able to make the trip to see them one day. And now when K goes away it is easier, because we know she will be with them.

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I will end with something a young part wrote in August 2016, because I think finally, after all these years, this is what is starting to happen as a result of therapy with K.

Me and Mr Raposa both runned away all the time when we scared which is all the time sometimes. I go away in my head and Mr Raposa tries to go somewhere else with his legs. He doesn’t do that so much now because of K. Maybe she will help me stop running away so much too.

Under your tree (I love us)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dissociation, shame and relational healing

The last 6 days have been pretty horrible. I’ve been swinging between dead and non-existent to dissociated (extreme DP/DR) and unable to work or focus and back to dead again. At it’s worst I was dead and dissociated. Wanting to cut to feel real. Wanting to die to not feel dead.

And seeing K helped again this week. I’m still fuzzy and spacey but not like I was when I arrived at my session. And it makes so much sense, suddenly, that the dissociation I experience is shame. I dissociate because of shame, which sweeps in automatically the minute I have big feelings or relational needs. And shame is only healed in relationship, K has said this so many times, and so this means dissociation can only be resolved in this way too. I kind of got this before, but I didn’t really get it. And it has only been so recently in therapy that I have left feeling more connected and less dissociated than when I arrived. It has taken so long to get to this point and for K to be able to break the cycle, because every time I showed big feelings or needs to her, or even aspects of the real me, I would automatically feel ‘bad’ and get triggered and either get plunged into extreme shame-based terror and distress, or dissociate even more.

What I’ve realised over the past few days is that dissociation is, at its heart, a loss of connection; I lose my connection to myself due to sensing a perceived loss of connection with someone else because I am bad (i.e. because feelings of shame are triggered). It is therefore only possible for me to “come back” and reconnect with myself through someone else. I cannot end the cycle alone. It is not biologically possible I don’t think. And this is the horrifying paradox at the heart of disorganised attachment isn’t it, that craving for connection with others to overcome dissociation and distress and yet at the same time genuine connection and empathy triggers me and causes me to dissociate even more (and need connection even more to overcome it, and so it continues). As I said, it is only recently that K has been able to intercept this cycle and provide a healing connection that is beginning to untangle the chronic shame I experience.

This is a chart I drew last week on why therapy now (at last!) helps my dissociation:

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So basically by K accepting and validating my feelings and (relational) needs OVER and OVER again she is now able to trip the switch so that my feelings can come out and my shame (which causes dissociation) can reduce. It feels like I am doing some really big work in therapy lately and it is definitely only possible now I can see the bigger picture of our work and am not quite so lost in the horrifying and terrifying feelings of transference (on a side note I am also beginning to be able to distinguish between transference and the feelings of young parts around her as their attachment figure, making it a little easier to separate my own adult feelings from theirs and I guess, ultimately, to hold and soothe young parts’ feelings and needs around her from an adult place).

I never thought the day would come when showing my feelings, showing myself, young parts coming out and chattering, crying about not having a mum, wouldn’t send me into a shame spiral. And yet it is starting to happen. Does this mean maybe one day, through therapy and my relationship with K, the levels of shame-driven dissociation I experience will also reduce? I so hope so. I actually feel hopeful on this because things are happening in therapy in the past 3 months that I never in a million years dreamed could be possible. I think K and I both feel quite triggered and traumatised when we think about the absolute state I was in during the early days/years of therapy. Wouldn’t it be amazing if through our work I can stop dissociating so much?!

The chart also shows where somatisation (extreme pain and muscle tightness) fit into the whole cycle for me: I somatise my emotions because I can’t feel and release them because I am cut off from them, and so the energy cannot escape my body and instead remains trapped, causing energy blocks and tension which manifest as pain and other physical symptoms.

Things are really starting to make sense on an even deeper cognitive and felt-sense level this weekend and today. I said to K earlier how weird it is that even after 3 years of working so intensively I am still making sense of myself and uncovering and understanding new things. She said ‘no stone unturned’ which is something she promised we would do when I first started therapy and was worried that I would have to keep coming back to these dark places in me over and over throughout my life. We are still unturning stones together but we are also using them to build a path out of the darkness together now. And it’s wonderful that this evening I can feel her walking beside me again, having lost her and myself and everyone else over the weekend.

Scooping

We told K about the stormy memories. She said grown ups should make scary times better and say “it is a big storm but we are snuggled and it’s okay”. I think if K was there when we were little in a little body she would have scooped us up and snuggled us and keep us safe. If I could have anything it would be that K came and saved us from all the bad things. She would have done if she had known. I know she would. (Esis, age 9).

Esis wrote this in our parts’ journal after our session last week. And K read it tonight and said ‘That’s right. And we need to take that feeling inside, don’t we, now because we have it now – that safe feeling’.

And underneath Esis’ writing Miffy (5) had written ‘She come now and see me and save me‘ and K laughed and said ‘that’s right, that’s what I just said. And Miffy had already said it, in a very grown up way‘.

Many times K has said if she had known what was going on at home when I was little she would have come and scooped us up and taken us away and kept us safe. And I have spent so much time wishing this could have happened, crying that she wasn’t there and didn’t know us, but now sometimes it feels as though she did come and save us. Sometimes I can feel her scooping us all up. And it feels safe and nice and I can hold the feeling in my heart.

 

 

Taking it in

Also, I know this is my third post of today, but I have just sobbed out some big tears of relief – how, after all those months of working towards an ending, is it that I get to keep K? How? Where is the catch? And how an earth did I actually achieve some kind of stability and resolution with what was happening? I never thought I had that in me, always thought I’d end up hospitalised if K ever told me she was ending our work, and yet – even though it was hell on earth – I survived relatively unscathed with *just* an anorexia relapse, some time off work, and a fair amount of self-harm. I somehow managed to settle into the ending and accept it was happening, and it was actually through that process of losing her and learning to let her go (even though it’s turned out I didn’t need to) that I’ve been able to internalise her and become as securely attached as it is perhaps possible for someone like me to be.

It just doesn’t feel real, possible, that I survived all that and now she will be here. How did I get so lucky? It feels much too good to be true. I am waiting for someone to jump out and yell ‘LOL. PRANK!’ It feels this evening as though all is right in the world. Well, in my world at least. It is hard to take in that this is actually happening. K is not going away. She will be here. I get to keep her. I feel so lucky and I am so unbelievably grateful. What is ahead of me – life – feels so much less difficult with her beside me. And because when I was losing her I finally was able to internalise her to a significant extent, it finally makes a difference to my life now that she is out there, somewhere, even when I am not with her – I can draw on her when we are apart and just let her fade into the background of my life because she is present inside me. I genuinely never thought I would ever get to feel this even some of the time. Does this mean therapy does actually work? Things aren’t great, but as I said to K earlier – I don’t feel suicidal and that is pretty good! And I am hopeful that I can get to a better place than this as well. This hope waxes and wanes but what I like is that it is now mine to carry.

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