‘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.

 

Collapse and terror

I’m ‘trigger warning’ this post as it is about ecological collapse and societal breakdown again, which I know I find deeply triggering at times. I thought about posting it on my other blog, but the therapy relationship and young parts and complex trauma is so central to what I’m struggling with that it needs to go here, and there are young and teen parts around that need to have their say too so I expect this post will have some switching so we can all get our words out.

It is hard to find the words to express the level of terror my system is experiencing right now about what is ahead for us humans and the planet that is our home, about how it will affect us personally and the reality that, once the environmental shit really hits the fan, we will not be able to see K anymore. This fear feels so primal. At times all I can feel is blind panic at the idea of being left alone to die (ring any bells…) and the acute pain of being abandoned. My greatest fear about the societal collapse that is being driven by intensifying climate and environmental crises is not being able to get to K, and of course this has been triggered – again – by the news of her house move. It had settled for a while again, awareness of the crisis had been mostly integrated into my daily life instead of surfacing in waves of shock and horror and subsiding, and healthy grief had surfaced. I had – for the most part – settled back into the present again, and had connected with joy and beauty and found solace and affinity in spending time with new, like-minded, open-hearted people. Then K’s impending house move came along and totally obliterated everything and sent my system spiralling back into utter madness over the prospect of near-time societal collapse.

Today has been so fucking hard. I have felt all smashed up inside, have barely done any work, have dissolved into sobbing grief over the loss of the house and all it symbolises, have text and emailed K with questions, and am now waiting for tomorrow when at least she will hopefully know where exactly she will be living in 5 weeks’ time. All of these things, these worries, can be resolved by settling into a new pattern, getting to know a new place, learning that she is the same in the new house, and so on. They are worries that can be soothed and can subside, but underneath all of that is the creeping, debilitating fear of societal breakdown and being taken away from her, being unable to reach her as the planet burns and wars rage, and crops fail, and water runs out. And this is not a fear that can be soothed away because as irrational as it seems, it is also a rational fear based upon what science and experts are telling us. We are in the sixth mass extinction and a million species are threatened with near-time extinction. We are running out of time to avoid mass starvation and displacement on a global scale. These fears are so young but they cannot be soothed by evidence of K’s care and commitment because they are fears of what is very likely to come to pass, whether it is in two years, or five or ten.

K will only be about 26 miles further away than she is now when she moves, but those 26 miles make all the difference between being able to get to her still after societal breakdown (whilst there is still food and water at least), and not being able to get there at all.

Now – 13.3 miles: a 70 minute bike ride

After the move – 39+ miles: a 4 hour hilly bike ride

Even with a skill to swap as we (hopefully) transition to a skills-based economy, that is too far to do regularly, perhaps even ever if things really go to shit. The horrors we envisage, the horrors we know will be unleashed as the crisis intensifies, are beyond comprehension, and the thought of not having K there as it unfolds is literally the worst thing imaginable some days. So yes, there is worry about adding 60-90 minutes of travelling each week to an already busy life when K moves, but beyond this there are fears of what this change means in the face of the collapse which is coming, even though we don’t and can’t know precisely when.

Ecological collapse-induced societal breakdown is not far off. Some would say it is already happening. Things are happening so much faster than expected – The Arctic is literally on fire, pouring the equivalent of Sweden’s total annual emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere as it does so, permafrost is melting 70 years sooner than was expected even relatively recently, fascism and the far right are rising as environmentalists predicted would happen with the declines in the Earth’s resources, the list goes on. And we have to phase out cars if we are to survive as a species and I am invested in that, but I will need my car to get to therapy once K moves, and I am invested in that too. I am deeply invested in this aspect of the status quo even as I rebel against it. It sickens me. If we manage to salvage parts of this civilisation as it goes down maybe there will be some kind of transport available to get me there, but if not then 40 miles between us might as well be 400.

And it terrifies us. Not being able to get to K while the world is burning and everyone is dying fills me with genuine terror. To survive, maybe communities will be built and some people will transition to a gentler and kinder way of living, but even so her community will not be mine. She will not gather me in and scoop me close to her as the horrors unfold – even if she wanted me in her tribe she could not do that. And there is no one to talk to about this. So many people think societal collapse is an irrational fear or cannot comprehend it at all, despite what the scientists and experts are saying about its likelihood, despite the food shortages, droughts, famines, wildfires, storm surges, flooding, earthquakes that we see all around and are told will worsen to the point of catastrophe as the planet warms and the ecosystems collapse. And those who ‘get’ the horrors that are ahead wouldn’t get what the fear of being separated from a therapist is like, or what it is like to look like a grown woman but to have a host of freaked out child parts living inside you, peering out in horror at the future they envisage. I am scared there is not even time to build a community or fall in love with someone who will love me back and hold my hand through all this. And I am so fucking furious that my life is finally basically how I want it to be and I am in a place – physically and emotionally – that I could imagine being in for years and years, and yet it is being taken away from me. All those years wanting to die and now I want to live, I want a life, and yet all the time the ticking time-bomb of environmental and societal collapse is counting down. I am finally getting what I want and I cannot keep it. And I am finally in a place in therapy where I really believe that K will not go away and we can work together for as long as I need, and yet she could so easily be taken away by forces outside of our control. I literally fucking hate the fact that I am alive during this time. Out of all the times to be alive the one where the future is disappearing in front of our eyes as we look on powerlessly is actually the worst imaginable. I literally want to fucking die to avoid what is ahead.

No matter what

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

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

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

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

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

Does she know?

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

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

Consistency

Validation

Time

Space

Warmth

Care

Respect

Safety

Concern

Consideration

Understanding

Predictability

Security

Availability

Compassion

Interest

Stability

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

Mouse (19)

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.

Dear K

Sometimes therapy still feels really confusing. Sometimes I wish there was just simple transference going on, instead of all these different relationships because I have so many parts. You have a relationship with all of the alters – even the ones you’ve never met have silently watched you, and your relationship with adult me and other parts filters down to them. And as you pointed out yesterday, there are multiple relationships going on inside of me as well. The parts are watching me, modelling me, and they learn from our relationship – you and I – and how I am in the world too. It is hugely confusing sometimes. And other times it just is now, and trying to make sense of it all is not something I feel the need to do. Sometimes now therapy just unfolds the way it needs to, but today I feel stuck somewhere horribly painful where I wonder if I am just prolonging my agony by keeping doing this work.

Some parts want you to be their mum and sometimes I wish it were that simple – straightforward mummy transference. It’s not though, there are parts that find that idea completely weird and unappealing. Sometimes our relationship feels more like that of equals, collaborating on my healing together. Sometimes I want guidance on parenting from you and other times I am so little that it feels completely weird to be talking about ‘my daughter’ with you. Sometimes I want you to be a terrible mother whose children never want to see you, other times I need to know you are a good mother so I know you would have been ‘good enough’ to us if you were ours. I need you to be the same in the world as you are with us in therapy, so I know you are ‘real’ with us, but we also hate that you might be how you are with us with everyone. Sometimes it is reassuring when you talk about teenagers and I know you know what parenting them is like, but for teen parts it is painful knowing you have had teenagers of your own and that those teenagers are yours, whereas they are not. They are not anyone’s. So we want you to be close to your children, to have been there for them in the way we needed because then we can trust you will be here for us, but we also despise knowing that you have people of your own that you are excited to see and are there for in ways you cannot be there for us.

Sometimes therapy feels ‘enough,’ more so now than it ever has before, but other times it becomes so painfully apparent that it will never truly be enough to heal us the way we thought, many years ago now, that we could heal. The painful truth is that even when we have healed, we still won’t have a mum. We are motherless, me and the parts, and at times that feels more than we can endure. There is nothing there to salvage. The end of all this journeying will be to have accepted that and to be able to live with that empty space inside us without doing mad things to avoid it.

You are not our ‘go to’ when we feel bad anymore, we don’t get caught in that painful push/pull place of needing you and being scared to contact you at that same time, but we are not free from those bad feelings. We are not well yet, but we are more stable. I know you always said you would want to do this work with us even if we were stable, that you knew that some parts might be scared if the frequent (near-constant at the beginning) crises ended you would  go away. You’ve proved that isn’t true. We trust you now. And yet it is hard to be able to hold it all myself. It is hard needing less from you. There is still so much work to do but it is different now. Mostly – today it feels like an echo of the past inside of me, but I know it will pass and it didn’t occur to me to contact you to help with this.

Sometimes it feels magical that we are individuating and becoming more central in our own lives, but other times it is actually terrifying to be growing away from you. Sometimes the distance and space is comforting because it means our wellbeing is not dependent on you in the way it once was and we can restabilise before we see you. Sometimes knowing we wouldn’t die without you is reassuring, but other times we miss how important you were. Sometimes our own life takes up more space than you do, and other times there is too much space without you being so central. Sometimes I feel I’ve internalised you so much that I can feel you all around me, but when I am dissociated and cut off I can still find I have no sense of who you are. The only difference is knowing that we will reconnect and that nothing has changed for you.

You will always be my attachment figure, the person who taught me what safety feels like, but you are not the person who should be in that role and so you are never really mine. I know I’m not losing you yet, I know we have many more stones to unturn together and many more miles to walk beside each other, but young parts want you the way they always have and they don’t like this emerging independence. I want to get better but I don’t want getting better to mean losing you. You said yesterday how much we matter to you, all of us, and I know that is true. I know you’ve not worked with anyone else for as long or as intensely as you have with us, but I cannot ever matter to you as much as I need to. No one can, no one will. I love what I have with you but it still hurts sometimes.

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:

IMG_9411

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.

“I will be here”

We raised our fears with K about whether she will change her mind again and feel much better now because she gave us all the reassurances we needed. She said whatever happens she will be in [county we live in] next year and that we don’t need to worry every week that she will tell us she is going away again. She will be here. She isn’t planning any time off. And she said she is glad and relieved that she will be here, that it feels as though it is meant to be. I could feel young parts pricking up their ears when she was talking and I felt them sigh with relief when she said those words, letting out the breath that had been tightly held for quite a while. It used to take so long to get the courage to tell K when we were worried about things like this, we would be so curled up with shame over our needs and fear over being ‘too much’ and driving her away that we would try not to say anything and it would grow into a giant but invisible barrier between us. Now it is so much easier – we say it and feel a bit worried but we don’t get flooded with shame, and then K says soothing and reassuring things and everything is okay.

Last week during our session I was really dissociated and then by the end, through connecting with her, the level of dissociation had dramatically reduced. This didn’t used to happen and isn’t something I ever believed could change. When I got home I made a flow chart of my dissociation (DP and DR) process – why it happens and why therapy helps when I am like that, how being in that space is linked to shame (fear of loss of connection because my feelings and needs are bad) and so reduces through connection and having my needs and feelings validated (although the switch couldn’t be flipped by K till very recently – it has taken years of her validating my needs and feelings over and over again for it to have any effect on my dissociation levels). So often DP and DR are seen as being caused by anxiety and reduced by grounding and becoming present in the room and so on, but for trauma survivors where that state is chronic it is not triggered by fear/anxiety but by shame and the desire to become invisible, and so, as K agreed, grounding and becoming present doesn’t really help. Anyway, K said the chart was really helpful and clear and that I should put it on my blog because it shows how dissociation works and how therapy can help it. So I think I am going to publish a couple of posts from my old blog later this week because they are about shame and depersonalisation, and then I will add the chart and an explanation of it. Basically though, I also realised that with K now I don’t automatically get triggered into a place of shame and dissociation when my feelings come out. THIS IS HUGE. We laughed that it has only taken 3 years. And it is why I don’t want to end therapy yet because things I thought were impossible are ALREADY HAPPENING.

It was a really busy session. As happened last week, I switched out basically as soon as I got there and then came back suddenly and had missed the first part of the session. It is so weird when that happens. It’s like I am there but not there. When she was talking us through the meditation we do at the start of every session I could see young parts giggling at the big and confusing words she was using, like ‘profound wisdom’ haha. And when we had finished breathing together suddenly everything I’d noticed from the body scan had disappeared. The past ten minutes was a total blank. I said I’d just got there and looked down and there were a cuddly hedgehog and a wooden fox in my lap which made me puzzled as I wasn’t really sure why they were there!! K asked where I thought I had been and I was like ‘err, at the back…’ and she asked what I meant so I was like ‘there were others at the front – Esis, Scarlet and Miffy’. She said probably they were there because they needed some space today, and how it was good we know about them now. Dissociation is so weird. It’s sometimes like I am watching the alters, like when you’re in the back of a car watching people in the front seats talking and doing things but with no control over what is happening. It’s really quite weird because it’s not always obvious, especially to people who don’t know me well, but it is like I am watching myself do things I cannot control and I can hear my voice is child-like (I have a quiet voice usually though and sound quite young even in my adult, so I think this is why people other than K and sometimes Nina don’t really notice when it’s not adult me). In the past the parts used to wreak havoc, often via text and email to K, and all I could do was watch in horror as events unfolded. I would know what they were sending was really a bad idea, but couldn’t stop it. Luckily that happens less now, but parts do still hijack me and it is… weird. There is no other word for it to be honest!

It is perhaps unsurprising that parts have been much more active since K dropped her bombshell two weeks ago. There has been a lot of switching in and out in session and I’ve been a lot more aware of them at home too. Provided they are not causing difficulties then this is okay with me! It’s sometimes too quiet when they are not around, I’ve got used to them now and they make me laugh. And overall I would definitely say the level of distress the alters experience is reducing. K and I talked today about how sometimes with therapy we can only see the progress when we can look down from above and see the bigger picture. She said how it was hard to see the progress when we were so ‘in it’ and so focused on her and on her and I. And I completely agree on this. Not being so lost in the horrific transference has definitely made it easier to see the complete picture and all the progress I am making. All the pain I was in for the first three years of therapy was so all-consuming and horrific and it really felt like I was getting nowhere – it is strange now to look back on those incredibly dark times and see that I was actually getting somewhere because it really didn’t feel like all that pain and desperate desire to die could have actually been ‘the work’ and been carrying me to a better place. I remember during the most intolerable times, when the fear and pain was genuinely killing me and I was frozen in some kind of disorganised attachment hell and causing K huge pain in the process, she told me we just needed to hang in there together. I couldn’t see how that pain could ever subside even a little bit, how it could possibly work just to hang in there – the pain and turmoil was there all the time and I didn’t see how it could ever not be there in that way. Yet it did subside and now when it comes around it does make more sense and whilst it is awful and still makes me want to die, at the same time I can usually hang in there with it and remind myself it will pass. To be aware of this level of progress and at the same time know K is and will be here to support me and guide me and parent me and help me heal further…Well, it all feels pretty magical to me right now!

“I know you’re here”

So, after the plot twist of the century, the news that K and I are not careering towards a maybe-forever ending in a few short weeks is starting to settle inside us all. After the disaster that was Monday night, and just 90 minutes of sleep, I managed to survive yesterday and the big, big things I needed to do at work. I slept 9 hours last night so felt more human this morning, although I am tired still. My house has gone on the market today and the estate agent is hopeful I’ll have a buyer within 6 weeks so fingers crossed! On Friday after school Nina and I are going to view a really cute house (yes, it is a cute house – my friend didn’t think it would be till she saw the photos I sent her!) in a village outside the city we are currently in. I have a really good feeling about this house and am putting all my trust in the universe to make the right things happen for me and make the process of moving smooth for us.

K and I did a half hour session on the phone today. It was quite emotional and draining, but in a good way. When the call ended I was left feeling so loved and held and contained and full and connected. And so relieved. Relieved she is not going away and relieved she understands why the news was and still is so triggering and hard to take in. Also relieved we are both on the same page about where I am at in therapy now and what I still need and will continue to need. I had made a list of things that were coming up following her announcement on Monday – thoughts and feelings, reflections and worries. Before I read them I double checked that how things are going forward is my decision, and that anything I say today I won’t be held to. Then I read the list and she said soothing and lovely things. I was able to voice my sense that she has all the power and that we are all scared it is a trick or she will change her mind again. I said how everything is up in the air and how much we all hate uncertainty and unknowns, that they are the second worst thing after being abandoned. And I said how I’d spent the best part of 5 months trying to be okay with the ending and even though I know it wasn’t for nothing, all that pain in the summer – being signed off work, cutting and starving myself, falling apart – and that her news was ‘the work’ in many ways, it’s still like – all that pain for nothing?! I said I can’t afford weekly therapy next year, at least not for the first 6 months. I said that to be honest I never want a forever ending, that I have such deep attachment wounds and have worked so hard to get where I am that I think I deserve to have some support in my life on an ongoing basis. I said how in some ways this enables me to have a more natural reduction in the intensity of therapy – maybe fortnightly from the end of January and perhaps a 5 or 6 week break around the time of our house move.

And I told her something I realised yesterday about how important the longevity of our relationship is, there’s something in me that wants – needs – it to be long-term and enduring, because my past has meant I’ve had to cut ties with many, many toxic people and let lots of unhealthy friendships go, and it means there aren’t many people who know me and have been there in my life for a sustained period of time. It feels really important to have her beside me for as long as possible, to have someone who has seen me grow and become who I am. And I said because of this it means the frequency of contact between us is less important – it is knowing she is there that is important. And then I caught myself by surprise because I said ‘I know you are here’ and wow – that is so new, so unexpected. I used to lose all trace of her, all memory of her. I used to have no sense of her at all between sessions. My mind would erase her, like someone had washed away a part of my brain, and I would be unable to remember her voice, her face, or anything we had talked about in any of our sessions. I would text her repeatedly ‘are you still here’ and other times I would be unable to contact her even if we had arranged to email because I had no sense of her at all and it felt too weird. To be able to hold on to her between sessions and to be able to reconnect to her when I had dissociated from her without seeing her were both huge things that only really happened in the summer. So to say those words to her – ‘I know you are here’ – was a huge moment for both of us. I don’t need to see her for her to support me. And because of this, and how consistently there for me she has been, I know if we reduce frequency or take a short break  and something happens she will make time to see me or speak to me. Like she did today and two weeks ago and all the other times over the past 3 years. I can go away from her a little bit because I trust she will be there and that when we meet up it will be the same.

I said how she is my attachment figure, my safe base, and that it is through her I am interalising a sense of safety so that, despite the turmoil, there was huge relief and joy that I am not losing her. And I shared the painful revelation that some of the difficult feelings on Monday night were because she is still not enough. Whether she is here or not it is still not enough to fill me up and take away the pain and emptiness inside me. Being me is still so painful so much of the time. I thought when I finished therapy it would mean it didn’t hurt to be me. I thought it would no longer hurt to be me and that I wouldn’t have to feel this gaping hole inside me. I said how on Monday I felt empty and dead – not like I was dying, actually dead inside. I said partly I know I’ve done the bulk of ‘the work’ now because I am accepting of this and I know I need to learn to live my life around that hole in me, around that wound. It doesn’t stop it being hard though. Next year felt like an abyss at times, a hole I would fall into the minute I said goodbye to K in December, but the thing is even with her here it will still be hard – my life is hard and painful, not all the time, but those things are still prominent. I do think I can and will heal and integrate more than this, but there will always be the ghosts of my past lingering around me. K not going away doesn’t miraculously change that (it does make it seem easier though!) and even though I’ve now got something I never even considered as a possibility, it doesn’t mean all the other stuff is suddenly fine. It is starting to feel safer though, as the reality of this new change in the situation begins to filter through me.

She said it was good we are both on the same page about thinking the bulk of the work has been done. I said when she first said that to me, back in June, I really disagreed, but that I think for me the shift came in the summer, at the point in July when I was crying my heart out about her leaving, great sobbing waves of grief and despair, and it hit me that even if she changed her mind and said she was staying it wouldn’t make a difference – this pain is still in me, it is not about K, it is about my childhood and my attachment trauma. That moment was pivotal. On Monday I was sobbing to my friend that it is not enough that she is staying, it still hurts to be me, and again I was hit with the reality that K cannot be enough, cannot fill me, but I managed to stay with it and see that this isn’t because she is not enough but because of what attachment trauma has left me with. As I said to K today, I wish I could have her without having therapy but the truth is I can’t, and I could rail against the boundaries or I could really take in what I have got. And she reminded me how I’d said on Monday how I’d actually been able to take in therapy more recently and lean into it, because I wasn’t finding it all so hard and triggering and all-consuming – it had taken more of a backseat in my life and I can feel I am growing bigger in my own life. And this truly is amazing because I never thought I would get to that point even some of the time. I can lean into her and what I have now instead of losing myself in the pain of what she isn’t. And the reason this is possible is because of all the work we’ve done together and the fact she has been consistently there all this time. I do feel I have worked through the major transference and relational stuff now and there is a huge part of me that has internalised her as good object. We agreed that things would still come up, that things undoubtedly will come up around this change for example, but that the really dark and intense times were behind us, and this has to be a relief for both of us. It has been a rocky road, for both of us, and I remain forever grateful and in awe of the fact that she stuck with me on this. And I think that ever-so-slowly I am beginning to relax into the knowledge that I am not losing her, not yet at least, and I can let go a little bit and sink into this new safety.

As we were drawing towards the end of the phone call K asked me to close my eyes and take some breaths and see if there was a word or a sentence that I could take away with me from what we had talked about today. And I said that “sometimes it feels as though the universe is really looking out for me, because it brought me you- you were the first therapist who came up when I searched for complex trauma therapists in [city where I live], and three years later look where we are!” “And look where we are” said K. This phone call involved some of the most open and vulnerable conversations I’ve had with K, and there were young parts asking stuff and telling her stuff, and it felt so very us, her and I, moving forwards together into a different stage of our journey. I still feel quite shaken by this whole ordeal and it is taking a while to land, but I am beginning to open up and allow myself and all the parts to take in that she is not going away. She has been here, she is here, and she will be here for a lot longer it seems. What could be better?

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