What next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losing her and finding myself

I never knew what a miracle it was, K and I being able to meet at the same time every week for all those years. For the first 2 and a half years of our work we met at least twice a week. I never thought to really stop and appreciate that or realised how remarkable it was that in this crazy helter skelter world we were able to have those times that were always ours, every Monday and Wednesday. And then every Monday. For 5 whole years. I didn’t know it could be taken away so suddenly. I mean – I did. I was always worried. But I didn’t really take it in as a possibility that could actually happen, beyond attachment anxiety, in the real world. I wish I had soaked her in more. I wish I had been able to. I took being there, being able to do therapy with her, for granted really. And I don’t know if it would make a difference now anyway, but I wish I hadn’t. I wish I had appreciated how lucky I was to be able to do that. Because I will never get it back. It’s over. Even if all the ifs work out and she goes back to in-person work, that time is gone. There is no going back. It has been over for a year, but it is also ending right now, in this present moment, as realisations flood me about how things are and how far away they are from how they should be.

I feel very weird this evening. A huge mixture of thoughts and feelings and a lot of passive influence from parts that I can’t fully access. Stuff around my mum and memories from childhood are very prevalent in a way they haven’t been for a long time. I feel like I could just dissolve into sobs for hours, but also that I’m fine and strong and have come so far. Both are true. There is so much pain about what I’ve been through but I also know I am in a good place. I don’t really know where this stuff has come from. Last week R did a clearing treatment (acupuncture) and he says it probably unfroze me and let this stuff surface. (It certainly brought me back to myself over the weekend which was wonderful – I felt like me again (last year’s me!) and it was so nice to remember that I am that person now, clear to myself in a way I never was before last year).

I mean – of course what K has done has brought up so much about how my mum was. She used to disappear and I would come home as a young child and there would be a note saying she was never coming back and then she would call crying and we would spend hours driving around trying to find her. She did that so many times. She left me over and over again. And she ranted and raged at me for hours and then my dad would have to rescue me and take me to his house. Or she would throw me out and send me away and tell me she never wanted to see me again. I’d be scrambling around my room trying to gather as much as I could to take with me, not knowing if and when I’d be back. She’d refuse to see me for weeks. When I was 14 she left me to go and see a man 300 miles away even as I begged her to stay because I needed her, because I was struggling with such intense self-loathing that I couldn’t go to school for 3 months. She drove away and left me in tears, all alone in a house with no thought for how I would cope without her. Cutting and blood were my only comfort then too, because my mum just wasn’t there. Of course there are resonances with what K has done. And K has shown herself not to be all good, just as my mum wasn’t all bad. And that is so fucking confusing to untangle. I can’t figure K out and I know I don’t need to, but of course my mind is trying to so that I can make it okay. Just like my sister and I used to spend hours and hours going round and round in circles talking about mum, trying to make sense of her mind games and manipulations so that it would be okay. It never worked. Obviously.

I have had lots of nightmares and trauma dreams the past few nights. Endless tangles that wake me distressed and drenched in cold sweat. In one I was begging K to meet me in-person outside just to say goodbye and she refused. The pain of that was excruciating. And then the other horrible one was my mum was dying over a six month period and I had to decide at what point to become involved again. A decision I guess I will have to make at some point. R says on some level this is my psyche processing K (my good enough mother obviously) is dying, or rather that she is dying to me – my attachment to her, my trust in her, my reliance on her are all dying. Over.

And this loss is something that should have happened as a really gradual process, as I continued to grow and integrate in the way I already was, like a child and then teen and then older adult does with a healthy parent. I remember last year at regular intervals I could feel that I wouldn’t need therapy forever, wouldn’t need or even want K like that forever. There were times when I resented spending money on therapy and was ready to forge a path alone. But still, the loss of her and our time together was so sudden and none of us were ready. It also feels so fucking protracted and drawn out. It has been a year now of not knowing what is going on or what will happen. A year of losing her a little more each day. “What is going to happen?” I asked R today. “At what point do I go back and do the ending work with her?” And he said ‘or maybe you are doing the ending work now?’ and yeah – I think I am. I don’t want to be, but I think bit-by-bit I am letting her go and finding myself again, like I did last year. I thought I could only integrate our work by reconnecting with her (my internal sense of her) but I don’t think that is true. I am losing her and finding myself and realising I don’t have to reconnect with her to find the self I built with her, which is bittersweet and intensely, gut-wrenchingly painful. Celebration and grief all in one murky muddle inside me tonight.

When I started therapy I thought it would be all about me. It was such a surprise to discover it was all about K, all about the relationship we were building. And now… Now it becomes all about me again. It was all about me all along actually and this is painful but also so real, so true, such an important realisation. And so I know this is a good thing. I know this is how it should be, I know this is the reality, but it is painful because this means the relationship was a vehicle and that is really, really devastating. R said today that it was a vehicle back to me, not just to the pain in me, but to the relationship I have with me. He is absolutely right, of course, and this is really the journey I have been on over the past year that took me to knowing myself and seeing myself and then being brave enough to take a break from something that wasn’t helping me and was instead hurting me. The thing is though, I just wasn’t ready. I feel like the foundations I’ve had to do all this growth on the past 6 months or so just weren’t as strong as they should have been, had K and I been able to continue working as planned.

I wasn’t done with therapy with K. I really wasn’t done. R said how clear that is, that our work really was not done. It is a huge loss, to have to say goodbye to all those possibilities. It used to be so exciting to look at how far I had come and think about where I could get to if things continued as they were. I have lost that process, all those beautiful possibilities, as well as losing what K was to me, as a therapist and as a person. I know I have the choice to return to remote therapy this autumn, but I don’t think I can be me – all of me – on the screen. I’ve noticed with R how easy it is to share my growth and healing and strength and insights when he is next to me. This was what made remote work so difficult for me – the shame that comes up for me around sharing progress and good things (thanks parents!) was intolerable via Zoom. And the work I need to do in future I cannot do online. I can’t do parts work anymore with her. I can’t do the gentle, relational healing I need. I don’t know what is left after that apart from sustaining something that brought me so much support for so long because the absence of it is too much to bear. Is that in my best interests? Who knows?

I don’t know what I will do come September and I think this is something that I will just wax and wane over for the next 5 or 6 months and in many ways that is okay, as long as I can sit with it comfortably and still live my life and heal. In many ways whether I go back or not is not really the point right now. Our work is taking root inside me still, I can feel it, but whereas before I felt I was drawing on our work internally so much of the time to enable this, and so I was sustaining our connection, now it feels like I am healing by growing away from her. And that is painfully real and necessary and sad and beautiful and tragic and hopeful all in one strange place inside me.

Splitting

My mind has split K and turned her completely bad and it’s honestly devastating. I guess it’s progress I can see this has happened and am aware that it might not reflect reality, but it feels like it is real and I cannot find anything good about her – memories of all the good, connected times have dissolved and I cannot find a single thing that is not scary and threatening about our time together. I cannot remember her at all and she feels cold and hostile and scary.

The waves of grief continued till Saturday evening and then on Sunday there was just this deathlike numbness inside me. No feelings for K at all. No feelings about anything at all. A hollow emptiness that invaded every cell of my body. In the evening I let parts write for the first time in a really long time. Loads of stuff came out about K from lots of different parts, but I couldn’t connect to any of it. It was so disconcerting to have such huge feelings and big process appear on the page from a pen held by me but have no sense of connection to it. And when I went to bed I wrote in my journal and it was so dark and cut off. When I try to find what K and I had all I have access to are her edges – the hardness, the rigidness, the cutting off and pulling back and pushing me away. All I can find is her scary parts, the parts that were cold and inflexible and told me I was tiring and reactive, the parts that took away the Friday email without discussion and refused to see me last summer, the parts that refused to budge and refused to negotiate. She can’t have been like that really but I cannot find anything inside that reassures me otherwise. Her softness and love and warmth are nowhere to be found and I don’t actually think they existed. I think I made all that stuff up. I don’t know what is real.

I keep coming back to the fucking horrible, cold, clinical email she sent me last week, which had some weird attempt to be a human by mentioning sunshine, but really missed the mark. I knew she would respond like that. It was partly why I was braced for being so triggered by her. I knew she would offer me no words of reassurance about me being important to her or her wanting to continue this work with me. R is clear that it actually isn’t okay that she was like that. He says she could have been warm, connected, human. He has promised me he will never send me an email like that, but then I feel guilty for splitting and comparing them. His warmth is an antidote to the cold in me, the cold from K, the coldness that has lived in me forever. His warmth didn’t touch me today though. K has wiped all trace of herself from me and taken R with her. A final fuck you.

It had been 6 months and in that time I had text her once in November when our bunny, Ollie, died very suddenly (and she sent a gorgeous message back almost straightaway), emailed her once at the start of December to say that I was growing and healing but was ready to be back in therapy with her now and hoped she was keeping the light on for us (I said not to worry about replying and she didn’t – but as R said today, how could she not want to when someone she had worked so closely with sent a message like that? I think it made him sad to think of me being ignored like that), and then we text on 6th January to wish her a happy new year and said it was weird not to see her on the first Monday of the year after all these years and she didn’t reply to that which kind of makes sense as it was communication from parts and I guess we are not in therapy with her anymore. But honestly, could she not have wished us a happy new year?

So apart from when I asked if we could do some sessions when I heard about how much my brother was struggling in October, which is a legitimate reason to have emailed her, I’ve contacted her three times in SIX months. What did she think was going to happen if she sent a warm email response to mine, that I would suddenly message her every day? Have I not proved myself this past 6 months? And why on earth wasn’t there some cushioning around her news that she has no plans to return to face-to-face? We were doing depth attachment work when the pandemic hit and she was basically telling me I can’t continue with it, and yet wrote it in the coldest way imaginable. Why not… I know this will be difficult for you but or I’m really sorry that at present I have no plans to return to face-to-face work or I don’t currently have any spaces but if you want to consider remote work I can see when that might be possible. Why did she not feel any responsibility towards me? It was really such an awful, cold, disconnected email. It hurts that she would choose to send that. It hurts that she felt no sense of letting me down or any responsibility for how it might leave me feeling.

I’m scared that’s who she really is though. I’m scared that was the real her. How can I go back to her? How did I ever feel connected to her? I cannot imagine telling her anything ever again. I cannot imagine being met with warmth and understanding again. How did I ever feel connected to her? Were we actually close? I don’t see how we can have been. It feels like there is no warmth in her. She doesn’t and didn’t care. How did I ever dare to contact her via text and share such big feelings with her? How did I ever reach out knowing what might come back?

I feel so disgusting inside. I feel ashamed of myself for having these feelings and ashamed of K and then ashamed of myself for being ashamed of her. I talked stuff through with R today around her and I feel like I’ve betrayed her and our work because I was picking her apart, trying to make sense of what she’s done and why. What does it mean for me? I told R I’d split her and that I shouldn’t be trying to make sense of things while I wasn’t in touch with reality. I don’t know if this will ever change though and I’m not even sure if maybe I wasn’t wrong before and this is real, what’s happening now. I don’t know what is real, maybe this is real and everything before was all in my head?

It feels like K’s emails last week have changed everything that came before. It feels as though she has erased us. After 5 years she just let me go. If I’d not followed up and asked about returning to remote work in the autumn after I got her first email she would literally have let me walk away forever without even an ending. She has let me go. Just like that. She has cut me off and pretended we were nothing and the worst part is she has left me believing her. We are broken and she has taken away from me what we had and left me in this black, dark, cut off place where everyone is dangerous and I am so full of black filth that I make them all go away. I feel completely insane and broken this evening. I feel as though I twist and break everything pure. I will break R too and he will leave me like K has.

I carried her with me

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

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

Drawing hearts in the byline,

Always taking up too much space and time.

Taylor Swift, Tolerate It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not an ending

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

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

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

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

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

Still waiting

Thanks for all the support and understanding on my last post. K didn’t reply this morning so I’ve text her just now to find out if she received my email. It has been 6 days. Maybe she is unwell or the email got lost. Does this even happen? In 5 years of at least one email a week one never went missing so it’s hard to believe she’s not received it. It’s also hard to believe she’s not just angry with me for asking her about returning to in-person work given the current situation. Or ghosting me. R says it was a valid question and she won’t be angry. Who knows? At least she has an iphone too and has read receipts on so I will know when she’s actually read it this time.

I don’t really have much else to say, I just needed this in writing somewhere. I managed to ground and settle over the weekend and spent time with friends and at the beach and on my bike. It did strike me how I come back from triggers much more quickly now and also that I naturally do things that are caring and soothing a lot of the time without even noticing. Proof of new neural pathways even when things feel immensely difficult. Obviously things are escalating again today and I didn’t sleep well last night, but I am managing to work and hold on to some sense of being okay whatever happens, while also trusting that things will work out as they need to for my highest good and that K and I were certain it wasn’t the end back in August.

Waiting and wondering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the things I’ll never tell you

Dear K,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please don’t forget us.

Love CB and everyone xx

With or without you

I’ve made a decision over what to do at the end of the month. The limbo is difficult and I’ll be glad when the decision is reached and communicated and agreed upon between the two of us. I am going to email in a couple of weeks and ask for a sense of K’s thoughts around returning to in-person work and whether she’s waiting till after she’s had both vaccine doses or will be opening up to some clients after the first one has taken effect. I’m going to assume she is planning to return to in-person work once she’s vaccinated and leave it to her to tell me if she is planning to keep working remotely until distancing is no longer needed or we know if people can still get serious illness from the SA variant or some other known uncertainty. I will also ask if she’s planning to offer outdoor work once the weather is better, or whether she’d consider that for me as we’ve worked outdoors before. I expect her answer to that will be no, for various reasons I’ve written about before, but who knows? I’ve learnt that anything is possible and nothing can be counted on this year!

Once I have some more information from her I will make a decision, but I expect I’ll be extending the break until at least the end of May (when she’ll be protected after vaccine dose 1) or September (if she’s waiting till she’s had the second or to see what happens longer term around serious illness and transmission and the vaccines). I suspect she will say it is still too early for her to know how much longer remote work will be for, or that she thinks it might be next year. In which case I will ask to extend the break either until autumn or until she starts in-person work if it ends up being sooner. I *think* I want to return to therapy, even if it is online, in autumn. Summer does not feel like the right time to re-commence therapy unless it is in-person. By July I also will have paid back the huge debt I’ve owed my dad for a long time, and so I’d be able to “see” K without completely giving up in-person work with R. I don’t really want to do next winter without her and regular therapy. And a break of more than a year feels way too long.

It feels really tough to think about extending the break beyond 6 months but I also know it is the right thing to do. This year has gone so slowly so far it is unreal – I cannot believe it is only 12th February – but the first 4 or 5 months of the break went fast and 6 months away from K doesn’t actually feel that long, and so extending for another 6 months if needed feels okay. Sometimes. We will soon have longer and lighter days and life will be fuller again and I hope that means time generally will not drag so much.

Spending time with R has really confirmed, once again, that I cannot go back to remote therapy, particularly not over the summer. The summer is my time for expansion and integration and growth and remote therapy cannot support that. I cannot get what I need without being in the same room as someone. And I can’t give up weekly cuddles with R to see K on a screen. Reconnecting with R has also renewed my faith that K and I’s relationship will endure, however long this time apart ends up being. I didn’t see him for 18 months, had no contact at all for almost a year, and yet he was there and we were there, solid as ever. Stronger even. More open and loving with each other. K and I have something rare and sacred and it will be there even if the break ends up being many, many more months. I am sure of that. We have spent so much time together and she knows me better than anyone apart from myself. If R hadn’t forgotten me and my journey, there is no way she will have done either.

I do miss her. A lot. The missing has really set in this past few weeks. R holds me and cuddles me and it heals at the same time as it sets off an ache for K that nothing can settle. I hope that in getting some clarity from her and agreeing to extend the break for another set amount of time my system will settle again, as it did for the first months of the break. I hope it will enable me to lean into the work I am doing with R and the love and safety and stability he gives me. I hope it will allow me to uncurl into the sun and longer days and light that is approaching and feel less like I am in some strange limbo land. Half alive.

And I hope we find her on the other side of this. I hope I am right that our bond is unbreakable. I hope she feels it too. I hope she notices my absence sometimes and wonders how I am doing. I hope she is looking forward to connecting again. I cannot wait to share my growth with her, but I think it is going to be a while till I can do that, especially as sharing ‘good’ things last year via video call was so deeply triggering and shame-provoking. I hope we will be back in the room this summer, I really do, but I am prepared that this won’t be the case and I will be okay once I know what is happening over the coming months.

Five weeks

In 5 weeks I have to decide what I will say in an email to K at the end of our planned ‘break’. I wax and wane on this all the time as I just don’t know what is best or right or even possible. 10 days ago talking to R I said I can’t go back to online work, I really can’t, I’m not prepared to pay for that as it just doesn’t work for me. He said how clear I sounded, how obvious it was how much I’ve changed from how I stated what I wasn’t prepared to do with such clarity. It never used to be that way. And honestly being in the room with him, having him right next to me, being in a sacred and held space, having him hold both my hands with his as we talk and he helps me let go of enough shame to look at him, being able to snuggle into him for endless hugs – it only makes it clearer that I need to be in the same space to really feel K is with me. Even without touch I could feel her holding me. The screen is re-traumatising, takes me back to being an infant and seeing my mum but not being able to feel her because she’s not emotionally present. I can’t pay to put myself through that again.

Anyway, sometimes it really does feel that simple and clear – email K and say I’ll come back when she returns to face-to-face. The thing is it’s not that simple, in part because I’m not sure this will ever happen and the longer we leave it the harder it would be to go back to remote work just for an ending, if it became apparent that was needed. And leaving things hanging and unfinished is hard.

The break has been ‘fine’ and I’ve definitely thrived in some ways, though I feel I’ve taken steps backwards recently and am becoming increasingly dependent on R this past month. This troubles me only because I don’t want to lose sight of myself or prioritise connection to someone else over connection to myself. I don’t want to lose myself in him. It is clear my attachment needs are still trying to take control when there is someone around in that role and that I find it very hard to stay focused on my own life and not become consumed by them. I also know that I do need to learn to be in intimate relationships with people (not sexual, emotionally intimate) and stay with myself, and also that it is okay to have needs and need people without giving up all autonomy and power to them so that I feel I cannot survive without them or when they are not available. So feeling these flutterings of attachment needs and noticing them and coming back to my own life is important work. But it’s hard. I’ve told myself I won’t contact R until I go on Wednesday, only because I want to come back to myself and the knowing I have that I can stabilise and thrive by myself now. I mean I managed without R for over a year until I reached out in December due to something trapped in my back that meant I couldn’t move. So I don’t need him, but sometimes I feel like I do. I don’t like that because I’ve felt much more grounded in my own life since last summer. On the other hand what is going on in my life and the world right now is objectively fucking horrifying and I can’t do it alone. I do need him.

Back to K… The plan has been to see how things are nearer the time and what I need and think I can tolerate then. I am aware of a desire to ‘make it over’ just to have some control and certainty, so I am trying to sit with ambivalence and the unknown on this one because it feels like such an important lesson in living more openly. I can’t see things shifting drastically over the next 5 weeks though or there being any clearer idea of where the UK is headed over the next year or so. Things are very, very difficult at the moment and I am teetering on the edge of full blown crisis most of the time. Pandemic. Parenting. Dad. Nina’s ADHD. Work. Isolation. Grief. Sleepless nights. Dread and fear.

Would online work help? Could we do 6 phone sessions in March and April and then break again until she is back to in-person? Will she ever do that? Would 6 sessions make everything worse or help to contain things? If it helped would she let me continue? Or should I ask for 6 online sessions to end our work because this limbo is awful and I am thinking it’s unlikely she’ll be back to in-person work this year now unless there is proof that those vaccinated cannot get seriously ill and there are no new variants lurking around? Would my nervous system settle again if there was an end and I could let go and move on? A big part of me says yes, but there are also parts who are struggling and need her support and guidance with parenting and my dad. I don’t want to lose what we had. I read through some old blog posts yesterday and really remembered the strength of our connection. The work we did was incredible. I am not ready to lose that forever.

I thought of asking for a phone session to talk through the options but I would likely just get triggered. I lose sight of my true needs when my attachment system is triggered. I know this.

I saw a photo of her today on her adult daughter’s instagram. (Yes, we’re in that territory again…). So we’re at the worst point in the pandemic in the UK and she’s breaking the rules now! Her son was there too. Maybe the daughter has been self-isolating before going, but still it seems kind of weird timing. I don’t really care. It didn’t sting like it could have, would have once. Mostly it was nice to see K looks the same and hasn’t died of Covid. It makes her feel further away though. I honestly cannot imagine ever going back and finding her again.

I read through some of our Friday emails from the past few years. So much knowing. So much that is sacred. I want to believe she will care if I go back but honestly – if I have this much ambivalence and I’m the one who is attached to her, I really don’t see how she would care that much. Her life remains basically unchanged whether I return or not. Accepting what she is and isn’t to me, and what a therapist is and isn’t in a person’s life, has been something very big I’ve confronted over the past 6 or 7 months. Painful but liberating. And I know this is how I’m managing to look at this situation in more of a detached way than I would have a year ago. I would be fine without her but I’d like a chance to reflect together on our work before saying goodbye, and I don’t really want to do that via video call ffs.

It is very clear that R is not K this week. I don’t mean in the sense of him being different from her because that is obvious, but that he doesn’t have the skills or knowledge to hold my depth process if it arises. He unwittingly triggered me last night. In response to the message I sent where I said he was my North Star, he said he loved it and ‘That’s me, eternal, never going away’ which is beautiful of course. But then later said in a voice note that it made him laugh when I sent a quote about the North Star (‘An eternal reassurance for travellers on their journey to ensure they can always find the way home’) because it was the story of his life as a therapist (acupuncture therapist, though he now does some identity trauma sessions with clients too). He said it resonates really strongly for him, so it means a lot to have it in his head, and that he might put it on his website in some way. He said it was lovely I’d come up with that image but ugggghhhhh. I messaged and said ‘nooooo don’t put it in your website. It’s mine!’ and that I didn’t want to think of him being this person for other people. He said he wouldn’t but it was too late. My chest was already smashed into pieces and I was flooded with shame and terror.

I told him I was triggered (it happens in an instant still!) and he said to read back on our conversation from that afternoon and that he has only a few people, as do I, who he has this level of connection with. And he said that I am special to him and that what we have is special because it is ‘years in the making, hammered out like a samurai sword. Unbreakable.’ And of course this is beautiful, it really is, and I KNOW what we have is unique because the work he does isn’t about the relationship like it is in psychotherapy so he’s not building this depth connection with many people at all. He told me last week that he has had to think about boundaries because when he holds me his heart is all there and it doesn’t feel like he is hugging a client because he loves me differently than that, but still – K would have known not to say the website thing. K would have known it needed to be a sacred image between her and I. K kept everyone else out of our work and I needed that to feel safe.

I know this is a primal fear that if I am not the most visible I don’t exist and the connection isn’t real. I’ve blogged about this before. So this is a good lesson in me learning to trust that what I have with people is special even when they have other people, just as I have lots of people I love and am connected to but it doesn’t diminish their importance to me or the strength of our connection. And it’s stupid really because I know he really struggled when I started work with K and he lost me (they had a really bad phone call right at the start of my therapy with K when she rang him, where he kind of claimed his right to keep working with me alongside her because he’d worked with me for so long, and she said she couldn’t work with me if I was working with him because of splitting, and I picked her of course) and when I dipped in and out for a treatment over the last 5 years I never really talked to him about what was going on in my life in deep sense, so we’ve commented how even though we’ve been in touch we still have 5 years to catch up on. And he told me years ago when I saw him that he didn’t feel as connected to me as he used to because he held back because of K, so I know he found it hard and ffs even yesterday I needed his support because I missed K so much, so it is obvious I have other people who I’m also connected to and that K is still centre of my system’s world, so it is silly for me to need to be ‘the only one’ and not just ‘one of a few’ when clearly he is not the only one to me!

But with an attachment figure, which R is, it doesn’t work like this. And K would know that. But he doesn’t because he is not trained in attachment work. He knows a lot about trauma and has trained extensively, but he doesn’t know about parts and dissociation and attachment. And for so many years we didn’t have the depth relationship we have now and so the boundaries are completely different. He will reply to me whenever I message him and send me voice notes whenever I ask (I don’t abuse this), but I guess it’s been a long time since he was my only person, which he was for a while after Jess died, until I realised I needed ‘proper’ therapy and found K. For a long time he used to mop up the crises that couldn’t be contained by therapy and reassure me he was there so that I felt real, but I would then stabilise again with K. It worries me now that he is the only one in case all the crazy that unleashed with K comes out with him. He wouldn’t be able to contain it and it would break us both. I’ve never thought of him in the therapist role, it’s always been something else because it’s not therapy and the boundaries can be totally different. He doesn’t have to be so careful but also he doesn’t know how careful actual therapists are over this stuff. K always says how people who’ve not worked in the NHS usually cannot contain process like mine because they’ve no experience with it. R wouldn’t have coped with the ‘me in therapy’ at all.

This isn’t about comparing them. It’s about realising that R can be there but that I have to keep very much in control of my process and reactions when it comes to the attachment because he is not a trained psychotherapist and the whole thing could easily implode if things kicked off. I’m hoping I’ve come far enough that this wouldn’t happen. It feels kind of precarious though and I am scared that as we reconnect my attachment system will go wild. I really hope in noticing all this that I can remember that I can contain myself now when I really need to.

Well this was just a mind dump really. Things feel no more clear. I guess I’ll just see where I am in 5 weeks. I thought in August that by March we’d have a much clearer idea of how long the pandemic would last, even if in-person work still wasn’t possible, but that isn’t really the case at all, despite the promising vaccine rollout. It means I still have no idea if and when I’ll ever be able to work with K again and I don’t think that will change for many months. It’s a hard place to inhabit.