The other side

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

I never thought I’d get to here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Taking it in

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

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

“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?

Dissociated

I don’t want to be here. In part this is a wish that I didn’t exist, but it is also a wish to just not be here, at this point in my life, about to end with my therapist and with a life that I struggle so hard to live.

I went to bed last night feeling okay and have woken up feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. Yesterday was a really full on day at work and it was draining, but it was good – I felt motivated and reassured about the contribution I am making to the world and the things I believe in through my work. I managed to sleep on Tuesday and Wednesday nights so that helped a lot, and even though I felt tired still, I was beginning to feel more human. I slept last night too, but tumultuous dreams disturbed me and I got woken up by the four year old next door screaming at 6.30. And today I just feel heavy and overwhelmed by an unbearable sadness hiding under the surface that I cannot even reach so I am hugely dissociated and work is impossible. I am scared to let the sadness out because it is so big and it will engulf me. It is about K and not about her. As always. I get that. I get this is a pain bigger than her and I and from a time before we met, but it is also so much about losing her.  She is who she is to me because I didn’t have a mother who could see or love me for who I was, I know that, but she is still who she is to me.

I want to ask K for a phone call, either ten minutes instead of our Friday email (which is what we always used to do) or a paid half hour. We’ve not spoken on the phone since April, and I just really need to hear her voice today to ground me and steady me. I have typed the message asking for this on my phone, but I’ve not sent it. I am scared she will say no. Scared of what that will do to me. Maybe I need to get triggered though, to let some of these tears out. I don’t want to spend the day feeling like this but I don’t know how to pull myself out of it. I wish I could cry and return to the present but that feels too unsafe.

I don’t want to be this person, struggling so much with the end of the therapeutic relationship. I am though. I am struggling. It is always there these days, a heavy presence, an uneasy sense that however okay things are they are not really okay. Ahead of me is the biggest and saddest goodbye I’ve ever had to say. There is nothing about my relationship with K I wish was different or I will be better off without (well, apart from the paid element of course). When I’ve said goodbye to others I’ve been able to see that my life will be better without them, but with K it is not like that. And when a friend moves away there are other ways to stay in touch. With K there is none of that. On December 17th I will walk away and fall through time and space away from her, maybe for the rest of my life.

I am not ready to lose her. It hurts too much. I still need her and want her. I want her to take me with her but I don’t belong to her. The same words over and over because nothing about this changes.

Disordered Eating

I’ve called this post disordered eating, though to be honest eating is not disordered at the moment, it is just pretty much non-existent. I’ve lost 6 kilos in less than 4 weeks. I’m actually a healthy weight now (having put on 3.5 kilos over the winter through too much binge eating and not enough cycling due to shit weather, something that fills me with huge amounts of shame and self-loathing), but mentally this feels unhealthy. I know it is unhealthy and yet I am scared to tell anyone, even – especially – K on Monday, because I do not want to be encouraged to eat (or for her to abandon me entirely because look what the spectre of ending with her does to me…Clearly I need more help than she can offer). Part of me is enjoying how much power I have over myself. I know, I know, it’s all about being able to control something when everything else is falling apart. I know I’ll get back to eating properly as the shock of losing K before I’m ready wears off. I know I won’t sustain this, but part of me wishes I could. The first ‘problem’ listed on my medical records, after chicken pox, is anorexia nervosa in 1997 and part of me is proud of this, and part of me (probably the same part) feels a failure because I couldn’t even get that properly. Other coping mechanisms took over, and starving myself just rears its head for a few days every few months and then recedes. These feel like teen parts, but as I realised this week after talking to a friend – starving myself is about attachment, it’s driven by very young feelings. I never realised before how closely the two were related – failure of attachment and self-starvation. I’m not sure it is this simple, but it does feel like somewhere in my head is this idea that if I stop eating, K won’t go away – perhaps it is about needs, if I deny my needs (and what do we need more than food really? Other than air and water) then my attachment figure won’t go away. I remember my Dad making me read a book about anorexia and bulimia when I was 14, when I had to take 3 months off school due to this and self-harm and depression and just being a general mess. The book said something about how anorexia, on a basic level, is about denying the self life, denying what is needed to live. Is it as simple as just wanting someone else to nurture me, and denying my needs when it is obvious they can’t? Of course there’s another whole load of tangled beliefs and messages in there too now, but basically (as is everything I guess!) it is about attachment and loss.

I realised a few months ago, on my old blog where I wrote about food a little bit after a very intense and quite disturbing conversation in therapy, how utterly fucked my system is in relation to eating. In some ways, many ways, it would be easier to have one eating disorder to deal with, but I don’t – I have different anorexic parts (sometimes it’s about quantity of food with a goal of just ‘as little as possible’ and sometimes it’s about eating but restricting and keeping in mind calories and weight loss), binging parts (who adult me is so ashamed of), orthorexic parts (which can manifest in different ways at different times depending on which ‘healthy’ goal is most prominent), alongside parts that are fairly balanced about eating and then child parts who, of course, just want to eat a lot of party rings and oreos and ice cream. It is just a cacophony of mixed messages about food and the different goals that sit alongside eating. Inside is mayhem. And it can be so hard to tell what is ‘healthy adult’ and what is unhealthy coping mechanisms driven by traumatised parts (e.g. thinking ‘fuck it!’ and eating a whole packet of biscuits after a long day at work could be seen as relatively balanced and healthy, as long as it’s not all the time, but it could also be a part who is just wanting to eat to feel full and stave off the feelings of emptiness and longing. Food is also grounding and so it could be a subconscious effort to do this when I am very dissociated (in which case some other method might be healthier), and it could be the precursor to a huge binge where we eat till we feel sick (and then starve and over-exercise to try and compensate). It’s a mess, to be honest (and I imagine – no I know – that ‘the eating box’ will be one I take with me to ‘my new therapist’ (who I do not want at all, by the way) later this year).

The noise around food sometimes is so unbearable I cannot think straight, but all these competing aims and eating disorders do mean that at least my weight stays pretty much the same, with the days of starving balanced out by the other days of over-eating, and the orthorexia keeping our nutrient intake pretty balanced. Till now. The past 3 1/2 weeks, since ‘the rupture’ with K and then the news that she is taking 2019 off, anorexic tendencies have completely taken over. As always, it starts with me being physically unable to eat. My tummy is tight and I feel so churned up and broken inside that I would not be able to eat if I tried. For days I hold my tummy so tight it hurts, all the time. And then I begin to enjoy both the hunger (it is better to feel an emptiness attributable to something than to feel the emptiness caused by loss of attachment) and the feelings of power and control over myself. Denying myself food becomes a habit. I’ve been surprised by how easy it is not to eat, it’s been years and years since I’ve spiralled into it like this, and it has come back in a pretty big way.

As an anorexic teenager I never binged or over-ate, but I would make myself sick whenever I had what I perceived to be ‘too much’ (i.e. half a healthy meal). I survived on black coffee and maybe a chocolate bar to get me through the day. I didn’t count calories; my goal was just to let as little into my body as possible. I would regularly go 72+ hours without food, feeling dizzy, being freezing cold and unable to sleep, and having to sit down in the shower in the mornings as I was too weak to stand up. Anything that passed my lips I regarded as me being a failure. At 14 I also started self-harming, cutting my arms and legs with a razor every day, multiple times. I found an old diary from that time recently which I shared some of with K, about how I was getting ‘much better’ at cutting as I was able to make them deeper and longer and bleed more now. Cutting brought instantaneous relief, but not eating was always the choice for a pain I couldn’t see a way out of, where longer-lasting relief was needed. I wrote one time, after someone I really liked ‘dumped me’ for someone else, how I was waiting for the feelings of starvation to take over my whole body and give me the relief I needed from my feelings, because only starvation could help me separate from my feelings. So this stuff is such an ingrained coping mechanism.

And then around age 21, when my chronic head pain was at it’s height. I began to find solace in food, in comfort eating. I was dissociated all the time (though I had no word for it then) and desperately ill and empty. I’d started to uncover ‘the mother wound’ and had cut my Mum out of my life for 6 months, initially, to try and deal with it without getting constantly triggered by interactions with her. Food filled up the gaping hole inside me. So it is my 21 year old part, Amelia, who drives the binge eating. As she wrote in our parts’ journal – I eat and eat but food cannot fill me up. The over-eating is a huge source of shame. It is something I admitted to K for the first time just 6 weeks ago. Anorexia, or at least being thin and ‘in control’ is desirable, over-eating is too much like my Mum who makes me feel ill with her over-eating. Binging is very rare, and one of the issues is that things often feel like a binge or ‘too much’ when really they are just a normal amount of food. Orthorexic parts dictate such strict rules, and when they are deviated from even a little it feels like everything has gone to shit.

And then there’s the whole ‘too much/not enough’ dichotomy which is basically at the heart of disorganised attachment and the emotional swings that tend to accompany it (emotionally numb/overwhelmed, engulfed/abandoned, dissociated/anxious, the pull towards connection and the push away from it, and so on). When we feel numb and empty (i.e. not enough) there is a pull towards over-eating, and when we feel ‘too much’ (maybe, like now, overwhelming feelings of abandonment and annihilation) then we stop eating. So swinging between the two makes sense, but I would so like to find some middle ground. As I would in all areas of my life really.

Food was a huge issue growing up. My Dad is over-restrictive (his Mum, my Grandma, is anorexic) and weighs himself every day, my Mum binges regularly and we grew up with ‘bad’ food being used as a treat and regularly hearing my Mum’s self-hatred with regards her body and her food habits. My Dad shamed her for being overweight. I began restricting when I was 8, writing down everything I ate and setting unattainable goals for my weight, and when my Dad found my notebook he told me if he thought I was ‘fat’ he would be giving me less to eat – he wasn’t, ergo I wasn’t fat. Ugh, where to start with all that was wrong with that conversation?! So my parents are also too much/not enough and neither of them taught me anything about how to be healthy around food. It makes me so sad that something so necessary for survival, and something so pleasurable for so many, causes me such anguish. I have to admit the anorexia is easier to manage as a Mum than when the orthorexia takes over, because when I’m not eating I’m not worrying about what my daughter (Nina, I’m going to call her here) is eating (she is eating fine, I’m not starving her and it is nutritionally balanced, I’m just not worrying too much about the whole gluten, sugar, nutrients thing – right now life is just about survival to be honest).

I recently had to have a conversation with Nina, who is 11, about suicide as a boy in her class is pretty messed up and says he wants to kill himself. My beautiful, amazing friend Jess took her life in December 2014 and at the time I told Nina that she fell off the cliffs, not wanting her to know that suicide was even a ‘thing’ when she was 7 years old. So I used Jess as a way to contextualise our discussion, and explained a bit about it and that for some people being alive is just too painful and they can’t see a way out. I said it was rare, which is why it was such a shock and so devastating for everyone, and that often people feel unable to reach out to anyone for help (but that she would always have me to turn to for any kind of problem). She was heart-broken to hear the truth, and is still absolutely horrified that anyone would do that to themselves. This amazes and relieves me but also saddens me – I was younger than her when I first began to think of death as the way out. By 13 I remember people talking about what would happen in a few weeks time and my thoughts always being ‘I won’t be here then’. Being suicidal, starving and hurting myself, and other self-destructive behaviours have been part of my life since I was younger than her. She told me recently how she wants some friends who enjoy eating as her two friends at the moment just pick at their food. She loves food, but is so balanced about it. And she swims for 5 1/2 hours a week and does other sports too so it is not that she loves food to fill her up and avoid. She just likes food because we are programmed to find eating a pleasurable experience (like how excited do my bunnies and guinea pigs get about eating hay – I want to be like that!) and yet somehow, because of failed early attachment, this has all gone wrong for me.

I asked K in our Friday email today if she has any books on anorexia and attachment, as I’d not realised the links before this past week (I didn’t tell her what is going on for me at the moment, I figured she has enough to worry about and email is not the place). She is going to see what she can find. Maybe this will be an opening into telling her about these difficulties on Monday. I think she thinks that telling me to be more balanced re the orthorexic tendencies would do the trick, and whilst I am being more balanced in terms of what I buy for Nina, this stuff runs so deep that I don’t think one or two sessions could be enough to sort it all out. This is what I mean about how we have so many boxes open in our work at the moment, it is just such shit timing for me to move to another therapist. We are right in the thick of everything, all the attachment work and all the trauma processing and all the rebuilding needed for my future. I feel a little more stable today, and it’s easy to think I will stay this way now, but I’ve learnt that another wave is usually just around the corner for me so I am starting to try and just settle into it for now. I still have huge levels of anxiety and uncertainty over what is happening, but I feel held by her again, and the young parts and their life or death feelings have receded a little, for now.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started