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I’m in the worst attachment crisis I’ve been in for over a year and a half. It is utter hell and because it’s in large part being driven by the disruption caused by the Coronavirus outbreak it seems impossible to settle it, because it is based on real things that are unfolding and I can’t reassure myself that K and I will be continuing to meet and she isn’t going away because that just isn’t true right now. We don’t know what is happening when or how long the measures will last. We worked by phone again yesterday evening – I’d had an overwhelming day at work as we are moving everything online and so there was loads of stress over how to do it and levels of anxiety among our international students in particular were palpable as they decide whether to fly home and risk not being able to get back here, or not being able to travel on to their home cities once they land. Every adult decision I had to make and thing I needed to do was triggering young parts further and further into attachment panic.

The call was fine but didn’t settle things, which I think K could tell, and then I self-harmed a lot after we spoke not because the call was triggering but because it wasn’t enough and didn’t land and then I was by myself again. I was really feeling as though I needed the crisis team or to go to hospital, so to be honest if cutting helps me manage things a bit then it’s okay – not ideal, but okay. My friend came over and I managed to distract a bit while she was here (didn’t tell her about the cutting because I think it sounds more dramatic than it is, for people who don’t get it) and I slept with diazepam which was a relief.

We text K first thing this morning and said we are basically in constant terror but also already in annihilation flashbacks so it’s like both our worst flashback states together (I can’t even explain but it is like the body memories of total annihilation and death due to loss of attachment whilst being in constant fear of being abandoned whilst feeling that bad) and she said she hears it and she is here. She said on the phone yesterday that she can’t see that anything will stop us meeting on Monday and that we will still work if after that we can’t meet face-to-face, but it’s not the lack of work that bothers me, but that not being able to physically get to her triggers all my attachment stuff and then I cannot seem to ground into my life and connect with all the things that aren’t K that make my life safe and okay. The attachment fear takes over and becomes the only thing that matters. On Thursday she had explained how my attachment system works and why it is only her that can soothe it, and that has helped a little with lessening the shame over not being able to just do other things that are important and helpful to me.

I made it to see one of my oldest and most special friends today – she moved to a city that is 80 miles away a couple of years ago so I drove up there for the day. It was lovely to see her and we had a nice walk in the woods and talked about lots of things and she was so understanding about what this f*cking virus has triggered in me attachment-wise and totally gets that it’s not that K is the only thing in my life, but that when it feels like my time with her is under threat it totally takes over everything. I would honestly rather die than lose her when things are this bad and it means every f*cking thing unfolding globally becomes a trigger for a potential loss of connection with her.

I picked Nina up on the way home and have reassured her that if we end up at home a lot over the holidays and with school closures afterwards we will build a routine and not just sit on our phones all day and that we’ll be fine, but I don’t feel capable of following this advice for myself. I’m scared if I do things to distract I’ll lose K, so I’m basically stuck in this awful place. I’m still not eating, though K has told me I need to and I said I would (‘because you won’t go away if we eat, that’s silly?’ said someone little on the phone yesterday, but I’m not sure they believe it). My mouth is constantly dry with a rancid taste regardless of how much water I drink because of all the toxins. I will probably cut again. I honestly seem unable to stabilise and am scared this crisis will last for months.

I am hoping it will become easier now I’ll be working at home until at least early May and can avoid all the fear and anxiety people at work have been experiencing and also once I’ve seen K face-to-face on Monday, but I am worried I’ll get into a total state again when I see her and especially being in the different room again and with the chairs so far apart. When will it stop being so hard? I really hate that my experiences as a baby have left me with this forever, that I actually feel this way in the present as a result of things that happened so long ago. I am so cross that I feel perfectly capable of handling what this virus is throwing at us and yet it is still triggering the hardest feelings imaginable in me because K is my attachment figure but not my family and however hard she tries, she may not be able to preserve our therapy in the face of what is ahead.

Mr Raposa

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

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

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

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

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

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

And also Amelia who is 21:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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