Sunset on Summer Solstice

(Posting the day after because I had no signal last night).

My session was exactly what I needed it to be. Connecting, grounding and containing. we sat with the fear and doubts. We noticed the growing excitement and hope.

I left Mark’s office and drove straight up into the highlands. I could feel the anxiety melt away with each mile.

I’ve surprised myself with how much I’ve leaned into this solitude. Perhaps I do quite like my own company after all. There’s this body felt sense of remembering that I do know myself and I’m safe inside myself. I feel calm and I keep catching myself smiling. I think a lot of healing has gone on under the surface and because ‘family life’ is still my biggest trigger, I never get to feel into the growth when I’m around my family. This time by myself feels solid and real and grounded.

Tonight I drove out of the valley to a point where I could watch the sun setting. It was breathtaking. On my way back, I stopped the car in the middle of the forest and listened to the birds and rustling life enveloped by the trees and although it sounds like a cliche, I really did feel at one with it all. The scent of the forest has to be one of my favourite smells. It smells as life giving as it is.

Around 11pm I took a walk, at dusk, to post this and then head home to get some rest but I couldn’t get enough signal so I waited until today.

Another beautiful sunny day… feeling so much gratitude for the stillness inside.

Summer Solstice 2021 sunset

In person sessions and solitary holidays

Since our first in person session, Mark and I have worked at feeling present with each other in both forms of therapy… it was like a violent disruption to the calm rhythm we’d created together, the first in person meeting. And it’s taken time to process and work through that. Working towards a new rhythm. One that swings from one side to the other. In the room therapy on a Monday, zoom therapy on a Friday. It has felt like pendulating between two energies. Connection and disconnection. Trust and defence. Self-consciousness and openness. Comfortable and tentative. Familiar and new. Contraction and expansion. Talking in detail about our experiences with each, slowly letting the experiences become more conscious. From the beginning, Mark found it a delight to be working in person with me, while the initial meeting for me was disregulating and triggered a huge array of confusing feelings. That misalignment needed time to work through.

Last Monday during our fifth in person session, in the last 15 minutes, I finally managed to move my body to the floor… where I’ve wanted to be since our first meeting but was always too frozen to move. I talked a lot about moving but could never move a muscle. Instead of forcing the movement, we spent a lot of time consciously tightening the muscles that were holding tension, following the desire to hide more. Hiding. Tightening. Turning away. Gripping the seat. Folding my arms. Hide. Push away. Shut out. Build the wall. Close my eyes. Say no. Say it louder. Shout ‘stop looking at me’. Letting the protective parts do what they felt the need to do. Then all of a sudden, on Monday, I said ‘I’m going to sit over there, stop looking at me while I move’ and he did, and I moved. It felt good. On the floor, leaning against one of Mark’s beautiful bright red floor cushions, I asked him to join me, and so he pulled a meditation pillow over and sat in front of me. We played with distance and it felt connecting and relaxed and lovely. He told me he really enjoyed having me in his space and that however I want to be, I would always be welcome. We talked about babies and toddlers and proximity and the need for space and the need for closeness and the need to be seen and the need to feel safe. The behaviours present in secure children and the behaviours present when a child does not feel connected.

As has been the pattern recently, the session on Friday was a breaking down of how it feels to sit in the room with him, we tend to process together, we take a few steps forward and then psychologically retrace those steps and feel in to what comes up or root down into any kickback I experienced post session.

I’ve been struggling massively with being seen by him and at the same time wanting to be physically as close as I can be. I often ask him to stop looking at me but I crave sitting closer to him. I talked about how I witnessed my babies play, how they experimented with proximity, how they knew in their bodies what felt safe. I questioned what life must have been like when I was just months old. Who held me? For how long was I left alone? Was I held but not safe? Did they ever see me and see something they could love? How could I have grown so fearful of being seen?

We’ve had a similar conversation before but I think I was able to take it in a little bit more this time. I told Mark that I wished I could be as comfortable with him in the room as I am on the screen… I told him I think I’m getting there but it still feels so overwhelming. I asked him what he noticed about in person compared to zoom.

He said, ‘I see more of your soul when we’re working in person… and it’s beautiful. Your living, breathing personhood, your energy breathing into the room. We can learn to dance with the intensity and feel it, which we do already when we’re together… and that way you can learn to grow your capacity to feel the intensity of being deeply seen and witnessed by me. As I see more of you and you begin to tolerate and maybe even grow to love that closeness. We can stand in solidarity with the need to contract when it feels too much and we can roll out the red carpet for all that unfolds as you expand into new spaces. And I’m right here, taking you in and supporting all parts of you, no one left behind, you’re not alone in this.’

I can hardly bear it. It sounds beautiful but I rolled my eyes half way through his poetic speech and he laughed and told me he knew it was a risk to he so honest… ‘but you did ask me about my experience of sitting with you and this is it,’ he said. I can hardly tolerate being in the room, but I do feel reassured by his words… when I let them touch me.

He reminds me that we found safety through zoom sessions and we’ll slowly find safety in the room.

I’m actually looking forward to being in the room with him tomorrow. I want to really feel his calming, connected presence. On Friday I told him that Thursday mornings are always torture for me because usually it’s when I’m on my own for the first time all week and despite wishing to have time by myself all week, when it finally comes it’s intolerable and I’m flooded. Rather than reminding me of my list of ‘tools’ like my first therapist did or ask me what I might need in that moment like Anna would say. Mark said, ‘it’s so useful for me to know that Thursdays are hard for you. I hate the thought of you being alone with those intolerable feelings, flooded but them. That’s a repeat of what life was like for you when you were very young and we want to undo those patterns not repeat them. So I’m really glad you told me and now I know, Thursdays are not always easy for you.’ It reminded me that he isn’t afraid of my need for closeness. He isn’t overwhelmed by my distress. He wants to support me in my suffering. Any time I’ve reached out to him asking for help, if he’s been free and able to, he’s helped me. And I’m reminded that if I feel the need for support again, I can ask him for it.

I’m doing something I’ve never done before this coming week. After my session I’m driving a few hours into the highlands by myself and I’m staying in a cottage, intentionally seeking solitude. I’ve never spent time truly by myself and I believe that if something so ‘normal’ and ‘every day’ like being by myself scares me this much, then it’s something I desperately need to do. So… I’ve written my list, packed my hiking boots, got my drawing pencils, sketch pad, journal and a couple of psych-books and I’m all set.

My trip is sandwiched between two sessions… thank goodness! I think I’m gonna need it.

See you on the other side!

I got to borrow you for a moment in time

Dear Anna,

I saw her… your daughter. The girl I refused to even imagine into existence for years. I used to tell myself you didn’t have children, but you do… you have a girl and I found her today quite by chance.

There she was, smiling down the lens. Happy and beautiful and full of energy and personality. She has tattoos and piercings and it made me think of the time you teased me about mine.

She’s ten years younger than me. Remember that time I asked you if you were old enough to be my mum and you said ‘if I’d had you when I was quite young, yes’. That was the session you told me you wanted to scoop Four up in your arms and give her a big hug. You were her mum in that moment.

Your daughter… I can see you love her with all your heart. As I look at her face, I see you in her… and I actually feel love for her. She’s your child and that is such a beautiful thing! She calls you Mum. She gets to laugh with you, eat food you’ve made, sit and watch tv with you, say goodnight to you. She gets to be held by you. She knows you as her mum and I can tell from the things she’s shared, that she values the work you did enormously.

I think she’d be so proud of you if she knew what you did for me. That you shared a bit of that maternal love with me. You had it overflowing in abundance and you let it pour into me. It filled me up at points and other times it smashed into my wall but you never stopped giving it to me, right up until you could no longer be there for me.

Thank you for your generosity. Your authenticity. Your kindness.

Anna… your daughters dog’s name is Luna… that blows my mind! 🐼 do you ever think of me when you call her name?

You looked so proud at her graduation. Just a few months after you met me. I see you being the mum that I hope to be and I see you being more for your daughter than you received. I see you breaking the chains that you helped me begin to dismantle. I remember how embracing and enthusiastic you were when I talked about my brother coming out to me when we were practically kids. And now I see your daughter with her girlfriend I know why it touched you so deeply.

I thought this would kill me, seeing you have a daughter, but I actually feel relieved. You’re alive and you’re not alone. I only want love and health and happiness for you.

The thing that I was certain would hurt me the most, has actually been the very thing that’s enabled me to let you go.

Anna, she shared screen shots of your what’s app messages, you guys have such a laugh together. It’s funny to see you talking in text speak. You were different with me. Thank you for being what I needed when I needed it. I see now why you cancelled those sessions at the end of 2019. She was ill and needed you. Thank you for being there for her and then withstanding my upset and anger at the fact that you couldn’t be there for me.

Now I have seen her, I can place you where you belong – with her. I feel more able to loosen the grip, I got to borrow you for a moment in time.

And now, good bye 💙

The long and winding road… back to each other.

This is long because it’s a complete journal entry (including direct quotes from the session), showing my raw process as I’ve tried to understand what happened the past week.

The week following our first in person session was the deepest pit of disconnection and despair I’ve felt since Anna left. It was actually terrifying. Before that session, I was in some sort of cloud of delusion that it could never happen between me and Mark. He has been so attuned to me every single session since our very first meeting, I was convinced I could never feel unsafe with him… forgetting that I am healing from developmental trauma and that the pain and confusion of attachment disruption can trigger enormous dysregulation beyond cognitive, rational understanding. It’s called complex trauma for a reason!

I sent Mark four emails in the 24 hour period after Monday’s session, the first three steeped in anxiety and fear, the forth a more grounded ‘realisation’ type email. I then sent another email just before Friday’s video session saying, ‘Mark, I really need to try to open myself to connecting with you today. Please can you help me do that. I’ve been feeling everything so intensely since Monday and it hurts so much doing it alone. I’m sorry for all the emails this week I really lost my capacity to hold it in. I’m sorry I’m being such hard work. I’m just overwhelmed by it all at the moment.’ He replied saying, ‘will do’ with the link to the session.

As we clicked on to the session I could feel myself sinking behind the black wall of disconnect and for most of the session I stayed behind it. There were a couple of very powerfully connecting moments that I’ll write about later, however there were also a few things that happened in the session that I really need to talk to him about, that didn’t feel good, that I’m sure I’m misinterpreting. I need him to know how these things landed with me or they’ll always be between us.

Usually when I send Mark an email immediately prior to the session telling him I’m in a bad place, he thanks me for letting him know and he’s very soft and patient with me, he helps me feel his safe presence in a gentle way and I feel nurtured and cared for. On Friday’s session, after we got the initial ‘hellos’ out the way and both reduced our self-view, I think I dropped eye contact momentarily, and in an upbeat sort of attention grabbing way (as if saying ‘testing, testing’ at a newly switched on microphone) he said, ‘so… connecting! connecting!’ Like he was trying to remind me overtly what the focus was. It was so uncharacteristically insensitive, but I didn’t notice it at the time I just slipped further into myself. Then a bit later I told him it felt like he was a different person on Monday and he said something about how he is definitely the same person and he even remembered to wear the glasses I like (which is a thing that came up a while back when I struggled to connect with him and we realised a part of me feels more attached to a certain pair of glasses of his). Then he told me a story about his best friend’s dad who had a long lost twin that he met later in life and how in person meetings can be strange. From the triggered space I was in, I felt invaded by this disclosure, like he just didn’t get what I was going through, the last thing I needed was for him to tell me something about his personal life.

As I type all that out, from my adult perspective, I can see I’m being ridiculously overly sensitive… I also know that when things don’t make rational sense, something very important from the past is at play… I mean, these were just normal conversation and would feel fine in any other context… but the triggered young part of me, experiencing a rupture in the connection with my main attachment figure, could not handle this. I can feel into that triggered space now… it says I don’t like it that he randomly said the words ‘connection’ rather than literally doing the nurturing, gentle work of connecting with me. It felt impatient and dismissive of the very real difficulties I was experiencing. I don’t like that he brought up the glasses thing, I never once told him to only wear those glasses and the fact he brought it up made me feel like he was making fun of me, and also like he’s a bit annoyed that even though he went to all the trouble of looking out and putting on those glasses, it still wasn’t enough for me. Like he resents making an effort for me. I can feel and hear that this is all triggered stuff… irrational, highly sensitive, emotional child stuff and it hurts like hell. It feels like he’s humiliating me and I don’t like it.

I just listened back to that part of the recording and I can hear it from a different/non triggered space. He says the ‘connecting’ comment in a playful way, yes it’s not exactly nurturing but it’s also not shaming. Then after that I say something about feeling like he’s back (as apposed to the weird ‘Mark twin’ I felt like I met on Monday) and he says (in his usual gentle tone), ‘here I am, in familiar surroundings to you, glasses on, just the way you have always known me and it feels familiar and safe… take it in… and we won’t shut out the other stuff but see if you can connect with this just now.’ I can hear he’s not humiliating or belittling me. He’s not being dismissive or shaming… wow… it really is such a mind fuck how being triggered can completely taint how you receive certain things, how you experience a situation. The part where he talked about his friend’s dad, he explained how it related to us and said, ‘when there’s an intense connection and you haven’t met in person, it’s gonna be charged… that first meeting is bound to be charged.’ and he’s right! And I like that he called it an intense connection, because that’s exactly what it is. He wasn’t being dismissive, he was listening and tuning in to me.

Anyway, back to the session… Still unaware at the time of how misaligned I was feeling with him, I told Mark I needed to go over what Monday was like for me and he agreed. I then said I actually wanted to hear what Monday was like for him first. He was very thoughtful and paused for a while before telling me it was quite a surreal experience for him, the whole day. He told me it was a readjustment for him to not be at home as he has been for 14 months and that that will have been in the room with us. He then said he really enjoyed showing me his room and that although he was aware it was discombobulating for me, he liked welcoming me into his space. He said, ‘I felt settled in myself and okay with how we did things, taking our time, orienting you in the room, no big rush… it felt okay to me that you weren’t fully in your body because these things take time, and we weren’t going into any deep stuff!’ He then said something lovely that I couldn’t fully take in during the session but I have since played it back many times… ‘it was also nice to pick up on your energy, and some aspects of your facial expressions that kind of felt more present or affecting face to face rather than on zoom, that I really appreciated. Nuances of your character that seemed to show up more in your energy. The subtle stuff.’ He encouraged me to take a moment to feel how what he said arrived in me and after a pause I said I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of being noticed in more detail and he said, ‘I realise that might be challenging for you, but it was really nice for me and I felt it was important to let you know… there was something very positive in it, something kind of soulful about it and actually… you might not like this either but there was something beautiful about it.’

I told Mark it was really hard to believe what he just said and that I must be really crap at reading people to which he responded very quickly with, ‘you’re not.’ I then said, ‘well I must be really good at projecting my stuff onto other people,’ and he picked up on that and said, ‘ah, okay… what were you reading then? You said that for a reason.’ I told him I was sure he felt uncomfortable with me in the room, awkward and like the in-person me was a let-down. That he was disappointed he was working with me because I was such an empty shell, I couldn’t even feel anything, all I could do was think my feelings. He said he appreciated my ability to notice that I was thinking my feelings rather than feeling them and then said, ‘On Monday, what I was with, was something you named in the session, that the hour would be spent getting used to the room with no other agenda other than to let that unfold and it would make sense that you would be at a distance from yourself and that we would be recalibrating to each other’s energies in a room.’

I still felt at a distance. Even as he was saying all that. I felt deep grief and I told him it felt like something had ended, something really important to me, and I was having to start over again with something that didn’t feel safe in a deep way. He said this sounded really important and to follow the feeling. I told him it was a mind fuck to be back in that building again, fucking weird to be driving into the city after over a year of lockdown, weird to be sitting in a therapy room without Anna… it was all just so triggering.

I said, ‘I’m annoyed with myself because I got messages from this younger part of me in the weeks running up to the session and I ignored them all, even mocked them actually… I remember joking with you that we should do a zoom session from the office before I go in… we should have done that! I also joked with you saying, I think I’m gonna want to just stand on the step outside with you before we go in… I should have done that, it was light outside and really dark inside and you had a mask on and I couldn’t really see you and it didn’t feel safe but I ignored that part of me, in fact I think that part of me stayed in the car or on the step… not all parts of me went in with you… Anna would have said I abandoned myself in that moment, I did abandon myself and I’m annoyed coz I thought I was past that these days. And I got the clear message in the session, I even said it to you, that I wanted to turn away from you, but I just jokingly said it but I wasn’t paying attention… these were all things my young parts were asking me for and I ignored it all, another time I got the sense that I wanted to sit on the floor by the door, I should have done all of that!’

Mark said, ‘Hmmm, yeah I’m following.’ I then exhaled deeply and said, ‘your experience was so vastly different from mine and when you were telling it to me earlier, that you felt relaxed in yourself and fine about it all, I just felt myself going further and further away from you. You enjoyed the session, you liked being in your room with me, you liked showing me your space, you felt calm and grounded… but it was hugely triggering for me and you weren’t feeling how fucking shit it was for me and I’m annoyed that I didn’t see that and catch myself. It’s just a bit scary and weird. Why didn’t I do all the things that I wanted to do that would have helped me feel safer?’ Mark said, ‘something held you back, your young being knew what she wanted but you felt that you had to rock up in your adult self and just get through it and it meant you abandoned a bit of you that needed a stronger hand holding through the session and you didn’t do that and I didn’t help you do that either but now we’re talking about it we can better plan for next time… you know like, does all of you want to sit there or does a bit of you want to turn away… that sort of thing.’ I said, ‘yeah, just get through it… god those words make me want to cry my eyes out… just get through it… that’s what I spent my life doing. A part of me was terrified and I completely ignored that part of me just so I could do what I’ve always done, just do what’s expected… just get through it… coping adult, just be normal, just chat away and be normal. I should have known it was going to be intense and I should have prepared more, talked about it more, followed the need to do any of the things that would have helped me feel safer. I’m disappointed that both of us didn’t see that, we both got swept up in the excitement of life getting back to normal but it’s not back to normal for me, it’s all brand new and scary for me.’

‘I actually felt like I was going insane on Tuesday. I was at work trying to be a grown up, not knowing how to cope with it all wanting to go out the fire escape door and drive away and hide.’ I started to well up but continued talking, ‘I felt like I was going out of my mind and felt like I’d lost this thing that I felt like we’d worked really hard for.’ Mark said, ‘It’s that to some extent isn’t it, things are so hard won and feel so easily lost for you, as if you don’t get to keep the good stuff, as if it will be ripped off you at any time. There’s a place you go to when you feel like you’ve lost something good and you went there and it was overwhelming for you on Tuesday… can you feel me still here now?’ I said it felt like ‘observing, but not connected,’ and he said, ‘Can we let that be what it is? Good to notice that you can’t quite fully let that connection come forward but you can observe it rather than feel it and just to let that be what it is… and actually I do want to apologise because it does feel as if I could have found some way of reaching out to your young being if I’d have clocked that she was pushed down in some way and that wasn’t good for her. I could have maybe done something about it and in my head I think I thought we’re just going to be wherever we are. But the way we both did that session wasn’t good for that little being inside you actually, she needed something very different and she didn’t get it and for that I’m deeply sorry. And I do want her to hear that, I want her to hear that. And I want to cut a deal with her in a sense… that she does find some way of letting us know when she feels dropped, abandoned, as if her hands not being held when she needs it held, something like that, we need some way of her being able to get attention when she needs it and both of us need to listen to her in that.’

I said, ‘I find that really hard when I’m in that space. I couldn’t have said it was happening on Monday. I wasn’t consciously holding anything back.’ Mark said he totally got it and knew that it felt at a distance to me. I said, ‘It’s only when I reflect on it and look back that I can see there were so many messages from inside that I ignored. All the things I said already… but I think if I’d done any of those things, took my blanket out for example, it would have highlighted that I was struggling and that would have been way too vulnerable, too visible. I can hide in plain view behind the coping adult! To actually get up and move in front of you to go sit down at the door for example it’s like being under a microscope, then it would highlight the fact that I’m struggling…’ Mark said, ‘yes it would highlight that you’re struggling, which would be fine, you’re allowed to struggle… that’s a difficult edge for you, it might not just be talking to the here and now, when you struggled when you were young, whether you could let yourself be seen, whether your young being could be seen struggling and feel safe and okay and held and be confident that you’d get a good response. And I bet we’re touching that as well right now.’ I started to cry a little here and said it wouldn’t be okay to show any feelings, I just made sure everyone around me was okay. Mark said, ‘you made it safe for yourself by making sure the adults around you were happy…. when you were distressed or overwhelmed or hurt or somebody did something that wasn’t right for you, this is what you did to your feelings, you hid them behind that part of you that can meet everyone else’s needs.’ I nodded and we both sat with that for a bit… at the time I felt on my own with it, listening back I can feel him completely there with me. It’s fascinating/insane how I can so quickly and easily become triggered and view the interactions through a veil of misalignment and disconnect. If it wasn’t for the recordings and my ability to listen back from a different space, I would face the same torture I experienced with Anna which at times was like starting over again in the attachment with each and every new session. Something inside my brain drives a wedge between me and the other person through misinterpretations and perceived shame and disconnect… why do I do that? How does that serve me? It constantly keeps me from the connection I so desperately need.

At one point I said, ‘the whole therapeutic relationship is so fucking weird and intense… if you and I had met in another capacity I would love talking to you about your life and all your stuff… I want to! But it evokes this horrible feeling inside. Even just stepping into that room that you’re super familiar with, it’s got all your beautiful things in it that shows me so much of who you are, things that I know are deeply important to you. That have got nothing to do with me (and the rational part of me is like, of course, it would be like you coming into my classroom or something)… but…’ Mark said, ‘yeah lets put that to one side for a moment and just follow what that touches for you,’ I continued, ‘that I’m on my own with it all and that I’m separate from you and what you said earlier, when I have something good it can easily be taken away from me, in the room I was so powerfully aware of something deep inside me, not aware but it was there… it felt like I didn’t belong there and I was an idiot to think that I knew you or that you knew me… it feels like anything we had built is dead… everything before is forgotten…’

I then found myself, in my mind, back twenty-odd years… I told Mark that visiting him in his office in a beautiful apartment building in the city reminded me on a body felt level of visiting my dad in his first flat in the city after he left our family home. Going to his flat and seeing nothing of me or my family in it. Just a bare, empty, soulless shell of a building with no love and no connection to me at all. The words just poured out of me, ‘It felt like my dad, the dad that used to live with me, had died… and I was going to have to get to know this new ‘dad’… one that was dating young women only a few years older than me, one that would later go out on the pull with me and my friends, one who was very selfish and used me just like my mother did, as an unpaid, unqualified therapist and wing-man… I was always just someone who would be there for them when they had nothing better on offer. Sitting in a room with you, with all your beautiful things around you, and none of me there, triggered me into that space of feeling like I didn’t belong and that maybe I never did. Like ramming a crow into a hamster cage and expecting it to settle in… I felt completely out of place, uncomfortable and not welcome.’ I then told Mark about a letter I wrote my dad in the weeks after he moved out, confessing to him that I was self-harming, that life was unbearable, even worse than before he moved out and I couldn’t cope. I told mark how my dad never replied to me. I had to wait the agonising week of hearing nothing from him then I discovered he left a leaflet for the Samaritans for me the next time I visited. The shame and abandonment in that moment. The clear message that he didn’t want to deal with me on any deep level. Or that he couldn’t, I was too much for him. In a session I took my dad to with my first therapist I asked him about that letter, asked if he’d actually read it and he said, ‘I read it over and over, I just didn’t know what to do,’ when I relayed this to Mark he made a pained sound at that moment and I told him my dad had said, ‘I just hoped your mother would deal with it,’ Mark said, ‘of course she wouldn’t,’ with a really sad, serious tone. And I cried, shaking my head. I said, ‘He left me with her, he knew what she was like and he left me with her.’ Mark asked me what I felt towards my dad in saying that and I said, ‘I just wish he hadn’t left or had taken me with him or wanted me to be there at all.’

Towards the end of the session I said I was realising how much I’d underestimated how hard the first in person session was going to be and Mark said, ‘Let me try and help unpack it for you and be as present as I can and see if you can let it in… it is like we have had a sort of major upset and we’ve had upsets before and come out the other side and this won’t be forever, we’ll find our way back. But what it speaks to is something historical of people being there for you or not and you being able to be there for yourself or not, perhaps that thing of little you being there for everybody else but yourself. Trying to make a situation okay for you by looking after other people but in that something happens for you… that little being doesn’t get to fully exist.’

Mark gently stopped us about fifteen minutes from the end and asked to check in with all parts of me to take a bit of time to see if I want to come back to the room next session. He said, ‘especially check to see that your young being is on board with whatever we decide.’ I said, ‘I do want to come back, I just want to do it differently and I guess pay more attention to what’s going on and remember that when I feel numb there’s always a pay-back, it’s like ignoring a screaming child… it just gets louder. I need to make sure that I’m paying more attention.’ He said, ‘and what might you need from me in that, to support you? You might feel it’s enough to have said that but I’m really open to hearing how I can help you in that.’ I said, ‘I think I need you to help me slow down. But in a really active way. Because, obviously I’m really hyper vigilant, and I’ve said this to you months ago… but your calm groudnedness sometimes triggers in me what my dad was which was just passive and unresponsive… and I need something more in those moments. You know? If you’re sitting back listening, calm and grounded and paying attention, if I’m triggered in that space it feels like you’re not really here you know?’ Mark said, ‘Yeah I turn into dad in some way, it touches that bit of your history. It’s really positive that you’re letting me know that.’ I said, ‘Yeah I couldn’t have said it on Monday, I didn’t know. Hmmm, and it would help if you checked in with me somehow, at every stage… that everything is okay… I don’t know Mark… just please be more actively, obviously there with me?’ He said, ‘Yes and I guess supporting you to be as there as is right for you to be and not making it wrong for you to be a little bit absent as well.’ I said, ‘I think it’s a really hard balance though,’ to which he said, ‘it is,’ and I continued, ‘I totally get why you’re saying that and I get that there’s the ‘acceptance of what is’ but me saying I’m numb or I’m not fully here is like I’m saying ‘I’ve locked a child in that cupboard’ and you’re saying, ’okay let’s leave her there’… you know?’ Mark said, ‘There’s something about the anxiety dropping of that child, and you, that will allow her to come back in. And, the reason I’m saying it the way I am, is not just to be totally accepting of what’s here, although that’s part of it, is that it will need space for the anxiety to drop and then something will come in, you sort of reassociate to get technical.’ I said I need to be more conscious of grounding myself at each stage, ‘I’m standing at the door, you’re opening the door, I’m walking up the stairs… you know?’ Mark agreed and said it’s like the induction at school in the first year, back when he was a kid you got thrown in the deep end but now we have play afternoons and it’s gradual and a slow easy process so the child can adjust and feel safe.

Mark said, ‘I think it’s good we’ve spoken about this. I knew it was a huge big deal you coming in and we’d spoken about that and I really got it but I guess there’s a tendency with me, there’s a bit of me that almost wanted on the entrance and getting in the room to down play it and make it as normal as possible to make it safer, but actually, it didn’t make it safer for you. That’s what I’ve learned today. You needed me to slow you down. I hadn’t got it before when you said the bit about standing outside before the session but I get it now, taking the mask off… I hadn’t got the full significance of it until today. Rather than being overly normalising and no big deal sort of thing, you needed me to sort of turn towards it with the gravitas that it deserves.’ In that moment I felt completely connected and understood by him. It’s like being woken up by a touch on the hand or something. I suddenly felt alive again.

I said, ‘Yeah totally, exactly that. I mean, I was aware that you were grounding us and orienting me in the room, I got what you were doing, but it’s almost invalidating to the part of me that was terrified.’ Mark said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’ve learnt from us picking apart what happened and it’s good that I’ve got that. And I hate the thought of invalidating the frightened child who had reminders historically of those situations, of going somewhere unfamiliar and everything it brought up for her and needed to have a slower induction to it all.’

There was a bit of quiet and he said, ‘How are you feeling about where we’ve been today? Coz we have been picking this apart and it’s such important work and we haven’t completed it, there’s heaps here off the back of Monday and where it’s taken you through the week and what we’ve had time to speak about now. I wanna check in with you before we stop and see if you can feel a connection.’ I said that just in the last few minutes I felt the connection and I thanked him about four times for listening and taking it in and being willing to reflect on himself and working at understanding me. He said, ‘Thank you for hanging in and trying to articulate what is really quite difficult to put into words because you’re connecting with places in you that are so young and actually might not have words really so I think you’ve done great at keeping solidarity with your young being and helped me to understand what she needs. so I really appreciate that. Coz I do need help in that. I kind of got it wrong. Paradoxically I was trying to make you feel safe and the way I did it had the opposite effect. And I’m not whipping myself, I’m acknowledging how it’s been and how it needed to be.’ He then mentioned my dad and the letter and said, ‘It certainly lodged with me and we will revisit that.’ I thanked him again for it all and told him the whole session was such a struggle but towards the end I could feel him there with me and that I was really grateful and I didn’t him to whip himself as he’d said. He replied, ‘Yeah I know I’ll get it wrong, I’m not defended about getting it wrong. If I got it really very badly wrong for you I’d feel bloody awful about it but the thing is that we can talk about it, it’s fantastic… it almost makes getting it wrong, getting it right. I think we can both be proud that we can do that together. Relationships where you can’t say, ‘oh you got it wrong’ doesn’t have much of a solid base to it, does it?’ I reminded him that Linda used to say I was critiquing her and she didn’t understand my need for reflecting on this stuff and Mark said again that he believes it’s the foundation of this work, ‘it’s where the gold is… and you know what, it makes us stronger… we’ve got through stormy seas before, we’ll do it again… well done for staying connected to yourself and to me as you told me what you needed that I didn’t give you.’

And now I’ve reflected, listened to the recording a few times and really dug deep, I can see what a holding and reconnecting session this was. The whole hour was a hard won road back to each other… but the past few days have been a huge rollercoaster… feeling every emotion possible. I am so grateful that I get to listen back to the session. It gives me brand new insights that I couldn’t reach by myself. It’s exactly in these kinds of rupture moments that I need to dedicate a lot of time and energy into figuring out the patterns and what went wrong, so I can learn more about myself and heal those places in me that are so easily triggered.

And tomorrow is ‘in person session number two’… fingers crossed this ground work we’ve done will help.

First in-person session…

On Monday this week I had my first in person session with Mark and it was massively triggering, though I didn’t realise it at the time. We talked about his new plants and the commute and my day at work and we briefly touched on the past year and how crazy life has been and how ‘great’ it is to finally meet in person. I repeatedly said things like, ‘this is so weird’ and ‘I can’t believe you’re actually in the room with me,’ but other than that, it was the least in-depth session I’ve ever had with him… by a mile. On the drive home I could feel my whole body tingling and I was noticing the familiar city buildings around me as if seeing them for the first time and I suddenly realised I was coming back into my body. For the whole session I had been numb and dissociated. I began to realise how disconnected, cold and impersonal it felt and there was this huge grief… like I had lost him as well as Anna. I couldn’t get the adult rational part of my brain on board who clearly knows that this was inevitable and of course we would just have a light ‘hello’ style session in the beginning. I was distraught. Seeing Mark in person, after 60 video sessions filled with deep and powerfully connecting work, felt open and exposing and abandoning to the young parts of me. They felt as though I’d betrayed them, shared their personal secrets over the past 8 months and then thrust them into his room with no protective walls… no wonder they/I escaped through the power of dissociation. It was the weirdest experience. Small differences felt enormous to the younger parts of me. The slight difference in the tone of his voice compared to the ever so slightly more tinny tone on the zoom calls, the more three dimensional experience of sitting in a room with him and seeing his whole body rather than just his head and shoulders, the fact that he could see my body, the air in the room, everything… a part of me was noticing everything. I was super hyper-vigilant – looking at every detail in his room. And at the same time I was noticing nothing.

After the session my thoughts and feelings spiraled through the rest of the day to the point of sending an uncharacteristically unedited block of text in an email to Mark that evening telling him that I was scared that we would never find our way back to each other, that it didn’t even feel like it was him in the room with me, that I’m sure he doesn’t want to keep working with me and that everything feels different. I sent two more distressed emails yesterday morning and freaked out for most of the day. I told Mark that I felt far away from him, that he was too quiet and distant in the session. His room is truly beautiful but it’s just so powerfully ‘him’ and there was something so painfully confronting about that. I felt so ‘on the outside’ of it all. Separate from him and his life, separate from him and his group of clients-who-worked-in-person-with-him-pre-pandemic… isolated and ostracised from everything.

Through the day, I spoke to a friend and I spoke to my brother. Both massively helpful conversations! (Even the fact that I can reach out to people now is such a big difference to what I used to be like… as Mark said recently ‘the repression is lifting’… I no longer keep everything under lock and key, hidden from everyone… these days I talk pretty openly with a few trusted people about these very personal, vulnerable places in me which is so liberating and such a relief).

Thanks to these conversations I was reminded of a number of reasons why this first in-person session would inevitably trigger big feelings. For a start, today is the one year anniversary from the day Anna phoned me to tell me she was closing her practice. Today, a year ago, I heard Anna’s voice for the last time. That’s obviously bringing some feelings up! Then there’s the fact that I haven’t driven into the city since losing Anna… the anniversary of losing her and the body memories of that journey being so closely linked to her was bound to bring stuff up. Also, it’s a big change going from only meeting him on a screen in my livingroom to suddenly being in person in his office – the young parts would understandably be confused and scared shitless and feel overexposed… hence the dissociation. AAANNNNDDDD Mark’s office is in the exact same building that my very first therapist used to work from 8 years ago. I haven’t been back there since he left me in 2015… there’s a whole load of unprocessed grief wrapped up in that one too! And lastly, as I realised late yesterday afternoon, visiting Mark’s office in the city took me right back to the time when my dad left and I visited his new flat in the city… where there was nothing familiar to me, where I felt like we didn’t know each other anymore and that he’d be glad if I never came back.

I sent this revelation in a brief forth email to Mark. I also told him that I like that I can clearly see his face up close on the laptop, that I feel safer and more connected to him on video and that I don’t want it to be that way forever but that’s the truth of things right now.

Mark replied not long after my final email with, ‘well done you, Lucy… I will be there to help you through this on Friday.’ annnnd breathe.

Interestingly when I listened back to the recording initially I found it triggering again because it was still so unclear to me why I felt how I felt but listening back a second time I can hear lots of little points of connection, many moments where Mark reached towards me. I can hear me touching on a topic I haven’t delved into yet that will need to be worked on… that I haven’t yet processed the way my life was turned upside down by the pandemic because I was too busy trying to survive the loss of Anna… I can hear Mark saying what a joy it is to meet me in person… none of that went in when I was there in front of him! I’m actually looking forward to teasing all this out with him on Friday, which thankfully will be a video session.

What a crazy ride this is!

It’s all part of the journey.

It’s been over a month! Hello to those of you who can still see me! The past 5 and a bit weeks have been full. I noticed the absence of my social media apps every second of the first week or so and had to consciously undo my habits (I swiped looking for the wee pink square almost unconsciously multiple times every hour). But at some point, that impulse to log in and swipe subsided and I settled into a different way of being. It took intention to step out of the addictive behaviour and because of that there is huge resistance inside when I think about ‘coming back’ but there is also a pull to be back. I love the connections I make here, I just need to be watchful that it doesn’t become habitual again to the detriment of my relationships on my side of the screen. So, I’m going to listen closely and see what comes up for me as I post and interact again. If you’re still here, thank you! I’ve thought of my insta-friends often through this break wondering how everyone is doing. Anniversaries always bring up a lot and the sporadic bits of warm sun we’ve had here have reminded me on a visceral body felt level what it was like this time last year. If I could send a note back to the Lucy of May 2020 I would tell her, ‘You get through this, in just a year you will have had the vaccine, there will be routines in place that help you feel safer, you will lose people you love and you’ll survive the pain of it. You will have an amazing therapist and your husband will have finally started his therapy journey! You will not hear from Anna again and it will hurt but you’ll ride those waves. Keep letting the grief tear you apart… it’s all part of your journey.’

Next week, I will drive in to the city to have my first in person session in 15 months… FIFTEEN MONTHS of zoom sessions. The prospect of meeting Mark in person has thrown up many different feelings. Most of them good… I know this will intensify and deepen our work even further. There are aspects of the somatic work he does that are near impossible to do remotely. I can’t wait for us to use the physical space of the room and to feel his presence with me. To literally feel the touch rather than just playing it out through the screen. It’s been interesting to reflect on this with him, Mark said in our last session that he forgets we have only ever worked through zoom as he often feels he’s in the room with me and I share this sense of presence and togetherness. There has been so much preparation for the ‘in the room’ work, I feel totally ready for it on many levels. And yet, I can only imagine what it’s going to be like when we’re in the same room. When Mark initially told me we could meet soon, I felt a flush of past hurts. The shame of being physically seen beyond the nicely controlled little window I allow him to see. And this old pain… the frightening, recurring sense of being the new kid at school again… I told Mark it feels like he has his group of long term clients that are all metaphorically sitting in the classroom, strong, familiar and united as a group… they’ve already met him in person and know what they’re doing. I am standing in the doorway, new and alone, alien. I asked Mark what he felt about it and he said, ‘You don’t feel new to me, I feel like I know you really well, as if we’ve been meeting for a long long time. And getting to know you has been a joy, you are so committed to this work and we’ve worked hard together to consistently meet the parts of you that need tender care and attention, this connection is strong because of a lot of hard earned relational work.’

Exactly a year after Anna phoned me to tell me she was closing her practice, I will be sitting in a room with my ‘new’ therapist for the first time… and I can hardly believe I’m going to say the next bit but here goes… I wouldn’t change any of it! Honestly! And if you followed me through 2020 you’ll know that Anna leaving me nearly killed me. It stripped me of everything I thought I was and broke something deep inside me. But now, one year on, still carrying the grief, still crying my heart out frequently about how much I miss her, I can stand and look back down the road I’ve travelled and see that there is growth there that just could not have happened if I’d stayed with her. I needed something catastrophic to happen to break the ground I was standing on, to open my heart up to all of the pain and loss and love and gratitude. To feel any of it, I had to feel all of it. It’s not been a beautiful transition, it’s left me battered and bruised. It’s a cliche but the butterfly metaphor really does fit here, there were dark, uncertain, terrifying times where I did not recognise myself and had no idea what was ahead of me. Times when I have never felt so alone and yet, because of the support I had on here, and a couple of beautifully compassionate friends and Linda and Mark, I also felt so supported. And in some way, I even felt supported by Anna… by the foundations we built together. She had to drop my hand and leave me to journey the rest of the way without her, but that didn’t undo all of the work we’d already done together… if anything it illustrated just how much work we had managed to do.

At the time of the initial loss, Linda said I could have chosen to close my heart around the pain and to harden and shut down but instead I chose to let it rip me open and to feel the full force of it all. I didn’t see it as a conscious choice at the time, it just happened to me. It was a flurry of sheer panic and shock, medication and heart wrenching howls, suicide plans and dissociation, returning to old coping mechanisms, shame and regret, hopelessness, anger and despair, running away and sleeping for hours through the day and obsessive thoughts about her coming back and so much pain… but I can see it has all been the key to my healing. I spent my whole life shutting down and shutting out the world to protect myself. I’m so grateful I’m now in the position where I can care for myself and ask for help and let that help in. And losing Anna, who I still love dearly and who will always be the single most positively influential female in my life, led me to Mark… and he is doing work with me I could never have done with Anna. When I was with Anna, she was perfect for me, I miss her so much and the work we did was profound and lifechanging AND there were limitations on both sides of the therapeutic relationship. I couldn’t imagine anything better than Anna when I was with her AND I am now working with someone who is better. There really is no need to compare them, other than to say that I thought I couldn’t ever find a therapist as amazing for me as Anna was, and the unbelievable happened… I wish I could go back and tell my past selves that there is hope for positive change, it’s coming!

I told Mark that I always felt like too much but I don’t feel too much for him! That maybe it’s because he’s such a good therapist and likes a challenge. He said, ‘I don’t experience you as a challenge!’ Which made me laugh and do the ‘mind blown’ motion above my head. He said, ‘Lucy, you’re not hard work… you’re transparent, you take risks, you come up against the hard edges of yourself, you’re so loyal to seeing this process through… why the fuck would a therapist not love that?’ I reflected on the ways I’d got the message from various people (including my previous therapists) that I was too much. Mark very diplomatically suggested that a therapists own limitations and counter-transference can interfere with a clients journey and that he works at being aware when that happens to him. I told him how grateful I am that he knows his own process enough that he’s able to not let it get in the way of mine. And that he is open to hearing from me when I feel like that’s happening. I’m also aware that I am a different person to the girl who walked into Anna’s office in 2017. I am more open, less afraid, more willing to take risks, more aware of the depths I can endure. I wish I could tell Anna… but I trust she knows on some level.

A couple of sessions ago I was crying from a very young place. A voice coming out of me that had never been heard, even by me… ‘I just want my mum.’ The inner critic was absent from the internal dialogue and after this vulnerable declaration, I reflected on the young voice saying, ‘God that’s just so sad, isn’t it?’ Still crying, hiding behind a cushion because I still feel shame when I cry. Mark agreed with me, ‘It’s heart breaking… it’s such a healthy move towards, you want your mum, of course you do, but that cry has never been heard. You asked for an extra session and you asked for me to move closer, you showed that you want me, you want support and love… and now we can give that little part of you what she needs. You spent your whole life supressing that natural movement towards because you knew you wouldn’t get what you needed… you just want your mum… and we’re here now, hearing that little girls distress… she just wants her mum, a mum who never came.’ So much grief came to the surface in that session that I’d never been able to access before.

There is a natural flow to the process of our sessions now. After this very deep session where the young parts of me had their voices heard and their cries comforted came a session of integration. A more adult space where we talked about what happened and how it felt to all parts of me. In these sessions we make sure the young parts don’t feel ignored while I tell him what worked and what didn’t in the deeper session. I tell him how the young parts of me were able to take him in or what they needed more or less of. I can sense into the places in me that feel rejected or missed and I’m able to voice those misalignments near enough as they happen which enables him to bend and move and grow towards what I need. It’s often painful, awkward, embarrassing and scary… but taking the leap always pays off. No matter what I’ve brought to him… even the transference and agony I’ve felt about the things I’ve found out about his personal life from online stalking… he’s taken it all as being part of the work and as I said to him yesterday, I feel safe with him. I know he won’t shame me. I know I’m not too much for him. I know he won’t deliberately leave me. This is all brand new for me. I’m witnessing myself doing things differently in a way I was unable before. And I am so so so grateful.

See you soon…

Spending the afternoon watching clouds… on Mark’s recommendation.

Reflecting on the past few sessions and how powerful and painful or has felt.

An incredibly intense session this afternoon. Managed to cry with Mark and feel his presence throughout (which is a huge achievement for me).

There is something so agonising about his kindness and being seen by him.

We talked about that.

It feels like the roots from old weeds and overzealous plants are being slowly ripped away from the flower bed I was planted in. Finally I have a little space to reach out and feel my ground without being suffocated by someone else’s overbearing needs.

I was aware of some different parts coming forward today and Mark was so responsive and attuned to each part exactly as they needed… it hurts so much but also feels like I can now take a deeper breath.

I am so grateful for the space and time and ability afforded to me, to be able to do this work. I can’t imagine being able to function without it.

I’m going to temporarily disable my account. Possibly just for the weekend but maybe a little longer. I’ll see you all on the other side.

There is a desire to stick around so much insecurity and discomfort coming up. But I need to try to slow things down a bit and quieten the external noise.

Thank you for all the beautifully connecting messages I’ve received recently. I’m very aware how so many of you care… these connections mean a lot to me and I’m thankful for your thoughtfulness and empathy.

finding.lucy.king@gmail.com

☁️ ⛅️ ⛈ ☁️ 🌧

Gentle Awareness and Curiosity

A reminder for myself and anyone else who may find it useful.

Bring awareness to the patterns of behaviour that keep you stuck… perhaps they feel habitual or unconscious. Make a small manageable change to break the habit. Bring awareness to how that change impacts your body and mind. Sit with and contemplate any discomfort. Let it inform you about yourself, your needs, your desires and your grief.

Be curious and accepting of what comes up. Judgements and criticisms are limiting and shaming and stifle growth.

We are habitual creatures by nature and often these habits are unconscious, driven by a comfort seeking part from our past. I value change and growth and awakened awareness but I struggle with the desire to balance growth and change with stability and comfort. A childhood defined by chaos and unpredictability has led me to lean towards safety and sameness (despite this often leading to a life lacking in creativity, expansion and thrill).

I am aware of my perfectionism and how it drives me to constantly seek new knowledge.. the know better/do better mentality can leave me feeling never quite satisfied. I want to be content and in order to even feel the edges of contentment I must sit with discomfort and know it from the inside. What is the uneasiness I feel when I am alone and unoccupied? What does it remind me of and how does the energy show itself to me?

How do I habitually self abandon? How do I routinely leave myself? How to I prioritise other people over myself and find that nobody wins? By ‘keeping the peace’ and avoiding confronting interpersonal issues/grievances, I find myself in the same relational cycles with building resentment. How can I break that habit? How can I show up for myself in the areas I wish for change?

I detach from people in my real life and fall towards online communities for support. This serves a purpose and has been deeply healing but it doesn’t deepen my relationships. I dissociate from my feelings and then wonder why I feel numb. I stuff food into the mouth that I’m afraid to speak from. I scroll through a stream of other peoples thoughts and ideas as if this will inform my way out. And it does help me feel less alone and it does fill a void… but it’s not the key to inner peace.

(My relationship with disordered eating, habitual scrolling, detachment and dissociation is not a reflection on or passive judgement of anyone else’s behaviours. This can be an invitation to reflect, but please don’t think I’m saying all food, social media and escapism is unhealthy.)

For me, personally, I wish to look at these things. I don’t want to stay the same forever. I want to evolve and adapt and grow. So, I will be observing what comes up for me as I modify (once again) my eating habits and presence online. I plan on temporarily disabling my social media accounts from the weekend.

Any thoughts or experiences greatly appreciated. The conversations on here are the biggest driver for me staying. It is the meaningful connections with people that I value.

Speaking from conflicting parts

I was speaking with a close friend of mine on Friday morning who is in trauma therapy herself. She was explaining to me her experience of her felt sense of her inner child. She told me of her awareness of her young part walking beside her towards her therapist’s office, then she described feeling this child part hiding behind her… she had a strong sense of wanting to reassure this part, protect her. She described how this young part looks to her for care and safety. I have experienced an implicit sense of these young energies myself though struggled to articulate it and would always feel great shame talking about it. Listening to my friend talk I just felt this overwhelming sense of admiration and awe for her, that she was so lovingly referring to this little part of hers with no shame and no desire to hide her internal experience from me. I was struck by her self-compassion and self-awareness and it made me reflect deeply on my tendency to shame myself for the very thing I was appreciating in my friend. It led me to ponder out loud to her that the shaming voice of my inner critic is my biggest block for healing. I am aware that the resistance provided by this loud voice of self-judgement inside is there fundamentally to slow me down and keep me safe, but it is an outdated and unnecessarily harsh protector that I no longer have any use for. Hearing my friend speak with such open and authentic candour about her young child part seemed to open up a channel for me to be more able to do the same. My friend’s willingness to share parts of her healing journey with me had a ripple affect… it helped me take the next step on mine. By the time my session came around that afternoon, without making the conscious decision to do so, I felt on a somatic level far more able to speak with direct clarity from two of my most opposing parts. Through the session, Mark and I were able to access these parts so that I could actually speak from them and he was able to talk directly to them. And I was able to feel him with me throughout… no dissociation! Being able to explore these parts led us to a deeper understanding of who these parts are. There was the powerful, assertive, reality checking, values driven ‘fight’ part and the frightened, shame laden, vulnerable, needy ‘freeze’ part. In the past, the inner critic would have overshadowed all dialogue from these parts rendering me speechless and unable to see the parts through the fog. We explored this in the session as well.

Friday’s session followed a two week break and although I had found myself enjoying the time away from therapy, I was really glad to see Mark when we logged on. He initially explained to me that he bought a new laptop and the camera had a different view from the last one, he asked if I wanted him to change anything and I told him I liked it because he appeared closer to me, filling more of the field of vision, which felt nice… he then said, ‘and I remembered to wear the glasses you like,’ which warmed my heart. It’s so lovely that he remembered I’d told him for some reason those particular glasses made me feel more connected to him and that he’s comfortable with that. We launched right in to talking about the small kickback I’d experienced after sending him an email at the start of his break and not receiving a reply. I was able to easily access the part of me that felt ashamed for sending the email, fearful of his potential anger and sense of burden and Mark apologised to that part for not responding which came across as sincere and heartfelt. It made me think about the fact that if I hadn’t allowed myself to be vulnerable and honest about how it felt, I’d have missed out on his apology and the connectedness I felt in that moment. We talked about my inner turmoil prior to sending the email, the back and forth between parts and then the ‘fuck it… just send the damn thing, what’s the worst that could happen?’ followed by an, ‘oh shit I wish I hadn’t sent that!’ moment.

Mark reassured the anxious part, stating that it’s within the context of our work together to occasionally send journal entries and that he’s okay with that. He then told me he was keen to hear more from my ‘fuck it’ place. In a heartbeat I said, ‘Why should I stick to such rigid self-imposed boundaries? No one explicitly said I can’t send emails in fact it’s always been allowed, just send it! It would be fucking unreasonable for him to change his mind without telling me and anyway it’s not like I’m sending messages every day or abusive messages, it’s literally just a part of my journal… if I’ve got something to say, just say it! It’s up to him if he wants to tell me he doesn’t like it…’ I laughed and put a cushion to my face exclaiming, ‘but that’s not what ALL of me thinks, obviously!’ He laughed and said he loved my ‘fuck it’ part and that it sounds strong and assertive and like she knows herself well. I told him the other part of me fears I’ll push him away, irritate him, be too much, force him to lay down a firm boundary if I let that part of me out in relationship with him. Mark said, ‘yes that’s how it is to have needs, the vulnerability of expressing those needs and the fear that you will lose me if you expose more of yourself to me.’

We explored more of the inner dialogue between these two parts and I found myself more able to delve into all the ways the strong, assertive part has come out in the past. I told Mark about the time I confronted a guy for flicking a cigarette into the people in front of him at a gig at the Barrowlands when I was about twenty. He was well over a foot taller than me and I shouted at him despite him shouting back at me, threatening to hit me. My brother and dad both backing away as I stood my ground. I told Mark of another time I’d had a go at a single man for parking in the parent/toddler bay at the shops until he got back in his car and moved it… (prompting Mark to say, ‘good on you! That’s fantastic, I love it!’). Another time I stuck up for a young newly qualified colleague who was being spoken down to by management in a staff meeting. Mark applauded this part, telling me he thought it was ‘fabulous’ which felt so good.

We delved into how this part developed through childhood, borne from a need to be a strong voice of reason and authority in a chaotic household where the parents were inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable. When the adults were misbehaving, breaking the law and bending the rules, I had this strong, self-righteous part who would step up and look after me and my brother and anyone else who needed protection. Contrary to my long-held belief that this part of me was difficult and unruly, Mark was commending this part for being powerful, loyal to her values and protective of those who need it. I came to realise that this part was labelled ‘difficult’ by my parents and other adults who would much rather I shut up and do what they wanted me to do… of course they didn’t like this little warrior standing up for herself. All the more reason for me to be proud of that part, rather than attempt to silence her. I thought about all the strong and powerful women I admire, those who speak out against injustice and actively fight against systems and people who attempt to supress and oppress the vulnerable. I love and admire that in others and the only reason I’ve felt ashamed of that part of me is because for too long I’ve internalised the voice of my suppressors. But I no longer rely on them, I don’t need to squash the strong parts of myself to keep me safe… I can be as strong and vocal as I want. Not only that, I have Mark telling me that he loves that part of me… he’s not frightened of the part of me that has strong beliefs and a powerful voice… in fact he wants to hear more from it.

We talked about the conflict between my ‘fearless punk rocker’ part (as Mark called it) and my ‘people pleasing fear of abandonment’ part. Throughout this Mark kept telling me things like, ‘keep going with this, you’re doing great work here,’ which felt so liberating and accepting. Looking back, the censoring inner critic just wasn’t around for almost the entire session which freed me up to speak so authentically from these raw places inside. I talked about how the two parts hate each other. The fight part hates the needy, anxious people pleaser and the vulnerable part fears and wants to silence the fearless punk rocker. I discovered that the fight part is actually very moralistic. She’s not an unpredictable, rageful mini-dictator. She’s actually very values driven and seeks to fight injustice and use her voice to ‘put things right’. Mark got me to feel into the physical sensations I experienced when I was speaking from this place and bring awareness to how this part feels from the inside. He asked what it feels like ‘as an experience’ and I said it was ‘energising and empowering’.

As I was verbalising how strong and secure I felt, tuning in to my relaxed breathing and straight spine, there was a very slight change in tone that I was initially unaware of. Mark asked, ‘what’s happening now?’ I thought for a minute then said it felt like a subtle blurring, as if the line between oil and water was mixing and droplets of each were going into the other. He pointed out the arm across my body and the ever so slight change in breathing. I told him I was aware that the ‘other’ part of me (the more vulnerable part) only ever gets to ‘come out’ in therapy and I was feeling it’s presence a bit as we were talking mainly from the place of strength. I said, ‘I can just hear, ‘what if he thinks something negative about me…’ there’s the power dynamic in this relationship… when I’m speaking up for myself in the other areas of my life, I’ve got nothing to lose, I know I’m protected in some way… but here you have all the power. I need you more than you need me, what if you don’t like what I’m saying and decide to stop working with me.’ He responded, ‘and how it is for you to need and to feel that need… it’s painful… it’s a bit tenuous… if I need, somebody has the power to drop me… and I fear that… it’s like you can’t feel secure that I’m not going to do that, that I’m not going to drop you. There are good historical roots in that fear of yours, I don’t doubt it. For good reason it’s hard for you to depend… you need to depend, but it’s terrifying.’

Mark asked me how it was for me to hear him describe that back to me, ‘hopefully accurately’ he said. I nodded and said I was aware of a tightening in my body. Mark talked about the mix of elements inside me, including curiosity, that enable me to build a fresh relationship with other parts of myself. He talked about the fearful part that shows up when I send him emails, it shows up as anxiety just before every session. He said, ‘I’m sure that part is here right now, alongside your more assertive part. And maybe… we could just say hello to it?’ In such a sweet tone. I immediately cringed and laughed quietly and told him it made me want to hide and he told me I could if I wanted to. He said, ‘I wonder what’s behind the wanting to hide? Hiding from what?’ I said, ‘You seeing me,’ he said, ‘because if I see you, you feel?’ I said, ‘really squirmy and ashamed. All my muscles are tense. It’s scary. Terrifying!’ Mark said, ‘hmm hmm yeah… And maybe look at me with my mad hair that hasn’t been cut for a year and see if there’s anything to be frightened of… right here and now… do you see anything?’ He was leaning forwards with his head resting on his hand, smiling. And I felt this little sense of safety whisper inside me and smiled at him and said, ‘Of course there’s nothing scary in you. It’s this sense that you’re going to be punitive or punishing or shaming or something even though I know you won’t.’ He said, ‘hmmm yeah I become somebody else for you in those moments.’ And we sat with that for a bit. Then Mark helped me feel what I was experiencing right now and how I was experiencing him. The safety. I went in a. It of an intellectualising monologue then said ‘oh I’m aware that I’m stuck in my head right now.’ Mark said, ‘good that you’ve noticed that and it may have been a way for you to manage your vulnerability with me when I brought it centre stage when I asked you to say hello to it, up came a lot of fear didn’t it. Then we tracked it through and there was shame as well, of being seen. There’s a bit more space around the shame now.’

He said, ‘There’s this powerfully shamed, possibly young being, that has strong needs and fears that it will be punished or dropped or rejected… if she takes up too much space. And she needs to be met relationally. We can’t stuff her down and put her in a cage somewhere… she needs to come out in full. But it’s painful and she’s hiding behind the assertive you.’ I told him I was barely able to tolerate him speaking about it and he said, ‘notice what’s happening in your experience, in your body, as I name this for you.’ I said all my muscles were tight and I didn’t want to move. I said, ‘I just want to disappear.’ He very slowly and gently said, ‘Yeah, and notice the impulse to disappear and what your body would do to try and make that happen. Maybe we can play with the not being seen/being seen, disappearing/coming into vision… if you were to follow that impulse to disappear, imagine the first thing your body would do.’

As I sat motionless, arm over my chest with my hand on my opposite shoulder, slightly facing away from Mark, I imagined myself sinking into the chair until I could no longer be seen. He calmly said, ‘There it is, notice how that feels. Notice that gesture. Notice where it’s held, where it’s tight.’ I sat silently noticing the internal impulses and then I told him I wanted to follow it through and put the cushion in front of my face. After saying that out loud my body instinctively gave a big deep staggered breath which he witnessed. He said he ‘prizes’ my sighs… that they are a form of communication and indication of energy moving and shifting in my body, of something being processed. Mark asked me how it was to sit with my arms across my body and I said, ‘I just feel so visible, I feel flushed in my face and too visible.’ He reminded me I could hide if I wanted or ask him to look away.

He said, ‘if you were to draw this, what would the speech bubble say? Let’s make it as explicit as possible what being visible means to you, what you feel is seen as I look at you… and you’re doing good work here Lucy and I’m right here with you in it, supporting you, I want you to feel that, and we can go there together, it will be better to go there together.’ I thought for ages as I peeked at him over my arm then looked away and said there were no words and he said, ‘no… feel how young you feel, feel what your body’s doing and tune into the felt sense of that and I’m right here with you, supporting you, I know this is difficult, it’s that whole ‘I want to disappear’ place and we’re just bringing it into consciousness, what that’s like, what your body does, and it does feel like you’re making yourself smaller.’ I felt into how young I felt and he said, ‘it feels wordless, you might feel like you’re in a young space… and that’s okay too, she’s very welcome here. She might not be able to feel the welcome, but it’s here for her.’ Which absolutely floored me. I told him eventually that I could feel a tingling under my skin and as we tracked that I noticed, ‘I don’t want to breathe and even covering myself with a blanket would be too visible. Staying completely still feels like hiding more than putting something in front of me.’

There was some quiet and then Mark said, ‘yes if I don’t move I’ll be safe in some way, or safer. And yes your breathing feels a bit shallow as if to breathe deeply would get you noticed. Even breathing deeply would feel like taking up too much space.’ After maybe only a minute of silence that felt like hours he came in again, ‘we’re not going to spend much longer in this because it’s a difficult place, we’re going to come out soon, tune in to how it feels to hear me say that, we’re going to come out of what is a frozen space… listen in to how your body feels and know it from the inside. Maybe from the place of you that knows how to be assertive even though that might feel a million miles away just now… this fearful, frozen part isn’t the only kid in town… we’re here with her. There are other parts of you that are well able to have her back.’

I took another breath and sat more upright and he asked what was happening for me. I said it felt foggy and that I’d imagined being in the same room as him and then things felt a bit blurred. Mark asked about my experience in the frozen space and I told him that I wasn’t able to say it at the time but when he said the thing about the speech bubble I felt a huge amount of overwhelming tearfulness and sadness. When he said that she was welcome, I could have cried my eyes out. He said, ‘hmmm yeah, we touched on that well of sadness… I know… you’re doing just great. I know this is painful. You’re really in touch with your experience right now and I’m right here with you.’

We started to feel the edges of coming ‘out’ of that space and Mark suggested I move a little which triggered the ‘punk rocker’ part and when Mark asked me to speak from that part I said, ‘Don’t tell me what to do, I’ve been looking after myself my whole life!’ he said (in such a gentle and encouraging tone), ‘you have, yes.’ and I said, ‘and I know what I need and want better than anyone else!’ he said, ‘you do, that’s true.’ And I smiled and he said, ‘and what do you need and want, Lucy?’ which opened my heart and I said, ‘she thinks I want violent independence where I’m a fucking island where no one gets in or out…’ he smiled warmly and I said, ‘but what I really want is connection and reassurance and care!’ Mark said he feels that these parts work beautifully together. ‘The protective part that says ‘fuck off I can look after myself’ needs to be spoken from… there might be something about feeling into that part before you can soften and let people in, it’s part of the process rather than something that’s in the way of the process… they work together… maybe?’ I said that definitely felt true.

Later on in the session as we came to an end Mark asked how this piece of work felt on reflection and I said I felt like I knew myself a little better and that I felt like my core self had worked together with him to get to know these parts. I told him I felt connected to him through the whole thing and he said that was ‘delightful to hear’. We got to know the vulnerable, needy child part who would do anything for my mother’s love and acceptance, but it was never enough, and we got to know the values driven, assertive, strong reality testing part who would step in and say ‘no, we’re doing it this way and you don’t need anyone else…’ and we started to allow those voices to speak. And in doing so, they already feel softened, less extreme, less conflicting. He said, ‘you’ve been able to manage yourself pretty perfectly if you think about it and your psyche has been really creative in coming up with ways for you to get through very difficult situations. That big reality testing part that questions the relational fears that come up from the more shamed ‘I can’t be seen here’ part… I think that’s pretty amazing!’

I told him I ‘sort of, a little bit, kind of… almost want to whisper it… but I kind of feel proud for letting that happen today!’ he said, ‘Yeah yeah well done you! Yes absolutely, have the pride, it’s deserved and hard won! You did well today in some challenging areas and you went to it viscerally which is important. We don’t want to go there because it’s painful but if we don’t then not a lot changes. You did really well and I want you to feel into that pride for having the courage to go there!’ He began closing the session by reiterating that we’d done a lot of important work in the session. We breathed together and felt into the connection between all parts and with each other. This is often one of the most powerful parts of the session but it’s largely wordless and so hard to explain. It’s very intense and connecting and I can often feel as though I’m in the same room as him. There’s something quite otherworldly and bonding about it. It’s a beautiful way to part ways.

As I reflect on the session and what I’m learning about myself I am reminded of the following except from Eastern Body Western Mind, by A. Judith, which further validates my experience.

‘If I have suffered a strong negative impact or an intolerable situation and I can’t talk about it, these vibrations become frozen in the core of my body. Frozen at the core, my whole being is restricted from its natural rhythm. So, what blocks us from expressing our truth, our outrage, our creativity, or our needs? Shame at the core, fear of one’s safety… we block the essential gateway that connects inner to outer and lock the gate against the possible escape of our true feelings, we protect the vulnerable interior self from exposure and possible harm or ridicule. We lock ourselves up, posting a censor at the door.

We do this by tightening the neck and shoulders, by throwing our head out of alignment with our body, by talking incessantly about anything except what’s really bothering us. Some do it by stuffing food down their throats, as if filling the mouth will block the passage and prevent the feelings from pouring out. Underneath each of these methods is a need to hide. In hiding we keep ourselves in isolation, keep ourselves from intimacy, and keep ourselves from evolving.

We have a biological instinct to keep quiet when in danger. Along with the freeze response that immobilizes the body, we instinctually hold our breath as if to keep as quiet as possible. In this holding, the voice also freezes, for there is no voice without breath. Silence is instilled by a voice louder than our own, which becomes a whisper permanently etched in the mind.

Shame rises up as the incessant critic… our throat constricts, and we find ourselves choking on our words with thoughts racing faster and faster. We originally created this critic to save ourselves from real humiliation. Its original job was to protect the raw and vulnerable self within against outer threats. Such critics are relentlessly overzealous and unrealistic in the severity of their criticism.

One of the most profound human needs is the need to be heard. When this simple need is met by attentive, empathic listening, we feel complete and ready to move onward. It is amazing how much healing can take place when our story, feelings, or opinions are simply heard. The need to be heard validates our truth, our individuality, and our very existence. If we can not be heard, we cease to exist in anything but our own minds. We feel crazy, doubtful of our own inner voice, and of our reality. When we cannot trust our experience, we split off from the body and, hence, split off from reality.’

You Make it Through

Dear Lucy of 2020…

You make it through.

You step back from the edge and you return to your life.

It’s slow and it’s painful and it feels like agony most of the time but you do it.

There are whole weeks swallowed up by the blackness. Months of crawling through tar. But you make it out alive.

You learn to trust again. You find your feet. You take a breath and you rejoin your family.

You find the tiny seed of hope inside you that’s charred but not obliterated and you dust it off and water it.

There is hope and there is love and there is light.

You make it through and you come out stronger.

I’m proud of you,

From Lucy 2021