Therapy was intense for a long time… months in fact… not just therapy actually… life has been intense. Hmmm, it wasn’t life that was intense, it was me – inside my head was the intense thing! Everything around me looked mostly the same, but something huge was happening inside me. Some very big things have been coming up, wave after wave of intense feeling memories and somatic flashbacks that were so loud, they were unignorable.
I wanted to blog about it as it was happening. I sat down to write for the blog numerous times but just froze at the very thought of sharing. I would write a few words, ‘Things are feeling really hard just now…’ or whatever and then just stare at a blank page. I managed to get that last blog post out but that was all I could cope with and in fact, I haven’t managed to share a lot of what I’ve been working on with anyone. It seems that something inside me really needs it all to be kept very private. There is still a sense of needing to protect this deep work, so I’m honouring that need and being careful about what I write here.
Just now it feels like I’m coming out of this extended period of intense, deep, dark depression, intensified anxiety and a great neediness that has caused agitation and distress in every fibre of my being. It was so massive that I had no choice but to express is over and over and over to Mark in sessions and in emails. A desperate neediness that we’ve met with compassion… or at least he has! A lot of the time I was meeting it with disgust and shame… he said, ‘you reject your own needs, and you expect me to do the same… I’m not going to reject your neediness, Lucy. I want it to be here as fully as it needs to be, it feels too much for you but together we can hold it.’ Slowly, slowly something more resembling kindness emerged in me, as I was repeatedly met with kindness from Mark, and I could literally feel my container growing.
The neediness came first in the form of a grasping longing inside that was so painful it frequently made me think of harming or killing myself. There was a need for constant reassurance. Constant contact. A need for a transitional object. A need for explicit repeatings of the words, ‘I have no intention of leaving you… I am wholly, fiercely committed to our work, I am here with you, you are not too much for me.’ I tested him, constantly. At some point the direction of need morphed and I was able to deeply feel the longing and agonising unmet need directed at my parents. So much grief.
Along with the neediness has been anger. Powerful and sometimes frightening. Anger directed at Mark, for not being what I need him to be, that he can’t be there for me at 3 o’ clock in the morning when I need him most, that he wasn’t there when he was on holiday and I was in hospital, that he can’t be with me in my most lonely moments. Even anger at him referring to the younger me as a ‘little girl’… the anger seemed to be so easily triggered. As this anger has been consistently greeted warmly with compassion and understanding and respect and sincere apology, it slowly changed, and I was able to finally feel the anger towards my parents. Fully feeling the hate and anger and disgust and rage at the things they did and didn’t do. I have carried this anger deep inside me all my life. Pushed down, swallowed down, silenced. In sessions the anger spoke – it wanted to hurt my mother, we played around with that… ‘What would that rage do to her? It’s safe to express it here, your words won’t hurt her, it’s okay… you can let your imagination fully explore this.’ I wanted to shake her, punch and kick her, I wanted something back for all the years of childhood she took from me. I wanted her to hurt for what she did. But then the guilt and remorse came flooding in and that was so much worse than the anger. It told me I was bad for thinking and feeling and expressing my rage. I wanted to take it all back. Mark helped me explore this young loyalty to the woman who had hurt me the most… the love I can’t help but feel for her… this sense inside me that I needed to protect her, that I have always been stronger than her and that she couldn’t cope, so it always had to be me that suppressed my feelings. Then we explored the fact that this was one of my biggest defences against helplessness. The helplessness is something that resurfaces frequently in sessions and it is one of the hardest things to work on because it is so debilitating and brings with it the depression. But I’ve noticed that actually allowing myself to he helpless and be cared for by Mark is the most powerful way to shift the helplessness. Blocking it just held it inside me.
Like the silent sunrise – gradual and steady, there’s been an easing in recent weeks. I can’t pinpoint when it changed but I’ve noticed I feel freer and more able to relax and just be myself these days. Things are not so dark and filled with anxiety. The anger has dissipated, the neediness just isn’t there anymore. I feel a trust in myself. I think there’s this sense of safety inside me that I’ve never felt before, that has been carefully and patiently fostered by Mark. The work he’s done has planted roots inside me. I’m becoming more aware of who I am as we strip back the trauma. Given the opportunity to cry out and curl up and shout and rage and give voice and body to the young and ever so wounded parts of me, without the overbearing presence of inner criticism and silencing, it has allowed something new to grow. The image of pulling weeds away from a tiny shoot in the ground comes to mind. Digging at the earth til my fingernails are filled with dirt, giving the new growth space… that’s what it feels like. We have tugged and pulled apart the weeds and the thorns dug in, and my hands bled and now here I am… a little tender… but with so much more spaciousness. I feel like I’m meeting myself. It is delicate and tentative and curious and patient and like a home I don’t quite remember but has always been there, beneath it all.
A funny thing happened this weekend actually that relates to all of this. I had listened to Adele’s new album back to back for hours. I moved through so many different emotions while I listened, and it felt explicitly linked to the therapy work I’m doing. As with anything that triggers something deep, it was all about me and none of it truly about Adele… but I’ll share some of what happened, here.
I absolutely love a few of the songs (Hold On and To Be Loved are probably my faves), but some of the songs I instantly hated (the first sign that something young was triggered). I even hated Adele for some of the lyrics she wrote, for using private voice recordings between her and her son (on My Little Love), his little voice too young to fully consent to the whole world listening to him, forever. I hated her for saying to him, ‘tell me you love me’… it triggered the hurt parentified little girl inside me… forced to meet the needs of my mother while having none of my own emotional needs met. I heard her sing, ‘I changed who I was to put you both first, but now I give up.’ Adele has dedicated her album to her son, who is 9 years old… he was a couple of years younger when she wrote this. I wanted to scream at her, ‘don’t tell him you give up! Never give up on him!’ It brought vivid memories of my mother saying she wasted years of her life on me and ‘now’ it’s her turn to live her life. There were so many points where my ‘mum stuff’ was triggered and I felt for her little boy deeply. Caught up in this break-up and with an emotionally fragile mother expressing herself so openly. It was all a little too familiar.
I spent hours on the phone with my brother who was experiencing the same thing as me. We talked about how triggering it was to hear Adele singing about soaking up wine… like our mum who is an alcoholic and chose drink over being there for us many times. Adele singing about new love interests turned my young stomach as it reminded me of my mum and her boyfriends. I started to feel like I was going under again. Emotionally sinking underground. And then it dawned on me how present I was around these triggers. This wasn’t dragging me under, it was beautifully illuminating the unhealed wounds. As I realised that and began observing more with curiosity rather than activation, I noticed other spaces in me start to open up. I was aware of ‘me – the mother’ and my own need for space and solitude, as Adele cried in a voice message on one of the songs that she is lonely for the first time since leaving him… that she loves being on her own but she’s lonely. Words my mum cried at me when I was a child and I hated her so much for it… but I too know that loneliness. Then the lyrics, ‘I hope I learn to get over myself…’ and it hit me, I suddenly felt this wordless understanding of something deep inside me – my humanness and all of the parts. Instead of defensiveness making me superhuman against my mums weak helplessness, or shame making me entirely bad and toxic… I felt something less binary and more nuanced – that I am a mixture of many things, and so is my mother. The generosity and selfishness and everything in between. The patience and impatience, the anger and calm, the deep deep depression and the joy and hopefulness, the traumatised parts and the whole, healing parts. I felt them all together and in seeing them in myself, I could also see them in my mother. A shared humanness. It’s more complex than I could ever explain here and has really been an accumulation of 9 years worth of work along with this very intense period of somatic trauma work in the past few months. It’s also been impacted by my growing capacity to deepen into my meditative practice. Especially my confidence and stability in the metta bhavana practice and an ability to hold presence for the sense of loving kindness, towards the core-self inside my mum and dad… this is all brand new – I would have told someone to fuck off at the suggestion of this just a few months ago!
I took all of this to my session last night. At first, a frozen part made herself known in the room. Grounding my conversation to a halt and demanding to be felt and witnessed. We worked somatically with this part as Mark coached me through sitting with it and meeting it with kindness. Mark helped me bring awareness to the parts of my body holding tension. What started out frozen in fear, eventually could move a little, breathe a little and look at him. As soon as the triggered part took hold, I had requested the lights be dimmed and I asked for a blanket. I felt safe and held and this part of me felt seen. We spent almost 40 minutes on this, just tracking what was going on in my body as the frozen trauma space made itself known. After this subsided and I came out of it with a few deep, automatic, shivering breaths and a familiar twitching and shaking, I was able to see Mark again and feel my presence with him. This enabled me to go into the new, expanding sense of compassion I’ve been feeling for my mother.
Mark and I have learned together that we always need to prioritise any young parts at the very start of the sessions, the adult stuff has to wait. It works so much better that way and saves me from a painful kickback after the session. After the young part settled down and I felt more grounded and present I was able to explore the stuff about my mum. I said to Mark, ‘it’s like a tiny seed of forgiveness, but not like I imagined forgiveness to feel… it doesn’t feel like it’s FOR her at all, it feels like it’s for me… like… I can see her limitations and how much she struggled and I can feel a loosening of the hope that any of that could change. I know all of the ways she hurt me and that is all true and a lot of it still needs to be put into words and felt through, but I can also see she is just a lost and wounded child in an adult body… she had less support than me, less awareness than me, less ability to change and evolve and heal. I feel for her. Her whole life has been swallowed up, year after year living the same life, doing herself the same way over and over… every relationship she’s ever had has been the same relationship with a different face and name… no growth… that’s agony for her! I can see now that she couldn’t have done herself any other way. I always thought that the phrase, ‘she did her best’ meant what she did was the best but it’s so not that… it’s that she couldn’t do it any other way. So, I’m not saying what she did was right or anywhere near what a child needs or deserves… I’m just saying I see her incompetence, her limitations, her lack… with clarity. You know, four people came out of that family wounded. All four of us. And yeah, there’s still anger and pain and regret and everything else, but there’s also this other feeling, it feels a bit like it’s rooted in something grounded and secure in the very core of me. Like a pure thing that’s untouched by trauma.’ Mark and I talked this through a lot and we explored the way being able to persist with Adele’s album helped me relate to her as if she was my mother and as if she was me. That in doing this I organically tapped into something that feels like compassion or a tiny tiny drop of forgiveness or at least acceptance. And that is huge!
We also talked a bit about the depths we’ve been to recently, and the ways he has proven himself to me time and again. I can’t express how relaxed and ‘in his stride’ he is about everything I bring to him, but not in an uncaring way, he can be intensely focused and passionate about the work, but never seems bowled over or intimidated by it. Another thing that’s hugely impacted the therapeutic work is that Mark and I have been sharing the recordings from our sessions. Since the very early days, I’ve found it helpful to refer back to previous sessions. Thankfully (unlike Linda), Mark really sees the benefit in weaving our reflections through the work and there have been a couple of times when he’s said he’d be curious to hear the recordings himself. I have always felt that they’re OUR sessions rather than mine and it made sense to me to let him hear them if he wanted to… I just never imagined he’d actually want to! We had a few serious conversations about what it would actually be like to let him hear them back and talked about how it felt for me. We discussed how I would share them safely/securely, how and when we would talk about it and any feelings that came up for me around that. We talked about what he was listening for. He said he imagined it would deepen our work together, that having the opportunity to reflect on how he works with me would enrich the work and help him reflect on his practice professionally. We agreed that my sessions are not his supervision and so he would only touch on things he’s noticed with me, but that I am free to ask anything I want about his observations. I felt really excited about sharing them with him and I chose a selection of sessions to share with a brief description beside each one with any specifics that I knew I’d want him to notice (to avoid any potential feelings of being missed / abandoned if he didn’t bring up something important in the session that I secretly hoped he’d notice). Each time he tells me he’s listened to one of the sessions, it’s blown my mind that he’s chosen to use his free time to sit and listen back to an hour of my session. One thing we’ve noticed is that it’s helped me trust him, I feel a deeper sense of his genuine care and my fear that I’m too much for him has almost vanished! He has proven time and time again that he WANTS to work with me, in fact I really believe that he loves working with me and that he doesn’t feel overwhelmed at all. He chooses to listen to sessions in his spare time, he gives me extra sessions or longer sessions if he’s able and I ask, he responds in a boundaried way to emails and he gives me space and really hears me when I bring any feelings I have about any ‘no’s’ he has to give me. He even wears a specific pair of his glasses that I’ve told him help me feel safer and more connected to him… calls them his ’Lucy glasses’ and looks them out specifically on my days. I honestly wish I could give this kind of therapy to everyone who hasn’t experienced it. My husband started therapy this year with a very similar therapist and in just a few short months the changes in him are monumental. I feel like he’s come back to me. This therapy should be gifted to us upon reaching adulthood! Ohhh how different my childhood would have been if only my parents had been as privileged as me and had access to this healing journey. It’s in no way ’finished’… I can imagine doing this kind of work for years and actually I feel empowered by the idea of it always being part of my life in some form or another. I probably wont need such intense somatic work for years and years but I do love introspection and feel very driven to deeper conversations that are rich with learning.
I’m glad I was able to write that out… it’s been quite a journey the past few months and I feel like I can breathe a bit easier now. In the session yesterday we tracked the coming and going of my attention. How I would feel very ‘there’ with Mark and then how I would take myself away, retreat to the safety inside… a familiar process. At one point when I verbalised how my mind was trying to take me to a million different places Mark said, ‘Let it wander… let it go… where do you want to be right now?’ and in a heartbeat I said, ‘right here! I want to learn how to be right here, all the time… not in the past, not in the future… right here.’ He smiled and said, ‘You’re doing it, gently and patiently you’re guiding yourself back to ‘now’… all the time.’
I’ve decided I’m going to work towards another digital detox. I’m not on here often but I do go through peeks in online activity and feel that the upcoming holidays and house move will be a good time to come away from the web for a while. I’ll probably close things down over December and January in an attempt to give myself space and permission to fully experience the time with family (all that ’family’ entails – the joy and the triggers combined!). Not that anyone here is hanging on my posts… but I wanted to let you know if you notice an absence, this is why. So if I don’t post before I deactivate, then I send all reading this a warm and safe couple of months.